Testing Results, Maximum Fan Speed (12V)

Fan Speed (12 Volts)

Noise level

Core temperature (60 W Load)

Core temperature (100 W Load)

Core temperature (150 W Load)

Core temperature (200 W Load)

Core temperature (250 W Load)

Core temperature (340 W Load)

Average thermal resistance, 60 W to 340 W

The above charts depict exactly why a user needs to be more than just a little careful when selecting a cooler. Even though they appear similar and some of them even nearly identical, the performance of each and every AIO cooler that we have tested varies greatly. For instance, Cooler Master obviously sought to provide the best heavy-load performance possible and they did manage to reach the top of our charts; however, the noise of the fans that Cooler Master supplied at maximum speed is intolerable for daily use by any standards.

To give you a rough estimate, 56 dB(A) represents about the same level of sound as a typical box fan the same distance. The Nepton 280L is closely followed by the NZXT Kraken X60 and then the Corsair H110, both of which share about the same size and design but not nearly the same noise levels. The NZXT Kraken X60 is over 5 dB(A) quieter than the Nepton 280L, a very perceptible difference, while the Corsair H110 generates only 41.3 dB(A), which is equivalent to a soft humming noise and fairly comfortable for daily use.

Naturally, the performance decreases as we move to AIO coolers with smaller radiators, with the Corsair H100i leading the coolers using 120mm fans but its stock fans run at 2600 RPM, generating high noise levels. The Enermax Liqtech 120X and Silverstone Tundra TD03 and their beefy radiators deliver great thermal performance when compared to other single-fan AIO coolers, although Enermax proved that they could offer roughly the same performance with just one fan and much lower noise levels, making Silverstone's choice to include two fans appear somewhat redundant.

Under a low thermal load however, the charts shift greatly. As the thermal load is much lower, the low temperature dissipation efficiency of the cooler now matters a lot more than its maximum thermal load capacity. Corsair's H100i offers the best thermal performance, outperforming coolers with significantly larger radiators, including Corsair's own H110, closely followed by another 240mm long cooler, the Silverstone Tundra TD02. The gap between the budget-level and high-performance products now closes, with the Corsair H75 being the most notable example, as it manages to outperform its own larger version, the H105. Apparently, bigger is not always better and the lower flow resistance of the single fan radiator gives the Corsair H75 a faster energy transfer rate at lower temperature deltas.

Testing Methodology Testing Results, Low Fan Speed (7V)
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  • piroroadkill - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    This is great, but where's at least a couple of air coolers in there for reference?
    I'd recommend the ever popular and classic Noctua NH-D14 since it's a widely reviewed, well known reference point.
    Reply
  • piroroadkill - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    If only I could edit my reply. I see that there is a category in Bench for CPU coolers. Never mind! Reply
  • ddriver - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    It would still be a good idea to include a few high performance air coolers to compare how they do against the low end h2o coolers. Reply
  • just4U - Thursday, February 13, 2014 - link

    Or even a Coolermaster 212 which is pretty much the go-to HSF for standard builds due to cost/cooling performance. Reply
  • MrSpadge - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    Agreed - one standard high performance air cooler for ~50€ would suffice, but not including any feels incomplete. Reply
  • jmke - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    so true, would have been a very good idea to throw in a €20 and €50 air cooler, using one of the 120mm fans to see how these water coolers compare. Reply
  • jmke - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    best performance/noise CPU coolers is the Noctua in their charts. One of the best AIO is the NZXT Kraken X60. Let's see how they stack up:

    Noctua NH-U14S (2 Fans 100%) 43.1°C / 33.3 dBA / €70
    NZXT Kraken X60 (Silent) 41.2°C / 30.5 dBA / €140

    is a few °C difference worth an extra €70? is a HSF worth €70?
    how important is CPU temperature?
    if you don't overclock, keeping CPU temp below max would suffice...
    Reply
  • mr_tawan - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    Personally I use closed-loop water cooler(corsair H60) because the large air cooler I used (CM Hyper212) gets in the way of ram modules (people with intel chip does not suffer from this, AFAIK). With water cooler, I can put 4 DIMM on the mainboard without any problems.

    In my system, there is no significant differences between these two cooler. Water cooler is a little bit louder, btw.
    Reply
  • Idonno - Saturday, December 6, 2014 - link

    I agree 100%. Plus the sheer weight (on the MB and CPU) and size that an air cooler like the Noctua NH-U14S has to be to be even remotely competitive is absolutely ridiculous.

    It's not just the better temps that closed loop water coolers provide, it's convenience, accessibility, less strain on critical components and better temps.

    All-in-all the higher cost of closed loop water coolers is IMO worth every penny.
    Reply
  • E.Fyll - Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - link

    Unfortunately, the few air coolers that I still have in my house are outdated. Yet, there will be many air cooler reviews and roundups coming in the near future, with their results directly comparable to those of this review. :) Reply

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