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Ultra ChillTec Thermo Electric CPU Cooler
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Date: Sep 13, 2007
Section:Misc
Author: Jeff Bouton
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Introduction and Product Specifications

The Ultra ChillTec Thermo-Electric CPU Cooler is a bit more than an oversized aftermarket cooler.  This unit marries two technologies into a single package, teaming a heat-pipe type cooler with a peltier and an oversized fan to offer extreme cooling potential.  To help facilitate its features properly, Ultra also integrates an external control module that's programmed to control the cooler's functions and report on the current health of the CPU.

Based on its relatively unique design and a rather hefty pricepoint, we were eager to delve into the design and performance of the Ultra ChillTec Thermo-Electric CPU cooler.  Our goal is to see how well the unit performs compared to stock cooling and to assess the advantages of adding a Peltier to the unit's overall design.  At the end of our tests and evaluation, we'll look whether or not the designers of the ChillTec Thermo-Electric CPU cooler came up with a truly innovative product or rather a flashy product that doesn't quite live up to its potential.

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Ultra ChillTec Thermo Electric CPU Cooler
Big, Quiet and Colorful

Specifications

    * Socket Types: Intel Socket 775, AMD Socket AM2 / 754 / 939 / 940
    * Cooler Dimensions: 128 x 104 x 147
    * Thermoelectric Chip: 40 x 40 / 12V DC
    * Total Power Dissipation:
      0% Load = 5 W
      50% Load = 28 W
      100% Load = 50 W
    * Heatsink Material: 4 Heat Pipes, Aluminum Fins, Copper Base
    * Heatsink Dimensions: 90 x 90 x 160 mm
    * Fan Dimensions: 92 x 92 x 25 mm
    * Fan Voltage Rating: 12V DC

    * Fan Speed and Noise Levels:
      Low 2000rpm / 20 dB(A)
      Medium 2400 rpm / 24 dB(A)
      High 2800 rpm / 28 dB(A)
    * Thermal Resistance: 0.12-0.15(ºC/W)
    * Weight: 985g (With Fan)
    * Temperature Monitor Range: 0ºF~99ºF / 32ºF ~ 210.2ºF
    * TEC Temperature Response Time to Control Unit: < 1 Second
    * Controller Dimensions: 150 x 147 x 43 mm
    * Controller Weight: 508 g


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The retail package of the Ultra ChillTec Thermo-Electric Cooler is impressive at first glance.  The package is comprised of the heat-pipe/peltier based cooler, an external control module, power cabling and mounting hardware for use with both Intel and AMD based CPUs. The package also comes with a tube of thermal grease and a small installation guide.  We'll comment on the hardware more in the pages ahead.  However, as far as the documentation goes, the installation guide could use some revising.  While the guide does explain the various installation processes based on the CPU it is matched with, it is somehwat small and hard to read.  They also failed to focus on the proper positioning of the fan in the case.  Should the fan be facing the front of the case?  Should be directed at the PSU intake?  It's simply not clear, leaving plenty of room for error for less savvy users.  If you read the documentation and don't rush into the installation process, you'll probably be fine, however.

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Technology Overview

The Ultra ChillTec Thermo-Electric Cooler
Technology Overview
When you consider the functionality of the Chilltec Thermo-Electric Cooler, there are a number of aspects of its design that you'll need to be familiar with in order to understand the unit's approach to CPU cooling.  To start, the cooler is outfitted with a heat-pipe cooler comprised of four pipes; two that take heat to the fan side of the aluminum finned heatsink and two connected to the far side of the heatsink.  This is a constant cycle that follows common laws of refrigeration.

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Backed with a large 92mm 2800 RPM fan, the unit is capable of moving fair amounts of air across the cooler, depositing the warmed air to the rear of the case to be exhausted by the rear chassis fan and/or PSU fan.  Coupled with the Heat Pipe technology, Ultra has configured the ChillTec TEC with a peltier and control module that aims to keep CPU temperatures in check and steady, applying peltier cooling when the CPU reaches a predetermined point. 

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Image Courtesy of www.peltier-info.com

The ChillTec TEC has a ceramic peltier sandwiched between the mounting plate and heatsink.  With a thermal sensor and power connected to the external control module, the ChillTec senses when the CPU is warming and activates the peltier accordingly, directing ice cold temperature to the CPU side of the cooler.  The end result is extremely steady CPU temperatures even under extreme load.  While we do find this approach to cooling interesting, it also brings questions to mind that we'll aim to address in the pages ahead.  Not only have we run a number of tests to quantify the ChillTec's performance, we also realized that there is more to consider than just CPU temperatures alone.  This prompted us to also take a look at power consumption and other factors that affect the overall performance and value of the ChillTec TEC.  Before we do so, however, we'll go over the hardware itself as well as installation procedures in our test platform.

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Component Overview
The Ultra ChillTec Thermo-Electric Cooler
Component Overview

The ChillTec Thermo-Electric Cooler is designed to support a broad range of CPUs including Intel's socket 775 and AMD's AM2, 754, 939 and 940 sockets.  The cooler itself is quite large, measuring 128mm long, 104mm wide and standing 147mm tall.  The unit is outfitted with an illuminated 92mm fan that forces air across the aluminum fins and dumps the warmed air toward the rear of the chassis.  The fan is rated to run as low as 2000 RPM with a maximum RPM of 2800.  The noise ratings for the fan range from 20dB at the lowest speed with the highest speed rated at 29dB.

 

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As stated in the technology overview, the ChillTec TEC marries a heat pipe cooler with a peltier, which is controlled by an external control module.  The module is more for show than for offering any kind of control over the ChillTec TEC's behavior.  The module reports CPU temperature and offers flashy animations, but that's about it.  The main functions of the unit are locked and programmed to enable and disable the peltier cooler as needed.

 

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When it comes to mounting the cooler, regardless of the CPU, access to the backside of the motherboard is required.  This can be a major detractor for those looking to use the ChillTec TEC in an existing PC build.  In each case, the stock cooler frame needs to be removed and then the appropriate hardware needs to be used based on the installed CPU.

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Installation of Hardware

The Ultra ChillTec TEC
Installation of Hardware

As our test machine is based on an AM2 processor, our approach to installation of the ChillTec TEC will focus on that socket, however, each supported process application is similar except for the required brackets needed for mounting.

 

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To prepare the ChillTec TEC for installation, the proper mounting brackets must first be attached to the base of the cooler.  In this application, two AM2 brackets are attached using four screws.  Once in place, it's time to address the hardware required on the motherboard.

 

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Once the stock cooler frame is removed, the appropriate base is inserted through the four holes on the mainboard.  Once in place, it's time to apply some thermal grease and position the cooler over the four posts.  With the unit resting on the CPU, four spring loaded thumb screws can be applied to secure the cooler in place.  The screws can be tightened by hand, but special attention should be paid to balanced tightening of the four screws to ensure the cooler is mounted evenly on the CPU.

 

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Once secured into position, it's time to connect the control module to the cooler.  For power, the module accepts a standard molex power connection, relying on proprietary cabling to connect the cooler itself, powering the fan, peltier and enabling communication of fan speeds and termperatures between the two components.  Once the requisite wires are connected, the ChilTec TEC is ready for action, but first we'll take a quick look at the control box.

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LCD View
The Ultra ChillTec LCD
Colors Galor!

Intially the control module for the ChillTec TEC seems impressive, but after a few moments it becomes clear that it's more flash than function.  Ultra does seem to go through a lot of trouble to make the LCD look busy and give the impression that a lot is going on.

 

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Aside from offering a number of different color shades, all the controller offers the user is temperature readings in either Celsius or Farhenheit.  There is also an alarm that will trigger if the CPU reaches excessive temperatures, which causes the LCD to flash red and the unit to emit a loud beep.  Aside from that, the LCD displays a small figure digging with a shovel and the words Ultra Ultra Ultra flash across the top of the display.

 

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Throughtout the temperature testing of this unit you will see a broad range of temperature readings as we ran the ChillTec TEC through a number of different tests.  However, while the motherboard reported the temperatures for us in Windows accurately, the LCD was off.  When we recorded our lowest temperature at 15C, the LCD reported 27C and when the CPU peaked at 54C in another test, the LCD reported 33C, a 21 degree difference.  Of course, you can't expect an external reading from a thermal sensor mounted to a heatsink, to match those reported by the system BIOS reading the CPU's internal thermal diode, but the different here was pretty dramatic.

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HH Test Platform and Temperature Baselines
 
HotHardware's Test Systems
AMD & GIGABYTE

AMD Athlon X2 5000+
(2.6GHz)

GIGABYTE GA-M59SLI-S5
(NVIDIA nForce 590 SLI)

Ultra ChillTec Thermo-Electric Cooler
Stock Aluminum AMD Cooler


2x2GB OCZ PC-6400

ATI HD 2600XT
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD1500 "Raptor" HD
(10,000 RPM SATA)

Windows XP Pro SP-2

Thermal Readings - Stock Clock Speeds
As Quiet As Can Be

In our first test, we've recorded both Idle and loaded CPU temperature, comparing stock cooling to the ChillTec TEC's performance.

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At idle, the ChillTec TEC had our processor running 10C cooler than recorded with our stock aluminum AMD cooler.  Next, we used Prime95's torture test set for maximum heat and two instances to peg each CPU core to 100%.  Here the ChillTec maintains a 22C differential, keeping our CPU running nicely at 40C.  Our stock cooler was out-classed entirely and struggled to maintain the 62C reading at the torture test continued to run.

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Power Consumption - Wattage

Compared to stock air cooling, there is no denying the ChillTec TEC's superior performance, but our next question is at what cost does this added cooling potential come at? 

Performance  - Power Consumption
Wattage Draw

So, during our temperature testing, we logged our wattage draw on the system to see how each solution compared.  With the stock cooling there was no fluctuation, however, since the ChillTec throttles the peltier component as well as fan speeds, we recorded the lowest and highest reading during each test.

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Here we get a clear idea of just how much energy the ChillTec TEC consumes in order to keep the CPU running at such desirable temperatures.  With the CPU idle, the test system outfitted with the AMD stock cooler had a steady draw of 120w.  When we switched over to the ChillTec TEC, we saw the system swing as low as 98w while jumping to 163w with the ChillTEC's fan on high.  This was a steady cycle of up and down that was a result of both the peltier being enabled and disabled as well as the fan throttling.  When we ran the CPU at full load, the the wattage draw of our test bed climbed to 179w with stock cooling.  With the ChillTec TEC, the fluctuations disappeared with the fan running steadily and the peltier constantly engaged, drawing near 60w more than stock cooling at 225w total.

After seeing just how much more power the ChillTec TEC requires to do it's job, our next question was just how much of a benefit the peltier adds up to for the amount of added power draw.  In our next test, we ran a few comparisons with and without the peltier to see just how much of a benefit this technology is for the amount of energy it consumes.

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Peltier Benefits - Power Consumption Comparison
Peltier  - Power Consumption
Wattage Draw vs Cooling Potential 

This next test attempts to show just how much of a benefit the peltier cooler is when coupled with the heat pipe cooler of the ChillTec TEC.  To test this, we simply ran our loaded tests with the system configured normally and then when the two prong power disconnected from the control module.

 

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With the ChillTec TEC configured normally, our CPU ran at 40°C with a 100% load being applied to each core.  When we removed the peltier from the equation, the CPU temperature increased 3C to 43C which was still a very respectable result, demonstrating the effectiveness of the heat pipe design by itself.  What was even more dramatic was the power consumption comparison.  With the Peltier disconnected, we traded 58W of power savings for a small increase in CPU temperature.  With air cooling alone, the draw of the ChillTec TEC matched that of the stock AMD cooler while still reducing the CPU temperature under load by 19°C.  We have to wonder if the added cost of a 58W draw is really worth the 3°C improvement in the end.  Perhaps the benefits of the ChillTec TEC will become more evident in our overclocking segment.

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Overclocking - Temperature and Power Assessment
Overclocking with the ChillTec TEC
Increased Speeds with Increased Power

When it came to overclocking, we had very good luck with the ChillTec Thermo-Electric CPU cooler.  This is actually the first time we've attempted overclocking this particular CPU, and our stock cooler wasn't up to the task, failing to maintain proper temperatures with a minor increase in clock speed.  With the ChillTEC TEC, however, we managed to overclock the chip 408MHz, which is a solid increase of 18.5%, topping the speed of an Athlon 64 X2 6000+.

 

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Like we did in the previous page, we ran the overclocked CPU at full load and measured wattage draw with and without the peltier connected.  With the peltier on, the CPU ran 48°C but the system wattage was quite high at 265W.  When we removed the Peltier, the CPU temperature climbed 6°C but system wattage dropped 56W.  54°C is still well within limits of the CPU's design and trading off nearly 60W of power consumption seems fair for a 6°C increase in temperature.  Regardless whether the peltier was enabled or not, if we raised the CPU speed any higher, Prime95's torture test would terminate after a few minutes after detecting errors in the test.

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Performance, Personal Experiences and Conclusion

Performance Summary:   When it comes to maintaining a cool CPU, the Ultra ChillTec Thermo-Electric CPU Cooler delivers.  In each test, we recorded significant improvements over stock cooling and the cooler helped the CPU achieve a respectable overclock while keeping things relatively cool.  On the opposite side of the equation, the ChillTech Thermo-Electric CPU Cooler is a power hungry component that uses much more power than a standard air-cooler.

As we bring this review to a close, there is another experience that we feel obligated to share with our readers.  The unit used in this article is the second ChillTec TEC we received after encountering several issues with the first model.  These issues brought a number of things to light that became a serious concern that we have to share with our readers.

The first unit we received was a puzzle.  We installed the unit and fired up our test system and the LCD reported the CPU running at 41°C, which was higher than our stock cooler by a fair margin.  When we went into the BIOS of the board, the CPU temperatures were off the charts, reporting as high as 120°C.  At this point we felt the LCD was malfunctioning and that we must not have the cooler mounted properly, causing the high CPU readings in the BIOS.  After several remounts of the cooler, we saw no difference, the CPU was still posting excessive temperatures in the BIOS, all the while, the LCD was telling us everything was relatively normal.  After three tries, we removed the cooler and laid it on its side.  The unit was left connected to the system, the CPU was removed and the power was turned on.  Next, we touched the cold plate of the unit where it contacts the CPU and were shocked to find the base scalding hot.  After further investigation, we determined that the peltier on this model was mounted in reverse, with the hot side being applied to the CPU.  We disassembled the entire cooler, flipped the peltier and reassembled it.  The base was now icey cold.  This left us in a situation where the cooler was reporting to us that everything was running within normal limits while applying excessive heat to our CPU. 

This is a very serious concern for us as there may be other users with defective units that may be unknowingly cooking their processors while thinking it's running within normal limits.  We addressed our concerns with Ultra products, and were told they were not sure what happened with the first unit and that a new one was on the way.  While we appreciate being supplied with a properly working model, we are still quite uncomfortable with the prospect that others could be on the retail market with the peltier working in reverse.  The only suggestion we can make at this point to any prospective buyers of this product is to connect everything except the CPU and turn on the machine prior to mounting the cooler to your CPU.  Touch the base for at least one minute and make sure it is not getting hot.  If it stays room temperature, or begin s to feel cold, your unit is working properly.  If it gets hot, package it up and send it back immediately.  We should also note that as of today, this product could not be found in any of the common retails channels and cannot be ordered directly from the Ultra Products website either.

While the Chilltec did do a good job at cooling the CPU and helped the chip to overclock nicely, potential consumers must really weight its cost.  The ChillTec Thermo-Electric CPU Cooler weighs in at a hefty $149.99 and has a fair amount of shortcomings.  The LCD display does not accurately report the actual CPU temperature and it is not programmable in any way.  We also question the power consumption for such a product.  Essentially, installing this unit to your computer will increase its peak power consumption by about 50 to 60W.  Yes, the ChillTec TEC is great when used in the overclocking process, but again, you have ask yourself, "is it really worth it for my rig"?  With our particular test setup it probably wasn't. After all why would anyone buy a $149.99 cooler to overclock a $120 Athlon 64 X2 5000+ to the speed of a $169.99 Athlon 64 X2 6000+?  But if your system is powered by a $280 Core 2 Quad Q6600 and the Chilltec allow you to take the CPU to 3.5GHz+ territory and smoke an $1100 Extreme edition, that's a totally different story.

In the end, we're torn on the ChillTech Thermo-Electric CPU Cooler.  It is fairly impressive and does do a good job of keeping things cool, but it's just not practical.  The control module also proved to be inaccurate.  The peltier is interesting and does boost the units overall cooling performance, but it consumes a lot of power and didn't drop temperatures all that much.  In fact, we were rather impressed with the ChillTec Thermo-Electric Cooler when we had the peltier disconnected, where the heat-pipe cooler did an excellent job at keeping our CPU running cool, even when overclocked.  If Ultra removed the peltier and control module and simply offered the heat-pipe cooler by itself, they'd have a heck of an air-cooled solution to offer.  But as the ChillTech TEC Cooler stands in its current state, it's tough to justify unless you've got the right setup.

  • Looks
  • Strong Cooling Potential 
  • Broad Processor Support  
  • Expensive
  • Fan Throttling is Noisy
  • Requires Removal of Motherboard to Mount
  • Higher Power Consumption 
  • Inaccurate Temperature Monitoring
  • Concerns About Reverse Mounted Peltier
  • Availability

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