On December 5, we broke news on Asetek's Cease & Desist order sent to AMD, pursuant to the sale of its liquid-cooled R9 Fury X video card. Asetek previously won a suit against Cooler Master USA for its closed-loop liquid cooler products (CLCs), to include the Seidon, Nepton, and Glacer (Swiftech-supplied) lines. The patents primarily discussed are 8,240,362 and 8,245,764.
By judge and jury, CMI USA (Cooler Master USA) was found guilty of patent infringement of the pump-on-coldplate design and ordered to pay 14.5% royalties. Inability to pay-out on its ruled dues ultimately saw a royalties percentage increase to 25.375%, followed by banishment of all affected Cooler Master CLCs from US markets.
This article fully details the relevant legal history of liquid cooling companies, including the rise of Asetek & CoolIT, their patent lawsuits against one another, the recent lawsuit against Cooler Master, and the C&D against AMD's R9 Fury X.
Readers following our story on the Asetek vs. Cooler Master lawsuits may remember a call to attention regarding the Fury X's utilization of a CM Seidon equivalent CLC. Gigabyte's newest GTX 980 WaterForce card uses a 120mm CLC supplied by Cooler Master, with the pump mounted atop the coldplate (GPU block). This falls within Asetek's claims regarding its patent protection – and the company holds patents valid for GPU- and CPU-mounted pumps – and Gigabyte could reasonably be impacted by the resolutions set forth by recent lawsuits.
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.
The recent banishment from US markets of Cooler Master's closed-loop liquid coolers has inspired us to research and document major CLC suppliers. In most industries – automotive, technology & computing, bike components – suppliers build a base product, receive input from a manufacturer, and then produce a slightly modified version of their core offering. Liquid coolers are the easiest example and the one about which we are talking today. This topic came about following some readers stating that they'd never seen an “Asetek” or “CoolIT” cooler on sale before.
Corsair, NZXT, SilverStone, Enermax, Fractal, and others sell liquid cooling products. These companies buy the pump, radiator, tubing, and liquid in an AIO (all-in-one) package from suppliers who specialize in the making of such items; the brands we know then provide varying degrees of product input to differentiate amongst themselves. NZXT, for instance, sells the NZXT X41 liquid cooler, a product sourced from Asetek but customized by NZXT. In this case, that customization includes software integration and variable pump speed control, alongside an RGB LED in the pump's faceplate. Even the CLC OEMs will source some of their components from the outside, like radiators.
First, a simple table to reveal suppliers of known liquid coolers in the industry, then we'll talk about how companies differentiate themselves. At the surface, all of this can look like a “sticker operation,” by which I mean it may look as if manufacturers put their “sticker” (logo) on a cooler and then sell it – but most folks do more than that when designing their variant of a product.
Challenging EVGA's $750 GTX 980 Ti Hybrid is a tough fight right now. The card, in our eyes, is one of the best graphics solutions on the market, and it's largely because of the liquid cooling integration. We've recently seen a surge of liquid in GPU products, like the Fury X, and the thermal envelope is mitigated massively as a result. MSI seeks to join that fight with Corsair's assistance.
PAX now behind us, we've returned to our new-found efforts of addressing direct reader questions via YouTube and twitter comments. This new series has been dubbed “Ask GN” and, to our great satisfaction, has thus far yielded excellent discussion points on current topics. A couple of article ideas have emerged from the questions, too, so keep them coming!
The list for episode 3 saw inclusion of open vs. closed liquid cooling loop discussion, cable brief management tips, device controllers on a motherboard, and whether or not a motherboard impacts the gaming experience.
Our recent Fury X driver comparison took rumors of a disparate relationship between press and launch drivers to task, ultimately finding that no real difference existed. This testing procedure exposed us to the currently discussed “coil whine” and “pump whine” of the new R9 Fury X. Today's test seeks to determine with objectivity and confidence whether the whine is detrimental in a real-world use case.
AMD's R9 Fury X video card emits a high frequency whine when under load. We have located this noise on both of our retail units – sold under Sapphire's banner, but effectively identical to all Fury X cards – and reviewers with press samples have cited the same noise. The existence of a sound does not inherently point toward an unusably loud product, though, and must be tested in a sterile environment to determine impact to the user experience. The noise resembles coil whine, for those familiar with the irritating hum, but is actually an emission from the high-speed pump on the Fury X. This relegates the noise to what is ultimately a mechanical flaw in the engineering rather than something electrical, as coil whine would suggest.
Listed on AMD's official R9 Fury X documentation is the liquid cooling solution. The PDF indicates that Cooler Master is slated to provide AMD's Fury X CLC, marked by part number “DCV-01647-A1-HF” in the document.
Cooler Master recently lost a lawsuit with CLC supplier Asetek, where a jury ruled that Cooler Master would owe Asetek a 14.5% royalty on all Seidon AIO coolers sold. We are yet unsure if the Fury X stock CLC will be subject to the same legal agreements as the Seidon AIO units.
It's been a number of years since we posted an in-depth look at CPU coolers. Our 2012 CPU Cooler Anatomy post explained the basics of air cooler design, highlighting the use of capillary action within copper heatpipes to conduct heat from a copper coldplate. Liquid coolers function more similarly to a car's radiator system and yield significantly more efficient thermal performance, but also call some common practices into question – like the efficacy of copper versus aluminum.
The basics indicate that copper does, by any and all scientific measure, thoroughly trounce aluminum when it comes to thermal dissipation potential: Copper cools at about 400 Watts per meter Kelvin at 25C (401W/mK) and aluminum is around half that, sitting at 205W/mK at 25C. That's nearly a 2x difference; for perspective, most stock thermal compound is in the 4-5.6W/mK range, with air (no thermal compound) at ~0.024W/mK.
Closed-loop liquid cooling (CLC) supplier Asetek has agreed to settle its ongoing patent infringement lawsuit vs. CoolIT. CoolIT, also a liquid cooling supplier, allegedly infringed upon Asetek's patents (8,240,362 & 8,245,764) that effectively lay claim to liquid pumps mounted to the CPU cooling block.
CoolIT is the most recent in a string of action imposed against Asetek's competitors, a list that includes Cooler Master and Swiftech.
Update: CoolIT has provided a statement, found below.
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