Let’s start this off with a nagging question… Thermalright, who are they? Top marks and take an internet cookie if you know because they’re a new one on me even though they’ve been around for 15 years and making cooling products for all aspects of computing including a custom cooler for the XBox 360. Well, that’s what their website told me anyway, and now I know all there is to know about the company. OK, so maybe there are a few small holes in that knowledge, but I’m not here to research them specifically, I’m here to see what this big lump of metal they sent over can do when I attach it to the testbench.
First, some history. The RMS Titanic launched on 31st of May 1911 was built to be the best of the best in both luxury and mass transport. Fast, spacious, glorious and massive it ultimately failed on its maiden voyage as it’s size proved a hindrance, being too big to turn and avoid an iceberg. Why the lesson? Well, worryingly this engineering marvel has something in common with today’s featured product. Just like the Titanic was the largest of its class, the cooler on trial for today’s review is the Macho 120 SBM and it’s without a doubt the largest I’ve come across. So, is it a well engineered marvel that is ahead of its time and uses its size to full advantage or are there hidden flaws that make the Macho 120 SBM more suited to life as a paperweight? All will be revealed but first the features and specifications.
- Thermalright signature through holes on fins for efficient ventilation.
- 120mm fan cooler that fits a mini-ITX platform with least RAM or VGA compatibility issues.
- Including one Thermalright high efficiency 120mm TY-127 SV 300~1300RPM PWM-Fan (55.81CFM MAX).
- Convex copper base design, to ensure the highest thermal conducting thermal efficiency between the CPU and the heatsink.
- Multiple support bracket system For Intel and AMD platform.
Dimension: L130mm x W86mm x H150mm
Heat pipes: 6mm heatpipe*5 units
Copper Base: C1100 Pure copper nickel plated
TY-127 FAN Spec
Dimension: L130 mm x W120 mm x H25 mm
Rated Speed: 300 – 1300 RPM
Noise Level: 21 – 33dBA
Air Flow: 12.88- 55.81 CFM
Connector: 4 Pin (PWM Fan connector)
We start our tour with the packaging which has a striking green and white theme. The front displays a large image of the cooler complete with fan and one side showing an image of just the TY-127 fan. In both cases the product name is displayed on a green background and the company name and logo in the bottom corner is shown in somewhat smaller text.
The other side of the box is again in green and white for the most part and filled with diagrams emphasising the benefits and features of the cooler.
The rear of the box displays the specifications of the heatsink and 120mm fan in a few European languages, along with regulatory marks.
Inside the packaging and starting our tour of the Macho 120 SBM we see that Thermalright has used a black anodised sheet of aluminium for the topmost fin. It’s also clear to see a great many ventilation holes in the fin that are continued down through the whole stack as well as the large cutout that gives access to the crossbar screw when fitting. The tops of the five U-shaped heat pipes are also visible and we can see that they are spread slightly toward the rear of the heatsink in order to force air out of the sides as well as the back.
The side view really helps to emphasise the size of this cooler when you see the stack of 31 aluminium fins for the first time. It is also clear to see that the contact plate is offset substantially giving the cooler a distinct front and back to ensure that air flows in the direction the engineers intend.
Again the massive size of the Macho stands out when looking at the front of the heatsink, not just because of the number of fins but the rather large gap between the contact plate and the bottom fin.
Looking at the base of the cooler, we see the silver coloured metal of the contact plate as well as the layout of the heat pipes which cross over each other rather than simply spreading out front to back.
The fan used to cool the heatsink has seven white blades and a black shroud with a very sturdy black braid on the cable. It’s 120mm from top to bottom so actually is a little larger than a square 120mm fan. The 4-pin PWM controlled fan runs between the rated speeds of 300-1300RPM.
The included accessories are sufficient to fit the Macho on to any current Intel or AMD processor with the clear LGA 1151 support insert included but outside of the main pack. The instructions are printed in various EU languages and are clear and simple to follow and in case the performance is not quite what you expect there are included fan brackets for you to add a second fan in push-pull configuration.
CPU: Intel Core i7 4770k
Motherboard: MSI Z97I Gaming AC
Memory: 8GB (1x8GB) Team Group 2666MHz
Cooler: Thermalright Macho 120 SBM
Thermal Paste: Noctua NT-H1
Storage: Sandisk Ultra II 240GB
PSU: XFX XTR 850
Installation and testing were carried out on a test bench rather than inside a conventional case. While this has the benefit of being easier to physically install as there is not as much stretching as well as easier access to motherboard jumpers and sockets, it has the disadvantage of not having any reduction in sound so what I hear may be more exaggerated than if it were in a case.
Thermal performance is judged on four factors overall; the idle temperature at stock and overclocked speeds, as well as the loaded temperatures at stock and loaded speeds. During the testing, whether that be the idle or loaded testing, the system is either at idle or full load for a duration of five minutes before any readings is taken. The average temperature across all four cores is then noted down and used as the results. All room temperatures are recorded beforehand as well as during the test to ensure that the delta temperature is as accurate as possible.
Installation was a fairly standard affair. The pegs on the backplate are held in place firmly and the middle nuts are easily tightened by hand. Then the top bracket is attached by four small screws and using the included screwdriver with magnetised head makes that process simple also. Before attaching the rest of the cooler, a blob of Noctua NT-H1 is applied. We use this thermal paste on all our cooling reviews to make sure that there’s no variance in performance from the included Thermal Interface Material; that way we are testing the hardware only. The cross bar that holds the contact plate and the stack of fins in place was the only potentially tricky part of the installation, but again the included screwdriver made it a breeze as the small screw that holds it in place was threaded through the hole in the fin stack on the end of the screwdriver. There’s clear access to the other side of the crossbar with the fan removed so no potential or real problems there.
Considering the size and weight of the heatsink I was happy to see a metal backplate instead of a plastic one just to add a bit more structural safety to the installation but as far as the process of physically installing the heatsink is concerned there’s nothing more to really add. Everything worked as it was intended to without any hiccups, drama or stress.
Now for the bad news… because of its size the cooler can only be oriented in one direction when installing on my ITX motherboard. In every other direction, the fins overlap my RAM. Now, if you have low profile RAM or your heatsinks don’t protrude higher than the PCB then this wouldn’t be an issue, but anyone with RAM that has tall heatsinks would have the same problem as I found. Even when it is successfully installed taking into account the RAM I still have to remove one stick so that there is nothing blocking the fan and interfering with the cooling potential.
It gets worse though because in this layout it also blocks the first and only PCI-E slot on the motherboard, so there’s no chance of me using a GPU. Now, using just 1 stick of RAM and no GPU isn’t really a problem as far as testing the cooler on the bench is concerned, but there’s no way I would be able to live with it if it was my daily computer. Since most ITX boards will also have only one PCI-E slot for a GPU and two slots for ram, losing one of each would be a deal breaker for most users, but I have to stress again that this is only going to be a problem if you don’t have low profile ram. If you do, then you can rotate the cooler 90′ and use both sticks as well as a GPU, though the ram will be under the stack of fins and so will get pretty toasty if you are running XMP or overclocking it.
Another size related issue that some will have to look out for is whether this monster will actually fit in your case with the side panel on it. With the current trend of thinner cases, you may have to rule out the Macho 120 SBM simply because it’s so tall at a fraction over 150mm from the CPU to the tip of the heat pipes.
With all this bad news I am thinking that the Macho may be a bit of a dud. Thermalright have really restricted the user base that will be able and willing to put up with the negatives that come from its size. Anyway, we’re not quite finished so I won’t make my final call yet. Let’s carry on with testing and look at the performance of this monolith with the processor at stock speed and voltage as well as when overclocked to 4500MHz.
Compared to the other coolers tested, the Thermalright Macho 120 SBM makes an average start. 3.6°C is not bad at idle, but there’s plenty of others who do better.
With the stock CPU fully loaded using Prime 95 we see the opposition fall away where the Macho still keeps the CPU cool. Anything under 25°C delta temperature is pretty damn good to be honest.
Back to an idle CPU, this time running at 4500MHz and we see that there’re fewer coolers able to beat the Macho, still there’s a bit of choice if you want a colder idle chip.
This is where things get interesting, and even though I’ve retested, refitted and retested again I still don’t quite understand what I’m seeing here. Thermalright’s mega-beast jumps in straight in at number 2 in the chart, and it’s only beaten by an AIO with a 360mm radiator and 3 fans. In fact it’s the only air cooler out of the top seven proving that water cooling is NOT the only choice if you want to overclock your CPU. Great for overclockers who want to get high MHz on air and anyone else who wants a really cold OC processor without any leakage risk so long as they can put up with its bulk.
There have been a lot of ups and downs during my time with the Thermalright Macho 120 SBM, so many in fact that this conclusion might be as large as the cooler itself. It really is the most massive one I’ve come across to date, and with that size comes a lot of cooling potential as well as a lot of problems depending on what equipment you are using.
To start with let’s deal with the fitting which was really easy. It’s a tried and tested process that’s similar to numerous other brands and designs out there when catering for all the Intel options and /or all the AMDs. The only negative from the whole physical installation is that I would have preferred to have a metal backplate to support it.
Aside from actually getting the Macho connected to the motherboard I came across a couple of problems that would have affected me if I was using it long term. Firstly, the fan sits so close to the first DRAM slot that if you have large ram then you have to make a choice between cooling potential and the amount of RAM installed. Depending on your board, how many sticks you are using and how many total slots are available you may also have to make the same choice. If you are using two sticks and have four slots then the solution is simple, just move the RAM along to the other pair of sockets and you have no problem. If you are using four sticks or you only have two sockets on your board then-then you are faced with either losing up to half your ram to allow air to get to all the fan or accept the hit in performance that comes with a small amount of blockage. Let me be clear though, this only affects you if you have heatsinks that rise above the PCB on standard height RAM. Everyone else is going to have no problem because even though it will still block a small portion of the fan the airflow that we are considering is not going through the fins so we should expect a much smaller hit in performance if any.
The box stated that there is a 5mm gap between the heatsink and the PCI-E socket used for your GPU when the cooler is fitted. However, I found this not to be the case on my ITX board. To allow the cooler to be fitted at all with my RAM I could only orientate it with the airflow going front to back in a typical setup. This meant that the fins actually overlapped the only PCI-E socket on my motherboard. If I was using shorter RAM I could have tried for a top-down installation which would have allowed me to use a GPU in that slot where instead the fins of the Macho would have covered the RAM and not the PCIE slot. Again, depending on your setup you may be able to go for that top-down approach, use a different PCI-E slot or your 1st PCI-E might be of the x1 or x4 variety and the x16 length socket might be further down on your motherboard.
Living without a GPU day to day and losing either half my RAM or cooler performance would be a nightmare for me, and changing my motherboard and/or RAM to be able to use an air cooler seems to be false economy… especially when the cooler in question costs over £50. Others will be able to put the Macho straight into their rig without a care in the world, but in my testing the negatives win hands down so far. Is there any redeeming feature or do I just close here with a resigned “No!”? Well, yes. There is one factor that we have yet to consider. Cooling ability!
A CPU cooler should be able to do just that, cool the CPU. So how well does the Macho 120 SBM perform in this test? Excellently. Not only is it the best air cooler I’ve ever tested as far as the 4500MHz overclocked test is concerned, but it comes in at number 2 out of every cooler, air and water. The only thing that beats it is the Fractal Designs S36 which has a 360mm radiator and three 120mm fans. That is a massive feather in the Macho’s cap and proves that regardless of its problems it really does everything that you need and then some.
If you are looking for the best air cooling on the market and price is no barrier, then this is what you get, but beware of its issues and make sure that it suites the rest of your setup.
I’d like to thank Thermalright for allowing me to test and review the Macho 120 SBM and in recognition of its amazing cooling prowess we award it the Performance Award.
- Simple and straightforward installation supported by the inclusion of a magnetic screwdriver.
- Included brackets to add a second fan if you feel the need.
- Blistering thermal performance, the best air cooler I've ever tested with an OC'd CPU.
- Metal backplate gives confidence in supporting all that mass.
- Serious issues with compatibility if your RAM heatsink is higher than the PCB or if your only GPU slot is right next to your motherboard's I/O panel
- Very expensive in the UK. It costs less in the US but still not what I would consider cheap.