Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to a whole line of products from Microcool, an Italian based company that, in their words, specializes in "the design and implementation of products formulated for the thermal control of computer components. The company caters particularly to those who, either from over-enthusiasm or from professional demands, drive their computers at operating frequencies greater than those specified (overclocking). By providing high level cooling systems, Microcool will be able to guarantee maximum reliability of your computer under any operating conditions."
Microcool was kind enough to send me their entire line of products, including the "North Pole" northbridge cooler set, the "Hook Adapter" set for the "North Pole" cooler, as well as their entire family of Microcool "Chipsinks" for passive cooling of the integrated motherboard chips.
Several companies offer cooling solutions for motherboards and their various components. Companies like Thermalright, Thermaltake, and Swiftech make northbridge chipset coolers and companies like Vantec, Zalman, CoolerMaster, and OCZ make "universal" heatsinks that can be used to cool various motherboard components. Unfortunately, most of these universal "heatsinks" are in fact one size, and without modifications by the end user, are usually limited to being used on larger surfaces, such as the video card, memory, or southbridge chipset.
The "North Pole" northbridge chipset cooler I recieved looked to be a very well made heatsink. It has a full copper construction of the base, with a good, clean surface. A 40MM fan secured with an aluminum frame and the ability to mount the cooler on boards using either holes or hooks (with a seperately purchased "Hook Kit") should offer a big improvement over any stock northbridge chipset cooler. I have yet to come across a chipset cooler that can be used on both motherboard types until now. My only concern with the "North Pole" is the size and weight. I think the size could possibly be an issue depending on the CPU heatsink used (forget about using it with the XP-120) along with the proximity to the CPU brackets. The Microcool "North Pole" weighs in at 195G, easily heavier than any stock cooler, but lighter than two other well known coolers, the Swiftech MCX-159-R(235G) and the Thermalright NB-1CF (250G). I just might bring up these two competitors later in my review!
An overlooked aspect of system cooling is that other motherboard components get extremely hot under stress and would benefit from additional cooling. People rightly focus on things such as RAM, the northbridge chipset, the CPU, and GPU when setting up their cooling solution. What they don't realize is that while providing maximum cooling for these main components helps with stability and performance, the heat generated by these parts in fact affects the stability and lifespan of other system components. For example, cranking up the voltage to your processor and RAM for a good overclock tends to stress things like the Mosfets, and unless you have a motherboard like Abit's IC7-Max3 and its O.T.E.S. (Outside Thermal Exhaust System) cooling solution, these power supply regulators can become extremely hot, and we all know heat is our enemy, right?
Upon opening the package I was extremely impressed by the great variety of chipsink sizes -- you would be hard pressed to find anything that couldn't be covered by one of the chipsinks. I was also impressed by the fabrication of the chipsinks, they were very attractive and seemed to be extremely sturdy. I was a little concerned with the thermal tape Microcool uses. It has been my experience that thermal tape in fact doesn't transfer heat as well as thermal epoxy, and it doesn't take much force to knock something mounted with thermal tape loose. The directions were a little vague and the picutres included were less than clear, but we'll see in a bit whether this affected my installation -- if I can install something, then anyone over the age of 5 should be alright installing it.
Before we get too far into this, let me introduce each individual part, explain its importance, and show you its technical data. Then we'll get into the overall package and its affects, and how they benefit your system.
The Microcool northbridge cooler
The "North Pole" is the new active heat dissipator able to achieve extremely effective thermal control, whatever the conditions of use or the Front Side Bus frequency used. Although constructed from components already used for coolers for the latest generation CPUs, North Pole has proven to be easy to use. Thanks to its compact and functional design, it can be placed on any motherboard that is provided with the two standard mounting holes beside the chipset.
Technical specifications of NorthPole:
- Dissipator: entirely in copper with high density fins
- Fan: with high air and pressure capacity
- Shell: in anodised aluminium for maximum protection and lightness
- Hook: stirrup system with screws and matching easily adjusted spring
- Accessories: aluminium heatsinks for MOSFET and PLL chips.
Case........ ................anodised aluminium
Installation system......stirrups and screws
Accessories ..............PLL & MOSFET ChipSink
Number of fins.....26
Speed....................8200 ± 1000 RPM
Air flow.................10,8 CFM
Static pressure........0,27 Inch-H20
Current consumption.. 0,13 A
Power consumption....1,6 W
Noise ........................27,5 dB(A)
Bearing system...........Vapo bearing
The "Hook Adapter" assembly for the "North Pole " Cooler
The "Hook Adapter" is an exclusive installation system that makes possible the use of the Northpole heat dissipators on all motherboards that have the northbridge cooler attached through mounting holes. This particular adaptor was developed to guarantee a convenient and effective installation on the motherboard equipped with the latest generation IntelTM chipset (i865 and i875). This exclusive design and the high quality construction allow the regulation of attachment pressure using the screws, avoiding the possibility of accidental damage like detaching the mounting holes from the board. To facilitate the mounting procedure, four stabilizing rubber washers and an Allen wrench are provided in the package.
Included in the package:
- Two standoffs for the mounting holes
- Two brackets adapted for tabs
- Four stabilizing rubber washers
- One Allen wrench
The Microcool "Chipsinks"
The microcool ChipSinks are a complete family of passive heat dissipators, designed specifically for the correct cooling process for integrated motherboard chips, such as: frequency generators (PLL), power supply regulators (MOSFET), chipsets that control the peripherals (SouthBridge) and integrated controllers (RAID, SATA).
Microcool has developed these dissipators so that they are easily installable over the seated motherboard components that are generally lacking adequate cooling systems at the time of purchase, and that are always subject to intense heat during system overclocking and overvoltaging. The high quality thermally conductive adhesives allow rapid application and maximum thermal transfer. The surface treatment of anodized aluminum guarantees electrical insulation and maximum heat dissipation.
|South Sink||30(L)x30(W)x30(H) mm||Extruded Alluminum 6063||Anodized Alluminum||30g|
|PLL Sink||15(L)x12(W)x18(H) mm||Extruded Alluminum 6063||Anodized Alluminum||5g|
|MOSFET Sink||12(L)x12(W)x18(H) mm||Extruded Alluminum 6063||Anodized Alluminum||4g|
|Micro Sink||8,5(L)x8,5(W)x8(H) mm||Extruded Alluminum 6063||Anodized Alluminum||1g|
*All Microcool chipsinks use the Chomerics T405 Thermal Interface Pad to secure themselves to other surfaces
The package I recieved included both silver and black versions of the chipsinks. When purchased from a retailer you will get either one, but not both.
Installation of the "Northpole" northbridge heatsink is pretty straight forward. First, you obviously need to remove your existing cooler and any thermal paste or adhesive left on the chipset itself. A very small amount of de-natured alcohol and a non-abrasive cloth should be fine for this. Installation for boards with mounting holes was very simple. In fact, it is basically the same system used in securing most water blocks to your motherboard that have holes instead of loop assemblies (using a 2" screw, a spring, three washers, and a pair of nuts). Please note that using this mounting method requires the removal of your motherboard from your system. A good idea before doing anything though, is to make sure your CPU cooling solution and the proximity of the chipset leaves you enough room for installation of the "North Pole." I was unable to use the "North Pole" with my XP-120 HSF (because of the size of the XP-120; there are few, if any, aftermarket coolers that will fit it). I was unimpressed with the included crush pads. Would it be too expensive or time consuming to make a nice one piece crush pad? Microcool used the typical punched out neoprene with adhesive on one side.These are basically a waste of time as I feel they do not provide adequate protection.
For boards that use loops to secure the chipset cooler, Microcool devloped the "Hook Adapter" system using 2" screws and a pair of small adapters. The included instructions are fairly vague and the picutes aren't the greatest, but going to the Microcool website I found some very easy to understand instructions and some very well taken picutres.
Insert the two standoffs into the mounting holes positioned on either side of the chipset. Fasten the adapters by tightening the screw with the included Allen wrench.
Insert the two tabs into the "North Pole" brackets. Holding the tabs firmly, tighten the screws using the included Allen wrench.
After putting the four stabilizing rubber washers in place on the borders of the chipset, position the NorthPole over the northbridge. Finally, attach the heat dissipator to the motherboard, using the two supplied screws with their respective springs and washer.
I was planning to mount the Microcool "North Pole" on my ASUS P4C800 E-Deluxe motherboard to test out the hook adapter assembly. I thought that I would be able to install the North Pole without removing the board using the hook adapter assembly....not so. After about 40 minutes I was able to get the kit installed. Why in the world did Microcool fabricate such a detailed and elaborate installation method when all they needed was a simple wire clip like the Swiftech or even most other heat sinks that use the loops? My first issue was simply the amount of room to work with! Depending on the board used, you will have to have someone with small fingers (Like the 5 yr old I mentioned ealier) do the work. Mounting the standoffs on the loops was simple enough, but then trying to insert the small screws to secure them was painstakingly slow, then trying to use an allen wrench to tighten these screws in the small space gave a guy with big hands (me) a headache! Needless to say, mounting this with the hook assembly requires removal of the motherboard to be done easily.
The micro-cool chipsinks
After installing the "North Pole" cooler, it's time to move on to the "Chipsinks." I don't see how anyone could possibly have a problem installing these; it is as simple as pulling off the non-sticking side of the thermal tape and attaching them where needed on your board, which is a very good point.
You could basically just attach the chipsinks to anything on your board that you wish to cool, but that would actually be a waste of time and money. For installation on my board I've included a picture of the ASUS A7N8 Deluxe and the places where I feel additional cooling would be most beneficial. I think most boards will be the same in this regard, but you can always check your board to see where it gets hot, and where these chipsinks will provide the most benefit.
MICROCOOL "NORTH POLE"
For testing the "North Pole" chipset cooler I'll be using the following system:
- ASUS P4C800 E-Deluxe motherboard
- Intel P4 3.2 E Prescott CPU with a PolarFLO TT CPU waterblock
- Power Color X800 Pro video card with standard cooler
- CoolerMaster CM Stacker case with an Aspire 500W PSU
*All tests were run at 78F room temperature. All temperatures were recorded using ASUS's built in temperature probe.
Before even beginning the actual test I want to compare the specifics of the Microcool "North Pole" with its two main competitors, the Thermalright "NB-1CF", and the Swiftech MCX-159-R.
|Microcool "North Pole"||Thermalright "NB-1CF"||Swiftech MCX-159-R|
|40mm fan||45mm fan||40mm fan|
|8200 +/-1000 RPM||6000 RPM||unknown|
|10.80 CFM||11.80 CFM||6 CFM|
|27.5 dBA||34 dBA||18dBA|
Though I won't be comparing these coolers directly in this review, I think the above information is important when looking at the whole review. Though the Microcool is noticeably lighter than both of the other coolers, its high RPM fan moves a pretty good amount of air at a fairly quiet rate. On top of the high output fan, the full copper sink is enclosed within an aluminum shroud, which maximizes the air flow over the fins, a fairly simple but ingenious concept.
For actual comparision, we will be using the stock cooling solution on the ASUS P4C800 E-Deluxe motherboard, which also allows us to use the hook adapter mounting kit. Like most tests, I ran the system at stock speeds both at idle and under load. For the "load" portion of the review I ran 10 loops of Sandra's Burn In wizard at 100% CPU usage.
For testing the Microcool chipsinks I used the following system:
- ASUS A7N8 Deluxe motherboard
- AMD Athlon 2500+ Mobile (O/Ced to 2.31GHz / 11.5x200 FSB)
- 512 MB Corsair Value Memory
- NVidia 5200 video card
- Aspire 520W PSU
- CoolerMaster WaveMaster case
*All tests were run at 78F room temperature. All temperature were recorded with an Extech 400 series Multimeter/ digital thermometer
For installation of the chipsinks on the Asus A7N8 Deluxe I first tested the board temps by running Sandra's Burn In wizard for 10 loops. I recorded the temps at several points around the board and found about 8 spots that could use additional cooling. Other systems may vary, but these are common hotspots on most motherboards. I then installed the chipsinks on those spots and ran the board under the exact same conditions for 15 more minutes.
Temperatures without chipsinks / Temperatures with chipsinks
You will notice, as I did, that there was quite a noticeable difference in the temperature of the tested areas, especially the southbridge chipset and the mosfets. Two things I think will influence the effect these chipsinks have on any system are as follows: First, the size of the sink used. The chipsink used on the southbridge was by far the largest, and also displayed the biggest temperature difference. The smaller sinks generally cooled about the same regardless of where they were placed. Second, Air flow in the case will have a large impact on the performance of these sinks (which shouldn't be shocking). A case with good airflow will see better cooling results from using these chipsinks than a case with poor circulation.
I thought the Microcool "North Pole" was a decent performer, much better than the stock passive cooling solution ASUS puts on its boards. I think Microcool made the loop adapter mounting assembly much more difficult than it needed to be - a simple wire clip like the Swiftech uses would have been fine. A small point I did like very much was the fact that the actual heatsink was enclosed in an aluminum shroud which maximized the airflow over the fins, which in turn will disperse heat much better. Considering the price, installation, and performance of both the Microcool ($29) and the Swiftech ($39), I simply can't recommend the Microcool "North Pole". There is an awful lot to like, but the hook assembly really turned me off to this product. To be fair, if you have a board with mounting holes, the "North Pole is a good performer at a decent price, but if your board uses loops to secure the NB heatsink, I would push you in the direction of the Swiftech MCX-159-R.
I personally liked the Microcool chipsinks. Before getting these I had always cut up VGA ramsinks to cool various spots on my boards. As I said earlier, I think people tend to overlook little things when stressing their system. There is alot more to a good O/C and a healthy system than just a good cooling solution for your CPU, RAM, and GPU. These, while stressed, tend to put stress on other, smaller components that even some enthusiasts tend to overlook. While the Microcool chipsinks may not help you gain more out of your overclock, it does provide a good cooling solution for supporting components, the variety of sizes and shapes allows them to be used on any board, in any situation.
A couple of issues and ideas would be to not use thermal tape, and instead package the chipsinks with a good thermal epoxy. Though a little more expensive, this would prevent them from every losing their adhesive properties and falling off, a problem I had with a few that I was forced to reseat. Also, I was a little disappointed to see that there were only six of the mid-sized chipsinks, these would fit perfectly on the video card's memory chips, and as the above temperatures show, these would provide a good cooling solution on your video card, unfortunately most video cards now have eight memory chips.
The Legit Bottom Line
In my opinion of the Microcool products is a mixed bag. While I didn't care for the mounting solutions for the "North Pole" chipset cooler, it performed decently and does have its good points. On the other hand, the variety of sizes and the great design of the chipsinks really impressed me. I highly recommend the chipsinks to the enthusiast or casual computer user.