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Four New Closed-Loop Liquid Coolers Versus Noctua's NH-D14

Four New Closed-Loop Liquid Coolers Versus Noctua's NH-D14
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Four new closed-loop liquid coolers seek to improve thermal performance in a number of ways. We certainly understand the benefits of these configurations, but can they out-do the reigning air-cooling champion, Noctua's NH-D14? Check out our benchmarks.

The latest closed-loop CPU coolers help push your stable overclocks to new heights, while quieting your PC to a soft, unobtrusive whirr. At least, that's what we're meant to believe. In practice, we've had a tough time demonstrating how this latest generation differs from the models that came before. The issue is that the physics of cooling haven’t changed. Though more exotic materials help transfer thermal energy from one component to another more efficiently, increasing airflow over a larger surface area remains the key to dissipating that heat from a radiator to the surrounding air.

More surface area is where liquid cooling gets its advantage. No longer limited to space above the CPU, where conventional heat sinks do their work, liquid cooling radiators can grow to fill whatever mounting surface you can free up inside your case. And they aren't limited by the amount of weight your processor interface supports, either. Liquid coolers can have as many fins and tubes as your manufacturer of choice can fit into that larger space. Radiators can even be moved into a cooler airstream, compelling some case designers to place mounting locations on their front panels or hard drive cage.

Increasingly, low-cost manufacturing makes closed-loop cooling an affordable option for many mid-budget builds. The technology still has two problems to overcome, though. First is that the displaced fans usually leave a hot voltage regulator on the motherboard. The second problem is that they still have trouble outperforming equally large (and dangerously heavy, if you build and ship your own machines) CPU-mounted designs. Today’s closed-loop coolers have solutions for both concerns.

Cooler Master tries to solve the debate about size by making its 280 mm cooler bigger than just about any air cooler we've seen. Zalman takes stab at the voltage regulator cooling problem by using an un-shrouded fan, which blows air in more directions than straight forward. SilverStone attempts to address both issues by making its 240 mm radiator nearly twice as thick, and then recommending that its fans be installed upside-down so that they blow towards the motherboard.

Closed-Liquid CPU Cooler Features
 Cooler Master
Nepton 280L
SilverStone
Tundra TD02
Thermaltake
Water 3.0 Pro
Zalman
Reserator3 Max
Length12.2"10.9"5.9"5.9"
Width5.6"4.9"4.7"4.8"
Rad. Thickness1.2"1.8"1.9"2.0"
Cooling Fans2 x 140 x 25 mm2 x 120 x 25 mm2 x 120 x 25 mm1 x 120 x 25 mm
Total Thickness2.2"2.8"4.1"3.1"
Control TypeMotherboard Fan HeadersMotherboard Fan HeadersMotherboard Fan HeadersMotherboard Fan Headers
Weight51 Ounces63 Ounces35 Ounces31 Ounces
AMD SocketsAll 4-bolt (AM2 to FM2)All 4-bolt (AM2 to FM2)All 4-bolt (AM2 to FM2)All 4-bolt (AM2 to FM2)
Intel SocketsAll 4-bolt (775 to 2011)All 4-bolt (775 to 2011)115x, 1366, 2011All 4-bolt (775 to 2011)
Web Price$120$120$90$100

Socket-mounted coolers are most common, so we clamped on our most popular competing sample. At 47 ounces, the award-winning SE2011 (LGA 2011) version of Noctua’s NH-D14 exemplifies our cautions concerning dangerously heavy CPU-mounted designs.

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Top Comments
  • 38 Hide
    squirrelboy , October 6, 2013 9:34 PM
    length, width and thickness in inches, fan size in mm, weight in ounces. can we just have mm everywhere, and preferably kg as well?
  • 20 Hide
    djorgji , October 7, 2013 12:24 AM
    Is it so difficult to sort the results from best to worst? Lowest to highest etc?

    Like this it is impossible to read.
Other Comments
  • 38 Hide
    squirrelboy , October 6, 2013 9:34 PM
    length, width and thickness in inches, fan size in mm, weight in ounces. can we just have mm everywhere, and preferably kg as well?
  • 2 Hide
    razor512 , October 6, 2013 9:38 PM
    Seems they reduced their old BS claim of handling 400 watts of heat on the Reserator 3 MAX, it is now 350 watts, but even that seems unrealistic.

    Tomshardware should place some of these coolers on a resistive load of 300-400 watts and see if these coolers can actually handle the heat, or will the fluid boil and build up enough pressure to pop.
  • 1 Hide
    xiinc37 , October 6, 2013 9:40 PM
    Isn't the whole point of watercooling to move the cooler far away from the cpu, so that there is more room to utilize a significantly larger radiator? The thermalright and zalman options look smaller than the noctua...
  • 2 Hide
    rmpumper , October 6, 2013 10:07 PM
    Grabbed a Dark Rock Pro 2 for my new setup. No regrets - looks a billion times better than D14, is less noisy, performs +-1C the same.
  • 2 Hide
    ingtar33 , October 6, 2013 10:27 PM
    got an old corsair h100 for $50, which was less then the old heatsink i had on my phII x4 965 used to go for (thermalright ultra 120), Gained a solid 8C improvement in temps, lost some of the noise advantages (the ultra had two noctua's on it)... setting it to medium gave me a 5C improvement in temps, and about the same noise levels. overall i'm pretty happy with it. it looks cleaner, that's for sure.
  • 0 Hide
    bigcyco1 , October 6, 2013 10:30 PM
    Thanks for the review.I always have said if someone is going to watercool they should go custom.IMO those all in one water cooling kits just are not worth it. They are no better than high-end air cooling like a Noctua D14, Thermalright Silver Arrow,Phanteks PH-TC14PE elect.If you want to go water cooling do a custom loop if not just go with top of the line air cooling.Better bang per buck!
  • 0 Hide
    itzsnypah , October 6, 2013 10:47 PM
    I wish there was some way to measure the DeltaT of the Ethylene Glycol used in these CLC's because truthfully I wouldn't be surprised to see >25c when using a overclocked 3960X.
  • 0 Hide
    ChromeTusk , October 6, 2013 11:23 PM
    I wonder how much the rear exhaust fan would have affected the Reserstor3’s results.
    In any case, I will wait for price drops or rebates.
  • 20 Hide
    djorgji , October 7, 2013 12:24 AM
    Is it so difficult to sort the results from best to worst? Lowest to highest etc?

    Like this it is impossible to read.
  • -1 Hide
    nilfisktun , October 7, 2013 12:45 AM
    Well, those stock fans all blows, in my optic. You might call it cheating, but try slamming in two noctua pwm fans in a H100i for instance. I run this at home, and those fans typically runs at 600-800 rpm, therefore being totally silent. My stock temps rest around 38C, with 22C ambient, and hit around 60C at full prime load. i7 2600K @ 4.2 ghz. 1.28v
  • 2 Hide
    Plusthinking Iq , October 7, 2013 1:49 AM
    this is very bad testing, it only works for out of the box comparison. most of the watercoolers can be tweaked into lower speed of fans and even pump like they do on silentpcreview. this test i was hoping to answer my question if i could buy a dual fan watercooler instead of the air cooler to cool a i7 powerhouse with oc and still tweak it so its nearly silent. instead the fans are in the thousands of rpm when only 1000 is needed to cool efficiently......
  • 0 Hide
    Knoodle Knocker , October 7, 2013 2:58 AM
    I have H100, H100i, Coolermaster Seidon 240 and Thermal Take Water 2.0. Cooling wise, TT water 2.0 really works well in the extreme mode, but the fan is noisy and you can feel some vibrations in the PC case. Tt water 2.0 is excellent. There were times when I just turned on the PC and I thought that the PC was still off as I can't hear a noise coming out from the fans of Tt water 2.0. For quiet mode, this is the best. Over all, from what I have that I listed above, Tt water 2.0 is the best choice.
  • 0 Hide
    BigMack70 , October 7, 2013 4:34 AM
    Thanks for the review! It's always nice to have roundups for coolers like this, and I think you guys are right on for using the D14 as the base of comparison (thanks for not using a less popular but newer cooler like the U14S).

    I've been tempted for a long time to switch my NH-D14 out for a Corsair H110 and just use my 140mm Noctua fans on it... not sure if this review makes me want to do that more or not.
  • 0 Hide
    philly27 , October 7, 2013 5:04 AM
    I would have liked to see Swiftech in there, even though it's a slightly different category. good article but I tend to agree with Plusthinking b/c tweaking w/o a neglect-able performance hit is achievable
  • -1 Hide
    JamesSneed , October 7, 2013 6:14 AM
    Quote:
    this is very bad testing, it only works for out of the box comparison. most of the watercoolers can be tweaked into lower speed of fans and even pump like they do on silentpcreview. this test i was hoping to answer my question if i could buy a dual fan watercooler instead of the air cooler to cool a i7 powerhouse with oc and still tweak it so its nearly silent. instead the fans are in the thousands of rpm when only 1000 is needed to cool efficiently......


    The testing may not have been what you were wanting but I don't think you can call it bad because they didn't test custom configurations. Your particular question has been answered, the answer is no, use the Noctua air cooler.

    With that said I would appreciate a thermal test that used the same fan on every cooler to show efficiency.
  • 1 Hide
    slomo4sho , October 7, 2013 6:31 AM
    Noctua NF-F12 fans on my Cooler Master Seidon 240M perform well. The issue with the current selection of close-looped coolers are the fans that they come with. Noisy high rpm fans may be efficient at cooling and proving high static pressure but their performance doesn't justify the acoustics.

    I am hoping that Toms has a followup article testing various radiator fans.
  • 1 Hide
    Drejeck , October 7, 2013 6:39 AM
    I have a D14 rheobus controlled to fixed 12v and I can't hear it over my antec Big Boy 200mm triple speed
    6 years of warranty outlive those AIO liquid cooling.
    Why are getting this crappy things so popular? I am gathering Bitspower fittings to start a real liquid loop (demineralized water and nickel plating only). AIO watercooling the cpu doesn't make sense to me given the performance of top air coolers and their reliability. It could make sense when you watercool a GPU which works a lot harder in a limited space and with weight issues.
  • 4 Hide
    bchan009 , October 7, 2013 6:44 AM
    Can't speak for bigger AIOs but small-sized 120mm fan/radiator AIOs are a godsend for people who build mini ITX performance rigs like me. In some cases the biggest air cooling solution I can fit is the intel stock cooler, and AIOs save the day big time. =)
  • -1 Hide
    7amood , October 7, 2013 6:45 AM
    Quote:
    Thanks for the review! It's always nice to have roundups for coolers like this, and I think you guys are right on for using the D14 as the base of comparison (thanks for not using a less popular but newer cooler like the U14S).


    how did you come to the conclusion that the U14S is less popular than the older NH-D14? The U14S has shown and proven that the NH-D14 is over-engineered. For an air cooler, the U14S competes with the best water coolers. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against water cooling. I'm just saying that the U14S is better than NH-D14 in performance as it is newer.

    This review should have included the U14S as it is superior than that old NH-D14.
  • 0 Hide
    chesteracorgi , October 7, 2013 7:13 AM
    I have been running the Antec H20 920 for 2 + years, modding it out with Cougar 120 mm fans: the Antec fans were unacceptably loud, and used the Antec 620 in another gaming build. Both run quiet and cool (between +5 and + 10 C at idle) and never have exceeded 60 C in gaming or at stress.
    The torque on the mobo is minimal compared to the Noctua or other big air coolers and the case cooling is improved through greater circulation.
    Big air is fine for cooling but taxing on the mobo and impacts longevity. If you plan to keep a rig for more than 3 years beware of big air: mobos are not designed to endure constant shearing torque of 1-2 Kg.
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