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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  • MrSpadge - Tuesday, September 27, 2016 - link

    "As the load increases, the thermal resistance of the HEX 2.0 decreases, particularly with thermal loads above 200W. With a thermal load of 340W, the thermal resistance of the HEX 2.0 drops down to 0.1685 °C/W"

    Yep.. this should be:

    "As the load increases, the thermal resistance of the HEX 2.0 INCREASES, particularly with thermal loads above 200W. With a thermal load of 340W, the thermal resistance of the HEX 2.0 INCREASES UP to 0.1685 °C/W"
    Reply
  • bug77 - Tuesday, September 27, 2016 - link

    Oh goodie. A cooler with Windows-only software. Where do I sign up? /s Reply
  • BulkSlash - Tuesday, September 27, 2016 - link

    It's great to see someone experimenting with TECs again, I think the last time I used one was with the ATI Radeon 800 XT! It's a pity this doesn't really work for really high temperatures as that's really where a TEC can come into its own. Reply
  • Haravikk - Wednesday, September 28, 2016 - link

    Seems like some odd choices. For me it always seemed like a TEC made most sense as an external unit for liquid cooling, since the liquid can transfer the heat out and the TEC then cools it somewhere that the condensation problem can be controlled. Plus externally you can have a massive heatsink or even a huge plate for dissipating passively.

    Trying to squeeze it inside a case like this just doesn't seem all that practical, and it doesn't really seem to offer much in the way of advantages; I'm not that fussy about how cool my processor is when it's idle so long as my fans are quiet at that point. Most good coolers will keep a CPU from exceeding 40-50ºC under light load without making too much noise (some will even do it passively in the right case) so I just don't see what this unit offers for the price and complexity.

    Also, while aesthetically I like the fan in the middle, practically I don't see the point; horizontal space usually isn't so tight that you can't fit the fan on the front or back of the cooler, plus with that design it's easy to provide mounts for a second fan. Sandwiching in the middle just seems like it limits the heatsink unnecessarily.
    Reply
  • dave_the_nerd - Wednesday, September 28, 2016 - link

    On one hand, this is a compact, nice looking cooler that performs very well with the 50-65w TDP CPUs that Intel makes and sells.

    OTOH, I really want a Reeven Okeanos now.
    Reply
  • zodiacfml - Saturday, October 1, 2016 - link

    Other reviews were not able to find that advantage at low loads.
    The question now is, which chips are suitable for overclocking to 65W. If it did, will it improve highest possible overlclock?
    Reply
  • Sunburn74 - Tuesday, October 4, 2016 - link

    Was I the only one who thought the conclusion was a bit off? Why didn't the reviewer just say it's a bad product at a terrible price point? I mean, it appears to be that there is always a smaller, quieter, cheaper and equally if more efficient cooling option in almost every situation tested Reply

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