Remember the time when liquid cooling a computer chip was considered to be an extreme approach, one performed by hardcore enthusiasts and overclockers alone? Everything had to be personally designed and or procured by the user, as there were no specialized commercial products available at the time. Radiators were modified heater cores extracted from cars, CPU blocks were rare and occasionally machined at local workshops using a copper block and a lathe, while high-performance tubing came from shops with medical supplies.

As demand grew, aided by the ever-increasing noise of small CPU heatsinks, companies specializing on liquid cooling solutions began turning up -- a little too fast perhaps, as tens of companies were founded within a few months' time and very few of them actually survived for more than a couple of years. Enthusiasts could then buy specialized liquid cooling equipment and even whole kits from just one seller and only had to assemble the setup into their system. That of course is no simple process for an amateur and a nightmare for a system builder, who cannot ship a system with a topped off water cooling tank or assume that the user has the skills required to maintain such a system, therefore the potential market remained limited to advanced users only.

This all changed in 2012, when Asetek came up with an inexpensive closed loop solution, a liquid cooling device that was leak-free and required no maintenance at all. The radiators of the first few solutions were small and their overall performance hardly better than that of air coolers; however, aided by the modernization of computer cases, the mounting of larger, thicker radiators inside a PC soon was not a problem. In many cases the kits were now no harder to install than any CPU cooler and required no maintenance at all, opening the market to virtually every computer user seeking a performance cooling solution. This spurred massive interest amongst OEMs and manufacturers, who all strive for a slice of the pie.

There have been tens of AIO (All-in-One) closed loop liquid coolers released just in 2013; today, we are having a roundup with 14 of them, coming from five different manufacturers, alphabetically listed in the table below.

Product Radiator Effective Surface Radiator Thickness # of Fans (Supplied / Maximum) Speed Range of Supplied Fans (RPM) Current Retail Pricing
Cooler Master Seidon 120V 120mm × 120mm 27mm 1 / 2 600-2400 $49.99
Cooler Master Nepton 140XL 140mm × 140mm 38mm 2 / 2 800-2000 $99.99
Cooler Master Nepton 280L 140mm × 280mm 30mm 2 / 4 800-2000 $119.99
Corsair H75 120mm × 120mm 25mm 2 / 2 800-2000 $69.99
Corsair H90 140mm × 140mm 27mm 1 / 2 600-1500 $84.99
Corsair H100i 120mm × 240mm 27mm 2 / 4 800-2700 $109.99
Corsair H105 120mm × 240mm 38mm 2 / 4 800- 2700 $119.99
Corsair H110 140mm × 280mm 29mm 2 / 4 600-1500 $126.99
Enermax Liqmax 120S 120mm × 120mm 32mm 1 / 2 600-1300
600-2000
600-2500
(Multi-range)
$163.00*
Enermax Liqtech 120X 120mm × 120mm 43mm 2 / 2 600-1300
600-2000
600-2500
(Multi-range)
$171.10*
NZXT Kraken X40 140mm × 140mm 27mm 1 / 2 800-2000 $89.99
NZXT Kraken X60 140mm × 280mm 27mm 2 / 4 800-2000 $119.99
Silverstone Tundra TD02 120mm × 240mm 45mm 2 / 4 1500-2500 $118.99
Silverstone Tundra TD03 120mm × 120mm 45mm 2 / 2 1500-2500 $97.99

*The coolers from Enermax are not widely available in the USA at the time of this review, with the only viable option appearing to be that of import from Asia or Europe.

Although Asetek was the first to come up with the design and they hold patents for it, they are not the only OEM of AIO cooling solutions today. At least three different OEMs are behind the kits listed in the table above. We will have a closer look at each one of them in the following pages.

Cooler Master
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  • casteve - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    Thanks. As this meter has a lower limit of 30dB(A) and an accuracy of +/-1.4dB, your ambient is probably quieter and you are just seeing the low end of what the meter can do. Sort of expected unless (as you say) you have an expensive set up for the test equipment. Get Anand to shill out the $'s for a 10dBA microphone and an anechoic chamber for that spare bedroom. :)

    Some terms - if the meter is reading sound pressure level, then it's dB(A) SPL, which is referenced to 20 micro Pascals (0 dB). So, 0 dB(A) SPL is the threshold of hearing, 20-30dB(A) SPL is a calm room.
    Reply
  • pcfxer - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    All of these are way too loud. At 30+ dB, none of these coolers hit the envelope for someone who actually cares about "silence" and noise. Reply
  • E.Fyll - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    You are confusing dB and dB(A), I am afraid. The background noise of my room at 2:00AM is 30.4 dB(A). Sub-35 dB(A) levels are generally impossible to notice by a human ear. Sub-30 dB(A) levels are next to impossible to record with anything less than science lab-grade equipment. There is no handheld or desktop dB(A) meter that can perform such readings. If you have seen reviews stating sub-30 dB(A) levels, make sure to check their methodology (given that there is any). Either the meter cannot read lower than 30 dB(A) (and/or will display a bogus reading, as most cheap Chinese meters do) and the review is a fictional text or their methodology is based on dB readings, not dB(A) readings, which is useless to a consumer. Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    Good lord.

    If I'd known my successor would produce results this thorough I'd've stepped aside a long time ago.

    Really well done piece of work.
    Reply
  • E.Fyll - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    Thank you for the praise Dustin, yet I still stand unworthy of it. :) Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    I'm enjoying your work tremendously. Now that I'm at Corsair I'm glad we have someone we can send case/cooling/PSU hardware to that meets and beats the AnandTech standard. Reply
  • creed3020 - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    Yeah Dustin....I have seriously enjoyed your labors here at AT and do miss them. Your successor has changed the paradigm so much that it's hard to compare, but it's a awesome reboot to this area of reviews here at AT.

    I, however, have to agree with many other commenters that a secondary dataset produced with the same 120mm/140mm fans does have it's merit as it will provide an objective evaluation of the radiator and pumps. This is one area where I am really curious to see quality differences in the products. I am fully aware that each OEM is very careful in their selection of a fan which matches their product. This is not done by lottery, that much is clear to me. The OEM behind the Silverstone/Enermax product intrigues me, as I am a fan of Silverstone products and use their cases exclusively for all of my desktops, gaming PCs, and HTPCs. The Tundra's seems like they are ripe for a revision!
    Reply
  • BigLeagueJammer - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    Under Noise Level Reference Values, your first one of <35dB(A) being "Virtually inaudible" doesn't match up with most sources I've seen. Most rate that as "very quiet" and say the limit of human hearing as 10 db(A). If other sources say things like a ticking watch is around 20 db(A) which in a quiet room is easy to hear, then 35 seems too high for your qualification of "virtually inaudible". Reply
  • E.Fyll - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    True, I am afraid that the lot of "copy/paste-ing" online has produced a lot of bad information going around. Some are works of fiction, some are misinterpretations of confused people, some...I don't even want to know.

    So, copying my answer from above:

    "Sub-35 dB(A) levels are generally impossible to notice by a human ear. Sub-30 dB(A) levels are next to impossible to record with anything less than science lab-grade equipment. There is no handheld or desktop dB(A) meter that can perform such readings. If you have seen reviews stating sub-30 dB(A) levels, make sure to check their methodology (given that there is any). Either the meter cannot read lower than 30 dB(A) (and/or will display a bogus reading, as most cheap Chinese meters do) and the review is a fictional text or their methodology is based on dB readings, not dB(A) readings, which is useless to a consumer."

    I think it will suffice for me to say that you cannot possibly hear what an instrument designed for this specific purpose cannot even record. In theory, the human hearing threshold is 1 dB(A); in practice however, that is true only for specific frequencies. The background noise of a typical room is almost always above 32-33dB(A).
    Reply
  • Jon-R - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    What is your opinion on the tests done over at SilentPCReview? They test using lab-grade equipment. A rundown can be found here: http://www.silentpcreview.com/article875-page2.htm...
    They use reference fans which measure around 13dBA at their slowest fan speeds, and they don't think highly of AIO water-cooling at all, as none of the tested ones have come close to the best air-coolers when it comes to quiet cooling.
    Reply

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