The Be quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4 vs Scythe Ninja 5 Shoot Off

In a change from the normal component testing, I’m focusing on the bit you strap on to the CPU today, rather than the CPU itself.  For audio systems, it’s no secret that I tend to favour air cooling over water loops for a few basic reasons, namely water loops add pump noise, move the source of noise from the center to the extremities of the case and tend to require more pressure being generated to cool the more tightly packed radiator fins than you would also tend to need with larger coolers with wider spaced fins.

Of course, water loops are superb for extracting that last 5% – 10% of available performance from any system overclock, but with audio systems, we don’t tend to push it that far due to system noise being of utmost concern in the studio.

For the past couple of year’s the cooler in our most popular X299 tower systems has largely been the Be Quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4. This twin tower cooler features a dual fan solution and offers a superb noise floor when under light and medium loads, whilst still being able to ramp right up when the performance is getting well and truly thrashed.

Recently the Dark Rock 3 series was discontinued and the newer Pro 4 made it to market. As always I’ve tested this in house, and this time I decided to pit it against a most notable challenger.

Scythe coolers have a long history in the low noise cooling segment. Indeed going back in the early 00’s there were few cooling companies with any sort of focus on noise levels. Back then, Zalman was the default go to in this regard for many people but for the true connoisseur of quietness, Scythe was often the secret weapon of choice.

Offering everything for silencing at one point, from coolers and fans, through to drive mounting’s, PSU’s they’ve built a solid reputation over the years. On a personal level, whilst I’ve always been a big fan of their hardware one little thing has driven me insane as a user and that is their lack of TDP capabilities being listed in the specs. Where a firm like Be Quiet! will splash the recommended TDP ratings all over the box, Scythe often is not always quite so forthcoming with this information. 

I mention this because I’ve frankly sidelined them over the years for anything other than a stock configuration on a system, simply as anyone user who overclocks on one might find themselves running out of cooling overhead at a most unfortunate time if they are not careful.

That all said, I would love to see a true winner come from Scythe and in pitting it against the Dark Rock Pro 4 we see it taking on one of the what could well prove to be one of the best low noise / high performance quite coolers out here.

First up, let’s check out the official shots.

Dark Rock Pro 4
Dark Rock Pro 4

 

Scythe Ninja 5 Heatsink
Scythe Ninja 5 Heatsink

I’ve chosen these two to face off, as they are the flagship models from their respective ranges and both are recommended for running on X299 based i7 & i9 systems.

The Dark Rock Pro 4 is a good ¬£20 more expensive than the Ninja and there is, in fact, another Be Quiet! model around the same price of the Ninja but that is a single fan unit and rated to only 200 TDP as opposed to the 250 TDP. The Ninja as is common with Scythe isn’t officially rated although it does support the i9’s at around 165W TDP with ease, so our question here is how much further can it go beyond that? 

So, on with testing and let’s start at the beginning with mounting the coolers. Be Quiet! has a bit of a mixed reputation for its mounting schemes ranging from pretty sensible to awkwardly bonkers and Scythe in past years have certainly had some moments too.  So, with that in mind, the process for fitting both of these coolers is almost boringly simple.

Scythe Ninja 5 Mounting Bracket
Scythe Ninja 5 Mounting Bracket

 

Be Quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4
Be Quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4

There really is very little to separate them here as both of them have very similar X299 bracket mechanisms. You insert 4 x 2 ended screws into the CPU socket corners, place the bracket over it and then screw down some thumb screws to lock it in place. It’s a well-proven design and very, very quick to install for any user, no matter your experience level.

Now the tricky part of this design, however, is rarely the bracket itself, rather how the cooler mounts to it. Previous Dark Rock Pro models would often ship with a special spanner and you used to have to slide your hand under the cooler in order to get to the screws. Whilst it worked, it was sometimes a little awkward, even when working on a desk, needless to say trying to do the same job with everything installed into a case could prove to be rather frustrating.

The Ninja 5 avoids all of this by carefully designing the cooler to leave access gaps for the screwdriver to feed through. 

Scythe Ninja 5 with screwdriver access
Scythe Ninja 5 with screwdriver access

It’s a quick and easy design to fit and as you can see, with the included screwdriver an absolute cinch to get in there.

And then you pull the other cooler out of the box and see this…

Dark Rock Pro Top Shot
Dark Rock Pro Top Shot

Hmmm… the initial thought that went through my head (and possibly anyone reading who’s dealt with a number of larger coolers before) was one of “great, more fiddly mountings to try and deal with”.

However, this cooler has an interesting trick up its sleve.

Dark Rock Pro 4 Screws Removed
Ta daaaa!

Yes, two of those heat pipe caps are fake and unscrew, giving full access to the mount securing screws. A simple change, but one that will save an astounding amount of potential aggravation for the end user. 

But form aside, let’s talk about some function and just exactly what’s going on with some benchmarking. 

Dark Rock Pro 4 - Stock clock test
Dark Rock Pro 4 – Stock clock test – Click to Expand

The first test is the stock clock test on the Dark Rock Pro 4. We see after 30 mins a rough average of around 60 degrees across the cores. 

Ninja 5 stock test resize
Ninja 5 – Stock Clock test – Click to Enlarge

The Ninja doesn’t quite match up to the Be Quiet! at this point, although overall it holds it’s own with 70 degrees as a max not being all that terrible, it’s certainly not quite up to the Be Quiet! the performance we saw in the first test.

Following on from those I thought I’d retest the temps and try again with a bit more of a workload to cope with. I tend to advocate running CPU’s at their single core max turbo, as it normally tends to be a simple and rather straightforward overclock to carry out, assuming you have capable enough cooling to work with.

Dark Rock 4 overclock test
Dark Rock 4 – overclock test @ 4.3GHz

In this one, the Dark Rock still holds it’s own. A few of the tests in the sequence do bounce off the 90 degrees mark, which is still a good 10% below the throttle point. Otherwise, it does carry itself fairly well, given that we’re running the FPU testing component here and that will tend to elevate heat levels with mid 80’s being seen as the occasional peak, but otherwise, it spent a lot of the time around the 70 degrees level which is acceptable.

Ninja 5 - 4.3GHz Overclock test
Ninja 5 – 4.3GHz Overclock – Click to expand

Here we see where the Ninja proves to be a little weak in its performance handling. The test red lined for me almost instantly once I hit start, with a few of the cores bouncing off the 105 throttle limit over the course of the 30 min test.

But… this is only half the story for us audio system owners!

Noise is, of course, a major factor with both coolers being supplied with a promise of being super quiet, but have we really got a winner in that regard too?

I grabbed a basic sound meter and headed into our demo space here. The room whilst treated is still very much a demo space rather than a dedicated studio. We do get an average reading of a 36db noise floor in there at the time of testing which means it’s certainly as quiet or quieter as the average rehearsal space.

I measured in two positions for this whilst each cooler was under load. Position 1 had me set the mic on the GPU cooler about 2″ from the cooler. Position 2 had the mic pick up sat 0.5 meters away from the cooler. In both instances the mainboard & cooler is sat on my test bench with no case around it,  so keep in mind any result I’ve recorded here will be further muted once it’s entombed into a fully built system.

  Stock Clock 4.3Ghz Overclock
Dark Rock Pro 4    
2 inches away 44 47
Half Meter away 36 37
Ninja 5     
2 inches away 38 42
Half Meter away 36 37

As mentioned already the room noise floor is 36db.  As we can see above the Ninja 5 comes up trumps in this test when we get up close and personal, there is a clear 5db difference between the two units.

However, at half a meter it’s a different story with both coolers only just being picked up by the mic when running under the overclocked profile and sitting below the noise floor on the standard profile. I dare say we’ll not be seeing many users working closer to the cooler than half a meter and even so, with the case around it I would expect any trace noise to be completely masked. 

So, is it a draw for noise levels?

Not quite.

What the chart doesn’t show is that under more intense test cycles on that overclock profile, the Be Quiet will ramp up to a more noticeable level. The Ninja cooler is running a pair of fans that are limited to 800rpm and the figures you see above are the fans hitting their full tilt.

The Be Quiet! fans are rated to 1200 & 1500 rpm and it does give them some additional overhead to play with, but that does translate to some extra noise. 

Ultimately the difference in fan speeds explains where the better overclocking results come from in testing. At the point we see the Ninja 5 fail to keep up, the Be Quiet! cooler will then proceed to kick it up a gear to ensure everything runs smoothly. It does however become noticeable as far as an increase in noise levels go at that point. It’s not a vast difference and anyone who keeps their system down the side of the desk is unlikely to notice any difference, but for any users running a PC on the desk, well, you might want to stick with the Ninja when all is said and done. 

So, the outcome of this test just to recap depends on what you want to achieve.

Do you want the quietest system possible with an i9 in it?

Grab the Scythe.

Do you want to overclock that system and don’t care about a little background hum when you’re pushing the machine to its limits? 

Then the Be quiet! is for you.

Both are astoundingly good coolers, they’re just suitable for slightly different workload profiles depending upon your needs. 

All 3XS Audio Workstations @ Scan

Apogee and Eventide Team Up for 2018

For a limited time, if you buy an Apogee Ensemble or Element series Thunderbolt audio interface you will receive a discount code for a free six month subscription to the Eventide Ensemble Bundle!

Apogee interfaces are renowned in the industry for super clean conversion and the sound of Eventide’s hardware can be found littered all over numerous releases from the past 40 odd years so this is a match made in heaven for audio purists.

If you’ve ever wanted to try out the H910 harmonizer, Blackhole reverb, H3000 or any of the other iconic effects then now is your chance!

The offer runs from July 10th 2018 through January 10th 2019

Apogee Element Series available here

Apogee Ensemble available here

Breaking News As Zoom Unveil The New LiveTrack L-20

Zoom have announced the release of their new LiveTrack L-20 mixer, promising many new extra features, building on their concept first introduced with the L-12.

Take a first look at the key new features of the LiveTrak L-20.

Create Six Custom Monitor Mixes

With six independent Monitor Outputs, each musician can have its own custom mix, now complete with effects and easily switchable from headphone output to balanced line output for stage monitors. In addition, L-20 provides a dedicated headphone output for FOH (front-of-house) to enable monitoring of each custom mix and master out from the console.

Two Effects Sends

L-20 offers two Effects section for total of 20 built-in EFX with adjustable parameters. For maximum flexibility, now you can easily assign one Effect section to the Monitor mixes while the other section is assigned to the Master output.

Wireless Mixing

To enhance its effective operation from a distance, L-20 offers wireless control* via its own app for iPad featuring Fader Levels and Modes, Scenes, EQ parameters and more. Now you can even manage your EFX and Scene Library right from your iPad. *Optional Zoom Bluetooth LE Adapter (BTA-1)is required.

Pre Orders Being Taken Now With Stock Arriving in September.

 

Intel i7 8750H – The power to move you?

It’s been a while now since we sat down and took a good look at any of the mobile processor releases. It’s a market segment that has been crawling along slowly in recent years with minor incremental upgrades and having checked out the last couple of mobile flagship chips, it was obvious that with each generation we were seeing those refinements focused more on improved power handling rather than trying to extract every drop of performance.

Admittedly in the shape of last years 7700HQ they perhaps got closer to the equivalent desktop model than any generation previously managed to achieve in previous years. Whilst welcome, this was really more a symptom of stagnating desktop speeds, rather than any miraculous explosion in mobile power. Whilst the chip itself was a great performer, the fact that it got there by eaking a few percent generation, upon generation… well, by the time we got there, it was all ultimately a little underwhelming. 

But now, thanks to AMD’s continued push in the current desktop  CPU war, we’ve seen Coffee Lake emerge from the blue camp and now we’re going to get hands-on with the mobile equivalent. 

The i7 8750H we have here today is a 6 core with hyperthreading, running with a base clock of 2.20GHz and a max single core turbo frequency of 4.10GHz and leads the way when it comes to mobile i7’s.

Just as a side note before we kick this off, there is another chip above this, in the form of the i9 8950HK which is also 6 cores + hyperthreading but with another 500MHz on the clock. I mention this as Apple has just announced it’s going into the flagship Macbook later in the year, we do have them due to land with us in PC laptops as well in a month or two, so I will be benchmarking that when it arrives with us too.

8750H Geekbench 4
Click to expand

Intel i7 8750H CPUid

Clocking Off

Already in the very first screenshot above, we’ve inadvertently tipped a nod to what’s going to be the crux of this write-up. The clock speeds are somewhat wide-ranging, to say the least. On paper, there is almost 2GHz worth of clock between the base and turbo clocks. Keeping in mind that it’s single core turbo only up to the 4.1GHz and suddenly you find yourself asking about what the rest of the cores will be doing at that point. 

Quickly throwing CPUid on and running it returns us a result of 3890GHz, which if it had been all cores would have been rather impressive for a mobile chip. In this instance, however, I wasn’t doing anything other than sitting on the desktop when this snapshot was taken. The score you see is the highest core score and it’s hyper-thread was showing as matching it. 

The rest of the cores, however, well, they were largely unused and sat around the baseline 2.0GHz – 2.6GHz level. What we really want to know of course is what sort of average speed we can expect from all the cores being kicked up to 100% load.

Any longer term followers of these pieces will already be well aware that my preference for testing involves doing an all core overclock or in more basic terms, I tend to favour locking all the cores to the single core max turbo speed.

Yes, it’s an overclock, but it’s one that the chips are kind of rated to. Admittedly, it’s not rated to quite the level we’re working at here, but hey… that’s why we favour some chunky aftermarket cooling in those systems to make everything alright.

Except, when dealing with laptops we can’t go strapping a large chunk of copper to it, in fact, a lot of the tweaks we would wish to make on a desktop system, simply don’t exist in laptop land. Often with laptops, it’s a case of a unit either working out of the box or with a few basic tweaks or otherwise due to drivers or hardware choices it’ll never really be suitable for the sort of real-time processing required for working with audio.

I grabbed a copy of AIDA64 and gave it a quick run, at least enough to force the CPU to load up all the cores and simulate a heavy workload and how those cores would respond to such a load.

Intel i7 8750H AIDA stress test
Click to enlarge

What we see here is all the cores being pushed, with the highest speed core running about 3000MHz in the screenshot. Monitoring it in real-time it was bouncing around 3000 – 3200MHz range.  Similarly, at the lower end, we see a core sat around 2600MHz and this would bounce up to around 2800MHz at times.

So, where’s our 4.1GHz turbo? Well, that single core turbo only really achieves such lofty heights if the rest of the cores are sat around doing nothing. In the interest of load balancing and heat management should more than a couple of cores need to be turbo’d then all of them will shift to a safer average.

You see on desktops with chips that have a range of a 3.8Ghz to 4.3Ghz sitting mostly around the 4GHz level and is why I tend to notch them all up to 4.3GHz in that sort of situation. It ensures no sudden ramping up and down and ensures we get some nice stable but optimized performance out of a setup without taking any major risks.

With these laptops, we don’t get those sort of options, nor I suspect would heat permit us to be quite so aggressive with the settings. Whilst the headline here of 6 cores is fairly unprecedented within a consumer level laptop, and certainly, on a fairly mainstream chipset, it’s a little bit smoke and mirrors with how it’s presented if you don’t fully understand how the turbo presents itself. 

The potential issues it presents to us are in the form of the ASIO buffer. With whole channels being assigned to each given thread, we ideally want the performance level across all cores to be as equal as possible. For audio systems the overall performance can often be limited by how powerful the weakest core is, this is something we need to keep in mind heading into this results roundup.

DAWBench DSP 8750H
Click to enlarge

With the DAWBench DSP test, we’re using the SGA1566 variant running under Reaper for this generation of testing and we see the 8750H performing around the level of an entry-level desktop i5 chip. In comparison to previous generations, this isn’t overly surprising as historically the mobile i7 CPU of any given generation tends to sit around the level of the leading i5 desktop solution in the performance stakes.

8750H DAWBench VI test
Click to enlarge

Running the DAWBench Vi test we see similar results here too, with the chip coming in just behind the i5 8400 once again. It’s a reasonable showing and in reality, we’re probably looking at maybe a 25% gain over the last generation flagship mobile chip. 

Given that we’ve seen 3 or 4 generations now where 10% gains year on year has been the standard then normally we’d be pretty happy about seeing a jump of 25% coming out of single refresh and indeed it’s certainly a far better value option than the model it replaced.

However, we saw a jump of 40% on the desktop last year and frankly all we’re doing here is shoehorning in another couple of cores, rather than bringing in a whole new platform. It looks like they’ve played it cautiously by not pushing the chip too much and the temperatures do seem a little on the safe side even under stress testing.

To be fair to them, this is pretty much what the average user wants from a laptop chip, giving us quick bursts to deal with any sudden intensive activity, but otherwise, aggressive power-saving to ensure a long battery life when on the move. 

Which of course, is pretty much the opposite of what most of us power users want, as we tend to be looking for a high-performance desktop replacement solution. It’s clear there is a bit of headroom here which will no doubt be leveraged over the next couple of range refreshes, it’s just a little bit frustrating that we can’t extract a bit more of it right now ourselves. 

With all that said I suspect that after seeing the CPU war kick expectations up a notch as it did last year, that I may have headed into this with slightly higher expectations than normal this time around.

Overall, the final result here is a solid release with above average generational gains that I’m sure will be more than appreciated by anyone who is in the market for a new model this year.

Scan 3XS PC’s and Laptops

All DAWBench Coverage