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Phononic HEX 2.0 Thermoelectric CPU Cooler Review

Manufacturer: Phononic

Introduction: A Hybrid Approach

The Hex 2.0 from Phononic is not your typical CPU cooler. It functions as both a thermoelectric cooler (TEC) - which you may also know as a Peltier cooler - and as a standard heatsink/fan, depending on CPU load. It offers a small footprint for placement in all but the lowest-profile systems, yet it boasts cooling potential beyond other coolers of its size. Yes, it is expensive, but this is a far more complex device than a standard air or even all-in-one liquid cooler - and obviously much smaller than even the most compact AiO liquid coolers.

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“The HEX 2.0 combines a proprietary state-of-the-art high performance thermoelectric module with an innovative heat exchanger. The small form factor CPU cooler pioneers a new category of cooling technology. The compact design comfortably fits in small chassis, including mini-ITX cases, while delivering cooling capacity beyond that of much larger coolers.”

Even though it does not always need to function as such, the Hex 2.0 is a thermoelectric cooling device, and that alone makes it interesting from a PC hardware enthusiast point of view (at least mine, anyway). The 'active-passive' approach taken by Phononic with the Hex 2.0 allows for greater performance potential that would otherwise be possible from a smaller TEC device, though our testing will of course reveal how effective it is in actual use.

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HEX 2.0 features an Active-Passive design (Credit: Phononic)

The goal for the HEX 2.0 CPU cooler was to provide similar cooling performance to all-in-one (AIO) liquid coolers or the very largest fan-heat sinks in a package that could fit into the smallest PC form factors (like miniITX). The active-passive design is what makes this possible. By splitting the CPU heat into two paths, as shown in Figure 1 (Ed. the above image), the thermoelectric device can be sized at an optimal point where it can provide the most benefit for lowering CPU temperature without having to be large enough to pump the entire CPU thermal load. We also designed electronic controls to turn off the thermoelectric heat pump at times of low CPU load, making for an energy efficient cooler that provides adequate cooling with zero power draw at low CPU loads. However, when the CPU is stressed and the CPU heat load increases, the electronic controls energize the thermoelectric heat pump, lowering the temperature of the passive base plate and the CPU itself. The active-passive design has one further benefit – when used in conjunction with the electronic controls, this design virtually eliminates the risk of condensation for the HEX 2.0.

Continue reading our review of the Phononic HEX 2.0 Thermoelectric CPU Cooler!

(For further reading on how TEC cooling works, check out the Wikipedia article or some of these other resources.)

Features and specifications from Phononic:


Type: Fan Heatsink with Thermoelectric Heat Pump
Fan: Integrated 92 mm

Key Features

  • Small Form Factor
  • High Performance Integrated and Swappable 92mm Fan
  • Supports TDP Power for Over Clocking Beyond 140W
  • Low Noise Design (33 dBA @ max speed)
  • Active/Passive Cooling (Using Phononic’s Thermoelectric Technology)
  • Integrated Electronic Control Applies Active Cooling only When Needed
  • Optional Application Software and User Interface Allows User to Adjust Performance Characteristics

Motherboard Connections

  • CPU Fan: Provided connector
  • Power Connections: Standard 6-pin AUX graphics cable | Required voltages = 12VDC
  • Optional USB Interface: Provided connector

Cooler Specifications

  • Dimensions: 125 x 112 x 95 mm (H x W x D)
  • Weight: 810 grams
  • Material: RoHS compliant

Electronic Control Specifications

  • On Board Electronics: Plug in power + fan connector to enable operation
  • USB Connection: Enables HEX 2.0 dashboard application for monitoring and customization

Fan Specifications

  • Size: 92 x 92 x 25 mm (H x W x D)
  • Connector: 4-PIN PWM
  • RPM & Noise Level: Max: 2650rpm (33dBA) | Typical Idle: 1000rpm (<17dBA)
  • Air Flow / Max Static Pressure: 44 CFM Maximum / 3.1 mm H2O

Packaging and First Impressions

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Your investment certainly buys a premium packaging experience, as the HEX 2.0 arrives in as fancy a box than just about any computer component I've come accross.

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The included accessory package is complete, and well organized.

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The cooler is an impressive piece of hardware, and feels very hefty and well made. We'll go over the design in closer detail and check out the install process on the next page.


March 23, 2017 | 12:49 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

How does it deal with condensation on the TEC?

March 23, 2017 | 12:59 PM - Posted by Phononic (not verified)

The design objective and proven in operation is that you will not see any condensation with the HEX 2.0 unlike previous TEC based coolers. That is the benefit you get out of our Intelligent Control of the Active/Passive operation.

March 23, 2017 | 05:53 PM - Posted by willmore

Don't worry about it, this thing can't even cool the proc below ambient at idle.

March 24, 2017 | 12:26 PM - Posted by ryanbush81

How would it lower temps below ambient if the TEC only turns on at high thermal loads?

March 24, 2017 | 10:31 PM - Posted by willmore

That would be the worst time for it to run. At high thermal loads, a TEC would only add more heat to get rid of. Anyone who designed such a system clearly knows nothing about thermal transfer.

So, I'd avoid anything they designed like the plague it is.

March 23, 2017 | 01:48 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

"I would love to re-test the HEX 2.0 with an overclocked AMD Ryzen CPU to see just how far a little 95 mm cooler can take a processor like the R7 1700, but that will have to wait"

No it needs to be done ASAP for those that are looking at the 1700's best savings for the overclocker's money! Maybe it can be done when some of the tweaked Motherboards arrive with faster DDR4 memory support. Also test the RX 580 Polaris refresh with any builds for an affordable build option with that 1700's overclock potential and affordable sweetspot of a price/performance metric.

March 23, 2017 | 08:45 PM - Posted by Sebastian Peak

If I could have purchased a motherboard I probably would have already. Now that I've waited this long I might just go with an R5 1600/1600X instead. And the MSI X370 Gaming Pro Carbon I've had my eye on is still out of stock as I type this...

March 24, 2017 | 11:52 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Well yes try the R5s along with the R7 1700 with this cooler SKU for some overclocking benchmarks.

And what do you make of any 16 core/32 thread Zen/workstation SKUs using these rumored(1) chipsets? I'd love to see any 16 core Zen/Worksttation SKU benchmarks on the single socket ASUS X390 motherboard(?), and remember that for Zen/Naples the Infinity Fabric was supposed to offer an NVlink like ability to connect up more in a direct attatched GPU fashion to any Vega radeon Pro WX/instinct SKUs that will also make of of the Infnity Fabric IP. So there will probably be a 16 core Zen/Workstation variant on an MCM module with some of that extra Server/workstation IP on the MCM module. I do not think there will be any 16 core Ryzen/consumer branded SKUs.

(1)

"Rumor: AMD X390 and X399 chipsets diagrams leaked?"

https://videocardz.com/67594/rumor-amd-x390-and-x399-chipsets-diagrams-l...

March 23, 2017 | 02:36 PM - Posted by serpico (not verified)

I saw thermoelectric in the title and immediately decided I had traveled back in time. Who on earth uses Peltier's to transfer large amounts of heat at or above idle temps.

March 23, 2017 | 02:37 PM - Posted by serpico (not verified)

*ambient, not idle. Excuse me

March 23, 2017 | 05:51 PM - Posted by willmore

No one. They're way too inefficient to move any reasonable quantity of heat. For every Watt they remove, they generate several more. Clearly that's not going to scale beyond a dozen Watts or so. So, yeah, it may cool down your idle part below ambient, but what's the benefit of that? Worse yet, they will act as insulators at load.

March 23, 2017 | 08:19 PM - Posted by Yuji Kimura (not verified)

Peltier coolers will always (unless someone has a really incredible breakthrough) have a COP (Coefficient of performance) below 1.0, meaning they will always consume more energy than the heat they remove.

The only possible way of actively cooling (by active I mean not just pumping a secondary fluid to reject the heat) computer components is to use refrigeration cycles. The problem is they are far too complex to make it worth it so far. And it's hard nowadays finding a refrigerant that is reasonably ecological and safe to use.
Absorption and adsorption cycles can also work, but require a large setup. And if noise is a concern then maybe thermosiphons will work, I've heard of a company using a thermosiphon to cool a pc with no moving parts required, but it was expensive and relatively large since it requires large heatsinks to condense the fluid.

March 23, 2017 | 06:33 PM - Posted by Admiral_Akbar

@Sebastian.

I'd love to see temp graphs combined with dB information...Not sure how that would work without causing info overload.

It could be a great way to get a complete picture of how each cooler performs without having to look at temp and dB graphs to figure out which cooler suits you best.

March 23, 2017 | 08:47 PM - Posted by Sebastian Peak

I've toyed with combined graphs in the past with mixed results. That's an interesting idea, however - have not attempted combining noise/temp data like that before. If it made sense visually and was on a fixed scale it could work.

March 23, 2017 | 09:17 PM - Posted by Odin (not verified)

I'll stick to a Noctua DH-15 thanks, This might do a decent job, but it's inefficient and you need to run it insane mode to achieve decent cooling when OC'd. No thanks.

March 24, 2017 | 03:03 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I cannot see using this thing in a PC because existing methods are good, and because I am scared of what happens if power too the Peltier element were to fail under load.

However to cool very high power LED systems used for horticulture or large area lighting it could be extremely useful.

March 24, 2017 | 05:00 AM - Posted by Hakuren

While idea is certainly interesting it has potential to be a catastrophic. When powers go down, CPU will be fried in no time at all.

If you really want tower cooler standard constructions are much more safe and proven.

And make no mistake. I'm all for innovating things, but practically comes first. Couple fans on tower cooler work perfectly well. Thank you.

March 25, 2017 | 09:13 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I'll definitely be trying this out in my next build instead of a AIO, thanks.

March 28, 2017 | 02:38 PM - Posted by Photonboy (not verified)

Was the NOCTUA fan at maximum RPM?

This was the main confusing thing I noticed. If the Noctua fan had more RPM available then perhaps it could close the gap (not that it needs to for THIS exact OC as it's well within temp).

March 31, 2017 | 01:43 PM - Posted by Rickard Eneqvist (not verified)

Don't understand this design, if its supposed to turn on when its needed then it means that the heat dissipation of the heatsink cant keep up with the processor and in that scenario the TEC just adds more heat.

TEC isnt viable anymore due to its inherent inefficiencies. A TEC element is a set of XxY smaller heatpumps where each specific pump is limited in how much it can handle. To manage the loads generated by modern CPU's the size of the element needs to be very large and it'll be a beast in power/heat.