Custom PC

REVIEW: Corsair A500 CPU cooler

By Antony Leather. Posted

It may seem strange that Corsair hasn’t had extensive repertoire of air coolers to match its liquid cooler range, but the company did actually try a while ago, with mixed results. This month, though, it’s most definitely back in the air-cooling game with the A500. It’s a monstrous £80 dual-fan cooler, which aims to offer premium air cooling and a hefty amount of overclocking headroom.

This massive cooler’s measurements stretch to 169mm long and 171mm tall, with the latter measurement meaning you’ll need to pay careful attention to your case’s CPU cooler height limit, as many cases won’t be able to accommodate it. It also weighs close to 1.5kg, so you won’t want to drop it on your foot either.

The box is enormous too, but inside there’s no mass of cables for hooking the A500 up to your PC via USB, nor RGB lighting controllers. In a rare moment for Corsair, the cooler is devoid of lighting or any fancy software control.

You get a few accessories in the box, though, such as a splitter cable, which allows you to power both 120mm ML-series fans from a single 4-pin header, as well as a long-reach screwdriver and a tube of thermal paste. You won’t need to use the latter right away, as the contact plate comes with a layer of pre-applied thermal paste, but it’s good to know you won’t need to buy more paste if you upgrade your CPU.

In a rare moment for Corsair, the cooler is devoid of lighting

The rest of the kit includes the cooler’s simple mounting mechanism. Plates are fixed to the cooler, and they sport sprung thumbscrews, which attach to threaded pins on additional plates that you secure to your CPU socket.

These thumbscrews sit underneath the enormous central heatsink, but there’s has a cut-out section inside the heatsink that allows the included screwdriver to find its way down to secure them. The cooler itself actually looks very attractive too, with a high-quality removable metal cap on top of it, which hides the heatsink cut-out and heatpipe tops, but also includes a vent in the top to allow the rear fan to breathe.

The installation process is quick, whether you’re using the A500 on Intel’s LGA1151 or LGA2066 sockets or an AMD Socket AM4 platform. Neither Socket TR4 or TRX40 are supported, but all LGA115x sockets are covered, as are all AMD sockets back to FM1 and AM3, as well as both of Intel’s LGA2011 sockets.

Corsair claims that the A500 can tame CPUs with up to a 250W TDP

Corsair claims that the A500 has a 250W thermal design power (TDP) cooling capacity, which would be enough power to handle any CPU up to Intel’s 18-core models.

A lot of this cooling power comes down to the fans, which can reach an ear-splitting speed of 2,400rpm at full speed. Interestingly, though, Corsair has also opted for both 6mm and 8mm heatpipes with the A500; the company claims this adds the ability to deal effectively with CPUs with both low and high TDP.

There are four heatpipes in total, and they all make direct contact with the CPU.
With such a huge width, you’d be right in thinking the A500 would foul your motherboard’s memory slots. However, in a very clever bit of design, Corsair has added a slide-and-lock fan mount mechanism, where the fans are mounted in sliders than can be raised or lowered to cater for different memory heights.

All four heatpipes make direct contact with the CPU

It’s an essential move, too, because Corsair’s Dominator and Vengeance memory modules are some of the tallest on the market. At some heights, however, the fans can end up with some of their blades sitting above the heatsink, reducing airflow through it.

The fans can be detached from the brackets too, should you need to replace them or use other models. Each bracket can also be removed separately, and it’s much easier to deal with these brackets for mounting your fans than the usual metal fan clips.

At full speed, the fans certainly aren’t quiet, hitting rather unpleasant noise levels and with a raspy tone. However, if you use PWM control, they can fall to 400rpm, and at this speed, they were inaudible outside our test system.

It’s a worthy comparison, because like any large, expensive air cooler, it needs to perform similarly to all-in-one liquid coolers to be worth the extra cash. The A500 has a tough task too, seeing as it costs around £20 more than ARCTIC’s latest 240mm all-in-one liquid cooler.

The fans are mounted in sliders than can be raised or lowered to cater for different memory heights

Performance

In our AMD Socket AM4 system, where the A500 was dealing with a Ryzen 7 1700 overclocked to 3.9GHz using an MSI X470 Gaming Pro Carbon AC motherboard, both the ARCTIC Liquid Freezer II 240 and the Corsair A500 performed the same, with just 1°C between them. However, it was significantly cooler than the new ARCTIC Freezer 7 X, which is admittedly much cheaper, but this result shows the A500's strength as an air cooler.

Moving to our overclocked Core i5-9600K system with a manual all-core overclock to 4.8GHz using an Asus ROG Strix Z370-E Gaming, we saw more of a difference. Here, we saw a 53°C delta T for the liquid cooler and 56°C for the Corsair A500, admittedly with higher noise levels on the Corsair cooler. Again, there was a big jump in cooling performance between the Freezer 7 X and the Corsair A500 too.

Finally, there was our LGA2066 system, where our 4.2GHz 10-core Core i9-7900X sat at 56°C with the liquid cooler, and 57°C with the A500. The A500 is certainly louder than the liquid cooler at full speed, but it’s equally quiet at lower speeds.

Corsair A500 Temperature Results

Conclusion

The Corsair A500 is a welcome addition to the large selection of air cooler offerings already available, especially with its innovative approach to avoiding tall memory modules. It’s very well made, it looks good and it’s easy to install. Best of all, it also kept up with a 240mm liquid cooler in all our tests, all but matching it in two of them.

It does cost more than some liquid coolers, but it also comes with two expensive fans and is a product that ultimately feels more premium. The only fly in the ointment was that, at full speed, the fans were far noisier than those on the Freezer II 240, while the cooler didn’t offer better cooling. However, if you’re not too fussed by fan noise, or if your CPU will rarely be hitting the limiter, we can definitely recommend the A500.

VERDICT
The A500 is powerful, attractive and innovative, but it’s also a little pricey.

SCORES
AM4
COOLING 36/40 / FEATURES 15/20 / DESIGN 18/20 VALUE 18/20 / OVERALL 87% / FITTING - EASY

LGA1151
COOLING 35/40 / FEATURES 15/20 / DESIGN 18/20 VALUE 17/20 / OVERALL 85% / FITTING - EASY

LGA2066
COOLING 36/40 / FEATURES 15/20 / DESIGN 18/20 VALUE 18/20 / OVERALL 87% / FITTING - EASY

HEATSINK
+Excellent cooling
+Exceptional memory clearance
+Great build quality

HEATSTROKE
-Noisy at full speed
-More expensive than liquid coolers
-Too tall for some cases

SPEC

Intel compatibility LGA2011, LGA2011-v3, LGA2066, LGA115x;
AMD compatibility Socket AM4, AM3/+, AM2/+, FM2/+, FM1
Heatsink size with fans (mm) 144 x 169 x 171 (W x D x H)
Fans 2 x 120mm
Stated noise 36dBA

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