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.
NOTE: This is a transcript of our video, for the most part, although the video has some more discussion in the intro and conclusion than found here. We publish these articles to be helpful, but make most our money to sustain this expensive operation via videos. If sharing the content, please consider sharing the video instead.
Most closed-loop liquid coolers are unexciting, but that’s not true for today’s Swiftech H360X3 that we’re reviewing. When the vast majority of CLCs on the market are made by Asetek or CoolIT, it immediately makes companies like Swiftech interesting for their clever solutions to bypass Asetek patents or attempt to improve upon long-standing cooling designs. Most companies buy their CLCs from Asetek and CoolIT, including every single CLC made by NZXT, EVGA, Thermaltake, and Corsair, but some make their own or find alternative suppliers. The Swiftech H360X3 is a semi-open loop that’s easily expandable for water cooling, but also includes clear tubing with dyes for more custom-tuning without venturing into full open loop territory. Today, we’re testing the H360X3 to see how it does versus plainer solutions.
For the basics, the Swiftech H360X3 AIO – or CLC, as we continue insisting – should be priced at around $165 for the 360 variant, or $140 for the H240X3. The series includes three dyes (red, green, blue) to accompany its pastel white coolant that’s pre-filled.
This is a prototype, and it’s one of the most unique closed-loop liquid coolers we’ve ever reviewed. Cooler Master sent us their first engineering sample of a new 200mm closed-loop liquid cooler – or AIO, as some like to call them – and it’s built for the mini-ITX Cooler Master H100 case. Technically, a cooler like this could also be used to mount to other cases with 200mm fans, like the H500M or H500 cases, although the tubes would need to be longer. The cooler tries to solve the problem of matching radiators to 200mm case intake fans, since most radiators work best with 120 or 140 fans, and would exhibit worse performance without leveraging the full surface area of a 200mm fan. Today, we’re benchmarking this new cooler on our standardized bench.
The Cooler Master 200mm closed-loop liquid cooler is as yet unnamed, but it’ll be included in a bundle with the H100 MITX case from Computex. The total bundle cost should be around $100 when all is done, but standalone units are unlikely to be sold right now. Cooler Master noted that it would read our YouTube comments section to help determine if there’s enough demand for a 200mm CLC standalone, but that it otherwise is targeting this cooler specifically for its new mini-ITX case with one 200mm fan.
The biggest challenge with 200mm fans, as always, is that none of them are standardized. Cooler Master designed this cooler to fits its CM MF-200R fans, and so fans with alternate hole spacing – like the Noctua 200mm fans – will not fit without twist ties and clamps. We still tested the cooler with both the CM MF-200R and Noctua 200mm fans, but the Noctua unit does not natively fit.
Separately, we’ll re-embed some airflow LPM tests from our previous CM vs. Noctua 200mm fan comparison.
In a world of tempered glass, LEDs, and gimmicks, it’s pretty rare that we come across a fully spartan product that focuses on performance. EVGA has filled that market segment with its DARK series motherboards, named at least partially for their lack of LEDs, and its coolers have traditionally been more price/performance focused than looks-oriented. The CLC series does have a couple RGB LEDs, but only enough to tick the marketing boxes. For the rest, the coolers are aimed at hitting a price/performance mix for the best value. Today, we’re reviewing EVGA’s new CLC 360 liquid cooler to see if it hits the mark.
EVGA’s CLC 360 should be priced about $150 on average, which puts it close to competition like the NZXT Kraken X62, Corsair H150i Pro, and some Deepcool Castle models. EVGA’s CLC 360 uses an Asetek pump at its core and is Asetek-supplied, with the usual customizations on top. As typical, these coolers are primarily differentiated by price, fan choice, and maybe warranty, with some further deviation from the supply by way of LEDs. EVGA has gone relatively spartan with LEDs and looks, instead prioritizing the focus on price and performance balance. With an Asetek Gen5 pump, we’re staying on the plastic three-pronged impeller rather than the newer metal impellers, but performance is overall unchanged between Gen5 and Gen6 – the differences are mostly in focus on reduction of permeation in the tubes.
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.
We always like to modify the reference cards – or “Founders Edition,” by nVidia’s new naming – to determine to what extent a cooler might be holding it back. In this instance, we suspected that the power limitations may be a harder limit than cooling, which is rather sad, as the power delivery on nVidia’s RTX 2080 Ti reference board is world-class.
We recently published a video showing the process, step-by-step, for disassembling the Founders Edition cards (in preparation for water blocks). Following this, we posted another piece wherein we built-up a “Hybrid” cooling version of the card, using a mix of high-RPM fans and a be quiet! Silent Loop 280 CLC for cooling the GPU core on a 2080 Ti FE card. Today, we’re summarizing the results of the mod.
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.
The NZXT M22 is one of the stranger liquid coolers made by a relatively large liquid cooling manufacturer. NZXT dumped Asetek for this 120mm closed-loop cooler, instead opting for a pump-in-radiator design that circumvents Asetek patents and permits sale in the US. The M22 is a complement to NZXT’s Asetek products at the high-end, but comes in at $100 and 120mm. That’s a bit high for a 120mm liquid cooler, particularly considering that competition from EVGA’s CLC 120 comes in at $70 and is made by the familiar Asetek, but its performance may make up for the price differential. Today, we’ll find out.
Primary competition in this price class includes NZXT’s own Kraken X42, a 140mm Asetek-made design, and 240mm units from the same price class. NZXT’s M22 ships for $100 MSRP, and at that price, it’s competing (strictly in price) with the likes of the EVGA CLC 240, the Corsair H100i V2, and NZXT’s units. If we look strictly at size class, the EVGA CLC 120 competes most directly at $70. Despite its low price, that’s still a modern Asetek unit; it uses the same pump as any higher-end cooler, just has fewer fans. It’s not cheap garbage – it’s not something we recommend, either, but it’s not going to fall apart.
It’s a fierce market at $100. Even air coolers would reach equivalence or superior performance than NZXT’s M22. They’re going for one demographic, and one only: Has RGB LEDs and is exactly 120mm. That’s it. That’s the demo. If you’re not that, it’s really not worth the time or money to grab the M22.
To NZXT’s credit, the LED integration is the best-in-class for a 120mm liquid cooler. It’s also expensive, so that makes for an odd combination of size and price.
NZXT’s Kraken X72 closed-loop liquid cooler is another in the XX2 series, following the 280mm X62 that we previously reviewed. The X72 is a 360mm cooler, putting it in more direct competition with the Corsair H150i Pro (the first to feature a 6th-gen pump) and Fractal S36, and indirect competition – in performance only – with the EVGA CLC 280.
NZXT’s X72 costs $200, making it one of the most expensive CLCs on the market. The Floe 360 lands at around $184, the EK Phoenix 360 – a semi-open solution – is the only one that lands significantly higher. The X72 still uses the same pump design as when we tore-down the X42, running Asetek’s 5th Gen pump and a custom, NZXT-designed PCB for RGB lighting effects. Functionally, 5th Gen has proven to be marginally superior – technically – to its 6th Gen for outright cooling performance. We’re talking nearly margins of error. The newest generation is presently only used on Corsair’s H150i and H115i Pro products, as Corsair largely dictated what went into the 6th generation. Major differences are made-up by the metal impeller, similar to the one used by Dynatron in old Antec Kuhler products, rather than a 3-prong plastic impeller. These don’t perform differently in terms of thermals, but there should be reduced susceptibility to heated liquid, and theoretically reduced hotspots as a result of the new 6th Generation design. That doesn’t manifest in outright performance, but might manifest in endurance. We won’t know for a few years, realistically.
Our primary tests for the NZXT Kraken X72 review and benchmark include the following:
- 100% fan / 100% pump
- 100% fan / silent pump
- 63% fan (40dBA)
Corsair’s H115i Pro launched alongside the H150i Pro, the first two closed-loop liquid coolers to use the Asetek 6th-Gen pump. As we said in the H150i Pro review, Asetek didn’t do Corsair any favors, here – the new pump isn’t much different from the old one, and primarily focuses on RGB implementations akin to NZXT’s custom work on the XX2 series. Regardless, Corsair has taken this and used it as an opportunity to bundle their new CLCs with silence-focused fans, the ML120 Pro fans.
As shown in our tear-down of the 6th Gen Asetek pump, where we took apart the H150i Pro, the primary changes of the pump are endurance-focused, not performance-focused. Asetek is ultimately the supplier, here, and that means Corsair’s main contributions are restricted to fan choice; that said, Corsair did dictate large parts of the 6th Generation design. Asetek now includes an RGB LED kit for manufacturers, and also includes the PCB for programmable LEDs (something that NZXT previously went through great effort to customize on the 5th generation). The 6th Gen Corsair coldplate is also marginally smaller than the fifth generation, but other than that, it’s all endurance-driven. Asetek has changed its impeller to a metal option, similar to the old Dynatron impellers in the Antec 1250 Kuhler series. Asetek has also reportedly “optimized” their liquid paths to reduce hotspots that caused higher permeation than desired in older generations.
In terms of performance, though, our extensive testing results (and our contacts) all indicate that the 6th Generation is not an improvement in cooling. At best, they’re the same. And that’s at best.
We moderate comments on a ~24~48 hour cycle. There will be some delay after submitting a comment.