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be quiet! ShadowRock Topflow review

March 27, 2013 in Cooling, CPU, Intel, Overclocking, PC, Review


A closer look at design

What has be quiet! got to offer over the competition – where achieving this goal of “be quiet!” is concerned? Design and engineering elements, to start, are considered before actual function and operational testing. Why not just slap it on and do a comparative sound and cooling level evaluation? The amount of work that goes into a product is a sign of the quality and helps answer questions like:

  • How long will it last?
  • How will it perform?
  • How often will I need to maintenance the product?
  • If I have an issue will I get support?

mini-100_3953At a glance the observer may notice a couple of differences (other than the basic downdraft design) but nothing really stands out, until the components are studied individually. After separating the fan from the heat sink assembly, scrutinizing their details reveals a plethora of design elements, that; though just pretty to some, truly bring a higher level of functionality. Starting with the fan, the features that are most noticeable, are also the features that add function and denote quality. The items of note on the fan assembly are the number of blades, the rudges and the mass of the fan compared to the Arctic Cooling and Phantecs examples. Weight here seems to be concentrated in the motor and the blade thickness. This thickness may not appear to be advantageous, but the thicker blades and ridges, (on both sides of the blades) help reduce noise from an effect similar to cavitation.

Additionally the lower angle of attack limits the stall effect which is known to impedes airflow (kinetic potential) at higher RPMs and limits static pressure – which in turn causes fan noise and can shorten fan motor life due to lateral forces and fan hub vibration.

The heat sink assembly also offers many elements of design which are advantageous.Most notable are the ridges and the concave fan mounting surface. This has a positive effect on airflow and noise dampening:

  • the ridge high points break up airflow (in a good way) causing turbulence, potentially increasing the time between cleanings and helping to prevent whistling at higher RPMs
  • the ridge valleys should gather dust first leaving openings at the higher points which can be more forgiving to those who do nor regularly clean their computer cases
  • the concave fan mounting surface should aide in air flow at all RPM ranges and reduce noise as the sink gathers dust by allowing excess pressure to escape instead of being forced through partially clogged cooling fins creating noise

Comparisons are always a good thing. Here instead of presenting raw data alone, a visual comparison will also be made. When size comparisons are made to a Phanteks PH-TC12DX the  Shadow Rock Topflow appears – initially – to have a minor thickness disadvantage. Due to the concave fan face (2X) and dual tower design elements of the PH-TC12DX the apparent disadvantage is essentially negated. The height of the the Shadow Rock Topflow offers more than a 3/4 inch (19.5mm) advantage with a higher cooling fin count (52 to 48) further negating what initially appeared to be a size disadvantage.

Heat pipes are the next design element to be considered. Using 8mm pipes allows almost 2X the volume of circulation compared to 6mm pipes:Here the four 8mm pipes are capable of circulating a greater amount of heat than seven 6mm pipes. This is compounded with the dispersal of the pipes compared to many coolers, which place pipes in only two regions of the cooling fins.

The benefits here are many:

  • each pipe is allowed to dissipate more heat as the zone in which it resides is not populated with another heat source that also radiates heat
  • temperatures are normalized across the cooling fins
  • air flow is not restricted in hotter areas
  • the cooling fan can operate at a lower speed as the heat is more evenly distributed across the fin surface allowing more effective convective cooling

To test the heat pipe placement a dual probe thermocouple is used to measure varianceDisplayed here starting in the upper left corner: HSF bodies in test pan, base temperature testing and thermocouple location in standard HSF body, thermocouple location on Shadow Rock Topflow, variance standard HSF body and variance Shadow Rock Topflow.

The temperatures themselves are unimportant (as long as they are within a comparable range from assembly to assembly) but the .6º C (1.08F) difference in variance are important.

Examining the finish of the CPU contact patch, machine marks can be observed on many competing brands.Striations of this magnitude can cause minor (if the striations are to deep they may act as an insulator) heat transfer issues that are generally not measurable. The be quiet! contact patch also has striations which are more easily be felt than seen. Though part of the lack of striation on the be quiet! CPU cooler is related to the plating, the care taken to achieve this smooth surface must be taken into consideration.

The final features of note are the assembly weight and dimensions. The Shadow Rock Topflow weighs in at 650 grams with dimensions of  Lx171mm x Wx137mm  x Dx100mm When comparing models the Noctua NH-C12P (Six 6mm pipes) and Phanteks PH-TC14CS_BL (five 8mm pipes) are similar in design to the ShadowRock Topflow.

Thus far the ShadowRock Topflow shows many minor advantages over the competition. Be quiet! has not broken any new ground with the ShadowRock Topflow but they have used many of the better design elements in this market. Will these advantages add up to a better product than is offered by other manufacturers? That can be a rather subjective point and the more prudent question is “Will the ShadowRock Topflow perform its designed function in such a way that the end user will be satisfied?”

Packaging, contents and specifications

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