Zero Infinity are new to the scene. A Hong Kong Based firm with a range of CPU and RAM coolers, PSUs and fans. A quick look at their product line up with leave you with the distinct impression that these chaps are more than a partial to the colour Purple. Psychedelic colour choices aside lets hear what they have to say for themselves.
"At Zero Infinity, we understand that “consumers are the life and blood of our business, without them, we wouldn’t be here”. Consumer’s satisfaction is the most important values of our business. Our team of designers and engineers shares one goal in common. To design products that has impeccable performance and flawless quality".
Certainly the Product we have for review today seems like it should satisfy. With twin towers, 3x140mm 1200RPM fans and 5x8mm heatpipes the Free Flow+ has all the right ingredients for a chart topping cooler. Question is, how well have Zero Infinity put these ingredients together?
|Dimensions Without fan||111x165x140mm (HxWxD)|
|Dimensions With fan||162x165x140mm (HxWxD)|
|Weight With/Without fans||1496/1057g|
|Material||Heat pipes Nickel Copper, Blades Nickel Plated Aluminium|
|Fan Speed||1200 rpm|
|Compatability||Intel 771, 775, 1155, 1156, 1366 / AMD AM2, AM2+, AM3, AM3+, FM1|
Up Close: Packaging and contents
Like the cooler inside, the box is coloured predominantly in black and Purple. A lift open flap opens to show a window giving a glimpse of the cooler. The rest of the exterior of the box is dedicated to product specs, key features and pictures of the product.
Some serious thought has gone into the packaging of the Free Flow+. opening the box and working out how to extract the various fans from their nesting places is akin to a small IQ test (not sure I passed). The cooler itself sits in a sort of foam armchair with the fans and accessories box intricately positioned around it in their own protective rigid plastic containers.
Along with the 3 fans and the cooler itself you get a full set of spring clips (and a set of spares), instructions, all the relevant screws and brackets, and a generous size syringe of TIM. The instructions are very probably the most unclear I've ever come across, but more of that later.
Up Close: The cooler
The Free Flow+ is of the twin tower type, with each of the stacks having 47 Nickel coated Aluminium fins. The cross sectional area of each of the fins is 140x40mm.
Each of the 5x8mm heat pipes passes vertically through both stacks. The heat pipes are arranged in a straight line closer to the centre of the fin stacks than the outer edges. The fin stacks are predominantly open at the sides apart from a small vertical closed off smooth section.
Each of the fins has 4 small and 1 large "scoop" cut into it. Each of these scoops faces out from the centre of the cooler. I can understand these acting to duct air when the air is traveling into the ducts, but i'm not entirely convinced they're serving much of a purpose when they're facing away from the direction of airflow.
Closer examination of the fins reveals that each of them is surfaced with 1000s of very small raised dimples. These are presumably to aid thermal transfer between the fins and the air passing over them. The torture test will show us if this is an approach that pays dividends.
Turning our attention now to the heat pipes we can see that they too are finished in a deep Nickel coating. Quality of finish here is good, if not superior, with a few imperfections seen in the nickel finish.
We now look to the base of the cooler. In the attempt to extract maximum heat exchange from the Free Flow+ Zero Infinity have actually attached what looks very much like an old school heat sink to the upper most surface of the contact plate. Whist this might look a little odd in the photographs, it won't be seen when the cooler is fitted, and can only serve to increase performance.
Looking at the business end of the heatsink, namely the contact plate we can see that Zero Infinity have gone with a direct contact approach, with the flattened heatpipes being placed in direct contact with the heat spreader of your chosen chip. On removal of the protective film it was noticed that the copper was discoloured in several places leaving a mottled effect. The surface however was perfectly flat and the mottled effect could not be felt with the surface of a finger.
Up Close: Assembled
The Free Flow+ comes packaged with 3x120mm fans, making for quite a formidable and impressive structure once assembled. The fans are aligned in a linear pattern as you might imagine, giving a flow of air from the front to the rear of the unit (hence the name free flow).
When assembled the whole unit is 155mm long from front fan to rear fan, which might give some rear case fan clearance issues in smaller cases, and certainly causes clearance issues for those with tall heat sinks on their RAM.
The choice of Purple bladed fans is something of an unusual design direction. I guess it stands out from the crowd, but if you're looking to colour theme your build you're going to be hard pushed to find purple products from other manufacturers, but then I guess that's part of the marketing plan.
I have to be honest in that the Free Flow+ doesn't exactly ooze feelings of quality. The towers of the cooler itself weren't actually perpendicular to each other, necessitating quite a bit of leverage to insert the central fan, and the fans themselves did feel a little on the chap and flimsy side, with little effort made to disguise the injection moulding points. That said, once assembled you can't help be impressed by the scale and purpleness of the cooler (Purpleness is a real word, honest)
Assembly and Fitting
Oh dear......Oh dear, Oh dear , Oh dear. This was not a happy experience. Lets start with assembling the cooler itself. As the fin stacks weren't parallel to each other, being considerably closer to each other at the top than the bottom, it was a heck of a job to get the central fan into position. Granted I was assured in the process that the copper tubing used must be quite thick as efforts to prize the two towers apart were met with a lot of grunting and swearing as they didn't want to be parted more than a few mm, but the thickness of the copper used wasn't really the point here. The fans themselves are held in position by some "less than subtle" fan clips which almost make the cooler look like it has an array of antennae.
Fitting to the mother board necessitates the removal of the motherboard, regardless of the size of any motherboard tray apertures, as the retaining bolts on the front side just cannot be accessed with the motherboard in place.
The fitting process is not made any easier by the worst set of instructions I have ever seen. granted they are are stylish with a white on black "negative" appearance, but I would rather have substance over style. Let me put it this way, I was genuinely in the dark about which parts I was meant to use, and where they were meant to go. Add to that that the front side bolts retaining the rear back plate tighten directly onto the front of the motherboard and you're asking for trouble. It was with trepidation that I powered the system on, expecting a short to occur and my Mobo to go up in a puff of smoke.
In fitting this cooler I actually had to walk away from it a few times as it was infuriating me that much. In fact at one point I left it and went to bed figuring that at least that way I would resist throwing it through a window. I could continue, but I think you get the picture.
Once fitted the cooler dominates the inside of the case. It's sheer size dwarfing the rest of the components inside.
Performance and Testing
To provide continuity the test set up is as always
Gigabyte UD3R V2
Intel i7 950 @ 4GHz 1.25v & 1.35v
Mushkin Radioactive 2000MHz
Cooler Master Storm Trooper
For the first test we set our i7-950 overclocked to 200x20 @ 1.25v for a clock speed of 4.0GHz. We allow the system to idle for 30 minutes and then run Prime95 'maximum heat maximum stress' setting for a further 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes we note the temperatures of all cores and the ambient temperature of the room. An average of all cores is taken, then the ambient temperature is removed from this figure and this gives us the delta temperature. Delta is the temperature difference above ambient which is a truer reflection of the heat-sink performance rather than mere maximum figures. Testing in an Igloo or the Sahara would give vastly different maximum temperatures, yet the Delta could be the same.
The second test follows all steps from above but with a 200x21 @ 1.35v for 4.2GHz overclock, the extra voltage in this test allows us to see if the heat-sink can cope when extreme loads and overclocks are applied.
Things were looking fairly good, if not great, however I was quite surprised when the Free Flow+ failed the 4.4GHz test. With it's sheer bulk I was expecting it to get a score, if not actually a good one.
Well all the right ingredients are there, two large fin stacks, each with 47 Aluminium fins, ducts and dimples to aid in heat transfer, 3x 1200rpm 140mm fans, additional heat sink on the contact plate, 5x8mm direct contact heat pipes, and with Purple bladed fans the Free Flow+ also has what could be called "Individual" styling. So how have Zero Infinity put these top class ingredients together
Quality wise things aren't great, not actually bad, although the "bent" towers were a bit of a concern, it's more that I wasn't left with the feeling that I had a quality product in my hands, more like I was holding something with every item sourced from the lowest OEM bidder.
Sadly my feeling for the cooler were not improved by the build process. I'm not going to rant here, if you want to get the full flavour go back and have a look at section 5 of the review. I'll summarise by saying this was the worst cooler install i've yet done (and that inclused the beQuiets).
So with all the above said I rather had my hopes pinned on the Free Flow+ putting in a truly stellar performance. I think I would be willing to forgive the above points if it had it where it mattered. Sadly however, it didn't. Not by a long chalk. The list of smaller, and at a smidgen under £60, cheaper coolers that better it at both 4.0GHz and 4.2GHz is long and distinguished. In use it's also on the noisy side (suspiciously dB(A) figures for the fans are hard to come by), but if I were to say it was clearly audible over the noise of my open Antec Skeleton system sitting closer to me than it was then you'll get the idea. Throw in that the size of the cooler may cause clearance issues with RAM and case sides as well as the rear fan and things are far from Rosy.
I never like to give a bad review, but on this occasion I really am struggling to find much to say about the Free Flow+ that would encourage you to select it for your system. Perhaps if you're looking for something that little bit different, with the colour Purple certainly being one that you don't come across very often then it may hold something of an appeal, but really I'm finding it hard to think of anything else. There are great coolers out there, at great prices. This isn't one of them.
You can discuss you thoughts on this review in the OC3D forums.