Swiftech H2O-120 Compact

Swiftech specializes in cooling for the enthusiast market. It is probably best known for its liquid cooling solutions, but Swiftech began with air cooling and has also had a few air coolers that were very well-known, like their ongoing MC and MCX air coolers for AMD and Intel. Swiftech also markets thermoelectric cooling parts, specialty ram and MOSFET coolers, and even a specially modified Antec P180 case called the QPower P180 for water cooling.

The Company was founded in 1994 by Gabriel Rouchon, incorporated in 2001, and was first publicly traded in 2005. Though there have been many changes in the company's structure over the years, it is worth mentioning that Gabe Rouchon is still very active in Swiftech, and Gabe often works directly with reviewers on tweaking the company's cooling products.

Swiftech markets both individual cooling products such as CPU water blocks, chipset and VGA water blocks, pumps, radiators, reservoirs, and cooling accessories. They also market complete water cooling kits such as the H2O-220 Apex Ultra and the H2O-80 Micro. Their newest kit, the H2O-120 Compact is the subject of this review.

The complete H2O-120 Compact kit comes packaged in a small box measuring roughly 13x7x4 inches. Everything needed for a standard Intel or AMD installation is included in the package.

The radiator/reservoir and water block/pump are well protected by the cutouts in the rigid foam block. Components are located on both the top and bottom of the Styrofoam. If you can't find the funnel it's mounted on the bottom.

You can see how much Swiftech has simplified this water cooling system by looking at the small number of parts compared to traditional water cooling kits. The fan/radiator/reservoir is basically one module, and the water block/pump is the second module. These two components are connected by pre-cut 10" Neoprene 3/8" tubes. All of the hardware for mounting is included, such as the mounting screws, Intel backplate (shipped attached to the Apogee Drive Block), a 7V electrical connector for running the fan at low speed, Arctic Silver Ceramic thermal grease, and the water additive. An alternate mounting block is also included for AMD/AM2 processor mounting.

Swiftech does not include the distilled water required for filling the system. Specialty cooling etailers and scientific equipment shops carry this; however, the most readily available source for distilled water we found is Wal-Mart, where a gallon of distilled water was less than a buck. The coolant additive is mixed with a half liter (pint or 16 oz.) of distilled water.


The kit mounts just fine in a full tower case, and it will mount fine in an Antec P180 which mounts the power supply at the bottom of the mid-tower case. The kit as supplied did fit any bottom-mount mid-tower case available for testing. However, the Swiftech H2O-120 Compact kit would not fit any top-mount power supply mid-tower case we tried. This included about six different brands of the most common top-mount PSU cases, either premium or value brands. The radiator is about a half inch too long to mount in top PSU mid-tower cases. Those equipped with 120mm exhaust fans all had screw holes that would not allow mounting of the radiator.

Both our old and new cooling test beds are top PSU mid-tower cases, and the H2O-120 Compact would not fit either case as supplied. We used that configuration because this is the case design readers most often own - it is the most common case available and accounts for the most sales. To be fair to other solutions, it was possible to find a way to install the H2O-120 Compact in the test bed case, so we could advise readers of what was needed to mount in this common design.

The easiest mount was a split design, where the radiator was mounted outside the case and the fan is inside the case. To use this mount you will need longer screws in some mid-tower cases and a longer pair of hoses. We found the 12" length worked fine in our case, and extra hoses are available from Swiftech.

When there is not enough room for the radiator, Swiftech recommends using their "Radbox" for external mounting.

You will also need longer tubing for the Radbox install, but all the necessary screws and washers come with the Radbox from Swiftech. The Radbox kit even includes a PCI slot cover for running tubing to the outside of the case for external radiator mounting.

Performance tests were run with both the split-install configuration and the recommended Radbox external configuration. Cooling results were all but identical; the recommended external install was 0C to 2C cooler at most speeds. If your 120mm grill is not perforated enough you may have to remove the fan circle for best cooling, but the kit cooled fine on our test bed with the perforated 120mm grill intact.

Once you have determined fit and decided on how you will mount the H2O-120 Compact you will need to assemble and leak test the water cooling system. The Intel 775 block requires a back plate so you will have to remove the motherboard to install the water cooling system. It was easiest for us to stick or tape the back plate to the motherboard and remount it for final install, because we strongly advise testing for leaks before mounting the system over the motherboard.

In a standard install everything is inside so you can attach the tubes, fill the system and operate the pump away from the computer. The manual includes information on how to run the power supply to test the system, before it is installed on the motherboard.

On the installs with the radiator outside the case you will have to plan assembly and water testing, since the water system should be filled after the tubes are passed through the PCI slot. The tubes for external mount were long enough that the Apogee block could dangle from inside the case to the outside for filling and leak testing. The apogee block was dangled over the back on a dry cloth for leak-testing where the tubing needed to pass though the PCI bracket.

The bottom line on installation is that the standard install is relatively simple, and it is definitely much simpler than the traditional four component water cooling systems. If you are a first-time water cooling installer and the system fits your case, 30 minutes is probably a reasonable time to install. However, if you are installing in a top PSU mid-tower case you will need to buy or order parts, carefully plan your install, and it will take an hour or more to install the system once your parts arrive. The penalty for a sloppy install without leak testing could be a dead motherboard and CPU, so we strongly recommend that you take your time and use the precautions necessary to assure you have a leak-proof water system.

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View All Comments

  • Gul Westfale - Monday, September 17, 2007 - link

    watercooling is still worth it ig=f you have th emoney; th etwo setups tested here are not exactly the best coolers available. also, the statement in teh article that watercoolers are quieter than aircoolers is ridiculous, after all a watercooler still has a fan thta blows air through the radiator, and that fan is jst as quiet (or noisy) as an aircooler... unless you go witth zalman's fanless reserator design.

    i'm afraid the conclusion of this article tries to tell you that all watercoolers perform like these two here, but that is simply not so. other, better systems include the aforementioned zalman reserator, the koolance exos, and several more advanced setups from swiftech. if you are interested in this, frozencpu.com is a good site to do some window sopping :0
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, September 17, 2007 - link

    We state you will likely need to spend more than $300 to possibly outperform current top air coolers. We have recently tested several systems near that price point and stand by that statement based on our tests results.

    We did not say water cooling is quieter, we just said many reviews over the years have stated water cooling to be the quieter solution. As we showed in our review that is no longer thacase unless you buy a much more expensive water system. If you read carefully you will also see we found the water pump to be the biggest noise maker and not the radiator fan.

    Finally, water cooling will have to be eons better than air if we need to spend more tha 6 times the top air cooler price just to match performance of the best air coolers. The only compelling argument in favor of water in our opinion is the ability to add video cooling blocks and possibly chipset blcos to a water system - but that cost is also high.

    You CAN buy or build a superior water system if you spend big bucks, but as one expert water cooler showed me in his tests results he had yet to find a water cooling kit that outperformed the best air coolers. His own monster water cooler was a custom built and very expensive water cooling system. If I need to go to those prices I can buy phase-change coolers that have a chance of creating sub-ambient CPU temperatures.
  • haelduksf - Monday, September 17, 2007 - link

    I'm sorry, but I don't believe you. I'm running a $200 loop, with CPU *and* GPU blocks, and getting 34 degree load temps (folding) on my q6600. Nothing special- 240mm rad, fuzion CPU block, Silverprop GPU block... frankly, you must be doing something wrong if you can't do better on water than on air.

    Plus, as others mentioned, this loop will cool any computer I own for the next 10 years, which no air cooler can claim.
  • mpc7488 - Monday, September 17, 2007 - link

    Nice article Wes, and good way to phrase it - water cooling solutions under $300 cannot outperform top air coolers. Reply
  • Nickel020 - Monday, September 17, 2007 - link


    Finally, water cooling will have to be eons better than air if we need to spend more tha 6 times the top air cooler price just to match performance of the best air coolers. The only compelling argument in favor of water in our opinion is the ability to add video cooling blocks and possibly chipset blcos to a water system - but that cost is also high.

    But you also need to consider that you'll use watercooling for a long time. I just recently bought my watercooling, but my 45$ waterblock was already available 3 years ago, lots of people that bought it then for a Athlon XP/754 system are still using it on a Core 2 today, and it's still very good. In the last 4 years I've had 3 different 50+$ air coolers in my main rig, that kind of adds up as well.
    Watercooling is a big initial investment, but pump and radiators will last you 5+ years and waterblocks last several years as well. If you're a guy that buys one 50+$ heatsink a year, then watercooling is only marginally more expensive (if at all) then air.
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, September 19, 2007 - link

    The only reasons to upgrade to a newer cooler (air or water) is if either the performance is significantly better, or the cooler does not support whatever socket you move to in the future. These factors are the same for air or water, so in theory both should have a similar lifespan. If water cooling sees improvements in the next few years the way air has in the past few years, you would probably upgrade your water setup sooner than you think as well. Reply
  • KeypoX - Tuesday, September 18, 2007 - link

    that is not true i bought the koolance case/water cooler years ago and it was no match for my current air cooler. On top of that the water block i had bought the 200 koolance was dropped and no longer supported for newer chip sets.

    I had a athlon 2600xp OC with the water cooler but it wasnt as good as air. And it had to much upkeep and a TON of noise.

  • RamIt - Monday, September 17, 2007 - link

    What happened to paet two of the micro atx motherboard roundup? Reply

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