Sunday, June 9, 2013

Thermalright Silver Arrow SB-E Extreme cooler - installation experience

In the previous post I mentioned that I bought this super cooler and now it is time to install it. A lot of things happened while installing the cooler, so someone who is looking to buy this cooler might find this information I’m going to write in this post. It’s a long post, so read it all slowly, if you are interested in the topic. Important notes come up at different places, whenever necessary.

First things first. I had to remove the old CNPS9900MAX-B cooler first to get going. Since I reseated the cooler a few days back, I could quickly take it off. Then I cleaned the thermal paste residue from the CPU.

Then it was time to install the new cooler. Here’s what was inside the box.

I opened the instructions manual and turned to the page where the instructions for the socket 1155 were printed on.

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Step 1 was easy. No issues there. I simply had to fix the screws to the back plate.

Step 2 is only for socket 775. Not applicable to me.

Step 3 wasn’t that easy. It looks pretty simple, but it reality, it wasn’t. The thing is, you have to tighten the four screw cylinders all at the same time, or you won’t be able tighten the last screw properly. It would not hold properly after tightening the screw. I only figured out this after many attempts. I spent about 30 minutes in this step. Shame!

Step 4 was pretty easy. This is how it looked like after this step.

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Step 5 was easy too. But I didn’t use thermal paste on the heat sink; I applied it only on the CPU heat spreader. BTW, I used the stock thermal paste this time; not the MX-4 I had bought a year or two ago.

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Then it went down the hill from this point onwards.

Step 6 is where you actually mount the heat sink to the socket. But when I tried to do it with the motherboard still installed inside the case, I ran into all sorts of issues. First, the screw driver I own is not long enough. Second, the tip of the screw driver isn’t magnetized. The first time I tried, I dropped the screw inside the case and it rolled in and hid somewhere inside the case. I had to lift the case up, turn it upside down and shake, shake and shake until it fell out. Luckily it fell out after a few seconds! Phew!

But either way, I figured that I wouldn’t be able to install the cooler without taking the motherboard out of the case. So that’s what I did. I really hate when I have to do this. Installing the heat sink still wasn’t that easy because of the lack of length of my screw driver. I had to hold and split apart the two towers with my left hand to make some room to sneak it in. Ugly, I know! But after trying a little, I managed to install the heat sink.

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Important Note 1: Buy a long screw driver for these kinds of work. It is also essential for the tip of the screw driver to be well magnetized, otherwise you will drop the screws inside the case and taking them out won’t be a pleasant experience.

Important Note 2: With pull-pull setup, the cooler doesn’t interfere with the memory slots. That’s a relief. I wasn’t sure if all the memory modules would fit without removing the heat spreader. So basically, if you have memory modules with tall heat spreaders (in my case, Corsair Vengeance), you should be fine on a socket 1155 system. However, people with socket 2011 systems won’t be that lucky because they have to mount the fan on at least one side and memory slots are on both sides. Mounting just the middle fan wouldn’t be a good idea.

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It sure did clear the Vengeance memory modules alright, but a new problem popped up all of a sudden. The cooler covered the first PCI-E x1 slot of the motherboard (ASRock Z68 Extreme4). That’s where I had my Creative X-Fi Titanium PCI-E audio card installed. Yikes! Now what? I definitely have to move it down. The video card was installed in the 2nd slot, which is the 1st PCI-E x16 slot. The other PCI-E x1 slot was covered by the video card; this is the 3rd expansion slot from the top. So, if I wanted to use that 2nd PCI-E x1 slot for the audio card, I have to move the video card down. The other two PCI-E x16 slots run at x8 and x4 respectively. So moving the video card down was not an option. I ended up installing the audio card in the PCI-E x16 slot that runs at x4. Yes, you can do that. The video card remained running at x16 speed and the audio card also continued to work normally. But it wasn’t without issues. After this change, the video card gets cool air only from the bottom intakes. I have a fan installed in the back of the case that brings in cool air to the video card, and now the audio card completely covers the airflow from that fan. Bummer!!! Guess I have no choice without changing the motherboard.

Ok now that I have actually mounted the heat sink, it was time to mount the fans. That’s the step 7. And it didn’t go that well either. The mounting mechanism Thermalright has incorporated is downright butt ugly. I had a Thermalright MUX-120 in my old Core i5 750 rig, and it had the same mechanism. On the MUX-120, installation of fans wasn’t that hard because the cooler and the fans were small. But with the Silver Arrow, no thanks to the sheer size of it, the (surprisingly tall) VRM heat sinks on the motherboard came into a disagreement. With a lot of fiddling, I managed to mount the fans, but the fans didn’t do down the maximum distance they were supposed to. The fans ended up actually resting on the VRM heat sinks on the motherboard!!! Which mean, the actual height of the cooler actually exceeded the height stated in the specification by a couple of millimeters.

The following photo shows on of the fans resting on the VRM sinks. I apologize for the rather unclear photo though. Forgot to take a shot before installing the motherboard back in the case.

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It would not have been a worry if I had a lot of space inside the case, but I was already at the limit of the max height of heat sinks allowed in the case.

  • Height of the cooler: 165mm
  • Max height of the cooler allowed in the case: 163mm

Yes, it was already too tall for the case, but people have confirmed that it fits in the case, so I didn’t worry too much about it. But this new issue could turn out to be a big problem. But, thank goodness, I could close the side panel without an issue! You see, the window on the side panel is installed from outside of the side panel. Thus, there is an extra couple of millimeters worth spacing in that area. The whole cooler fits inside the area of the window.

The following photo shows the cooler installed and side panel of the case fully closed without any trouble.

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Important Note 3: Remember to check how tall the VRM heat sinks on the motherboard are. It might interfere with the installation of fans and closing the side panel of the case.

Step 8 was also problematic. This is where you connect the fan cables to the power source. A splitter cable was provided with the cooler. One end of it has two 4-pin PWN male connectors where you plug the fans to. The other end also has two connectors – one for the motherboard PWM header (only the fan RPM sensor wire and the PWN signal carrying wires were wired in) and the other for the Molex! Yes, the main power for the fans comes from the Molex connector. That’s not a problem. The problem is that the fan controlling capabilities of my motherboard is pathetic. You cannot fix it at a specific setting. Once you reach a specific CPU temperature, the fans will automatically default to full RPM. The max value allowed in that temperature limit is 60C, which isn’t high enough – especially in the summer. I do have a separate hardware fan controller, but that doesn’t support PWM controlling. Only voltage based fan controlling. Feeding the PWM cable to it isn’t going to work.

So what I did was, I connected each fan individually to two ports on the fan controller. I didn’t have a Y-cable to connect both fans to the same port on the fan controller. The fans will be voltage controlled rather than PWM controlled. I do not know if it is would harm the fans though. Why I need to control the fan speed in the first place is because at the full RPM of 2340RPM as shown on the fan controller (2500RPM in specs), the noise is deafening. So I run the fans at 1100RPM. I tested the performance difference while running Prime95, and the difference was only 4C. 1100RPM is still not quiet enough, but I cannot drop it further because the fans would not start spinning otherwise. I can lower the fan speed after they have started spinning though. But I would forget to turn it up when I turn off the PC and if the fans don’t start spinning, the fan controller alarms a siren. It’s rather a screechy sound. I don’t want to hear it in the morning.

It is possible that Speed Fan can do a better job than the motherboard’s firmware. But it would not kick in until Windows is booted. You don’t want to hear that full fan speed not even for a few seconds. It’s so loud.

So that’s it. This is the complete installation experience. A long post, and I had a lot of issues to discuss. I hope someone will find this information handy. Right now the only problem I have is that I had to move the audio card to a slot in the lower area. Otherwise there is no problem at all. I will post the benchmark results later. But just know that at 1100RPM, the Prime95 maximum delta times are 16.5C lower than the CNPS9900MAX-B at 1100RPM. Wicked!

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