Primary Test Results

Given that I tested thirteen coolers total, and all of them with at least two different data sets, there's a lot of ground to cover. I don't want to produce too many oversized tables, so I'll break down all of the test results into two categories: closed loop coolers, and air coolers. I'm also breaking down performance by load temperature, idle noise, and load noise.

Load Temperatures (CLC)

Load Temperatures (Air)

There's a lot of data to digest here. First, it looks like the very best air cooling has to offer is only really hugging the bottom of what closed loop cooling can do, but that's a bit deceptive. The breaking point is actually when you go beyond a 120mm radiator, and even then it's not certain: Noctua's new NH-U14S, at its fastest, is a better performer than Corsair's H100i at its quietest setting.

What's missing from the above chart is the noise the closed loop coolers have to generate in order to beat the air coolers; the only exceptionally loud air cooler is the underperforming SilverStone HE-01, as you'll see below.

Idle Noise Levels (CLC)

Idle Noise Levels (Air)

As you can see, the average idle noise on the air coolers is way, way lower than the closed loop units. That suggests that liquid cooling isn't in and of itself a plainly superior solution outside of Swiftech's H220 and the 280mm NZXT Kraken X60. It gets better, though.

Load Noise Levels (CLC)

Load Noise Levels (Air)

Almost all of the air coolers are relatively silent under load, while the closed loop coolers produce a tremendous amount of racket if they're not configured for silent running.

If you're like our own Dr. Ian Cutress and interested only with getting as much cooling performance as you can out of your cooler, then the NZXT Kraken X60 continues to be the best option. However, note that the Swiftech H220 was able to produce thermals just one or two degrees warmer while running 10dB quieter. This is why some stores are having trouble keeping the H220 in stock: it's the best 240mm unit by a longshot, and it's even competitive with the beefier 280mm Kraken X60.

Also note that the two new Noctua coolers are meeting or beating their old standard, the NH-D14, and they're doing it while being quieter. The NH-D14 looks frankly overengineered compared to the NH-U12S.

Finally, Cooler Master's Hyper 212 Evo continues to be a tremendous value, offering reasonably competitive thermals and noise for an air cooler at a fraction of the cost.

Testing Methodology Silent Running Performance
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  • disappointed1 - Sunday, April 28, 2013 - link

    With all due respect, this testing methodology is now completely flawed:

    "For air coolers, I added a Noctua 140mm rear exhaust fan and used the ultra low noise adaptor to ensure it didn't affect acoustics in any meaningful way. This is in line with the usage cases air coolers are designed for, and should be representative of the kind of airflow most users will have from their exhaust fan."

    You FUNDAMENTALLY can't compare coolers on the same charts with different testing conditions. The closed-loop coolers are just as much designed, and will be operated, with proper/equivalent case ventilation. Just test them under identical conditions and let the liquid coolers pay any penalty with higher idle noise readings.
    Reply
  • epoon2 - Monday, April 29, 2013 - link

    I tried the article again, couldn't find where Dustin mentioned his testing method for Water. On the page where he shows the Seidon, it's clearly installed inside the case. I do not believe there is a strong bias towards either air or water coolers in this test. Reply
  • disappointed1 - Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - link

    "...I'm now using that exhaust fan for testing air coolers. Closed loop coolers continue to do without."

    He added an extra case fan for the air coolers, which was not present for the liquid coolers. This will have the effect of biasing the results and renders them void. This is readily apparent by the author's own admission that "the differences in performance were pronounced" and "now liquid coolers aren't the juggernauts they used to be" and cannot be compared with previous results.
    Reply
  • Alvar - Monday, April 29, 2013 - link

    Today we have something a little special on the table. If you have previously been reading our CPU Cooler reviews you probably saw our recent review for Silverstone. We reviewed the Silverstone Heligon Series – HEO1 CPU Cooler....
    more details:- http://tinyurl.com/c5czh4b
    Reply
  • bobbozzo - Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - link

    Spam link above goes to a site for a women's magazine, nothing about coolers. Reply
  • TheStranger81 - Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - link

    It would be a review if it actually had any charts....WTF is going on ? Where are the charts ? Reply
  • Wwhat - Saturday, May 4, 2013 - link

    Look at how this site does such things:
    http://www.computerbase.de/artikel/gehaeuse-und-ku...

    (language is irrelevant for the subject of graphs)

    You can deselect items in the list and when you select a line you can see the position and details as you move the mousepointer over it.
    And in their bargraphs it uses mouseover to show the percentage and relative percentage.
    Like shown here: http://www.computerbase.de/artikel/gehaeuse-und-ku...

    PNG's for data are a bit.. outdated really aren't they? (But perhaps you need to dumb down again for tablets and phones these days?)
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Saturday, May 11, 2013 - link

    Can you adjust the air and clc results so that the x-axis is the same unit length? That way it is easier to compare between the two cooler types. :) Reply
  • hooner - Tuesday, July 2, 2013 - link

    Great review...thanks!

    I have a quick question...I am thinking of buying a cooler master N200 and is front or rear radiator cooling best? I am presuming the front fans are intakes, rear and top are out.

    My thinking is rear takes heat straight out the back from CPU, where as front means air is drawn in, cooled and then blow back through case. Surely venting the heat straight away is better?

    Cheers
    Reply
  • SloppyFloppy - Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - link

    You keep recommending the really well performing Swiftech H220, but after some research they appear to have server quality control issues with their pumps failing and/or making lots of noise as well as some of their fans being noisy.

    Now I don't know what cooler to buy that performs well without sounding like a lawn blower.
    Reply

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