The SilverStone IceGem AIO Coolers Review: Going Big For Threadripper

SilverStone used to be a small company that started as a designer of unique PC case designs, but today it is one of the most well-established PC component manufacturers worldwide. The company’s philosophy revolves around the design of high-quality but also cost-effective and practical products, forgoing extravagant and swanky aesthetic designs. That tactic served SilverStone very well in the past, as we’ve seen first-hand how the cost-effectiveness of some of their CPU coolers made for some very impressive products.

About a year ago, we had a look at SilverStone’s new AIO coolers, the Permafrost series. The Permafrost coolers were a bit of a shock on the company’s ideology as they featured RGB lighting, yet SilverStone still tried – and managed – to keep the retail price relatively low.

Thoughts on RGB lighting aside, if Permafrost did have one weakness, it’s that the cooler was designed for standard consumer desktop sockets. Which is most of the self-built PC market, but not all of it – in particular, Permafrost couldn’t be used on AMD’s sizable Threadripper processors. So in an effort to address the Threadripper market, SilverStone has developed a successor of sorts for the Permafrost series, which they have named IceGem. IceGem takes Permafrost’s bold, RGB-heavy design cues, but supersizes the pump block so that the block can properly cover the big chips.

For today’s review, we are taking a look at the complete IceGem cooler series. This covers the IceGem 240P, IceGem 280, and IceGem 360. The IceGem 240P and IceGem 360 are designed to utilize 120 mm fans, while the IceGem 280 is using 140 mm fans.

While the IceGem coolers are first and foremost promoted for their socket sTRX4 (Threadripper) compatibility, the coolers can also be used with all of the mainstream sockets, including Intel’s LGA 1200 and 2066 sockets, as well as AMD’s AM4. And, though not officially listed by SilverStone, the IceGem coolers should also work with the recently-launched WRX80 (Threadripper Pro), since EPYC/TR/TR Pro all share the same socket and cooler mounting dimensions.

But besides enabling Threadripper compatibility, does the IceGem’s large cooling block bring any other advantages to the AIO cooler? To get the answer to that, we are thermally testing SilverStone’s latest AIO coolers and check where they stand against the competition, as well as against each other.

 

We received SilverStone’s latest AIO coolers in sturdy cardboard boxes that, along with the internal custom inserts, provide excellent shipping protection. The artwork on the packaging is simplistic, focused on pictures of the coolers themselves – still, that is more than enough for catching the eyes of shop shelf browsers. 

All three coolers share the exact same bundle, with the sole exception being the number of fans and their wiring. Inside the box, we found the necessary mounting hardware, a small syringe with thermal paste, the necessary power and LED wiring, and an ARGB lighting controller.

At this point, we must note that the ARGB LEDs of all three coolers are compatible with most motherboards featuring addressable RGB lighting in the market right now. When the system features a compatible motherboard, the LED wiring of the AIO cooler is attached directly to the motherboard, which directly controls the RGB lighting of the cooler via the software each motherboard manufacturer provides. The included ARGB controller is meant to be used only to manually setup lighting effects with systems that do not have a compatible motherboard. It features several pre-programmed RGB lighting effects, as well as speed and brightness options, but it certainly is not convenient to open up the case each time one wants to change any lighting setting. These coolers are definitely meant to be used with compatible motherboards, where the control is performed via software.

Depending on the version of the SilverStone IceGem cooler, you will receive the respective number of 120 mm or 140 mm fans. SilverStone is using the same fans they are marketing under the Air Blazer brand. These fans feature a Hydro bearing engine for low noise and anti-vibration mounting pads. The nine narrow fins suggest that the fan is designed for high flow and low pressure, which should be fine considering the low thickness of the radiator.

As expected, the sole difference between the various IceGem AIO coolers is the radiator, with all of our samples sharing the same hoses and cooling block. The design is typical, consisting of a radiator and a cooling block joined together by two hoses. The block combines the CPU contact plate and a miniature liquid pump. The designer went with standard rubber tubes with external nylon sleeve braiding for additional protection, which are fixed on the radiator and partially adjustable on the CPU block.

 

When a company develops a new AIO cooler, the design efforts are usually focused on the main block assembly, as there is little room for other improvements. The main highlight about the IceGem’s cooling block is the large contact surface, which allows it to fully cover an AMD Threadripper processors. Unlike the loud advertisement of the sine wave generator used in the Permafrost series, there is little information surrounding the parts used by SilverStone’s engineers to fashion this cooling block. Still, we do not expect the quality to be any lower than that of its smaller sibling.

The top part of the main block assembly is acrylic, fashioned so as to resemble cracked ice, with RGB LEDs hidden below it. Once powered, the LEDs create a beautiful visual effect that surrounds the company’s logo and are bright enough to light up a case.

The bottom of the main block assembly reveals a sizable, square cooper block with a large orthogonal contact area. It is neither nickel-plated or polished down to a mirror finish, yet the finish is very smooth and free of imperfections. Here is where IceGem’s innovation lies – the block is just large enough to cover the entire surface of an AMD Ryzen Threadripper CPU, yet the IceGem cooler still remains compatible with mainstream modern CPUs as well.

The radiators are typical dual pass cross-flow designs, with tiny fins soldered on thin oblong tubes. This is by far the most dominant radiator design for AIO systems and rightfully so, as it offers the best efficiency within limited proportions and for the temperature differences that AIO coolers have to deal with. The IceGem 280 and 360 feature 28 mm radiators, which is typical for these kinds of designs. These coolers, when fully assembled, require a clearance of 51 mm, which is less than what most advanced PC cases provide. The IceGem P240 however features a significantly thicker 38 mm radiator – although that bodes well for the performance of the cooler, it also requires a clearance of about 62 mm and could cause compatibility problems with some case designs.

  

The application of RGB lighting on the IceGem cooler is very good. The fans have their LEDs placed at their centers, next to the engine, creating a fantastic diffusion visual effect on the fan’s semi-transparent blades. The top of the block mimics the visual effect of the fans and its very strong LEDs are certainly going to light up the interior of any case. If connected to a compatible motherboard, both the fans and the main block will copy the programmed lighting theme of the system. For those who do not own a compatible motherboard or just do not want to have lighting synergy between different parts, the lighting effects can be programmed from the wired controller, meaning that the user will have to open the case in order to access it.

Although the testing of a cooler appears to be a simple task, that could not be much further from the truth. Proper thermal testing cannot be performed with a cooler mounted on a single chip, for multiple reasons. Some of these reasons include the instability of the thermal load and the inability to fully control and or monitor it, as well as the inaccuracy of the chip-integrated sensors. It is also impossible to compare results taken on different chips, let alone entirely different systems, which is a great problem when testing computer coolers, as the hardware changes every several months. Finally, testing a cooler on a typical system prevents the tester from assessing the most vital characteristic of a cooler, its absolute thermal resistance.

The absolute thermal resistance defines the absolute performance of a heatsink by indicating the temperature rise per unit of power, in our case in degrees Celsius per Watt (°C/W). In layman’s terms, if the thermal resistance of a heatsink is known, the user can assess the highest possible temperature rise of a chip over ambient by simply multiplying the maximum thermal design power (TDP) rating of the chip with it. Extracting the absolute thermal resistance of a cooler however is no simple task, as the load has to be perfectly even, steady and variable, as the thermal resistance also varies depending on the magnitude of the thermal load. Therefore, even if it would be possible to assess the thermal resistance of a cooler while it is mounted on a working chip, it would not suffice, as a large change of the thermal load can yield much different results.

Appropriate thermal testing requires the creation of a proper testing station and the use of laboratory-grade equipment. Therefore, we created a thermal testing platform with a fully controllable thermal energy source that may be used to test any kind of cooler, regardless of its design and or compatibility. The thermal cartridge inside the core of our testing station can have its power adjusted between 60 W and 340 W, in 2 W increments (and it never throttles). Furthermore, monitoring and logging of the testing process via software minimizes the possibility of human errors during testing. A multifunction data acquisition module (DAQ) is responsible for the automatic or the manual control of the testing equipment, the acquisition of the ambient and the in-core temperatures via PT100 sensors, the logging of the test results and the mathematical extraction of performance figures.

Finally, as noise measurements are a bit tricky, their measurement is being performed manually. Fans can have significant variations in speed from their rated values, thus their actual speed during the thermal testing is being recorded via a laser tachometer. The fans (and pumps, when applicable) are being powered via an adjustable, fanless desktop DC power supply and noise measurements are being taken 1 meter away from the cooler, in a straight line ahead from its fan engine. At this point we should also note that the Decibel scale is logarithmic, which means that roughly every 3 dB(A) the sound pressure doubles. Therefore, the difference of sound pressure between 30 dB(A) and 60 dB(A) is not “twice as much” but nearly a thousand times greater. The table below should help you cross-reference our test results with real-life situations.

The noise floor of our recording equipment is 30.2-30.4 dB(A), which represents a medium-sized room without any active noise sources. All of our acoustic testing takes place during night hours, minimizing the possibility of external disruptions.

<35dB(A) Virtually inaudible
35-38dB(A) Very quiet (whisper-slight humming)
38-40dB(A) Quiet (relatively comfortable – humming)
40-44dB(A) Normal (humming noise, above comfortable for a large % of users)
44-47dB(A)* Loud* (strong aerodynamic noise)
47-50dB(A) Very loud (strong whining noise)
50-54dB(A) Extremely loud (painfully distracting for the vast majority of users)
>54dB(A) Intolerable for home/office use, special applications only.

*noise levels above this are not suggested for daily use

Our maximum speed testing is performed with both the fans and the pump of the kit powered via a 12V DC source. This input voltage should have the pump and fans matching the speed ratings of the manufacturer. SilverStone’s fans came close enough, with our tachometer reading 2180 RPM for the 120 mm fans and 1560 RPM for the 140 mm fans. These fans are rated at 2200 RPM and 1600 RPM respectively. Furthermore, the speed difference between the seven fans we tested was negligible, indicating great manufacturing quality and minimal tolerances.

Average Thermal Resistance

Core Temperature, Constant Thermal Load (Max Fan Speed)

A glance at the average thermal performance charts reveals a great surprise, with the IceGem 240P outperforming the 280 version and getting quite close to the 360 version as well. The 140 mm fans of the IceGem 280 are significantly quieter though, giving that cooler an advantage in acoustics. The average thermal resistance of 0.0745 °C/W is excellent for a cooler with two 120 mm fans, with the IceGem 360 sweating to get a tiny better thermal resistance figure of 0.0741 °C/W.

Fan Speed (12 Volts)

Noise level

When it comes to acoustics, all of SilverStone’s new AIO coolers do exceptionally well, with low sound pressure levels across the board. What is interesting to note here is the very low sound pressure level of the IceGem 280, which gives the product a significant advantage against other coolers – even against the other two IceGem coolers.

Using a PWM voltage regulator, we reduced the speed of the fans manually down to half their rated speed, which is 1080-1100 RPM for the 120 mm fans and 800-820 RPM for the 140 mm fans. The pump was also connected to the same power source, functioning properly at this low speed setting.

Average Thermal Resistance

Core Temperature, Constant Thermal Load (Low Fan Speed)

The surprises continue in this test as well, with the IceGem 240P thermally outperforming the larger IceGem 280 even though the fans of the IceGem 280 should be pushing significantly more air through the radiator under these operating conditions. On the other hand, the IceGem 360 significantly outperformed the two smaller IceGem coolers and even the equally sized PermaFrost cooler by a very small margin.

Fan Speed (7 Volts)

Noise level

Even with these reduced speeds, the thermal permittance of the IceGem 360 rose only up to 0.0814 °C/W. In combination with the low noise output, that makes the IceGem 360 one of the most efficient coolers that we have ever tested. Although its thermal performance is not as great, we also received impressive sound pressure figures from the IceGem 280, which is nearly dead silent in this test. The IceGem 240P does not stand out in this test but it does perform comparatively well.

During our thermal resistance vs. sound pressure level test, we maintain a steady 100W thermal load and assess the overall performance of the coolers by taking multiple temperature and sound pressure level readings within the operating range of the stock cooling fans. The result is a graph that depicts the absolute thermal resistance of the cooler in comparison to the noise generated. For both the sound pressure level and absolute thermal resistance readings, lower figures are better.

This graph reveals that the IceGem 240P actually performs almost equally well, if not better, than the wider IceGem 280. We did not expect that the increase in the radiator’s thickness would be that beneficial, especially since the greater thickness also increases the airflow resistance of the radiator. We can also see that the IceGem 240P performs significantly better than SilverStone’s own Permafrost 240, which is using a 28 mm thick radiator. The IceGem 360 does outperform the smaller coolers when operating at low fan speeds but its thermal performance does not increase significantly with the fans operating at high speeds, making the cooler noisy for virtually miniscule improvements on the thermal performance.

SilverStone introduced the IceGem AIO coolers as a family that is fully compatible with the large IHS of Ryzen Threadripper processors. This is also why there aren’t any smaller (sub-240mm) models in this series, as they would be unable to handle the thermal stress of such powerful (and power-hungry) CPUs. Other than that, the IceGem coolers are very similar to SilverStone’s existing – and less expensive – Permafrost series.

The thermal performance of the IceGem coolers is overall very good. The IceGem 280 ($197) and IceGem 360 ($162) performed thermally just as well as we expected them to, with no real surprises. On the other hand, the IceGem 240P ($147) proved to be the underdog of this review, outclassing even SilverStone’s larger coolers. Its thicker size may warrant some compatibility checks, but it performed unexpectedly well with regards to thermals. The performance-to-noise ratio graph revealed that the IceGem 240P is on equal footing with the wider IceGem 280, with only the significantly larger IceGem 360 having a slight performance advantage. Acoustically, all three IceGem coolers are excellent, surpassing several other competitive products, especially those based on older designs.

The RGB lighting of the IceGem coolers is well applied and very bright, creating a strong crystal-like effect on the main block and having the fans glowing brilliantly, generating a fantastic visual effect, especially in dark cases. It is compatible with nearly all current ARGB motherboards and can be controlled via the motherboard’s software. For users that do not have a compatible motherboard, the RGB lighting can be effectively programmed via the included controller that includes several fancy and static lighting effects, but the user will have to access the inside of the system for each program/brightness change. The only downside here is the number of cables, which will be difficult to hide.

Quality-wise, the IceGem coolers are very well made and we have no concerns regarding their long-term reliability. However, users should be careful of the warranty terms that apply to their region, as the IceGem coolers are currently being sold with warranties that cover anywhere between one and five years, depending on their distributor.

The IceGem coolers are designed primarily for users who own, or plan to own, a processor with a large IHS, without sacrificing compatibility with nowadays mainstream CPUs. They are definitely a great choice for users who have or are considering an upgrade to a Ryzen Threadripper CPU, as the IceGem coolers will be compatible with both their current CPU and a possible future CPU that may have a significantly different IHS. Otherwise, for users that do not plan on ever getting a CPU with a large IHS, the IceGem coolers may not be the most sensible choice from an economic point of view – the equivalent SilverStone Permafrost cooler can typically be had for $50 less – but their performance will certainly not disappoint.