Performance Analysis And Recommendations
Noctua delivered the quietest cooling solution in today’s test, though higher temperatures will probably put a damper on the NH-D15’s overall score. You see, a cooler's actual performance is a matter of both heat and noise, since nobody is willing to tolerate a screaming computer in order to achieve a minor drop in temperature.
Mid-pack cooling performance didn’t pay off for the Reserator 3 Max at maximum fan speed, since that setting forces a screaming 47dB a full meter away. I tried switching the power headers to reduce pump speed, but the increase in temperature was far greater than the reduction in noise. A score 16% below-average was the best I could get.
Noctua’s NH-D15 fared far better. Even though it was noisy at full fan speed, its low-noise configuration had a small-enough impact on temperatures to allow a 28% above-average final score.
Oh, and NZXT’s Kaken X61 wins when set to silent mode. Of course, it's also more expensive than the air cooler.
Both the Kraken X61 and Reserator 3 Max Dual are priced at $140, yet they appeal to different markets. The Reserator 3 Max Dual is aimed at enthusiasts who like to show their internal components off, in spite of its moderate performance.
Price is still a problem for the Kraken X61 though, even in the face of its excellent performance. Noctua saves a lot of money by not adding a pump to the mix, and the company passes that savings to buyers.
Again, I insist that the true measure of performance is a cooling-to-noise ratio. Using that metric in a value calculation, we see a huge spike in the NZXT Kraken X61’s value at low noise settings. The NH-D15 still beats it by being both quieter and cheaper.
That means we end facing the same problem we started with. Oversized air-only CPU coolers are too good of a value to ignore. Insanely expensive by air cooling standards, Noctua’s NH-D15 wins primarily because closed-loop liquid coolers are even pricier. It’s also a very powerful, well-made part. I should say something nice since it wins.
There’s still a list of caveats, though. If your tall memory modules don’t fit, blame the memory company. If your cooler hits your graphics card, blame the motherboard company. If your case won’t close, blame the case company. Or do what I did with “Hacksaw Don”, and blame the builder for not considering potential problems in advance.
You can’t ship a system with a huge air cooler. In fact, you shouldn’t move it at all. And we’ve even seen certain four-layer motherboards warp to the point that they stop working when big, heavy CPU coolers are installed. This in an X99-focused article though, and I really don’t think we’ll see that problem in a board with four channels of DDR4 routed through it.
Without the option to give NZXT’s Kraken X61 a value award, I can only say that this is the cooler I would choose to use if I had the money. Weighing the same as our value leader, NZXT’s cooler hangs most of that heft from the case rather than the CPU interface. My gaming system will be no more or less easy to carry to a LAN party, but at least I have some assurance that the machine won’t be broken when I arrive.
As for longevity concerns, the six-year warranty of NZXT’s Kraken X61 is a dead match for that of Noctua’s NH-D15. This stands in stark contrast to Zalman’s one-year guarantee. I’ve seen a couple of closed-loop coolers dry up in the past, and take some comfort in NZXT’s confidence.