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Three High-End Liquid-Cooling Cases Compared

Few liquid-cooling companies cater to the high-end desktop chassis market, and we’re glad to add Zalman to the list. But is there any reason to choose its LQ1000 over a similarly priced Koolance PC5-1326SL-based kit? The answer is complicated, because it depends on what kind of user you are.

Cooling components occupied the top two bays of the Koolance system, giving Zalman the lead for external drive support. On the other hand, the PC5-1326SL had six internal bays, compared to four on the LQ1000. The total number of usable bays on both cases is nine, so the LQ1000 can be “made equal” in hard drive support through the use of bay adapters.

The PC5-1326SL does have a clear advantage over the LQ1000 in interior space, however. The LQ1000 has barely enough room to support today’s largest consumer graphics cards, and there’s no room to insert power cables on the leading edge of slightly shorter cards, such as the HD 4870, once these cards are installed. Zalman’s LQ1000 further hinders certain graphics configurations by blocking the bottom slot with a tall pump and with its questionably positioned water line, though the blocked slot can usually be addressed by replacing a double-slot graphics card cooler with a single-slot GPU water block.

The big Koolance case even has enough space for extended ATX motherboards, but its extra length could prevent it from fitting on your desk. A little over 23” long, it will at least stick out beyond the monitor and keyboard when placed on a large two-foot deep desk. The wheels might suggest that you’ll want to stick it on the floor beside your desk, but front-panel ports along the lower edge demand desktop placement.

Koolance has a larger radiator and more powerful fans, so we’re certain that if we added enough devices, its PC5-1326SL would eventually take a performance lead over the LQ1000. Koolance also offers a far better variety of graphics water blocks than Zalman does. Add the PC5-1326SL’s better interior space and a weight advantage of 10 pounds compared to the heavyset LQ1000, and the PC-1326SL begins to look like a gamer’s best friend.

Zalman does have a huge advantage over Koolance in the area of noise, and we can’t possibly stress this difference enough to users who sit at their desks for extended periods of time. At low fan and pump speeds, the PC5-1326SL starts out as slightly bothersome—and the level of annoyance progresses throughout a workday. At higher PC5-1326SL cooling system speeds, you’d better wear headphones.

The LQ1000’s cooling system is barely audible at low speed and even its highest-speed noise level is hardly more noticeable than the PC5-1326SL’s lowest settings. Innovative design, relatively small external dimensions, and superb quietness make the LQ1000 the perfect companion for discriminating power users.

So what about our hand-picked SBM case and cooling configuration? It performed adequately at a noise level only slightly lower than the Koolance PC5-1326SL’s lowest setting, which makes it look like a top value, given the $200 price difference. However, our custom-assembled cooling system can’t be “turned up” when more cooling is needed, and it’s very time consuming to assemble. Because of its moderate noise level, our custom assembly is also unlikely to appeal to the folks who’d be inclined to buy Zalman’s LQ1000.

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