Thermaltake NBcool T3000 Notebook Cooler

Because of their cramped cases and modest ventilation, most notebook PCs tend to run significantly hotter than desktop PCs. Recently, case and cooling specialist ThermalTake sent us one of their notebook coolers to look at, promising some “interesting results” from its use. With that tantalizing promise to test, we decided to check it out with our trusty Dell D620 Latitude notebook PC.

The device we received is called the NBcool T3000 Heatpipe Notebook cooler. It”s basically an anodized black aluminum plate about 2.2mm thick that”s been bent and shaped to form a well-supported platform with sturdy rubber tipped feet that hovers about 8 mm above the surface on which it is placed. Underneath this plate, you”ll find four liquid sodium filled heatpipes (show up in silver on the rear shot of the device below) and 17 2mm aluminum ribs about 0.2mm in width (one pair goes around each of the four heatpipes, the other 9 are positioned to add rigidity and additional heat dissipation capabillity to the aluminum deck.

Here are a couple of photos of this device, atop of which you can plan any 15″ (or smaller) notebook PC. Our test unit was a 15″ Dell Latitude D620 outfitted with a T2350 CPU, 4GB of DDR2-667 RAM, and a Seagate 7200.2 ST9160823ASG 160 GB SATA hard disk drive. After we look at some photos, we”ll report the results of running this unit on top of the NBcool versus a standard metal office desktop.

Profile shot of the NBcool T3000
Seen from above the NBCool T3000 looks like a plate of anodized black aluminum with slight ribbing underneath.

A bottom view shows the silver heatpipes in stark contrast to the black background.

A bottom view shows the silver heatpipes in stark contrast to the black background.

Those silver heatpipes are filled with liquid sodium and rely on phase change energy transfer to siphon heat away from whatever”s sitting on top of the NBcool T3000”s aluminum deck. Basically, as the sodium heats up it changes from a liquid to a gas, then migrates to the ends and sides of the tube where it can transfer heat more effectively to the aluminum ribs and the deck itself.

 I was a little skeptical about this device doing much, if any, good for notebook PCs when it first showed up here. In fact, I took my sweet time in putting the deck to the test because I didn’t expect to see much by way of results from its use. Frankly, I was surprised by the results I’m about to report here. First, a short section on testing, methodology, and tools used along the way; then a table of some pretty interesting results.

 Testing, Methodology, and Tools Used

The primary tool used for measuring temperatures was the CPUD tool from Franck Delattre known as HWMonitor, version 1.12.0 with Driver Version 130.  I recorded the ACPI temperature that shows as THM_in the display from the Dell D620, which basically measures the temperature on the motherboard at the CPU socket. The following screenshot shows my CPU at idle (under 2% utilization) with no obvious disk or network activity, with no cooler beneath the unit. Base temps between 38 and 42 °C are typical on this machine.

Readings from the Dell at idle with no NBcool T3000 in place

Readings from the Dell at idle with no NBcool T3000 in place

Idle measurements were taken for a period of 120 seconds, starting 5 minutes after the machine had been turned off, and allowed to cool enough to be cool to the touch before being rebooted. The Defrag entry in the following table shows temperatures that result from running Raxco”s excellent PerfectDisk 10 defragmentation toolset, while the Cleaner entry shows temperatures that result from running CCleaner (version 2.14.763) to clean the local hard disks and Registry.

Table 1: Dell D620 Temps Under Various Workloads, with/without NBCool T3000

Workload     With     Without
Idle         34/35      38
Defrag       40-58    51-71
Cleaner      34-52    48-58

Note: all temperatures are in °C, hyphen indicates min/max temperature range, slash indicates wavering reading.

OK, here”s the interesting part: the NBCool T3000 actually increases in efficiency as temperatures go up (this behavior is entirely consistent with heatpipe physics and behavior, where more heat causes a stronger phase-change reaction and improves overall heat transfer). This explains why the idle difference is only 3-4 degrees, but why the ranges for defrag (11-13 °C) and cleaner (6-14 °C) are greater.

At retail prices  from $32 to $37, obtaining one of these units will probably set you back $45 or so by the time you pay for taxes and shipping. Is it worth $45 to keep your notebook PC running cooler? Good question! Prevailing wisdom on integrated circuits is that for every 10°C cooler an IC runs, its useful life increases by about fifty percent. Extending this measurement, each degree centigrade cooler translates into about a 5% improvement in lifespan. If a typical uncooled notebook costing $800 or so these days enjoys an average of 48 months of life, that translates into about $17 per month to own the box. At 5% life extension per degree, 4-14 degrees of lowering temperatures extends life from 48 months to 57 to 82 months respectively. In turn, this lowers monthly costs from $17 to $14 (a savings of about $99 over the life of the box) for a four-degree reduction, and from $17 to $10 (a savings of about $238 over the life of the box) for a 14-degree reduction.

We think these numbers argue that a cooler makes economic sense, but mostly for people who use notebooks in the same place day-in and day-out. Though its dimensions aren”t huge (12.60″x10.24″x0.24″/320 x 260 x 6mm) and its weight isn”t horrible (1.9lb /866g) who wants to carry a big, rigid, aluminum plate around with a notebook all the time, or set one up for use on a plane? What will the TSA guys make of it under the X-ray? Figure your cost benefits accordingly, please! But it is a nice product, and definitely worthwhile for those who tend to use laptops primarily in the same place.

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