If the results of our last hardware survey are any indication, most TR readers toss the CPU coolers Intel and AMD include with their processors in favor of aftermarket replacements. I’m no different. My parts shelf is rife with stock coolers whose only saving grace is their usefulness as a frame of reference for our aftermarket heatsink reviews.
As anybody with ears can tell you, stock heatsinks often don’t sound that great under load, and they usually turn in thermal performance that’s best described as “good enough.” Even affordable third-party coolers offer a big step up in cooling and acoustic performance.
AMD is acutely aware of this problem. Going by this comparison video, the company’s last-gen stock cooler for many of its CPUs is sorely lacking in the acoustics department. The Wraith cooler, introduced at CES, is meant to change that.
At first glance, the Wraith easily takes the title of the nicest stock cooler I’ve seen. This heatsink has four copper heat pipes that wind through a fairly dense fin array. A hefty copper base plate serves as the go-between for these heat pipes and the processor’s heat spreader.
The Wraith’s shroud is gussied up with an LED-backlit AMD logo that’s invisible when the cooler is off. This looks neat, and it’s pretty fancy for a boxed heatsink. Problem is, unless you have a case with a big window and you’re looking at the cooler at just the right angle, this logo will be quite difficult to see in use. It does look nice on our test bench, though.
Taking the Wraith apart reveals a Delta Electronics QFR0912H 92-mm fan. AMD uses four foam isolators on the fan frame that might provide a bit of extra vibration reduction while the fan is spinning. The power connector for the LED logo is integrated into the four-pin fan plug.
AMD billed the Wraith as a constant-fan-speed cooler at CES, but the included fan doesn’t seem to come with any special sauce to enforce that restriction. The Gigabyte GA-990FX-Gaming motherboard that AMD sent me to test the Wraith with didn’t have any trouble treating the fan as a regular PWM spinner with a range of controllable speeds.
Since it’s a boxed CPU cooler, the Wraith can’t be purchased on the open market. Instead, AMD will include this cooler exclusively with its FX-8370 CPU right now. This $200 chip offers eight Piledriver cores (or four modules, if you prefer) running at 4GHz base and 4.3GHz turbo speeds, all wrapped up in a 125W TDP. The FX-8370 seems like it’ll be a worthy challenge for this heatsink.
Installing the Wraith on a Socket AM3+ board is about as simple as it gets, so we’re not going to devote an entire section to the mounting process for this review. Snap the Wraith’s two metal clips over the motherboard’s plastic mounting points, push a lever to the left, and that’s it. We don’t even have to apply thermal compound, since AMD includes a pat of it on the base of the Wraith. Now that the cooler is mounted on our CPU, let’s see how the Wraith performs.
Our testing methods
Here’s the full configuration of our test system:
|Memory||8GB AMD Memory DDR3-1600 (2x4GB)|
|Graphics card||Asus Strix Radeon R9 Fury|
|Storage||Kingston HyperX 120GB SSD|
|Power supply||Cooler Master V550|
|OS||Windows 10 Pro|
Our CPU cooler testing regimen is as follows:
- 10 minutes idling at the Windows 10 desktop
- 20 minutes of the Prime95 Small FFTs CPU torture test
- 10 minutes idling at the Windows 10 desktop
Our thanks to AMD for providing us with the FX-8370 CPU, the Gigabyte GA-990FX-Gaming motherboard, the Wraith cooler, and the memory for our test system today. Thanks to Kingston, Asus, and Cooler Master for their contributions to our test rig, as well.
Our test data is logged using AIDA64 Engineer. To rule out a given case’s cooling performance as a factor, we ran our tests on an open bench. The ambient temperature in our testing environment was about 70° F. Noise measurements were performed 6″ directly above each cooler using an iPhone 6S Plus running the Faber Acoustical SoundMeter application. The CPU cooler and power supply fan were the only noise sources present in the testing environment.
As a point of comparison for the Wraith, I brought out Cooler Master’s Hyper D92. This $45 cooler is a TR Recommended winner that we suggest as a step up from stock coolers in our System Guide, so it seems like the perfect foil for the Wraith. Since the Hyper D92 doesn’t have thermal paste pre-applied, I used a generic thermal compound that’s representative of what one might get with the average aftermarket heatsink.
For reasons we’ll discuss in our noise testing section, I had to set up a custom fan curve for the Wraith in Gigabyte’s Windows utility for the GA-990FX-Gaming. To do so, I played with a series of load speeds to balance thermal performance against noise and temperatures. Eventually, I settled on a curve that let the Wraith idle at its 700-ish RPM minimum speed and ramp up to about 1400 RPM under load. Any faster, and the fan began to sound coarse to my ear.
Both coolers were tested with a single Corsair 120-mm fan directed at our motherboard’s VRM heatsinks, because, well, this happened without it under load:
The system was perfectly stable without active cooling on the power-delivery components of the motherboard, but I didn’t want to risk toasting anything. That fan was controlled by one of the 990FX-Gaming’s onboard fan headers.
If you have questions or comments about our testing methods, be sure to leave a comment on this review or post a question in our forums.
Here are the results of our cooling performance tests, plotted over time:
And here are the minimum and maximum numbers from each of our testing phases:
Something about our test rig causes it to report CPU idle temperatures below the ambient conditions of our testing environment. Since the Wraith isn’t a Peltier cooler, that seems unlikely. I don’t have a spare Socket AM3+ motherboard to cross-check against our Gigabyte mobo, so feel free to ignore our idle temperature numbers and just concentrate on the load figures.
Even with the rather restrictive custom fan curve I created, the Wraith delivers impressive cooling results atop a stock-clocked FX-8370. The processor’s load temps topped out at 69° C under our grueling Prime95 Small FFTs load. To get there, the Wraith only had to spin its fan at a reported 1321 RPM, less than half of its roughly 3000-RPM rated maximum. Using a similar fan curve, the Hyper D92 shaved only three degrees C off the Wraith’s load number. Not bad for a stock heatsink cooling a 125W CPU.
For those willing to tolerate more noise, the Wraith’s fan still has plenty of room to stretch its legs if those temperatures are worrisome. It might even be possible to eke a mild overclock out of the FX-8370 with the Wraith if noise levels aren’t a concern. The Hyper D92 has even more headroom still, considering it’s a larger tower-style cooler with dual fans. It’s worth remembering that the Cooler Master heatsink is a $45 extra, though, while builders will get the Wraith in the box with the FX-8370.
Here are the minimum and maximum noise levels I measured during each phase of our testing:
For a stock cooler, the Wraith sounds pretty darn good. At its minimum fan speed, the cooler produces just 30 dBA, while its load noise level rises to 35 dBA on our test bench. The Hyper D92’s 32-dBA idle figure is slightly worse than the Wraith’s, but it doesn’t have to spin its fans up when the CPU is stressed. I didn’t hear a noticeable difference in the Hyper D92’s fan noise at idle and under load, and that’s borne out by our noise measurements.
If we throw concerns about noise to the wind, the Wraith produces about 52 dBA when set to 100% speed, while the Hyper D92 tops out at about 58 dBA. Neither of these coolers sound great if they’re running all-out, but that should never happen when either of these heatsinks are cooling a stock-clocked CPU.
Decibels alone don’t tell the whole story here. The Wraith’s fan has a ticking character that gets worse as its speed increases. That character is only mildly evident at the speeds I chose for our testing, and I expect it’d be less audible inside a case. The ticking fades at idle, and in my test setup, the Wraith can’t even be heard over the fan on my Cooler Master V550 power supply. Under optimal conditions, the Wraith lives up to its billing as one of the quieter components in a system.
I say “optimal conditions” because the Gigabyte GA-990FX-Gaming motherboard I tested the Wraith with doesn’t have great fan controls. Compared to the other AMD motherboard I have in my lab, Asus’ Crossblade Ranger, the 990FX-Gaming’s firmware fan controls are downright archaic. By default, this board is happy to run the Wraith faster than necessary, making for a noisy system out of the box. What’s worse, the board oscillates the CPU fan’s speed at idle for no apparent reason, leading to a “mooing” noise from the heatsink that’s both noticeable and unpleasant. Messing with the few fan settings in the board’s firmware didn’t change that performance much.
The 990FX-Gaming’s Windows software isn’t much better. The utility forgets to apply any custom fan curves set up in the software after every reboot and even after every sleep-wake cycle. Re-applying those curves isn’t easy, either. Every single time I wanted to re-activate that custom curve in Gigabyte’s software, I had to make a tiny adjustment to it before the “Apply” button became clickable again. That experience is worse than should be expected for a $140 motherboard paired with a $200 CPU.
None of these issues are the fault of the Wraith, but they do go to show that the CPU cooler is only one of a series of moving parts that have to come together to deliver an ideal experience. The 990FX-Gaming is one of AMD’s poster children for a group of updated Socket AM3+ boards that come with modern features like M.2 slots and USB 3.1 Type-C ports, but I wish some of that initiative had gone into improving the board’s fan controls and software. Similarly updated mobos from other manufacturers may perform better in the firmware fan control department, but it’s hard to say without getting our hands on a few. In any case, builders should expect to spend some time in their motherboards’ fan controls to get the Wraith running just right.
AMD’s Wraith cooler is a surprisingly solid new take on the stock heatsink formula. If you’re building with an FX-8370 CPU and don’t intend to overclock, the Wraith is adept at keeping the processor cool while staying whisper-quiet. In fact, it can deliver performance that’s not far off Cooler Master’s $45 Hyper D92. Not bad for something that comes free in the box. The Wraith is super-easy to install, too.
The Wraith was let down at first by the Gigabyte 990FX-Gaming motherboard I used in my testing. Compared to modern motherboards from other manufacturers, the 990FX-Gaming’s firmware fan controls are primitive, and its default fan control settings make the Wraith sound pretty bad. Even after I set up a custom fan speed curve in Gigabyte’s Windows software, that utility needed far too much attention to keep that curve active. While other motherboards might be better off in the fan control department, builders may still have to do some fan-curve setup with them to bring out the Wraith’s best side. To be fair, that’s true of any heatsink.
When everything is running smoothly, though, the Wraith is probably the best boxed cooler around, and I would have no qualms about using it in a stock-clocked FX-8370 build. I just hope the company sees fit to include this cooler with more of its CPUs in the future. Given how well the Wraith performs, it’d be a shame if it were included with only one chip.