Zalman CNPS 20LQ Review
Before getting into the meat of the Conclusion the first thing I need to do is go back to my comment about the noise level of the 20LQ at 12Volts. At the full 2000rpm this fan puts out an ear bleeding 36dBA. That might not sound much but it is. Remember for every increase of 10dBA there's a perceived doubling of the noise output. Now I appreciate the assessment of noise without silent rooms and calibrated measurement equipment is always going to be a subjective affair so let me put it this way. When I was conducting the tests, which remember take at least 30 mins per overclock setting, The high loud high pitched whine of the fan was that irritating that I once I was happy the temps weren't going to fry my CPU I actually left the room and let the tests run in my absence. Seriously that irritating. Which of course is a shame because at full tatt the 20LQ performs pretty well, with temps at 4GHz that only the super tower coolers and other water cooling systems on test are beating. The story is much the same at 4.2GHz although the 20LQ has slipped a bit further down the pack. Although the 20LQ does make it into the 4.4GHz club it does so by the skin of it's teeth with one core getting very close to the fail point of 90 degrees. That said at 4.4GHz it does beat the remaining tower air coolers (NH-D14, Havik 140 and Phanteks PH-TC14PE), being beaten only by the watercooling units in the chart, all of which are bigger units sporting twin or triple rads.
At lower rpms the 20LQ becomes a much more realistic solution. Stopping the voltage down to 9volts pretty much silences the fan and still enables the cooler to provide reasonable cooling at both 4.0GHz and 4.2GHz. Using the PWM functionality of the fan or perhaps attaching it to a temperature controlled fan controller is perhaps the best way to use this cooler. If it's gaming that's pushing the temps up then your system can respond by upping the revs. As the noise of your gaming increases you maybe won't so much notice the noise of the fan as it steps up it's revs to cope with the heat.
The build quality of the 20LQ is good, particularly the engineering seen in the face plate and water block. A couple of slightly out of place fins on the radiator, but that's nothing uncommon with most radiators you buy. The Blue end caps sporting the Zalman name add a degree of colour to the all black affair, but a little bit of me thinks the blue is a bit of an odd choice. There is ample length available in both the fan cable and the pump power cables and the rubber tubing is flexible without the feeling it's going to kink, and although the fan might be noisy at full tatt the pump is a thing of peace and tranquility.
Fitting is a bit of a fiddle, but not the worst I've ever come across and is made easier by some of the clearest instructions Ive seen. The inclusion of pre applied TIM with the protective cap is a nice touch, and if you fancy using something different then you can always wipe it off and apply your own. I did encounter a few clearance issues when mounting to the rear case fan area, but this is more a fault of the case than the 20LQ as all 120.1 sealed system radiators are essentially the same size. The problem was easily rectified and made no discernible difference to the temps.
In summing up I'd say the 20LQ is a good piece of kit, let down to some degree by the choice of fan. There are certainly quieter fans out there around the 2000rpm mark (the Scythe GT1850 springs to mind). At 2000rpm the unit is just not a practical option, it really is too loud to live with which is a shame. At lower rpms the noise drops to tolerable levels, but then the performance also drops to the point where some mid sized air coolers are getting the better of it. The solution of curse is in the PWM function of the fan or the use of a fan controller which will automatically up the fan speed as temperature dictates. You just have to hope that it doesn't need to take up all the way or you're going to be sorting yourself out a new set of eardrums.
So good, but not great, and of course the biggest shame of all is that for the want of a decent fan it could have been so much better, and for Zalman to badge the 20LQ as a CNPS system is a bit of a mystery to me
It gets a silver purely because of the cooling it offers. If Zalman can sort the noise out then it'll edge further up.