EK Waterblocks makes some of our favorite quick release valves, but their previous attempt at a semi-open loop liquid cooler – the EK Predator – terminated after an overwhelming amount of issues with leakage. It was a shame, too, because the Predator was one of the best-performing coolers we’d tested for noise-normalized performance. Ultimately, if it can’t hold water, it’s all irrelevant.

EK is attempting to redeem themselves with the modular, semi-open approach set-forth with the new EK-MLC Phoenix series. A viewer recently loaned us the EK-MLC Phoenix 360mm cooler and Intel CPU block ($200 for the former, $80 for the latter), which we immediately put to work on the bench. This review looks at the EK-MLC Phoenix 360mm radiator and CPU cooling block, primarily contending against closed-loop liquid coolers (like the H150i Pro and X62) and EK's own Fluid Gaming line.

The past week has been abnormally packed with hardware news, with several heavy-hitter items from Intel and AMD partners alike. The headlining story highlights Intel's prototype dGPU unveil -- something that we won't see more of for years, if at all -- and talks Intel's initial plans for its dGPU component. This comes shortly after Intel's very public hiring of former RTG Chief Raja Koduri, who recently set to work on Intel's new dGPU division. It is likely that the prototype discussed has been in the works for a while, but Koduri's work will no doubt be visible in the coming years.

Other news items include the accidental publication of Intel Celeron CPUs by Newegg, including a new G49X0 series (G4920, G4900), and the non-K alternatives of the 8500 and 8600 i5 CPUs. For AMD, we saw news reports about an upcoming EKWB Threadripper Monoblock for MSI motherboards, which should be useful in full loop scenarios where the VRM thermals must be controlled. Several other news items are also present in this round-up. Find the show notes below.

This week's hardware news recap diverges from Titan V coverage and returns to some normalcy, sort of, except the joining of Corsair by former top EK executives. We also have some loose confirmation of Ryzen+ for 1Q18, MSI's new RX Vega 64 Air Turbo card, and Sapphire's Nitro+ Vega 64 card. Still lots of AMD news, it seems, though Intel popped-up with Gemini Lake, if briefly.

Find the show notes below, or the video embedded:

EK Water Blocks has seemingly had a strong year, dotted with numerous major product launches and expansion into the mainstream market (with the EK Fluid Gaming series). In spite of this, TechPowerUp just broke news that EKWB’s CEO, CTO, Head of Marketing, and numerous R&D engineers have all departed the company. The company remains 90-strong, but has lost much of its R&D department and head management as of today.

EK’s Fluid Gaming liquid cooling kits target an entry-level, first-time loop-builder, strictly using aluminum across all Fluid Gaming components for reduced cost. This decision positions EK nearly against itself: The company has boasted copper loop materials as superior to CLCs for so long now that shipping an aluminum-built product has inspired official blog posts in defense of the choice. This is primarily one of cost, as opting for aluminum – much like the CLC makers – allows EK to sell entry-level, CPU-only kits in the sub-$200 market. The EK Fluid Gaming 240mm solution ships at $160 and includes a 240mm radiator, a standalone pump, soft tubing, coolant (but buy your own distilled water), two fans, fittings, and a CPU block. The result is a low-end open-loop starter pack that includes all necessary parts, but ultimately costs more than nearby CPU-only CLCs (like the H100iV2 at $110, the EVGA CLC 280 at $130, and the Kraken X62 at $156).

Of course, the idea is to go beyond CPU-only cooling: This starter kit is accompanied by a full Fluid Gaming version from EK, priced at $240 and equipped with a Pascal GPU block. In total, EK’s available Fluid Gaming kit options include:

Building-up a semi-custom liquid cooling loop is a bit of a new trend, spawned from a surge in AIO dominance over the market. The ease of installation for AIOs greatly exceeds what’s possible with an open loop, with the obvious loss of some customization and uniqueness. The cooling loss, although present, isn’t necessarily a big factor for the types of buyers interested in AIO CLCs rather than open-loop alternatives. Ever since we saw PNY’s solution years ago, though, and then more recently EVGA’s quick disconnect solution, the market has begun to burgeon with semi-custom loop “CLCs.”

An example of these semi-custom CLCs would be the EK Waterblocks Predator XLC 280 that we benchmarked in our Kraken X62 review. Today’s review also focuses on one of these semi-custom liquid cooling solutions, featuring benchmarks of the Alphacool Eiswolf GPX Pro on a GTX 1080. Our testing looks into thermal performance under baseline conditions (versus a GN Hybrid DIY option), frequency stability and performance, overclocking, and FPS impact. We’ve got a few noise and CPU tests too, though this will primarily focus on the GPU aspect of the cooling. The Alphacool Eiswolf GPX Pro does not work as an out-of-box product, necessitating our purchase of the Alphacool Eisbaer to hook into the system (CPU cooler + radiator). The Eiswolf GPX Pro is a $130 unit, and the Eisbaer cost us ~$145.

This unit was provided by viewer and reader ‘Eric’ on loan for review. Thanks, Eric!

Upon return home from PAX, we quickly noticed that the pile of boxes included an MSI GTX 1080 Sea Hawk EK graphics card, which use a pre-applied GPU water block for open loop cooling. This approach is more traditional and in-depth than what we've shown with the AIO / CLC solutions for GPUs, like what the EVGA GTX 1080 FTW Hybrid uses (review here).

The Sea Hawk EK ($783) partners with, obviously, EK WB for the liquid cooling solution, and uses a full coverage block atop a custom MSI PCB for cooling. The biggest difference in such a setup is coverage of the VRAM, MOSFETs, capacitor bank, and PWM. The acrylic is channeled out for the inductors, so their heat is not directly conducted to the water block; this would increase liquid temperature unnecessarily, anyway.

We won't be fully reviewing this card. It's just not within our time budget right now, and we'd have to build up a wet bench for testing open loop components; that said, we'll soon be testing other EK parts – the Predator, mostly – so keep an eye out for that. The Sea Hawk EK was sent by MSI before confirming our review schedule, so we decided to tear it apart while we've got it and see what's underneath.

Gigabyte and EKWB will be launching limited-time bundles of their new waterblocks and motherboards. The EK-FB GA-Z170X Monoblock will be sold along with the Z170X-GAMING 7-EK motherboard, and the X99-ULTRA GAMING-EK will be bundled with EK-Supremacy EVO X99 monoblock.

The EK-FB GA-Z170X waterblock will provide cooling to CPU and the motherboard’s MOSFETs, all without having to remove the motherboard’s FET heatsinks. Traditional liquid cooling setups do not often cover the FET heatsinks, and the only cooling they get is from tower cooler fans, case fans, or low-hanging vapor chambers.

Last week, we decided to start running weekly news round-ups on Saturdays that are more video-centered, giving us some more time to continue working on heavier article content for the week. This also helps us continue creating high-quality video content, something we've done a lot of lately.

We've seen QDC – quick disconnect – liquid cooling solutions in the past, but they never quite came to fruition for general enthusiast use. Enthusiast brand EK Water Blocks, known best for its open-loop liquid coolers, has now announced its EK-XLC Predator 360 AIO with quick disconnect functionality. The 360mm radiator has the usual two tubes attached, but one uses a QDC valve for inclusion into a larger system. This modular AIO design makes an allowance for users interested in the concept of cooling beyond the usual CPU CLC, but who might be intimidated (monetarily or otherwise) by open loop solutions.

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