Liquid Cooler Lineup: Intel, Corsair, MainGear Tested

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Over the last few years, we've seen an increasing number of liquid coolers positioned as high-end alternatives to traditional heatsink+fan combinations. This has been particularly true in the boutique market, where a number of manufacturers now offer liquid coolers in one form or another.

Corsair has a full line of liquid coolers; we've reviewed the company's H80 and H100 here and compared them to Intel's own liquid cooling solution as well as an ultra-high end model Maingear sent over. This last entry is specifically designed for integration into the company's systems rather than as an aftermarket purchase, but it's an interesting data point to have in the charts nonetheless.

Intel's LGA2011 and hexa-core Sandy Bridge-E processors were the logical choice for evaluating maximum thermal dissipation, particularly considering that all of the coolers we tested retail for $75 and up. Unfortunately, this limited our choice of comparison hardware as far as what we had on hand.As a result, we don't have any results from older / lower-cost CPU coolers that aren't compatible with Intel's new socket.

How Liquid Cooling Works:

The image above is from Asetek's website, but all of the liquid coolers we've tested function in the same basic manner. Water is pumped through the CPU cold plate and up to the radiator where a fan blows cool air over the fins and lowers the coolant's temperature. The now-cooled water flows down the return pipe and is again pushed over the coldplate.

Water is a far better conductor of heat than air, which is why you'll often see water coolers promoted as being more efficient solutions for high-end enthusiasts. Simply comparing the heat transfer characteristics of air and water, however, grossly oversimplifies the situation. Water coolers still rely on fans (in some cases, more than one) and they incorporate an electric pump that generates additional noise and an additional point of failure.

The kits we're reviewing today are a far cry from the water coolers enthusiasts have been building for years. DIY water coolers typically involve separate reservoirs and external pumps. The systems we've tested contain significantly less fluid and use small pumps directly integrated into the cooling block.

Integrated all-in-one kits may not offer the theoretical performance of a high-end home-built system, but they're vastly easier to install and require virtually no maintenance. The tradeoffs are more than fair, provided that the coolers perform as advertised.
 

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Good review. I almost bought the H50 last year when i was building my new rig, the only thing that stopped me was that i read a review in which a H50 busted and leaked out into a system. That scared me off, so i went with a corsair A50 air cooler. It keeps my Phenom II x6 around 30C under full load.

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These factory sealed water coolers do a great job of cooling. They still have fans attached to them, so the noise is not much different than an Air Cooler is.

I have an H50 and an H60 here now. They do a great job of cooling my i7-870 (H50) and my i7-2600K (H60).

I've read about problems that have cropped up with some lot numbers of the H100 coolers, but I suspect that Corsair is getting that fixed and under control by now.

I really like the H100 a lot, and would certainly appreciate having one to use on my next build, if that ever happens. If I can't afford the H100 at the time, I'll go for the H80 because it's a fine cooler too.

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I like the closed system but I think should give options for video cards also a tee caped off in line and a water block for card would work out nice but then maybe you would need a better pump?? so maybe just a small closed system for cards

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i really like the look of the H-80, but  am with Compte if there is a chance that it will leak into my system i would rather go with an air cooler.

 

What i the cost of air coolers, and how well do they cool?

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The H-100 is alot bulkier than the H-80 where does the rest of sit? is it an external cooler?

 

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H100 is only compatible with certain cases that have mounting locations at the top for a large radiator.

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Thanks for the review Joel. These coolers are definitely the way to go if you are building a new system. I really wish I would have gotten the epic 180 with my system! That thing is awesome.

What thermal paste were you guys using? I know maingear uses their own blend, it would interesting to see if the corsair stock paste or the maingear blend worked better for these coolers.

Also when are these companies going to start testing stock shrouds, most of the forums I've read see decreased temps with a push/pull configuration with a shroud.

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Good read! I have a Corsair H50 on my i7 920 and a Antec Kuhler on my 2600k. Both work great, low temps and volumes, but my Antec has developed a dripping sound since I have my Lanboy Air standing up "tower" style (no leaks just the sound).

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The H100 looks quite nice. I will be defiantly looking at these enclose systems on the next rig I build.

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There's no reason to think these systems have a tendency to leak. With the H50 you refer to, I'm guessing it was either bad luck or a bad installation--possibly a configuration that put too much tension on one of the coolant lines.

I used the thermal paste that shipped pre-installed on all of the coolers in question. What, exactly that is, I don't know. Paste matters less than it used to, and most of the advantage comes from having it vs. *not* having it. Apart from the tendency of some low-quality pastes to dry out, you'll see similar results from using the silicon compound from radio shack vs. the high-end AS.

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