Some sort of thermal solution, active or passive, has become a requirement for many modern SBCs. Ever more power-hungry SoCs with more and more technology packed in simply generate much more heat than convection alone can dissipate.
The Raspberry Pi 4B was one of the first mainstream SBCs which more or less required active cooling, facilitating the need for tons of interesting thermal gizmos and cases which effectively (or less so) helped dissipate tons of heat which the BCM2837 produces. One of these was the original ICE Tower cooler for the Raspberry Pi 4, produced by 52Pi, which immediately caught on due to its quiet operation and great thermal performance (and also, RGB fans and copper heat-pipes look really awesome, even if they’re a bit of an overkill).
Other companies, like SunFounder, followed suit, creating their own custom versions for different SBCs or adding features missing from the original. All of these coolers are generally high-quality (as long as they come from a reputable brand) and do their job rather well, keeping your tinkering toys safe and cool.
The BCM2837 isn’t the only chip used with a demanding thermal footprint, as many modern higher-end CPUs used in SBCs throttle rather quickly without a good cooling solution.
When we reviewed the awesome Orange Pi 5, we noted some minor throttling, but still suggested the use of a heatsink, at least. Despite the RK3588’s impressive abilities at minimising performance drops during intense computation, the core clocks undeniably drop as the chip approaches 90°C. Needless to say, running that hot isn’t really healthy for an SoC, either.
To solve this, the team over at 52Pi has produced a tweaked version of the ICE Tower cooler for the Orange Pi 5. Fundamentally, it’s the same idea: chunky copper heat-pipes, large heatsink and an RGB fan in a desktop-like cooling system.
That sounds great, but let’s test it out ourselves on an actual Orange Pi 5 board. Before we continue, we’d like to thank 52Pi for providing us with a review unit of the cooler.
Installing the unit wasn’t difficult at all for us. Two metal bars are to be mounted on the cooling block, after which they are to be fastened to the board. There’s two thermal pads provided in the kit, a screwdriver, as well as some barebones instructions.
This little manual isn’t the best. Most everyone with any tech experience will quite easily figure everything out, as it’s truly a simple procedure, but we can definitely see a beginner forgetting to remove the clear foil from the thermal pad, for example. Little mistakes like this can happen, and a manual should point them out in order to prevent them.
Our only structural complaint here is about the metal mounting bars. These are quite thin and fragile around their mounting holes. Ours arrived a little bent, presumably from getting whacked during shipping, and when we went to straighten them, we went in with too much force, expecting the metal to be significantly sturdier. Thankfully, nothing got damaged in the end.
The Orange Pi 5 uses the RK3588 SoC, featuring eight CPU cores split into three clusters. One four-core cluster of A55 “small” cores is clocked at 1.8 GHz, while two dual-core clusters of A76 “big” cores run at 2.4 GHz.
Using s-tui, our trusty graphical stress-testing tool and dispatching eight sqrt workers, we first let the system run without any cooling system, active or passive.
After just 45 seconds, the frequencies of all three clusters dropped significantly, down to 1416 MHz for the little cores and 2256 for both clusters of big cores. 90 seconds in, the little cores dropped even lower to 816 MHz with the SoC reaching a scorching 88.6°C. After 12 minutes of gradual decline, the two clusters of big cores finally settled at 1416 MHz, while the little cores managed to snatch some performance back, sitting at 1200 MHz, where they mostly remained for the rest of the stress test.
Running the same test with copper heatsinks on the CPU, RAM and VRM chips, we got somewhat better performance.
Throttling started at the two-minute mark as chip hit 88.6°C, with the cores immediately dropping to 816 MHz for the small cluster and 2256 MHz for the two big ones, further dropping to 408 MHz for the small cores. Eventually, after around 10 minutes, this setup settled on slightly better scores than the last one, with the smaller cluster sitting yet again at 1200 MHz, but the larger clusters operating at 2256 MHz.
Finally, it was time for the ICE Tower.
No throttling whatsoever, even after an hour of the stress test running. The system kept warming up slowly, eventually settling at around 70°C after 52 minutes. This is great, as it prevents any performance losses due to inadequate cooling, and also allows for sustained maximum clock speed across all cores.
These temperatures are a bit higher than the ones we measured with similar coolers for the Raspberry Pi, but that is due to a number of factors. The radiator on this model is smaller and also horizontally-mounted, as is the fan, which is a somewhat less efficient design for blowing warm air out of the way (but does contribute to a way smaller and easier-to-pack-into-cases footprint). The RK3588 is also tougher to cool with all of its eight cores ramped up.
Aside from keeping the RK3588 safe by bringing down the temperatures by almost 20 degrees, a proper cooling solution lets the chip reach its peak performance, especially under sustained loads.
While benchmarks aren’t as thermally demanding as stress tests, we still see a notable increase in test scores with the ICE Tower mounted.
There’s no PWM control here, so the fan simply runs off the 5V line. This wouldn’t be a major issue if it weren’t for the design of the Orange Pi board itself, which powers this voltage rail as long as the board receives power, even if the OS has been shut down. It’s worth noting, however, that it’s pretty simple to write a short script and use a GPIO pin instead of the main 5V rail here, enabling the fan to properly stop at shutdown.
The fan’s pretty quiet and has RGB lights which look sleek (but no RGB control either, but there’s a nice pre-programmed effect it loops around).
Overall, the ICE Tower for the Orange Pi 5 is a solid, well-performing cooler with an attractive design and a few small flaws for which we have to knock a few points off. At its low $15.99 price, these flaws will be insignificant at most for many buyers. As such, it isn’t a difficult product for us to recommend.
More information: Wiki 52Pi ICE Tower for Orange pi 5 (EP-0167)