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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  • E.Fyll - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    It depends on the CPU, of course. An overclocked CPU can easily surpass their max TDP rating. High thermal loads are useful for the extraction of proper thermal resistance ratings, plus they are easily reachable by modern GPUs (and GPUs are relevant, especially with AIO coolers; you'll see why soon enough). Of course, if you know the power requirements of your current CPU (if not overclocked, about 75% of its TDP), you can easily check the graph closest to it. Reply
  • dragosmp - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    Hi,

    Great review, I like the methodology. It is nice to see all coolers tested with a constant load that is subject to much less randomness than a CPU power output.

    I have two questions:

    *is it possible to test all coolers at a certain noise level like 40dB +/-0.5dB; 7V testing is not that relevant for a cooler that is silent @10V, why would anyone silence it even further, save electricity?

    *could you provide an order of magnitude of what clock speed and voltage a CPU would need to be at to achieve 340W/150W...etc. It would be useful to get our bearings vs the real world. A chart would be nice a bit like this:
    .....................150W.................250W
    Haswell DC....4.6GHz/1.25V......
    Haswell QC....4.2GHz/1.27V......
    FX83xx OC....4.1GHz/1.35V......

    The reason for the last remark is that buying decisions are made also with cost in mind. One may think: I have max 30°C Tcase, 4.5GHz Haswell, what is the thermal conductivity I would need so the CPU never passes 70°C? Answer ==> review (maybe not the best cooler, maybe not the most expensive...). I have bought windows for my house like that.
    Reply
  • E.Fyll - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    40 dB(A) is not really "silent". I would rate <35 dB(A) as silent and still I can notice that in a very quiet room. 40 dB(A) is a slight humming noise, fairly quiet and most people just ignore it, yet it is easily noticeable. It is an interesting idea but that is not really possible when not all products can do at least 40 dB(A) and not practical, as the motherboard does not read the sound level, it just adjusts the voltage. 7 Volts are just high enough to ensure that (almost) every fan will start and about the same voltage as most motherboard will apply in their "quiet" mode. About the CPUs, I cannot do that as that would require me buying and testing every single CPU, which is not possible. Besides, every CPU is unique and the energy consumption also depends on several settings when overclocked, so it could easily bring misleading results. A single different setting can cause a massive change on consumption at the same exact frequency. For instance, a i7-3820 at 4.4 GHz consumes nearly 20% more energy with its voltage upped by 0.1V. It truly is a very interesting idea but a great deal of data and testing is required to create a proper database. Reply
  • thewhat - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    "the Corsair H90 ... is entirely silent when its fan's voltage is reduced down to 7 Volts."

    I've tried some of the quietest fans in existence and at 920 rpm they weren't even quiet, let alone entirely silent.
    Anything over 600-700 rpm is usually audible, but quiet. And at around 800 rpm it stops being quiet.

    Maybe we just have different standards for quietness.
    But then liquid cooling was never a good option for silence freaks, anyway.
    Reply
  • E.Fyll - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    There are great differences between fans, even at same RPM, depending on their engine and wing design. This is also being displayed in this review, as fans running at nearly the same RPM have vast performance differences. At one meter away, I could not possibly discern any noise coming from the H90, that is why I classified it as silent. If however you were to install it inside a metallic case with many openings, which would reflect and enhance the noise level, you might be able to notice a low-tone humming noise - that's a maybe, a mere assumption on my part. Reply
  • Aikouka - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    I don't know if anyone else considers it to be worthwhile, but I wouldn't mind seeing how well these coolers work when you remove one of the commonly-changed variables: the fans. I rarely ever use stock fans, and along those lines, it would be interesting to see what would happen if the same fans (per standard size -- 120mm and 140mm) were used on each cooler. Reply
  • jjj - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    Pretty pointless without a comparison with the same fans and some air coolers. Reply
  • silenceisgolden - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    I'm a little disappointed that patent trolls kept the Swiftech offerings from this list, but that's how things are I guess. Reply
  • casteve - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    Thanks for the review. What was the ambient noise level and the noise meter used for the test? Reply
  • E.Fyll - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    My apologies, I should have added this into the review. Will do so from now on. The meter is an Extech HD600 and the background noise level is 30.4 dB(A) (+/- about 0.5 dB(A), depending on the night I perform a test). Reply

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