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Build A PC Like My Super PC

CPU Cooler And Case Fans

CPU Cooler (Heat-Sink And Fan)

"What CPU cooler should I get?" or "What heat-sink and fan should I get?"

There were two reasons I became interested in this question. One is that the the first CPU cooler, also called the heat-sink fan (HSF), that I ever used came in the retail box of an AMD Athlon 1.0GHz Thunderbird processor and it rattled a good deal of the time. Not all of the time, but much of the time. And not a real loud rattle, but loud enough to be significantly louder than anything else making noise in My Super PC. The other was that the processor was running hot under load. The processor should not exceed 60 degrees Centigrade under load, and ideally should be under 50 degrees Centigrade. If it exceeds 60 degrees Centigrade then it's definitely time to look into adding cooling.

Now this sounds like a simple question doesn't it? One that you would think would have a simple answer. No chance. It turns out the answer can be as complicated as you like. Here's why:

First, there are lots of CPU cooler options out there, and which one is right for you depends on three things.

  • Performance. Meaning how well does it do the job of cooling the processor.
  • Cost. Always a factor.
  • Noise. How much is acceptable? Some come with fans that are much louder than others, but then they perform better.

Second, you need to know that there are actually three separate parts that make up the CPU cooler.

  • The Fan. No surprise.
  • The Sink. No surprise.
  • The thermal compound (also called thermal paste). Surprised? I was! More on this a little further down.

Yikes! Already six variables. And it gets worse. Sheesh. So what seemed like a quick-an-easy purchase ended up taking about 10 hours of research. At the end of it all, the "sweet spot" winner is the Thermaltake Volcano 6cu CPU cooler. The Thermaltake Volcano 6Cu has great qualities, such as copper in the sink for greater heat dissipation properties and it's AMD approved/recommended up to AMD Athlon XP 2100+. This Thermaltake Volcano lineup review by OverClockerCafe gives it high marks, and it's definitely on the low-noise side for CPU coolers. The Thermaltake Volcano 6cu specifications are on this page.

If I were buying My Super PC's components today then I would get the newer Thermaltake Volcano 7 CPU cooler. The Volcano 7 model is good up to and including the AMD Athlon XP 2200+ and outperforms the Volcano 6Cu while still providing a low noise solution according to both this Thermaltake Volcano 7 review and this Thermaltake Volcano 7 review. Here are the Thermaltake Volcano 7 specifications.

How to build a computer - Thermaltake Volcano 6Cu retail box Click on any of the pictures on this page to see the picture enlarged.

The Thermaltake Volcano 6Cu that I use for my AMD Athlon XP 1800+ processor arrived in this box.
How to build a computer - Thermaltake Volcano 6Cu CPU cooler The Thermaltake Volcano 6Cu has a copper base insert to give it greater heat dissipation capabilities. The "sink" is big, but that's good since a big sink means more cooling. And it does indeed fit on the ABIT KT7A motherboard. That's one of those "It gets worse" things. Not all CPU coolers will fit on the ABIT KT7A ! The motherboard has some large capacitors sitting right next to the processor socket which can get in the way. The Volcano 6Cu is also the quietest CPU cooler I've ever used!
How to build a computer - Thermaltake Volcano 6Cu CPU cooler copper base Here's a shot of the base of the Thermaltake Volcano 6Cu so you can see the copper base insert. You can also see the plastic protective cover which can easily be peeled away to reveal the factory thermal compound.
How to build a computer - Thermaltake Volcano 6Cu CPU cooler with factory thermal compound shown Like so.

Underneath the CPU cooler is the thermal compound. The thermal compound that comes standard with any CPU cooler is not as good as other alternatives. The thermal compound is important because it transfers the heat efficiently from the processor to the sink. So it's worthwhile to remove the thermal compound that comes with the CPU cooler and apply something better. This Thermal Compound FAQ page at The Heat Sink Guide and this What Is Thermal Compound, How Does It Work And Why Do I Want It? article by Tony Martin give good explanations about thermal compound and why it is important.

Once convinced that replacing the thermal compound is worthwhile, which one to use? The "sweet spot" is Arctic Silver 3. Club Overclocker has a concise Thermal Compound Shootout Review report showing Arctic Silver comes out on top. But that was then, and now their Arctic Silver 3 review shows Arctic Siliver 3 is even better than Arctic Silver 2! Their Arctic Silver 2 review showed Arctic Silver 2 as even better than the original Arctic Silver. I purchase my Arctic Silver products from Inflow Direct here. A 3 gram tube is way plenty for covering one AMD processor core.

How to build a computer - Thermaltake Volcano 6Cu CPU cooler with factory thermal compound removed Excellent instructions for installing thermal compound can be found by following the links provided on Artic Silver's home page until you arrive at the Artic Silver, Arctic Silver II, and Arctic Silver 3 thermal compound installation instructions. Before applying new thermal compound, the factory thermal compound must be removed. This picture shows I was able to remove all of the factory themal compound following the instructions given by Arctic Silver, which include using isoproply alcohol, a clean credit card, lint free cloths, a clean toothbrush and elbow grease.

Installation is another story. Now the thing with a CPU cooler is that all of them seem to be kind of difficult to actually clip on to the socket. It literally took me two hours to succeed the very first time I installed a CPU cooler. Like most people, when I try to attach the clip with my thumb I find it's too painful to push it until it locks into place even if I was strong enough - which I'm not! So, like most people, I ended up developing a technique where I leveraged the clip into place with a screwdriver. A superb guide to installing a CPU cooler is Dan's CPU Cooler Installation - Getting It Right. Another good reference is the Socket A AMD Processor Installation Guide available from AMD.

How to build a computer - Thermaltake Volcano 6Cu CPU cooler mounted and installed on the ABIT KT7A motherboard And here the Thermaltake Volcano 6Cu sits triumphantly installed in My Super PC on my AMD Athlon XP 1800+ processor! I've had a great deal more practice since I first installed a CPU Cooler on My Super PC so installation did not take too long.

Case Fans

In addition to the CPU cooler, I decided to add case fans. The Antec KS-282 case does not come with fans - which is fine by me since it lets me pick my own quality, quiet fans - but it does provide openings for both an intake and exhaust fan.

The decision on the case fans, which are 80mm size fans for the Antec KS-282 case, is nothing like the decision that can go into the CPU cooler. There is no one "sweet spot" winner. Prices are not that different and there are a number of quality products available, so you just want to keep an eye on the airflow and noise. After seeing a decibel rating chart I decided that anything around 30dB would be fine for noise. The fans I purchased are around this number, in fact a little above, but I consider the noise level on My Super PC to be very agreeable and not noisy at all. Case fans are muffled somewhat just by being enclosed in the case.

The Sunon fans are some of the best and Inflow Direct carries them. If you're buying the CPU cooler, thermal compound and case fans all at the same time like I did then you can save almost the cost of a fan on shipping by buying everything from the same place! From what I've read, you should have more exhaust than intake and not the other way around. I also wanted 3-pin fans so I could plug them into the connections on my motherboard rather than use 4-pin connectors. I purchased two identical fans which seem to offer a good compromise between noise and airflow. Here is the fan I selected, along with the link at Inflow Direct.

Fan Airflow Decibels
Sunon KD1208PTB2
39 CFM
32 dB

To see what else is out there that might do just as well, gizZo has generously provided a neat case fan comparison summary.


As you'll see below, the case fans made quite a difference! I took temperature measurements as I went along, with the computer case on, to see the effect of each case fan. The ABIT KR7A-133 motherboard comes with a CD-ROM which includes a utility called Hardware Doctor that displays the temperature readings of the CPU and System. Temperature settings should be checked when the CPU is under load. A widely used "torture test" for the CPU is Prime95. Temperatures definitely rise once this program gets cranking! It takes about 30 minutes for My Super PC temperatures to stabilize and that's when I take the temperature reading. Just a quick note about Prime95 - its primary use has something to do with finding prime numbers, which may be interesting in its own right. However, you can skip all that. Once you download and install Prime95, go to the options pull-down window and there will be an option for "Torture Test". As far as I know, this runs forever until you close the window.

Here are the results I achieved. All temperature readings are in Centigrade. All results were achieved with the same base configuration, namely the ABIT KR7A-133 motherboard with BIOS version 6N, Athlon XP 1800+ processor, and Thermaltake Volcano 6Cu CPU cooler.

CPUSystemCooling ComponentsComments
No case fans installed.
Youch! These temperatures are too high, especially the CPU temperature!
Exhaust fan installed.
Wow! Looks like an exhaust fan is pretty important!
Both and intake and exhaust fan installed. Quite a nice improvement in the system temperature. But not much effect on the CPU temperature, unfortunately.

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