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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  • E.Fyll - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    7 Volts is about the same voltage level as most modern motherboard apply in their "quiet" mode. High enough to start nearly all fans ever made, low enough to keep things quiet. Unfortunately, I cannot perform testing the way you propose. As you mentioned yourself, it would have to be a "subjectively low" noise level. The very word "subjectively" puts me off. Even if I do set such a noise limit, which would be terribly wrong as it would just be based on my subjective opinion, not all coolers would be able to operate as such a noise level at all.

    It is even less meaningful to use the same fans; when you are buying a kit, you are buying the kit with its fans. Purchasing additional fans not only raises its cost but, depending on the characteristic behavior of the fan, the fan itself can affect performance and favor some kits over others. The actual performance of a fan is not based on its RPM or CFM ratings, it is a very complicated matter. That would render any comparisons between different kits virtually useless. Furthermore, the choice of fans would be based on my subjective opinion as well, nobody warranties that the end user will be purchasing the same fans out of the hundreds of possible choices. Someone would want me to use a quieter fan, others might want something more powerful, others something cheaper, others something fancier and so on. And of course, most would just want to buy a kit and be done with it. The only objective comparison is to compare the performance of a kit with its stock fans, as it comes supplied from the factory. Everything else is based on assumptions and subjective opinions that, including mine, have no place in an objective review.
    Reply
  • The PC Apologist - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    While I appreciate the amount of work and effort you have put in Fyll, I must disagree with you on several points. As many people have already pointed out, using the same fan for each different cooler will allow us to access the merits of each radiator, independent of the stock fan. A good radiator with a bad fan might perform similarly to a bad radiator with a good fan, yet clearly this is not the information we’re after. If we ignore every stock fan and use the best fans on the market (Noctua NF-F12, Corsair SP120, etc.), not only will it help guide purchasing decisions, it will also help satisfy our curiosity as Computer Enthusiasts.

    You raised the objection that purchasing additional fans will increase the total cost. This is as obvious as it is pointless. Coolers of this class are targeted towards quasi-enthusiasts, not cheapskates, in the first place. You should know that a lot of people out there still use stock coolers. If one really wants high value, the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO will suffice. And as mentioned, a high-end air cooler such as the Noctua NH-D14 will not only offer comparable performance, but also increased reliability as it does not have a pump that can potentially fail. All-in-One coolers like these appeal to people who want moderately high performance without the complexity of a true custom-loop water cooling system (quasi-enthusiasts). $40 additional cost should be factored into the cost-benefit analysis and buying-decision process, not immediately rejected. Your reluctance due to increased price is misplaced.

    Also, you said “And of course, most would just want to buy a kit and be done with it.” Can you please provide evidence for this blatantly dismissive and careless attitude? This may very well apply to the layman, but again, here at AnandTech we are enthusiasts, catering to enthusiasts. Would you really want to appeal to the common folk, who don’t know or care about CPU heat dissipation much less water cooling, with AIO coolers?

    Third, you said “The actual performance of a fan is not based on its RPM or CFM ratings, it is a very complicated matter. That would render any comparisons between different kits virtually useless.” You’re right, it’s not just rpm and cfm, Static Pressure must also be taken into account. Static Pressure is understood among computer enthusiasts as the capacity to move air through dense pathways (heatsinks and radiators) and the capacity to move water, underwater. Manufacturers usually have a static pressure rating for their fans, but because it’s largely not-understood by the public, that’s why we have reviewers and testers like you. You mentioned that there are a lot of fan choices out there, and I would agree. But because they’re so closely related, cooler reviewers tend to also cover and are knowledgeable about a wide variety of fans on the market.

    Understand that I have no quarrels with you as a person, just that many have come to understand that AnandTech is a producer of quality and responsible content and your latest post display certain fundamental flaws. I surely don’t want to come off as obnoxious or such, as I, myself, am going to apply for AnandTech’s Call for Writers in a few days. The reason I have taken so long is because I take the reputation of Anandtech’s professionalism very seriously and want to polish my writing samples. Again, I have no beef with you, but you do need to step your game up. I suspect that it is not a problem of your integrity as it is a problem of your critical thinking and reasoning skills. With just a little contemplation, you should begin to know what true enthusiasts would and ought to want.

    - The PC Apologist
    Reply
  • HanzNFranzen - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    Except that this article was not about "the merits of different AOI radiators," it was a round up of available AOI's as they are sold.

    "Also, you said “And of course, most would just want to buy a kit and be done with it.” Can you please provide evidence for this blatantly dismissive and careless attitude? This may very well apply to the layman, but again, here at AnandTech we are enthusiasts, catering to enthusiasts."

    If you want to go that far, I'd say that a real water cooling enthusiast would say that these AOI's are a few steps up from junk that barely (or in most cases do not) outperform a cheaper air unit, and are exactly intended for laymans.... as a real water cooling enthusiast would be building a custom loop. The entire point of these prebuilt AOI's is for an easy entry into water cooling for the novice/semi enthusiast.

    Anandtech is one of the first sites I have come to seeking reviews of products for many years now. I can't think of any round up style article such as this where the writer started changing out parts as they saw fit before testing. I also would not expect a review of a retail product to be tested any other way than as it is shipped. If I wanted to know how my H100 would work with different fans, I would first look to forums and the mod community, not a retail round up article. If fact, just doing a search of past Anandtech roundups on coolers, I couldn't find one in which all the fans were changed to a standard before testing. Even the Anandtech Bench does not do this.

    "just that many have come to understand that AnandTech is a producer of quality and responsible content and your latest post display certain fundamental flaws."

    I completely disagree as I believe the professional and responsible way to create a roundup of this style is through objectivity and representing a product as it is sold to the customer.

    "I surely don’t want to come off as obnoxious or such, as I, myself, am going to apply for AnandTech’s Call for Writers in a few days."

    well, maybe in your second attempt you won't, although I'm already not looking forward to it.
    Reply
  • The PC Apologist - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    Although I admire your resolve, your convictions are ultimately misplaced.

    First, I believe the problem with you is that you’re confusing the “is-ought” distinction. That is to say, just because something is a certain way, it doesn’t mean that it ought to be that way. Journalists give false information all the time, but that doesn’t mean they ought to give false information all the time. Teenagers taking drugs is commonplace, but that doesn’t mean they ought to be taking drugs. In both cases, there is a defect, an imperfection. Do not think that just because something is a certain way, that it should be that way; consider improvements, the ideal.

    Secondly, you said that you’ve read AnandTech for years and haven’t come across the idea of swapping fans or such. But see, you’re further mistaken because even if you just want to stick with conventions, the idea of swapping fans under theoretical scenarios is not new even to AnandTech (let alone other sites enthusiasts should already know about i.e. Linus and TTL). In the Anandtech article titled “Noctua NH-U12P: Top Performance and Silence,” one of my favorite pieces because it truly caters to the enthusiast taste, the writer remarks in this conclusions:

    “For those who don't care about overclocking, the Noctua NH-U12P is still a great choice. It cools as well as the best so far with one fan - at idle and under load at stock speeds. Add a second fan and the stock temperatures are all new records. We haven't tested a cooler that does a better job of cooling at stock speeds. However, the Noctua cooler with two fans at $90 is not cheap, and the Alpine coolers we recently tested do almost as well at about 1/6 the price. For most who won't overclock the Alpines are fine, but if you want the best stock air-cooling you can buy the Noctua NH-U12P with an extra NF-P12 fan is the ultimate. These test results for the Noctua are truly impressive, but they do not dethrone the Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme - at least not yet. The superb component here is the Noctua NF-P12 fan, which is a brilliant piece of engineering. We doubt our Thermalright or any air-cooler will top the 3.94GHz that seems to be the limit of our test bed Core 2 Duo. However, we suspect the Thermalright combined with the NF-P12 could match or even exceed the results with the Noctua heatsink. Having said that the practical reality is it is not easy to mount two NF-P12 fans on a Thermalright, whereas the Noctua heatsink is designed for push-pull and even comes with the extra wires to make it easy.”

    Here the writer not only explains to the audience how the product is at stock, he also offers alternative scenarios, separating the heatsink and fan as separate variables, evaluates the pros and cons of each case, and presents the ultimate solution, adding parts (fans in this case) to the stock configuration. Such is the standard we enthusiasts crave and ought to strive for. Any less and you’re not really an enthusiast.

    Thirdly, your third paragraph ending with “novice/semi enthusiast.” Perhaps you’ve completely missed the point of my second paragraph concerning “quasi-enthusiasts?” You’re just repeating my stance unaware of the fact that it is in fact my stance. Read carefully next time.

    And finally, as for you not looking forward to any of my future content, know that first, I won’t be losing any sleep. And second, you should reevaluate your thought and decision-making process when boycotting me. What exactly are you rejecting? My calling a spade a spade? By rejecting my brutal honesty in favor of the fluffy norm, you are saying a lot about yourself.

    - The PC Apologist
    Reply
  • Rubix3 - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    PC Apologist - I would also add 'elitist' in with obnoxious. I actually find your comment rather offensive. If you truly believe that Anandtech exists to cater only to enthusiasts, then you are clueless. I am willing to bet any amount of money you choose that every employee at Anandtech as well as Anand himself would agree that the website is here for everyone of all backgrounds and knowledge levels. It is here to educate the "common folk" that need help and direction, while supplying tons of information and references to the most hardcore of enthusiast, and everything in between. I happen to fall into the lowly plebian category that you look down upon that does indeed want to buy one of these coolers and be done with it. If you are insisting to swap out fans, how do I know that the new fan does not perform worse than the stock fan on that particular radiator? In that case, I will spend extra money for less performance and not even know it. Is this what you would consider "professional and responsible"? For the sake of your writing aspirations I would certainly hope not.

    And as for those writing aspirations, perhaps the reason it is "taking so long" is because you have already submitted your subjective reviews and they were rejected as being worthless opinions? Or maybe, just maybe, because Anandtech is far more than "enthusiasts catering to enthusiasts" and you just simply do not fit. I for one am hoping that this sort of journalism never makes its way onto this website.

    BY THE WAY, Great write up E.Fyll! I appreciate your efforts! Your "game" is fine, no step up needed! My one and only request would also be to add in a high end air cooler simply as reference. Thanks!
    Reply
  • The PC Apologist - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    Rubix3,

    Although you are antagonizing me, you do raise several important points/concerns and so I will address them.

    First, let’s address the elitist point. It is true that it is easy for Computer Enthusiasts who are only concerned with the high-end to have somewhat of a condescending or elitist attitude. The same holds true for audiophiles in high-end hi-fidelity audio and car enthusiasts dealing with sports cars. But it is merely easy; it is not inevitable. Where did you get the impression that I was somehow “looking down” upon you or any other newcomer? My parents are laymen when it comes to computers, do I look down at them? In fact my entire family is full of newbs when it comes to computers, must I immediately distance myself from them? I was merely pointing out the existence of a gap, a difference, between the layman and the enthusiast. And by painting the full spectrum (lowly plebian, everything in between, hardcore enthusiast), you’re essentially acknowledging my point. I never said that the laymen were somehow corrupt or morally depraved, just that they were not the target and appropriate consumer of these AIO coolers.

    Second, even if I was an elitist (which so far I haven’t announced), nowhere did I say that “AnandTech exists to cater only to enthusiasts.” You’re putting words in my mouth and turning my stance to an absolute. Consider the context and how I put it:

    “Also, you said “And of course, most would just want to buy a kit and be done with it.” Can you please provide evidence for this blatantly dismissive and careless attitude? This may very well apply to the layman, but again, here at AnandTech we are enthusiasts, catering to enthusiasts. Would you really want to appeal to the common folk, who don’t know or care about CPU heat dissipation much less water cooling, with AIO coolers?”

    Because it is easy to interpret “enthusiasts catering to enthusiasts” as “enthusiasts catering ONLY to other enthusiasts” by the unread, I will clarify. When one wants to communicate an idea effectively, one must first identity one’s own target audience. Once aware of this target audience, one must tailor one’s message and communication method in a way that would suit said target audience. Such is the maxim of relation/relevance and part of the art of rhetoric. When applied to AnandTech, the target audience is those who are interested in and want to know more about PCs, smartphones, enterprise computing, datacenter technologies, etc. It is largely technically stuff. And a choice has to be made: either cater to the beginner or cater to the veterans. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible to write an article such that it satisfies everybody; someone is bound to feel uncomfortable somewhere. But if one were to err on the enthusiast side, at least enthusiasts would feel at home and the rest could potentially learn and grow. I trust that you would agree that all else being equal, it is better to leave room for improvement than to dumb things down? That’s what I mean when I say AnandTech caters to enthusiasts; surely everyone, including newbies, is welcomed (I visited AT when I was a newbie too), but the tone is generally on the more pro side.

    Similarly, the AIO coolers also have a target audience. I maintain that they are for “quasi-enthusiasts,” people who want more than what air coolers can offer but don’t have the resources (time, money, but mostly expertise) to build a full custom loop, and not laymen. Laymen would not understand the benefits and risks of an AIO, much less be able to justify spending $100 when stock and budget coolers exist. By your own admission you are a layman and so subsequently these AIO are not for you. Of course you could make the decision to “buy one of these coolers and be done with it,” but it would be an ill-informed decision (because better options exists) and isn’t it our very job to inform?

    Third, concerning your “technical” concern, you said: “If you are insisting to swap out fans, how do I know that the new fan does not perform worse than the stock fan on that particular radiator? In that case, I will spend extra money for less performance and not even know it.” This concern is, at best, confused. How did you get the idea that I was somehow suggesting you swap stock fans for random fans for no other reason than to do it? Isn’t it obvious that the reason why one might want to replace stock fans with aftermarket fans is because said aftermarket fans perform better? It is the job of the reviewer to test and inform. My suggestion was to, in addition to the stock fans, include and test with the best fans on the market, namely the Noctua NF-F12 and Corsair SP120. If for a certain given radiator, the test results of the Noctua and Corsair are inferior to that of the stock fans’, the decision is obvious. Good grief…

    And finally, as for your speculations of my being rejected, I can assure you that I have not yet submitted anything to AnandTech and so I cannot possibly be rejected. But I get what you’re saying: you hate me. I hope at least by now you’ve come to realize that you’ve misunderstood me and that all that misdirected hatred is not only unproductive, but also embarrassing. As an aspiring writer in 2014, I’m well aware of the need for thick skin and a tough resolve. Having been an avid online gamer for several years now, I’ve encountered people of all walks of life, with varying degrees of education, debating/arguing skills, and indeed moral character. But whereas in-game I might hold a “Come at me bro!” attitude, I do have and will maintain a professional (albeit blunt) demeanor here at AnandTech. Although I must admit, it is sometimes difficult.

    - The PC Apologist
    Reply
  • LoccOtHaN - Wednesday, May 14, 2014 - link

    Respect Bro :-) And by the way in near future i will have Nepton 280L ;-) Reply
  • E.Fyll - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    Of course you can disagree, it is your right.

    I don't have to agree with you though. :)

    About the fans however, you are wrong. Static pressure is just another figure. At 0 CFM, you get maximum static pressure. At 0 static pressure, you have maximum CFM. In between those two however, that's a whole different story. You cannot possibly assess the performance at any given P/Q level by any of a fan's specifications. So let me include that in my sentence. If you compare fans based on their static pressure, CFM, RPM or SPL ratings alone, you are making a massive mistake. If you do not have the whole P/Q curve and do not know at least an estimate of the pressure that will develop, you know nothing at all.
    Reply
  • The PC Apologist - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    But who is under the impression that we can judge fans by specifications and ratings alone? Why read reviews at all if we can judge by ratings alone?

    The whole point of reviewers is to do testing and verify for us what the numbers on the boxes cannot.
    Reply
  • E.Fyll - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    If you under such impressions, it is your impressions that need to change. Start reading and try to comprehend what I wrote. I will not perform testing that is invalid simply because you wish to see something like it. As I said multiple times already, I will not test any such product with anything else than what comes supplied with it, unless no fan is supplied and none comes recommended. They are commercial products and I am testing their base, unmodified performance. Assuming that "enthusiasts", which also consist of the "majority of Anandtech's readers", will definitely go and buy another set of fans is just that; an assumption. I do not even care if it is a valid assumption or not; I simply do not like assumptions.

    But let me make an exception and assume your scenario. Let us even assume that I can use the same fan on all of the review's coolers, despite the fact that their sizes differ. Which fans should I use then? As each and every fan has a different performance curve, the performance results of each cooler will be different each time I change the fan. With Fan A cooler X might appear better, with Fan B cooler Y might appear better under the exact same conditions. Which is the better cooler? Why is it a better cooler? How many different fans should I test for a valid set of data?

    Such "tests", based on assumptions, are misleading. You can buy whichever fans you like, you may even put the radiator in your freezer if you want better performance - oh, wait, that will give you worse performance, the liquid will probably freeze. Scratch that. Anyway, I cannot possibly provide valid and comparable results based on what a user may or may not replace/modify/whatever. If you want a reviewer who would present you with a misleading set of data just because you assume that "most Anandtech's readers are enthusiasts and will definitely buy Noctua's or Corsair's top fans", then you are simply talking to the wrong person.

    And a friendly note: An enthusiast knows better than to buy a $100 AIO cooler and then spend another $40 on fans. I would rarely expect a true enthusiast who knows what he/she wants to make such a move. He/she will buy the product that can do the job out of the box. In the off chance that there is no commercial product capable of meeting the specific application demands, then he/she might consider modifying a commercial product over making a custom solution. Those that will buy something and then buy something else to adjust it to their needs remind me of people who order Château Margaux and then dilute it with Coke because they don't like its taste. It is not a bad wine at all; they just bought an expensive wine for all the wrong reasons.
    Reply

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