by Sergey Lepilov
04/23/2009 | 04:36 PM
There are over two dozens of highly efficient CPU air coolers in the market today. However, mass production liquid-cooling systems didn’t turn out as successful, unfortunately. I took my time and counted: so far I have tested 15 different liquid-cooling systems and two kits for building a liquid-cooling system. Except a few really remarkable solutions, such as Swiftech H20-220 Compact / Apex Ultra+, there are only two more really winning solutions: Koolance Exos-2 LX and Zalman Reserator XT. All other systems yielded to super-coolers in cooling efficiency and acoustics. However, both liquid-cooling systems mentioned above cost 5+ times more than a good air cooler, therefore we couldn’t really justify the transition.
CoolIT Systems tried to kill two birds with one stone: design a liquid-cooling system that would outperform super-coolers in efficiency and do it for a price comparable to that of a super-cooler.
It is a very difficult task, I would even say, an impossible task. However, CoolIT Domino A.L.C. – the new liquid-cooling system we are going to talk about today – is recommended to retail for only $79 and is positioned as a “new system cooling standard”. Well, we have to say that the previous CoolIT solutions we have checked out in our lab (CoolIT PURE and CoolIT Freezone) didn’t boast remarkable efficiency or low acoustic characteristics. Let’s see how our today’s hero will do.
All sides of a small cardboard box CoolIT Domino A.L.C. ships in are covered with photographs and extensive technical details about the liquid-cooling system inside. It is really hard to tell what could possibly be missing there:
Inside the box there is a molded plastic casing shaped after the system and its components that holds all of them securely inside:
Among accessories bundled with CoolIT Domino A.L.C. are three backplates, a set of screws and silicon spindles, and a manual booklet describing the system features and offering step-by-step installation description:
CoolIT Domino A.L.C. is made in China and is recommended for retail at a ridiculously low price for a liquid-cooling system of only $79. The manufacturer offers two-year warranty on this product.
CoolIT Domino A.L.C. is a fully assembled and filled system that is ready for immediate use. It consists of five major components connected with one another: radiator, fan, pump, control and monitoring panel and a water block:
The system is relatively compact with a total weight of 1030g.
The close-meshed radiator measures 157 x 120 x 27mm and is made of solid aluminum. It weighs only 228g. Radiator sides are decorated with embossed manufacturer logo:
There are a few not very informative stickers on one of the radiator sides telling you that the radiator is made in China, just like the rest of the system components:
The radiator is topped with a seven-blade 120 x 120 x 25mm fan from some unknown maker:
They used screws with shaped tops to fasten the fan to the radiator and they may be pretty tricky to undo (in case you need to replace the fan). The system adjusts the fan rotation speed automatically in the interval from 1030 to 2550RPM. Note that there are three maximum speed settings to choose from: 1100RPM, 2500RPM and 2900RPM. If you set one of the first two, the fan will rotate at a variable speed. In the first case the rotation speed range will be from 1100 to 1700RPM, and in the second case – from 1700 to 2500RPM (the monitoring utilities reported different rotation speed, however, we are going to dwell on this issue later in our today’s review). The claimed noise level for each of the three modes is 19.2, 26.2 and 39.4 dBA respectively. The fan weighs 155g and its ball bearing MTBF is not disclosed. There are four silicon spindles inserted into the holes on the outside of the fan frame. They serve for attaching the entire system on the case rear panel.
The next component of CoolIT Domino A.L.C. system is the pump. It is a very compact device, 67 x 47 x 29 mm in size weighing only 57g. It is installed in the lower part of the system, next to the control and monitoring panel:
The model of this pump is unknown, however, it uses a ceramic bearing with 50,000 hours MTBF, which is about 5.7 years. Unfortunately, the specs do not mention a word about the pump performance, so we assume it is probably too modest to be disclosed. However, the manufacturer decided to reveal the generated noise level for the pump, which shouldn’t exceed 21dBA.
There is a small sticker right next to the pump on a plastic cover shielding the back of the monitoring LCD and the control panel PCB:
The sticker lists operational modes for CoolIT Domino A.L.C. liquid-cooling system and briefly describes the control and monitoring procedures:
As I have already said, the cover hides a small monitoring LCD-screen and the control and monitoring panel:
This is the front view of the system:
And the last component of CoolIT Domino A.L.C. is the water block. The hoses that connect it to the pump and the radiator are very firmly braided, which may make it difficult to install the system into the computer case and to mount the water block on the mainboard.
There is even less info available about this water block than we found about the pump. It measures 50 x 50 mm and weighs 122g. It is made of nickel-plated solid copper and features micro-channel internal structure. The base is covered with a layer of thick gray thermal interface:
This thermal interface proved just as efficient as Arctic Silver 5 (without 72 hours of run-in time). That is why we can regard it as pretty efficient. The base is very even, which you can clearly see from the thermal compound imprint on the processor heat-spreader. The base is even polished off quite well:
There is also not much info available about the coolant inside the CoolIT Domino A.L.C. system. All we know is that it is non-toxic and contains anti-corrosion additives. That’s about it.
The new liquid-cooling system is designed for AMD Socket 754/939/940/AM2(+)/AM3 mainboards as well as for Intel LGA775 and LGA1366 mainboards. The latter use screw fastening that goes through the PCB to the backplate already pre-glued to the reverse side of the PCB. LGA775/1366 use the same retention plate for the water block. The only difference is the retention holes corresponding to each specific socket type:
The water block installs onto mainboards for AMD CPUs in exactly the same manner, but with different retention plate and screw set (both are included with the cooler).
For successful installation of the CoolIT Domino A.L.C. system onto the back of the system case, there should be a spot for a 120-mm fan on it. This is where the four silicon spindles of the CoolIT fan should go:
Although they may look pretty weak to you, they hold the system very securely. Moreover, this soft retention shifts the sound pressure spectrum into a more acoustically comfortable zone than the hard retention would.
The most interesting thing is that this entire system receives power through a single three-pin fan connector on the board. It doesn’t require any additional molex-connectors, power supply units or adapters. The specifications claim that the pump power consumption shouldn’t exceed 8W, plus some power goes to the fan, LCD-screen and PCB. Anyway, this power consumption rate claimed for CoolIT Domino A.L.C. is extremely modest.
When you connect and start the system, the following info will be displayed on the screen: liquid-cooling system operational mode, fan rotation speed, pumping speed (always constant), coolant temperature, warning indicator.
And this is what you see on the LCD screen in all three operational modes:
Min fan rotation speed
Mid fan rotation speed
Max fan rotation speed
The only thing that we haven’t figured out is the temperature threshold at which the alarm goes off. It never happened during our test session and there is no mention of it in the manual. I would like to add that you need to have a transparent side panel in your system case or no side panel at all in order to be able to monitor the system parameters.
Our Antec Twelve Hundred system case has a transparent window in the side panel. However, there is a plastic frame for the fan on it, which hit against the front side of CoolIT Domino A.L.C. system when we tried to close the case. That is why we performed all tests in a system case with the removed side panel.
Our testbed was configured as follows:
All tests were performed under Windows Vista Ultimate Edition x86 SP1. We used the following software during our test session:
So, the complete screenshot during the test session looks as follows:
The stabilization period for the CPU temperature between the two test cycles was about 10 minutes. We took the maximum temperature of the hottest processor core of the four for the results charts. The ambient temperature was checked next to the system case or open testbed with an electronic thermometer with 0.1°C precision that allows monitoring the temperature changes over the past 6 hours. During our test session room temperature stayed at 23.5-24°C.
The noise level of each cooler was measured after 1:00AM in a closed room about 20sq.m big using CENTER-321 electronic noise meter. The measurements were taken at 1m and 3m distance from the closed system case. During the acoustics tests all five 120-mm case fans were slowed down to ~520 RPM. In this mode the background noise from the system case measured at 1m distance didn’t exceed ~33.3 dBA. When the system was completely powered off, our noise meter detected 30.8 dBA (the lowest on the charts is 30 dBA). The subjectively comfortable noise level is around 34.5~35 dBA.
Now let me say a few words about the today’s main competitor. It was Thermalright IFX-14 ($79.90), as it is the most efficient air cooler today that is priced exactly as CoolIT Domino A.L.C.
We equipped IFX-14 with one and two SilenX iXtrema Pro IXP-76-14 fans (120 x 120 x 38 mm) working at 930 and 1410 RPM.
We managed to overclock our 45 nm quad-core processor (with the multiplier locked at 21x) to 3.9 GHz (+46.2%) under the weakest cooling system of the today’s testing participants. The nominal processor Vcore was increased to ~1.33125 V in the mainboard BIOS (+10.9%):
During CPU overclocking we activated in the mainboard BIOS the “Load-Line Calibration” function that lowers the voltage drop on the part of the voltage regulator circuitry before the CPU. The system memory voltage was locked at 1.55V and its frequency was at 1481MHz (8-8-8-18 timings). All other parameters available in the mainboard BIOS and connected with CPU or memory overclocking remained unchanged (set to Auto).
Let’s see what results we got here:
We all remember very unimpressive performance of quite a few liquid-cooling systems we tested before. But this time I have to confess I was pleasantly surprised with the good results demonstrated by CoolIT Domino A.L.C. Yes, if we sum up the results of all tests, its overall efficiency will be lower than that of the best air cooler selling at a comparable price. However, it is important to keep in mind that today we are testing the cheapest liquid-cooling system of all exiting in the market and one of the most expensive air coolers. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to influence your decision in favor our today’s hero. What I am trying to say is that from the review of this system and its technical specifications, it had to fall much farther behind the leader than it actually did. I would also like to add the results of coolant measurements in each of the three test modes (idle/burn):
Now let’s check out the maximum CPU overclocking result with each of the testing participants and their fans at maximum rotation speed:
So what do we see? The CPU overclocked to the same exact frequency in both cases, and for the IFX-14 cooler we had to push the processor Vcore one more step up (from 1.36875V to 1.375V). To be fair I have to say that Thermalright is nevertheless a little more efficient CPU cooler than CoolIT Domino A.L.C., with lower level of generated noise. But this is going to be the topic of the next chapter, so let’s move on.
The cooling systems participating in our today’s test session have been lined up in ascending order (from quiet to noisy):
The results of our acoustic measurements speak for themselves: the only mode when CoolIT Domino A.L.C. could be comfortable to work with was the mode with minimal fan rotation speed. In other two work modes the level of generated noise was too high for comfortable work. The pump is inaudible in all operational modes.
Well, no wonder happened again: the mass production CoolIT Domino A.L.C. liquid-cooling system yields in cooling efficiency and acoustics to the best air cooler. Nevertheless, unlike all previously tested solutions, CoolIT Domino has a serious advantage over all of them: it is very low price. For only $79 you can now get yourself a complete liquid-cooling system! Very tempting, isn’t it? Moreover, CoolIT Domino is very compact, comes preassembled, is universal and extremely simple to install and work with. We wish we could also praise it for good acoustics. Maybe installing a second fan onto one of the radiator sides will help make it quieter without sacrificing any of the cooling efficiency. Summing up everything we know about CoolIT Domino A.L.C., we can conclude that those looking for their first liquid-cooling system should definitely pay attention to this CoolIT solution. Overclocking fans, though, may still want to consider some of the known super-coolers offering the same cooling efficiency and better acoustic parameters.