Compact Liquid Cooling Systems Roundup. Part II: Front Runners

We continue discussing mass production closed-loop liquid-cooling systems. Today we will introduce to you the top four products from the leading manufacturers – Corsair, Thermaltake and Zalman.

by Sergey Lepilov
03/14/2013 | 02:24 AM

In the first part of our roundup of liquid cooling systems we had a look at five affordable products from Corsair, Thermaltake and Zalman. Today, we are going to have more advanced and expensive solutions from the same brands. Such liquid cooling systems are not as compact and cheap as the recently tested models but have a number of advantages. Most importantly, they just have higher performance. Read on to learn more about them!

Technical Specifications and Recommended Pricing

 


* - These are the radiator dimensions without the decorative panels.

Testing Participants

Corsair Hydro H80i High Performance

First goes Corsair Hydro H80i High Performance. It is packed into a large red-and-black cardboard box with a picture of the H80i on its front:

The system’s key features are listed on the sides of the box in several languages.

 

For detailed specs and performance comparison charts (with an Intel boxed cooler as the point of reference) you can refer to the back of the box.

The accessories are the same as you get with Corsair’s Hydro H60 High Performance except for the cables, user manual content, and additional fan:

The system costs $110 and comes with a 5-year warranty. It is manufactured in China.

The Corsair Hydro H80i High Performance is based on the Asetek 570LC platform but has a different type of the waterblock and pump. Its overall design is basically the same as that of the previously discussed systems, though. It consists of a radiator, two fans and a waterblock with pump, all connected with tubes:

  

The outer diameter of the tubes is 14 mm. They are 310 mm long.

The key distinguishing feature of the Hydro H80i High Performance is its thick radiator. It measures 158x120x45 mm and weighs about 450 grams. The radiator’s body is 37 mm thick.

That’s 20 mm thicker compared, for example, with the Corsair Hydro H60 High Performance. The radiator is still made of aluminum, though. It consists of 12 flat heatpipes with coolant. A corrugated ribbon is soldered in between the heatpipes. The spacing between its folds is 1 to 2 mm.

The tubes on the radiator’s fittings have an outer diameter of 14 mm.

The sticker on the radiator can only tell you its country of origin.

The pump/waterblock unit differs from those of Corsair’s junior products, even though we don’t know much about its characteristics. We can see two connectors in one side:

The mini-USB port is to be connected to a mainboard’s USB header with a bundled cable. The other port is used to connect two fans via a Y-shaped cable. Besides, two additional fans can be connected to the pump while the pump itself is powered through an ordinary SATA power plug.

Gray-colored high-efficiency thermal grease is pre-applied on the waterblock’s base in a very thin layer.

We’ve got perfect thermal grease imprints on the cooler and the CPU:

 

The Corsair Hydro H80i High Performance is equipped with two 120mm Corsair SP120L fans:

The peak speed of the fans is 2700 RPM. Each of them produces an air flow of 77 CFM at 37.68 dBA of noise. Their rotation speed is regulated by the pump depending on temperature as we’ll describe shortly.

The fan’s electric specs can be found on its sticker.

The installation procedure for the waterblock and radiator is the same as we detailed in our previous review.

 

The Hydro H80i High Performance differs from Corsair’s junior liquid cooling systems in one more way as it supports Corsair’s Link Monitoring and Control technology implemented via USB. Corsair Link 2.2.0, a highly functional utility with broad monitoring and control capabilities, is used together with it. Its main window shows CPU, coolant, GPU and HDD temperatures as well as the speed of the pump and fans. You can also regulate the color of the pump’s LED indicator (if you’ve got a computer case without a side window, for example).

You can customize the representation of this information using groups:

The monitoring data can be viewed as graphs:

You can create multiple profiles with system settings and set up email notifications.

The speed of the pump cannot be regulated but you can monitor it and regulate the fans.

Corsair Link even helps you update the firmware of your liquid cooling system:

And finally, you can set up logs for any or all of the monitored parameters.

So, this utility has excellent functionality and makes a perfect addition to the cooler itself. Now let’s move on to the next product.

Corsair Hydro H100i Extreme Performance

The Hydro H100i Extreme Performance used to be the flagship product from Corsair until recently, but about a month ago the company released its H110 model with 140mm fans and a 280x140mm radiator, so the H100i is now second best in the hierarchy of Corsair’s liquid cooling systems. We hope to test the new flagship in the near future, but now let’s take a look at the Hydro H100i Extreme Performance.

The packaging is the same as with the H80i model, but larger.

 

The Hydro H100i Extreme Performance costs $120, which is a mere $10 more than the price of the H80i. The warranty and country of origin are the same.

This system is based on the high-performance Asetek 570LX platform.

It features a rather large 278x120x27mm aluminum radiator (the radiator’s body is 17 mm thick), which is in fact the only difference of the H100i from the H80i.

 

The radiator can carry as many as four 120mm fans. You fasten them using the bundled screws and the threaded holes in the sides of the radiator.

This system comes with the same pump as the H80i. You can connect up to four fans and a Corsair Link interface to it.

The Hydro H100i Extreme Performance requires that your computer case had two seats for 120mm fans on the back or top panel. It is there that you install the radiator.

Otherwise, you either have to choose another liquid cooling system or find some custom way of installing it.

Besides testing the Hydro H100i Extreme Performance in its standard configuration with two fans, we also checked it out with four identical fans, two of which we took from our Corsair H80i system.

By the way, the H100i has the same fans as the H80i: Corsair SP120L.

Thermaltake Water 2.0 Pro (CLW0216)

The new Thermaltake Water 2.0 Pro is not the flagship product from Thermaltake, either. The flagship is the Water 2.0 Extreme (CLW0217) system which features a larger radiator, yet the Pro version is quite exciting, too.

The packaging is easily recognizable and highly informative. The picture on its front seems to show the cooler leaking, though.

The designer wanted to provoke some other associations, of course.

  

The accessories to the Water 2.0 Pro are the same as included with Thermaltake’s Performer system we tested earlier. It is manufactured in China.

The Thermaltake Water 2.0 Pro is currently available at its recommended price of $109.

This system is obviously a purebred Asetek 570LC with a thick radiator and an ordinary round pump/waterblock unit:

So, there’s no need for us to go into details since the system consists of the same things as usual: a radiator, a waterblock with pump and tubes.

 

The radiator is smaller than the Corsair H80i’s at 151x112x41 mm but has 9 rather than 6 flat heatpipes.

The spacing between the folds of the corrugated ribbon is larger now to reduce resistance to air flow. The sticker on the radiator tells you the manufacturer’s name and the power rating (3.1 watts).

According to our measurements, the pump consumes 3.25 watts, which doesn’t differ much from the specified value. It has no serious differences from the four such pumps discussed in the first part of this roundup.

 

The thermal grease imprints are perfectly normal:

   

The procedure for installing the Water 2.0 Pro is detailed at the official website. Fastened to the back panel of our testbed, this liquid cooling system looks like that:

With fans installed to take the air into the computer case the Thermaltake Water 2.0 Pro cools the CPU by 2-3°C better than with fans installed to exhaust the air. That’s why we tested it (and the rest of the coolers, too) with its fans set to take the air in.

Zalman LQ320

The last system we’re going to cover in this roundup is Zalman LQ320. If you read the first part of this review, you may notice that the packaging is only different in the color of its bottom part.

Of course, the product name and specs you can see on the box are different, too.

  

Here is a photo of its contents:

The product is additionally protected with a soft 5mm cover from above. Like the other coolers, the Zalman LQ320 is manufactured in China. Its recommended price is $100.

Like the above-discussed Thermaltake, the Zalman LQ320 is based on the Asetek 570LC platform with minor differences. For example, there are decorative side panels on the radiator:

 

The radiator is exactly like Asetek’s original:

But the sticker reports a different wattage rating – 3.9 watts.

According to our measurements, the pump consumed only 2.23 watts or less than the Thermaltake’s. That’s why we don’t really know what exactly wattage the manufacturers specify on the radiator stickers.

The waterblock is thicker due to the cap with blue highlighting.

 

The contact spot is flat but our CPU has a convex heat-spreader. This shows up in the thermal grease imprints:

 

Like the junior models LQ310 and LQ315, the Zalman LQ320 is equipped with a single 120mm ZP1225ALM fan which is PWM-regulated in a speed range of 900 to 2000 RPM. You can set it to blow in either direction using the long and short screws included into the box.

The descriptive part of our review is over, so we can proceed to our testing now. The testbed configuration and the testing methods have remained the same as in our previous review, so we won’t dwell on them here. The four products described here will be compared with the best system of the previous review (Thermaltake Water 2.0 Performer) and with the air cooler Phanteks PH-TC14P?. Besides their default fans, the Zalman LQ320 and Thermaltake Water 2.0 Pro were tested with two Corsair SP120 fans.

We also tested the Corsair Hydro H100i Extreme Performance with two additional Corsair SP120L fans taken from the Corsair Hydro H80i High Performance.

Performance

Cooling Efficiency

First we want to check out our liquid cooling systems in their standard configurations on a 4.375GHz CPU. You can see the results in the following table as well as in the diagram below:

As opposed to low-end liquid cooling systems, these products can challenge the best air cooler. The Corsair Hydro H100i Extreme Performance with its large radiator is ahead in the standard configuration. It is more efficient than the air cooler not only at top or medium speeds of its two Corsair SP120L fans but also at 1000 and even at 800 RPM. On the other hand, it is not so extraordinary for a liquid cooling system to be 1 or 2°C better than an air cooler (even though the best one) – we mean the Corsair H100i’s 2x1200 RPM mode vs. the Phanteks PH-TC14P?’s 2x1300 RPM mode. Well, we have more tests today, so our opinion may change yet.

The three products with thick 120mm radiators are almost equal in their performance. At the maximum speed of the fans, the Thermaltake Water 2.0 Pro, Corsair Hydro H80i High Performance and Zalman LQ320 ensure the same CPU temperature at peak load. The Corsair seems to accomplish this by means of its higher-speed fans, so the Zalman LQ320 looks preferable to its opponents. The Thermaltake Water 2.0 Pro is somewhat better than the Corsair H80i, Zalman LQ320, and even than the Phanteks PH-TC14P? at 1600 and 1200 RPM but the Corsair H80i catches up with it at 1000 RPM, the Zalman LQ320 being a mere 1°C behind.

The Thermaltake Water 2.0 Performer, the most efficient product in the first part of our testing, is 2 to 3°C inferior to its cousin, depending on fan speed.

Now we will check the coolers out with alternative fans from Corsair (the Corsair Hydro H80i High Performance performs unmodified). Here are the table and the diagram:

The Corsair Hydro H100i Extreme Performance enjoys a larger advantage over its opponents now that it has four fans. It is also 6°C better than the air cooler at the maximum speed of the fans and 2°C better at 1000 RPM. The Zalman LQ320 joins the under-70°C club, too, the two alternative fans increasing its performance significantly. We can note that the Zalman is 2 to 4°C ahead of its immediate opponents from Corsair and Thermaltake at 1600, 1200 and 1000 RPM, although the Thermaltake Water 2.0 Pro seems to have the same design. And finally, take note that the Water 2.0 Pro performs worse with two Corsair SP120 fans than in its default configuration.

Now we overclock our CPU to 4.5 GHz at 1.435 volts and check out the efficiency of every cooler again in their standard configurations as well as with the alternative fans. Here are the table and the diagram:

The Corsair Hydro H100i Extreme Performance is unrivalled in this test session but the Phanteks PH-TC14P? is only 1°C behind at 1000 RPM. The same gap can be observed when the Phanteks and the Corsair have fan speeds of 1300 and 1200 RPM, respectively. We don’t take the noise factor into account, though. Other things being equal, the Corsair has much quieter fans than the Phanteks. We’ll discuss this shortly.

The Zalman LQ320 and the Corsair Hydro H80i High Performance can also be noted as capable of coping with the overclocked CPU. They are closely followed by the Thermaltake Water 2.0 Pro. None of these liquid cooling systems could cool our six-core CPU overclocked to 4.5 GHz at 1.435-1.445 volts when their fan speed was 1200 RPM and the CPU ran LinX.

Noise Level

We described the noise parameters of the pumps in the first part of this review and today’s products are no different in this respect. So, we will proceed to measuring the noise level of each cooler’s fans throughout the entire speed range. The results are shown below:

We don’t find much difference from the previous test session. The liquid cooling systems are all comparable in terms of noisiness. The single fan of the Zalman LQ320 is the quietest overall but the two fans of the Thermaltake Water 2.0 Performer are close to it in noise level. Interestingly, the latter is quieter than its elder cousin Thermaltake Water 2.0 Pro although has the same fans. The two coolers from Corsair are similar in their noisiness, too, yet the H100i is quieter than the H80i. The latter’s fans were rattling at speeds below 1100 RPM, causing some discomfort. The H100i has the same fans but no rattle at any speed.

With noise level data on our hands, we can compare the efficiency of the Phanteks PH-TC14P? and the Corsair Hydro H100i Extreme Performance correctly. At the maximum speed of two fans (1280 RPM) the air cooler is as noisy as 47.7 dBA according to our measurements. The liquid cooling system reaches that noise level at about 1630 RPM. Returning to the first performance diagram, we can see that the Corsair Hydro H100i Extreme Performance is 2°C better than the Phanteks PH-TC14P? if their noise level is the same. And the gap grows to 4°C when the CPU is overclocked to 4.5 GHz. You can compare the other coolers in the same way using their noise level data.

Conclusion

With the exception of only one out of the nine liquid cooling systems we’ve covered in our bipartite roundup, we cannot recommend any of them as an alternative to best air coolers out there such as Noctua NH-D14, Thermalright Archon, Silver Arrow, and Phanteks PH-TC14P?. The junior products (discussed in the first part of our roundup) can only compete with them in terms of price but not in performance or noise level. The mainstream products discussed today – Zalman LQ320, Thermaltake Water 2.0 Pro and Corsair Hydro H80i High Performance – look better, yet hardly justify their price. It’s not enough for a liquid cooling system to be just a little more expensive and a little more efficient than an air cooler. Anyway, we want to note that the Thermaltake Water 2.0 Pro and Zalman LQ320 deliver high performance in their standard configurations whereas the Corsair H80i features high-quality fans and functional software.

As you may have already guessed, it is the Corsair Hydro H100i Extreme Performance that makes an exception. Priced at $10-20 higher than its opponents (except for the Phanteks), it ensures much better cooling at a lower level of noise. The Corsair H100i was superior at both CPU frequencies. Moreover, it was the only one to cope with our CPU at 4.625 GHz and 1.49 volts. It will be perfect for overclockers who care about noise, especially if you install four 120mm fans supported by the H100i. Thus, the Corsair Hydro H100i Extreme Performance will make a good choice if you do not want to assemble your liquid system components separately or spend twice as much money for ready-made top-end kits like Swiftech H2O-320 Edge HD or EK-Supermacy KIT H3O 360 HFX.

That said, we are proud to award Corsair Hydro H100i Extreme Performance our Recommended Buy title:

In our next reviews we will discuss more ready-made liquid cooling systems including NZXT’s Kraken X60 and Kraken X40 along with Swiftech’s highly interesting H220 model.