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Four Closed-Loop CPU Coolers Take On Noctua's NH-D14

Four Closed-Loop CPU Coolers Take On Noctua's NH-D14
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Closed-loop liquid coolers relieve stress from our motherboards, without the portability and maintenance issues of traditional open-loop kits. Are these the best devices for system builders who plan to move their machines and want to avoid damage?

We know from experience that cooling performance is mostly tied to the size of your sink and the air moving over it. The folks selling heat sinks know this too, which helps explain how our most recent round-up of air coolers grew to 14 samples (Big Air: 14 LGA 2011-Compatible Coolers For Core i7-3000, Reviewed). 

Anyone who's ever studied physics tends to get a little nervous when they see us supporting a couple pounds of copper and aluminum with a few inches of leverage over a delicate circuit board. Configurations that work marvelously on a system you build and leave at home are prone to failure when you move that machine around. Just think about the nightmare boutique builders face when it comes to mailing off an expensive system with an aggressively overclocked processor and multiple graphics cards inside.

Even we're affected by the problem of heavy heat sinks! We used to ship the winners of our System Builder Marathon giveaways fully-built PCs. Enough coolers broke loose (or broke motherboards) that we had to start taking them apart and boxing up the individual pieces first. Sometimes I'd experiment with water-cooling in my high-end SBM submission, and that was equally problematic when it came to shipping.

Fortunately, a more user-friendly form of cooling is available. Closed-loop liquid coolers rarely leak, they have no fill ports from which to spill, there is no separate pump or reservoir to break loose, and the small water blocks place little stress on the motherboard. Although they aren't as configurable as conventional water-cooling kits, sealed coolers boast superior portability, transportability, and maintainability.

The newest generation of closed-loop systems is even said to offer better performance than those that matched the air-cooling market a year ago. But heat sinks and fans continue evolving too, and there's a new sheriff in town. Are sealed liquid coolers really ready to stand up to a truly monstrous air cooler?

Closed-Loop Liquid Coolers
 Cooler Master
Seidon 240M
Corsair
H100i 
Enermax
ELC240
Zalman
LQ320 
Length10.7"10.9"10.6"5.9"
Width4.8"4.7"4.7"4.9"
Rad. Thickness1.0"1.0"1.3"2.0"
Cooling Fans2 x 120 x 25 mm2 x 120 x 25 mm2 x 120 x 25 mm1 x 120 x 25 mm
Total Thickness2.0"2.0"2.3"3.0"
Control TypeMotherboard Fan HeadersIntegrated/Auto,
Programmable
Motherboard Fan HeaderMotherboard Fan Headers
Weight34 Ounces36 Ounces34 Ounces36 Ounces
AMD Processor Interfaces
All AM2 to AM3+Clip-OnAll AM2 to AM3+All AM2 to AM3+
Intel Processor Interfaces
775, 1156/1155, 1366, 2011775, 1156/1155, 1366, 2011775, 1156/1155, 1366, 20111156/1155, 1366, 2011
Web Price$100$120$120$105


With four vendors ready to prove their worth, we needed only to find a suitable platform and high-capacity air cooler of similar cost.

Display all 79 comments.
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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