Corsair A500 Review (Page 2 of 4)

Page 2 - Physical Look - Hardware; Installation

As always, we begin with a three-quarter view from the top of the Corsair A500. A heatsink is a heatsink, but Corsair took steps to make it look good without ARGB LEDs. A metal cover with Corsair's logo in the middle of the mesh makes it look refined and classy. The fans are attached to the radiator using plastic brackets on a sliding rail, which we will take a closer look at in just a moment. Two ML120 fans are included out of the box and are already pre-installed for you. There are no rubber dampeners, but I do not believe the A500 is meant to be quiet, which I will discuss more in the testing page. The fans are specified for 75 CFM of airflow, 4.2 mmH2O static pressure, and 10 to 36 dBA of noise. The fan speed can vary between 0 to 2400 RPM.

The Corsair A500 has 48 aluminum plates to take advantage of the 120mm cooling fans. The gaps are reasonably spaced. A hole sized approximately 105mm by 23mm in the middle enables easier airflow throughout the whole structure for reduced heat congestion. From my calculations, the total surface area of all the cooling fins combined is approximately 1.1 square meters. The leading edge of the fins on the Corsair A500 is characterized by its zigzag edges in a straight configuration. The first time I have seen zigzag edges in a heatsink was the Noctua NH-D14 made over a decade ago. Zigzag edges are made to minimize resistance and turbulence noise with a negligible decrease in heatsink surface area, which is important for heat dissipation. However, Noctua has since changed the design to a low angle V-shaped slope towards the center along with some zigzag edges like the NH-D15

The company specifies the A500 at 1460g with both fans installed, which is a bit heavier than the Noctua NH-D15 at 1320g in dual-fan configuration. I cannot call this heatsink lightweight by any objective measure, but considering the size, it is within expectations. A heavy heatsink will stress your motherboard more than a lighter heatsink, but the effect can be mostly mitigated with a well-designed installation bracket, which Corsair has. Generally speaking, the material composition of the heatsink is crucial to the overall weight. We will take a closer look at the construction of the A500 in just a short moment.

The Corsair ML120 fans are very easy to dismount from the radiator. You do not need to remove them during installation, but if you ever want to replace them with something else, you can take them out and unscrew them from the plastic brackets to install new fans. The brackets slide down a notched plastic rail on the radiator for an easy and secure installation. This also permits great flexibility in fan-heatsink location alignment for the user, especially if you need additional clearance room for your system memory.

The Corsair A500 is a mega-sized heatsink. Four continuous U-shaped heatpipes lead away from the CPU contact base in two opposing directions for eight effective heatpipes. Those heatpipes then go through the radiator to dissipate the heat into the surrounding environment. Theoretically, the heatpipes are supposed to efficiently lead the heat away from its source due to the low heat of vaporization, or phase change energy, of alcohol. The heatpipes are aligned in a linear manner to evenly distribute the heat in the radiating fins. The Corsair A500 comes at the cost of physical size; its height of 169mm and width at 144mm is pretty standard, but its length is the one that makes it literally stand out. In standard configuration with two fans installed, it spams 171mm -- a full centimeter longer than the Noctua NH-D15.

There is a clearance room of about 4cm between the heatsink contact base and the bottom of the fin array and fans in standard configuration. 4cm is a decent amount of space, but higher profile memory will probably not slip under. Thankfully, the fans can be mounted higher on the heatsink, as the sliding rails holding the fans to the heatsink are notched. However, you will need a wide case with lots of clearance room between the motherboard and the left side panel in order to do this.

A shot of the bottom of the Corsair A500 CPU heatsink. The photo above shows the configuration of the heatpipes more clearly in relation to the base leading into the fin array. The contact base of the Corsair A500 has direct contact heatpipes. While the base has clearly been machined, it is far from being completely flat. That aside, like many performance heatsinks we have reviewed in the past, the A500 is a copper and aluminum hybrid heatsink electroplated with nickel for a dark metal finish. The vital parts such as the base and heatpipes are built using copper for best heat transfer ability with a thermal conductivity of 401 W/mK. The heatsink fins utilize aluminum as its material due to its lightweight properties as juxtaposed to copper. This is to allow the construction of larger heatsinks without stressing too much on the motherboard due to weight. Aluminum has a thermal conductivity of 237 W/mK, which is not as optimal for heat transfer compared to copper, but it is much lighter.

Visually speaking, the A500 from Corsair has none of the copper color with its copper heatpipes and base. In fact, there is a consistent dark metal finish across all materials. The Corsair A500 is electroplated with nickel on top of its copper, which has a thermal conductivity of only 90.9 W/mK. Nickel has lower thermal conductivity than copper, which may limit heat transfer, but the electroplated layer is very thin and will have a negligible effect on cooling performance. The reason why nickel is electroplated on top of copper is related to its corrosion allowance factor. Nickel and nickel-base alloys have desirable properties that can withstand corrosive environments and high temperatures, which are especially beneficial for a heat dissipation device. Nickel is resistant to corrosion because of its ductility and toughness all the way up to the melting point of 1455c at non-standard pressure. Nickel's face-centered cube crystal structure is virtually unaltered all the way up to that temperature. Therefore, the corroded material will not build up on the surface over time. This is important because the A500 will be less prone to losing its cooling performance over time compared to a corroded copper surface.

A nine-by-nine grid of Corsair XTM50 thermal paste is pre-applied on the A500. The application quality appears to be dust-free, albeit with small blemishes that should not cause any concerns. However, if you install the heatsink and remove it, you will realize how much excess pre-applied thermal paste there is. There is so much pre-applied thermal paste, it would almost make Stefan Etienne proud. It took me a while to clean up my CPU after uninstalling the A500. Thankfully, the company has included an extra tube for those who plan to reinstall their A500 and are familiar with how much paste to apply. Whatever you do though, do not add extra thermal paste on top of the pre-applied paste like the infamous YouTube video.

This is my first time using a Corsair air cooler, but the mounting mechanism has a lot of similarities with the Noctua products. This means the installation process is simple. Corsair packaged each set of installation accessories individually for excellent organization. Along with the clear and concise manual, setup was a breeze.

As you can see in my photo above, Corsair's mounting system on the Intel platform utilizes a proprietary backplate supplied by out of the box that installs over the stock plate for optimal weight distribution. The inertia generated by such a large heatsink is really something that needs to be addressed accordingly, otherwise it may simply fall out or cause excess stress on the motherboard. To install, simply align the openings on the supplied backplate with the screws of the motherboard's stock backplate and flip the motherboard around.

Two color-matched mounting bars are included for attaching the heatsink to the motherboard. First, put the standoff screws in. The user then has the choice of either aligning the mounting bars according to the final desired orientation of the cooler, as the A500 can be installed either horizontally or vertically. Our photo above shows the alignment of the mounting bars for a standard horizontal installation. Tighten the color-matched screw caps over the bolts, and you are good to go. It is nice to see all the mounting hardware are color-matched to the dark metal finish, even though you cannot really see it once installed.

Fastening the heatsink over the CPU socket proves to be a simple job with the pre-applied thermal paste. Remove the top cover to gain access to the spring loaded screws located on the A500 heatsink itself. This is where the included long screwdriver comes in handy. Align the heatsink with the threaded posts on the mounting bars and tighten the screws alternately until they stop. Overall, the installation process is straightforward and Corsair's mounting system is very secure and distributes weight well, even though the heatsink is big and heavy.

The A500 will not interfere with your RAM like many modern heatsinks thanks to the high clearance fins. In case it does, you can mount the fans a little higher to accommodate the difference. In this scenario, make sure your chassis is wide enough to accommodate the offset fan. Cases like the Fractal Design Define 7 and NZXT H710i will have more than enough room for clearance, but older models may not be wide enough.

Page Index
1. Introduction, Packaging, Specifications
2. Physical Look - Hardware; Installation
3. Test Results
4. Conclusion