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Can Air Cooling Win A Round-Up Of Liquid Coolers?

Four Closed-Loop CPU Coolers Take On Noctua's NH-D14
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Yielding CPU temperatures just a few degrees warmer than Corsair's top-performing H100i, generating less noise than the extra-quiet Enermax ELC240, and selling for less than any of the closer-loop liquid coolers in today's story, Noctua’s NH-D14 looks like the surprise winner in our analysis of value.

Unfortunately, if we accidentally knock our PC over, the NH-D14 might very well break our motherboard. Never mind trying to figure out the best way to ship it, installed, across the country. Even if we could guarantee that the folks at UPS and FedEx would handle our machine gently, the idea of having all of that weight rocking back and forth sounds like horrible torture for the delicate contacts of Intel’s LGA interface. From a portability perspective, big air is a bad idea.

Zalman's LQ320 takes second place in overall performance value. A look back at our performance data (before we factored in price) shows that Corsair's H100i is the best outright performer. We’re fairly certain that once we cross into $100+ territory, the $15 difference doesn't matter nearly as much.

Because many of the buyers shopping in this segment opt for closed-loop liquid cooling out of necessity and with less emphasis on price differences, we really have to consider awards for the top performing and best value liquid coolers, Corsair's H100i and Zalman's LQ320.

Our Tom's Hardware Approved recognition allows us to put the best performance and the best value on equal footing. If you're using the motherboard and the case in this story, specifically, the H100i becomes even more attractive. The LQ320 simply requires different hardware considerations to do its job well.

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Top Comments
  • 20 Hide
    EzioAs , December 31, 2012 3:27 AM
    Love the title!

    Nice review as well. Too bad you didn't test NZXT kraken cpu coolers.

    If you ask me, I'd rather stick with the D14
  • 18 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , December 31, 2012 3:37 AM
    Keeping up and beating with all the Water coolers should earn the NH-D14 a "best of the best" award of its own. And its a ~2-3 year old product!
  • 10 Hide
    Crashman , December 31, 2012 5:20 AM
    austingI'm suprized to see a single 120mm rad can keep up with the h100i, bravo Zalman.
    Others are twice as wide, Zalman is twice as thick, if you're making that choice it should be determined by your case.
    mayankleoboy1Keeping up and beating with all the Water coolers should earn the NH-D14 a "best of the best" award of its own. And its a ~2-3 year old product!
    The NH-D14 already got a "best of the best" award.
    tanjoNo NZXT Kraken and Thermaltake Water 2.0 (which is 3rd gen Asetek iirc)?
    Kraken samples got delayed until Christmas Eve, far too late for this article. All five of the companies who sent samples (the four tested plus NZXT) had previously requested this review.

Other Comments
  • 9 Hide
    austing , December 31, 2012 3:22 AM
    I'm suprized to see a single 120mm rad can keep up with the h100i, bravo Zalman.
  • 20 Hide
    EzioAs , December 31, 2012 3:27 AM
    Love the title!

    Nice review as well. Too bad you didn't test NZXT kraken cpu coolers.

    If you ask me, I'd rather stick with the D14
  • 18 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , December 31, 2012 3:37 AM
    Keeping up and beating with all the Water coolers should earn the NH-D14 a "best of the best" award of its own. And its a ~2-3 year old product!
  • 3 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , December 31, 2012 3:39 AM
    Small nit : i would have liked to see similar test done with a 3770K and a high OC.
  • 6 Hide
    sluggercz , December 31, 2012 3:45 AM
    A possibly overlooked benefit of closed loop AIO systems are their ability to fit in SFF cases. While this certainly applies more to the single 120mm radiator designs, some cases (such as the Fractal Design Node 304) can accommodate 240mm radiators)

    (Source: Using a Corsair H60 w/ 2 Noctua NF-F12's in push-pull config in my Lian-Li PC-Q08; such large air-coolers as the Noctua could not fit due to the limited vertical clearance above the CPU)
  • 1 Hide
    hero1 , December 31, 2012 3:45 AM
    Awesome review. Keep it up. I remember commenting about how much better the closed loop CPU coolers have gotten and I got down voted but this just proved my point. I have very sensitive hearing and I can never hear my CoolIt R120(?) spin apart from the initial startup. And this is inside a CM Haf XM. I play games with CPU+GPU OCd to 4.5GHzby 1.2GHz and you can barely hear any noise. First I thought something was wrong then I got my friends and wife to listen whil I played with muted sound and they were impressed. Up next is water cooling my GPU when I add another one in a month in SLI mode. Gaming PCs FTW!
  • 9 Hide
    tanjo , December 31, 2012 3:47 AM
    No NZXT Kraken and Thermaltake Water 2.0 (which is 3rd gen Asetek iirc)?
  • 8 Hide
    hero1 , December 31, 2012 3:48 AM
    BTW DH-14 still deserves an award alongside the H100i and Zalman. Not many, if any air coolers out there can keep up with top notch closed loop CPU coolers.
  • 2 Hide
    hero1 , December 31, 2012 3:51 AM
    tanjoNo NZXT Kraken and Thermaltake Water 2.0 (which is 3rd gen Asetek iirc)?


    Bit-tech.net has a review of Thermaltake water coolers and their top end 240mm took the crown. Better than H100i and the rest shown here.
  • 8 Hide
    nukemaster , December 31, 2012 3:57 AM
    With MB control the NH D14 can be very quiet :) 

    It is HUGE, but I got it for 50$ and to me that was a great value. It was also on for 50$ again at NCIX's boxing day sale.

    Sure fills up an SSF system.
    Not embedding the image because it may mess up the page.
    http://imageshack.us/a/img39/1358/dsc0458s.jpg

  • -3 Hide
    kensingtron , December 31, 2012 4:44 AM
    I have the has even lower temps, quieter running, for a similar price and is 240g lighter!

  • -3 Hide
    kensingtron , December 31, 2012 4:44 AM
    I have read the NH "C"14 has even lower temps, quieter running, for a similar price and is 240g lighter!
  • 10 Hide
    Crashman , December 31, 2012 5:20 AM
    austingI'm suprized to see a single 120mm rad can keep up with the h100i, bravo Zalman.
    Others are twice as wide, Zalman is twice as thick, if you're making that choice it should be determined by your case.
    mayankleoboy1Keeping up and beating with all the Water coolers should earn the NH-D14 a "best of the best" award of its own. And its a ~2-3 year old product!
    The NH-D14 already got a "best of the best" award.
    tanjoNo NZXT Kraken and Thermaltake Water 2.0 (which is 3rd gen Asetek iirc)?
    Kraken samples got delayed until Christmas Eve, far too late for this article. All five of the companies who sent samples (the four tested plus NZXT) had previously requested this review.

  • 2 Hide
    cmcghee358 , December 31, 2012 7:03 AM
    I would've liked to see a timed trial. From my experience with an H50, H70 and NH-D14, the closed loop coolers will eventually increase in temperature overtime as they are unable to fully drop the fluid to ambient before it gets pushed back to the CPU and reheated. Heating it, and the CPU just a little bit more.

    I recommend at least a 60 minute Prime95 test of each cooler to get an accurate delta over ambient
  • 2 Hide
    rantoc , December 31, 2012 7:04 AM
    H100i seems to end up poorly in about all tests, The H80i performs about as well. The only time the H100i perform as it should is with a push / pull config using a total of 4 fans. Could be just a firmware issue (Yes the H100i can be flashed)
  • 0 Hide
    EzioAs , December 31, 2012 7:08 AM
    Quote:
    I would've liked to see a timed trial. From my experience with an H50, H70 and NH-D14, the closed loop coolers will eventually increase in temperature overtime as they are unable to fully drop the fluid to ambient before it gets pushed back to the CPU and reheated. Heating it, and the CPU just a little bit more.

    I recommend at least a 60 minute Prime95 test of each cooler to get an accurate delta over ambient


    60mins? Somewhere around 20mins isn't enough for these CLCs to reach equilibrium?
  • 4 Hide
    rantoc , December 31, 2012 7:19 AM
    EzioAs60mins? Somewhere around 20mins isn't enough for these CLCs to reach equilibrium?


    For an lcs without any reservoir - 60 mins sounds excessive to have them maxed out, 20 min sound more than sufficient. Some home reviewers have claimed that it takes about 60 mins for a lcs without reservoir to max out but its been busted when its been shown the ambient room temperature have been the major change for the last 45 mins...
  • -5 Hide
    athulajp , December 31, 2012 8:17 AM
    Yes, if you knock your PC over you'll probably break your motherboard, but with such a big cooler it's going to take a bit more force.
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , December 31, 2012 8:30 AM
    cmcghee358I would've liked to see a timed trial. From my experience with an H50, H70 and NH-D14, the closed loop coolers will eventually increase in temperature overtime as they are unable to fully drop the fluid to ambient before it gets pushed back to the CPU and reheated. Heating it, and the CPU just a little bit more.I recommend at least a 60 minute Prime95 test of each cooler to get an accurate delta over ambient
    That could have been a useful suggestion if not for the fact that it was already the approximate method used.
  • 1 Hide
    Novuake , December 31, 2012 9:08 AM
    Is it just me or do Asetek coolers always eem to have little nitty gritty issues? Anyway. nice review. Loved it BUT I much prefer Silver Arrow SB-E extreme above the Noctua. But yes, its sad that not even the H100i outpaces the Noctua...
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