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be quiet! Dark Rock TF Review

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be quiet! Dark Rock TF Closer Look:

The Dark Rock TF has an attractive, dark nickel-plated finish from top to bottom. There are two distinct heat sinks; one being the large top heat sink and the other being the smaller unit sandwiched between the top heat sink and the base. The cooler comes with two SilentWings® 135mm PWM fans that mount to the larger top heat sink. Socket compatibility includes all of the most recent sockets from AMD: AM2(+) / AM3 (+) / FM1 / FM2+, and Intel: LGA 775 / 115X / 1366 / 2011(-3), to ensure the largest possible audience for this design.

From the be quiet! website, "Compact PCs pose significant design challenges, not least of which is how to quietly cool a high-performance, overclocked CPU in a cramped space. Be quiet!'s Dark Rock TF offers a solution to this challenge. This top-flow cooler with two powerful heat sinks is an extension of the well-established successful be quiet! product series Dark Rock and a compact cooling beast. It is designed to bring the famous be quiet! silent technology into your PC. With the best performance-to-noise ratio available in the compact cooler category, it strikes the perfect balance between cooling and serenity with absolutely no compromise in silence and performance." That statement really sums it up. be quiet! clearly has a plan to deliver an efficient and capable cooler in a niche market without much competition. Unlike many coolers built for compact cases, the Dark Rock TF is intended to handle more than just the load of an HTPC or media server.

There are six large Ø6mm heat pipes that emanate from the base, but each side takes a different path. They look like the exhaust header for one side of a V12 engine. Four heat pipes on one side make an immediate 180 degree turn to deliver the heat to the smaller heat sink that measures 100mm X 65mm X 30mm and has 31 fins. The termination points are the standard pinch and braze. The sides of the small heat sink are dressed with brushed aluminum covers with a raised be quiet! logo in the center. The bright finish of the top surface of the logo is machined and really stands out. The top of the base, which is tucked under the smaller heat sink and is somewhat hard to see, is covered with many shallow grooves to increase surface area.

 

Looking down from above, you can see the ghostly image of the smaller heat sink peeking through the fins of the larger heat sink. There are two rectangular rubber vibration isolators along the sides of the larger heat sink (top and bottom faces), which function to keep any fan vibrations from being transferred to the heat sink. This is another way that be quiet! keeps the cooler as quiet as possible. The top heat sink has 62 fins and measures roughly 140mm X 135mm X 35mm thick. The six Ø6mm heat pipes for the large heat sink have a much longer path and angle up from the base, gently curving into the large fin stack. From the side view, the heat pipes form a large "G" shape.

 

The end view clearly shows the dark nickel-plated brushed aluminum end cover for the top heat sink and there are socket head screws, one at each corner, securing the end cap to the fin stack. All six of the heat pipe termination points are neatly covered with decorative caps. If you look at the lower heat sink, you can see that there are only four heat pipes that transfer the heat, while all six are used for the upper heat sink.

  

 

The views from the bottom of the cooler show that the base is packed full of heat pipes. But that is what it takes to efficiently transfer the heat away from the CPU up to the heat sinks. There are two tapped holes on either side of the base to mount either the AMD or Intel side brackets. Of course, don't forget to remove the protective cover from the base! Next is the side bracket mounting and the thermal paste application.

 

Since the OCC test system uses an Intel Core i7 4770K CPU, I will be using the brackets for an Intel installation. They come separated from the base and easily attach with the four included screws. The instructions show the proper orientation of the brackets, but the beveled holes in the brackets also help to identify the proper way to install them. The Dark Rock TF comes from the factory with a small syringe of thermal paste. After an even application, I like to take a look and see how well the paste spreads out when the cooler base makes contact with the top cover of the CPU. This looks pretty good, so the next step is to secure the cooler to the motherboard.

 

The dark nickel finish definitely goes well with the MSI motherboard's red and black accents. This cooler looks right at home on top of the Core i7 4770K CPU. It doesn't dwarf the motherboard like some vertical dual-tower coolers do, but it certainly has an undeniable presence, and I don't even have the fans mounted yet.

 

From the side, you can see how the top heat sink overhangs the RAM slots. It looks like there is a ton of room for tall RAM modules, but remember that the fans are not mounted yet.

 

Now it is time to mount the fans. Using the supplied fan clips, each fan easily clips the the larger top cooler and this adds to the already ominous look of the dark nickel plating. You can see how the fans are positioned over the RAM, so there should be plenty of air flow to keep the RAM cool. Now, don't think you have to use two fans. Maybe you have a really shallow case and you need some more space at the top of the cooler - not a problem since the Dark Rock TF will function just fine with one fan.

 

I really like the look of this cooler when it is fully dressed with both fans. The heat pipes that go to the small heat sink are a little close to the first RAM slot, but there is still room for the first module. Vertically, I have room for RAM with tall heat spreaders across all four slots.

 

Let's talk about the fans. Air flow is certainly a major factor of cooler capacity. To move a lot of air, you need a capable fan, and the nine-blade 135mm PWM SilentWings® fans are up to the task. These fans use a fluid dynamic bearing with a copper core and are rated at 0.4 amps, moving up to 67.8 CFM of air. The rated speed is 1400 RPM with an overall noise level of 11.9 / 19.3 / 26.7 dB(A) @ 50/75/100% (RPM). There is also an advanced six-pole motor, airflow-optimized fan blades, and a dynamically-balanced impeller. The power cables are sheathed and are long enough to reach the CPU fan headers with no problems. There is also a fan splitter that allows you to plug both fans into one motherboard fan header. I'll also add that the fan clips go on easily and securely hold the fans to the fin stack. I have seen a few coolers where the clips are so tight that you hope you don't have to ever remove the fan. That's not the case here.

 

As for the installation, the Dark Rock TF uses a very robust, flat base plate with holes notched at each corner for the various socket configurations. The first thing you do is determine which of the three possible stud locations you need, and push the four studs up through the appropriate notched holes. After the studs are installed to the base plate, the plate and studs are installed to the motherboard. The studs are retained (from the top of the motherboard) by pushing on a small plastic clip to each stud. This is a clever way to retain the studs and also provides an isolation spacer between the base plate and the motherboard. Now you are ready to mount the cooler. Perhaps the only thing I didn't like is that the mounting system is a little cumbersome. The small nuts used to secure the cooler to the motherboard are a little difficult to manipulate and get threaded onto the studs. Not impossible by any means; it just took me a few tries. So if there is anything I would improve, it would be the mounting system. But for most people, coolers are something you install once. For someone who reviews coolers (like me) you tend to be a little more sensitive to the installation. As for the instructions, they are a bit on the brief side, and the illustrations seem to be thorough enough, but just small and a little hard to read.

 

Now it is time to get the motherboard and cooler into the test system. Of course, the test case is a Phanteks Enthoo Primo, which is a monster of a case. The Dark Rock looks good in the test case, as I suspect it would in any case.

  

 

One of the nice features of a top flow style cooler is that in addition to cooling the CPU, it also provides some serious airflow to the motherboard. Various components such as the VRM, chipset, RAM, and even the GPU (well, at least the back side of it) all benefit from the air flow. The bold look of the Dark Rock TF has renewed my interest in top flow coolers. Next, it is time to run the thermal testing and see if the Dark Rock TF performs as well as it looks.




  1. be quiet! Dark Rock TF: Introduction & Closer Look
  2. be quiet! Dark Rock TF: Closer Look (Continued)
  3. be quiet! Dark Rock TF: Specifications & Features
  4. be quiet! Dark Rock TF Testing: Setup & Results
  5. be quiet! Dark Rock TF: Conclusion
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