11-Mar-2016

CPU Cooler

After upgrading to the Core i7-4790K processor, I experienced the i7 processor running hotter than the replaced i3-4340 processor in my 2013 Desktop Computer. The Intel stock cooler that came with the i7-4790K is loud when it spins upwards of 3200 rpm to handle all 4 CPU cores running at 100% utilization. Even during less CPU utilization, the changing speed of the stock cooling fan becomes quite distracting and annoying.

Having added and replaced various parts in my original computer including a monitor, hard disk, memory and CPU, I was not in the mood to spend more money. However, after running a number of stress testing and real-world programs, I became concerned with the temperature of the i7-4790K processor during 100% CPU utilization. In an ambient room temperature of around 26C, I measured upwards of 95C for the temperature of the 4 cores inside the i7-4790K processor. The current Haswell generation of Intel processors is designed for operation up to around 105C (some say 100C) for core temperatures. That coupled with the stock cooling fan noise level and distracting sound when it changes speeds compelled me to investigate my options for an after-market cooling system.

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The price range for after-market CPU coolers range from $25 to $250 and beyond for air as well as closed-loop liquid cooling systems. The air cooling system is basically an arrangement of heatsink fins and heatpipes with one of more fans attached. The closed-loop liquid cooling system involves a radiator arrangement with a pump to circulate the fluid to transfer the heat from the CPU's Integrated Heat Spreader (IHS) to the radiator where heat is dissipated and expelled from the computer case by one or more fans. For the ultimate experience for enthusiasts, submerge your computer in mineral oil. If I ever write about me doing such a thing, you will know that I've gone off the deep end.

Video clip from LinusTechTips where they built a mineral oil submerged PC.

I am reluctant to go with a closed-loop liquid cooling system (let alone the PC submerged in mineral oil) where the idea of liquid (even though sealed in a closed-loop system) inside my computer case is concerning. Besides, the radiator pump apparently adds noise to the system. I'm seeking a quiet air cooling system sufficient to cut down the maximum core temperature from its 95C point, and I don't want to pay $250.

I found value in the Arctic Freezer i32 which I purchased from amazon.com for $44 USD with import fees included. After 2 chat sessions with amazon.com and several emails, I was finally able to get assurance that I will not have to pay additional duties and taxes to the shipper before they release the package to me. The ultimate assurance was when amazon.com wrote that I can refuse the package which will be sent back to amazon.com for full refund to me if the shipper attempts to charge additional duties and taxes. For my troubles dealing with the ineffective chat agents, amazon.com waived the shipping fee which helped to bring the cost to $44. I could not find a Canadian retailer (online or otherwise) which carried the Arctic Freezer i32 product. Even amazon.ca did not have it available for sale. After USD to CAD exchange, my cost was $60 and to my pleasant surprise, there was no HST sales tax levied on the product delivered by Canada Post on the Canadian side. Bonus!

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Assembly and installation was straight-forward with the hardest part being the thermal paste which I had to apply to the bottom of the flattened heatpipes which contact the IHS of the i7-4790K. And I had one shot at slotting the heatsink-heatpipes unit onto the IHS because re-seating requires additional thermal paste which I did not have.

The Arctic Freezer i32 fan is extremely quiet. It is a 120mm fan (compared to the 80mm stock fan) which means it can spin slower to achieve the same air flow as a smaller fan. It has a passive mode where the fan will stop spinning below 30% fan power which I configured for 30C CPU temperature at the socket (not the core temperatures inside the i7-4790K). I chose 30C in favor of keeping the core temperatures lower while giving up passive fan operation as a tradeoff. With my typical room temperature around 26C, at idle and light usage, the core temperatures are around 35C so the i32 fan is spinning most of the time around 900 rpm. The i32 fan spins at 1350 rpm at 100% fan power.

With the Arctic Freezer i32 cooling system, my maximum core temperature has been reduced to 75C when I run my stress testing and real-world programs. Playing Assassin's Creed Unity results in a maximum core temperature of 65C. Heat is well reduced and managed by the i32 when using the i7-4790K in non-overclocking mode. I'm already getting 4.2GHz when all 4 cores are running at 100% utilization with peaks to the highest non-overclocked rate of 4.4GHz. Considering the i7-4790K is specified to be a 4.0GHz CPU with turbo mode up to 4.4GHz, I am very happy with the 4.2GHz clockrate when running all 4 cores at 100% utilization for my video rendering and 3D modelling programs.

Although the i7-4790K is an overclockable CPU by design, my objective is not to overclock. I was initially seeking the i7-4790 (non-overclocking version without the 'K') but when the i7-4790K hit a sale price at a retailer which was lower than the regular price of the i7-4790 at other retailers, it was an easy decision. Even without overclocking, the i7-4790K is 4.0GHz with turbo 4.4GHz compared to the i7-4790 which is 3.6GHz with turbo 4.0GHz.

With that said, I will be investigating overclocking to see how much higher I can push my i7-4790K with consideration for operating stability along with voltage level and core temperature increases. Running any CPU at a higher voltage and temperature is reportedly not as good for the longevity of the hardware.


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