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The Intel Q6600 Overhaul – Lapping and going from the Stock Cooler to the Arctic Freezer Pro 7

I recently bought an Intel Quad Core Q6600. I’ve been doing a lot of Video Encoding for the Apple TV, and while a fine chip, the E2140 just wasn’t cutting it time-wise for quality encodes.

I grabbed some pics of the process with my new Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W35 (if the blurry pics from my previous posts made your eyes bleed, these should help alleviate the pain). I also got idle/load temperatures both before & after.

Part 1: Lapping

1A: The Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro (lapped using sandpaper against an already-lapped waterblock small enough to fit between the mounting pegs)

Here are a few pics of what this thing looks like when you pull it out of the box (click the thumbnail to open a larger image):

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You can see they include thermal interface material on the heatsink, which I’ve read is MX-1 – apparantly it’s pretty decent stuff. Naturally, i took it off (rubbing alcohol worked well enough). Pay close attention to the 4th picture. You can see the heatsink surface is pretty rough – it’s much rougher than the Intel Stock Cooler. You can notice it in the 3rd as well. Not that it’s necessarily a *huge* deal. Smooth would be preferable, but the more important question is “is the heatsink FLAT?”. We’ll find out soon enough, time to start lapping the heatsink….

And a few minutes into lapping, we have:

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Picture 1: Nope, wasn’t flat. It’s concave. The bad news: that means it makes poor contact with the center of the CPU which is the hottest section where the cores are located. The good news: since I’m lapping it, I should be able to get this thing flat yet.

Picture 2: Coming along a bit. It’s not quite in the center, it’s about 1/3 away from the edge.

I used 600 grit paper for about 45 minutes, and really wasn’t making progress. I went out and got a sheet of 320 grit which sped things along, but I ate through that sheet fast and it *still* wasn’t flat all around. You could still see the deep scratches/cuts. It was close enough though, so I finished it off with some 600 grit, then some 1500 grit.

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As you can see, there are still some deep scratches in there, but it’s *flat* aside from the actual scratches themselves (so the whole zone isn’t indented at least). I was really getting to the point where I’d first of all used a *lot* of sandpaper, and second was pretty sure I’d sanded off a lot of copper. Less copper means a little less pressure when it’s clamped down later, and I didn’t want to remove even more copper from that thing because well, there’s got to be a reason it’s not paper-thin, so I was content to leave it here. At the very least it was a hundred times better than it was originally, and I doubt that working it any further would have resulted in a bit of difference (unless I were planning on going metal-to-metal using *no* thermal paste, in which case I would have worked those scratches off AND been sanding all the way up to 3000 grit).

So now I’ve got a heatsink, lapped flat, reflected, a bit scratchy, but in pretty good shape overall. On to the processor.

1B: The Intel Q6600 (lapped using a mirror. and sandpaper of course)

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Here it is. This was the last time I’d see that printing on the chip, so I snagged a pic. Nothing less fulfilling by the way then taking a $300 processor, getting it wet, and then scrubbing it against a piece of sandpaper hoping that you don’t accidently pick up some static or get a drop of water in there and kill the thing. Time to start lapping:

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As you can see, this thing wasn’t perfectly flat either, although I’ve seen much much worse (both my E2140 and pics that others have had). I do think this chip was probably flat enough that a normal flatish heatsink would have probably made pretty good contact with this mostly flatish CPU. Had I left the CPU alone, temp tested it, then lapped it and tested again I suspect I would have only seen a difference of less than a degree if anything. Had I had some way of knowing how flat it was, I may not have bothered to lap it. Unfortunately there’s really no way for a home user to check and see how “flat” a processor is or isn’t. You’ve just gotta start lapping and find out after you’ve voided that warranty :p .

And the end result:

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It’s pretty reflective. Had I waited for the 2500 grit sandpaper I ordered to arrive I could’ve got the mirror finish, but it’s really just cosmetic. Again, I’m planning to use some thermal goop – I’m not going metal-to-metal here.

Next, just because I was curious, I put the Q6600 against the Freezer 7 Pro, just to see how much wider the heatsink was than the processor’s heatspreader.

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Part 2: Assembly

First, I put a dab of Arctic Silver 5 on the heatsink, grabbed a coffee filter to put over my finger, and spread it around. The main point here was to get it *just* in the microscopic scratches, as well as the not-so-microscopic-scratches you saw in the earlier picture. Next, I put a little Arctic Silver 5 on the CPU’s heatspreader, and used the “credit card trick” to spread it around. Basically, you use a plastic debit/credit/airmiles/etc card, and spread the paste as *thin* as you can across the entire heatspreader. There’s a point where any thinner would mean there’s no Arctic Silver left, and that’s about where you want to get it. You just want enough to cover the heatspreader. Less is more.

Next up, CPU in the socket. I recently read a couple horror stories with the words “crunch” and “bent” in them. For those who don’t know, there are little “grooves” cut out of the CPU. In the pics I have above, you can see them on the top-left and bottom-left. These grooves *line up* with notches in the cpu’s socket. Line them up before you clamp that thing down or you’re probably going to get to hear that “crunch” as you bend all the pins in the motherboard’s socket. Really. It’s not tough. Spend the extra second to double check and make sure you’re lining it up properly.

After that was just a matter of getting the Freezer 7 Pro in. First I removed the fan. It’s not really that tough – there are “barbed” rubber standoffs that connect to the fan. You just have to “squeeze” them while pulling the fan off and they’ll eventually squeeze through the holes (just don’t pull hard enough to rip them off the rest of the rubber). A set of tweezers made this easier – the part you squeeze goes into the hole as long as you’re pulling, and by rotating the tweezers and squeezing, you get it all in – just do it for all 4 holes.

Then it was time to put the fan-less heatsink on.

Maybe it’s not assembled perfectly, or maybe I whacked it with my waterblock too many times while lapping the heatsink, but the pegs didn’t fall exactly in line with the holes. 2 reasons I checked for this – 1 because I somehow misaligned a peg from a stock intel hsf and heard a crunch as some of the white plastic bent/crushed (but somehow survived and was still usable once bent back). 2 because I read about someone else’s experience with a different aftermarket HSF that didn’t line up right and they thought they almost broke the motherboard. In any case, it just took a slight bit of coaxing to line them all up and get them all sticking in the holes before pressing down and snapping them all into place.

Here’s how it looked.

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You can see the standoffs/nipples where the fan will remount to. I spend a lot of time talking about it because some people *don’t* know how to get the fan off. You can also see the motherboard’s mosfet heatsink. Yes, it’s close to the heatsink, but no it doesn’t quite touch. There’s enough room but oh-so-barely.

Next I just had to pop the fan on. Put the standoff/nipples in the holes on the fan’s apparatus, and pull them through. Surprisingly I had to pull hard enough that I half expected the tips to rip.

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And this is the final result. I *believe* it can be mounted in any direction. Most people will probably actually mount it so that the fan is on the right side, blowing towards the back of the case. I chose to have it at the bottom blowing up, because I’ve 1) taped off the back “vent” spot, and 2) my power supply sucks in air from the bottom, so this lines up pretty well to blow the heat right into the power supply where it’ll then get blown out of the case.

Part 3: Testing and results

Spending $30 on a heatsink, $5 on sandpaper, and voiding the warranty on a $300 CPU isn’t worth it without some results now, right?!

Idle and Load temps were taken before and after the change. The processor was overclocked in both cases to 3Ghz (9x333Mhz) with a Core Voltage of 1.3 volts. Speedstep was enabled which dropped the multiplier to 6x during idle.  Hardware Monitor was running to record the lowest temps reached on each core at idle, and the highest temps reached at load.

First the difference at idle:

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Next, the difference at load, running Prime 95’s torture test.

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As you can see, there was an 8-10 degree difference at idle and 15-18 degree difference at load. Keep in mind that this is from a combination of lapping the CPU’s IHS, lapping the heatsink, and upgrading to the Freezer 7 Pro.

Part 4: Final thoughts

I’m a bit disappointed in the Freezer 7 Pro’s heatsink. It was *really* concave, and those scratches were deep. I understand it’s a < $30 heatsink, but I was quite surprised nonetheless. On a positive note, I’ve read about others having issues with the soldering job, but my Freezer 7 Pro looked to be done quite well in that respect. The only other issue I forsee will be when the heatsink is removed. The fan is really in the way of 2 of the mounting pegs, and while removing the fan to get at the pegs is quite possible *outside* of the case, *inside* the case is a whole other story with all the other components around. That said, there’s not a lot that Arctic Cooling could have done about that. Installation/removal seems to be a common issue with most aftermarket LGA 775 heatsinks, simply because there’s so little space to work around. It’s either “bury the pegs under the heatsink” or “take out the motherboard to install/uninstall”.

As far as the processor goes, this one was quite flat already, especially in comparison to the E2140 I previously did. I’d say kudos to Intel, except that I’m pretty sure whether you get a flat IHS on your CPU or not is fairly random.

In regards to the results, they were pretty decent, and I was quite pleased. A lack of air conditioning here usually results in ambient temps of up to 10 degrees higher in the summer which means the CPU’s going to get warmer as well. Worst case scenerio is that my idle temps in the summer with the Freezer 7 Pro = my winter temps with the stock heatsink. Load temps will still be better than they were at stock unless we get a *really* hot day.