Thermalright Macho Direct CPU Cooler Review

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Introduction

Manufacturer: Thermalright
Model: Macho Direct
Price (UK): £41.33 @Amazon.co.uk (at time of review)
Price (US): $47.99 @Amazon.com (at time of review)

Not that long ago I took a look at Thermalright’s Macho 120 SBM CPU cooler, which was my inauguration into the world of Thermalright. The cooler was an utterly massive piece of kit with the cooling power to rival most AIOs but with the drawbacks of its size causing compatibility problems. Why am I discussing an old review? Well, Thermalright produce a varied range based on the Macho design with small tweaks and adjustments to suit everyone’s personal preference and today I’m going to take a look at one of those tweaks, the Macho Direct.

At first sight, almost everything about the Macho Direct appears identical to the 120 SBM with the exception of the contact cold plate. On the Direct there isn’t one, instead the thermal transfer between the processor and the heat pipes is direct – hence the name. There are other subtle changes, though, the overall height is greater for example and the included fan grows from 130mm to 140mm in diameter.

So what can we expect from this difference in design? Honestly, I’m not too certain. It’s one of those questions that crops up occasionally which can start something akin to a fan war between those who prefer direct contact to the heat pipes and those who like a cold plate to spread the contact first.

Which is better? We will shortly find out, but first, the Features and Specifications which again only differ slightly from the ones seen previously.

Features

Special features:

  • Large heat-sink fins surface area with proprietary through holes on fins for efficient ventilation.
  • Fin stack moved next to rear system fan for low-noise fanless operation.
  • Including one Thermalright TY-140 Black Ultra-low noise 300~1300RPM 140mm PWM-Fan (MAX 21 dBA).
  • Multiple support bracket system For Intel and AMD platform.

Specifications

Heatsink Specifications:
Dimension: L140mm x W117mm x H158mm
Weight: 650g
Heat pipes: 6mm heatpipe*5 units

TY-140 Black FAN Specifications:
Dimension: L152mm x H140mm x W26.5mm
Weight: 160g
Rated Speed: 300 – 1300 RPM (4-Pin PWM)
Noise Level: 15 – 21dBA
Air Flow: 16.9- 73.6 CFM
Connector: 4 Pin (PWM Fan connector)

The Grand Macho

Closer Look

thermalright-macho-direct-box-front-and-side

Something that is different is the packaging. Gone is the green and white colour scheme and in with a much darker, almost sinister look. The front shows a large top-down image of the cooler along with the brand and model names.

 

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The side image is filled with large icons to highlight the benefits and features of the Macho Direct.

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The opposite side shows another image of the Macho, this time from below showing the direct contact heat pipes as well as a few icons indicating awards they have received.

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Finally, we come to the back of the box and in a change to the overall colour scheme has a red panel with the specifications listed in English, French and German.

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Inside the box, we come to the Macho Direct itself, bundles with the 1300RPM 140mm fan. the five copper heat pipes shining in contrast to the aluminium fins.

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The fan cable has a 4-pin PWM connection and is quite nicely braided.

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Along with the physical cooler and fan we have a bountiful set of accessories. The backplate is metal and comes with a plastic shield to ensure there’s no short circuit made when it’s fitted. There’s two sets of anti-vibration pads for the fans as well as two pairs of fan connectors so upgrading to push-pull is as simple as adding a second fan. It even comes with a screwdriver that’s got a long shaft and magnetic head to aid with screwing the cooler cross plate to the braces.

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There’s not much to be said about the heatsink itself, it’s a giant among it’s kind and the heat pipes are arranges so that it spreads air from the fan out through the back and sides which draws fresh, cold air in through the large channel. Whether this makes it a great cooler or if it’s simply the mass of metal I’m not certain, but a great cooler it certainly is if the Macho 120 SBM is anything to go by.

thermalright-macho-direct-cooler-front

The contact area has been flattened off but there are very large channels between each heat pipe so I’m going to have to use a lot more thermal paste than I usually would. You can also see the large airflow tunnel through all the fins that draw fresh air into the cooler to replace that which goes out the sides.

thermalright-macho-direct-cooler-base

 

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Test Setup

CPU: Intel Core i7 4770k
Motherboard: MSI Z97I Gaming AC
Memory: 8GB (1x8GB) Team Group 2666MHz
Cooler: Thermalright Macho Direct 
Thermal Paste: Noctua NT-H1
Storage: Sandisk Ultra II 240GB
PSU: XFX XTR 850

Installation

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

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

There is almost no difference when it came to installing the Macho Direct than the Macho 120 SBM, so here’s a slightly edited version of what I wrote before. It’s cheating I know but it’s also hard to rewrite information that’s based on an identical process.

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 fairly large line 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 magnetic 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 Macho 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.

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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 Direct simply because it’s so tall at 158mm 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 as we might finally be able to answer the question of which contact method is the best, direct or fitted plate. Here comes the testing and we can look at the performance of this monolith with the processor at stock speed and voltage as well as when overclocked to 4500MHz.

Thermal Performance

macho-direct-temp-chart-3900-idle

Matching the Thermalright Macho Direct versus the 120 SBM we see the first impression of which makes better contact with the chip for heat dissipation. The Direct is quite a long way down the chart which matches up with the amount of thermal paste I had to use to get the best results – if you are using this cooler the tip is more = better, but even the best result I got was worse than the fitted plate version.

macho-direct-temp-chart-3900-load

Ramping up the chip to full load and we again see that the Macho Direct fares worse than the 120SBM, though the amount of difference is minuscule and well within a fair margin of error. Considering the chart as a whole though and the Direct is still a worthy competitor at stock speeds.

macho-direct-temp-chart-4500-idle

With an idle CPU that’s been overclocked to 4500MHz, the macho direct fares much better than it’s kin and appears fairly high up the chart.

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Now to the stress test, 4500MHz and a fully loaded CPU. Both Machos beat off the competition of air coolers and even the majority of AIO coolers, but which is best? It’s the 120 SBM with the Direct very close behind. In fact, with two Macho coolers in the Top 4, it’s fair to say whichever one you choose will do a damn fine job of cooling your overclocked chip, even if one is slightly better than the other in our tests.

Conclusion

The Macho showdown is over and the results are in, with the 120 SBM leading the Direct with the slightest of margins. However, against the rest of the field, we saw in our testing that they beat other air cooler hands down and even embarrass AIO coolers while they are at it.

Focusing on the Direct as the subject of this review we have the same problems and benefits from a physical aspect that we saw previously. The Direct is only able to be fitted in my test rig in one orientation, any other and it becomes a problem for my ram with it’s tall heatsinks or the motherboard’s heatsinks. In the direction that I can fit the Direct it also blocks off the only PCI-e slot that I have on the board which is the x16 slot for a GPU, so if you are living with this cooler long term on your main computer then you really need to choose between short ram or no graphics card.

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Moving on from these problems as we have discussed them before in depth in the previous Macho review, actually fitting the heatsink was really easy. The air tunnel that goes through the fins is also the access channel for screwing in one half of the crossbar onto the brace. With the inclusion of a magnetised screwdriver, Thermalright show that they have anticipated all the problems and resolved them so that you don’t have to. The inclusion of a metal backplate is always something I like to see and more so with such a large and heavy cooler. you want to be sure that the weight is focused on as large an area as possible without any chance of bending and that’s precisely what we get with the Macho.

With size comes great responsibility, erm, forward planning? If not then it’s needs to come with a lot of luck because aside from motherboard compatibility problems you also have to consider if it will fit in the case with the panel back in place. 158mm might not sound a lot, but with a lot of cases becoming narrower and sleeker, you might not be able to use the Macho even if you had the right motherboard and RAM.

Regardless of its problems I really like the Macho series. They are really impressive coolers and that counts for a lot in my book. With my personal preference for large cases and large motherboards I would be more than happy to use this for a very long time.

I’d like to thank Thermalright for allowing me to test and review the Macho Direct, and just like it’s non-identical twin I have awarded it our Performance Award.

The Play3r award for Performance

  • Performance
  • Design
  • Value

Summary

Pros:

- Exceptional cooling power
- Reasonable price
- Well made
- Metal back plate
- Included magnetic screwdriver
- Straightforward installation

Cons:

- Size can lead to compatibility problems with motherboard, RAM and cases

4.3

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