Introducing the Second Wave of Closed Loop Coolers

When we visited CES 2013, it became increasingly clear that not only were closed loop liquid coolers here to stay, but that they are in fact "the next big thing" in desktop system cooling. There are good reasons to go for them, too. While you may have to deal with some mild pump noise depending on which model you go with, closed loop coolers are capable of providing excellent performance without creating a racket or placing too much stress on the motherboard (the way a heavy air cooler might).

That we have three new closed loop coolers available for review not long after the last roundup should tell you that the closed loop cooler market is, if you'll forgive the expression, heating up. On the heels of NZXT's Kraken X40 and X60, Corsair has their own H90 and H110 coolers based on the same Asetek 140mm and 280mm radiators. Our newer, potentially even more exciting competitor comes from Swiftech in the form of the 240mm H220. Unlike conventional closed loop coolers, Swiftech's entry uses high quality brass tubing and copper fins in the radiator along with their own specially designed pump and extra thick (yet still flexible hoses). Is it enough to shore up the difference between traditional 240mm radiators and monstrous 280mm ones?

We had seven coolers in our last roundup, and today we're expanding that to ten. The introduction to the previous roundup is worth reading, but in a nutshell, the appeal of a closed loop cooler is the potential for quieter operation and less stress on the motherboard. There's also the fact that an air cooler has a harder (if not downright impossible) time matching the potential surface area (and thus cooling area) of larger radiators.

The majority of closed loop coolers start their lives as CoolIT or Asetek products, but Swiftech has thrown a wrench into that system in producing their own radiator, their own pump...pretty much everything but the backplate. The two new additions from Corsair, the H90 and H110, are both essentially the same Asetek radiators that NZXT is using for the Kraken line, but theoretically benefit from Corsair's fans. For a refresher, these are the specs of the previous seven coolers tested.

  Corsair H80 (2012) Corsair H55 Corsair H60 (2013) Corsair H80i
Type 120mm 120mm 120mm 120mm
Dimensions (in mm) 120x152x38 120x152x27 120x152x27 120x152x38
Fans (Supported) 2 (2) 1 (2) 1 (2) 2 (2)
OEM CoolIT Asetek CoolIT CoolIT
MSRP (NewEgg) - ($109) $69 ($69) $79 ($74) $109 ($94)

  Corsair H100i NZXT Kraken X40 NZXT Kraken X60
Type 240mm 140mm 280mm
Dimensions (in mm) 120x275x27 138.4x172.5x27 138.4x312.5x27
Fans (Supported) 2 (4) 1 (2) 2 (4)
OEM CoolIT Asetek Asetek
MSRP (NewEgg) $119 ($109) $99 ($99) $139 ($136)

And included below are the new three.

  Swiftech H220 Corsair H90 Corsair H110
Type 240mm 140mm 280mm
Dimensions (in mm) 127x269x29 140x170x27 140x312x29
Fans (Supported) 2 (4) 1 (2) 2 (4)
OEM N/A Asetek Asetek
MSRP (NewEgg) $139 (-) $99 (-) $129 (-)

The dimensions offered by NZXT and Corsair for the H90/X40 and H110/X60 are slightly different, but basically within the fudge factor margin of error. Given that these are extremely similar products, Corsair's relying primarily on their fans to differentiate from NZXT, although the H110 does come in for a healthy $10 cheaper than the X60.

What you may also be noticing is the lack of an "i" suffix on the new Corsair units, and unfortunately as you'll see later on, that's not a typographical or branding error so much as evidence of a very disappointing omission.

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  • lowlymarine - Friday, February 01, 2013 - link

    Still, I can't help but feel it would be worthwhile to include a couple of the more popular air coolers as well for comparison. The Noctua NH-D14 and Cooler Master Hyper 212+ are very popular units, and in the case of the former runs around the same price as some of the mid-range closed loop options. I think it would be illuminating to see how these options stack up against each other, for situations where clearance and so forth aren't major concerns. Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, February 01, 2013 - link

    I'll get there. :) Reply
  • Ratman6161 - Monday, February 04, 2013 - link

    I recently replaced my Hyper 212+ with the H55 so I can sort of make that comparison. I'm running an i7-2600K@4.4Ghz so a fairly similar setup to the test rig in the article. With the 212+ I used to idle at 32 - 35 C and peak out at about 65 C running Intel Burn Test. With the H55 I idle at about 24 and the peak under load is around 53 - 55. But....I've made other changes too. With the liquid cooler I turned the my three 120 mm intake fans and case's 140 mm exhaust down to their minimum speeds and put the variable speed fan from the 212+ on the H55 in place of the constant speed fan that came with it.

    The 120 mm intakes and the fan off the 212+ that's now on the H55 are all bios controlled and set to run at their minimum speeds unless the CPU temp goes over 50 C. However that condition is never met (i.e. it never does go over 50 C) unless I'm deliberately ramping things up with Intel Burn Test. FYI my goal is always the best overclock I can get with stock voltage. I don't get any better overclock than I did with the 212+ but it does run cooler and quieter due to all the fans now able to run at minimum speed basically all the time. Since I don't turn up voltage, something better than the H55 probably would not do any good in my particular circumstances and what I've basically achieved over the 212+ was a quieter system.
    Reply
  • TreXor - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    53° C at full load with a 4.4 GHz overclocked i7-2600 on a H55? lol...

    Its time that you and all the other people that post ridiculous temps learn what programs to use to read out the real core temperatures. And its definitely not the software coming with your motherboard, reading out the CPU sensor in the socket...
    Reply
  • althaz - Monday, February 04, 2013 - link

    Yeah, this is a great review, but it's mostly useless data without including good air coolers for comparison. Especially the Noctua NH-D14 (which is probably not the best anymore, but from what I've seen still offers superior performance per decibel to most closed-loop water coolers).

    From Dustin's comments it seems we can expect some more stuff in the future, which will make this excellent review much more useful.
    Reply
  • Jambe - Friday, February 01, 2013 - link

    Ah, Swiftech, makers of those eccentric heavy slabs of copper studded with helicoid aluminium pins. Nice to see them making new & competent products. Reply
  • drfish - Friday, February 01, 2013 - link

    Lol, was thinking that same thing. Now THAT would make for a great read, all of the classic coolers over the years pitted against each other - mounting all of them "unconventionally" shouldn't be that hard, right? ;) Reply
  • maratus - Sunday, February 03, 2013 - link

    Actually, Swiftech has gone full-H2O after that and was always high-regarded amongst watercooling enthusiasts. Ever since Swiftech Storm was introduced, they became a major source of high-quality CPU and universal GPU waterblocks for custom builds. They also are the biggest reseller of Laing pumps and offer exclusive PWM-controlled version of DDC. MCR rads were the best in their price range for low noise fans and it's nice to see all-in-one kits as they have much more potential customers. I just hope that Swiftech will be more like Asetek in future and less like DangerDen, if you know what I mean. Reply
  • jasonelmore - Monday, August 12, 2013 - link

    it was taken off the market due to patent infringements. gabe used someone else's design. Reply
  • Aikouka - Friday, February 01, 2013 - link

    Dustin, with the following statement...

    "The H220 itself is definitely a strong radiator, but Swiftech clearly tuned their fans for acoustics instead of performance."

    ...it sounded like you were faulting the fans on the H220 as the main reason why the H220 can't compete with the other offerings. Out of curiosity, would you be willing to try different fans on it to see it that helps? Obviously, those numbers wouldn't be able to be used in any official context, but it would be interesting to see!

    Although, I will admit that the idea of suggesting ponying up another $12-25 per fan (Enermax Magma, Noctua PF-12, etc.) to make an already expensive product work better is a bit ballsy of a marketing tactic! ;)
    Reply

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