The Bottom Line
Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing
On the heels of our look at the CNPS20X from Zalman, and as pleased as we were with it, what if we told you that there was a little brother! While the CNPS20X is a dual-tower, a monster of a cooler, Zalman decided to build what is essentially half of it, and brand it as a single-tower solution to air cooling. For those of you who have already looked over our CNPS20X review, much of what you are going to see will be familiar, as these CPU air coolers share much of their DNA.
We all know we cannot have half of the CNPS20X, as we would need the other half of the base and pipes to keep things functioning. In the smaller compatriot, we do get a slightly twisted version of the original base, but this time, all of the heat pipes travel from that base to the fin stack, and this is where the half of a cooler comes in, as the mass of fins is one half of the CNPS20X tower. While some changes have been made to allow for what we have already reviewed to fit into a more compact package, it keeps all of the technologies and features of its big brother!
Keeping with the aesthetics is also what we see in this CNPS17X, but with two-thirds of the CNPS20X in our hands, can it keep up with the others in our chart? We have a feeling it may be able to run with the crowd, but we still need to thoroughly look at what we have now, see what sort of noise and thermal performance come of it, and ponder the pricing to see if Zalman has made the right move as they re-enter the CPU air cooling market.
Even the specifications chart we borrowed from the CNPS17X product page looks very similar. The hardware inside of the box accommodates users of LGA2011/2011-V3/2011, 115X, and with the same mounting holes as LGA115X, and it also fits LGA1200. As to the AMD users, you would need to run an AM3, AM3+, or AM4 motherboard.
At this point, things start to change in the chart, as the CNPS17X is 140mm wide, it is 100mm thick, and it stands 160mm in height, weighing in at 700 grams. Again, Zalman chooses pure copper for the base, heat pipes, and some of the fins, where everything else besides the mounting plate attached to the base is then made of pure aluminum. The stack of fins is the same as we saw before, with fifteen aluminum fins having fifteen copper fins placed on top of them, and then another fifteen fins made of aluminum. Through those 4D fins, five 6mm diameter heat pipes pass through it, all of which have been nickel plated, as does the base. The surface area of the CNPS17X is 6243 cubic centimeters, and Zalman placed a 200W TDP on this single-tower offering.
The fan that ships with the CNPS 17X is the same as what we found in the CNPS20X box, just that this time there is only a single fan in the box. The 140mm dual-impeller style fan spins on a fluid dynamic bearing, and spins at a maximum of 1500 RPM, with the same 29 dB(A) noise rating. At full power, this fan can deliver 61CFM of airflow, with just 1.1mmH2O of pressure. The fan is rated to run for 100,000 hours, and if you need to know the power draw, voltage, and currents for the fans and LEDs, they are all there. As to the fan connectivity, there is a 4-pin PWM connection to power the fan and a 3-pin 5V ARGB cable for the lighting running down the spider leg frame.
Warranty coverage is not dropped into the chart as most companies would do, but we do know from some digging, that the CNPS17X is covered for one year from the date of purchase.
Searching the internet for listing for the CNPS17X is easy to do, and we find that it is listed in a few places. As to the usual haunts, Amazon has the CNPS17X listed at $69.19, while over at Newegg, they want $69.99. While not horrible, because this cooler does include things we do not see in other CPU coolers, but the fact remains that $50 can get you a good amount of CPU cooling these days. At near $70 for the CNPS17X, Zalman may be asking a bit too much, but we will have to wait and see how the charts stack up before making up our minds.
On the front of the box, we see that the CNPS17X is a high-performance CPU cooler with 4D patented corrugated fin design. Below that name are notations to Razer Chroma, the Spider for the fan, the CNPS series badge, RGB sync, and Z-SYNC from Zalman, while to the right is the company name. Compatibility is also listed and comes before the large image of part of the CNPS17X with the fan and lighting as the primary focus.
The rendering found on the right of the box is a continuation of the image on the front. Beyond that, the only other thing to mention is the name CNPS17X, which is done in metallic foil that refracts light in various colors.
The back of the box starts by delivering the name of the cooler and the company name and tag line, but the pair of images that follow give us dimensions. The tower is 140mm wide, and that will not change, nor will the 100mm thickness. However, the fan will change the overall height of the tower, due to the mounting hardware. What you see is not an actual representation of reality. Near the bottom, we see the fan connectors we mentioned earlier, where below it, we see a list of the features found in the tower.
In six languages, on the back of the box, we are told about the 15% increase in surface area, the 4D design of the fins, and the 180 airflow passages this design delivers. The list moves onto the Reverse Direct Touch Heat pipe base design, mentions the 140mm fan, and then dives into things like ARGB, use of software if you buy a hub, inclusion of ZM-STC8 thermal compound, and closes with a mention that Razer Chroma is possible along with motherboard and Z-SYNC control. We then run into the specifications, the QR-code, and legal information at the bottom.
We did remove the pair of thick foam pads that go on either side of this stack of goodies found inside of the box, so it was easier to see. At the bottom is the 140mm fan in a box, with the hardware in the box above it. The tower is found inside of a folded section of cardboard for added protection, beyond what covering all sides with dense foam provides. We would say the condition of our sample is fair, not terrific, but not bad either.
Zalman CNPS20X CPU Cooler
Looking at the CNPS17X dead in the face, we find a stack of forty-five fins pressed onto five heat pipes running up both sides of the tower. Below the fin array, we can see the bends that the pipes take from the base, a couple make much tighter bends, but they are all smooth and without kinks. Feel free to count, but Zalman assures is that there are 180 airflow channels to contain the flow from the fan as it passes through the fins.
From the side of the tower, we can see that the fins are angled, lower at the front than at the back, and spacing is kept with folded over sections of fins that interlock. Below the stack, we see the five heat pipes again, and all are parallel with each other as they exit the base and run up through the fins.
Rather than have you look at the same thing twice, we laid the cooler down to have a different look at the fin array. From this perspective, we can see the fourth dimension that Zalman uses, as we have width and depth, then add corrugation, and now this alternation of fins on the leading and trailing edges.
As we make it around to the last side of the cooler, we see nearly a phot copy of the other side, but this time the angle of the fins has reversed. Just beyond the tabs running the length of the tower, on either side, is a thin groove. This allows for the unique Zalman fan clips to be pressed into the tower to be secured.
We did have to attach the fan so that the cooler would lay at a proper angle to view the top. We see five heat pipe tips on either side, all nickel-plated, poking through the corrugated, brushed, aluminum top fin. You can also tell from this angle, that the fourth dimension is found at the front and back edges of the cooler.
The top of the base is covered with a steel mounting bracket with the Zalman name imprinted into the bracket. Below are the heat pipes, which are sandwiched into a copper base, both of which were nickel-plated. While not HDT, we do get the idea behind the reverse Direct Touch Heat pipe technology.
The majority of the base on our CNPS17X is golden. Machine marks still visible in the semi-circular pattern, which comes through the nickel plating of the convex base. However, if you look closely, there are many scratches and abrasions, even some pitting or blistering near the bottom edge. We do not feel that these tiny imperfections will affect its abilities, but it still needed to be mentioned.
Accessories and Documentation
Inside of the hardware box, we located the main bits to show first. In the center is a universal backplate with mounting for AM3/AM3+ on either side, AMD at the top and bottom, and all Intel holes are on the X-legs. To the left are the Intel guides to help secure the cooler, while at the right, we have the AMD guides.
In these three bags, we find more of the mounting gear. The first bag to the left contains four washers, four nuts, and four side caps that work with the backplate. In the next bag, we have the spring-loaded fixing bolts and four stand-off nuts to secure the guides. To the right are two sets of standoffs, the A set is for AMD and LGA115X/1200, and set B is for LGA2011/2011-V3/2066.
The last bits from the hardware box are the tiny tube of ZM-STC8 thermal compound, an ARGB cable to use with GIGABYTE motherboards, and the Intel and AMD loading blocks.
The manual, while containing very little text beyond the specifications and parts list, does a great job of getting you through the installation process. Pay attention as you go, you will need to ensure you have the backplate orientation correct and place the guides in place properly. There are separate sections for various sockets, a wiring guide, fan specifications, and a couple of pages for you to jot down any notes you may need later.
After removing the fan from the box, we find it resting in a clear plastic tray. Inside of that tray is the fan hub and front frame, resting on the circular frame section. There is a bag of screws to combine them, as well as another bag containing the fan clips for mounting them.
Installation and Finished Product
Since we passed all other socket mounting before getting to the section on AMD, we noticed the fan assembly instructions, and went ahead and got that out of the way. We secured the two parts of the frame together with the provided screws, and also squeezed the fan clips so that they slide over the pins found in the frame.
We locked them into place with the side clips by first installing the nuts, with the hex heads locking into the bends of the backplate. We also made sure to install the AMD loading block to the center of the backplate, which fits around the center lip of steel, and is hard to install incorrectly.
As it should, with the hardware in the proper locations, the backplate rests over the socket holes from the back of the motherboard. The loading block does keep the backplate from touching the motherboard, and the slide clips are plastic, which also isolates the ends from the motherboard.
We then flipped the motherboard over, making sure to keep the nuts aligned with the holes in the motherboard. Once aligned, set a washer around each hole, and for us, we installed the set of standoffs marked A. We then put the guide into place and secured it all down with the stand-off nuts.
The instructions say to apply the thermal paste and set the cooler onto the CPU. We then grabbed the fixing bolts, and every three turns, we swapped sides, evenly securing the tower to the CPU IHS. You continue screwing them in until you run out of threads, and the springs are collapsed fully.
Once installed, we take a look at the cooler from the front to see how everything went, and we see that our fan is quite a bit higher on the cooler than the images with dimensions! Even so, the look of this cooler is unique, and we do like what we see.
This image offers two things to discuss. The single-tower design accounts for RAM this time and does not interfere with ours, but if they were much taller, the fan could be an issue for the slot closest to the CPU. If you look just below the fan, you can see it is riding as low as possible, since the frame is resting on the top of the fixing bolt!
As we step back, we notice that there is plenty of room around the cooler for access to wires, RAM, or anything else you may need to deal with at the top of the motherboard. We like the fan slips, but something we did not realize on the CNPS20X until we uninstalled it, is that if the GPU is in the first slot, removing the fan is nearly impossible, without removing the GPU. Also, back to the fan, where it is sitting some 7mm taller than the specified height, and we see no way to lower it without the blades crashing into the fixing bolts!
As you would see the cooler in a chassis, we have little to complain about at this point. There is plenty of brushed aluminum on the corrugated fins and an open fan that blends into its surroundings from this angle.
With a bit of power coursing through its veins, the CNPS17X comes to life, with the ARGB controlled by our motherboard. It matches perfectly with the motherboard and video card lighting. Still, again, we do wish we saw lighting similar to what was on the box, but with our system, not only are the LEDs much dimmer than the images shown but getting multiple colors at once did not happen for us.
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.
The 60.6-degree result of the stock run ever so slightly passes up the NH-U12A, and the peak temperature for the run was only 63-degrees. Parked between a pair of $100 coolers is impressive, but we have just started.
As we heat things up with the overclock, placement on the chart changes a bit. Almost a degree behind the NH-U12A shows that the 68.9-degree results are the same as the ARCTIC Freezer 34 eSports Duo, which is similarly priced. The peak temperature seen during this run was 78-degrees, which is a wider gap than we see from most coolers.
There is little left in the tank moving from PWM control of the fans to delivering a constant 12V. While we appreciate the extra 2.2 degrees of efficiency, the CNPS17X fell another spot, now slightly behind the Freezer 34 eSports Duo, with the peak temperature still 10-degrees higher than the average.
Noise Level Results
As thermals kept up with the NH-U12A, we can see that it makes more noise to do it. 32 dB, to us, is not a deal-breaker, as the fan turned at a maximum of 1080 RPM. The reading is also less than the CNPS20X due to only one fan spinning on the CNPS17X.
To place where it does in the overclocked thermal charts, the fans ramped up to 1295 RPM, Even louder than the CNSP20X at 40 dB while running the CNPS17X, and this is to the point that most users will be able to hear the cooler through their chassis, and could be considered annoying by some.
Allowing the fan to spin as fast possible, we saw it top out at 1488 RPM. Keep in mind that while losing out to the Noctua and ARCTIC coolers thermally, it also needs a ton of more noise than the Noctua but is very similar to what the ARCTIC delivered on this testbed. 47 DB is obviously not the worst of them all, but in aftermarket cooling, so far, it only beats two coolers.
Here is the rub with the CNPS17X. On the one hand, the cooler competes with the similarly priced options in our charts but is the loudest option. There is no doubt that the design is unique, and your friends aren't likely to have a matching cooler, but is that uniqueness enough to sway buyers? Thermally, we cannot complain about the results, and we do not feel the pitting was any consequence, but it does represent the quality control of these products from Zalman.
We would have possibly let it slide, but after getting a bent CNPS20X tower, then seeing this base, we feel that Zalman needs to pay better attention to what is coming out of the factory if they are going to charge this kind of money for their coolers. Had this been a $40 or $50 cooler, we could overlook it with a mention and move on, but Zalman wants top dollar for a cooler which, from what we have seen, may not be up to snuff.
Don't take this as an outright bashing of Zalman. We feel that both you and Zalman need to hear the truth so that educated decisions can be made regarding where to go. We applaud the fact that Zalman is even in our lab at the moment, as it has been quite some time since they sent a cooler that we could get excited about. In our charts, if running your chip stock, this is the best performing single-tower in our charts.
It will cost you another $30 for the dual-tower competitors, but if it fits in your chassis, for almost the same money, you could run the Liquid Freezer II 280, and get an additional four degrees of cooling right out of the box. Under overclocked loads, the results are respectable, but you do have to account for a lot of noise that the slightly more expensive NH-U12A does not make you deal with at all!
It seems that no matter what angle we look at things, there is both good and not so good to discuss, and when we run across a cooler with nearly as many quirks as there are things to get excited about, it makes it tough to get behind! With all of the technology implemented, all that hard work to design and produce a cooler such as this, in our mind, we expected more since we already knew it was going to be loud. While not a proponents of silent CPU cooling per se, we do feel there are quieter, more affordable options out there.
Running head to head with an $80 cooler and a $100 cooler, the price sets itself, and we feel that without sound involved in the decision, the $70 price point of the CNPS17X is fair. At the same time, we realize that when it came to our Noctua cooler, as an example, the base was not scraped up and pitted, the build quality is much better, and with all of that and slightly better performance, it is also vastly more silent than this Zalman cooler.
In our minds, if you want something new and unique, look no further! But, if you are the type that wants to weigh out all of the variables, you may find yourself persuaded to look elsewhere. Not that Zalman did a horrible job with the CNPS17X, it does not conform to typical market trends, and moving outside of that box did not seem to give them a distinct advantage.
The CNPS17X has a ton of features and new designs that deliver thermal results we can appreciate. However, we feel that they could do better with quality control, and with all of the noise coming from this tower, it is not overly impressive!
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