Four Closed-Loop CPU Coolers Take On Noctua's NH-D14

When It Comes To Cooling, Size Matters

We know from experience that cooling performance is mostly tied to the size of your sink and the air moving over it. The folks selling heat sinks know this too, which helps explain how our most recent round-up of air coolers grew to 14 samples (Big Air: 14 LGA 2011-Compatible Coolers For Core i7-3000, Reviewed). 

Anyone who's ever studied physics tends to get a little nervous when they see us supporting a couple pounds of copper and aluminum with a few inches of leverage over a delicate circuit board. Configurations that work marvelously on a system you build and leave at home are prone to failure when you move that machine around. Just think about the nightmare boutique builders face when it comes to mailing off an expensive system with an aggressively overclocked processor and multiple graphics cards inside.

Even we're affected by the problem of heavy heat sinks! We used to ship the winners of our System Builder Marathon giveaways fully-built PCs. Enough coolers broke loose (or broke motherboards) that we had to start taking them apart and boxing up the individual pieces first. Sometimes I'd experiment with water-cooling in my high-end SBM submission, and that was equally problematic when it came to shipping.

Fortunately, a more user-friendly form of cooling is available. Closed-loop liquid coolers rarely leak, they have no fill ports from which to spill, there is no separate pump or reservoir to break loose, and the small water blocks place little stress on the motherboard. Although they aren't as configurable as conventional water-cooling kits, sealed coolers boast superior portability, transportability, and maintainability.

The newest generation of closed-loop systems is even said to offer better performance than those that matched the air-cooling market a year ago. But heat sinks and fans continue evolving too, and there's a new sheriff in town. Are sealed liquid coolers really ready to stand up to a truly monstrous air cooler?

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Closed-Loop Liquid Coolers
Row 0 - Cell 0 Cooler Master Seidon 240MCorsair H100i Enermax ELC240Zalman LQ320 
Rad. Thickness1.0"1.0"1.3"2.0"
Cooling Fans2 x 120 x 25 mm2 x 120 x 25 mm2 x 120 x 25 mm1 x 120 x 25 mm
Total Thickness2.0"2.0"2.3"3.0"
Control TypeMotherboard Fan HeadersIntegrated/Auto, ProgrammableMotherboard Fan HeaderMotherboard Fan Headers
Weight34 Ounces36 Ounces34 Ounces36 Ounces
AMD Processor InterfacesAll AM2 to AM3+Clip-OnAll AM2 to AM3+All AM2 to AM3+
Intel Processor Interfaces775, 1156/1155, 1366, 2011775, 1156/1155, 1366, 2011775, 1156/1155, 1366, 20111156/1155, 1366, 2011
Web Price$100$120$120$105

With four vendors ready to prove their worth, we needed only to find a suitable platform and high-capacity air cooler of similar cost.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • austing
    I'm suprized to see a single 120mm rad can keep up with the h100i, bravo Zalman.
  • EzioAs
    Love the title!

    Nice review as well. Too bad you didn't test NZXT kraken cpu coolers.

    If you ask me, I'd rather stick with the D14
  • mayankleoboy1
    Keeping up and beating with all the Water coolers should earn the NH-D14 a "best of the best" award of its own. And its a ~2-3 year old product!
  • mayankleoboy1
    Small nit : i would have liked to see similar test done with a 3770K and a high OC.
  • sluggercz
    A possibly overlooked benefit of closed loop AIO systems are their ability to fit in SFF cases. While this certainly applies more to the single 120mm radiator designs, some cases (such as the Fractal Design Node 304) can accommodate 240mm radiators)

    (Source: Using a Corsair H60 w/ 2 Noctua NF-F12's in push-pull config in my Lian-Li PC-Q08; such large air-coolers as the Noctua could not fit due to the limited vertical clearance above the CPU)
  • hero1
    Awesome review. Keep it up. I remember commenting about how much better the closed loop CPU coolers have gotten and I got down voted but this just proved my point. I have very sensitive hearing and I can never hear my CoolIt R120(?) spin apart from the initial startup. And this is inside a CM Haf XM. I play games with CPU+GPU OCd to 4.5GHzby 1.2GHz and you can barely hear any noise. First I thought something was wrong then I got my friends and wife to listen whil I played with muted sound and they were impressed. Up next is water cooling my GPU when I add another one in a month in SLI mode. Gaming PCs FTW!
  • tanjo
    No NZXT Kraken and Thermaltake Water 2.0 (which is 3rd gen Asetek iirc)?
  • hero1
    BTW DH-14 still deserves an award alongside the H100i and Zalman. Not many, if any air coolers out there can keep up with top notch closed loop CPU coolers.
  • hero1
    tanjoNo NZXT Kraken and Thermaltake Water 2.0 (which is 3rd gen Asetek iirc)? has a review of Thermaltake water coolers and their top end 240mm took the crown. Better than H100i and the rest shown here.
  • nukemaster
    With MB control the NH D14 can be very quiet :)

    It is HUGE, but I got it for 50$ and to me that was a great value. It was also on for 50$ again at NCIX's boxing day sale.

    Sure fills up an SSF system.
    Not embedding the image because it may mess up the page.