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Small Water Versus Big Air, Part 3: Cooling Questions Answered

Small Water Versus Big Air, Part 3: Cooling Questions Answered
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Our quest to find an advantage—any advantage—in today’s maintenance-free compact liquid coolers began with CoolIT’s Domino A.L.C. sealed liquid system and the low-cost Cogage True Spirit 120mm tower. Unfortunately, the liquid cooler only performed as well as the air cooler when its custom-wired fan was forced to operate at its maximum speed of 2,800 RPM, versus the air cooler’s maximum fan speed of 1,600 RPM. The enormous increase in cost and noise for sub-par cooling performance put the Domino A.L.C. at an equally big disadvantage compared to the simpler sink and fan.

Our quest continued with Corsair’s H50 sealed-liquid system and Rosewill’s FORT120 air-cooling tower, where the air cooler’s fast 2,400 RPM fan gave it a cooling advantage comparable to its resulting acoustic disadvantage. Readers complained that the tradeoff between cooling and noise could only be addressed by using the same fan on both coolers, while Corsair pointed out that we weren't using the configuration the way it was designed, blowing cooler air through the radiator. In contrast, air coolers must typically use warm case air to cool the processor, which is a disadvantage not properly reflected on an open bench. End users typically don’t run open systems, and the H50 was designed to use the case advantageously.

This leaves us with a few additional configurations to test. How much better will the Corsair H50 and the Cogage True Spirit function with Rosewill’s FORT120 more powerful fan? How much worse will the Cogage True Spirit and Rosewill FORT120 perform in a closed system? Today we test each configuration inside a traditional oversized mid-tower case, using two different fan configurations for each unit.

Get ready. All of your questions are about to be answered.

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  • 13 Hide
    Annisman , September 11, 2009 6:14 AM
    Ditched my Domino A.L.C. for a Xigmatek Thor's Hammer with 2 X Scythe fans. Strapped it on a Core i7 920, bumped it to 4.0Ghz and never looked back.
  • 13 Hide
    skora , September 11, 2009 11:17 AM
    Thanks for listening to the feedback and doing follow ups like this TS. Really gives the community a reason to become involved knowing our unanswered questions get addressed.
Other Comments
  • 13 Hide
    Annisman , September 11, 2009 6:14 AM
    Ditched my Domino A.L.C. for a Xigmatek Thor's Hammer with 2 X Scythe fans. Strapped it on a Core i7 920, bumped it to 4.0Ghz and never looked back.
  • 1 Hide
    burnley14 , September 11, 2009 6:20 AM
    Interesting. This is good to know for a future build, since cheap water cooling was always a temptation for me.
  • 8 Hide
    tkgclimb , September 11, 2009 6:34 AM
    I was looking at water, then I decided if I really want to do this I'm going to have to spend at least 200 if i want a good, effective, upgradeable system. So I'm going to get the megahalem or the thermalright TRUE extreme. and stay with some sick air.
  • -1 Hide
    rpmrush , September 11, 2009 7:22 AM
    Air is still a better value unless you value noise or lack there of.
    Water offers lower noise @ a slightly less extreme overclock, but who runs 4.0Ghz plus everyday.
  • -5 Hide
    apache_lives , September 11, 2009 7:39 AM
    still using my old thermaltake big typhoon with a few mods - sealed the gaps on the sides for more air pressure and using a 12cm "thick" fan from a dell tower (crazy) and the same type fan to extract air - works a treat :D 

    kinda proves that when your going water cooling, do it PROPERLY not a pre made kit

    if i was to do water cooling, i would go all the way with a modded car radiator, drum for a water sump and a few powerful decent sized pumps to start off with to keep everything sweet, none of this "barely better then stock" bs.
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , September 11, 2009 8:02 AM
    The corsair h50 is NOT a water cooling solution. Not even close. At best, call it an "optimized" air cooler. The only situation where you would want one is if you need to install a cooler in a tight space. Otherwise, it's higher cost really ruins any value it has.
  • 5 Hide
    The_Blood_Raven , September 11, 2009 10:42 AM
    Get a Swiftech H220 in there and it will beat the air coolers pretty well, besides that there are no out of the box water cooling setups that can actually beat high end air coolers by anything meaningful.


    Good article though, your best articles are when you take the time to answer these odd questions that are commonly asked by the enthusiast.
  • 2 Hide
    Onus , September 11, 2009 11:10 AM
    As many times as I see bottom-PSU cases like the Antec 300 recommended in builds in the Forum, the lingering question for me becomes, "Suppose I do have a bottom-psu top-panel-fan case. Would that make a difference?" Or, is there ANY situation where the cooling performance of this type of liquid cooler is actually superior to a big air cooler?
  • 13 Hide
    skora , September 11, 2009 11:17 AM
    Thanks for listening to the feedback and doing follow ups like this TS. Really gives the community a reason to become involved knowing our unanswered questions get addressed.
  • 2 Hide
    Onus , September 11, 2009 11:28 AM
    ^Absolutely.
  • 0 Hide
    thodgson , September 11, 2009 11:39 AM
    It would be good to see a comparison of the H50 with a push-pull fan setup.

    I have an old-style Antec SLK-B case with a side-port fan (intake) that blows air into and through two push-pull 1500 RPM fans with the H50 radiator sandwiched in-between; these fans blow out, not in. The temp drop from a single fan to dual fans is around 7c degrees.

    The biggest advantage of the H50 is noise, or lack thereof. My Tenma sound meter records less than 30db within 1ft of the case. Can't say that for any of the other HSFs I've tried (mostly stock).
  • 0 Hide
    zodiacfml , September 11, 2009 12:32 PM
    still prefer the liquid cooler as it reduces the need for an exhaust fan, only I should have to match it to a powerful processor for good use of it.
  • 0 Hide
    vinshon , September 11, 2009 12:44 PM
    i have the thermaltake v9 case with 230x230 large top exhause fan, and psu is at the bottom of the case, would the h50 do better for me?
  • -6 Hide
    FSC , September 11, 2009 1:10 PM
    Otherwise fine article but who would use 250w consuming freak CPU in their computer in everyday life? I'd love to see the results of using stocks-speed instead over clocking.
  • -1 Hide
    MU_Engineer , September 11, 2009 1:21 PM
    rpmrushAir is still a better value unless you value noise or lack there of.Water offers lower noise @ a slightly less extreme overclock, but who runs 4.0Ghz plus everyday.


    Air can be very quiet, but it requires that you keep fan speeds low. A good 120 mm fan running at 1000 rpm or less is just about inaudible, but such low speeds mean you can't overclock a whole lot. I'd guess based on my experience that you wouldn't want to pump more than about 150-160 W through a decent 120 mm tower heatsink like the ones used in the review if you keep the fans
  • 4 Hide
    theLaminator , September 11, 2009 1:35 PM
    @vinshon
    IMO you should be able to build a custom water setup in that case. Custom water will cool much better than the h50 anyday. Will it cost more than the h50? Yes but if you're gonna do water do water, these little prebuilt kits really don't cut it when comes to shedding heat or noise levels
  • 2 Hide
    doomtomb , September 11, 2009 1:44 PM
    theLaminator@vinshonIMO you should be able to build a custom water setup in that case. Custom water will cool much better than the h50 anyday. Will it cost more than the h50? Yes but if you're gonna do water do water, these little prebuilt kits really don't cut it when comes to shedding heat or noise levels

    Yep, I started out with a little pre-built kit but now I use a custom built loop to cool my CPU and northbridge/southbridge. Keeps the temp way way down on both. I have a 780i and the northbridge & southbridge have terrible stock cooling and the CPU is a quad core overclocked to 3.75GHz and it still stays icy cold.
  • -1 Hide
    radium69 , September 11, 2009 2:00 PM
    Cooler Master Hyper Z 600 with dual scythe ultra kaze 38mm x 120mm. Nuff said'
  • 1 Hide
    thackstonns , September 11, 2009 2:13 PM
    yeah i would like to see you guys do some loop testing with some danger den stuff. I have a custom loop with an old ehiem pump, danger den waterblock, and a dual 120mm heatercore, and it stomps temps. I reach the limit of the cpu way before I tax the loop.
  • 4 Hide
    scooterlibby , September 11, 2009 2:55 PM
    I just ditched the Domino when a "self-contained" pump burst and spewed coolant all over the VGA's, motherboard, and PSU. It was a nifty little thing, but the Zalman 9700 replacement I got seems to cool better and cost a lot less. Having tried both big air and little water, I really don't see the benefit of little water. If you want liquid, just go full out with "big water" in my humble opinion.
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