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Clearance and mounting hardware
The CNPS9500 looks huge, and it is, but fortunately not in a way that creates clearance problems.

CNPS9500 LED, CPNS7700-AlCu, Stock AMD cooler

Measuring 85mm wide, 112mm long, and 125mm tall, much of the CNPS9500's size is vertical. It towers over Zalman's CNPS7700, which is only 67mm tall, and AMD's stock Athlon 64 cooler is even shorter still.

CNPS9500 LED, CPNS7700-AlCu, Stock AMD cooler

Distributing its surface area vertically gives the CNPS9500 a smaller footprint than the CNPS7700, which measures a whopping 136mm in diameter. This allows the CNPS9500 to avoid the clearance issues that hamper the CNPS7700, making Zalman's latest creation compatible with a much broader array of motherboards.

We installed the CNPS9500 on a handful of Socket 939 and LGA775 motherboards and didn't encounter any clearance problems. In all cases, the cooler's design allowed DIMMs to be installed and removed with ease, and the fins didn't conflict with north bridge coolers or graphics cards. In fact, the CNPS9500's motherboard compatibility is so broad that Zalman hasn't identified any boards that won't work with this cooler. The same can't be said for the CNPS7700, whose wide stance creates issues with a number of boards.

While the CNPS9500's smaller footprint is handy, the cooler's relatively low weight is perhaps more impressive. Despite its all-copper design, the CNPS9500 weighs in at just 530g—nearly half the weight of the CNPS7700-Cu. Low weight is especially important for the CNPS9500 given its taller profile; one wouldn't want too much weight tugging on the motherboard when it's mounted vertically in a tower enclosure.

A relatively small footprint may be responsible for the CNPS9500's compatibility with a wide range of motherboards, but it's Zalman's impressive collection of mounting brackets that allows the cooler to work with a variety of CPU sockets. Zalman ships the CNPS9500 with mounting hardware for sockets 754/939/940, LGA775, and even Socket 478—one size fits all. The mounting brackets are easy to use, and installation is quick and painless for all sockets. LGA775 installation does require that the motherboard be removed from the system so that the bracket's back plate can be screwed on, though. Previous Zalman coolers have also required back plate installation for sockets 754/939/940, but the CNPS9500 screws right into AMD's retention bracket.

In addition to mounting hardware, the CNPS9500 also comes with a variable-speed fan controller. The fan controller is optional, and users with motherboards that feature temperature-based fan speed control probably won't need it. However, manual fan speed control is still a handy feature to have, especially for older systems and Athlon 64 motherboards where temperature-based fan speed control isn't always a given.

Zalman's fan speed controller uses an analog knob to dial fan speeds between 1350 and 2600RPM, allowing for plenty of fine-tuning to balance noise levels with cooling performance. Unfortunately, the fan controller uses a three-pin connector, making the CNPS9500 incompatible with the linear fan speed control on some LGA775 motherboards. Many newer LGA775 motherboards provide provisions for fan speed control with both three- and four-pin fans, though.

Before we dive into the CNPS9500 LED's performance, we should note that the cooler comes with a bright blue LED. Everyone and his mother is rocking blue LEDs these days, and while the novelty wore off long ago for some, only those with case windows will notice the CNPS9500's glow.