Remember the time when liquid cooling a computer chip was considered to be an extreme approach, one performed by hardcore enthusiasts and overclockers alone? Everything had to be personally designed and or procured by the user, as there were no specialized commercial products available at the time. Radiators were modified heater cores extracted from cars, CPU blocks were rare and occasionally machined at local workshops using a copper block and a lathe, while high-performance tubing came from shops with medical supplies.

As demand grew, aided by the ever-increasing noise of small CPU heatsinks, companies specializing on liquid cooling solutions began turning up -- a little too fast perhaps, as tens of companies were founded within a few months' time and very few of them actually survived for more than a couple of years. Enthusiasts could then buy specialized liquid cooling equipment and even whole kits from just one seller and only had to assemble the setup into their system. That of course is no simple process for an amateur and a nightmare for a system builder, who cannot ship a system with a topped off water cooling tank or assume that the user has the skills required to maintain such a system, therefore the potential market remained limited to advanced users only.

This all changed in 2012, when Asetek came up with an inexpensive closed loop solution, a liquid cooling device that was leak-free and required no maintenance at all. The radiators of the first few solutions were small and their overall performance hardly better than that of air coolers; however, aided by the modernization of computer cases, the mounting of larger, thicker radiators inside a PC soon was not a problem. In many cases the kits were now no harder to install than any CPU cooler and required no maintenance at all, opening the market to virtually every computer user seeking a performance cooling solution. This spurred massive interest amongst OEMs and manufacturers, who all strive for a slice of the pie.

There have been tens of AIO (All-in-One) closed loop liquid coolers released just in 2013; today, we are having a roundup with 14 of them, coming from five different manufacturers, alphabetically listed in the table below.

Product Radiator Effective Surface Radiator Thickness # of Fans (Supplied / Maximum) Speed Range of Supplied Fans (RPM) Current Retail Pricing
Cooler Master Seidon 120V 120mm × 120mm 27mm 1 / 2 600-2400 $49.99
Cooler Master Nepton 140XL 140mm × 140mm 38mm 2 / 2 800-2000 $99.99
Cooler Master Nepton 280L 140mm × 280mm 30mm 2 / 4 800-2000 $119.99
Corsair H75 120mm × 120mm 25mm 2 / 2 800-2000 $69.99
Corsair H90 140mm × 140mm 27mm 1 / 2 600-1500 $84.99
Corsair H100i 120mm × 240mm 27mm 2 / 4 800-2700 $109.99
Corsair H105 120mm × 240mm 38mm 2 / 4 800- 2700 $119.99
Corsair H110 140mm × 280mm 29mm 2 / 4 600-1500 $126.99
Enermax Liqmax 120S 120mm × 120mm 32mm 1 / 2 600-1300
600-2000
600-2500
(Multi-range)
$163.00*
Enermax Liqtech 120X 120mm × 120mm 43mm 2 / 2 600-1300
600-2000
600-2500
(Multi-range)
$171.10*
NZXT Kraken X40 140mm × 140mm 27mm 1 / 2 800-2000 $89.99
NZXT Kraken X60 140mm × 280mm 27mm 2 / 4 800-2000 $119.99
Silverstone Tundra TD02 120mm × 240mm 45mm 2 / 4 1500-2500 $118.99
Silverstone Tundra TD03 120mm × 120mm 45mm 2 / 2 1500-2500 $97.99

*The coolers from Enermax are not widely available in the USA at the time of this review, with the only viable option appearing to be that of import from Asia or Europe.

Although Asetek was the first to come up with the design and they hold patents for it, they are not the only OEM of AIO cooling solutions today. At least three different OEMs are behind the kits listed in the table above. We will have a closer look at each one of them in the following pages.

Cooler Master
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  • Subyman - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    Thank you for the great write-up. It can be hard to find decent comparisons for AIO coolers. I don't personally use them, but my friends and clients seem to love them so I need to be informed. I loved your introduction! I remember brazing barb fittings on a heater core I picked up at the local car parts shop to cool my PC. I used hardware store tubing, an aquarium pump, and made a fan shroud out of fiberglass. That was a very fun summer! Reply
  • Sivar - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    Silent = No sound whatsoever
    Quiet = Barely audible or inaudible
    No cooler with moving parts is entirely silent even when its fan's voltage is reduced down to 7 Volts.
    Reply
  • DLoweinc - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    Nitpicking, but I had a Coolit systems ECO cooler in 2010, so I don't think 2012 was the year these 'appeared'.

    That cooler, by the way, leaked after 2 years and destroyed my mobo/processor. The coolant was mineral based and caused enough damage, who knows if a water based coolant would have left the system components undamaged? The leak was at the tubing where it went into the pump. This was in a 24/7 system that did not get touched until I noticed one day it was offline.
    Reply
  • E.Fyll - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    It would not; even pure distilled water becomes conductive once it comes in contact with dust. None of these coolers are using pure distilled water anyway, all are using a mixture, which is conductive. It has lower conductivity than mineral water, yet it is conductive. The higher the portion of the additive over the distilled water, the more conductive the solution becomes. The actual level of conductivity also depends on the additive, some are more conductive than others. However, it should suffice to say that the least conductive additive at the lowest possible concentration would still be extremely dangerous to electronics.

    I will summarize: If it leaks, you are doomed.
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    "If it leaks, you are doomed" is a little alarmist. It depends on where the product leaks and how large the leak is. The cooler itself certainly isn't usable anymore if it's leaking, but we get hardware in from time to time for leak damage that actually works perfectly fine (Corsair warrants your hardware against cooler leaks). Reply
  • E.Fyll - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    Yes, I possibly over-exaggerated there. What I wanted to stress is that the liquid is definitely conductive, not that it will cause permanent damage 100% of the time. There is a high chance that the hardware will be damaged but that is definitely not always the case. I myself had a serious (nearly 1/4 liter) leak with a custom-made setup and the system was just fine once it was dry again. Reply
  • jrs77 - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    Enermax and Silverstone use quiet possibly Swiftech as a supplier for their AIO-blocks.

    And btw, you should've really integrated the Swiftech H220 into your roundup.
    Reply
  • E.Fyll - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    I know. I actually tried to acquire all AIO coolers in existence, including Intel's, Thermaltake's and others. Not everyone is happy to cooperate and/or willing/able to supply samples at a give time, for whatever reason. Reply
  • toyotabedzrock - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    We need a roundup of fans. I have bought many expensive fans that turned out to be less than advertised and failed quickly when used in certain orientations. Even had blades break. Reply
  • E.Fyll - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    That is going to happen, eventually. I need proper equipment to properly test fans. Until I can acquire it, I will not perform a half-assed job. Reply

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