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.
The path to better PC component cooling has always involved bigger cooling surfaces, more airflow, or lower ambient temperatures. The problem with standard heat sink and fan designs is that the fans already hit the space limits of most systems, and making the cooler thicker can push its weight beyond the limits of the ATX form factor, causing bowing, bending, and sometimes even breaking. Noisy high-speed fans are required to maintain reasonable air velocity through the thicker sink, and pushing for the lowest ambient temperature often necessitates an acoustically-unfriendly chassis.
Liquid cooling conquers these challenges by relocating the heat sink to a more appropriate location, where it can be supported by the case and exposed to a cooler and/or higher-velocity airstream.
Moving the radiator away from the processor interface also benefits the builder, providing ample space to reach memory modules and on-board power connectors. And yet, maintenance issues often chase builders away from the custom cooling systems so often favored by our most enthusiastic readers. The alternative for low maintenance, sealed systems have become so reliable that they’re even being branded and sold by AMD (with its FX-series processors) and Intel (complementing the Sandy Bridge-E-based chips).
For as similar as the two coolers in the shot above seem, though, the included installation hardware is platform-specific. We decided that if we're going to spend big money on cooling, we want more universality than that. So, we chose to compare retail coolers able to support multiple platforms (two of which were produced by the same company as the platform-specific models).
|Closed-Loop Cooler Features|
|Cooling Fans||1 x 120 x 25 mm||2 x 120 x 25 mm||1 x 120 x25 mm||2 x 120 x 25 mm|
|Weight||24 Ounces||39 Ounces||42 Ounces||41 Ounces|
|AMD Sockets||All AM2 to AM3+||All AM2 to AM3+||All AM2 to AM3+||All AM2 to AM3+|
|Intel Sockets||775, 1156/1155, 1366||775, 1156/1155, 1366||775, 1156/1155, 1366, 2011||775, 1156/1155, 1366, 2011|