Cooler Testing Revisited

Until recently we haven't been very aggressive in testing CPU cooling methods. I'd been busy with notebooks, desktops, cases, and peripherals, but good and consistent writers are hard to come by in this industry, and eventually I couldn't say no. Tentatively, I gave it the old college try, starting with two radiator fan roundups and then doing multiple liquid cooling roundups. Interestingly, it was when more conventional air cooling popped up on my radar that things got complicated.

The cooling testbed was and is solid. We use a 200mm BitFenix Spectre Pro that's throttled to 5V as an intake, and that's in the front of a BitFenix Shinobi XL enclosure, a case which is almost perfect for our needs. The low speed on the Spectre Pro allows for intake of cool air without negatively affecting noise testing, and for closed loop liquid cooling, this is fine. Where things get more dicey is when you introduce an air cooler into the testbed, because as a couple of you rightfully pointed out, without an exhaust fan to direct air, air coolers suffer tremendously performance wise. To be certain I took our original testbed, added a 140mm Noctua fan with a low noise adaptor, and mounted it to the rear exhaust of the Shinobi XL. Even with a minimally powered exhaust fan, the differences in performance were pronounced. Since this is the situation air coolers will typically find themselves in, I'm now using that exhaust fan for testing air coolers. Closed loop coolers continue to do without.

There was one other wrinkle with the existing testbed: our motherboard just wasn't especially stable, and if it crashed, it was difficult to get it to post again. Recently, this became easy to remedy: the micro-ATX board I was originally using for case testing was retired in favor of a full ATX board. Switching over to the Gigabyte GA-Z68MX-UD2H-B3 meant having a more reliable and more fearsome overclock on the Intel Core i7-2700K. Now the chip runs hotter, the socket lines up correctly with the hole in the case's motherboard tray, and it's more stable overall.

Of course all of these changes mean one important thing: a lot of coolers needed to be retested under these more stressful (but also sometimes more ideal) conditions. To be sure, the previous roundups are still useful for comparing products in their individual categories, but now liquid coolers aren't the juggernauts they used to be. Out of the coolers we've already tested, I selected ten to be revisited: five air coolers and five closed loop liquid coolers.

Coinciding with these revisions is our evaluation of Cooler Master's Seidon 240M closed loop cooler along with two new tower coolers from Noctua, the NH-U12S and NH-U14S, both of which were designed to create clearance for memory modules with tall heatsinks. The Seidon 240M is noteworthy because it's not directly sourced from Asetek or CoolIT Systems as many of these products are, and uses a proprietary waterblock design that theoretically improves overall cooling performance.

The Cooler Master Seidon 240M
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  • disappointed1 - Sunday, April 28, 2013 - link

    With all due respect, this testing methodology is now completely flawed:

    "For air coolers, I added a Noctua 140mm rear exhaust fan and used the ultra low noise adaptor to ensure it didn't affect acoustics in any meaningful way. This is in line with the usage cases air coolers are designed for, and should be representative of the kind of airflow most users will have from their exhaust fan."

    You FUNDAMENTALLY can't compare coolers on the same charts with different testing conditions. The closed-loop coolers are just as much designed, and will be operated, with proper/equivalent case ventilation. Just test them under identical conditions and let the liquid coolers pay any penalty with higher idle noise readings.
    Reply
  • epoon2 - Monday, April 29, 2013 - link

    I tried the article again, couldn't find where Dustin mentioned his testing method for Water. On the page where he shows the Seidon, it's clearly installed inside the case. I do not believe there is a strong bias towards either air or water coolers in this test. Reply
  • disappointed1 - Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - link

    "...I'm now using that exhaust fan for testing air coolers. Closed loop coolers continue to do without."

    He added an extra case fan for the air coolers, which was not present for the liquid coolers. This will have the effect of biasing the results and renders them void. This is readily apparent by the author's own admission that "the differences in performance were pronounced" and "now liquid coolers aren't the juggernauts they used to be" and cannot be compared with previous results.
    Reply
  • Alvar - Monday, April 29, 2013 - link

    Today we have something a little special on the table. If you have previously been reading our CPU Cooler reviews you probably saw our recent review for Silverstone. We reviewed the Silverstone Heligon Series – HEO1 CPU Cooler....
    more details:- http://tinyurl.com/c5czh4b
    Reply
  • bobbozzo - Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - link

    Spam link above goes to a site for a women's magazine, nothing about coolers. Reply
  • TheStranger81 - Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - link

    It would be a review if it actually had any charts....WTF is going on ? Where are the charts ? Reply
  • Wwhat - Saturday, May 04, 2013 - link

    Look at how this site does such things:
    http://www.computerbase.de/artikel/gehaeuse-und-ku...

    (language is irrelevant for the subject of graphs)

    You can deselect items in the list and when you select a line you can see the position and details as you move the mousepointer over it.
    And in their bargraphs it uses mouseover to show the percentage and relative percentage.
    Like shown here: http://www.computerbase.de/artikel/gehaeuse-und-ku...

    PNG's for data are a bit.. outdated really aren't they? (But perhaps you need to dumb down again for tablets and phones these days?)
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Saturday, May 11, 2013 - link

    Can you adjust the air and clc results so that the x-axis is the same unit length? That way it is easier to compare between the two cooler types. :) Reply
  • hooner - Tuesday, July 02, 2013 - link

    Great review...thanks!

    I have a quick question...I am thinking of buying a cooler master N200 and is front or rear radiator cooling best? I am presuming the front fans are intakes, rear and top are out.

    My thinking is rear takes heat straight out the back from CPU, where as front means air is drawn in, cooled and then blow back through case. Surely venting the heat straight away is better?

    Cheers
    Reply
  • SloppyFloppy - Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - link

    You keep recommending the really well performing Swiftech H220, but after some research they appear to have server quality control issues with their pumps failing and/or making lots of noise as well as some of their fans being noisy.

    Now I don't know what cooler to buy that performs well without sounding like a lawn blower.
    Reply

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