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Three High-End Liquid-Cooling Cases Compared

Three High-End Liquid-Cooling Cases Compared
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Dominating the performance PC market, liquid-component cooling lets enthusiasts put a large radiator in a better-optimized location compared to standard heat sinks, but without the complication, noise, or decreased reliability of “extreme cooling” alternatives.

On the other hand, bulky external components and severe case modifications have typically limited the best liquid-cooling configurations to the world of “case mod freaks,” rather than true performance fanatics. Though Koolance has produced a few well-finished liquid-cooling cases for as long as most of us can remember, the majority of alternative designs have either been bulky or under-powered.

Because it has stood the test of time, Koolance became an easy choice when we were searching for a suitable reference point to compare a fresh entry in the liquid-cooling market. That competing product is Zalman’s new LQ1000 integrated liquid-cooling chassis, which we first photographed for our CES 2008 coverage.

Both companies target high-end buyers with materials and workmanship unrivaled by mid-priced brands, but limiting today’s comparison to comparable-quality mid-towers almost made this a two-way endeavor after a third manufacturer missed our delivery deadline.

Fortunately we already had another “alternative solution” on-hand. Our March and June System Builder Marathon high-end configurations had carefully selected cooling components with a specially selected case. We were always curious about how our parts choices would compete against custom-designed units and this is our opportunity to find out.


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  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , October 13, 2008 3:57 AM
    or buy a cheap case... mod it with a 50 $ dremel... and then add your own watercooling setup and get much better cooling performance...

    thats what i'm going to do... not buy some case w/ water cooling.... unless its like a modded lian-li case... but those are like 800 bucks... so no thanks
  • -1 Hide
    nerrawg , October 13, 2008 4:24 AM
    Whoa the 4870 is still a pretty hot one even with that massive Koolance radiator. I wonder if that can be improved using a custom build with 2 separate loops and radiators - would be a bit more hassle though. Also be interesting to see how it compares to a 4870 X2 - my first assumption would be the X2 is hotter but that might not be the case as there could be a larger flow and surface area to allow for more heat dissipation. If your talking W/C for silent running, then custom built systems with big passive radiators (Toyota anyone?) and a good pump or 2 has to be the only true solution. Otherwise you're just running fans like an air cooling rig and the name of the game is still who has the quietest one..
  • -1 Hide
    yadge , October 13, 2008 6:28 AM
    nerrawgWhoa the 4870 is still a pretty hot one even with that massive Koolance radiator. I wonder if that can be improved using a custom build with 2 separate loops and radiators - would be a bit more hassle though. Also be interesting to see how it compares to a 4870 X2 - my first assumption would be the X2 is hotter but that might not be the case as there could be a larger flow and surface area to allow for more heat dissipation. If your talking W/C for silent running, then custom built systems with big passive radiators (Toyota anyone?) and a good pump or 2 has to be the only true solution. Otherwise you're just running fans like an air cooling rig and the name of the game is still who has the quietest one..


    I'm pretty sure the videocards weren't water cooled.
  • -1 Hide
    randomizer , October 13, 2008 9:13 AM
    thogromor buy a cheap case...

    Yea but alot of cheap cases are fugly.
  • -1 Hide
    nerrawg , October 13, 2008 12:17 PM
    Hehe whoops you're right - I guess I should have looked at the pics - no wonder it was so hot. Don't understand why they didn't use some splitters and cool 4870beast #1. Can't see how you can complain about noise and temp when you're not even using your full 750-1000W water cooling capasity. Also good eye editor on changing frames per sec to temperature celsius on graph X axis.
  • -1 Hide
    gaiden , October 13, 2008 1:07 PM
    nice info, though i'm not sure, as hardware gets smaller - lesser heat, would i need a water-cooled setup. personally i think fan setup with a top of the line HS would do plenty. the TJ-09 and Lian Li's are very well built - i have a 7 fan setup + IFX-14 in a lian li 2100 plus II cant hear anything at all. (though it really helps to get good fans :)  for GPU's there are several 'spot-cooler' options. overall 7-8 'good' fans + 1 'awesome' cooler would cost only less than 1/2 of the $500 TH spent on water-cooled solution, and the air-cooled should improve air movement inside the case as well.
  • -1 Hide
    stoner133 , October 13, 2008 1:25 PM
    I find it strange that the video card temps are so high, I run a Koolance system and using their waterblocks on both of my 4870's in crossfire my temps never get above 42c after hours of playing Crysis and my coolent reaches the GPU's after it goes thru the CPU waterblock. The two degree temp difference does happen, AOD does show the first card at 40c while the second is 42c.
  • -1 Hide
    stoner133 , October 13, 2008 1:29 PM
    thogromor buy a cheap case... mod it with a 50 $ dremelhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dremel ... and then add your own watercooling setup and get much better cooling performance... thats what i'm going to do... not buy some case w/ water cooling.... unless its like a modded lian-lihttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lian_Li case... but those are like 800 bucks... so no thanks

    The Koolance cases are modded Lian Li cases and there no where near $800, they start at just under $400 and go to just over $600
  • -1 Hide
    Shadow703793 , October 13, 2008 1:45 PM
    They could have silver plated the Koolance CPU-340 block instead of gold plating it (silver > than gold in heat transfer).

    These kits are worth an entire PC so imo, I would mod it my self. It's not that hard to do, providing you have the time to do it.
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , October 13, 2008 2:21 PM
    Quote:
    The Koolance cases are modded Lian Li cases and there no where near $800, they start at just under $400 and go to just over $600


    The case with no pump, water block, or reservoir is $400, but what do you do without the parts? A basic liquid cooling kit from Koolance, complete with only the needed parts, starts at around $600.

    Also notice:

    Quote:
    Test Configuration
    Liquid cooling often offers excellent cooling capacity, but that wouldn’t matter much if hot case air destabilized another part of the system. In order to test both, we used an overclockedhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overclocking Intel Core 2 Quad processor to heat the liquid and a pair of HD 4870http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radeon_R700 X2 graphics cards to heat the air.


    Graphics was left air-cooled to help determine effectiveness of case airflow. It would have been even better to use two 4850's for that, since they don't vent outside the case.
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , October 13, 2008 2:49 PM
    Shadow703793They could have silver plated the Koolance CPU-340 block instead of gold plating it (silver > than gold in heat transfer).


    Silver Oxide isn't so great a conductor, probably worse than gold. You said silver, but it's important to remember it oxidizes. The gold plating is super-thin for three reasons:

    1.) Gold isn't the best heat conductor, so making it super thin is a good way to assure it doesn't insulate the copper base
    2.) Gold is expensive
    3.) Only a super-thin layer is needed to prevent oxidation of the copper base, for both aesthetic and conductive reasons

    The best solution would be a gold-plated silver base :p 
  • 4 Hide
    Anonymous , October 13, 2008 5:17 PM
    What I would like to see is an article done on a fully water-cooled setup. I'm not just talking about the CPU but RAM, Chipsets, Graphics Cards (2 in either a crossfire or SLI configuration would be ideal), and Hard drives. Something that really goes after the limits and capabilities of water cooling. I am looking to do that with a new system I am building but due to the cost of it all I would actually like to see what the pitfalls are before dropping all that cash.

    Jeff
  • -2 Hide
    Anonymous , October 13, 2008 5:35 PM
    geez, for $700 id rather get a phase change setup. run my cpu at -50 celsius.
  • -2 Hide
    DXRick , October 13, 2008 5:52 PM
    Can these cases cool one HD 4870 and the Northbridge without an additional pump and/or radiator? Why would an enthusiast just want to water cool the CPU?
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , October 13, 2008 6:40 PM
    DXrickCan these cases cool one HD 4870 and the Northbridge without an additional pump and/or radiator? Why would an enthusiast just want to water cool the CPU?


    Cooling "just the CPU" allowed the liquid cooling and air circulation capabilities to be tested separately. Looking at the CPU temperatures, its obvious that there's enough capacity for additional devices. Koolance recommends cooling "Everything" including dual graphics cards using its own brand of water blocks. Zalman also recommends cooling as much as possible with Zalman water blocks, but Zalman doesn't have as many products as Koolance.

    Because the Zalman case is so "compact" and quiet, I'd like to see a system with it, using the Koolance HD 4870 X2 water blocks on a CrossfireX configuration. This might be a bit much for the Zalman pump, but the radiator can probably handle it. Also, because graphics cards are more heat-tolerant than CPU's, it wouldn't be so bad to cool the graphics with "warm water" from the outlet of the CPU water block.

    As for liquid-cooling the RAM and chipset, even though Koolance wants you to do it, it's usually not a good idea. It complicates water lines, and it doesn't account for other components on the motherboard that also get hot. You should have airflow across the motherboard, even if you do liquid-cool the chipset. And since the heatpipe assembly of high-end boards has such excellent cooling capacity with only a small amount of airflow, the ideal solution is to place a flexible fan pointing air across the RAM and CPU socket area.

    I've found that the best "liquid cooling solution" is to cool only the major components with liquid, and use the Antec Spotcool fan to cool the RAM, chipset, and sink-less components surrounding the CPU socket. The Spotcool produces relatively little noise, and the Zalman LQ1000 is thick enough to isolate most of that noise.
  • -1 Hide
    Pei-chen , October 13, 2008 6:53 PM
    Or get an Antec case and some Swiftech & Danger Den stuff.
  • -1 Hide
    Crashman , October 13, 2008 7:35 PM
    Antec case doesn't replace Antec Spotcool for component cooling. The Zalman has a 220mm fan on the side: While Antec and Cooler Master also have side fans, having these at sufficiently low speed means having too little pressure to cool tight spaces, such as the space between memory modules.

    In fact, for liquid cooling I can't think of ANY reason to choose an Antec case. The only "good" unmodified solutions I know of are the Cooler Master Cosmos S (holds a 3x 120mm radiator on top) and Silverstone TJ09/TJ10 (holds 2x 120mm radiator on top plus 1x 120mm radiator in front). Of those, the Cosmos S offers a huge side fan, but like I said, it's not directional enough to cool memory properly (at least not when you use four modules).
  • -1 Hide
    stoner133 , October 13, 2008 7:51 PM
    I looked at Danger Den for waterblocks in my system and their GPU coolers for the 4870 cards were $30 more each, the CPU block was the same cost as the Koolance block but I did like the Koolance mounting kit better. They didn't even have RAM cooling.
  • -1 Hide
    speedbump1963 , October 13, 2008 11:12 PM
    I would like to see a water cooled case like the ANTEC 1200 or the NZXT KHAN . especially the last one where two power supplies are used. get two water cooled power supplies and water cool everything possible as well as add a large water resuvar. heck as big as the antec 1200 is you could mount the rads on the side panel and not interfere with anything. and also experiment with other liquids for cooling like mineral oil, anything that will remove heat but will not build up and leave corrosion or start buildups.
  • -2 Hide
    iocedmyself , October 14, 2008 7:56 AM
    I never was a fan of watercooling, simply because there are too many things that can go wrong and either cause whatever you're using a water block on to overheat and fry, either because of pump failure, air bubble in the line or just having to much heat built up for the radiator to cool, which runs the risk of W/B cracking water getting heated to the point that the resovior or tubing explodes and turns your case into a fish tank and possibly, if you're near by when it starts spraying water about, can give you that chic freddy kruger melted face look.

    Yes, i'll admit that those situations may be rare, but still a risk, and short of using extremely high end W/C componets with a large resovoir cooling performance isn't really that stellar, especially considering the cost compared to a normal HSF cooler. Unless you throw some TEC's under the waterblocks, but that ups the cost drastically, as well as power consumption and potential for the previously mentioned scenarios to occur.

    I don't mind fan noise personally, since when i'm gaming i can't hear any ambient noise despite havin a lian-li PC-g70 full tower with 5, 120mm 110cfm silverstone fans which are 54db at full speed, and am running crossfire 4870x2's with software enabled fan control cranking them up to....well jet engine sound levels. That kind of cooling config has served me well in my overclocking ventures being able to get more than half a dozen barton core socket a mobile chips to
    between 2.95ghz and 3.1ghz on air, ambient of 25c with idle temps of 31c load temps topping at around 45c, never went over 50c

    939 socket 165x2 toledo core opty from 1.8ghz to 3.2ghz,
    144 venus core from 1.8ghz to 2.98ghz, and
    a 4400x2 toledo core from 2.2ghz to 3.67ghz (magic stepping, yes i have screenies ran 24/7 with a big typhoon for near 2 years till upgrading)those kept at an idle of around 33c load temps of 42c-48c
    In all those instances the cooler used was a TT Bigtyphoon, with a 110cfm 120mm SS cooling it in place of the 54cfm stock fan.

    and now my 9850 quad core phenom from 2.5ghz up to 3.4ghz without the ACC aided 750SB board using a duo-orb. Idles at 36c, load temps of 46-50c, the NB actually gets considerably hotter then the cpu thanks to the passive cooling "solution"

    Even so, i designed and built a TEC case cooler, that is air cooled atm though am playing around with using W/C for the tecs as they reside in a case seperate from the PC hardware. Getting creative with airflow i can drop componet temps 20-25c, with uncreative airflow methods case temp drops by 10-15c depending on ambient. So i'm content with my little design over W/C, but i must pay respects to the horribly designed $400 TEC cooled case that came out a few years ago, because that was my true inspiration, remeding a horrid design.

    Before getting the 4870x2's, i had bought a single cored 4870, and the thing idled at like 89c or something, load temps approached 100c at times and there was no software method of fan control....even if they were within the designed thermal envelope...i don't like hardware that toasty and, the thing was actually heating up my room.

    Thankfully though Rivatuner upgraded, and Ati Expert tool as well came about giving access to fan control....and depressingly ATI decided to limit the "dynamic" fan speed to a base of 25%, even under heavy load of more then a couple hours i never saw the fan speed increase past 29%
    Now with the single 4870 card in a 25c ambient (78F)....even increasing the fan speed to
    50% drops the idle temp to about 35c, with load temps going into the mid 60's,
    taking it up to 75% drops idle temp to 32/33c with load temps staying in the low high 40's/low 50's.
    100% fan speed drops mine to 28/29c with load temps staying in the low to mid 40's.

    Yes, 100% is loud, 75% isn't really that noticiable...and 50% doesn't sound any different from the "dynamic" 25% baseline unless you're within 2 feet of the back of the comp.

    Now with the 4870x2, you have the problem of the second gpu having the heat of the first blown across it so there is always a 5-15c difference in gpu core temps in a 25c ambient room.
    Baseline 25% dynamic temp is 86c/1 94c/2 idle, 94c/1 99c/2 load
    50% takes it to 41c/1 52c/2 idle, 58c/1 67c/2 load
    75% takes it to 37c/1 45c/2 idle, 49c/1 60c/2 load
    100% takes it to 34c/1 39c/2 idle, 40c/1 49c/2 load

    Long term heavy load, those temps will prolly rise by 5c or so, but that's still a far far far cry from the base line temps, and it doesn't require more than a free download and 90 seconds to obtain.

    As long as load temps stay under 60-65c i'm a happy guy, and it doesn't increase the noise factor by very much to get that range, and you have the added benifit of being able to clock the card higher with more stability if so inclined.
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