Join Date: Aug 2011
Location: Within the Milky Way
GN's 3950X LN2 video showed clock scaling down to -91C, possibly further.
The plateau is due to quite a few factors:
Form factor (Heatpipe count, single or dual tower, height, width, offset, etc.)
Weight (Can't make it too heavy)
Cost (Has to be competitive)
High-volume capable (has to be able to be manufactured effectively with low tolerances)
Fans (How do you want your cooler to be presented to the press?)
Installation (can't be too complicated, and has to be idiot-proof and sturdy to keep RMAs under control)
Today's coolers are basically the result of all of the above factors, and the result is what you see in the market today. In order to break that plateau, someone has to go back to the drawing board and completely reinvent the air cooler. I remember reading an article a week or two ago about a thermal transfer medium NASA created that's many times more effective than what we're using now, and that does bring promise. There are also experimental materials like graphene that have really good thermal conductivity. However, these things are still in the prototype stage in development. Trying to mass produce these things at a cost isn't possible right now.
Your "good" CLCs may perform better than flagship air coolers, but it's usually due to having faster fans. The actually good CLCs, which are more like AIOs, can offer better performance than flagship air coolers at similar fan speeds, but the difference usually isn't that drastic, like 5-6C on average. A temperature difference that small won't usually make any difference in overclock stability or headroom unless your overclock is on the fringe already in which case I'd recommend lowering clocks and voltage to something more manageable.
Despite liquid cooling being more complicated, expensive, and less reliable, it does offer more cooling potential because you have more flexibility with surface area. Though, it is dependent on the case you have. And that right there is another very compelling reason why air cooling has stagnated. If you want lower temperatures, then get wet.
Then, you have thermal density, which is the great equalizer for these coolers. If you can't effectively pull the heat away from the processor (Heatpipes, coldplates, fin design), it doesn't matter how much radiator surface area you have, it's not going to scale very well. We can see this with MO-RA3 1260s with overclocked 9900Ks still reaching high temperatures. Trying to pull 230W+ off of something the size of a nickel is the challenge right now, and it's only going to get worse from here as transistors get smaller.
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