A new series of Kraken liquid coolers from NZXT marks the first time that Asetek has afforded a customer the responsibility of designing custom electronics, which NZXT deploys for RGB LED control and future firmware revisions. The coolers use Gen5 Asetek pumps with custom-built pump blocks, "infinity mirror" pump plates, and NZXT fans that differentiate the X42, X52, and X62 line-up from Corsair's nearby competition. Corsair most heavily competes in the 240mm market -- that'd go up against the X52 -- where the H100iV2 is priced at ~$105 right now, though the H90 also competes with the X42.
Our disassembly of the Kraken X42 liquid cooler showed the device's internals, explained that the high-quality of design and component selection made for a promising set of tests, but didn't dive into the details. This review looks at the temperature performance and noise performance, along with a noise-temperature curve, of the new NZXT Kraken X62, X52, and X42 liquid coolers, particularly matched against the H100iV2. We've got the EK WB Predator XLC 280 as a high-end alternative, alongside the Be Quiet! Dark Rock 3 as a $50 air cooler, just to provide a baseline.
NZXT's new Kraken X42, X52, and X62 liquid coolers were announced today, all using the new Asetek Gen5 pump with substantial custom modifications. The most direct Gen5 competition would be from Corsair, makers of the H115i and H100iV2, each priced to compete with the Kraken X42 ($130) and X52. The Corsair units, however, are using an unmodified Asetek platform from top-to-bottom, aside from a couple of Corsair fans. NZXT's newest endeavor had its components dictated by NZXT, including a custom (and fairly complex) PCB for fan speed, pump speed, and RGB control, planted under a custom pump plate with infinity mirror finish. The unit has gone so far as to demand a double-elbow barb for pose-able tubes, rather than the out-the-top setup of the Asetek stock platform – that's some fastidious design.
As for how we know all of this, it's because we've already disassembled a unit. We decided to dismantle one of our test-complete models to learn about its internals, since we're still waiting for the X52 and X62 models to be review-ready. We've got a few more tests to run.
Before getting to the tear-down, let's run through the specs, price, and availability of NZXT's new Kraken X42, X52, and X62 closed-loop liquid coolers.
Liquid cooling has become infinitely more accessible with plug-and-play AIO solutions, but those lack some of the efficacy and all of the aesthetics. Open loop liquid cooling is alive and well in the enthusiast market; it's a niche of a niche, and one that's satisfied by few manufacturers. We had a chance to stop over at Thermaltake's offices while making the City of Industry circuit last week, and used some of that time to film a brief tutorial on hard tube bending.
It felt like filming a cooking show, at times. The format was similar, but it worked well for this process. Open loop liquid cooling is done with either soft tubing or hard tubing, the latter of which must be heated (with a heat gun) to make necessary bends within the system. Soft tubing is more easily manipulated and is as “plug and play” as it gets with an open loop, though “plug and play” isn't really desirable with open loops. Once you're this deep in cooling, best to go all the way.
PETG hard tubing is more leak resistant by nature of the mounting. Hard tubes are less likely to slip off of their mounting barbs with age or transport (fluid between the tube and its mounting point can lubricate the tube, causing a slip and slow leakage). The downside, as with the rest of open loop cooling, is entirely the time requirement and cost increase. Granted, compared to the rest of the loop, hard tubing cost can start to feel negligible.
We might soon be building a wet bench for open loop liquid cooling, as we're starting to receive GPUs with water blocks for testing. Today, we've got a brief hard tube bending tutorial with Thermaltake's Thermal Mike to lead us into our future open loop content. Take a look at that below:
“Ye-- ye cain't take pictures h-- here,” a Porky Pig-like voice meekly spoke up from behind the acrylic windshield of a golf cart that'd rolled up behind us, “y-ye cain't be takin' pictures! I'm bein' nice right now!”
Most folks in media production, YouTube or otherwise, have probably run into this. We do regularly. We wanted to shoot an Ask GN episode while in California, and decided to opt for one of the fountains in Fountain Valley as the backdrop. That's not allowed, apparently, because that's just how rare water is in the region – don't look at it the wrong way. It might evaporate. Or something.
But no big deal – we grab the bags and march off wordlessly, as always, because this sort of thing just happens that frequently while on the road.
Regardless, because Andrew was not imprisoned for sneaking a shot of the fountain into our video or taking two pretzel snacks on the plane, Ask GN 29 has now been published to the web. The questions from viewers and readers this week include a focus on “why reviewers re-use GPU benchmark results” (we don't – explained in the video), the scalers in monitors and what “handles stretching” for resolutions, pump lifespan and optimal voltage for AIOs, and theoretical impact from HBM on IGPs.
Implementation of liquid coolers on GPUs makes far more sense than on the standard CPU. We've shown in testing that actual performance can improve as a result of a better cooling solution on a GPU, particularly when replacing weak blower fan or reference cooler configurations. With nVidia cards, Boost 3.0 dictates clock-rate based upon a few parameters, one of which is remedied with more efficient GPU cooling solutions. On the AMD side of things, our RX 480 Hybrid mod garnered some additional overclocking headroom (~50MHz), but primarily reduced noise output.
Clock-rate also stabilizes with better cooling solutions (and that includes well-designed air cooling), which helps sustain more consistent frametimes and tighten frame latency. We call these 1% and 0.1% lows, though that presentation of the data is still looking at frametimes at the 99th and 99.9th percentile.
The EVGA GTX 1080 Hybrid has thus far had the most interesting cooling solution we've torn down on an AIO cooled GPU this generation, but Gigabyte's Xtreme Waterforce card threatens to take that title. In this review, we'll benchmark the Gigabyte GTX 1080 Xtreme Water Force card vs. the EVGA 1080 FTW Hybrid and MSI/Corsair 1080 Sea Hawk. Testing is focused on thermals and noise primarily, with FPS and overclocking thrown into the mix.
A quick thanks to viewer and reader Sean for loaning us this card, since Gigabyte doesn't respond to our sample requests.
As we board planes for our impending trip to Southern California (office tours upcoming), we've just finalized the Gigabyte GTX 1080 Xtreme Water Force tear-down coverage. The Gigabyte GTX 1080 Xtreme Water Force makes use of a similar cooling philosophy as the EVGA GTX 1080 FTW Hybrid, which we recently tore-down and reviewed vs. the Corsair Hydro GFX.
Gigabyte's using a closed-loop liquid cooler to deal with the heat generation on the GP104-400 GPU, but isn't taking the “hybrid” approach that its competitors have taken. There's no VRM/VRAM blower fan for this unit; instead, the power and memory components are cooled by an additional copper and aluminum heatsink, which are bridged by a heatpipe. That copper plate (mounted atop the VRAM) transfers its heat to the coldplate of what we believe to be a Cooler Master CLC, which then sinks everything for dissipation by the 120mm radiator.
We're starting a new series of educational videos -- they all are, but these are more targeted -- that will include custom animations to explain goings-on within components. The goal is to use animations to better visualize low-level component interactions that may not be visible to the human eye, or may be too abstract to demonstrate without an animation. We piloted this idea with our "What is NAND?" article and video, which included a custom animation and many in-house graphics to illustrate SSD design. Today, we're releasing our first official TLDR episode: "TLDR - How Heatpipes & Air Coolers Work."
In this video, we illustrate a guide that we originally wrote and published in 2012. The content explains the inner workings of CPU and GPU air coolers, including heatpipes, finned heatsinks, contact made between the IHS & coldplate, the TIM between that contact, and vapor chambers. The in-house animation was made by Andrew Coleman, who splits video production workload with Keegan Gallick. Take a look here:
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.
Taking a break from innovating tediously typed names for graphics cards, Inno3D claims it has now improved GPU AIO cooling with its new “iChiLL BLACK” GTX 1080. For future reference, we'll revert capitalization to something that makes more sense and is less susceptible to triggering sticky keys.
The iChill unit runs a CLC mounted atop the silicon, as one would expect from any AIO-cooled card (review of Hybrid vs. Sea Hawk here), and uses an aluminum baseplate with heatspreaders for the VRM and VRAM cooling. Heat conducted through the baseplate is dissipated with an 80mm blower fan, similar to the Sea Hawk, though Inno3D markets that their fan is capable of spinning down to 0RPM under low load. As far as we can tell, Inno3D does not deploy a copper VRAM cooling plate like EVGA does with its Hybrid, and instead takes a more traditional route of using thermal pads to communicate heat to the baseplate. The plate is cooled entirely independently from the GPU, and vice versa.
In Corsair's recently released Hydro GFX marketing video, we noticed that the video card on display used the protruded coldplate that we've been talking about since the 980 Ti Hybrid. That plate was recently put to the test in our GTX 1080 Hybrid vs. Sea Hawk review, where we found the protruded unit performs marginally better than the flat plate shipping with the Sea Hawk / Hydro GFX. We reached out to Corsair to discuss the change spotted in the marketing video, hoping to understand why the unannounced* (officially) modification was made, and have outlined the email responses below.
This seems largely to be a non-issue for users who purchased their cards from the official Corsair website, though we do have some contingencies for MSI Sea Hawk buyers. Note also that the temperature difference we spotted between the coolers is partially a result of new information we received regarding the Hydro GFX, primarily that the coldplate had its standoffs machined down by MSI prior to shipment. These machined standoffs have a larger tolerance (~0.2mm) for height than we've seen in from-factory Asetek CLCs (~0.05-0.08mm), which means mounting pressure could contribute to marginal thermal differences.
The video breaks things down most readily, but continue reading if preferred.
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