Zalman CNPS9900 Max Review
Reviewed by: airman
Reviewed on: December 30, 2010
Zalman is one manufacturer of computer cooling solutions that I remember the most from years ago. I remember seeing its unique products all over the web and locally in stores during the ancient days where the early Pentium 4 and the AMD Athlon chips ruled the market - such as the copper flower and early CNPS heatsinks. I also have strong memories of Zalman's video card coolers and its love of copper as the main building block for these cooling setups. Founded in 1999, the Korean company now offers all sorts of computer products, starting with low noise and noiseless heatsinks and GPU coolers, then continuing to broader markets that include audio products, solid state hard drives and docking stations, power supplies, and even 3D monitors. Today, in this review, I will be testing the Zalman CNPS9900 MAX heatsink. It boasts an all nickel plated copper construction, and of course has the CNPS (Computer Noise Prevention System) in the model name. The heatpipes are said to be improved thanks to its internal construction, which possesses a certain composite groove structure that increases the heat transfer rate by 50%. If that is true, this will be a powerful heatsink! I am looking forward to seeing how it performs in comparison to other heatsinks of the same caliber.
The CNPS9900 MAX is packaged in an attractive black box with the Zalman logo in the upper right corner and the CNPS9900 MAX name just beneath it. There is a window that allows the new owner to see the heatsink inside before tearing open the box. A few of the key features are listed at the bottom of the box, such as the ultra quiet 135mm red LED fan, socket compatibilities, and others that will be discussed later in this review. The rear of the box goes into a little more detail about the features listed on the front of the box. One of the things that I noticed was that this heatsink is claimed to have 300W of cooling power! That's quite a bit. If that is true, it should fair very well under a loaded, overclocked i7 processor. It also mentions that the heatsink is "Black-Pearl" nickel plated. Plating with "black" nickel gives the heatsink darker luster that I think is unique. There isn't anything said on the right side of the box, but on the left side of the box there is some explanation about the composite heatpipes used in its construction. It has grooves on the interior of each heatpipe along with sintered walls, which is said to accelerate the effectiveness of the internal "wick". It almost tempts me to cut one open to check it out! But alas, I couldn't just destroy a perfectly good heatsink for that reason.
The radial fins on the CNPS9900 MAX remind me a lot of Zalman's style. Many of the company's heatsinks have this look, even dating back years ago. Its "Copper Flower", back in the day of the Athlon XP, was a very simple heatsink that was all copper in construction, and only consisted of the base and radial fins coming off it. I do like the look of copper, and I wish that Zalman might have left some part of the CNPS9900 MAX unplated since it is all copper! Nevertheless, Zalman's unique style has me interested in how this one will perform. The mounting system is quite simple, as it uses the same backplate for both AMD and Intel processors, only two different sets of clips for AMD or Intel, along with screws and other mounting hardware. The included user's manual is straight forward and easy to understand.
With the heatsink unpackaged, it's time to get started on the rest of the review.
The CNPS9900 MAX has a total of three heatpipes. Each one loops through each set of fins, and back into the base. Two heatpipes extend from the rear side and through a wider set of fins, while there is only one heatpipe looping through the front side. The fan reminds me of an average fan with the shroud removed, and a metal stand coming from the rear that attaches to the base. Each set of fins has a metal ring around them to secure them in place and to prevent them from twisting out of place. The CNPS9900 MAX label is placed on the front side of the fan. There is a nub on the top side of the base that I couldn't find a use for, as it's just in the cast portion of the top plate where the fan attaches. I've provided a closer look of it in the next set of pictures, after the following.
There are two screws that secure the fan and the fan stand to the base. In the casting of this base cover are the words "MADE IN KOREA", which makes sense since that is where Zalman is headquartered. The nub on the casting that I mentioned above can be seen here more clearly. The fins' structure and geometry can be seen a little more clearly below. One neat thing that I noticed about these fins is that they look to be polished to a mirror finish. This can be seen on the fully exposed one where the reflection of the heatpipe can be seen. The three heatpipes are sandwiched between the base and the top plate where the fan is secured. You can see how two of the heatpipes are on one side, and only one on the other.
The plate to which the fan attaches is removed by taking out the four screws that can be seen from the base. Underneath this plate, the heatpipes themselves are exposed. These heatpipes are soldered to the base, so this is as much as the cooler can be disassembled. Taking a closer look at the fan will show its design, though there's not much to it. It uses a 4-pin PWM connector and the fan operates with 12V and pulls 0.40A. It is a clear, 135mm fan and has a red LED inside of it. I don't expect it to be very bright since the LEDs in fans are typically in the shroud, which are pointed at and illuminate the blades. The fan blades on the CNPS9900 MAX are slightly "frosted", which should help the brightness a little bit.
The base of the CNPS9900 MAX is one of the most impressive bases I have seen. It is polished to a mirror finish and there is no doubt about that. Not a single machining mark can be seen! Hopefully, the thickness of the plating here is hardly measurable. The rate of conduction is based off the thermal conductivity coefficient and the thickness of the material. The thicker the material, the lower the conduction rate. Since the thermal conductivity of nickel is less than one-fourth of that of copper, this will add thermal resistance. Typically, metal plating is on the order of a few micro inches thick, so this shouldn't cause much of a problem, but we can assume that it does slightly hinder its performance. Regardless of this, the quality of the finish on the base certainly makes up for it.
Installation of the CNPS9900 MAX is relatively straight forward and simple. The instructions found in the manual are clear, and I had no issues following them. First, the appropriate set of clips are clamped between the base and the top, with the removable plate that I showed earlier. Then, the nuts are placed into the appropriate holes in the back plate and then secured into place with the supplied plastic caps. The only difficulty I came across was the in-case installation. The supplied hex key used to tighten the screws into the back plate was a little too short since the 90 degree bend was unable to easily clear the heatsink while turning it. Luckily, the end of the wrench is rounded so tightening the screws at an angle wasn't much of a problem.
To put the brightness of the cooler into perspective, the fan is powered and the light is illuminated in the final picture with the cooler installed. Of course, it is washed out from the brightness of the bounce flash, but the LEDs on the motherboard easily outpower it to the naked eye. It can't even be noticed in this picture. This is far from the appearance depicted on the box, but it doesn't affect my preference of it either way. So far, my thoughts of this cooler are positive. It is good looking, has a promising design, the base is perfect, and wasn't a terrible pain to install, though the shorter hex key made it difficult to do so inside the case - I had to remove the video card to fasten the bottom screws. Soon, we'll find out how it performs!
94 (L) x 131 (W) x 152 (H)
Pure Copper/Black-Pearl Nickel Plating
18~30dBA (18~27dBA with 7V connector)
- Powerful cooling performance (Qmax: 300W)
- Ultra quiet 135mm red LED fan
- PWM fan speed control
- Included 7V fan adapter
- Black-Pearl Nickel plating
- Extreme performance super thermal grease (ZM-STG2)
- Versatile compatibility
Information provided courtesy of Zalman @ http://www.zalman.com
Testing and Setup:
Testing of the heatsink will involve applying a load simulated by Prime95, using small FFTs in stock and overclocked scenarios. Both idle and load temperatures will be recorded. Load temperatures will be the maximum value displayed in RealTemp after running eight threads in Prime95 for one hour, and idle temperatures will be the minimum recorded value by RealTemp with no computer usage after one hour. The temperature values for each of the four cores will be averaged and displayed in the graphs below. The ambient temperature is held at a constant 22.5 °C throughout testing of the CNPS9900 MAX, as well as the comparison heatsinks. All the data shown in the graphs below is in degrees Celsius. The included thermal paste from Zalman will be used during testing, and thermal pastes as packaged from the other coolers were used with each heatsink, respectively. The fan on the CNPS9900 MAX will be run at full speed for these tests.
- Processor: Intel i7 920 (Stock 2.66GHz and Overclocked to 3.44GHz @ 1.27V)
- Motherboard: MSI Eclipse SLI
- Memory: Mushkin Ridgeback 12800 6-8-6-24
- Video Card: XFX HD5870
- Power Supply: Mushkin Joule 1000W Power Supply
- Hard Drive: Seagate 1TB SATA
- Optical Drive: Lite-On DVD-RW
- OS: Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
- Ambient Temperature: 22.5 °C
- CPU Heatsink: Zalman CNPS9900 MAX
- Case: Cooler Master HAF 932
- Stock Intel heatsink
- Arctic Cooling Freezer 13
- Noctua NH-D14
- Deepcool Gamer Storm
- Noctua NH-U12P
- Thermalright HR-02
The Zalman CNPS9900 MAX performed very well in comparison to the other heatsinks. It even came within a degree or two of the Noctua D14, which is no easy task! The noise on the CNPS9900 MAX is audible, and a little more than I expected out of the model name, which is abbreviated from "Computer Noise Protection System." The D14 accomplished better temperatures with no audible noise. However, the D14 is more expensive, much larger, and has two operating fans, so there is a sacrifice to achieve the improved temperatures offered by the Noctua. On the next page, I will wrap up my thoughts about the CNPS9900 MAX.
The Zalman CNPS9900 MAX is a very strong performer, and brings a lot of attractive features to the table. It is relatively compact compared to other high end heatsinks, has a mirror-polished base, and is lightweight. Not only does it come close to the top performing Noctua NH-D14, but it does so with one less fan and with about 200g less mass. Going into more detail, even though it only uses three heatpipes, the design and usage of them makes them as effective as six since they loop back into the base. Not only do the heatpipes act as six, their internal construction with the micro-engineered axial grooves is said to increase performance by an additional 50%. If this is accurate, this certainly assisted the CNPS9900 MAX in performing as well as it did.
The 135mm fan at full speed did leave a little bit left to be desired on the noise aspect of the cooler. Running the fan with the included 7V adapter did help a little bit, but the cooling power suffered by a couple of degrees. Earlier Zalman coolers were supplied with a rheostat controller, giving the user the ability to more easily control the noise and performance levels based on the situation. The installation wasn't what I will consider a pain, but if the user chooses to install the heatsink with the motherboard still in the case, the angles required to reach and tighten the base screws may make the task a little difficult to achieve. I had to remove the video card to access these. If the supplied hex key could have been about two inches longer to clear the fins, the screws would have been a little easier to fasten.
Though it is a tad loud, this doesn't change my overall thoughts of it. The CNPS9900 MAX is lightweight and compact, and leaves plenty of room on the inside of the case, easily clearing motherboard components. The red LED (also available in blue) adds a nice, but not overpowering glow. As I mentioned, the LEDs on my motherboard are brighter than the one in the cooler. The nickel plating on the heatsink adds a nice look, and shouldn't noticeably affect the cooling performance though it masks the luster of copper. The plating is also supposed to help prevent oxidation and corrosion of the copper, which would worsen the overall performance after extensive usage. The CNPS9900 MAX is supplied with a one year manufacturer warranty from Zalman, but I don't suspect anyone would need to take advantage of that - minus the possibility of the fan malfunctioning.
Overall, the Zalman CNPS9900 MAX is a good choice for the best of both worlds. It is relatively small, significantly lighter than other heatsinks amongst its performance, and offers a different look compared to other large tower coolers. My thumbs go up to Zalman for this cooler, and I can only expect Zalman to continue offering great products for the coming years!
- Unique design
- Solid performance
- Rounded construction significantly improves motherboard component clearance
- Noise levels aren't very adjustable (in-line reducer only decreases fan speed by 200RPM)
- In-case installation a little difficult with the supplied hex key