be quiet Dark Rock TF Top Flow Review
It's been a while since we reviewed a cooler, and even longer since we did a traditional tower cooler, never mind a top down cooler such as the be quiet Dark Rock TF. In fact, the last top down cooler we looked was way back in March 2012 and by coincidence was also a be quiet which went by the name of Shadow rock Top Flow. Retailing for £65 and measuring 132.6x140x130.8mm (LxWxH), The Dark Rock TF is certainly a totally different beast to the Shadow Rock. With twin fin stacks and a pair of 1400rpm 135mm silent wings fans it also boasts a TDP of 220W, which it has to be said is very impressive.
From the moment you open the satin black box you get a feeling for the high level of quality and attention to detail we've come to expect from be quiet. Each of the fans are individually house in their own cardboard boxes, with the cooler itself nestling in an expanded foam shell. Opening up the accessories box reveals all the fittings you'll need for a wide variety of AMD and Intel CPUs, as well as some TIM, spring clips, a fan splitter. Also included are a set of instructions, which although multi language could have done with being better laid out and with much larger and more detailed diagrams. When it came to fitting, we largely ignored them and resorted to working it out for ourselves as we didn't find them that helpful.
The cooler though is stunningly well made, with absolutely no imperfections what-so-ever. The Copper base and Aluminium fin stacks are both finished in a deep dark Nickel which suits the brand name well. In total there are six 6mm heat pipes, and although all six pass through the upper fin stack, only four of them pass into the much smaller lower stack. Talking of stacks, this brings us to a bit of an error we found. The be quiet website tells us that the upper stack has 62 fin elements, and 64 on the bottom, however our counting (yes, we count the fins) informed us that the lower stack actually has only 31 fin elements. We're sure this is just a typo, as opposed to be quiet trying to have us believe that the cooler has more fins than it does, either that or they've found an interesting way of counting things that we're not aware of.
Although the TF makes use of the dreaded spring clips to mount the fans, they're actually not that hard to fit and blend in well with the rest of the cooler. Mounting the cooler to the motherboard however was a bit of a game, not made any easier by the instructions. As with all large heat sinks, access to the underside and thus the fixing points is quite restricted. This is of course is a product of the large overhangs inherent in their design. We'd recommend that if you’re using the TF as part of a fresh build, you fit the cooler to the motherboard before fitting the motherboard into the case. If you’re dealing with an already build PC then get ready to rumble, as you're going to spend quite a bit of time wrestling the TF. The supplied spanner isn't much cop either, to the point where we headed off to the garage to fetch a proper one. With the extra reach and better fit that this offered the fit then became remarkably easy, with the nuts being tightened down in a matter of moments. A case of the right tool for the right job we think.
In use the TF was quiet in the extreme, even at the full 12volts we undertake all our testing at. When subjected to our famous torture tests the TF didn't actually do as well as the given 220W TDP would have us believe, but in fact did do about as well as we expected it to. Granted, it may have a pair of 135mm 1400rpm silent wings fans blowing a tornado of air though it, but at the end of the day there's just not enough heat sink bulk for the fans to work with.
Thus far this might seem like a middle of the road review, not that bad, but t not that good either, but there are a few other things we need to look at. OK so the TF didn't shine in the torture tests, but we didn't really expect it to. Absolute performance is not what this cooler is about. What it is about is decent performance, low noise and a low in-case footprint, all of this makes it ideal for use in smaller enclosures where space is at a premium and noise is undesirable. Take into account that the top down nature of the cooler drenches the motherboard in cool air, and it starts to make a lot of sense to use this cooler in a low power build where the CPU is doing double duty rendering graphics, and where those components near the CPU socket start to get a little hot under the collar.
At £65 though the TF isn't cheap, and does in fact fall right into the middle of 120mm AIO territory. AIOs it has to be said take up less room in a case, but don't offer the motherboard cooling the TF does. If you've got good through case airflow and don't mind the higher levels of noise which accompany AIOs then this won't be an issue, but if you're looking for low noise and need that extra cooling then the TF is well worth a look.