120mm Water Cooler Round Up

Water cooler round up group shot

It is no secret that Intel’s new 4th generation Core 'Haswell' processors run a tad warm and that most enthusiasts are looking for better cooling solution for their system. Most will go with traditional air cooling, where a few will want to move up to water cooling.

In the realm of water there are two schools of thought: sealed loop and full on custom. Mostly which way you go is usually dictated by budget. With full on custom you are buying every component for the loop, assembling it yourself and costing fair bit of money in the process. With sealed loop everything comes in a box as a single unit, pretty much installed in a similar fashion as traditional air coolers and costing on average less than $70 for 120mm units.

Today we are looking at four 120mm sealed liquid cooling loop kits. Kits like these have been around for while as we first saw the Asetek LCLC at IDF 2006! The first sealed loop unit I personally reviewed was the CoolIT Systems Pure way back in 2008, and since I have reviewed several units from Corsair, CoolIT Systems, Intel, Thermaltake and Antec. The coolers we are looking at today come from Cooler Master, Scythe, and Zalman. These are all new brands to us when it comes to liquid cooling, so we can't wait to see what they have to offer. To keep things fair we will go in alphabetical order.

We will start by looking at each cooler individually, again, in alphabetical order. So we will start with the Cooler Master Seidon 120M.

Cooler Master Seidon 120M

 Cooler Master Seidon 120M Box      

Cooler Master Seidon 120M Specifications:

 Cooler Master Seidon 120M

The Cooler Master Seidon 120M to me looks like a hybrid of designs I have seen in the past. The radiator and tubing are like the CoolIT Systems coolers. The tubing is a stiff corrugated tubing about 12 inches long. I do not care for this type of tubing, due to it stiffness. It just makes life more difficult when installing the unit. The 120mm radiator is 1.1 inches thick and can support up to two 120mm fans for push/pull configuration. The Seidon 120M comes with only on 120mm fan.

 Cooler Master Seidon 120M top of base

The pump/water block housing resembles that of Asetek units; a rounded body, with the 90 degree swivel fittings. What is different is the mounting system and overall outward aesthetic of the housing. Rugged looking, would fit well with Cooler Masters STORM line of cases. The power lead for the housing is XX inches long.

 Cooler Master Seidon 120M copper base

Unlike most sealed loop units I have looked at in the past the Seidon 120M is shipped with no thermal paste pre-applied. Cooler Master does supply a small tube of their thermal paste. This is fine with me, saves on the time to clean off what comes with it so I can use my preferred paste. On the outer diameter of the housing is 4 mounting lugs, these are what the mounting hardware attaches too.

 Cooler Master Seidon 120M accessories

Speaking of mounting hardware the Seidon 120M comes with everything you need to mount the cooler to all modern sockets and enough extra hardware to mount up a second fan.

 Cooler Master Seidon 120M mounts installed

The mounts fit into small grooves in the side of the housing and attaches to the mounting lugs. The mounting screws are attached to the mounts, when it comes to mounting this will be very handy because you will not have to fight holding the base to the CPU with one hand, while fiddling with loose hardware and a screw driver with the other.

 

Scythe APSALUS II 120

Scythe Apsalus II 120 box

Scythe APSALUS II 120 Specifications:

Scythe Apsalus II 120

Next up we have the Scythe Apsalus II 120. Again a single 120mm radiator, this one looks to be made by Asetek. The tubing is flexible rubber, 12.8 inches long. The flexible rubber tubing makes installation easier; the tubing can bend at a tighter radius, which makes putting on of these in a small case much easier than a cooler with the stiff corrugated tubing.

Scythe Apsalus II 120 top of base

Top of the base is plain, only the Scythe logo in silver.

Scythe Apsalus II 120 fittings

90 degree swivel fittings

Scythe Apsalus II 120 bottom of base

And the base comes with thermal paste pre-applied.

Scythe Apsalus II 120 acessories

The Apsalus II 120 comes with all the hardware needed to mount the unit to all modern sockets.

Zalman LQ315

     Zalman LQ315 box     Zalman LQ315 Specifications:

 Zalman LQ315

The first Zalman unit in the round up is the LQ315. It is a single 120mm radiator unit of Asetek design. The tubing is flexible rubber, 12.8 inches long. The difference between the Scythe APSALUS III 120 radiator and the radiator for the Zalman LQ315 is the housing. The LQ315 is slightly thicker at 38mm rather than the Scythe APSALUS III 120 27mm, but on both the thickness of the fins look to be the same. Just the gap between the fan and fins in larger on the LQ315.

 Zalman LQ315 base top

The top of the base has large Z in the center backlit with a blue LED light. Around the outer edge reads “Zalman liquid cooling solution”

 Zalman LQ315 base bottom

The base comes with thermal paste pre-applied.

 Zalman LQ315 accessories

The Zalman LQ315 comes with all the hardware needed to mount it to all the modern CPU sockets.

With the system powered up there is a slight glow from the back light on the base.

Zalman Reserator 3 MAX

        Zalman Reserator 3 MAX box    Zalman Reserator 3 MAX Specifications:

 Zalman Reserator 3 MAX

Now the Zalman Reserator 3 MAX; the most stylish unit of the round up and of any sealed loop water cooler we have looked at in the past. Zalman has put their flair and style into the Reserator 3 MAX by having the radiator barrel shaped like the CPU coolers they are known for. In doing this they have used a nontraditional radiator fan for the Reserator 3 MAX, which could be interesting getting a matching fan for a push pull setup.

 Zalman Reserator 3 MAX radiator tube configuration

The above image is from Zalmans website. It shows how the tubing is configured in the radiator. The cooling coil is one single tube that circles radiator four times. In a traditional radiator there are many narrow channels with cooling fins. With the Reserator 3 MAX only having a single large tube, will be interesting to see how it performs.

 Zalman Reserator 3 MAX back of radiator

The back of the radiator has a standard 120mm fan mounting pattern for attaching to the case. Zalman provides long screws to add a second fan or short screws to attach straight to the case. The fan wire is run through the center of the radiator, out the back and to the side. The issue I have with this is that Zalman didn’t make the wire long enough to reach a fan header on the motherboard. So a extension cable will be needed if you do not have a fan header right at the back of the board

 Zalman Reserator 3 MAX top of base

The top of the base has a nice sleek look to it. The Zalman logo on the center, with a light ring around it. The base and the radiator fan are both blue LED

 Zalman Reserator 3 MAX bottom of base

The base comes only protected by a thin sheet of plastic film, no thermal paste pre-applied. The unit we have had a small blemish near the center. I could not feel it with my finger nail, but as you can see in the above image, in the right light it was very obvious.

 Zalman Reserator 3 MAX accessories

Zalman provides mounting hardware that is similar to what they provide with their traditional air coolers. Mounts pretty much the same way as well. Universal backing plate, with AMD or Intel upper mounts. Those attach to the base with eight, yes 8, screws. Then depending on your socket there are three different sets of screws to mount the unit to the CPU. In looking at the other coolers, it’s a bit more complicated than it needs to be.

 Zalman Reserator 3 MAX installed

With the unit installed I can see now why the tubes were crossed. If they were parallel like all the other units one would be pulled closer to the fan, which is an issue with a fan without a body or grill.

 Zalman Reserator 3 MAX LED lights in the dark

If LED fans are you thing then the Zalman Reserator 3 MAX does look nice when running.

 

Test system and procedure

LR Test system x264 screen shot

To test the coolers I used the x264 benchmark stress the CPU. I used this in place of Prime95 due to the fact that the floating point benchmarks like Prime95 are really hard on Intel Haswell CPUs, and tend to mess with the integrated voltage regulator that now resides on the chip. I did 4 runs of the x264 benchmark and then averaged the temps. Temperatures were recorded with Coretemp. The idle temps were taken after the system set at the desktop for 30 minutes. The ambient temperature was kept at 72F (22C) for all testing.

The test system

LR Test System

Intel Test Platform
Component  Brand/Model Pricing 
Processor  Intel Core i7 4770K  Click Here 
Motherboard  Gigabyte GA-Z87X-OC Force Click Here 
Memory  Kingston HyperX Beast Click Here 
Video Card  EVGA GTX 660  Click Here
Hard Drive Corsair Force GT 90GB SSD  Click Here
Power Supply  NZXT HALE90 750w  Click Here
Chassis Thermaltake Chaser MK-1 Click Here 
Operating System  Windows 7 Professional (64Bit)  Click Here

 

LR Test system CPUZ screen shot

CPU used in the test system is the Intel Core i7 4770k. The processor will be run at stock settings with the Gigabyte GA-Z87X-OC Force motherboard running default settings as well. 

LR Test system GPUZ screen shot
The GPU used in the system is an EVGA GeForce GTX660 with ForceWare 327.23 video card drivers.

LR Test System Corsair SSD  

Hard drive use is the Corsair Force GT 90GB SSD.

LR Test System Gelid GC Extreme Thermal Paste

Thermal paste used is Gelid GC Extreme

      

Temperature Results

 Temperature results stock configuration 

With the system running at stock settings the Zalman Reserator 3 Max sets at the head of the pack running at 55.25C with only 0.6 degrees gap between the top 3 coolers. At the back of the pack is the Scythe Apsalus II 120 running a 58.5C. The Scythe Apsalus II 120 is also the quietest cooler in the round up, with the Zalman Reserator 3 Max being the loudest. This is due to their respective fans. Running the Scythe fan the system was running completely silent. So I retested all coolers running the Scythe fan so see how the performance of the coolers.

 Temperature results Scythe fan only configuration

All the coolers except the Zalman Reserator 3 Max ran pretty much identically, running within a degree of one another. The Reserator 3 Max slipped to the back of the pack with the slower CFM Scythe fan. So, when all four of these liquid coolers were using the same fan the idle results were damn near identical and at load they were also fairly close. These results were pretty much what I was expecting considering all the coolers have very similar designs with the exception of the Zalman Reserator 3 Max.

Final Thoughts

Water cooler round up group shot

If I judge everything on the “as purchased” configuration, and look solely at the temperatures the Zalman Reserator 3 Max comes out on top. The Cooler Master Sedion 120m and Zalman LQ315 in the middle. With the Scythe Apsalus II 120 dead last 3 degress behind the first place Zalman Reserator 3 Max. Throw in a couple more qualifiers like noise level and price, that changes the line up a bit.

If you plan on changing the fans then the out of the box results don't really matter as the fan plays a crucial role on these coolers. All of these coolers appear to be using a very similar design, so it doesn't come as a big surprise that when we placed the Scythe fan on all of the coolers that the idle temperature was within a single degree of one another. The performance of the Zalman Reserator 3 Max greatly decreased with the slower spinning Scythe fan in use, so if you are going for silence, that cooler design might not be right for you.

Scythe Apsalus II 120

The best of the bunch falls to the Scythe Apsalus II 120 and Zalman LQ315. I put the Scythe Apsalus II slightly ahead due to its low price tag, and it very quiet operation out of the box due to the fan. If it wasn’t for the motherboard LEDs on the system you would be hard pressed to tell it was running when you walk up to it. Right on its heels is the Zalman LQ315. I gave it second basically due to the packaged fan and its louder operating noise level, so you would have the extra cost of getting the Scythe fan for the quiet operation. The sound from the stock Zalman fan was was noticeably running when standing 5 feet from the system. The two coolers are pretty much the same as they are both made by Asetek, which are the folks that make the new Corsair Hydro Series H90 and H110, and others over the years.

Cooler Master Seidon 120M top of base

In the middle of the pack we have the Cooler Master Seidon 120M. Overall it seems to be a Cooler Master design that took styling cues from both Aesetek and CoolIT Systems designs. The cooling block is like Asetek in shape, with some flair for looks that fit with their CM Storm line. The radiator shroud and corrugated tubing like coolers from CoolIT Systems. The unit cooled similar to that of the Scythe and Zalman LQ315 when paired with the Scythe fan, but its stock fan was a fair bit louder.

Zalman Reserator 3 MAX LED lights in the dark

Then we have the Zalman Reserator 3 Max. The rather high price tag of $129.99 for the performance is a little hard for me to swallow. It’s twice the price of the Cooler Master Seidon 120M and has only a small increase in performance. When paired with the quiet Scythe fan the performance dropped almost 7 degrees. This is most likely due to the radiator design than the cooling block. I will give the Reserator 3 Max one thing, it’s the flashiest all-in-one cooler I have tested, and it does look good. It will be up to you the end user to decide if the price is worth it.

 Legit Bottom Line: Our first look at liquid coolers from Zalman, Scythe and Cooler Master showed that there are a good number of water coolers on the market, but the performance of them are all very similar.