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Which Cooler Is Right For Enthusiasts?

Antec Kühler Vs. Corsair Hydro: Sealed Liquid CPU Coolers Compared
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Offering a taste of liquid-cooled performance without the maintenance hassle, sealed-liquid systems are the logical choice for many high-end builds. We compare four options to an air-cooled standard to see if any of them stand out above the others.

With middle-of-the-road performance at a low price, it’s easy to see why so many builders continue to choose proven air coolers to maximize value. On the other hand, most enthusiasts want more cooling capacity, quieter operation, or some balance of those two characteristics.

Thus, a value chart like the one above doesn't really matter to the high-end buyers willing to spend big bucks on hardware, since it’s so heavily skewed by price. A look at the previous page’s cooling and acoustic efficiency charts give us the most useful information. And clearly, power users who simply want the best low-maintenance solution will take the closed-loop liquid route.

That’s also where Corsair’s H100 shines, though its lengthy design requires a specifically-designed case. While many of those cases exist, most builders don’t pick an enclosure based on its ability to accommodate a really big radiator.

Corsair’s H80 was the runner-up in both performance and noise, followed by Antec’s low-cost Kühler H₂O 620. A less than $20 difference between them seems like a pittance by high-end hardware standards. But the percentage is significant.

We’d have no problem running the Kühler H₂O 620 in most of our systems, even though its automatic fan control methods are completely inadequate for our build. That’s because we know that its three-pin fan can also be controlled by the CPU fan headers present on a few of our motherboards. Yet, the cost of switching up to a four-pin fan to make this part more universal nudges us even closer to the price of Corsair’s better-performing Hydro H80.

It appears that Corsair really does have the proverbial “better mousetrap” in its Hydro H80 and H100. The H80 fits more cases and costs less, so it gets our general recommendation for builders who want the performance of extra-big air, without the extra-heavy motherboard-busting heat sink. Now, let's see if enthusiasts pave a broad, hard-beaten road to Corsair's house.

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Top Comments
  • 13 Hide
    compton , December 5, 2011 3:10 AM
    You would have a hard time convincing me that my Noctua NH-U12P SE2 was anything but quiet and effective, but I know that many prefer sealed water solutions. My opinion is that for 1155 SB processors, even overclocked ones, you're better off with a high end air cooler.
  • 10 Hide
    soccerdocks , December 5, 2011 3:18 AM
    comptonYou would have a hard time convincing me that my Noctua NH-U12P SE2 was anything but quiet and effective, but I know that many prefer sealed water solutions. My opinion is that for 1155 SB processors, even overclocked ones, you're better off with a high end air cooler.


    I completely agree. Pretty much the only reason to go with these sealed water coolers is to say that you water cooled your PC.
Other Comments
  • 13 Hide
    compton , December 5, 2011 3:10 AM
    You would have a hard time convincing me that my Noctua NH-U12P SE2 was anything but quiet and effective, but I know that many prefer sealed water solutions. My opinion is that for 1155 SB processors, even overclocked ones, you're better off with a high end air cooler.
  • 10 Hide
    soccerdocks , December 5, 2011 3:18 AM
    comptonYou would have a hard time convincing me that my Noctua NH-U12P SE2 was anything but quiet and effective, but I know that many prefer sealed water solutions. My opinion is that for 1155 SB processors, even overclocked ones, you're better off with a high end air cooler.


    I completely agree. Pretty much the only reason to go with these sealed water coolers is to say that you water cooled your PC.
  • -3 Hide
    gmcizzle , December 5, 2011 3:38 AM
    Yes for SB processors, air is fine because they don't really get that hot. Now SBE, on the other hand, gets extremely hot and you need the best cooling you can get.
  • 4 Hide
    cmcghee358 , December 5, 2011 3:40 AM
    soccerdocksI completely agree. Pretty much the only reason to go with these sealed water coolers is to say that you water cooled your PC.


    I agree 100%. And I do, in fact have an H70. And when I'm at work describing the epic beast of computers I build, and I show off some pics of mine; I always point to the H70 and go "Theres the radiator for the water cooler" /gasp!
  • 1 Hide
    joytech22 , December 5, 2011 3:45 AM
    I still have my H50 so reading this bummed me out a little. Haha.
  • -1 Hide
    drumsrule786 , December 5, 2011 3:49 AM
    High end air is probably better than most sealed liquid coolers except for the H100. My H50 is alright but not nearly as good as I thought it was going to be when I first got it. Next build im definitely gonna go full custom water cooling though :D 
  • -3 Hide
    aznshinobi , December 5, 2011 4:10 AM
    These coolers are terrible cooling/value, it's sad that consumers see "Water-cooling" (IMO this is "fake" water cooling in that it's all in a closed loop) and they think it'll cool the best. However the temps speak for itself, a $50 air cooler can practically, if not beat, a $80 closed-loop WC solution with the dBA being similar. Sad.
  • 5 Hide
    Lutfij , December 5, 2011 4:17 AM
    did anyone else notice that the author as well as manufacturer's of these pseudo WC loops rerfer to the cpu contact plate as a cold plate...last time i checked a cold plate is what is used in a Peltier unit...:/
  • 5 Hide
    compton , December 5, 2011 4:19 AM
    cmcghee358I agree 100%. And I do, in fact have an H70. And when I'm at work describing the epic beast of computers I build, and I show off some pics of mine; I always point to the H70 and go "Theres the radiator for the water cooler" /gasp!


    I think that's a perfectly good reason to buy any product. I like that I have a choice. But Noctua's tower coolers look pretty sexy too.
  • 1 Hide
    Darkerson , December 5, 2011 4:20 AM
    Was thinking about getting the 620 for a future SB/IB build, but now Im not so sure. Anyway, thanks for the reviews!
  • 3 Hide
    spunkyddog , December 5, 2011 4:46 AM
    Oh god - My heart jumped when I saw this article pop-up on Tom's. I just bought my first build since 2005 and decided to go I7-3930K (expected arrival of all parts to be later today). With it, since intel did not strap a cooler to the proc this time around, and the proc was expected to be pretty hot, I went for the H80 rather than Intel's thinking that company had a better understanding of us and cooling expectations. Needless to say, after reading this article, I can sleep the rest of tonight knowing I made a good choice and am looking to possibly OC my system when the parts arrive. I'm really looking forward to spitting out faster render times for my Autodesk Maya projects. Thanks Thomas!
  • 3 Hide
    fourzeronine , December 5, 2011 5:44 AM
    I just put an H100 in a fresh build. Fan controller died within a couple days, I have to RMA it. I also have another H100 NIB that im putting in another build in about a week. I hope I don't have to RMA both of them... The pump is still working so I plugged the fans directly into the mobo fan headers. Damn it's loud, but hey I can use my new computer at least until the replacement comes in. X)
  • -3 Hide
    Reynod , December 5, 2011 5:49 AM
    Nice one crash.

    Remember these are easy to install closed loop water colling setups too guys.

    They are not half inch or bigger professional units designed to keep your massively overclocked sub-critical mass uber rig cool as ice and quiet too.

    You need a decent pump, a large or two smaller radiators, a tank, and a lot more hose ... and some more time.

    http://www.swiftech.com/


    Corsair, Asetech, Antec, Thermaltake ... these are all low end units ... not enthusiast's water cooling gear like Swiftech.

    Good value for money though ... I am not knocking them.
  • -2 Hide
    BrightCandle , December 5, 2011 6:00 AM
    It would be nice to also see a custom water cooling kit that is specified on a water delta of 10C or less compared directly in these reviews. For an overclocked SB it would be either a thick 120.2 or a slim 120.3 radiator combined with some Gentle Typhoon fans. For blocks a HK 3, llang ddc 3 pump with XSPC head and 1/2" piping throughout. Sure it costs a lot more but it also cools a lot better than these prebuilt systems.
  • 1 Hide
    lashabane , December 5, 2011 7:19 AM
    Super good write up. I've been on the fence for awhile now when it comes to my next cooling solution. I'll have to take another look at these when it comes time to build my next system.
  • 0 Hide
    jemm , December 5, 2011 7:58 AM
    Excellent article!
  • -1 Hide
    lothdk , December 5, 2011 8:05 AM

    Once again you do a comparison against an inferior air cooler, so your conclusion does not hold much weight with me.

    Why do you not include the Noctua NH-D14 or a Thermalright Silver Arrow, both which cost about the same as your WC loops (or a bit less) yet are delivering better performance (and noise levels) with the Antec H100 at max speed as the exception. The H100 is comparable to the air coolers.
  • 0 Hide
    cmcghee358 , December 5, 2011 8:07 AM
    comptonI think that's a perfectly good reason to buy any product. I like that I have a choice. But Noctua's tower coolers look pretty sexy too.


    Oh I'd rather have a Noctua NH-D14 with a 3rd NH-12 fan, but I traded an old crappy PSU for this H70 brand new. So I takes what I can gets!
  • 2 Hide
    Crashman , December 5, 2011 8:21 AM
    LothDKOnce again you do a comparison against an inferior air cooler...
    Conspiracy theories aside, the air cooler was picked because it was 120mm and had a similar-sized radiator. After all, it IS one of the top coolers its size.

    Furthermore you say "Once again..." even though the air cooler won the last time this editor wrote this type of comparison. Look it up, "Small water versus Big Air", I'm sure Google can help.

    cmcghee358Oh I'd rather have a Noctua NH-D14 with a 3rd NH-12 fan, but I traded an old crappy PSU for this H70 brand new. So I takes what I can gets!
    I probably would too, but Intel would prefer you don't. It's going sealed liquid in its LGA 2011 configurations to reduce weight on the board. It even designed BTX with CPU cooler support built in (for the same reason), though builders rejected BTX. Heck, even AMD has pushed small liquid on reviewers in its AM3+ test kit, just take a look at the lead photo!
  • 1 Hide
    lothdk , December 5, 2011 8:33 AM
    Quote:
    Conspiracy theories aside, the air cooler was picked because it was 120mm and had a similar-sized radiator. After all, it IS one of the top coolers its size.

    Furthermore you say "Once again..." even though the air cooler won the last time this editor wrote this type of comparison. Look it up, "Small water versus Big Air", I'm sure Google can help.


    I read your last article as well, like I do most articles on the site.

    The problem I have with this article is your intro where you mention noise and cooling performance, yet you chose an air cooler that is cheaper than the WC loops you are testing.
    Had you chosen a comparable air cooler price wise (the Ncotua NH-D14 or Thermalright Silver Arrow), all of the WC loops would have performed worse than the air cooler, the H100 would have been the exception, but it would have to run at max speed, thus negating the noise level performance.
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