Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing
When it comes to aftermarket cooling for a CPU, certain companies hold a special place in our hearts. Zalman is one of them, as they were the ones who produced the CNPS9500 we went to first for additional CPU cooling on our Athlon XP 3200+, and the VF700 that was strapped to our X800 GTO. In those days, the copper flower designs were all the rage, as they offered a ton of area for the centralized fans to cool, and performed admirably. However, time moved on, and Zalman was left to rethink how they wanted to attack the aftermarket CPU cooler segment.
Zalman took a look at the standard tower design next but was still doing things that made their towers unique. Coolers like the CNPS10X in any flavor, the 11X, and the 14X all flood back. All takes on a tower design, and the CNPS14X being the first of their dual-tower configurations! While the CNPS14X was a decent performer in its day, by today's standards, the cooler is lacking. However, if you are going to virtually disappear from the market, when your name hits the news again, you better be ready to come out swinging! With whatever you offer if you want to turn heads and gain the respect of the masses.
Zalman has done precisely that! They have gone back to the drawing board from stem to stern, rethinking all aspects of what makes a great air cooler, and delivering something that came with much hype, long before the sample ever hit our labs! Gone are the days of off-the-wall shapes, trying way too hard to be different; instead, we are looking at a cooler you would likely never imagine coming from the likes of Zalman.
To say we are a bit excited to see what these new CPU coolers have to offer is an understatement. We feel that when finished reading this review, if you are into big air coolers for your CPU, you may have to ponder this against the likes of Noctua, be quiet, Corsair, and the other huge players in our current market!
The CNPS20X is the cooler we have on hand, and its specifications can be seen in the chart we borrowed from the Zalman product page. The first thing we get into is compatibility. In this section, we see that Intel LGA2066, 2011-V3, 2011, and 115X CPU sockets are supported. Even though there is no mention of LGA1200 support, it uses LGA115X, so Zalman has you covered. AMD support includes AM4, AM3+, and AM3 processors, which covers most of what is still in use for this camp.
The next group of specifications deal with the tower, showing the 140mm width, 170mm thickness, and the 165mm height, along with the 140mm by 140mm fans dimensions, and the 26mm of thickness. We then move onto the 1300 grams of weight, which seems like a lot, but is less than the A500, and closer to what the D14 and D15 weight, although both are some 80- grams lighter. Next, we get into the material choices, where pure copper and pure aluminum are mentioned. The copper is used in some of the fins, the six 6mm diameter heat pipes, and as the base material; before they are plated. Aluminum is used in the fin array, above and below the copper fin section.
This dual-tower design has two fin arrays, designed with corrugated fins, fifteen aluminum at the bottom, fifteen copper in the middle, and another fifteen on top, for forty-five fins per tower. Using corrugated fins, channels the airflow through the tower, without the need to close off the sides of the cooler, and in this instance, there are 350 channels for air to flow through in this 4D Stereoscopic arrangement of fins. Surface area is also an added benefit to this design, where Zalman is proud to display the 15,242 cubic centimeters that the CNPS20X delivers, which is also why Zalman has no issue with rating the TDP of this cooler at 300W!
The rest of what we see in the chart covers the specifications of the fans. While the dimensions were listed earlier in the chart, know that there are two 140mm fans for the CNPS20X. We see mentions of the fluid dynamic bearing, a speed range of 800 to 1500 RPM, a 29 dB(A) noise rating, 61 CFM per fan, and 1.1 mmH2O of pressure. These fans are built to last for 100,000 hours, and they sip 3.36W for the fans and 1.5W for the LEDs. Each fan comes with two leads. One is the 4-pin PWM connection to power the fans, and the other is a 3-pin 5V addressable LED cable.
However, in all of that, we do not see that this is a dual-blade impeller designed to correct the airflow through the fan while increasing CFM. It is almost like having a 90mm fan inside of a 140mm fan, both rotating together. We also know that the traditional fan frame is not found here, but instead use of a "spider leg" design, which minimizes noise and vibration, while offering a fair bit of aesthetic appeal with the unique LED illumination.
While not mentioned anywhere, and we had to dig at the Zalman website to find the information, as to the warranty of the CNPS20X, it is covered for just a single year from the date of purchase. Also, note that proof of purchase is required should you seek support for it!
If the hype is to be believed, and this CNPS20X is on par with something along the lines of the dual-tower Noctua offerings, we have to assume that the price will also be on par with those coolers. A Quick look at amazon proves this accurate, as we found the CNPS20X from Zalman listed at $99.99. While we do not have an initial issue with the price if performance is top-notch, we have quite a bit to cover with the CNPS20X and will hold our opinion in the cost factor for the end.
We will say that it is double the cost of some of the coolers in our new charts, and Zalman has set the bar pretty high already with that price! Can Zalman hang with the big dogs at the top of our charts? Stick around and find out, as Zalman might surprise you!
The packaging is clean looking while delivering a ton of information on the front panel. At the top, we see that this is the world's best 4D CPU cooler, even though it may be the only one! Under the CNPS20X name, we also see compatibility with Razer Chroma RGB and the spider icon alluding to the fan design, the CNPS badge for the series of coolers, and it has Spectrum RGB Sync.
It is Z-SYNC compatible if you have the hub and software that drives that option. Compatibility for CPU support is also listed, all of which is before you get to the close-up image of the tower, with some "creative" lighting shown, which does not represent what we saw.
We see a rendering of the CNPS20X at the left, which is continuing from the image we saw on the front as we spin the box and expose the right-side panel. As for the information to be found, all we have here is the name of the cooler.
On the back of the box, we find the naming and claim to fame at the top, which we saw on the front. Below are two images of the CNPS20X, the first showing RAM clearances, depth measurements, as well as number 3 showing that the fan can move to accommodate taller memory. The image to the right shows us the cooler's width and height, without any height added should you have taller RAM under it.
At the bottom, there are explanations of the numbers seen around the first image, and they also show how the splitter cables work for fan power and RGB. We also covered most of the fine print at the bottom, but the RDTH, or reverse direct touch heat pipe, is something we see here, for the first time.
The left side of the box starts with a list of features in six languages. The list covers performance, the 350 passages for airflow, the use of RDTH, fans, RGB support, a mention of Z-SYNC, inclusion of ZM-STC8 thermal compound, and that Razer Chroma and Z-Sync need specific parts to work. In the middle of the panel is a condensed specifications chart above the EAN and UPC flanked with legal information, a QR code, and the development information of the CNPS20X.
After removing half a dozen sections of dense foam which surrounds all sides of the inner packaging, we can see how well the CNPS20X is shipped. A fan sipped above, and to the left of the cooler, both in individual boxes keeps them well protected in transit, and the same can be said for the tower, which rides inside a box in the middle. As for the box seen on the right of the tower, that is the hardware box containing everything you need except for a screwdriver to get the cooler mounted to your system.
Zalman CNPS20X CPU Cooler
Our first look at the CNPS20X is of the intake, where the front fan should be placed. At first glance, we can see the aluminum-copper-aluminum sandwich of fins, but we can also see the corrugated fins creating 350 eye-shaped openings through the fin stack. Below the array of fins, we find the six, 6mm diameter, copper, heat pipes, which are then plated before having the fins pressed onto them.
From the side, we find that the tower is not square, with the front of the tower leaning inward. Beyond that, we see that the fins are supported with the folded over bits in the middle of each stack, to help keep the fins adequately spaced.
Since the back of the tower is identical to the front, we decided to use a different angle to show off the fin arrangement. So far, we see only three of the dimensions used with the fins' width, depth, and height, but there is one more trick up Zalman's sleeve!
The fourth dimension of the design is that the leading and trailing edges of the fins are offset, and every other fin is slightly different than the one above and below it. Zalman channeled the airflow through the fin array, but they also ensure maximum disturbance to the airflow as it enters the towers.
As the front and back of the tower mimic each other, so do the sides of the CNPS20X. Since we covered most of the aspects of this view in the previous image, let's move to fan mounting. Rather than using deep channels for wire fan clips, Zalman uses an L-shaped clip, which attaches to the fan, and a section of metal is then inserted into a tiny groove on the sides of the fins.
The top of the CNPS20X has the pipes evenly spaced and centered in each of the towers, as they protrude through the top fins. All of the finds are corrugated, including those on top, which are slightly flattened near the pipes and sport a brushed look for added appeal. The center of the cooler is wide open, and the cooler's mounting is done through the gap.
As we get a look at the base, this is not an HDT design, but rather an inverted pipe layout or the Reverse Direct Touch Heat pipe (RDTH) patented design. This design uses a copper base plate, with the pipes set into the top of the base, much like a standard cooler. However, we do notice there is not top half to the base that we typically see, just the mounting bracket with the Zalman name on it, which is screwed to the rest of the base.
Like the heat pipes, the copper base is plated, but after the machining process, that leaves the semi-circular marks in the base. We do also see some light scratches showing up in the image, which is of no real consequence to this convex base.
Accessories and Documentation
The backplate in the center of the image is reminiscent of the older backplates from Zalman we have used, but this time supports AM4 on either side of it now. To the left of the backplate are the Intel "guides," or top mounting brackets, and the chunk of rubber with tape on the back is the AMD loading block. To the right are the AMD guides, and at the bottom is the Intel loading block.
To use the hardware from the last image, you will need most of these bits. At the top, we see four "nuts" as Zalman refers to them, but they are the threads that insert into the backplate, followed by four washers, and four side caps, which hold the "nuts" into the backplate. The center row has four standoff nuts and a pair of fixing bolts that go into the tabs on the base of the cooler. The bottom row has the (B) standoffs for LGA2011 And 2066, and the (A) standoffs for AM3, AM4, and LGA115X/1200.
The more universal parts are all stacked in this image. There is the small tube of ZM-SCT8 thermal compound, a 4-pin PWM to dual 4-pin PWM fan splitter cable, a 3-pin addressable cable splitter, and a special connector for those using GIGABYTE motherboards.
The manual is done well, and while there are three pages of precautions in fourteen languages, once you hit the specifications and components, the instructions begin. All sockets are covered in finely illustrated renderings of the components. You need to pay attention to orientations and parts placements, as there is little text, and do a terrific job of guiding you through any installation. Once past the instructions, you will find a wiring guide and fan specifications before running into the last page, which we believe to be in Korean, possibly Chinese.
After unboxing the fans, we find them resting in a plastic tray, which holds the fans, the cables, and the fan clips. You will also find a package of four screws, not to mount the fan, but to secure the spider legs to the other half of the frame.
Installation and Finished Product
To get started, the manual tells us to assemble the backplate for our specific socket, and since we are using an AM4 system, we picked the wider of the two AMD options. Simply slide in the "nuts," aligning the hex head inside of the bent bits of the backplate, and lock them into place with the side caps. Be sure to peel the layer off the tape and secure the loading block to the center of the backplate. Using this assembly also means that all of the stock mounting hardware needs to be removed from the motherboard to fit this mounting hardware from Zalman.
Skipping ahead of the Intel mounting instructions, where we saw the fan assembly section, we figured we would take care of that now. We placed the black ring on the table, gently set the fan blades and spider legs on top of it, and screwed them together at the four corners. We also took the fan clips out of the bag and squeezed the clips to fit onto pins found on that back ring.
The backplate, which has been aligned with the holes in our Crosshair Hero Wi-Fi, so that it can be installed. The nuts in the holes will protrude ever so slightly because the AMD loading block adds pressure once compressed with the rest of the hardware, and currently is not compressed.
After flipping the motherboard over, we placed the washers on the four corners before installing the (A) standoffs, AMD guides, and standoff nuts, which lock the hardware securely to the motherboard. Be sure to install the guides with the threaded holes pointing up, and with the curve nearest the CPU.
We applied some MX-4 to the CPU and set the cooler onto it. Grabbing the pair of fixing bolts, we dropped them through the holes in the tabs on the base, and alternating every few turns; we sent them in until we ran out of threads, compressing the springs tightly.
We then snapped the fans into place and spun the motherboard to see it from the front, once installed. We do have the intake fan set as low as possible with our Vengeance LPX in front of it, but the fan still covers the vast majority of the fin array. We have to admit, we do like the look of the open frame fan design and eagerly await the RGB LED lighting once powered.
In order not to increase the overall height of the CNPS20X, the memory in slots three and four need to be 33mm tall or less, which our Vengeance LPX is not. The cooler body allows for 73mm of RAM clearance, and we also made sure to check, and there is the clearance between the heat pipes and the first RAM slot, even though our image makes it look closer than it is.
As we step back to take it all in, we can see we have increased the height of our cooler, if only by a few millimeters, it could make or break chassis fitment for some. Beyond that, we can see where the fan clips hold the fan onto the fins, and to uninstall them, you simply put a fingernail under the tab and lift it away from the cooler.
From a typical perspective of the cooler, we lose that copper in the fins and wish it were somehow brought into this view. However, with one glance into your chassis, anyone will know this is not the standard dual-tower offering, as the corrugated and brushed aluminum fins are undoubtedly distinct!
Once the system was running, we only have the option to use the motherboard controls to illuminate the CNPS20X. While it matches everything the video card and motherboard were doing, we did not have any multicolor options like the box shows. It is possibly part of Z-SYNC, but that comes with additional cost for the Zalman Z-Sync RGB controller hub.
Also note that the limit of the LED intensity leaves half of the clear plastic unlit, even when the lights are off, the color does not pass the two-thirds mark out the spider legs. It is a different take on fan lighting, and we appreciate that, just that after seeing the box art, it is a slight let down.
Test System Setup, Thermal Tests, and Noise Results
Chad's CPU Cooler Test System Specifications
- Motherboard: ASUS ROG Crosshair VIII HERO [Wi-Fi] (AMD X570) - Buy from Amazon
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3600X - Buy from Amazon
- Memory: Corsair Vengeance LPX 4000MHz 4X8GB
- Graphics Card: ASUS GeForce RTX 2060 6GB OC - Buy from Amazon
- Storage: Galax HOF Pro M.2 1TB SSD
- Case: Hydra Bench Standard
- Power Supply: ASUS ROG Thor 850W - Buy from Amazon
- OS: Microsoft Windows 10 Home 64-bit - Buy from Amazon
- Software: AMD Ryzen Master, AIDA64 Engineer 6.25.5400, and CPU-z 1.92.0 x64
To see our testing methodology and to find out what goes into making our charts, please refer to our 2020 CPU Cooler Testing and Methodology article for more information.
Thermally, we could not expect better than for the Zalman to beat any other air cooler we have in the chart! Our average temperature of 58.7-degrees is impressive, and there were thermal spikes to 61-degrees in that testing, which is still good overall.
With the all-core overclock applied, the temperature did go up, but only to an average of 65.8-degrees. In this run of testing, we did see spikes up to 74-degrees but is not out of line with what we saw in other cooler results.
In this chart, we look for what is left in the tank beyond the PWM fan curve. What we see with the CNPS20X is that we were left with another 4.7-degrees to take advantage of. With the fans at full blast, the Average temperature dropped to 64.1-degrees, with a peak of 73-degrees.
Noise Level Results
When it comes to noise levels, Zalman is not afraid to venture into the audible range. With the fans topping out at 1090 RPM in the stock run, we found the 33 dB result acceptable for anyone housing this cooler inside a chassis.
While still under PWM control for the overclocked run, noise is limited as the fans only advanced to 1160 RPM with the added load on the processor. At this time, we saw 38 dB, which is still not that bad, and much better than the stock solutions!
Removing the PWM control had our fans spinning at 1500 RPM on the nose! While the sound level does increase to 48 dB, it is closer to the lead of the chart than it is to the loudest cooler. Keep in mind; this extra 10 dB does also deliver nearly five-degree better performance, which makes the noise worth it to some!
While the CNPS20X has proven itself worthy, thermal results do not automatically make you a superstar! We have to give credit where it is due, and while we are still awaiting AM4 hardware from Noctua, we feel that the D-14 and D15, will perform similarly, but with less noise. However, with that said, Zalman is not quite in the same league! We do not mean to take away anything that Zalman has accomplished here! They have quite literally bounced back from nowhere and came out swinging for the fences, and it worked!
Zalman has delivered a stellar performer with quite a few details that many other manufacturers overlook. We have seen staggered fins on the leading and trailing edges, but we cannot think of an example with that and corrugated fins, working to make the most from the 61 CFM fans with limited static pressure. Things like the RDTH, the spider leg fan design, a mixture of metals in the fin array, everything was done with the intent to make the CNPS20X a standout in the crowd, and we feel Zalman did everything in their power to ensure they would be one of the top-performing coolers out there!
With the good, comes some things we need to bring up, something we found along the way, which may sway you toward another cooler. The build quality is pretty good, but not on the same level as the Noctua solutions! Our tower was bent, though it is very well protected, which makes us think it has to leave the factory out of square. Yes, we can bend it back to square, but it is not something the end-user should need to worry about. We found it a bit odd that we had to assemble our fans. While not out of something we can do, we just feel it unnecessary. On the flip side of the fan nonsense, we do love the new fan clips! We opted for the Vengeance LPX RAM as we feel they should not cause many issues across the board, and while they caused us no problems, they did make us have to raise the intake fan.
For those in cases where the specifications show the CNPS20X barely fitting, the adjustment could easily cause fitment issues inside of the chassis. You practically have to run sticks with bare ICs to ensure you make it under that 33mm limitation. The last thing we need to mention is the noise levels. Nearly the entire market has moved to silence in operation, and being old school, we could care less about 38 dB under PWM control with our overclock applied, but some may have issues with it and is why we mention it here.
If we compare the CNPS20X to many of the other dual-tower designs, the $99.99 price is not out of line on face value. The market pretty much set that price; however, as we said, those other solutions have a better feel, typically have more straightforward to use hardware, and do not come pre-bent out of their boxes. Understand that we adore Zalman and their efforts to deliver a cooler with this level of performance, but at $100, we feel people will likely still opt for Noctua solutions at this price range! Had Zalman done all of this at $79.99 or even $89.99, we could be a bit laxer, but the bar was set for us, and we have to call it like it is.
For those looking for a dual-tower CPU cooler that is not the same thing everyone else has, the CNPS20X is what you are looking for! If noise is an issue, you may want to look elsewhere, but for this reviewer, used to 65 dB, or more, coolers when it comes to overclocking, we have no issues with thermal and audio levels. Even with a few niggles here and there, the Zalman CNPS20X is still a strong contender for your hard-earned dollar, and it just comes down to personal tastes and where you stand on noise.
The Bottom Line
Zalman comes out of nowhere with one of the best coolers we have tested! While thermal performance is terrific, audible levels will concern some, and we feel the build quality is a touch lesser than other coolers at this price. However, we still like the CNPS20X, and many of you will too!