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.
From the show floor of CES, we’re posting our review of Corsair’s new 6th Generation Asetek coolers, including the H150i Pro, a 360mm closed-loop liquid cooling solution. The H150i Pro launched at $170, accompanied by the H115i Pro, a $140 280mm liquid cooler. Both use the new 6th generation of Asetek cooling, which Corsair debuted at Computex 2017. No other company has yet shown or hinted at Gen6 products, marking this the first for Asetek’s new coolers.
In large part, as you’ll see in testing, the coolers aren’t heavily modified in the cooling department – most the changes are to better accommodate RGB LEDs and Gen4-style side-mount tubing. Corsair also specified a smaller coldplate for the Gen6 H150i and H115i Pro CLCs, marking the first coldplate change by Asetek in years. In terms of the pump assembly, that functions mostly the same as it always has – though we’ll do a tear-down after CES.
As for Corsair’s part, that’s largely comprised of changes requested of Asetek (coldplate size, PCB changes), with the rest of the changes being the inclusion of ML-series fans. The magnetic levitation fans used come in 2x 140 (H115i) and 3x 120 (H150i) variants, and are silence-focused, not outright performance-focused. This shifts review discussion to focus more on acoustic performance and noise-normalized performance. Speaking of, Corsair has included a 0RPM mode for its new CLCs, meaning that sub-45C liquid temperatures can be accompanied by 0RPM fan speeds – silence, in other words. At least, silence aside from the pump, which makes an audible pump whine and chirping noise during high-speed operation. The pump can me slowed down (1100RPM), at which point it does genuinely become inaudible – but not under its higher speed (~2800RPM) conditions. Granted, the use cases for each are clear: Silence or performance – pick one, not both.
This content piece is video-centric, but we have a full-length feature article coming tomorrow -- and it's focused on shunt shorting, something we have spent the past few days playing around with. For today's, however, we point you toward our render rig's GPU diagnostics, where we pull a Maxwell Titan from the machine, try to determine why it's overheating, and show some CLC / AIO permeation testing in the process. Rather than weigh the loops, which makes no sense (given the different manufacturing tolerances for the radiators and pumps), we emptied two loops -- one new and one old -- to see if the older unit's liquid had permeated the tubes. If it had, then we'd measure less liquid in the older loop, showing that a year of heavy wear had caused the permeation. You can find out what happened in the video below.
The short of it is that, between the two loops, we saw no meaningful permeation -- we also noted that the pump impellers were still spinning, and that the thermal paste seemed fine. Our next steps will be to remount the CLC and test again.
We previously went through the process of dismantling, draining, and refilling an Enermax Liqtech TR4 closed-loop liquid cooler (some call these "AIOs") in an attempt to determine how serviceable the CLCs are. This particular cooler wasn't too difficult to refill, as we showed in our accompanying video, but we still wanted to check thermal results to see if the cooler had worsened in performance. The goal wasn't to make it better, just to see if it could be serviced, and without negative impact to cooling ability.
Keep in mind that fluid selection will matter: If the CLC mixes metals, as many do, you'll want to include a biocide of some sort in your refill. There are plenty of mixtures that would achieve this. We used an EK Cryofuel with biocide additive, with distilled water as the primary component (>90%) for the liquid composition. Our thermal test methodology is the same as in all our Threadripper cooler reviews, including the Enermax 360 vs 240 review. If curious how we tested, head over there.
Liquid is only half of the argument, but it’s an important half. We’ll soon be rounding-up several of the high-end air coolers available on the market, and before jumping into that, we’re going to lay the groundwork with a round-up of our liquid cooler reviews for the year. This guide looks at the best closed-loop liquid coolers (“AIOs”) for 2017, but also includes a few of the worst – the leak-prone and the weak-fanned.
As usual with these round-ups, we’ll be including links to the individual reviews for the applicable coolers, with purchasing links also included for each line item. This is part of our end-of-year round-ups, which can all be found here. For specific items, we rounded-up our top Black Friday sales choices here, our top gaming monitor picks, and the best CPU sales. Plenty more on the Buyer’s Guide page.
Note: You’ll want to pull our most recent cooler review to get an updated table with all performance metrics, though individual reviews are good for non-performance discussion.
Enermax's Liqtech TR4 liquid cooler took us by surprise in our 240mm unit review, and again in our Liqtech 360 TR4 review. The cooler is the first noteworthy closed-loop liquid cooler to accommodate Threadripper, and testing proved that it's not just smoke and mirrors: The extra coldplate size enables the Liqtech to overwhelm any of the current-market Asetek CLCs, which use smaller coldplates that are more suitable to Ryzen or Intel CPUs.
This testing kicked-off because we questioned the validity of some cooler testing results that we saw online. We previously tested two mostly identical Noctua air coolers against one another on Threadripper – one cooler had a TR4-sized plate, the other had an AM-sized plate – and saw differences upwards of 10 degrees Celsius. That said, until now, we hadn’t tested those Threadripper-specific CPU coolers versus liquid coolers, specifically including CLCs/AIOs with large coldplates.
The Enermax Liqtech 240 TR4 closed-loop liquid cooler arrived recently, marking the arrival of our first large coldplate liquid cooler for Threadripper. The Enermax Liqtech 240 TR4 unit will make for a more suitable air vs. liquid comparison versus the Noctua NH-U14S TR4 unit and, although liquid is objectively better at moving heat around, there’s still a major argument on the front of fans and noise. Our testing includes the usual flat-out performance test and 40dBA noise-normalized benchmarking, which matches the NH-U14S, NH-U12S, NZXT Kraken X62 (small coldplate), and Enermax Liqtech 240 at 40dBA for each.
This test will benchmark the Noctua NH-U14S TR4-SP3 and NH-U12S TR4-SP3 air coolers versus the Enermax Liqtech 240 TR4 & NZXT Kraken X62.
The units tested for today include:
There aren’t many ways for cooling manufacturers to differentiate atop of a supplier’s product, like the Asetek Gen5 pumps, but you’d be surprised at how much goes into them behind the scenes. NZXT was the first manufacturer permitted to build a fully custom and complex PCB for its RGB-illuminated Kraken coolers, followed-up in short order by EVGA, who dropped the price significantly for the same-size radiators. We’re reviewing the new EVGA CLC 240 today, following-up our previous (positive) CLC 280 and (negative) CLC 120 reviews.
Although they’re all ultimately Asetek products, the EVGA CLC series has thus far competed well with the NZXT Kraken and Corsair H-series coolers. EVGA aimed to strike a balance between the higher-cost features of the Kraken coolers (like manufacturer-customized lighting) and the more function-focused Corsair H-series coolers. The effort yielded ~$130 280mm closed-loop liquid coolers, coming in below the $150-$160 Kraken X52/X62 units and around the H115i (presently $140).
We generally liked the price:performance positioning of the CLC 280 unit, but found the CLC 120 nearly impossible to justify. The 120 wasn’t a far step from good 240mm coolers, like the H100i V2, but EVGA only recently began shipping CLC 240 units.
Radiator placement testing should be done on a per-case basis, not applied globally as a universal “X position is always better.” There are general trends that emerge, like front-mounted radiators generally resulting in lower CPU thermals for mesh-covered cases, but those do not persist to every case (see: In Win 303). The H500P is the first case for which we’ve gone out of the way to specifically explore radiator placement “optimization,” and we’ve also added in some best fan placement positions for the case. Radiator placement benchmarks the top versus front orientations, with push vs. pull setups tested in conjunction with Cooler Master’s 200mm fans.
Being that the selling point of the case is its 200mm fans – or one of the major ones, anyway – most of our configurations for both air and liquid attempt to utilize the fans. Some remove them, for academic reasons, but most keep the units mounted.
Our standard test bench will be listed below, but note that we are using the EVGA CLC 240 liquid cooler for radiator placement tests, rather than the MSI air cooler. The tests maximize the pump and fan RPMs, as we care only about the peak-to-peak delta in performance, not the noise levels. Noise levels are about 50-55dBA, roughly speaking, with this setup – not really tenable.
For a recap of our previous Cooler Master H500P results, check our review article and thermal testing section.
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