Silverstone Cooler: Nitrogen NT03 Page: 1
Introduction

Silverstone are well known for their Top-Class cases and solid power supplies. Recently Silverstone has started to dabble in the world of processor cooling.

The Nitrogen series (or NT Series) are a series of coolers of various shapes and sizes. I am taking a look at the smallest of their coolers: the NT03. Will it's diminutive size hold it back?


Packaging

Silverstone generally do a top job of their packaging and the NT03 is no exception. The outside of the box contains good product information and has a nice window in it to allow you to see what your buying.

silverstone NT03

If it was in a retail store, Silverstone's packaging would definately stand out on the shelves.

silverstone nt03

The inside of the box is nothing short of excellent. Silverstone have followed a tradition of making sure that their cooler is packaged more than adequately for it's purpose.

Nt03

There was no way that this cooler would have been damaged in transit, even if the box was badly damaged (which this one wasn't).


What you get

The NT03 comes with a lot of extra parts that make your life a little bit easier when fixing it together.

There is a fan extension cable for putting both the fans on one fan header and a retention bracket for both AMD and Intel. Silverstone have also included some cooling solution in with the package that looks to be some kind of ceramique-like thermal paste.

nt03 bundle

nt03 bundle 2

Let's see if the cooler works as good as it is packaged...


Silverstone Cooler: Nitrogen NT03 Page: 2
Meet the Silverstone NT03

Silverstone are targeting the NT03 at the smaller form factor market, with its compact design capable of fitting in to most HTPC/Media cases that fit mATX/ATX form factor motherboards. The cooler supports Intel Socket 478, LGA775, and AMD Socket 754, 939, 940. However, Silverstone state: "Due to an increasing number of Pentium M desktop motherboards featuring proprietary CPU cooler mounting holes, the NT03 will no longer be listed as having support for Socket 479". This is a bit of a shame but if you picked a board that does not have proprietary mounting holes your in luck.

nt03

The look of the cooler is very minimal with a shiny black top and silver lettering. This is the part of the cooler you are most likely to see and the embossed silver and white Silverstone logo make it look very professional.

nt03 fins

As you can see the NT03 boards copper fins to dissipate the heat that is generated by the CPU. With 4 copper heatpipes containing sintered powder, the NT03 can work in almost any orientation. This makes it an ideal choice for a HTPC case that has an upside down motherboard such as some of the Silverstone Lascala range.

nt03 contact base

The contact area of the cooler is copper, with the heatpipes running off of it from there. The contact area is not hugely shiny, but is very flat meaning that you will get a good contact between the base and the CPU core or IHS. The machining marks are still on the base but they are pretty fine, showing that the base has been lapped down to a pretty decent finish.

Specification

Taken from Silverstone's Site





nt03

NT03 heatsink

Material Copper base, fins, heat pipes
Heat Pipe Type Powder
Color Copper, black
Application Intel Socket 478, LGA775, AMD Socket 754, 939, 940
Net Weight

608 g

Dimension 90 mm (W) x 72 mm (H) x 64 mm (D)
60mm cooling fan x 2
Fan speed 3600rpm
Max airflow 17.89CFM
Max air pressure 2.31mmH2O
Noise 26.9dBA
Fan blade size 60 x 60 x 15mm
Fan blade 11
Bearing ball


The specifications aren't bad for the NT03. The airflow is a little low even with the two 60mm fans, but this cooler is more focused on a smaller case so the smaller fans would obviously not be able to pull as much airflow through.

The Fans and Noise

The fans are Evercool R126015DL rated at 12v - 0.14A. Together the two fans make up 26.9dBA according to Silverstone. I think that this is probably about right. When placed under full load by our test setup, there was a definite whirring noise coming from the cooler. Although not loud enough to be overly bothering, this would probably annoy you during something like watching a DVD. This probably wouldn't be too much of an issue, as watching a DVD should not stress out the CPU too much.

nt03 fans

Silverstone have designed the fan brackets so that they blow through the cooler in one direction in a push-pull configuration. This is pretty good although I was not sure exactly how effective the low-flow of these fans were. The top of the cooler got very hot during testing and I think that the low CFM certainly contributed to this.



Silverstone Cooler: Nitrogen NT03 Page: 3
How we tested

For my testing I setup a system in an Antec P180b.

This comprised of:

AMD 3200+ Venice (Stock 2000Mhz)
Abit AT8 32x 93 Motherboard
1gb (2 x 512mb) OCZ Platinum Rev 2
Gainward Bliss 7300GT
Hitachi Deskstar 160gb SATA drive
Sony DVD-ROM/CD-RW
Silverstone Strider 560w

OS: Windows XP Professional

For the testing I had the Venice clocked both at stock settings of 200 x 10 (2GHz) and 250 x 10 (2.5GHz). For the stock clocks the Abit board gives the CPU 1.4v. To get the CPU to run at 2.5GHz it needed 1.55v.

Temperatures were logged using Abit's uGuru monitoring software. Temperatures were checked with a thermal probe and found to be fairly accurate.

For idle temperatures I left the PC for 15mins then recorded the idle temperature every 10 seconds for 5 minutes, making sure I did not use any program that was not already running at windows startup.

For the load temperatures I ran an instance of prime 95 with in-place large FFT's for maximum heat and power consumption, as well as an instance of Folding@Home set to take up any spare cycles of the CPU. Once again I left this for 15mins then recorded the temperatures over a 5 minute period.

For a comparison I used AMD's excellent Heatpipe cooler that comes with their top-spec 939 CPU's. This is a very good heatpipe cooler that uses an 80mm fan. Although this is not a like-for-like comparison; it gives an idea for comparison and gives the results a reference.

amd cooler

AMD cooler

Onto the testing...



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Installation

Installation of the NT03 was a bit tougher than a lot of coolers that I have had in the past. Certainly the stock AMD cooler was a doddle to put on compared. The instructions provided are pretty good but the actual logistics of putting on the cooler are not as easy. This is certainly a job easier with two people.

First job is to prep the CPU with thermal paste. I used Arctic Silver 5 for both of the test coolers. Instructions for AS5 can be found here

You have to take out your motherboard and mount the included backplate with the longer screws provided.

NT03

Then you turn the board back up the other way and put on the included standoffs. These are not amazingly designed as they actually fitted through the holes in the Abit board that I had for the testing. You have to use the included rubber washers just before you add the standoffs, otherwise the standoffs slip through the board. Silverstone could do with making the standoffs a little bigger to avoid this.

You then install the heatsink and screw it down onto the standoffs. This bit is relatively easy but you need to have made sure that the standoffs were installed snugly beforehand to ensure good contact.

The fans are then screwed onto the heatsink. As mentioned previously - the fans go on in a push-pull configuration.

NT03 installed

Above you can see the standoffs. The fans need to be off of the heatsink prior to installation as they impede you screwing up the cooler to affix it to the board.

nt03 installed

And finally the cooler is installed. I did not find any clearance issues with this board but there is a possibility that badly designed motherboards with PWM's or caps too close to the CPU area may impede this cooler's installation.

As you can see the cooler is certainly a small size. Remember that the fans are individually optional and one or both can be removed for quieter running or even to take up less space.

I was not very happy with the amount of wires that come along with this cooler. Not only do you have one cable for each fan but the extension cable that plugs both fans into one header gives you extra wiring. Some careful planning would be needed to get this tidy in a case with a window.




Silverstone Cooler: Nitrogen NT03 Page: 5
Test results

Here are the results obtained from the tests.


Idle Temperature at stock settings

nt03 idle

As you can see both of the coolers kept the CPU at a very reasonable temperature at idle. The AMD heatpipe cooler slightly edges it here but the NT03 does very well.


Load Temperature at stock settings

idle oc nt03

At load there is a lot more heat for the NT03 to compete with. This is where the higher CFM and bigger Fins of the AMD cooler have the advantage. I think that this is a pretty impressive result for the NT03 considering it's size.


Idle Temperature at overclocked settings

load stock nt03




Both of these coolers kept the CPU at 34°C during idling at stock. Here the NT03 was not spinning up at all. Another nice result.


Load Temperature at overclocked settings

overclocked temps nt03

Here the NT03 definitely lagged behind the AMD cooler a bit. The NT03 is designed for a P4 of 3.4GHz and above, but our 3200+ Venice is now running far above stock settings and having 1.55v pumped through it. I feel that the fans do ot pump enough air to really get rid of the heat.

However, the NT03 still kept the CPU at 500MHz above stock speed without getting what I would term 'worrying' temperatures. 55°C is perfectly reasonable for a 90nm AMD 64 part and most people would be fairly happy with a cooler that can achieve this.


Testing Thoughts
The NT03 did pretty well in our testing and I was impressed that it kept the temps down reasonable levels, especially for such a small sized cooler.


Silverstone Cooler: Nitrogen NT03 Page: 6
Conclusion

The Silverstone Nitrogen NT03 is a very nice cooler for those who want a performance cooler in a smaller size. It performs very well for its small size and is guaranteed to fit in some pretty small cases. With a Heatpipe solution that is packed into a small stylish package, Silverstone are onto a winner for people wishing to create a Media PC or an HTPC in a smaller case. The NT03 looks good and would also suit those with a case window, although the wiring would have to be carefully thought out.

It has to be said that when those two 60mm fans spin up they do get slightly 'whirry'. Although this never rose to a point where I found it distracting, and under anything but full load the noise was much better on the ears. This could however, be a problem if you need a very quiet cooler just for media purposes.

The NT03 can be found at SpecialTech for a fairly hefty £37.99. This puts it in a price bracket competing with mid to top-end coolers. This may not matter to you if you need a cooler that is just that little bit smaller than your average.


Pro's

+ Good cooling
+ Allows a decent overclock
+ Great for HTPC or Media PC application
+ Good package

Con's

- Small fans are high-pitched
- Wire management could be an issue
- Not easy to install
- Bit on the expensive size


I am going to give the NT03 a OC3D Recommended 75% for being a great buy for your smaller system.

oc3d recommended

Thanks to SpecialTech for the sample.

Remember that this cooler is being given away in our "Goodbye to 939" competition!

Goodbye to 939

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