Disassembly of the All-In-One Water Cooler
Last week we looked at of four all-in-one water coolers and found the performance results were quite similar, as were the coolers. With this thought, and some comments made, we started to wonder how similar the coolers really were. Remember, mom always said it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
So I got to do something that I have wanted to do for a while, cut up some coolers and see how they are made! First step was cutting the pump/water block from the radiators and drain the coolant. I always knew there wasn't much in the way of coolant in one of these kits. The Cooler Master Seidon 120M had about ½ cup of what looks to be standard ethylene glycol, green dye and all, similar to what some use in custom cooling loops. The Scythe and Zalman LQ315 both have about ½ cup of non-toxic propylene glycol but dye free with corrosion inhibitors added in. The Zalman Resorator Max had only about ¼ cup of what Zalman calls Nano Fluid; but smells and looks a lot like ethylene glycol that has been dyed blue.
Now let’s take a closer look at each one at a time.
Cooler Master Sedion 120M Disassembly
First we have the cooler master Cooler Master Seidion 120M.
Removing 12 screws the cold plate to the pump housing the unit splits apart.
Then the baffle can be removed and you can see the water pump impeller.
The impeller spins on a small white ceramic shaft.
Looking closer at the cold plate we can see cooling fins and the diverters that keep the coolant running across the fins.
Flipping the pump housing over we can remove the top cap. It simply clips in place.
Scythe APSALUS II 120 Disassembly
The Scythe unit is known to be a Asetek design.
Removing 14 screws we can now split the unit in half. 12 screws hold the unit together, 2 smaller screws hold the top on.
The pulling a baffle we can see the impeller. The impeller on the Scythe unit spins on a metal post rather than ceramic like on the Cooler Master Seidion 120M.
Another 10 screws hold the cold plate to the lower half of the housing.
Looking closer at the cold plate we can see there is a foam foam baffle that keeps the coolant directed through the fins.
Here we have the cover removed from the pump top.
Zalman LQ315 Disassembly
The Zalman LQ315 is also of Asetek design, just different generations.
Like the others, removal of 12 screws and the unit splits apart into two halves. Upper half on left, lower on right.
Another 8 will separate the cold plate from the lower half. There is a gasket that directs the fluid to the center of the cold plate, out the left/right and pulled back into the loop via the impeller.
On the underneath side of the gasket is a channel, this funnels the coolant down through slot in a sheet metal shield.
Pulling the upper half apart the back of the top has cleat plastic with painted lines to help defuse the LED light on the circuit board.
Zalman Reserator 3 MAX Disassembly
The Zalman Reserator 3 Max is the odd one of the bunch as it had a rather custom cylindrical radiator. It also had the least amount of coolant in its loop.
There are 3 sections to the Zalman Reserator 3 Max. 8 screws hold the cold plate and baffle to the mid-section, and then another 12 hold the mid-section to the top.
The lower section not only holds the cold plate it performs the same task as the gasket on the LQ315.
The thing that surprised me was the staining on the cooling fins. The cooler is brand new, less than 48 hours of use before I disassembled it. Seeing this staining this early in the coolers life, I wonder what a year’s worth of hard 24/7 use would look like.
Separating the middle and upper sections we find the impeller.
Pulling the top off we can see the plastic on the top that diffuses the light.
Scythe APSALUS II 120 and CM Seidon 120M Compared
The Cooler Master (left) and Scythe (right) upper halves. The orientation of the impeller and discharge in relation to the fittings is quite similar.
Even the baffles are similar, not 100% interchangeable, but darn close.
Cold plate is similar. The Cooler Master (left) is a large hunk of copper. With foam at two ends to control flow. The Scythe (right) is two parts, the cold plate and a plastic adapter that attaches to the upper half. The flow control foam attaches straight to the cooling fins.
The Zalman LQ315 and Zalman Reserator 3 Max Compared
Laying the parts out for the LQ315 (bottom) and the Reserator 3 Max (top) the two are quite similar. Going left to right you have the top sections, then the mid-section, gasket, the cold plate.
Looking closer at the top and mid-sections two are darn near identical in layout. Just the Reserator 3 Max (top) has the snail shape for the impeller on the top half rather than in the mid-section like the LQ315.
The impellers were also found to be interchangeable. If it wasn't for the staining on the Reserator 3 Max’s impeller I would have had a hard time keeping track which one went with which unit.
Same for the cold plates, if it wasn't for the staining from the Reserator 3 Max’s coolant it would have been real easy to mix them up as they were again interchangeable. It looks like the cold plate and sheet metal parts can be pulled off one unit and put on the other.
Where the two designs change paths the most is the cold plate gasket. On the Reserator 3 Max (left) the gasket is a solid plastic piece that connects the cold plate to the mid-section and adds to the overall height. For the LQ315 (right) the rubber gasket acts as the seal between the cold plate and the mid-section.
For a while I have wanted to tear some of these closed CPU loop water cooling units apart just for sheer curiosity on my part. Way back when the first Corsair H50 came to us we took one apart just because it was new. Since then several generations of Asetek coolers have come to the market. The Scythe and the Zalman LQ315 are two confirmed Asetek units of later generations due to them having Asetek branded hardware and the lug mounting system that Asetek has had since the first generation of their coolers.
The Cooler Master and the Zalman Resorator Max are two that are close to Asetek designs internally, but mounting system, coolant, and radiators are not. Now I do not claim to understand patents, but with what I have seen in my tear down of these coolers I can understand how Asetek claimed in 2012 that competitors were ripping off their designs. The Cooler Master Sedion 120M and Zalman Reserator 3 Max are very similar to the Asetek designs and many of the parts were found to be interchangeable. This could be a coincidence, but then again Asetek has already taken action against Cooler Master for patent infringement and companies like Swiftech had to pull the H220 CPU cooling kit from the market. This patent battle has clearly been going on for some time and will eventually worked out.
As for the units themselves, I found it fascinating how little coolant there is in them, a ½ cup or less. The Cooler Master and Zalman Resorator Max had dye in their coolants. From what I have seen from custom loops with dyed coolant, over time those loops can get gummed up from the dye, which leads to less performance. I personally have only run water in my custom loops due to horror stories I have seen, so I cannot say with certainty if the dyes are the issue. With the Resorator Max’s cold plate already showing signs of staining, the stories may very well be valid and have reservations about the performance after long term use. The other thing that I found counter to custom loop designs is the small diameter of the tubing used. Where custom loop builders tend to go for ½” and ¾” ID tubing, all the AIO units run ¼” ID tubing.
The cooling performance between the true Asetek designs and those that appear to similar are virtually identical. That means when it comes to performance it doesn't look like enthusiasts are really better off going with one version versus the other. The only question that is left is reliability and lifespan and that is one area that was not looked at by us or any reviewer that we have seen. Water cooling is still our preferred method of keeping processors cool!
The Legit Bottom Line: If closed loop water coolers have always looked similar to you despite having different designs, now you know why. How does the old saying go.. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”