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What Does It Take For A Closed-Loop Cooler To Beat Big Air?

Four New Closed-Loop Liquid Coolers Versus Noctua's NH-D14
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Historically, price was the biggest competitive problem for closed-loop liquid coolers. But several manufacturers recently dropped the prices of previous-generation products. The baseline NH-D14 is also expensive by air cooling standards, and is now matched by the reduced-price H90, X40, and 240M.

Price reductions are how the X40 and 240M beat Noctua's NH-D14 in a cooling/cost comparison. The H90 can beat the NH-D14’s value, but only when it’s mounted backwards. NZXT's Kraken X40 remains the real leader here.

However, overall performance compares cooling to noise. Using the numbers from that chart to map performance to price, we again find the NH-D14 on top. Thermaltake’s older Water2.0 Extreme takes second place when its fans are slowed through its automatic controller, and Zalman’s old LQ320 matches Corsair’s even older H90 with its fans at full-force. Both the LQ320 and H90 can be slowed through motherboard control, and either of these probably could have won the value debate if we arbitrarily set the motherboard’s fan slope to something approximating ideal cooling-to-noise conditions.

And the winner is? Well, we’d recognize the NH-D14 again if not for several factors, including the fact that this is a liquid-cooling shootout. A primary reason to choose one of these closed-loop solutions is that they place much less stress on a motherboard compared to big heat sinks. We’ve already destroyed a few thin platforms using massive chunks of metal bolted to processor interfaces, and we once had a board destroyed in shipping by its heavy cooler. It’s consequently difficult to recommend a socket-mounted cooler to anyone who moves their machine around, making it far easier to pick from the closed-loop contenders listed above.

Extra cooling capacity makes Thermaltake’s Water2.0 Extreme appear the better choice for large enclosures. Great value makes Corsair’s H90 and Zalman’s LQ320 appear excellent choices when the build is limited to a single fan mount.

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