Liquid Cooler Lineup: Intel, Corsair, MainGear Tested

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Performance Summary: Both the Corsair H80 and H100 offer significantly improved performance over Intel's liquid cooler and allow for stable overclocks at a higher frequency than the Intel product can reach.

Between the H80 and the H100, we like the H100 more--provided you've got a compatible chassis and feel like dropping three figures on a CPU cooling solution. Maingear's Epic 180 is also an interesting choice that performs very well, better than Corsair's units actually at some settings, though its not commercially available unless you get a full system from Maingear.

Should you consider dropping $100 or so on a CPU cooler? It seriously depends on what you want. If all you care about is making sure Turbo Mode kicks in regularly and you aren't concerned with overclocking, there are much cheaper solutions (including LGA2011-compatible coolers). Serious overclockers, on the other hand, will find a lot to like in these designs.

Do the Corsair H80/H100 offer performance at a decibel level that air coolers can't match? A bit of independent research online suggests not. Compare reviews around the web and you'll find that there are several high-end air coolers capable of competing with (if not surpassing) the H80 and H100 on both fronts.

The advantage of the liquid coolers, in such cases, is twofold. First, they're often easier to install. Attempting to bolt a huge heatsink to a motherboard that's already inside a case can be a torturous affair, leading to skinned knuckles, harsh words, and failed marriages. 

Second, liquid coolers move the heaviest part of the cooler away from all the other sensitive case hardware and bolt it securely to the back, top or bottom of a case. True, it's rare for a properly secured heatsink to be jarred loose and go caroming around the inside of one's chassis. Rare, however, isn't completely unheard of, though the thermal advantages are more interesting perhaps.  The real benefit is that the radiator is generally mounted away from other components, so heat is dissipated outside the case, rather than inside the motherboard area, where traditional air coolers can sometimes warm-up other components.

If you're looking for a liquid cooler, Corsair's are both good options--and we'd recommend them over Intel's RTS2011LC, hands down. One thing we'd really like to see from Corsair, however, is a commitment to honor future products with mount kit upgrades, similar to what Noctua announced earlier this year.

At $90-$120, these aren't just single system products -- they're significant investments. We know they'll be compatible through the Ivy Bridge product series, but a prominent guarantee to provide upgrade kits for future sockets would give Corsair an advantage compared to the other liquid cooler vendors.

Corsair's H80 and H100 Liquid Coolers

  • Good performance
  • Quiet
  • Easy to install

  • Expensive. 
  • Not necessarily quieter than equivalent air cooler
  • No documentation or added software

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