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Coolermaster HHC-L61 "Alps" Silent Heat-Pipe - silence coupled with performance?
Product : Coolermaster HHC-L61 "Alps" Silent Heat-Pipe cooler
Manufacturer : Coolermaster
Price : 37.01 including VAT

Heatpipes might sound exotic pieces of equipment however they are fairly common especially in the notebook market. Heatpipes are just that, pipes that "carry" (or rather, transfer) heat. In the notebook market OEMs are in constant battle against space restrictions and increased heat generation by processors. Their solution is to use heatpipes which allow them to transfer heat from the hotspots (such as around processors) to places where small fans can be installed. Heatpipes can be thought of as long fins, the type of fins you find in your traditional heatsink. However, heatpipes are sometimes filled with liquid or kept as solid metal they are never hollow.

The simplified science goes a little bit like this. There are three types of heat transfer. Conduction, convection and radiation. We aren't interested in the last form, at least not in this review. Convection occurs in computer cases. Convection is where the less dense hot air rises and the cool, denser air falls to the bottom of the case. This is why you put a case fan at the top of your case. Conduction is where your heatsink/heatpipes come in.

Conduction occurs only in solids and liquids (it is almost non-existent in gases). When molecules are arranged in a structure their vibrations can transfer energy from one molecule to another. This is how heat (a form of energy) is transferred from the CPU core to the heatsink. The same is true for heatpipes. Usually heatpipes are attached, or built around a heatsink. The heatsink might have fins although it isn't a requirement. The heat energy supplied by the CPU transfers to the heatsink which in turn transfers energy to the heatpipe. Whilst within the heatpipe convection can occur, due to the small size of the heatpipe it isn't the over-riding energy transfer method. The energy is transferred along the heatpipe being dissipated (heating the surroundings).

The surroundings do get hot, but since it is possible to control where the heatpipe goes (a piece of metal can be easily shaped) the dissipation of heat isn't such a major problem. Heatpipes can be cooled down with the use of fans and where there is enough space these are used. Since we are looking at a cooler for desktop machines there is more than enough space for a fan to be placed.

The explanation given regarding heat transfer is not an exhaustive one, if you want more information regarding the physics behind heat transfer we recommend you consult your local library. It is a fairly interesting subject but be warned it can get quite theoretical.

So Coolermaster have brought a technology widely used in notebooks to the desktop. Big deal you say. Well yes, it is a big deal. At the time of writing 2.2Ghz notebooks are being sold and if through heatpipe cooling OEMs are able to cool such a processor down in such a small form factor your mind only has to run riot to figure what it would be able to cool in the form factor of a desktop case. Whilst Coolermaster have gone for the noise over performance market we see that even when fitting a slow 14CFM fan this cooler is still able to cope with a AMD Athlon XP 2200+.

The HHC-L61 is all copper, including the heatpipe which protrudes from the main heatsink. The fins are encased by a copper shroud which also acts as the mount for the fan. The fan comes with a chrome grill and a Coolermaster hologram sticker denoting the intended quality and finishing of this product. Indeed the whole packaging, heatsink and instructions gives any user the impression that some thought and care has been put into this product.

  

Due to the heatpipe protruding from the main heatsink, people will have problems with certain motherboards. On our EPoX 8K3A+ the HHC-L61 got on there pretty easily, however if the chipset was actively cooled (a fan was placed ontop of the heatsink) then we would have encountered problems. Whilst it is unclear to us why Coolermaster have opted to have the heatpipe coming out of the main heatsink one possible explanation is the increased volume (although this could have been achieved within the main heatsink by increasing the turns density).

  

The base of the heatsink comes with a high level of finish. Coolermaster have taken the liberty of placing an adhesive "cover" over the base to ensure scratches and other imperfections do not occur during transit. It would be nice to see other manufacturers follow this trend. The HHC-L61 doesn't have a thermal pad, instead a sachet of silicon thermal compound is supplied.

  

Installation instructions are included on the reverse side of the packaging. It's fairly clear, although the installation itself is self-explanatory. The retaining clip only attaches to one of the socket clips rather than all three. Whilst it is recommended that a cooler should attach to all three, we didn't have any problems with the HHC-L61 only attaching to one. The clip is easy to handle and can be done using bare hands rather than a screwdriver. Supplied is some silicon thermal paste which most hardcore fanatics will replace, opting for Arctic Silver 3. Indeed whilst normal silicon paste was used for years before the arrival of Arctic Silver it seems that now Arctic Silver is the only paste worth considering. That is not to say silicon based compounds don't work, however with the improvements exhibited by the Arctic Silver range has rendered older compounds inferior.

Our tests we conducted using the following hardware :
  • AMD Athlon XP 2000+ (1.67Ghz) CPU
  • EPoX 8K3A+ motherboard
  • 512Mb Kingmax TinyBGA PC2700 RAM
  • Coolermaster ATC 710 case (2 CPU exhaust fans, 2 intake fans).
  • Arctic Silver 3 compound
  • Note : Recorded room temperature : 21C & Case temperature at 31C. 100% CPU usage was gained by running a SETI client. Two other heatsinks were used for comparison, Globalwin CAK-II 38 and Swiftech MCX462-B.





    The HHC-L61 doesn't quite keep up with the current benchmark Swiftech MCX462. We were pretty sure that if a fan that shifted more than the 14CFM unit was used we would obtain results that would paint a slightly different picture.

    This time around we put a purty 30CFM Sunon unit and recorded our findings.





    The HHC-L61 still isn't able to outperform the MCX462, however it is now on par with the Globalwin unit. Whilst it might be clear that the sheer size of the MCX462 wins on the day, it is important to note that the MCX462 uses a 40CFM Sunon 80mm fan unit. We were unable to get high volume Delta fan units in time for this review however it is quite possible that fitting such a fan would lead the HHC-L61 to overtake the MCX462.

    Conclusion

    This isn't (contrary to popular thought) the first heatpipe cooler from Coolermaster. They produced a similar product two years ago (review) with mixed performance. That time the fan wasn't able to cool the heatpipes efficiently enough to make it a "killer" product. They might have made the same mistake here. Whilst there is no doubting the noise, or rather the lack of it, serious overclockers will want to swap the fan unit for something with a bit more grunt.

    The package, when considered as a whole is well worth your consideration, even if you want to do serious overclocking. There is a good chance other manufacturers will utilize heatpipe technology in their future models, and Coolermaster has proved that a technology that is widely used in the mobile market can be transported into the desktop one.

    A full copper heatsink, with heatpipe technology, retail packaging and good performance for less than 40. Recommended, if your motherboard supports it.