Overclocking Intel's Core i7 920 Processor
The Boxed Cooler Situation
Like all modern boxed Intel processors, the Core i7 920 is equipped with a large, circular cooling system. While it appears to be identical as their Socket-775 based Core 2 Duo/Quad coolers, the new Socket-1366 cooler is substantially larger. The cooler uses the same push-pin lock system along with a copper based and aluminum alloy thin-fins, and has three rows of thermal paste pre-applied. The fan sitting on top is an open-frame unit that has a Nidec fan with a PWM 4-pin fan connector.
Core i7 920 Retail Cooler - Top
Core i7 920 Retail Cooler - Bottom
The cooler is a reasonably good solution. It's not particularly great when it comes to handling the thermal aspects of Core i7 processor, but it does its job without much fuss. It's easy to install, it's mostly quiet, and it can handle moderate overclocking with the Core i7 920. Keep in mind though, thermals can get very high with the retail cooling system, as we saw our Core i7 920 chip hit ceilings of 65°C during moderate overclocking.
Here's part of the problem. The stock Intel cooling solution has a circular copper base which only actually touches a good 65-70% of the Core i7 processor. The rest of the processor's heat spreader doesn't touch the heatsink, and such, as have less direct contact between the heat source and the heat dissipating device (the heatsink). After a round of overclocking tests, we removed the retail cooler from the motherboard, and here's a direct image showing which areas are actually touching each other.
If you want to overclock and still keep thermals and noise levels in check, we would recommend going with a third party cooler. If you really want to reach for the sky, you can already go to a Socket-1366 water kit solution, as there are several options out there (at fairly high prices). We picked up Thermaltake's new Socket-1366-supported cooler, the V1 AX. This unit costs about $50, but allowed for significant decreases in thermals, even at low noise levels. The heatsink is equipped with four heatpipes, an array of thin-fin heatsinks and an internal 110mm fan, and the entire system is quite efficient. The system also has a base that covers the entire Socket-1366 core, which can be covered with your thermal paste of choice.
Proper Thermal Coverage
Thermaltake V1 AX Installed