by Vasily Melnik
02/22/2007 | 11:20 AM
We already wrote about liquid cooling systems from Thermaltake on our site and our overall impression could be put down like this: cute and well-made for their price, and mostly appealing to those who wanted liquid cooling as a means of self-expression or building a quiet PC rather than for hardcore overclockers. There was not much time between our previous two reviews of Thermaltake’s liquid cooling kits, but the progress was evident. The innovations were scarce, however, to push performance much higher, and the company must have been aware of that while preparing its new series of modernized systems. They have changed almost everything, from water-blocks and pumps to fasteners and pipes. The only thing that has remained the same is the standard 120mm radiator that should have been replaced in the first place. It is a condenser, not a true radiator, after all. Thermaltake’s marketing people found a solution, though. If one condenser is not enough, two will do! Why marketing people? Because an engineer would just replace the radiator with a better one, keeping the volume the same, while for a marketer it is more profitable to sell two old devices instead of putting into production and selling one new device.
A reader who is not familiar with the market of liquid cooling systems may think me wrong in having thus criticized what I haven’t even tested yet. That’s not exactly so. I’m not criticizing Thermaltake. This company does what no one else does. It produces an affordable series of liquid cooling systems with all the accessories you may ever want and ensures their full compatibility with each other. A good radiator costs a lot of money, you know. Some people would be shocked at seeing the price of Black Ice radiators and wouldn’t understand what they are asked to pay so much money for. The answer is simple – for degrees of temperature. But as a matter of fact, not all users need such super-low temperatures!
The best systems from Thermaltake outperform top-end air coolers by 5-10°C. They are good-looking, easy to assemble, and cheap. That’s enough for a market success among moderate overclockers who can appreciate the aesthetic properties of a product and don’t want to spend their money for immodestly expensive stuff.
Besides updating the liquid cooling kits themselves, Thermaltake has considerably expanded the series of exclusive accessories to them. You can now get water-flow indicators, a water-block for your hard disk drive, a water-block for memory modules, a coolant temperature sensor, and even a panel for 5.25” bays that combines a water-flow indicator with a reservoir to control the level of coolant. I guess there is only a liter counter missing to make this list of accessories absolutely complete. This huge heap of accessories are obviously targeted at enthusiasts who like to tinker with the innards of their PCs and want not just a boxed cooling kit, but a boxing kit they can improve further by purchasing various extra gadgets like the two I’ll begin this review with.
So, I’ve got two small boxes here:
Easy to see, this is nothing else but a slightly modified AquaBay M3 reservoir and a new HDD water-block AquaBay M4, both for the 5.25” bay. Let’s discuss the latter thing first. The small box contains a water-block, two thermal pads, fittings, and two lengths of pipe:
There are two sets of fittings:
The first set is for Thermaltake’s older systems that used to come with pipes that had an external diameter of 8mm. The second set is for a ?-inch pipe, which has become a standard among all the leading manufacturers of liquid cooling systems. There are two pipes here, too:
It is absolutely good that the pipes now have a diameter of half an inch. Besides reducing the resistance to the water flow, this ensures compatibility of Thermaltake’s products with standard components from other manufacturers. It means you can easily replace the radiator, for example. Thermaltake also expands the potential market for its accessories which are considerably cheaper than those from the renowned brands.
There are two thermal pads in the kit, which is good, too.
You don’t have to worry that the pad may get damaged as you are replacing your hard disk drive.
The box itself is designed well:
The water-block consists of a copper plate with a copper “snake” soldered to it.
The plate is not thick, but the HDD is not a CPU when it comes to head dissipation, after all. So, this design should be more than efficient. The fittings are just screwed into the ends of the pipes which have an internal threading for that:
Then you can install your HDD and connect the pipes – but I’ll talk about the assembly process later on.
Right now let’s take a look at the AquaBay M3. There are but few changes in the kit since I last saw it:
They’ve added a pack with fittings and a second length of pipe.
The reservoir itself hasn’t changed.
It is still a plastic container with a couple of fittings and a remarkable plug:
It looks exactly like the standard plug on vodka bottles I remember selling ages ago in the USSR. This plug isn’t very handy because the diameter of the opening is too small. There’s a problem with control over the coolant level, too:
How can you control anything if the tank has a black front panel with a narrow strip of translucent plastic in the middle? All the modernizations boil down to the universal adapters:
…and to the ?-inch fittings included into the kit. There’s no sense in purchasing this reservoir as it is useless functionally and doesn’t improve system performance (as you will see in the Tests section). Thermaltake is surely aware of that and also offers an excellent expansion tank called Water Tank:
It can be placed on the side panel of your system case instead of an intake fan. The company also offers the AquaBay M1 panel that occupies two 5.25” bays, looks good and combines a Water Tank with a Flow Indicator:
The AquaBay M3 is inferior to the M1 in every aspect, particularly in the quality of manufacture, appearance, and functionality. I guess Thermaltake should stop producing the third model as it looks miserable next to the other components.
I’ve got two boxed kits: BigWater 735 and BigWater 745.
The systems are virtually identical, but the BigWater 745 includes an additional radiator, so I’m going to talk about it first. There are few differences from the previous systems. The plates for Socket 478, 775 and 939 are the same, for example:
But the kit now includes fasteners for BTX mainboards:
Such mainboards are yet very rare, but anyway. They exist somewhere, so here are the fasteners to you. It’s not like Asetek which is selling each thing for a new socket separately.
The smaller fasteners haven’t changed much, either:
The screws are now more convenient, and the nuts are taller:
Now you can assemble everything without even using your screwdriver while installing/removing the water-block with its fastening already assembled takes less than a minute.
The speed controller is the same, too:
And that’s not quite good. I had hoped to have at least a 3.5” bay bracket because it’s not quite convenient to fumble for it at the back of the system case each time you want to change the speed.
The most notable innovation is the pump. Thermaltake must have had enough of second-rate stuff with mediocre performance and exceptional noisiness, and now they are shipping their systems with a high-quality pump that is combined with a convenient expansion tank.
This pump even has fastening tabs and soft vibration-absorbing feet:
The pump’s parameters will satisfy even the most fastidious user of water cooling:
There’s nothing to find fault with. The pump’s performance is high and it works almost silently, without vibration. Just a perfect product. The expansion tank is good, too. It has a clear indication of the level of coolant and a large plug with a rubber seal ring.
The 2cm filler opening is wide enough to save you the trouble of using a funnel when adding water.
The coolant has remained the same, too:
This acid-green, ultraviolet-sensitive liquid should be familiar to our readers. The only trouble is that there’s too little of it in the bottle, just a little over half a liter. The water-block has been modified:
Its design is unchanged, a classic “snake”, but it has become taller. The base is shaped in a different way so that it can now be easily placed on almost any mainboard without having troubles with large elements of the CPU power circuit located near the socket.
And now we’ve got to the most important thing, the radiators. There are two of them in the 745 kit.
The humbler 735 model has only one radiator you should recognize by our earlier reviews.
This is a typical condenser for a 120mm fan in a high-quality aluminum case and with new fittings for a ?-inch pipe.
The second radiator is more interesting:
This is in fact the same thing, but two times larger and without fan speed control. That’s why there are low-speed fans here with a max rotation speed of 1300rpm. The fittings are turned around to the fan side.
This is done for the sake of convenience during transportation. You can easily put the fans on the other side if you want to.
I guess this radiator can only be easily installed in the system case if you’ve got a Gigabyte Aurora, the only PC case with a seat for two 120mm fans at the back panel. For other users, the kit includes two aluminum feet:
These are secured on the radiator with long screws:
The fastening isn’t very good. The feet don’t have proper contact with the fan grids and wobble a little even if you fasten them tight. Considering the desktop orientation of the radiator, it is better to turn the fittings backwards:
In this case, the pipes at the back won’t spoil the overall picture.
Now I will discuss the nuances of assembling and will test these kits.
There should be no problems for a user who has already assembled liquid cooling kits. You should only remember about the stiffness of the pipes. They don’t bend willingly and may even break at a certain angle. Unfortunately, the pipes don’t have any means to avoid overbending like springs or something. Moreover, when you attach the pipe to a fitting, the pipe gets twisted, so it is best to connect the system components with pipes only after you’ve installed them in their respective places in the system case. It is easier then to select the optimal pipe length and avoid much bending. By the way, the pipes get so adapted to the pressure nuts after two or three hours of working under load that it becomes impossible to unfasten the latter without a spanner.
These are in fact all the pitfalls you may encounter. It’s simple to fill the assembled system up: fill the expansion tank to the full, pump the system up, add some more coolant, and then pump it up again. That’s all. Considering the additional accessories, I’ve got a few different configurations. The first configuration, hereafter called System 1, is a system with a top-end air cooler, a Thermaltake Big Typhoon:
System 2 is the BigWater 745 in its minimum configuration (that is, what you have if you buy the 735 model):
It includes a water-block, a pump, and a radiator. Nothing more. My special thanks go to Thermaltake for the new thumbscrews.
It is now much easier to fasten the water-block than with the previous cooling kits from Thermaltake. The super-bright blue spotlight in the pump is rather a drawback:
You’ll have small blue dots dancing in your eyes long after you’ve taken a look at it. Yes, indication is important, but it shouldn’t be that bright! And you can have it in a simpler way by connecting the pump’s signal cable to a standard 3-pin fan connector on the mainboard and set the warning sensor up in such a way that it woke up at speeds below 1000rpm (the speed was always within 1800-1900rpm during my tests).
System 3 is the previous kit plus an additional radiator:
The only downside is that I ran short of the coolant even though I hadn’t used all the length of the included pipes. So I had to borrow half a bottle of coolant from the junior system for my tests.
I guess that each system must be shipped with at least 1 liter of coolant because it’s hard to purchase it separately.
System 4 also has a HDD water-block.
It’s easy to install your HDD into this thing. You’ll need a HDD, a thermal pad and four screws:
The thermal pad lies snugly on the electronics PCB:
And then the HDD is fastened to the water-block. The contact between them doesn’t seem to be good:
Well, the tests will show how well this works.
The fifth configuration (System 5) is the third kit plus an AquaBay M3 reservoir.
The water cooling kits were tested on an open testbed. Putting aside the problems of assembly and filling in, no system case is required for our test because heat is anyway transferred to the outside. As for the assembly procedure, it will largely depend on the type and internal design of the specific system case, so I can’t make any general statements about it.
The testbed was configured like follows:
The testbed has changed a little. As I wrote in my previous review, we had spent some time searching for a proper replacement to our late Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 3.2GHz on the Smithfield core. And now we can claim that our system is far ahead of any regular user configuration as well as of a lot of overclocked ones in terms of CPU heat dissipation. This should suffice for testing CPU coolers as well as system cases.
There were four test modes: Idle and Burn (two copies of the CPU Burn utility running). For the first and fourth configurations I also added HDD Burn mode (two file sets, a 7GB folder with many small files and a 40GB folder with movies, were being copied simultaneously from one partition to another) to evaluate the AquaBay M4. The HDD temperature was reported by the HDD Thermometer program.
The temperatures of the CPU and mainboard were read with ASUS PC Probe which was supplied with the mainboard. The chipset temperature was read by means of a thermocouple tester the ASUS P5WDG2-WS mainboard was unable to monitor the North Bridge temperature.
The temperatures were read only after they had fully stabilized.
As for the noise factor, I’ll give you my opinion about the noisiness of the preinstalled fans below. When testing the second system, I set the controller at the minimum, middle and maximum position which resulted in speeds of 1200, 1550 and 2400rpm, respectively.
If you want to know details, here is a table of specifications for each component of the water cooling kits I tested:
I had a typical problem of liquid cooling systems in my tests – the chipset would overheat. That’s why I don’t publish chipset temperature data on diagrams of the systems from 2 through 5. Under load the chipset temperature would quickly reach 65°C and continued to grow, so I had to install an additional fan to cool it because I didn’t want to risk damaging the mainboard.
So, here are the results of the first system:
These results are predictable and rather good for an air cooler working at that speed. There’s nothing to comment upon, except that the Big Typhoon is a solution that cools the CPU voltage regulator and the chipset heatsink besides the CPU. The HDD temperature in Burn HDD mode is what you can expect from your hard drive if it lacks any cooling. The noise is acceptable. The Big Typhoon has one of the quietest fans in its product class, so the working system was not audible at all in a closed system case.
That’s disappointing: the liquid cooling system equals the performance of the top-end air cooler but creates more problems than it solves. The CPU voltage regulator and the chipset heatsink are left without any cooling. It’s up to you to decide if this suits you. The chipset temperature is 42°C in Idle mode. The noise level is the same as of System 1 at 1200rpm. The other two modes should not be used: there’s a very small performance growth at 1550rpm while 2400rpm is just too noisy.
These numbers are much better! The addition of a second large radiator improves performance greatly. The only downside is the larger radiator’s lack of fan speed management, so the speed is always constant at 1300rpm. The result is excellent, but don’t forget that the external radiator must be placed somewhere. The chipset temperature is 43°C in Idle mode; the noise level is somewhat higher than with System 1.
This performance is no less impressive than that of the previous system. The addition of a HDD water-block helped reduce the CPU temperature by 1°C more under load. That’s natural because the combination of a copper plate with an aluminum piece can’t but affect the temperature of the coolant. The HDD temperature is very low under load – the AquaBay M4 boasts highest efficiency. I had even thought the temperature sensor might be located near the electronics card, but it was not so. The casing itself was barely warm. The noise level didn’t change in comparison with the third system – the HDD water-block is perfectly noiseless.
There’s not much to comment upon. The additional amount of liquid increased the system’s thermal inertia by half, but didn’t affect the resulting temperatures. Considering the dubious functionality of the AquaBay M3, this reservoir is not really needed, especially when there is the new pump with an excellent expansion tank. The chipset temperature was 42°C in Idle mode; the noise was the same as that of the fourth system.
This is going to be one short conclusion. The recent update of Thermaltake’s liquid-cooling systems is definitely a success. It’s now up to the customer what to buy and for what purposes. On my part, I can say that if it were not for the radiator, Thermaltake’s products would stand among the industry leaders’. Especially tempting is the opportunity to buy everything described in this review, and even more, separately. This way you can assemble a unique system for your particular needs.
As for the radiator, I can remind you that Thermaltake’s pumps used to be of mediocre quality, too. So, perhaps we should just wait for the next update?