As Inexpensive as It Can Get - 2: CoolIT ECO A.L.C. Liquid Cooling System Review

Today we are going to talk about a universal, lightweight, compact and inexpensive liquid-cooling system from CoolIT Systems Inc.

by Sergey Lepilov
05/25/2010 | 03:41 PM

A little over a year ago we tested a liquid-cooling system from CoolIT Systems Inc. Back then it was Domino model with a small control panel and CD screen. Our today’s hero, CoolIT ECO A.L.C., doesn’t have any f these components and functions, but has a couple of constructive modifications that make it not only more compact an quieter, but also more affordable. Read more in our details review of this interesting product.

Package and Accessories

 

CoolIT ECO A.L.C. comes in a white cardboard box of medium size. There is the name of the system on the front, alongside with the list of supported platforms and an award logo. All other sides of the box are reserved for the description of the cooling system and its individual components:

 

 

There is a two-piece foam plastic box inside with the cooling system in the middle. One of the sections of the foam plastic inside box contains the following accessories:

Among them are two retention brackets for AMD platform, three backplates for LGA775/1156/1366 platforms, retention screws and installation instructions. There is no thermal compound included, because it is already pre-applied to the base of the water block.

CoolIT ECO A.L.C. is developed in Canada, in the capital of 1988 Winter Olympics – Calgary. However, the system is made in China, which so far has only hosted summer Olympic Games. CoolIT ECO A.L.C. comes with a two-year warranty and is priced at $74.99 MSRP, which is $5 less than the price on CoolIT Domino.

Design and Functionality

CoolIT ECO A.L.C. liquid-cooling system consists of two parts: radiator with a fan and a pump with a water block. They use hoses to connect them with one another:

The hoses are very rigid and even though one of the fittings on the pump can be rotated freely, it is very difficult to install this system with hoses rigid like that.

The effective “body” of the radiator made of aluminum measures only 18 mm:

The overall size of the radiator is 152x120x25 mm. It has classical design: a corrugated band with 1-1.5 mm spacing between the fins is soldered to 12 flattened heatpipes:

The system is filled with coolant also containing anti-corrosion additives and is sealed airtight. Nevertheless, there is an additional fitting on the radiator:

There is no mention of it anywhere in the manual, but it must be designed for adding more coolant into the system if necessary.

There is a seven-blade fan attached firmly to the radiator. It is black and measures 120x120x25 mm:

The fan impeller measures 110 mm in diameter and has a 48 mm rotor. It comes with a 295 mm long cable. The fan rotation speed is controlled using pulse-width modulation method. According to the official specifications, maximum fan rotation speed should be 1800 RPM, and the minimal speed is determined by the specific mainboard you use and may be 60% lower than the maximum speed. In our case the lowest fan speed was 770 RPM. The fan uses a ball bearing with unknown MTBF. The level of generated noise and static pressure also not specified. We also failed to determine who the original fan maker is.

Besides the removal of the control panel and a small LCD screen, there is one more essential modification made to CoolIT ECO A.L.C. Its pump has moved from the radiator panel onto the water block. Now the water block with retention and the pump are one solid unit, which reminds us of Corsair H50 liquid-cooling system:

 

Inside this unit measuring 92x55x51 mm sits a copper water block with micro-channel internal structure and a pump with a ceramic bearing inside. There is no mention of the pump performance, the bearing MTBF as well as the level of noise generated by the pump. Looks like CoolIT believes that these parameters are of no interest to us, and actually they are wrong. Mainstream users would probably be OK not knowing all this (except for the MTBF, of course), and we could really use some information here. The only thing CoolIT feels confident about disclosing is the pump power consumption, which according to the developers doesn’t exceed 1W.

The copper base of the water block measuring 52x52 mm has a pre-applied layer of CoolIT A.T.C. thermal compound:

There is no info anywhere on the official web-site about this thermal compound.

The surface of the water block is even and nicely finished:

We didn’t open up the water block in order not to disturb the leaktightness of the system so we can’t comment on the actual internal structure.

Compatibility and Installation Tips

Almost all expensive liquid-cooling systems and many water blocks available today are universal, i.e. they are compatible with all contemporary platforms. CoolIT ECO A.L.C. is also not an exception and it can be easily installed onto AMD as well as Intel boards. In the former case you should use individual screw-on retention brackets included with the cooler, while in the latter case you use the retention with adjustable thumb-screws for all platforms:

It is very easy and convenient. Before installing the water block onto the processor, you have to stick an appropriate backplate to the back of the mainboard:

After that you should put the mainboard into the system case and fasten the radiator with the fan on the case back panel using four enclosed screws. There should be a proper spot left for it there:

It is best to have an assistant during the installation process, because one person cannot possibly hold the radiator and fan unit while tightening the retention screws and at the same time hold the sticking out water block with the pump, which threatens to scratch something on the mainboard due to the rigid hoses attached to it. After that, all you need to do is install the water block onto the processor and tighten the thumb-screws to the backplate:

If you have a second 120 mm fan and long retention screws for it, you can attach it to the radiator right away:

Then you plug the power cable into the free three-pin connector on the mainboard and the fan cable - into the four-pin one. And that’s all: CoolIT ECO A.L.C. installation into the system case is complete. The case side panel can be closed just fine, because nothing is in its way anymore, unlike the situation with CoolIT Domino.

Technical Specifications and Recommended Pricing

Testbed and Methods

All tests of CoolIT ECO A.L.C. and its competitors were performed inside a closed system case with the following configuration:

Processor overclocking was limited by the least efficient cooling system of our today’s testing participants in its quiet mode. As a result, we managed to overclock our quad-core processor with the polished off heat-spreader surface using 21x multiplier and enabled “Load-Line Calibration” to 3.84 GHz. The nominal processor Vcore was increased to 1.3125 V in the mainboard BIOS:

Besides, we manually set the following voltages in the mainboard BIOS:

The memory voltage was at 1.64 V and its frequency was around 1.47 GHz (7-7-7-14_1T timings). All other parameters available in the mainboard BIOS and connected with CPU or memory overclocking remained unchanged.

All tests were performed under Windows 7 Ultimate RTM x64 operating system. We used the following software during our test session:

So, the complete screenshot during the test session looks as follows:

The CPU was loaded with two consecutive Linpack test runs with the settings as indicated above. The stabilization period for the CPU temperature between the two test cycles was about 8-10 minutes. We took the maximum temperature of the hottest CPU core for the results charts. Moreover, we will also provide a table with the temperature readings for all cores including their average values. The ambient temperature was checked next to the system case with an electronic thermometer with 0.1 °C precision that allows monitoring the temperature changes over the past 6 hours. The room temperature during our test session varied between 25.9-26.1 °C.

For the sake of comparison we also included the results of Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus tested with one and two Blade Master 120 fans:

The cooler with the recommended retail price of only $29 was tested in three different fan modes: in quiet mode at 1050 RPM, in PWM mode when the rotation speed ranged from 770 to 1960 RPM, and at maximum fan rotation speed of 1960 RPM. Besides, when we performed the maximum overclocking test we also considered the results for Noctua NH-D14 super-cooler with two 140 mm Noctua NF-P14 fans.

Cooling Efficiency

The results of our comparative testing and a table with the detailed temperature readings are given below:

Click to enlarge

As w see, CoolIT ECO A.L.C.  with a single default fan working in quiet mode at 1000 RPM loses about 7°C under peak load to a common inexpensive air cooler with a default fan working at 1050 RPM. I have to say that this is a pretty sad result. However, if you switch the CoolIT ECO A.L.C. fan into the PWM mode, when according to monitoring utilities its rotation speed varies between 770 and 1830 RPM, then the cooling efficiency of this system increases dramatically and it can compete successfully against Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus in PWM mode. Certainly, this isn’t something remarkable, but a 13-degree difference in maximum CPU temperature between the quiet mode and maximum fan rotation speed indicates that the efficiency of CoolIT ECO A.L.C. depends a lot on the quality of radiator ventilation. It is absolutely logical, because the radiator is fairly small and made of aluminum, so it was perfectly clear right from the start that the cooling efficiency of this system will be highly dependent on the radiator cooling.

The same can be concluded from the tests performed on CoolIT ECO A.L.C. with two fans. Look: by adding a second fan for air intake the maximum processor temperature in quiet mode at 1000 RPM becomes 3°C lower than with a single default fan at its maximum speed and 5°C lower than by Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus with two quiet fans. And if you speed up the fans to 1830 RPM, then the maximum CPU temperature will drop by another 6°C. Well, looks like we are getting somewhere now.

Of course, it is expected that a liquid-cooling system for $74.99 will easily outperform a 29-dollar air-cooler. Although e could only do it with a second fan installed, we have to be fair to CoolIT ECO A.L.C. and check how far we can overclock our processor when this system is equipped with two cooling fans:


CoolIT ECO A.L.C (2x1000 RPM)


CoolIT ECO A.L.C (2x1860 RPM)

In both modes: quiet mode as well as at maximum fan rotation speed our quad-core Intel Core i7 could hit as high as 3.99 GHz at 1.6875 V Vcore. At 1000 RPM maximum processor temperature reached 84°C, and at 1830 RPM - 79°C. The CPU was overclocked almost to its maximum, but it is also very interesting to see how Noctua NH-D14 cooler copes with the same overclocking. Let’s see:


Noctua NH-D14 (2x800 RPM)


Noctua NH-D14 (2x1230 RPM)

Super-cooler with two 140 mm fans at 800 RPM doesn’t let the CPU temperature rise beyond 78°C, and at 1230 RPM – beyond 74°C.

The noise from the default fan of CoolIT ECO A.L.C. system doesn’t really stand out among other 120 mm fans. It is subjectively low at 850 RPM or less, subjectively comfortable at up to 1050 RPM and pretty loud at the maximum speed of 1830 RPM. As for the pump, it is extremely quiet if not completely noiseless. You can only hear it if you bring your ear as close to the pump as possible. That is really great, I should say!

Conclusion

We have once again seen that the best air cooler is still more effective than a compact liquid-cooling system of comparable price. However, we can’t say that CoolIT ECO A.L.C. will not find its place in the market, because in the nominal mode of its PWM fan this cooling system can create good thermal conditions for seriously overclocked quad-core processors, even though it may be pretty loud under maximum load. Therefore, if you are one of those quiet lovers, we would strongly urge you to add a second fan to the radiator, so that you could have this system run in a very quiet mode without lowering the CPU frequency and core voltage. BY the way, we would also advise the manufacturer to bundle their ECO A.L.C. system with two fans, which would hardly affect the price of the cooler, but would definitely make the product much more appealing to overclockers.

We would like to specifically praise CoolIT ECO A.L.C. pump that consumes less than 1 W of power and works almost completely noiselessly. The latter happens extremely rarely in low-cost liquid-cooling systems, trust me. Other indisputable advantages of this solution are its universal design, compact size and easy installation. We were a little concerned about the rigid hoses that connect the water block and pump unit with the radiator. There have already been precedents when CoolIT hoses like that would rupture and coolant would flood the computer components inside the case. It must be one of the reasons why the CoolIT rep decided to twist and turn the system to demonstrate its reliability and sturdiness in the CoolIT ECO A.L.C. demo video. However, only proper testing with heat could actually be a credible reliability test.