As we noted on the previous page, since our last cooler test, we put together a new test system based on Intel's Core i7-6700K quad-core CPU and Gigabyte's GA-Z170X-Gaming 6 motherboard. One thing you'll see in the photo here is how very compact the Skylake-based Core i7-6700K processor is. Its small heatspreader can pose a challenge for coolers designed around larger processors, as the cooler base can often extend far beyond the processor's edges. In fact, our lowest-performing cooler most definitely faltered due to a mis-match between the contact of its heatpipes and the CPU surface, as we'll discuss later.
Each cooler was given a fresh installation for this test, using Noctua's excellent NT-H1 Thermal Paste. While every cooler comes with thermal paste, we strongly recommend using great paste at the time of installation, as it's not something you're going to want to deal with later on (we should know... we had to apply thermal paste five times in the course of a couple days of testing!). Now, this does mean that we gave some of our coolers an unfair advantage that they don't have out of the box, which might be viewed as no different then equipping them with a non-standard fan. Sure, sure, you could make that argument, but from our point of view, thermal paste is cheap enough that it's worth buying if you're also investing in a good cooler, so stock up on Noctua's NT-H1 and you'll be happy. The fact that Noctua models already come with a great tube of paste is built into their retail price anyway!
The photo here shows just how big a 140mm cooler looks in comparison to even a full-sized ATX motherboard, and this is with the smallest tower cooler we tested, SilverStone's AR07. As you'll see later on this page, a few of our coolers quite literally cover the entire CPU section of the motherboard! For the most part, the installation of each of the five coolers was straight-forward, if not exactly easy. That's because for the sake of expediency, we did not uninstall our motherboard from the case for each cooler installation. And with bulky 140mm tower coolers, that can mean a bit of frustration, especially when it comes time to attach fans, which must be left off to affix the mounting screws. If you're installing a 140mm in your system, especially if you're building up a system from scratch, do yourself a favor and install it before the motherboard is in the case! Our hands took their fair share of abuse, and we actually drew blood on the Thermalright Macho Rev. B. In fact, whiole we found it a bit humorous that the manual for the Reeven Ouranos suggested wearing gloves, in retrospect, we almost wish we had. Almost, because we're just not sure how you'd handle all the small parts and tight spaces with anything encumbering your hands...
The one real stumbling block we hit was with our SilverStone cooler, which used a truly unorthodox mounting plate, shown in the photo here. The eagle-eyed observer will note that this plate is not lined up with the motherboard, and trust us, this was not an error on our part. You in fact have to use a strange combination of mis-matched holes to attach it, and we've reached out to SilverStone to let them know this is almost certain to lead to confusion by users. They've assured us that an updated manual will provide more detail on the proper method of attachment.
To further assist readers who'd like to use the AR07 or any of the other coolers we tested, we're providing a few installation notes for each model below.
As mentioned above, we had some troubles with the AR07's bracket, but other than that, it was fairly easy to install, helped by the fact that it was the smallest cooler in this roundup by quite a bit. We weren't huge fans, however, of the basic, poorly-illustrated manual, and we've gotten that message back to SilverStone. At least SilverStone thoughtfully includes some rubber strips to attach to the heatsink to cut vibration from the fan. As for the white-on-blue color scheme of the fan... well, at least it's fresh-looking!
The Ouranos uses a modified version of Noctua's proven bracket design, but unfortunately adds a few parts to it to make things more complicated. To bolt down the heatsink mount to the bracket, Reeven went with an odd choice: standard nuts, which must be attached with the included mini-ratchet. Why it didn't use nuts topped with screwdriver slots is beyond us, as that's a lot easier to affix inside a case. Luckily everything else went well, although like the other big coolers in this roundup, affixing the fan with the included wire hangars is very hard to do with the moptherboard inside a case, at least if you don't have much space above and below the cooler.
By the way, special props to Reeven for the magnificent style of its ultra-modern cooler. Reeven flattens the tips of its six heatpipes at the top of the cooler, allowing it to affix a cool brushed metal nameplate. This really cleans up the look of the cooler for those who like to show off their build's interior. For better or for worse, however, Reeven has settled on a yellow-on-black color scheme for its fans, which may wreak havoc with well-sorted interior color treatments.
Thermalright Macho Rev. B
Thermalright wins the award for the most needlessly complex installation procedure. Well, actually part of the challenge is in fact necessitated by the tremendous depth of this cooler, and Thermalright includes a full-size magnetic-tipped screwdriver in the box to thread the screw down through the center of the cooler and into the bracket, as it would be absolutely impossible to do so without such a tool. Even with this great freebie (which we went ahead and used to install every cooler in this roundup!), the installation is quite difficult, and we recommend having the motherboard laying flat on a work surface, allowing gravity to hold the cooler in place while you mess with the screws. This is also the only cooler we actually cut ourselves on, due in part to the utter lack of room to work once the cooler is inside a case.
One bit of good news: the white-on-black color scheme of the Macho's fan will likely go with plenty of builds!
If Thermalright wins the award for most difficult installation, the NH-U14S most definitely wins the award for easiest installation. With a market-leading mounting bracket that couldn't be easier to use, as well as a shallow heatsink profile that aids maneuvering inside the case, this big heatsink can be installed by anyone in 15-20 minutes, as long as your case has room for its 165mm height and fairly substantial width, which blocks the first PCIe slot. Note that as with all coolers, the fan clips are hard to affix once inside the case, a problem you won't encounter with smaller 120mm-based coolers. And of course, when you go with Noctua, you get its trademark brown-on-beige color scheme, which truly goes with nothing else in the PC world!
Well, Noctua can't win 'em all, and while the NH-C14S may inherit the stellar mounting hardware from the NH-U14S, its downdraft design gives it a gigantic footprint, which in turn makes it very hard to maneuver the cooler inside a case. In fact, despite using a big ATX tower and a full-size ATX motherboard, the NH-C14S could only fit in one of the four possible orientations, and even then, it was hard to balance its unwieldly weight while affixing the mounting screws. While not the hardest cooler to install, it won't win the same accolades as its cousin the NH-U14S.
Remember, all of these coolers are larger than average, so you must take into consideration both their height and width before assuming they'll fit in your case and on your motherboard. Luckily, none posed any problem with RAM clearance with all four slots occupied (although the NH-C14S did come dangerously close). We used a wide Phanteks Evolv case, so height wasn't an issue, but in small ATX cases, it will be. For reference, the SilverStone AR07 is 163mm tall, the Reeven Ouranos is 161mm tall, the Thermalright Macho Rev. B is 162mm tall, the Noctua NH-U14S is 165mm tall, and the Noctua NH-C14S is 142mm tall (but 140mm wide and 163mm deep!).
So, now that we've covered installation of these coolers, it's time to look at some benchmarks and pick a winner!