Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing
It has been a few years since we last had a Thermalright product on our desk for review. We are not sure what happened along the way, but we are happy to see that Thermalright is back at it, making CPU air coolers again. Our mind immediately jumps to the likes of the Le Grand Macho, Silver Arrows, and the True in its various forms was likely the most successful cooler at that time! All we can hope is that their disappearance from the market has not changed anything within the company, and they are still in the game to make fantastic air coolers for the masses!
While Thermalright had some amazing coolers over the years, they were built for the time that they were designed. By that, we mean that size was of no concern, clearances were unheard of then, and silence in operation was laughable. The rules of the game have changed in their absence, but Thermalright showed up out of the blue, emailing us to ask if we would look at what they have now. This is just one part of the three coolers we have on hand, and we figured we would start with the smallest of the coolers, and work our way up.
What we have for you now is the TA120 from Thermalright. The TA120 is a single tower design, but it is quickly apparent that Thermalright is well aware of the new rules in CPU air cooling. Using a thin tower and a well-appointed fan, Thermalright plans to step back into the market to impress us, possibly swaying favor from many big-name manufacturers topping most charts from reviewers. For this reviewer, the nostalgia is real, and we applaud Thermalright for making a comeback, and delivering us something worth your attention!
The specifications chart we see is taken directly from the product page and covers everything one would need to know about the TA120. The tower portion of the cooler stands 158mm tall, it is 120mm wide, and just 42mm thick without the fan attached. Again, without the fan, the weight is only 570 grams, but with the fan, the overall weight goes up to 710 grams. The heat leaves the CPU into a plated copper base and delivered to the five 6mm diameter heat pipes. Once in the pipes, heat then travels into the forty-nine fins of the tower, where each fin is 0.4mm thick and is spaced 2mm apart for the next fin in the stack.
The fan that cools the tower is a TY-121, 120mm fan from Thermalright. The rated speed of this fan is a range of 600 to 1800 RPM, delivering 25 dB(A) of noise into the chassis. The CFM is shown to top out at 77.28, but with lower RPMs, you will get around 30 CFM. It takes power through a 4-pin connector, so it is PWM controlled while spinning on its sleeve bearing. Combining the TY-121 with the tower of this cooler allows Thermalright to set the TDP for the TA120 at 200W.
Locating this cooler is tough at this time, as many locations show that they are currently out of stock. This covers Amazon in a few countries, we saw no listing at Newegg, but we did find one place on this side of the pond with stock in hand. Of all sites, it is FrozenCPU.com that has the TA120, and they are listing it at $49.99. With the specifications we discussed, and the look and feel of the TA120, we have no doubt it should hold its own, and at this price, it sweetens the deal that much more.
Packaging for the TA120 is kept as basic as possible, which does help to keep costs down. Plain cardboard is used to enclose the cooler, where black printing shows us the cooler's name, a snowflake logo, and a list of compatibility at the bottom of the panel.
Both sides of the packaging are identical in what they display. Sticking with the KISS principle of this packaging, we now see the company logo inside of the "TR" and name near the bottom of both sides.
On the back of the box, we find a specifications chart similar to what we found on site. However, there are a couple of small changes seen here that we did not find in the chart. The first is that we get a pressure rating for the TY-121 of 2.72 mmH2O, and we also see the 0.25A power draw rating.
The last part of the box with any printing on it is found at the top. The standard Thermalright logo is offered above the company name, with the tagline of "low temperature; high performance" alluding to what you will get from the cooler inside the packaging.
The internal packaging ensures that our TA120 arrives in the best condition possible. While the cardboard is thicker than we usually see, Thermalright opts for open cell foam to wrap both the cooler and the fan, while separating them with a thin layer of foam. Foam also caps both ends, and the literature is found under the cooler, while the hardware box slides in next to the cooler.
Thermalright TA120 CPU Cooler
The current view of the tower is of the front, where the fan attaches. We see the stack of aluminum fins that are pressed onto the nickel-plated heat pipes, and if you look close, you can even see the Thermalright logo cut from each of the fins. Under the cooler is a two-part base that envelops the heat pipes, which are bent gently to transition from base to tower.
The cooler side shows how thin the tower is, but to us, the bend of the pipes is of more interest. Not only does a pair of the heat pipes bend more t6han the other three, but they are also offset into the tower, so that Thermalright could fit five 6mm diameter pipes into the 42mm thickness, without causing a lack of structural integrity of the fins.
The leading and trailing edges of the fins are the same, so we adopted a different perspective to show what cannot be seen in a standard image of the back of the tower. The dog bone shape allows the sides of the tower to support a fan or fans, while the central section is set back, which allows the fan to build pressure before the airflow passes over the fins.
When we saw the other side of the tower, it was hard to see the fins and what they offered. Changing the angle sorts that so that now we can see the grooves for fan mounting clips at the front and back of the cooler. Even though only one fan ships with this thin tower, a second fan can be added.
All of the fins are identical to the one that is seen at the top of the tower. On either side of the cutout Thermalright logo, you can now see how the heat pipes are arranged, and also, there are six holes in the fins. We also like that the fins show a brushed or hairline finish, but are almost polished at the same time. It ups the appearance level a touch, keeping with what we knew of Thermalright long ago.
At the opposite end of the tower, we can see that even though the pipes are bent to make it into the tower, all of the pipes work on all levels of the fin array. Every one of the pipes is pressed into the aluminum fins, and the play of natural aluminum with the nickel-plated copper is appreciated.
The top portion of the base for the TA120 is made of aluminum and is roughly finished. We see the Thermalright hologram sticker still presented on it and offers what we can only assume is the serial number, as it does not match the part number of this tower.
The solid copper base of the TA120 is highly polished before the nickel plating. Doing so results in a mirror-like finish on the base of the cooler, although it is convex in shape. In the right light, we see tiny scratches and slight imperfections, but we have no complaints overall.
Accessories and Documentation
The most substantial bits from the hardware is seen here. On the left is the universal top bracket, what the cooler mounts to, but using the cooler bracket lying on the base of the cooler, which is shown in the middle. At the right is the Intel backplate, which has the studs captured in it out of the box, and also offers a plastic isolation layer to eliminate shorts.
In the top row of this image, we first find the typical Intel standoffs, a set of knurled nuts to secure the top bracket, and standoffs specific to LGA2011/2066. The bottom row shows us the LGA775 preload spacer, plastic standoffs for AMD users, mounting screws for the top bracket for AMD users, and screws to mount the cooler bracket to the top bracket.
You will also find a syringe of Thermalright TF-4 thermal paste in the box, with enough in the tube for three or four applications, just in case something should go wrong, you have enough to try again. The TA120 comes with four wire fan clips, which goes back to being able to add the second fan to the tower, should you need a couple more degrees of performance.
The fan that comes in the box is the TY-121, with its gray and blue color theme. The blue sections of the frame are rubber pads to isolate the fan from the tower, and we can see the braided cable terminating in the 4-pin PWM fan connector. The sticker on the back says that his fan is a 1500 RPM version, but our testing proves that it is a mistake, and the fan will run near the 1800 RPM spec.
The manual comes in the form of a single sheet of paper that has been folded to fit in the box. Once unfolded, you can see we initially see dimensional renderings with a parts list to the right of it. AM4 instructions are found below those, while the revers offers Intel LGA 775/115X/1200 mounting in a section with the LGA2011/2066 instructions in another part. Even without any textual instructions, the renderings of the steps taken do get the job done without leaving questions about the orientation of the bits, or what hardware goes where.
Installation and Finished Product
While Intel users will need the provided backplate from the hardware sent with the TA120, our AMD system required the use of the motherboard supplied backplate.
You will need to remove the AMD latches from the top half of the motherboard to fit the TA120 hardware, but the installation is relatively easy. Set the plastic standoffs over the backplate studs protruding through the motherboard, rest the top bracket on them, and then secure it with the four provided screws. As to the screws, we tightened them just past snug, as you only need it to be secure, not make it permanent.
It was most comfortable for us to set the cooler mounting bracket on the base of the cooler, and move both together. Making sure to apply the thermal paste before going too far, we set the cooler and the bracket onto the CPU and lined it up for the screws. At this point, the screws do need turning until they run out of threads, although you should only make a couple of turns to each screw before swapping sides to apply even pressure.
Once installed, we split the tower with the fan placement, and while covering the bulk of the fin array, we can see that the fan sits well above the RAM. With so much black as the standard for fans, we do like that Thermalright is not afraid to play with color, giving us something new to look at, and can be easily distinguished by this alone, much like a Noctua cooler and its fans!
If we wanted to drop the fan lower on the tower, to cool the VRMs better, we have that ability. Thermalright built the TA120 to conform to today's standards, and memory clearance is a big sticking point for many.
As we step back to see how the access around the cooler is, we find that even if we added a second fan to the tower, we would have no issues getting to the fan headers, the motherboard screws, or to apply power to the 8+4 pin header. Even though the wire fan clips are bent outward to release the clips, they stay clear of our GPU, even with its backplate, we clear the tower without hassle.
Once installed on the test bench, you can see what we just said for the previous image is accurate. While not compact in the traditional sense, this is a thin entry to CPU air coolers. With so little fin array to remove the heat, it is easy to think this cooler may not be all that impressive, but the results you are about to see may change that outlook on this Thermalright TA120!
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.
At first, the 61.1-degree result may seem a bit low but add some context. The TA120 is almost as efficient as the NH-U12A, and is just 2.4-degrees from the best performer in CPU air coolers, at half the price! We did see spikes to 65-degrees with the stock settings, which is much less of a swing that we have seen from other coolers.
Once the overclock was applied, and testing finished, we saw that the TA120 was no longer a midfield player, but one that jumps into second place in air coolers! Less than a degree behind the massive CNPS20X, ahead of the Noctua entries, and ahead of that $100 A500 now! Consider us impressed! Thermal spikes got to just 69-degrees in this run, again a much thinner gap in that spike than many other coolers.
Comparing this result of 64.6-degrees as the best performance we could obtain, shows that the PWM curve of the TY-121 leaves just 1.9-degrees left on the table. Keep in mind; the fan does get very audible at this point too!
Noise Level Results
The Thermalright TA120 is not the best of the bunch when it comes to limiting the noise levels, but the 30 dB we heard from the fan at 1140 RPM is tolerable.
There is minimal movement in the noise level going from the stock run to the overclocked run, just 2 DB, leaving the TA120, placing seventh with the 32 Db noise level we recorded. At this time, the fans were topping out at 1210 RPM, which is only a slight boost in the fan's overall speed from stock.
If you are looking to get the most out of the TA120, you can run the fans in DC mode, adjusting it to run at full power. Our TY-121 topped out at 1795 RPM and raised the noise level quite a bit, to the tune of 48 dB. If it were us, with the desire for those two-degrees, we would instead opt for a second fan, where both make less noise than this.
Over the last few years, we have missed Thermalright and the long list of impressive CPU coolers. We had inclinations that maybe they were bought out and turned into a money-making machine, but whatever transpired, we don't care. We do care about that even with their absence, Thermalright has not lost their sense of direction, and the tagline on the box is not just a holdover from years past. They have given us a cooler with low temperatures, and for its size, it is undoubtedly high performance.
Not only can the TA120 handle its business, but it can also do it while passing by many of the more expensive options, and when we overclocked the system, it fell only to a cooler twice or more its size! We are happy to see Thermalright back in general, but coming out of the gate like this makes it even better!
The TA120 has almost everything that today's coolers require to appeal to the masses, but the lack of RGB or ARGB lighting is not a deal-killer. What you do get is a cooler that is smaller than most it competes with, yet it delivers all of the clearances expected today. The tower is solid, it feels robust, and while stylishly on the dull side, The TA120 takes us back in time visually, but leaves us with none of the issues older coolers presented! The fan that accompanies the tower may not be everyone's cup of tea. The gray and blue are going to be hard to match a theme.
However, coming from someone who loves when manufacturers use bold accents to distinguish themselves from a sea of black coolers, you can understand why we like it. The entire cooler, down to its shape, design, the fan choice, even the hardware setups for mounting the cooler are all without issue. For a company that took an extended vacation, they sure have not lost touch on what it takes to make an impressive CPU air cooler!
To top everything off, the TA120 from Thermalright is affordable. While contending blow for blow with a few $80 coolers and surpassing $100 options, the fact that the TA120 will set you back only $49.99 makes the purchase that much better. Sadly, there is one small issue, and that is availability. While we were able to locate it at one site, out of the six we checked, with any connection to the Thermalright TA120, only one shows stock inside the US.
However, the onus is not only on Thermalright at this time, as shipping has slowed, and shelves everywhere are bare. Considering all factors, Thermalright has certainly made waves with their re-entry to the market, and delivered a thin tower cooler that is impressive, and competes well above its weight!
The Bottom Line
Thermalright kept us waiting, but after seeing what the TA120 can do, we can say the wait was worth it. With a smaller footprint and clearance all around the cooler, the TA120 is not only affordable, but impressive to say the least.
Thermalright TA120 CPU Cooler
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