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The Zalman Fan Club
An easy fix for an unusable computer
By Frank Moldstad

Zalman 7000B-AlCu: Looks good and runs quiet.
Sometimes it's amazing how long a person will put up with something when an easy and inexpensive fix is available. Such was the case with one of my PCs, which several months ago began randomly shutting itself down. Instead of taking the problem seriously, I just wiggled the power cord and restarted the machine. And cussed.

But the problem slowly got worse. Instead of crashes every three or four days, it began to be a daily experience. I got error messages that overclocking had failed, but I wasn't overclocking the CPU. So I went into the BIOS and saw that the temperature was quickly rising within five minutes of turning the computer on. It would start off at about 140 Farenheit/60 Celsius and then shoot up to 209 Farenheit/98.3 Celsius or so before abruptly shutting off. Finally, with the computer practically unusable, it was time to spring into action.

The CPU fan seemed to be spinning normally, but I noticed some dust inside it. So I removed the fan, carefully cleaned it and then applied a Silver Thermal Compound made by Formula 5 to both the CPU and the base of the heatsink. After reassembling the fan, the computer wouldn't boot at all -- it made a few feeble noises and stopped.

Clearly, the CPU fan had a problem. And its problem was my problem.

Every time something like this happens, I find myself in an obscure aisle at Fry's or CompUSA staring at dozens of unfamiliar gizmos, with no clue. Actually, I had a bit of a clue. I knew that I needed a fan for a socket 478 CPU, in this case an Intel P4. But at CompUSA, the CPU fans ranged from $7 to $70. The only brand I recognized was Zalman, because a friend of mine installed a water cooling system by that company in his computer, which seemed to work well. The Zalman fans were on the high end of the price spectrum, with models by StarTech and CompUSA's house brand on the low end.

Given the problems I was having, I wanted to avoid a low end fan. So, I chose the midrange Zalman fan, the 7000B-AlCu LED model, which was priced at $40. Besides, it was a radical-looking mushroom-shaped thing, with an oversized flexible copper-colored heatsink. The label promised "Ultra Quiet" performance, and said it included a Fan Mate 2, whatever that was. Fingers fairly trembling, I rushed to the cash register.

Compared to the stock Intel CPU fan I had previously (made by Sanyo Denki), the Zalman fan was exceedingly easy to install on a socket 478 motherboard. There are two metal clip supports that slide into place on either side of the CPU's retention guide. The fan is attached to these with one screw into each clip. (Before doing this, I applied a dab of the Formula 5 Thermal Compound to the heatsink base, but Zalman does include thermal grease in the package). There were no impossible clamps to close, and no need to apply potentially damaging pressure to the processor in the installation, as there is with most stock CPU fans.

At this point, I discovered what the Fan Mate 2 was. The fan's power cable is split into two connectors on one end. One of these goes to the motherboard, and the other goes to a black plastic fan speed controller -- the Fan Mate 2. This is mounted on the outside of the computer case, and there's a knob for adjusting the fan speed from 1,350-2,600 RPM. The slower speeds (up to 1,800 RPM) are what Zalman calls Silent mode. Above that, it's called Normal mode. It was definitely quieter in Silent mode, but it was quiet enough for my purposes in Normal mode (the noise level ranges from Noise Level : 18.0 ~ 27.5 dB plus or minus 10%).  So I rotated the knob fully clockwise to the maximum speed.

The moment of truth came when I booted up. The computer has been on for two days now, purring along normally ever since. In fact, I'm writing this article on it. The moral of the story? Next time, take care of a problem before it becomes a crisis!

Note: In addition to socket 478 CPUs, the Zalman fan is compatible with Intel CPUs conforming to socket 775 up to model 540. It will also work wiith AMD Duron/AthlonAthlon XP/Sempron-socket 462 processors, and AMD Sempron/AMD 64 socket 754/939/940 CPUs. Adapters are included for use with AMD processors. Also, motherboards that are not compliant with Intel's 1.2mmMotherboard component height restriction may not accept the Zalman CPU fan -- a list of incompatible boards is posted at Zalman's web site here.

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