Asetek WaterChill Antarctica KT12A-L30 Water Cooling System Review

We would like to present a review of a new water-cooling solution from Asetek. Its WaterChill systems are now among the best water-cooling solutions available. Find out how efficient this system is compared with the competitors.

by Kirill
02/21/2005 | 09:56 AM

Asetek Inc. with the headquarters in Denmark has long been known as the manufacturer of the VapoChill series of phase-change cooling systems. Recently, Asetek has opened a new market for itself – and its WaterChill systems are now among the best water-cooling solutions available. You should be aware that the name of the new series is a bit misleading as these systems are not true water-chillers, i.e. systems where the liquid is cooled down to below the ambient temperature.

 

Asetek is now offering a wide assortment of ready-made kits as well as separate components (under the WaterChill DYO brand) – buying each component separately, you have an opportunity to build a cooling system that would exactly suit your specific needs. By the way, other companies engaged into manufacture of water-cooling systems for enthusiasts, like InnovaTek or Swiftech, use the same policy which distinguishes them from developers of low-end systems. This flexibility of the configuration is the second key advantage of the hi-end water cooling (besides its higher efficiency) over the cooling mainstream, but hi-end solutions may cost a small fortune. Asetek isn’t humane about the pricing of its products, either. Well, that’s actually the only shortcoming of such systems.

Specification

Water-block material: copper sole + acryl cap

Radiator: 150x248x25mm

Pump power: 1200 liters per hour

Reservoir: 90x27x27mm

Tubes: 10mm

Package and Accessories

The kit is packaged into a big plastic box. The foam-rubber padding ensures that the system comes to you unharmed.

These things are found inside:

Closer Look

The Asetek WaterChill Antarctica KT12A-L30 kit includes three water-blocks: for the CPU, GPU and the chipset’s North Bridge. They are all designed alike: a copper sole with a milled channel for the passing of the liquid plus a thick acryl cap the 0.5” Push-on fittings are attached to.

The Antarctica CPU block has a rather unusual three-fitting design with one central intake stub and two output stubs on the sides. This helps to improve the uniformity of cooling.

The block has fastenings for Socket 478 and Socket 754/939. You can also mount it on Socket A mainboards where there are holes around the CPU socket. The owners of newer Socket 775 systems can use an optional cap that makes the block compatible with this socket.

This highly efficient water-block is quite simple in design: the water is injected along the straight passage. The tapering design of the central passage ensures a high injection pressure in the grooves of the small heatsink with 26mm-long and 1mm-thick ribs. There are seven ribs in total, placed 1-1.2mm apart from each other. The height of the ribs is 5mm, and the thickness of the bottom in the useful area (in-between the ribs) is only 5mm!

As an experiment we tried this water-block in non-standard configurations: 1) without the central tube and 2) with the water coming in from the sides and going out through the center (the imitation of an incorrect connection).

You see the results degenerate considerably (this test was performed under different conditions than the test of the assembled system below, so you shouldn’t compare the two diagrams directly).

The GPU water-block boasts an acryl cap of an impressive thickness of 2 centimeters. The fastening suits almost all graphics cards, save for GeForce 6800 GT and Ultra.

This water-block can’t match powerful blocks for the central processor, but can easily handle graphics processors of current (and upcoming, too) graphics cards as it could take off as much as 300 watts of heat in our tests.

The manual on the chipset water-block (its design copies the GPU block, but with vertically positioned fittings) describes an ingenious way of mounting it on mainboards that have their default heatsink fastened with the help of wire loops – that’s a big problem with some other cooling systems.

The WaterChill Antarctica KT12A-L30 kit comes with an external 1200-liters-per-hour pump from Hydor, powered from the power grid. Water-cooling kits for enthusiasts don’t save on power, whereas inexpensive systems use tiny submersible pumps with a capacity of 30-200 liters per hour.

The powerful pump ensures a strong water flow under any conditions, even if there are many water-blocks and long tubes in the assembled system.

A small reservoir shares the same stand with the pump. It serves to fill and bleed the system rather than to increase the volume of the coolant.

The radiator is both glory and problem of this cooling kit. The excellent “Black Ice” design is supposed to accommodate two 120mm fans. This size and this cooling ensure a highest efficiency, but some system cases won’t accommodate this contraption without some modifications.

On the other hand, we can’t refer to the size of this component as to a drawback as you can get a radiator of the same type, but of a twice smaller length. The reviewed kit is intended for enthusiasts who need maximum efficiency and they will have it! For real connoisseurs there’s also a radiator model of “3x120mm” type (the formula describes the configuration of the fans installed), while owners of small system cases can choose the traditional “1x120mm” or the tiny “1x80mm” design. Asetek tries to suit everyone’s needs, offering a large selection of WaterChill components.

The kit includes two rather quiet 120mm fans manufactured by ADDA. They share the same connector that is attached to the small control unit.

When assembled, the system takes much space, but looks most imposing. Let’s see how it performs in practice.

Testbed

We use a specially designed testbed called Judge MARK 300 to explore various cooling systems. Using a field transistor in a metal casing as a heating element, we can accurately control the load on the cooling system. The testbed can send from 25 to 250 watts of power to the heating element. We read the temperature from a thermal sensor installed in the center of the element, and so we get data which are close to those of a real processor with the same heat dissipation.

Our results are more accurate than those you would get with a real processor and mainboard as there’s no dependence on the CPU load (not all programs can load the CPU to the full, while we can have any wattage we need), and there’s no inaccuracy associated with the hardware monitoring systems of mainboards which are not very precise.

You can easily see that by comparing mainboards from different manufacturers under the same conditions – the temperatures and voltages are going to be different. We are safeguarded from such errors and get true-to-life data which are also compatible among different cooling systems.

Test Conditions and Methods

The ambient temperature of 20°C is maintained artificially in the room. There’s no additional air cooling (save for the default air cooling of the reviewed cooling system). We used KPT-8 paste as a thermal interface between the heating element and the cooler.

The cooling system is mounted on the testbed and the temperature is read under zero load. Then the testbed is turned on to output a min load (25 watts), and the system works for 10 minutes before we write down the temperature data. Then we are increasing the load to 50, 75, 100, 125, 150, 175, 200, 225 and 250 watts every 10 minutes or we stop if the heating element becomes more than 80°C hot. We take the temperature data at the end of each 10-minute interval and then increase the load further – our experiments show that 10 minutes is enough for the temperature of the heating element to stabilize after a load growth of 25 watts. After 250W we return to the minimal load (25W) and measure the temperature after 1, 5 and 10 minutes more to check out the thermal inertia of the system. After that the testbed (not the cooling system!) is turned off and we make the last measurement of the temperature under zero load, a minute after we have stopped the testbed.

We also perform a max load test. We find the precise value of load when the system maintains a stable temperature of 80°C. Our requirement is the lack of deviations to either side for 10 minutes.

We took two inexpensive water cooling systems for the comparison’s sake. A $130 all-in-one Aucma CoolRiver system cools the CPU, graphics card and the North Bridge, and is very quiet. The recently released Titan TWC-A04 is curious for its effective and handy single-unit design.

Performance

Following the above-described methods, we constructed the performance diagram for the Asetek WaterChill Antarctica KT12A-L30 cooling kit in the said operational modes:

It’s easy to feel the difference between “consumer” and “true” water-cooling systems. Those 20°C of advantage in the harshest modes are another confirmation to our words from the previous review of a hi-end water-cooling kit: ‘“Consumer” water-cooling systems can’t offer efficiency like that to those users who don’t just need a complex solution, but aim at the maximum performance. True enthusiasts can choose from much more serious solutions, and one of the leaders in this market is Swiftech.’

Today we have made our acquaintance with another market leader. Asetek’s WaterChill kits have won recognition among PC enthusiasts all around the world, although appeared much later than earlier models from Swiftech. We haven’t yet got products from other super-brands of the water-cooling market, but it’s hard enough even to choose between Asetek and Swiftech. We guess we need a separate section to do that…

Asetek vs. Swiftech, and Their Water-Cooling Kits

Not so long ago we examined and tested the Swiftech H20-120-P cooling kit the manufacturer refers to as belonging to the mainstream category (Swiftech’s top model is H20-22500-P). And after our today’s tests you may be wondering what’s better, Swiftech or Asetek?

This question is no easier to answer than “What’s better – Mercedes or BMW?” Let’s start from the obvious. It is not correct to directly compare the models we have tested in our labs. While the system from Swiftech belongs to the mainstream (in the manufacturer’s definition of it), the WaterChill KT12A-L30 is in fact an acme of Asetek’s line-up and costs much more (even without the additional water-blocks). We wouldn’t attempt to predict the outcome of a comparative test with models of the same parameters (at least, with similar radiators) without statistical data on hands.

The foremost advantages of water-cooling systems for enthusiasts are flexibility of configuration, upgrade opportunities, and a wide selection of additional accessories. Moreover, components of cooling kits of that type usually have the standard diameter of the fittings, irrespective of the manufacturer. So people who want to assemble an ideal system, exactly for their specific needs, can buy the components separately. The effect is going to be awesome if the selection has been done right, but that’s rather a long and costly way.

Anyway, we will try to describe which component is better with Swiftech or Asetek basing on our own experience and the information we have managed to gather from other sources.

Water-blocks: Asetek

Our tests point at the Asetek WaterChill Antarctica as the unrivalled leader in terms of pure performance. Swiftech, however, has its own trumps: the MCW6000 block is easier to fasten on the processor and the fastening itself can be easily replaced. Swiftech’s block is also a little cheaper.

Radiator: 50/50

Using the same “Black Ice” design, the Americans paint their radiator blue metallic color. It wouldn’t be correct to compare the radiators of the models we actually tested in our labs since both companies offer modifications of different sizes. Of course, the Black Ice DUAL (for two 120mm fans) is going to be more efficient than the MCR (with one fan of a similar size), but all radiators of the Black Ice type perform alike, their dimensions being the same.

Pump: Swiftech

At the same performance (1200 liters per hour), the MCP650 has three advantages over the Hydor Seltz L30 pump employed in Asetek’s systems: smaller dimensions, a handier fastening, and power supply from the 12V. The last factor is not only valuable for the lack of additional wires – enthusiasts may appreciate the opportunity of an easy control over the pump power with the help of a simple reobus (the only requirement is that the reobus could sustain up to 25 watts per channel).

Reservoir: Asetek

The small “bottle” isn’t meant to expand the volume of liquid in the system, but makes it easier to fill and bleed it. It’s handier than with the “sanitary engineering” from Swiftech. The reservoir for the 5.25” bay in the next revisions of the Swiftech H20-120-P is easy to use and functional, but doesn’t meet our aesthetic requirements. Generally speaking, we’d recommend you to buy a separate, large reservoir – more coolant can only do well to any cooling system. J

So you see it’s impossible to name an overall winner. Each company has something to be boastful about – a product which is definitely better than the competitor’s analog. The other components are almost the same value with a minor advantage to this or that manufacturer (the radiator and the reservoir in this case). We’re sure the situation would be even more complicated if we added some other renowned names like InnovaTek, Danger Den, Koolance and Zalman into the comparison. But this lack of an unrivalled leader is why these companies keep on competing with each other J. We hope we will have an opportunity of examining products from other developers to answer our questions.

The choice of a serious water-cooling system resembles the problem of choosing Hi-Fi equipment.

You can assemble an “ideal” system out of components from different brands and have an optimal ratio of all the parameters as the result (provided you are well informed about the quality and compatibility of the components). If you’re like that, you won’t get much from our reviews as you can only get answers to your questions in tests of separate components (water-blocks, radiators, pumps, reservoirs, various accessories).

But if you don’t want spend much time for such an investigation, but want to have a well-balanced kit with a minimum of troubles, with ideal compatibility and high efficiency, you may want to consider ready-made systems. Particularly, the Asetek WaterChill KT12A-L30 and Swiftech H20-120-P are both an excellent choice for their price (there’s no immediate rivalry between the two since they belong to somewhat different classes).

Conclusion

Although we didn’t feel an Antarctic chill the name of the reviewed cooling kit seemed to promise, we must admit that the system’s components are all up to the highest quality standards in their category. You’ve seen the system in action in the Performance section – it’s been truly impressive.

Grades:

We’re going to offer this table in each future test of water-cooling systems. We don’t make any allowances for inexpensive systems – the best grade goes to excellent products, irrespective of their price.

Highs:

Lows: