Thermalright SLK-800 Review

Thermalright pulls out all the stops with its introduction of a new high performance HSF that takes aim at the current kings of CPU cooling.

Introduction:

It's been a while since we've given any real attention to HSF units and there are a couple of reasons why. No, we haven't forgotten about the OCers out there. Air cooling is still by far the number one way most enthusiasts cool their CPUs.

The fact of the matter is that there really haven't been any products released lately that we've felt deserved the time and effort involved in reviewing them. The Alpha PAL 8045 was really the last HSF we saw come to market that offered much in the way of innovation. While the 8045 wasn't the best performer we'd ever seen, it was certainly number one in our eyes when it came to getting the best bang for the buck; it's still much cheaper than the Swifties out there. While it didn't outperform their flagship model, the difference in price sure made up for a few degrees F of cooling.

The second reason we backed off on cooling coverage was that we were waiting, like many of you, for Athlon mainboards to start taking advantage of the thermal diode on the Palomino cores. Sadly, this never happened. As VIA transitioned to their "drop in" chipsets, which required very little re-engineering on the mainboard builder's part, we saw exactly that. Pre-Palomino PCB layouts were used to save engineering costs and none of those boards allowed for software monitoring of that diode inside the OS. That's finally changed and we are now able to take a temperature reading directly from the CPU core, something we've taken for granted with Intel CPUs for a long time. This ability makes testing HSFs much more of an "exact" science and should yield results that are much more reliable and leave much less room for argument.

With that said, we're back in the saddle testing. Don't think that we're going to be writing reviews for every HSF that comes along, though. We'll be finding and testing the best of the best and relaying that information to you guys. Last week we got hold of the newest member of the Thermalright family, the SLK-800, and it certainly got us interested from the moment we took it out of the box.

Thermalright SLK-800:

Thermalright has had several heatsinks debut since their SK6, but the SK6 is still probably the best known. The SK6 stared showing up about a year ago and quickly took the lead away from companies in the industry that have always been top performers. Oddly enough, this was the first time we had ever been aware of their products as well. So from the moment the SK6 went on sale here in the States, Thermalright started getting a lot of attention and started selling a lot of coolers.

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The SLK-800 is still very much akin to the SK6 in looks and construction, as you can see from the two images above. The SLK-800 is really an extension of the SLK-600 (not shown), seeing as what Thermalright has done is take an already successful design and give it the ability to easily utilize an 80mm fan, hence the "800" in the part number. With the capability to use the 80mm fan, and the increased fin surface area related to that, what Thermalright has delivered is a HSF that ranks with the best when it comes to top-end [H]ardcore performance.

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The beast you see above is the SLK-800. As you can see, it's an all-copper cooler with a thin-fin design. Thirty-four fins soldered to a very unique heatplate. The fins themselves are very flimsy, just like the original SK6, to the point of being easy to damage if you're careless with it. Thermalright knows this and packages the SLK-800 in a very nice box that allows for their heatsinks to be delivered in pristine condition under "normal" shipping circumstances. The fins have been expanded upward to about 86mm across at the top edge.

What's really unique about this heatsink though is the design of the heatplate and the fin attachment. While most heatsinks have a heatplate that covers the area of the socket or more, this one is actually even less than the width of the CPU. The heatplate resembles a pyramid shape that extends upward to nearly the top of the fins. The fins are connected in a soldering process that attaches them to the heatplate all the way up the side of the heatplate structure. So, what at first glance looks to be very little attached surface is an area almost as great as if the fins were attached in a traditional flat heatplate design. By our measurements, there's about 60 mm of area that the fins are bonded to.

Now, the question is why would you want to do it in this way, as it has to be more expensive to produce. Well, the method of their madness works quite well. By keeping the heatplate "skinny", and making it angle up into the fins, they've removed a major roadblock when it comes to airflow. With the wide and flat heatplate removed, you now have the ability to blow air across the fins with much less resistance and turbulence until the air has already passed the important surface area of the fins.

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The heatplate being so narrow does lead to one possible problem, and it's something Thermalright has already thought through. The heatplate on the SLK-800 will rest inside of the factory installed pads that come stock on your AMD CPUs. The SLK-800 ships with additional padded feet that you install yourself, if you so choose, in order to remedy this. We found the pads easy to install with just a pair of tweezers. We tested with and without the pads and were not able to see any differences in temperatures. You will probably want to install them as they could keep you from chipping the unprotected core of your AMD CPU. The Palomino and new Thoroughbred cores seem to be much more resistant to chipping than the Thunderbird cores, but it would still be a good idea to use them as they will also help to absorb vibrations from the fan and case movement.