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Installing CPU Coolers: The good, The Bad and The Ugly

Posted on 2nd Dec 2009 at 11:24 by Mark Mackay with 22 comments

Mark Mackay
The first CPU cooler I ever installed was an AMD reference HSF when I upgraded my Athlon XP processor to a superior model. It was in fact my first ever PC upgrade. I remember carefully (and perhaps a little nervously) placing the blocky aluminium heatsink in position, hooking both sides around the socket, pushing the retention arm down and thinking, "hmph - that wasn’t so hard."

A couple of years later and I was building my first PC from scratch. Being an avid reader of Custom PC, the Elite List was my inspiration for component selection. The Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro was the only choice. This was the first time I’d encountered push-pin system used on Intel’s reference cooler. While the principle seemed simple enough, my lack of PC experience and impatience to finish the build ensured that it was considerably more difficult than it needed to be. Nowadays however, being familiar with the nuances of the simple system, installing a cooler that uses it takes about eight seconds.

Installing CPU Coolers: The good, The Bad and The Ugly *Installing CPU Coolers: The good, The Bad and The Ugly
The push-pin system - you either love it or hate it

But there are some CPU coolers that use installation methods that utterly baffle the mind. I often liken these mounting systems to Meccano sets; such is the ridiculousness of the components list. If these coolers provided a CPU contact that akin to elephant sitting on the heatsink and awesome performance to boot then I’d understand. But many of them don’t. Even if they did, surely CPU contact could be achieved in a simple manner?

One that springs to mind is the Zalman CNPS 10X Extreme. It requires a back-plate to sit behind the motherboard, a mounting bracket which sits on top of the motherboard, a hold-down to secure the cooler to the mounting bracket and, to hold the caboodle together, a tool shed’s worth of screws and bolts. What’s more, you really need to remove the fan to assemble the Meccano set HSF as otherwise you wont be able to reach the screws. Because of the way a fan controller has been incorporated into the fan mount, reattaching the fan is a nightmare. What’s more, the performance numbers are pants.

Installing CPU Coolers: The good, The Bad and The Ugly *Installing CPU Coolers: The good, The Bad and The Ugly
The Thermalright Ultra 120 eXtreme - mounting an HSF doesn't need to be any more complicated

Let’s take a look at the Thermalright Ultra 120 eXtreme for some comparison. A back-plate and a hold down are required. Four spring-loaded screws clamp the base-plate in between and the fan clips on in a second. Job done. What’s more, the cooling is awesome.

Why make it more complicated? Is it because some manufacturers are concerned people will feel gypped if it doesn’t take 30 minutes to install? Have they employed ex-Meccano engineers who are desperately trying to re-instate their skills in the world of HSF installation? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences below.

22 Comments

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bodkin 2nd December 2009, 12:57 Quote
Best mounting system in the world is the one on the swiftech GTZ and XT
MaverickWill 2nd December 2009, 13:00 Quote
...I like the push-pins...
faugusztin 2nd December 2009, 13:21 Quote
Good ones : Thermalright mounting kits, Noctua mounting kits.

The bad ones :
Socket 755 pushpins on big coolers like Scythe Ninja. Dumb decision, very dumb

The very, very, very, very bad and a very, very, very, very ugly one :
Scythe Ninja 2 on AM2 - nightmare. It was a idiot, who designed this mounting system. It uses the standard bracket of AM2/AM3 socket, which is fine. But you have to press clamps on both sides of cooler at same time and get them locked to bracket while pushing the two clamps with your two hands, keeping it at place with the 3rd hand :).
wuyanxu 2nd December 2009, 13:48 Quote
Corsair's H50 kit for LGA775 and LGA1366 was pretty good. similar design to TRUE, just with a smaller bulk to attach.

but their new combined LGA775/1156/1366 are crap, no more spring to make sure it's tight, feels cheap and about to break off
Omnituens 2nd December 2009, 14:31 Quote
H50 kit was wonderful to fit, you didnt need 3 hands and a screwdriver with 2 right-angles in it.
sear 2nd December 2009, 16:24 Quote
My Scythe MUGEN-2 has been good to me, and although I tend to be overly careful with computer hardware, once I figured out how to get the backplate in place it was much easier than I expected to install. I think the default AMD "latch" style mounting system is pretty pants, to be honest - it's extremely unstable and the heatsink wiggles all over the place pretty easily, compared to a simple screw system, which is totally solid. I've never used a push-pin system so I can't judge it (I just ignored the stock Intel cooler on my current build), but it seems to be a compromise between ease of installation and stability.
cyrilthefish 2nd December 2009, 17:16 Quote
I've got one of these: Titan Fenrir TTC-NK85TZ

Was a bit fiddly to install but does work well :D
Only real problem is that if i ever want to change it, it involves practically disassembling the entire PC...

As for the worst mounting method, it's got to be some of the Socket A and older types.
spring loaded bar that you have to force over some plastic tabs on the cpu socket.
One i once owned had a notch for a flathead screwdriver on one end of the bar that you had to push down with terrifying* force.

* ie: so much force that one slip and the screwdriver would go through the motherboard
steveo_mcg 2nd December 2009, 17:31 Quote
I was just about to say, Skt A was the worst eva!
Zenphic 2nd December 2009, 22:29 Quote
Noctua's mounting is the best I would say. A bit tedious to get it on, but once you have the backplate mounted, installing and removing the heatsink is so easy that the backplate doesn't need to be touched.
NuTech 2nd December 2009, 22:38 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Zenphic
Noctua's mounting is the best I would say. A bit tedious to get it on, but once you have the backplate mounted, installing and removing the heatsink is so easy that the backplate doesn't need to be touched.
Absolutely. Also the strength and build quality of it gives you faith that the giant heatsink won't just rip from your motherboard.
butter100fly 2nd December 2009, 23:22 Quote
H50 on 1156 was easier than I thought

But frakly that involved burning bits off it with a soldering iron to make it fit around my MSI superpipe

but its a dream...a real dream.....perhaps you need to consider if the effort is worthwhile - some kind of ratio bewteen worth and hair-pulling - H50 wins hands down
stonedsurd 2nd December 2009, 23:49 Quote
Heatkiller 3.0 for Socket 775 - what a dream.
docodine 3rd December 2009, 00:20 Quote
If everything used screws with springs and a backplate, I would be very happy.

Pushpins piss me off, I always manage to break something..
l3v1ck 3rd December 2009, 01:14 Quote
Can't say I've used push pins yet. I haven't upgraded since Intel became worth buying again (ie post Pentium 4).
PureSilver 3rd December 2009, 01:28 Quote
+1 for Noctua, mine went on like a dream. (Yes, getting the clips for the damn fans on was another matter altogether.)
Elton 3rd December 2009, 04:55 Quote
Prolimatech Meghalem's Mounting system, while a bit tedious is effing awesome.
alpaca 3rd December 2009, 06:33 Quote
ozc vendetta
http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/cooling/2007/12/23/ocz_vendetta/1
, with push pins. the thing is smaller than most heatsinks, without giving up much cooling power. it was easy and fast.
gavomatic57 3rd December 2009, 09:20 Quote
Once the backplate is on and the mounting bars are in, the Noctua is rather easy to remove from the motherboard - useful if you feel like a change of CPU or need to re-do your TIM.
Cupboard 3rd December 2009, 14:16 Quote
I found the push pins on the Intel stock cooler *really* hard to fit when I fist built my computer.
Moving on a bit I have no recollection of installing my Fenrir so it can't have been too bad!
Mankz 3rd December 2009, 23:41 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Elton
Prolimatech Meghalem's Mounting system, while a bit tedious is effing awesome.

^^ THIS. Easier to put on than the stock cooler.
Farfalho 4th December 2009, 02:26 Quote
I have a Zalman CNPS 9900 LED on my Phenom and it was a piece of cake to install. It uses the AMD's backplate and mounting support so all you have to do is center the cooler with the cpu, get the holder in place (it fits through the hole), press the clip and you're done. Easy to install, use and works wonders for me.

Intel's retention system is a finger-beater and a pain in the arse, what a ludicrous idea.
Digi 10th December 2009, 16:26 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by cyrilthefish
I've got one of these: Titan Fenrir TTC-NK85TZ

Was a bit fiddly to install but does work well :D
Only real problem is that if i ever want to change it, it involves practically disassembling the entire PC...

As for the worst mounting method, it's got to be some of the Socket A and older types.
spring loaded bar that you have to force over some plastic tabs on the cpu socket.
One i once owned had a notch for a flathead screwdriver on one end of the bar that you had to push down with terrifying* force.

* ie: so much force that one slip and the screwdriver would go through the motherboard

And most of the desk!! I actually DID this on a few occasions but the most damage was a scratched PCB and some sweat when pressing the power button. Mostly though that was because I was rushing it, if you took the time to get it snugly in then they snapped in pretty easily if still quite dangerously!
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