Thermaltake Frio Advanced and Frio Extreme Reviewairman - May 23, 2012
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Side by side, these two coolers are quite different — about the only similarity between them physically is their height of about 160mm. Most coolers at 160mm and above may experience clearance issues in small cases, but for most chassis it should not cause any issues. The heatpipes for both coolers are bent in a C-shape that exit from both sides of the base. The heatpipes on the Frio Advanced are not coated, so they remain the natural copper color. However, the Frio Extreme's heatpipes are nickel plated given them a silver color. While each of the heatpipes exiting the base of the Frio Extreme are bent at the same location, the bend locations for the Frio Advanced's heatpipes are staggered. This difference is most likely due to the direction of air passing through the coolers — if the heatpipes of the Frio Advanced were aligned, the middle heatpipes would be "shadowed" from airflow by the ones in front of them.
The interface between the heatpipes and the base is of acceptable quality in both coolers. While some gaps are visible on the Frio Extreme, I can tell that they are soldered into place which significantly reduces this being an issue. The heatpipes on the Frio Advanced are well-formed into the base and also provide a good level of contact, though it's not as much of a concern since the heatpipes are in direct contact with the CPU. The base of the Frio Advanced extends on both sides and has countersunk holes for the screws that allow its "legs" to bolt to the motherboard. On the other hand, the Frio Extreme just has a small, notched channel for a different 2-point mounting bar.
The fin design between both coolers is quite different. The fins on the Frio Advanced are uniform in cross-section, with a thickness of about 0.45mm and a spacing of ~2.4mm. The fins on the Frio Extreme, which are positioned in a staggered pattern, seem to be more thin at ~0.40mm and more dense with a fin spacing of only about 1.5mm. The thinner, more dense fin arrangement on the Frio Extreme has the ability to perform well, as long as the fans are properly matched to satisfy the greater pressure requirements of the higher fin density.
I always take a very close look at the base of my heatsinks where it will be in contact with the CPU. A high-quality base is far from effortless to achieve, requires fine machining tolerances, sometimes clever manufacturing processes, and is often a good indicator of the manufacturer's level of investment with the heatsink's production. A fine surface finish is important to have, but the surface flatness is also a heavily-weighted factor. A base can have mirror-like reflectivity, but a "wavy" surface will not produce an acceptable amount of contact area between the CPU and the heatsink. For direct-touch heatpipe coolers, we typically do not see a finely polished surface but they are usually quite flat. Minimizing the size of the gaps between the base material and the heatpipes themselves are typically how a high quality direct-touch base is improved.
For the Thermaltake Frio Advanced, we can easily see the machining marks left behind from the grinding process, which should leave a flat surface. Upon inspection, this surface is visibly convex in the direction perpendicular to the heatpipes. I could list this as a negative, but this may serve a purpose. In many of the heatsinks I have reviewed, the base may have slight convexity, but it is almost always along the direction that is parallel to the mounting force. It is possible, with enough mounting force, that bases can deform slightly to produce a proper surface flatness. We are talking about almost 10mm (3/8") here, but I suppose it's possible. The Thermaltake Frio Extreme's base, while polished to a mirror reflectivity, also has a slight convexity along the mounting direction. However, the convexity is much more obvious here. As I said, I am beginning to see this shape as a trend across several manufacturers, and it's plausible that it is designed to compensate for the base's deflection after being mounted. With the Extreme's base however, there is a lot of room that needs to be made up, and I don't think the mounting can cause the base to flex that much!
The fans from the Thermaltake Frio Advanced already have toolless shrouds attached to them, but they are removable meaning a user can swap in other fans that they desire. These fans are 130mm fans, though they have the same "corner" dimensions as a 120mm fan. The black housing simply extends past the corners to make room for the red impeller. These fans use a 4-pin PWM plug, though no Y-adapter seems to be provided. The rear badge lists it as a 12V fan that pulls a whopping 0.5A — meaning we could be looking at some serious noise. Looking back to the box, I see its dB rating varies from 21~44 dBA from 800-2000 RPM, and only moves a maximum of 88 CFM. At an astonishing 44 dBA at full-rip, I would desperately expect more than 88 CFM out of it. A 120mm Delta fan operating at the same 44 dBA noise level is specified to produce over 120 CFM, and there are plenty that can push 80CFM at less than 30 dBA. I sure hope the 44dBA is a misprint!
On the contrary, I am not as scared by the Frio Extreme fans' specifications. These 11-blade, 140mm fans still pull 0.5A at 12V and operate between 1200 and 1800RPM, but are specified to move up to 106 CFM at 39 dBA in full swing. However, 39 dBA is still by no means quiet. These are listed to only produce 19 dBA on its lowest setting, but like the Frio Advanced, no air flow metrics are given. These also use 4-pin connectors, but the provided "remote" fan controller is capable of acting as one.
Getting these coolers into the case is the next step. Both coolers use similar mounting mechanisms, but they vary slightly so I will briefly cover what is required for both. The Frio Advanced first needs to have the "legs" installed, which contain the two posts that anchor the cooler to the mounting bracket in the final step. The Frio Extreme uses a bar-type clamp that is not fastened to the cooler at all — it only applies pressure on top of its base once attached to the mounting bracket. Those differences aside, both require placement of the backplate and assembly of the mounting components. After these are in place, the coolers can be clamped into place.
With the coolers mounted, we can clip in the fans move on to the testing phase. After powering up with both heatsinks, I can definitely say that these two aren't silent, but they aren't totally intolerable either.
I'm not sure if I'm doing something wrong, but the way that the fans on the Extreme are constructed makes the edges of the fins VERY close to the front mounting surface. So close that they actually begin to contact the heatsink at high RPMs. The first time this happened, I was surprised the fan itself didn't break with it cranking away at almost 2,000RPM! I'll explore this problem further during testing and provide my thoughts on it in the conclusion.