After seeing this cooler for myself, only when news from CeBIT was shown, Cameron was already in the know and diligently attempting to get me this cooler to test. After a lot of emails and a few setbacks in the process of making this ready for the retail market, just three days ago this cooler arrived at my door. Things are getting tight for Sapphire at this point as the release of this cooler is five days away from the time I am writing this. It has been a long journey to get to this point, and since I have been waiting so long to see this cooler, my expectations are pretty high. Our review has been a little delayed, but we're ready to roll now.
For those of you that thought Sapphire was just a video card company, you may want to jump over to their website. It even took me by surprise to see not only do they step out of the realm of video card sales, they offer plenty of audio visual solutions in both software and hardware for various aspects of business use. There is even the development of a mini-PC that I have been seeing in tech news lately. This to me is a good sign. Sapphire is obviously making money at the core of what they do, and have the ability to go beyond the basic conception of the company as they branch out into other aspects of computing both at home or at work.
Proving that exact concept is the fact that we now are about to be looking at the Sapphire Vapor-X CPU cooler. Most of you have already seen and most likely used a Vapor-X cooled video card before, and this principle is much the same. Using the vapor chamber design from the GPU coolers, Sapphire essentially strapped on a tower cooler to the back of a larger one, and adds a pair of well-appointed fans to aid in the heat removal.
On paper this design seems very promising, but reality can sometimes be a cruel mistress to have to deal with. While I did have some issues with my first sample of this cooler, Sapphire has been kind enough to examine the cooler I received, and sent along another one for testing. Now that we are all set to go forth with the review after quite some time, I think you all will be pleased at what the Sapphire Vapor-X CPU cooler has to offer.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
This single tower cooler uses Sapphire's well know Vapor Chamber at the base to draw heat from the processor. Then through a skived heat sink on the top of the base, four 7mm heat pipes pass through to deliver heat further away from the base of the Vapor-X CPU cooler. From the pipes the heat is delivered into 63 aluminum fins with partially closed sides. To rid the cooler of heat Sapphire has supplied two 120mm fans placed in shrouds that help with the aesthetics of the overall design. These combined with the blue LED backlit top portion gives the cooler a completed look that normal exposed towers lack aesthetically.
Sticking a bit more to the chart up there, the Vapor-X is 135mm wide, 104mm wide and stands 163.5mm tall, while weighing in at 924 grams. As I mentioned, you get two fans to cool this tower, the Martech DF1202512SEUN fans to be more exact. These fans can max-out at 2200 RPM delivering 77CFM of air flow and 2.6mmH2O of static pressure, each. They are based off a sleeve bearing and both fans use a 4-pin PWM connector. They even supply a Y-splitter cable for those of you without dual CPU fan headers on your motherboards. Also with the universal nature of the mounting hardware, the Vapor-X CPU cooler will fit anything since Intel's LGA775 and anything since AMD's AM2 socket right on up to all the latest sockets.
For the Vapor-X CPU cooler, prices were set back in December when I got my first sample at $80. The real shame of this matter is that even with three months now gone by since I received my first cooler, and there still aren't listings in the US market for this cooler.
While the site shows I should be able to shop for Sapphire goods at places like Newegg and AVADirect, neither site is currently listing anything, and it makes me now think that this cooler is marketed for the other side of the pond only. I guess I should consider myself lucky I even got to see this cooler.
The packaging is kind of tame compared to some of the flashier products I have seen over the years. At the top is a cut out to look at the top and front of the Vapor-X CPU cooler inside. At the bottom over a bright blue background is the name and logo for the cooler along with the universality of the mounting hardware.
The right side of the packaging is mostly black with the little bit of blue wrapping around from the front. Information here is scarce as it only shows the Vapor-X name and logo at the top with Sapphire being printed at the bottom.
On the left is a description of how Sapphire is pioneering the use of the Vapor Chamber, the Dual-X technology, covers the mounting and shows the TDP. On the right are the specifications while at the bottom are a pair of dimensional drawings of the Vapor-X.
Just like the opposite side of the packaging, the only thing to see here is the name of the cooler and the manufacturer.
Inside the box the cooler rests on the side of the hardware box. To keep the cooler centered and protected in the delivery process, the use of a plastic clamshell packaging is used. This way you can see the cooler though the hole in the box, but it is also a proven method of packaging that usually does better than some of the other ways to package a cooler.
Sapphire Vapor-X Universal CPU Cooler
From the front of the Vapor-X you can see it is completely covered by this familiar 120mm fan design. The bulk of the fan is exposed, but the top and sides are held by the shroud to keep the fan secured to the cooler body.
On the side there are the Sapphire printed shrouds clipping near the center of the cooler as they dive down to avoid the bit from the top of the cooler. You can also notice the majority of the side is closed off where it wasn't needed to clip the shrouds on.
Since this side of the fan would be exposed, I do like that the factory sticker has been replaced with a Vapor-X logo sticker. It does make the cooler look a bit better from this angle. I also wanted to tease you a bit with a bit of the top of the three piece shroud now showing.
This side of the Vapor-X has the same shroud clips to hold on the fans, but this time there is a two wire clip that you can disconnect. Since the front fan also powers the LEDs in the top, when you remove the fans to install the cooler, they made an easy way to disconnect the LEDs rather than making you remove the top.
Already in line and ready to be plugged into the motherboard header, Sapphire added a Y-splitter to allow both 4-pin PWM connections on the fan to run from only one header on the motherboard to keep both fans equal according to your bios settings.
The top of the cooler is finished with a plastic cover to form fit to the shrouds on the fans. In the middle is the Sapphire name on a metal plaque with blue strips on either side that will glow when the cooler is powered up. There is also the Vapor-X name on the right side that will also illuminate.
Flipping the cooler over we can see the way the Vapor-X is constructed. There is a large Vapor Chamber at the bottom, the heat pipes come off the top of it and are pressed into the fins.
Besides the made in China sticker, I did want to get a little closer to show that the fins do fit securely around each of the four heat pipes as they are pressed over them.
Sapphire Vapor-X Continued
Sapphire Vapor-X Continued
Flipping the cooler around so that you can actually see how the pipes are mounted between the skived heat sink shows that the pipes are sandwiched between the two with some ugly crimping done near that junction.
The thick base is the Vapor Chamber, and for those that don't know, this works much like a heat pipe, but on a greater scale. Between the two outer layers of copper that were nickel plated, there is a liquid inside that will actually flow from the bottom with heat, and as it cools, the vapours condense and drop to the bottom to repeat the process.
Pulling off the sticker you can see the base still shows some of its milling marks. I also forgot to run a razor across the base of the cooler in my rush to get this cooler live on time, but I will show you that near the end showing the condition of the base.
I removed all of the components from the cooler so we could see what was underneath all of that armor. You can see the pipes are spread evenly across the fins and there is an arrow pointing to where the LED wire should go when you replace the top.
Now you can see the 63 aluminum fins, and you can see the side design with the closed off sections and the middle dipping in to accept the fan shrouds clips.
I didn't want to tear this completely apart as I didn't want to take the chance of damaging this PCB just to show you some LEDs soldered on the board. Since I did have it off, I thought I may as well show you how it can be removed if you had ideas on modding this cooler.
As for the fans that cool the Vapor-X, it comes equipped with a pair of Martech DF1202512SEUN fans and the shrouds have anti-vibration pads on them to keep these 2200 RPM fans from rattling the fins.
Accessories and Documentation
First up in the assortment of included hardware is the universal back plate and top mounting hardware. The back plate is isolated on both sides and you just flip it one way for Intel, and flip it over for AMD. The top plate is clearly marked to show which way is up so that the screws on the cooler go into the bracket correctly.
The black sticker washers aren't used, but you can use the X-23-7783D thermal paste. The bottom row houses the LGA2011 stand offs. Four nuts for the back plate, four screws to secure the top plate to the LGA2011 risers of the universal ones on the far right.
The installation manual comes folded up in the bottom of the hardware box. Even folded up you still get the full parts list so you can quickly be sure you have the hardware needed to progress with the coolers installation.
The instructions and images are written and done well. On the left side you can simply follow the images until you hit a snag. If you do, then refer to the test on the right in one of four languages.
You also get a registration paper that has images of one of the iconic girls from Sapphire and shows a few of the products they offer.
On the inside in many languages you will find the simple steps you need to do to register your cooler. Once part of the Sapphire Select Club, you also have benefits like access to games and members only giveaways.
Installation and Finished Product
Running the universal risers through the motherboard, washer side down of course, you then tighten the nuts onto the back plate and all the basic hardware is locked into place.
When you flip the board over you will just have the four risers sticking up. This is where you take the four small screws and secure the top plate with the "upside" printed on it facing up.
The fans need to be off the Vapor-X to secure it to the rest of the hardware. You simply need to alternate every couple of turns of the driver between this and the other side. The screws will bottom out when fully tightened.
Stepping back to see how big the Vapor-X is, you can see a lot of the motherboard still, and there are just slight issues with memory on the right side, but no issues getting the 8-pin EPS cable into place.
This is just a bit of a glamour shot as I was spinning the board around to gauge the memory clearance, but it does give you an idea of the scale of the Vapor-X as well.
If you run bare sticks like I do, you can see the Vapor-X will allow for them to fit without issues. In fact, I was able to slide a stick into all four slots.
This is where the slight issue comes in. If you have tall heat spreaders, you can use the fourth slot, but it left the memory sitting at a pretty bad angle and I wasn't willing to lock it fully into place.
As I allowed the cooler to run for a couple of hours before testing to set in the TIM a bit and allow the fans the chance to free up on the bearings a bit, I thought it was a great time to snap an image of the Vapor-X in all of its blue LED glory.
The Test System and Thermal Results
Testing for the CPU coolers is done with the use of RealTemp to ascertain temperatures, Intel Burn Test to deliver the load to the CPU and CPU-Z to verify the CPU speed and the voltage being used in Windows. All of the testing is done with an ambient temperature of 24.5-25°C and humidity is maintained to 35% sometimes less.
For the "stock" runs, it's more of a plug and play setup where the PWM of the motherboard is in control of the fans speeds for both the idle and load results. Speed Step is active and the processor idles at 1600 MHz and loads at 3500 MHz for the stock settings. I also set the memory to run at 1600 MHz for stock. As for the overclocked runs, I load the CPU at 4.5 GHz and idle results are obtained with 7.5V to the fans while the load run is set to deliver 12V to the fans. This allows me to gauge the lowest and highest fan ratings for my charts.
You will also see that the charts have been slightly adjusted. From now on I will mention the idle temperatures if there is something worth noting other than an average of twenty-five to twenty-seven degrees as the PWM controls and SpeedStep allow for almost ambient results in most instances. What you are now getting is a stock speed loaded temperature chart and an overclocked loaded temperature chart. To clean up the audio results, I also removed all of the fans that aren't on the thermal charts. If you want to compare those results to new coolers, the old chart is still available in the older reviews.
Since the fans were spinning at just 1300 RPM for the majority of this round of testing, there is an average result obtained at the stock runs. While 51 degrees is quite good compared to some of the others, I really hope performance picks up when the fans are allowed to spin at full speed.
Once the testing went into the overclocked mode, the fans sped up to 1800 RPM and the performance did go up for this test. At this point the Vapor-X achieves 73 degrees, and with all things considered, it is in the top five air cooler results we have on our charts. Not too bad, I must say!
Noise Level Results
With the PWM controlling the fans and applying 7.5V for this test, the 120mm fans used here do pretty well with slightly better than average results.
Even with 12V applied to them and with then turning very near the maximum RPMs, AIDA64 showed the actual maximum of these to be 1834 RPM, near 400 RPM short of the specification for it.
With such limited information at hand, I don't know if this was a typo by Sapphire or a last minute decision to reduce the noise levels so it will be more comparable to its competition.
This is the original cooler I tested (the first sample I received) and let's just say there were some issues to work out. So with the second application of paste still fresh and the cooler warm from testing, I hurried to remove the cooler to verify the TIM was spreading evenly. As you can see I got about 97% contact with the CPU, but you can tell that the paste on this side of the Vapor Chamber is much thicker than it is on the other side of the base.
Since my initial testing results were not that good at all I looked into what was causing the TIM to be so unlevel after testing and to see why the temperatures were so high in my first sample. In the end what I found was causing the issue was the lack of really looking at the base before I installed the cooler. Once I got the base under some better lighting I found four raised spots in the base, protrusions that are higher than the rest of the material. Since I cannot take apart the Vapor Chamber to see if these are supports to keep the components correctly spaced, something happened to poke an object through the copper at the bottom. The four arrows point out the defect that made the cooler actually "lift" off of the IHS producing the poor results I got in testing.
Here we are now a few months later and I got a cooler that looks promising. As you can see the sticker has some air pockets in it, and I was sort of taken back at first thinking I had received a similar cooler with a dysfunctional base again. After closer examination, the previous issue I had is no longer visible.
What I found with the new cooler was that the base is very level on this sample over the majority of this surface. There are some minor defects and small dents, but nothing like what I saw on the first one. In the end I was able to drop the CPU temperature from the initial coolers results of 80 degrees, down a full seven degrees to make the Vapor-X a true contender instead of the disappointment I had with the first cooler.
Sapphire either fixed the issue, or we just got a bad early first sample.
I am really glad that Sapphire was able to get me another sample, because at it was, I was not ready to get behind or recommend their CPU cooler. From what I have seen with the latest sample to hit my desk, my feelings about the Vapor-X have completely changed. Once the new cooler was up and running and I realized it is now one of the top five air coolers money can buy, it sheds a whole new light on what the Vapor-X is capable of. As for its direct competition, the TPC-812, the only other air cooler to offer any sort of vapor chamber in its cooling, the Vapor-X beats that buy two degrees out of the box. Not too shabby in my book.
While I don't quite get the specifications showing that these fans should run at 2200 RPM and my fans only reaching 1800 RPM, the results are pretty good, but if I had the 2200 RPM fans listed, the performance could have been much better. Even with the inconsistency, I am still happy with the results I was able to obtain. As far as the installation process, well even there things are pretty simple, and it shouldn't take you an hour and a degree in engineering to install it. Then of course you have the pair of fans that easily clip on to the cooler after it is mounted along with the center piece at the top that not only holds the Sapphire and Vapor-X logos on it, but once powered, a pair of lines and the Vapor-X illuminate with the glow of blue LED to match the LEDs in both fans.
With a refreshed view of what the Sapphire Vapor-X is actually capable of with a good review sample in hand, I really think the pricing is on point. With the consideration of pricing on the other top five air coolers, aside from the TPC-812, all other solutions on the chart that are comparable, cost just as much, if not more.
It really is a shame that this $80 cooler is so tough to find in the USA, as I would completely advise readers to own one of these coolers on their own rigs if CPU air cooling is what they want. That being said, if you can get your hands on one, I do strongly suggest you consider the Vapor-X from Sapphire for your air cooling needs.
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