Ever since the birth of the first commercial computers, cooling has always been an issue. While the first chips hardly required significant cooling, the rapid advancements of the past few decades and the high commercial demand led to significant research and development efforts placed towards the improvement of cooling solutions and methods.

Introduction

Semiconductor cooling, particularly cooling for enthusiast PCs, has come a long way, with hundreds of advanced coolers available and liquid cooling no longer reserved only for hardcore enthusiasts. With the mass production and competitive pricing of all-in-one (AIO) liquid coolers, basic liquid cooling systems can be easily found inside typical living room PCs. Competitive overclockers still experiment and use some extreme cooling methods (e.g. liquid nitrogen), but such sub-zero methods usually can only be used (very) temporarily.

One of the PC CPU cooling methods that was originally explored by overclockers in the 90’s is the use of a thermoelectric (TEC) cooler. These devices had a few advantages but also crippling disadvantages that prevented the technology from finding wide commercial use in consumer PCs. There have been a handful of commercial CPU coolers with a TEC pre-installed many years ago but not a single one of them found commercial success.

Today we are having our first contact with Phononic, a newcomer in the PC cooling market. The company was founded back in 2009, is based in North Carolina and is focused on the research and development of advanced cooling and refrigeration solutions. Their first and currently only CPU cooler, the HEX 2.0, is a very surprising and unique product. It looks like a relatively small tower cooler, yet it has an integrated electronically controlled TEC heat pump that is even partially controllable via software.

A few Words About Thermoelectric Coolers (TECs)

Simply put, a TEC is two metallic plates which when current is applied, one side heats up and the other side cools down. The cool side is typically the one on the CPU, with a sufficient cooling system to remove the heat from the top side (previously, strong air or water cooling was needed, as these systems have an efficiency rating that the hot side produces more heat than the standard CPU. So the TEC requires massive regular cooling alongside it to get the advantages.

The technical description is that the two metallic with electronic junctions sandwiched between them. When electrical energy in the form of DC current is introduced, the device pumps thermal energy from one side to the other (Peltier effect), creating a temperature difference between the two sides. There are however a few problems when working with TECs:

1. Condensation. A typical TEC can produce a temperature difference of up to 70 °C between its cold and hot side. Assuming that a heatsink is mounted to the hot side and that it is capable to maintain a near-room temperature, the cold side of an uncontrolled TEC can be significantly colder than its ambient surroundings. That will cause condensation, which will be disastrous inside a PC.

2. Efficiency. TECs are generally inefficient, with an efficiency usually lower than 15%, which means that they consume disproportionally high amounts of electrical energy for the work they actually offer.

3. The electrical energy losses that the TEC inserts are converted directly to thermal energy and transferred to its hot side. Therefore, the heatsink has to deal with the thermal load of the system plus the energy losses of the TEC, increasing the size and performance requirements.

All that being said, any company willing to attempt the challenges of the physics behind TECs is welcome to try, especially if it ends up as a commercial product for home PCs. Hence why we got the Hex 2.0 in for review.

Packaging & Bundle

We received the Hex 2.0 in a well-designed and very sturdy cardboard box. The walls of the box are very thick and the cooler itself is protected by several layers of cardboard, providing excellent shipping protection.

Alongside with the cooler, Phononic supplies the necessary mounting hardware, the required cables, a simple but useful guide, a simple screwdriver tool and a generous amount of thermal grease. The thermal grease that the company supplies should be enough for perhaps a dozen applications.

The Phononic HEX 2.0 Thermoelectric Cooler & Software
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  • Communism - Monday, September 26, 2016 - link

    The best way to do long term below ambient CPU or GPU cooling is to attach a mini-split (google it if you don't know what the term means) to a water cooling loop attached with a copper to copper [imagine something similar to interface between the IHS and the contact plate of a cooler] connection (To interface the mini-split to the water cooling loop without any fuss).

    This will simultaneously cool your CPU/GPU below ambient for extended periods of time while piping the heat directly outside your home.
    Reply
  • hybrid2d4x4 - Monday, September 26, 2016 - link

    This is more of a comment on your testing platform than this review, but it seems to me that your current setup has a few shortcomings.
    1) The testing platform isn't close enough to simulating the sockets of mobos to give any meaningful comment on how good the mounting mechanism is on the cooler. This is especially true of AMD socket.
    2) The operating range for your thermal load isn't well suited to represent CPUs. IMO, it would be infinitely more useful to have something that ranges from 5-10W (~the idle state of a modern CPU if not less) to 100W (or whatever actual power draw an enthusiast OC setup would be). While interesting in an academic sense, testing up to 340W is completely irrelevant and beyond the design targets that these coolers were aiming for.
    Reply
  • BurntMyBacon - Monday, September 26, 2016 - link

    AMD FX-9000 series processors are rated for 220W. Processors consume more power at an exponential rate as more voltage is applied. Perhaps 340W is a bit much, but not as far off as you seem to think.

    That said, I would like to put in another vote for representing more lower power gradients. Common TDPs are something like 5W, 15W, 25W, 45W, 65W, 95W, 125W, and 140W. Higher TDPs like 180W and 220W are also present, though less common. You don't need to hit all of these TDPs, but just 60W probably isn't a good representation for everything under 100W.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, September 26, 2016 - link

    The crazy high TDPs are also reachable with aggressive overclocking and high end cooling. Reply
  • Sushisamurai - Monday, September 26, 2016 - link

    I too second this opinion. I would like to see more temp gradients around the 60, 80, 100, 120, 140W of usage... A graph for these things would be nice if time was permitted, as when the author mentions thermal resistance/performance falling off, he's not very specific at what point does it "fall off" (eg: is it competitive at 60-100 but falls off at >120?). I imagine a lot of people use this site's data and opinions to shop for products, and having more gradients to align with purchase decisions would be nice. I know I have a 80W stock load, 120W Oc, 140W stock and 220-240W loads. Extrapolating your data is doable, but I think not everyone can. My re-verification numbers on my home hardware #'s are similar to the extrapolations and your test results, so I thank you. Reply
  • eldakka - Tuesday, September 27, 2016 - link

    I'd also like to see lower TDP measurements. I'm not thinking of overclocking situations, but more HTPC-type situations, where with a good, quiet cooler you might be able to put a more powerful processor in the HTPC while still remaining quiet.

    This thing being chromed might look pretty cool in a HTPC sitting under a telly...a slimline case with a hole cut in the top for so the fins stick out the top, like a blower sticking out of the bonnet (hood) of a car ;)
    Reply
  • hybrid2d4x4 - Tuesday, September 27, 2016 - link

    Wow, thanks for that eye opener! I assumed the most power-hungry CPU you can buy today that's not AMD from a few gens ago was 95W. 220W! What a beast... Reply
  • Vayra - Monday, September 26, 2016 - link

    Well, I for one am completely uninterested in idle temps, because given a large enough heatsink you can likely even passively cool that.

    It is much more interesting and informative to have 'over the top' TDPs rather than a slew of low TDPs because that is when cooling starts to struggle. For any non-OC'd CPU, you can suffice with the regular boxed cooler and it will keep it safe from throttling 99% of the time, or at least close enough to not matter at all.

    Typical mid range consumer TDP is 65w up to 95w for a quad core. So the 60w and 100w very clearly represent the majority of use cases and non-OC situations. Lower TDP is irrelevant - all coolers will perform as good, or better, at lower TDP - this enters the region of 'who cares' because there are literally zero benefits to running very low temp at low. Temperatures matter when they pass the 50-60 C barrier because they then *might* start influencing current leakage. Below that temperature, it's basically a non issue on all counts.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, September 27, 2016 - link

    While its true that all large coolers will do well at <60W, low wattage desktop CPUs (eg Intel's 35W series) are often used in slimline mITX cases where even something like Intel's stock cooler is too large to fit. Temperature/noise tradeoffs there become an important consideration again; as do idle core temperatures. That would be a different set of testing ranges than the one that E. Fylladitakis currently runs; and more inline with what Silent PC Review authors test. Reply
  • Vayra - Monday, September 26, 2016 - link

    Well, I for one am completely uninterested in idle temps, because given a large enough heatsink you can likely even passively cool that.

    It is much more interesting and informative to have 'over the top' TDPs rather than a slew of low TDPs because that is when cooling starts to struggle. For any non-OC'd CPU, you can suffice with the regular boxed cooler and it will keep it safe from throttling 99% of the time, or at least close enough to not matter at all.

    Typical mid range consumer TDP is 65w up to 95w for a quad core. So the 60w and 100w very clearly represent the majority of use cases and non-OC situations. Lower TDP is irrelevant - all coolers will perform as good, or better, at lower TDP - this enters the region of 'who cares' because there are literally zero benefits to running very low temp at low. Temperatures matter when they pass the 50-60 C barrier because they then *might* start influencing current leakage. Below that temperature, it's basically a non issue on all counts.
    Reply

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