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Zalman's CNPS9500 LED CPU cooler

Delicately cool

Manufacturer Zalman
Model CNPS9500 LED
Price (Street)
Availability Now

IT'S RARE THAT WE review CPU coolers at TR, but every so often one comes along that we can't resist. OK, every so often one comes along that I can't resist. It seems I've developed something of a fetish for funky, silent CPU coolers, and although my therapist assures me that there's nothing wrong with lusting after artfully sculpted heat pipes and cooling fins, I do my best to suppress those urges. I'm only human, though, and when we spotted Zalman's new CNPS9500 LED at Computex, I couldn't resist the impulse to procure one for testing.

Zalman has been producing funky CPU coolers for some time, and while some of the company's designs are outlandish to the point of impracticality, the CNPS9500 LED has been designed with broad compatibility in mind. It's also been designed to do more with less, and Zalman claims that the cooler offers better performance with a 92mm fan than solutions equipped with 120mm fans. Does the CNPS9500 LED deliver? Join us as we explore the cooler's exquisite array of heat pipes and cooling fins to find out.

The cooler
I'm not really sure what's art and what isn't, but the CNPS9500 has to come close. The cooler is delicately gorgeous, with 90 (yes, I counted) paper-thin copper fins radiating around a translucent 92mm fan. With these looks, it's almost a shame to bury it inside a case.

Of course, the CNPS9500 has function to back up its form. That function differs slightly from other Zalman coolers, though. Zalman has traditionally mounted CPU cooling fans parallel to the CPU socket, resulting in air flow that's perpendicular to the processor; however, the CNPS9500 turns that design on its ear, mounting the fan perpendicular to the motherboard to provide airflow parallel to the board. This orientation is intended to more effectively vent warm air from around the CPU through a case's rear exhaust port.

To best exploit a case's rear exhaust port, Zalman suggests orienting the CNPS9500 with its fanless side toward the back of the case. That allows the fan to push air from inside the system over the array of cooling fins and out of the case.

While we're looking at the CNPS9500 from behind, note that its fins radiate from a series of heat pipes that loop up from the cooler's base in a figure eight. There are three heat pipes in total, and each is independent of the others. Each pipe is linear, so it doesn't loop back into itself at the base of the cooler.

The CNPS9500's trio of heat pipes converges in a surprisingly minimal copper base. Zalman does a decent job of polishing the base to remove imperfections that might otherwise impede heat transfer between the cooler and the CPU, but the finish isn't as mirror-perfect as we've seen on other coolers, including some of Zalman's own. Still, the base is smooth and scratch-free, and Zalman provides thermal compound with the cooler to fill any micro-grooves.