Retail 955XE fixes thermal issues at a price

You may recall that we had some problems with our Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 955 setup that caused us to delay our review a bit. The motherboard, CPU, and cooler combo we received from Intel for review didn’t always cool the CPU sufficiently under load, leading to thermal throttling. We initially thought the problem was caused by fan speed control issues, as I wrote:

The problem appears to be caused by the way the Intel 975X mobo is reading and reacting to thermal data from the CPU and thus controlling the fan speed of the stock Intel CPU cooler, although these things get complex enough that I hesitate to pinpoint an exact cause.

I took a screenshot of the Intel monitoring utility showing fan speeds at about 3100 RPM while the CPU temperature was 88C—way too hot. We managed to banish thermal throttling by swapping in a Zalman CNPS9500 LED cooler with a manual fan speed controller, allowing us to finish our benchmarking.

After wrestling with the issue some more, I provided an update on things in our review of the Extreme Edition 955. By then, I was leaning toward motherboard warp as a possible cause of the problems:

Chris speculated that the CPU cooler might be tensioned too tightly, causing the Intel D975XBX motherboard to warp and thus preventing the cooler from making clean, even contact across the surface of the CPU. This theory would seem to explain why we saw relatively better (though not entirely satisfactory) results when using the cooler’s included TIM pad on initial installation of the CPU rather than thermal grease.

This seemed like a solid explanation, especially since the 955XE consumes less power under load than its predecessor.

After the publication of our 955XE review, Intel sent out a third, “production level” motherboard/CPU/cooler combo for us to try. (Major kudos to Intel for following up there, by the way.) The changes of note in the production version, they said, are modified VRMs on the motherboard and a different cooler that’s tuned for thermal performance rather than optimal acoustic performance. This cooler responds to motherboard input with higher RPMs than the other one. It seems that review kits somehow went out with the wrong coolers, tuned primarily for acoustics rather than thermals. Retail boxes with Extreme Edition 955 processors will ship with this thermal-tuned cooler instead.

With the possibility of motherboard flex in the back of my mind, the first thing I noticed about the new cooler is that it has a smaller copper surface area to come into contact with the CPU, possibly mitigating problems with fit.


The new cooler (left) versus old (right)

Securing the cooler’s four retention pegs seems to require less downforce, as well.

I have to admit, though, that mobo warping problems were swept out of my mind when I fired this thing up and heard it whir to life. The cooler eventually settled into a reasonably quiet speed once the system had POSTed and finished booting into Windows. But when I subjected the 955XE to our torture test of four simultaneous Prime95 sessions, the fan quickly ramped back up into high speed again. The final result: the CPU runs stable with no thermal throttling at about 71-72C with the fan cranking at approximately 4200 RPM.


Click for a larger version

Under these conditions, this 955XE setup is significantly louder than any other CPU/cooler combo we’ve tested in the past few years, registering on our decibel meter at 62.6 dB from about one foot away. By contrast, our Athlon 64 X2 4800+ test system weighs in at about 46 dB. That’s a big difference in terms of decibels, and our ears confirm it. Yow. This aural performance is somewhat puzzling because the combination of the Extreme Edition 840, Intel D955XBK motherboard, and Intel cooler was both adequate and relatively quiet.

If you plan on building a system with a 955XE processor, I’d say an aftermarket cooler is almost a requirement. The Zalman was able to achieve lower temperatures at its slowest fan speed than this production Intel one does at 4200 RPM. The retail Intel cooler at least does its job properly, but it’s way too noisy.

Comments closed
    • HotToddy
    • 14 years ago

    I have to say i had a pentium 4 2.8 for about 2 years it never preformed liked i wanted it to. I have since i guess you could say down graded to a an athlon 64 2.2 and it out preforms my old p4 by leaps not quite bounds. I don’t understand how intel messes up thier chips.

    • TechNudge
    • 14 years ago

    I tossed the replacement fan. The cam/post attachment method is just not up to the same class as the CPU and certainly not confidence inspiring. Put a Thermaltake Big Typhoon on it. (Had to grind about 1/8th inch off one side of the “H” clamp to clear the VR heatsinks by the rear panel outputs but that was it.) The BT has a 120mm fan, runs at 1300rpm constant, flows 54.4cfm max, and is rated at 16dBA. (10dBA is normal breathing and 20dBA is a whisper at 5 feet.)

    The Intel Desktop Utility showed 140F idle and 190F load with the original motherboard/CPU/HSF. The new motherboard/CPU/BT idles at 102F and hits 111F under [the same] load. (Sorry, never really took a liking to anything but “F.”)

    I haven’t used an Intel stock fan for anything but initial testing since the 3GHz Pentium 4 –despite that same guy at Intel telling me he’d, “heard of 4GHz OC with the OEM model.” Yup…. They just don’t work well.

    • kilkennycat
    • 14 years ago

    A cheesy cheap heatsink on a toasted-cheese processor ?

    The boxed versions of the Athlon X2 4400+ processor and the higher members of this series all come with a very nice heat-pipe heat-sink — very sweet. Not that the X2 really requires any such beast. Fully-loaded Prime95 maximum core temp is ~ 52 degrees C (23 degrees C ambient). Maybe Intel should license the AMD design ?? Would still probably need to double the fan speed to keep that turkey 955XE processor under 70 degrees C. Not only does Intel inherit the P4 architectural inefficiencies, but they also have been penny-pinching their silicon-processes for years. They still do not have SOI and thus have been continually combating current leakage. Do not expect any power-dissipation miracles with Conroe/Merom. Definitely gain power-efficiency with the revised non-P4 architecture – however Intel will be still combating increased leakage on the 65nm and 45nm smaller geometry processes, requiring far tighter control on core voltage. In fact, the current generation of (dual-core-compatible) motherboards will not be able to take Conroe as a retrofit — the new processor requires an updated voltage requlator design. Yet another brilliant Intel-inspired (-planned ??) motherboard change after the fiasco of the non-dual-core compatible 915 and 925 chipsets. Planned obsolescence — Intel-style. Gotta get a quick payback on the $350million invested in updating their motherboard chipset capacity…..

    • HiggsBoson
    • 14 years ago

    Son of Dustbuster…

    • lindy01
    • 14 years ago

    As stated below, anyone buying this combo is wanting two things performance and Intel (???).

    That said this type of person buying the top end Intel CPU would know to buy a after market air cooler at a min. A Zalman or Big Typhoon would easily cools this thing if you dont overclock.

    I have a Big Typhoon on my Intel P4 640 (3.2ghz Preshott) and it never goes above 51-53C after playing BF2 for 3 hours…..and its super quiet.

    • My Johnson
    • 14 years ago

    Damage,

    I am the Grammar Police. POSTed whould be:

    POST’d

    • Lazier_Said
    • 14 years ago

    Nerd appeal is a fickle thing. It wasn’t but a couple years ago that those godawful 7000 or even 8000rpm Delta fans were being touted in every cooling review. Perhaps there are a few “old school” enthusiasts who still feel this way and would put up with a cooler like this.

    Personally, I am not convinced that the current trend of windows and garish neon lights all over everything is any improvement over yesterday’s vacuum cleaners.

    • deathBOB
    • 14 years ago

    prescott^2?

    • Hattig
    • 14 years ago

    I pity the people that end up with one of these in their systems.

    Fan noise is a totally negatory aspect to using a computer, probably to the point of causing people to feel unwell.

    The difference between a silent system and a noisy one is night and day. The entire experience of using the system is different, pleasure vs. stress.

    This is performance at any cost. Honestly, if the processor won’t run without such a cooler, then it shouldn’t be on the market. This isn’t targeted at server rooms, it’s people home gaming systems. People who’ll be damaging their hearing because they’ll up the speaker volume to drown out the non-atmospheric fan noise. Otherwise add another $20 to the price and include a quieter, better cooler. Don’t skimp on the cooler, ship something worthy of the $1000 the product costs.

    • PerfectCr
    • 14 years ago

    Wow, we can have a cookout using this chip as the grill! Hot Dogs anyone? BBQ!

    • Spotpuff
    • 14 years ago

    Like many others in this thread I was blown away at how cool the Athlon 64 line runs. My CPU idles at 26 and runs full load at around 42. It’s running at 1.35v 2.4GHz.

    No clue why anyone in their right mind would run Intel.

    • fatpipes
    • 14 years ago

    I don’t trust the retention mechanism on the retail heat sinks. They’re PLASTIC. That’s right – totally PLASTIC. It takes too much down force to install them and there’s no clear indication that it is securely fastened. There are also 4 points to fasten, any of which can be done inappropriately.

    Intel: STOP CHANGING YOUR HEAT SINKS. Find a design that works, spend the money to use it in all of your boxed processors in the same family!

      • Norphy
      • 14 years ago

      I agree. First time I installed an Intel LGA CPU, I wasn’t sure if it was mounted properly or not. There was virtually no tactile feedback from the thing.

      The S478 retention mechanism might bend the motherboard but at least you know its on and secure!

    • ripfire
    • 14 years ago

    Can anybody say FX5800 noisy?

    Anyway, that thing is HOT! I’ve had my home PC (X2 3800) running almost everyday now with Folding, and it sits comfortably at low 40Cs.

    Oh BTW, that’s with stock cooling.

    • Logan[TeamX]
    • 14 years ago

    This just in… Intel is offering an Extreme Deep Fryer Edition as well. It eschews a fan in lieu of two long heatpipes that extend outside the case and wrap around a stainless steel bin. The bin is then ready for heating all your favourite foods and turning them into artery-choking balls of goodness!

    Order yours today and have yet something else semi-useful from Intel, the company with the dancing guys in the NBC suits!

    • Dent
    • 14 years ago

    Someone at Intel needs to wake up. Why not do an oem deal with Zalman, or license a design from them for a good cooler, with a more average to low noise output.

      • Usacomp2k3
      • 14 years ago

      It seems to me that in general, Intel has had quite excellent stock coolers. It was only recently that AMD has caught up with them.

    • trintron
    • 14 years ago

    Extreme Edition needs extreme measures.

    • eitje
    • 14 years ago

    i once forgot to put thermal paste between an XP 1500+ (i think) and its heatsink. also, i tried running a Duron 700 w/ a giant copper heatsink and no fan once, just to see what would happen.

    with those two instances as exceptions… i’ve never had a system that ran @ 60C, much less 70C. that’s simply… well, extreme. 😉

      • dragmor
      • 14 years ago

      1.2 tbird with a Volcano 7 (one of the best heatsinks at the time). Its unusable if the ambient temps are > 30c. At 20c ambient it Idles at 56c load at 72c.

      A friend has the exact same setup and his is a good 15c cooler. I would say its just a temp sensor gone wacky but the heatsink is to hot to touch.

        • Logan[TeamX]
        • 14 years ago

        Welcome to 5 years ago? A Volcano 7 is an aluminum HSF solution. Even moving to a Volcano 9+ (hybrid Al/Cu) or Volcano 12 (Cu) would alleviate the problem.

        Also, using good thermal grease (Arctic Silver, OCZ Ultra) makes a difference – especially in lessening the idle/load delta.

        Everyone knows the K7s run hot. Noone expects a “cutting edge” enthusiast processor to run HOTTER than the infamous K7s.

      • flip-mode
      • 14 years ago

      Hottest processor I’ve worked with was the first run of the XP2100+ which ran well into the 60’s at full load.

    • Zenith
    • 14 years ago

    Jesus Tap Dancing CHRIST that’s a FIREBALL of a processor.

      • blase
      • 14 years ago

      My most suffocated PC only hits the high 50s. I’ve never had *anything* that I’ve allowed to run even up to 70! I start getting concerned in the 60 degree range.

      FIREBALL is a pretty good description should those fan bearings have a bad day.

    • Usacomp2k3
    • 14 years ago

    How very odd.

    • continuum
    • 14 years ago

    Eeeeek. That worries me… if I wanted a hair dryer I’d buy one!

      • AmishRakeFight
      • 14 years ago

      a hairdryer is a lot cheaper too…

    • derFunkenstein
    • 14 years ago

    while the retail cooler blows (hardy har har), I think it’s safe to say that anyone who buys an Extreme Edition anything is going to have a high-end aftermarket cooler strapped on (and, as you said, it’s a requirement…I think it’s something most people would do anyway) and it won’t be that big of an issue.

      • Spotpuff
      • 14 years ago

      Not the people buying it from Dell or whatever.

        • Norphy
        • 14 years ago

        Most Dells use custom cooling solutions. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Intel OEM cooler inside a Dell box before. As for other whitebox shifters, whos to say?

          • derFunkenstein
          • 14 years ago

          yup, mine uses a custom windtunnel-type cooler to push hot air otu the back of the case.

          • derFunkenstein
          • 14 years ago

          We’re talking about a RETAIL cooler here, not an OEM one. There’s a difference; Dell and the like are OEM’s and therefore get their own cooling solutions.

      • Thrashdog
      • 14 years ago

      I have an acquantance who is part-owner of a mom-and-pop SI. When I last talked to him six months ago, he was already talking about using watercooling on their P4 systems as a rule. This isn’t an enthusiast shop, either — they provided systems and support for the print shop where I worked at the time, as well as some pretty major installations for the state Republican party.

        • flip-mode
        • 14 years ago

        Then they are goof-balls. They should simply tell those who demand Intel that it is at their own risk and offer them the y[

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