EK is best-known for its open-loop liquid cooling components, as we show at CES every year in the company’s bombastic display of systems, but that’s a small market, and EK has been trying to get into closed-loop liquid coolers for years. The EK AIO series is its newest attempt at that, but after facing one delay after another for shipping, it’s taken some time. Today, we’re reviewing the EK AIO 360 and 240 closed-loop liquid coolers for thermals, noise, noise-normalized thermals, coldplate levelness, efficacy on Intel and AMD platforms, and more.
EK’s AIO D-RGB series of coolers is a new approach to closed-loop liquid coolers from EK, most recently shown in public at CES 2020. Following that public update, the company encountered months of setbacks, but has finally reached the market with its new liquid coolers. Competition is fierce for CPU coolers right now, with Arctic’s Liquid Freezer II, which we reviewed here, posing the biggest challenge for EK.
Pricing for EK’s solution lands at $155 (via EK’s website) for the EK AIO D-RGB 360 and $120 for the AK EIO D-RGB 240. At time of writing, the Arctic Liquid Freezer II 280 is $95, but out of stock (at least via Amazon, and Newegg). It’s been mostly out of stock following positive reviews like ours, so although the LF II is directly competitive in price and performance (seen below), it’s somewhat moot if no one can buy it.
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The last time we worked with Zalman on a review ended with the company offering to "buy advertising" in exchange for us taking down the review. That was for the company’s Zalman R1 case, which we published in 2015 and which is still live. That was just 6 months after Zalman defaulted on a ~3 billion won loan and had its export and accounting documents forged by its parent company, done to fake higher profits than reality and receive large bank loans. That phone call we received was also right around the time that Zalman’s former parent company, Moneaul, had its CEO sentenced to a record-setting 23 years in prison in Korea for defrauding banks for loans. The parent company owed over $31 million USD in damages, folded, and left Zalman unsupervised to try and fix its reputation.
Zalman apparently thought that offering to buy $500 of advertisements in exchange for taking a review down was a good way to do that, and so we swore them off and never worked with them again. We wrote about this around the time it happened, but did not name Zalman directly at time of writing. It was more of a warning shot to the industry not to engage in that sort of behavior. In the time since, Zalman has changed ownership and its PR and marketing staff has changed, so we’re willing to give them another shot. We can’t ever forget what functionally amounted to, in our opinion, an attempted bribe to take down a negative review, but we can try to look at Zalman as a new company. That’s what it claims to be, anyway. The company’s newest product is its CNPS 20X tower cooler, which we've purchased for review today against other big air coolers and liquid coolers. Competing products include the Noctua NH-D15, Deep Cool Assassin III, Corsair A500 (if you can call it “competition”), and Arctic Liquid Freezer II 280.
We’ve got a lot of thermal performance in a highly-controlled test environment today, but we need to start with the marketing of this cooler, which makes some fantastical claims.
Today’s review has been the most-requested review from our commenters for about 6 months now, and it’s not even a piece of silicon. The Arctic Liquid Freezer II series has gotten heavy community interest because of high reported performance in the enthusiast forum userbase. We wanted to look at it with our new testing methodology that we’ve spent six months revising to see how the Liquid Freezer performs against incumbents, including the NZXT Kraken X62 (similar to the X63 we reviewed), the Noctua NH-D15, and a growing list of others. The Liquid Freezer’s biggest marketing point, currently wedged in between being a gimmick and a useful feature, is its included VRM fan on the coldplate housing. Our review includes benchmarks of VRM thermal performance with and without this fan, tested in A/B fashion, and also tests of surface levelness, CPU core thermals on the 3950X and 3800X at 120W and 200W, noise tests, and time-to-max temperature.
The biggest rule in testing coolers is to never trust anything: Don’t trust the numbers, don’t trust the software, don’t trust firmware, and don’t trust the test bench. Every step of the way is a trap lying in wait to sabotage data accuracy. We’ve spent the last 3 years refining our liquid cooler bench and the last 6 months refining our new testing that will feature air coolers and liquid coolers alike. With millions of cells of data, we now know enough to have identified nearly every hidden pitfall in testing and finally feel confident in providing a full picture for accurate CPU cooler performance. The downside is that we’ll never trust anyone else’s numbers again, but the upside is that we can finally start really collecting data. This dissertation will be on the most common and the most obscure landmines for testing, laying a plan for our CPU cooler reviews and helping establish a baseline for quality and data accuracy. We promised a CPU air cooler round-up back at the end of 2016 or 2017, and we’re finally getting around to it and will be publishing a lot of cooler content over the next month or so. We’ll start with an A500 review after this methodology piece goes live, then we’ll break for our factory tour series, then we’ll be back to coolers.
This content is detailed and specific to CPU cooler testing methodology and processes. We will be using this as a reference piece for years, as it will establish testing practices to ensure accurate data. Most data out there regarding CPU coolers is flawed in some way or another, especially the stuff posted in random reddit comments, but the trick is minimizing flaws to the extent possible while remaining real-world, because total elimination of variables and pitfalls is impossible on PC hardware. Users will often randomly post a temperature number and say something like, “my Spire is at 70 degrees,” as if that actually means anything to anyone. Temperature isn’t a 3DMark score – it is completely dependent on each configuration, and so unless you’re looking at relative performance by swapping coolers in a controlled environment, you’re not really providing useful data to the discussion.
In this content, we’re going to show you 6 months of rigorous testing adventures that we’ve embarked on, including several months’ worth of discovering flaws in testing, common and uncommon errors, and bad data that could invalidate most reviews without the reviewer ever even knowing. We know because we’ve spent months catching them, hence our long wait time on publishing this content. Several of these issues will exist in other reviewer configurations without technician knowledge, but the trick is to have the right tools to flag errant testing. These concepts will range from extremely basic to advanced. We wanted to skip some basics, but realized that there’s so much bad information out there that we’d better just cover it all in one big dissertation.
Back when Ryzen 3000 launched, there was reasonable speculation founded in basic physics that the asymmetrical die arrangement of the CPUs with fewer chiplets could have implications for cooler performance. The idea was that, at the root of it, a cooler whose heatpipes aligned to fully contact above the die would perform better, as opposed to one with two coolers sharing vertical contact with the die. We still see a lot of online commentary about this and some threads about which orientation of a cooler is “best,” so we thought we’d bust a few of the myths that popped-up, but also do some testing on the base idea.
This is pretty old news by now, with much of the original discussion starting about two months ago. Noctua revived the issue at the end of October by stating that it believed there to be no meaningful impact between the two possible orientations of heatpipes on AM4 motherboards, but not everyone has seen that, because we’re still getting weekly emails asking us to test this hypothesis.
Asetek has a stranglehold on most of the closed-loop liquid cooler market for PC hardware, easily holding majority placement in all CLCs sold in the US. CoolIT has long been a contender of Asetek’s, with the two having battled legally over Asetek’s patents on pump-in-block design, and has also been one of Corsair’s two liquid cooling partners. Both Asetek and CoolIT make the Corsair liquid coolers, though the latter fell out of popularity for a number of years. Finally, with the Platinum line, Corsair is working with CoolIT in a mainstream product. The H115i Platinum uses a new pump and block design, and that’s something we’ll show off thoroughly in our upcoming liquid cooler internals comparison video. For today, we’re focusing on reviewing the $160 H115i Platinum for thermals, acoustics, and overall value at the price point.
Asetek has previously received settlements in legal disputes against CoolIT, the other supplier of Corsair’s closed-loop liquid coolers, and has also won legal battles against Cooler Master for its Seidon series. Asetek, it seems, has a patent on the pump-in-block design approach, and has had judges rule in its favor. This has led to an exodus of non-Asetek coolers in the US market, with companies like Swiftech and Be Quiet! pulling their similarly-made (but non-Asetek) coolers out of the US market. We’re left with a few braver souls, like those using Apaltek-made designs, and some companies that have worked around the patents. DeepCool would be an example, which uses a three-chamber, very complicated approach to its pump manufacturing.
Alongside the question of how frequently liquid metal should be replaced, one of the most common liquid metal-related questions pertains to how safe it is to use with different metals. This includes whether liquid metal is safe to use with bare copper, like you’d find in a laptop, or aluminum, and also includes the staining effect of liquid metal on nickel-plated copper (like on an IHS). This content explores the electromechanical interactions of liquid metal with the three most common heatsink materials, and does so using Thermal Grizzly’s Conductonaut liquid metal. Conductonaut is among the most prevalent on the market, but other options are made of similar compound, like Coollaboratory’s Liquid Ultra.
Conductonaut is a eutectic alloy – it is a mix of gallium, indium, and tin. This is Galinstan, but the individual mixtures of liquid metal have different percentages for each element. We don’t know the exact mixture of Conductonaut, but we do know that it uses gallium, indium, and tin. Most liquid metals use this mixture, just with varying percentages of each element. Gallium typically comprises the majority of the mixture.
Corsair’s H100i Pro is the third Corsair product to use Asetek’s 6th Generation pump solution. Asetek didn’t push performance in significant ways with 6th Gen, but instead focused on endurance improvement and reducing hotspots that encourage permeation of the tubes. This time, just to keep things sort of interesting, we’ll talk about how pump speed impacts the performance of this particular cooler – a topic we’ve explored with Gen5 coolers in the past.
We originally detailed Gen6 in this H150i Pro review, if you’re a bit behind. On the whole, Asetek’s sixth generation pump isn’t all that different from its Gen5 pumps. Performance is marginally worse, if anything, as almost all changes were focused on slimming down the CPU block and improving endurance. Asetek looked at key hotspots in its Gen5 pumps and rerouted flow to reduce strain and failure potential. Liquid should still remain below 60C at all times, but Gen6 will now better enable this than Gen5. Don’t expect better performance, though. Despite improving the impeller quality significantly, overall performance remains unchanged at best, if not slightly worse.
Getting this cooler working was a bit of a struggle. It was some parts human error, on our end, and some parts mechanical error. This thing is a $100 cooler from Aliexpress, and it uses both open loop liquid cooling for a few of its pipes while also using traditional air cooling and heatpipes. We had some small (read: significant) leaks during our livestream, and after the stream, we discovered that the screws securing the inlet manifold to the tower were loose, causing significant leakage as the water filled the pipes. After fixing this, we were finally able to fully test this truly unique hybrid water-air cooler.
The cooler is an interesting one. We’re planning a separate tear-down of the cooler to see what’s going on under the coldplate – likely not much – but for now, we’ve done exhaustive thermal testing under various conditions. Some tests were just straight pump/reservoir hookups to the cooler, while others included a 360mm radiator and 3 high-end fans. The W120 has been sitting on shelves for a while, clearly, as it was first shown at Computex 2011, and the box we received had dried thermal paste and yellowing on the product box. We still wanted to test it, as the unique combination of G-1/4” fittings, open loop support through 4 water pipes, and traditional air cooling meant the cooler could perform peculiarly. You’d assume that there’s a reason this isn’t really done, but we still wanted to find out why.
Our Computex 2018 coverage continued as we visited the BeQuiet! booth. This year, Be Quiet! announced the new Dark Rock Pro for socket TR4 (Threadripper), timely for Threadripper 2, and also showed a trio of refreshed cases -- the Silent Base 801, 601, and Dark Base 900 Rev 2.0.
The Dark Rock Pro TR4 is specifically designed with AMD’s Threadripper socket TR4 in mind. The Dark Rock Pro’s only real difference from previous iterations is the new full coverage block for Threadripper. The new cold plate is designed to help ensure full die coverage on Threadripper, which we discussed back in August of last year. We’ve previously found there to be a measurable difference when using TR4 full coverage coolers vs. non-TR4 ones. Price and release date were not available at this time.
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