Back in early January, while at CES, I brought you a short bit on Corsair's newest water cooling solution, the Corsair "Cool". At that time I didn't give it much mention as I wanted to get my hands on a kit and abuse it...of course for your benefit. After spending a week doing just that, I'm here to share the results with you.
While Corsair is widely regarded as the industry leader in system memory, they also have a great reputation for external water cooling solutions. Their Hydro-Cool ex200 is arguably the finest external water cooling unit on the market.
Three years ago, water cooling was limited to the brave few who were able to fabricate their own coolers or those who chose to invest in very basic setups. Over the next year, with hotter processors and more ingenious enthusiasts, cooling became more important, and exotic cooling became more main stream. Companies like Danger Den, Swiftech, Koolance, and Asetek, among others began fabricating quality water cooling kits. A couple of issues have really kept water cooling from becoming as common as it should be. First, kits can be hard to set up, and sometimes messy, and in the hands of an inexperienced modder...dangerous. Most people are leery of mixing water with their computer parts, for obvious reasons. Another issue is room, most people like mid-tower cases, which are not conducive to water cooled systems. When you take into account the size of a radiator, fans, reservoir, and tubing, a small case really doesn't benefit from water cooling. That brings us to external kits. External kits bring into consideration a whole other set of issues. While moving everything but the tubing and blocks outside of your case, external kits are cumbersome (you basically have another small case to consider), most of the time, these external kits were beset by inferior parts...bad pumps and poor heat dissipation among other issues.
Can Corsair's "Cool" address all of these issues and bring water cooling to the masses? Who will benefit the most from this system?
Before we get too far, let's check out some of the Specs of Corsair's "Cool"...
Kit for Intel Pentium 4 (478) and AMD Athlon 64
Kit for Intel Pentium 4 (775) and AMD Athlon XP
|High Performance 12 volt pump||Sourced for compatibility and performance with other kit components, the high-pressure 12 volt pump runs off the existing computer power supply. No external power is needed. The compact design and small form factor allow convenient mounting and easy installation.|
|High Flow Resevoir||The high-flow design of the reservoir increases water flow through the cooling system. The raised section eliminates bubbles and their noise for quieter operation.|
|120MM Low Restriction Radiator||Radiator features 120mm low-restriction design for greater cooling efficiency through increased water flow. Includes "RadBox" options for internal or external chassis mounting.|
|120MM Low Noise, High Flow Fan||120mm fan provides low superior cooling properties with minimal noise.|
|240 Pin Copper CPU Block||The directional design of the all copper, 240 copper pin CPU block maximizes heat dissipation as the it removes heat from the CPU and disperses to the coolant. A variety of mounting brackets are included for support of wide variety of CPUs.|
|Custom Retention Mechanisms||CPU water block retention mechanisms designed specifically to work with your motherboard and CPU. Your kit will include hardware for Pentium 4 and Athlon 64 CPUs or Pentium 4-LGA775 and Athlon XP CPUs.|
|High Flow, Low Resistance Tubing||The entire Cool system is based on 3/8" inner diameter tubing which yields higher flow, fewer restrictions and more efficient cooling. No converters to restrict flow.|
|Corsair's Specially Coolant||Specially formulated green coolant offers superior cooling qualities with corrosion inhibitors added to the coolant to protect your system.|
Also includes all mounting hardware and an easy-to-follow users manual.
Opening the package, you can tell immediately that Corsair put a lot of time and effort into this product. The components are individually packaged in a soft foam casing for protection. There is no possible way that anything here could be damaged. Once I got past the packaging, the first thing I noticed was an incredibly strong resemblance to the Swiftech H2O-120 (Rev 3) water cooling kit. The only real difference is the use of 3/8' tubing as opposed to 1/2", a 240 pin CPU block instead of a 281 pin block, and the absence of Swiftech's quick connect system, and a few cosmetic changes. As a side note, it turns out this whole resemblance to the Swiftech kit is not my imagination:
"Corsair develops and builds the highest performing water cooling kits on the market. We select the combination of components that together deliver optimum cooling. We have partnerships with and source components from industry leaders like Delphi and Swiftech. Our new 120mm COOL kit was co-developed with Swiftech, and both companies sell similar versions of the same core kit."
In the end it really doesn't matter to me. I have used a lot of Corsair products and have never been disappointed.
Corsair chose to use 3/8 ID (1/2OD) tubing and barbs for the "Cool system". The inlet barb is placed directly in the center of the block, over the hottest part of the processor, while the outlet barb is placed over the corner of the block. The copper CPU block features a unique 240 pin design which causes turbulence within the moving water, dissipating heat more rapidly, the Swiftech block offers a 281 pin block, though I don't think the extra 41 pins will make a huge difference in performance. The base of the all copper CPU block is a common design, square in shape and approximately 2.5" x 2.5" in size. While the base itself was not polished like others on the market I did not notice any machine marks or unevenness. While not a mirror like surface, I doubt the finish will impact this blocks performance at all. Corsair chose to use permanent clamps to connect the tubing to the block's barbs. I like this because it eliminates the possibility of the user connecting something wrong or not clamping a tube down, causing leaks. I don't like this because by permanently affixing the tubing, Corsair limits future installations or additions to the system.
The 12V Delphi's DC pump Corsair chose to run their Cool system is the smallest and quietest pump I have ever seen! The pump is completely plug-and-play and connects directly to any computer power-supply through a standard 4 pin power molex. It's compact design, quiet and powerful motor make it ideally suited for heavy duty cooling in environments where space is at a premium. The size and shape of this pump, coupled with mounting holes and a thick neoprene pad mean that even in the most cramped case, you should have no problem mounting it. I had no problem finding several different locations to secure the pump.
I'm a big fan of 12V pumps and I have to say after setting up the Corsair Cool and firing up this pump, I was blown away by its noise level and overall performance.
|Delphi Pump Technical Data||
5.25 drive bay resevoir
The reservoir is designed to fit into any standard 5 1/4" drive bay (Corsair recommends the highest bay available in your system). Constructed from high-density polyethylene for long term durability, and specially designed to operate efficiently with high-pressure high-flow pumps, this reservoir is built strictly for performance. While not super glamorous it features a stepped down discharge compartment which prevents air from being drawn into the pump, a typical problem in most reservoirs on the market which greatly reduces the systems heat dissipating performance.
The Corsair resevoir also features a dual inlet compartment allows the return of two devices installed in parallel (Chipset & VGA water-blocks, for example), thus reducing the overall pressure drop in the cooling circuit.
This is actually one of the nicest reservoirs I have ever dealt with. Extremely strong, extremely easy to work with, customizable, and fits perfectly into any 5.25 drive bay. I really like the step down feature which cuts down on air bubbles in the system. I don't think most people out there realize the impact even a small amount of air trapped in your water cooling system can have on its performance.
Fan and Radiator assembly
Moving right along with the high quality components, Corsair didn't skimp here by using just any 120mm fan. Call me a "fan boy", but I have always been a huge Panaflo supporter as their product combines superior performance with dead quiet operation. The Panaflo FBA12G12L moves an impressive 68.9 CFM of air at minimal noise level of 30dBA.
Panaflo FBA12G12L 120mm fan Specifications:
- 1700 RPM fan speed
- 68.9 CFM air flow
- 30 dBA noise level
The radiator seems to be a typical 120mm design. Corsair uses the Rad Box design made famous by Swiftech, with one exception. Corsair chose to not use the same connector system for the tubing, instead keeping all connections outside of the case, reducing the chance for accident. The Rad Box itself is a very nice unit. Utilizing a few screws and washers the user can connect the radiator and fan assembly to the rear of their case, over the chassis exhaust hole. Another very nice feature is the ability to mount the Rad Box to any exhaust port, be it 80mm or 120mm. This eliminates a fairly common issue with internal water cooling kits.....where do you place the radiator assembly after installation?
Tubing and accessories
Corsair included plenty of tubing in the kit, almost 10 feet of high quality 3/8 tubing. While not Targon, this tubing is plenty adequate for a system of any size. Again, I was disappointed that Corsair didn't include the quick connects made famous by Swiftech.
I was very happy to see that Corsair included Swiftech's "Coolsleeves". This unique system wraps around the tubing in your system to keep it from crimping and degrading system performance. With smaller cases and less working room, crimped tubing is a serious issue, not only does it negate a lot of the performance benefits of water, it also puts extra stress on the water cooling components by increasing pressure. Corsair included 4 ft of the cool sleeves, more than enough for any system using the corsair Cool.
Corsair also included a small bottle of a proprietary coolant additive, which looks, smells, and feels a lot like a typical glycol anti-freeze mix. Though I was unable to get any specifics on this mix, there doesn't seem to be any top secret ingredient here......just don't drink it, splash it in your eyes, or cook Ramen with it.
One issue I did have with this kit was the instruction CD and manual. First, the manual included with the kit does absolutely nothing to help with the installation of the water cooling kit. Second, as nice as the installation CD is, how much sense does it make to put the instructions on a CD? I mean, unless you have a photographic memory or a second computer, how are you supposed use the CD? Luckily I do in fact have a second system, and the CD is very well done, has great pictures, and is extremely easy to follow. Note to Corsair, skip the CD and quick start manual and simply print a thorough installation manual.
After complaining about this issue to Corsair, I got the response posted below. I totally understand their conundrum here....kind of damned if you do, damned if you don't....but that?s what you get when your products are so popular.
"We translated the QuickStart guide into 5 languages and include a printed copy of it. But the whole manual is too long to translate. If we ship the printed english manual with every unit our european customers will gripe about it not being in French and German (half our sales are in non english speaking countries). and it's a lot harder to keep a printed book up to date than it is a pdf book."
Installation of the "Cool" was pretty simple once I got past the CD issue. The best way to approach it is to dry fit the entire system (assemble it without thermal paste of filling the system with water) and make necessary adjustments where needed (I needed to move my DVD drive out of the top bat to accommodate the reservoir).
The only problem I foresee with this kit is the mounting assembly for the radiator and fan assembly, and it really isn't a serious one. After installation, the assembly sticks out about 5 inches from the back of my case, meaning it won't fit in the computer compartment of my desk. On top of that, you cannot block the rear of the radiator as it is the exhaust from not only the cooling system, but also you case. This is very minor issue to be honest. I actually thought the installation was very simple, and with all of the mounting hardware I can't foresee this system not working regardless of the case it is installed in.
When it came to mounting the CPU block, I was impressed with how Corsair simplified the mounting procedure by utilizing the motherboards included backing plate. Most kits require the removal of the board and using a combination of bolts, nuts, washers, and springs. Corsair still uses these, but not having to remove the board to install a cooling system makes a huge difference.
Moving on to the clamps, I didn't care for the permanent clamps placed on the CPU block, but understand Corsair wanted to remove the chance of leakage from you system. For the other connections corsair chose the plastic "C" clamps which have become pretty standard fair in these types of systems. I have never bee a big fan of these. I like good old fashioned zip ties myself, but the "C" clamps should be more than adequate for anyone.
Another aspect of "Cool" I really liked was how Corsair bridged the interior cooling assembly to the exterior radiator assembly. While Swiftech also utilizes the Rad Box, Corsair improved the design by simply including a PCI slot cover with holes cut into it for the tubing to pass through. This helps reduce the chance of the assembly leaking into your case. I hope Corsair at some point puts some rubber grommets on this slot cover. Though it would take a lot, the slot cover is made of a thin piece of tin, which could possibly cut the tubing.....I'm not saying it?s likely, I?m just saying it could happen. Placing rubber grommets or manufacturing the cover of a softer material would alleviate this problem. i would also really like to see a fan controller included here. Although the Panaflo fan is very quiet, I feel that the ability to adjust the fan would have been a nice touch.
When it came to actually filling the system I had no problems at all. Simply pour the contents of the Corsair coolant into the reservoir and top it off with distilled water. Purging the system of air was quick and simple. From start to finish installation took a little under 45 minutes, not too bad at all. Let?s move on to some testing.
For testing purposes I used the following system:
- AMD 3500+ Winchester
- DFI NF4 SLI-DR
- 1GB (2x512MB)Corsair XMS 4400C25PT
- OCZ Power Stream 520W PSU
- Cooler Master Centurion 5 case
- MS Windows XP Professional w/SP2
- Arctic Silver 5 thermal Compound
- All tests were run in a controlled environment of 74F (+/- 1F)
After installing the cooling system I ran it under normal operating conditions for a week to allow the thermal compound to settle as well as let the system settle in. For testing purposes, I ran Sisoft Sandra's System Burn-in Wizard for 20 cycles at 100% CPU usage while at stock system settings. I then ran the system at various overclocking settings with various voltages to stress the system and cooler. I used Arctic Silver 5 as the thermal compound during installation because nothing else touches my system, just a personal preference, but after some bad experiences with other products, I will use or recommend nothing else.
For 2.2GHz I used the system default multiplier (200x11, 1.425V) and let the system run for 20 minutes to get an accurate reading.
As you can see, the Corsair Cool did a more than adequate job of cooling my processor, even at lower stress levels. Equally impressive was how rapidly the cooling system returned the processor to its idle temperature, in this case less than 7 minutes!
Moving right along I increased the settings on my system to incrementally stress the Cool. I set the system to 2.4GHz (240x10, 1.5V) Again the Cool did an outstanding job of cooling the processor while at idle, at this point 8C below that of my great Thermalright heat sink.
Again, I ran Sisoft Sandra's Burn In wizard for 20 cycles, recording the temperature at the conclusion of the final cycle. While the Cool kept the processor at an incredibly cool 33C, the mosfets on my board, as well as the chipset, were both hovering slightly over 50C! Again, the Cool not only did an outstanding job cooling my processor under load, but also returned the system to its idle temperature in just under 10 minutes! Obviously the Delphi pump is moving some serious water!
2.6GHz (260x10, 1.6v) was the max I felt comfortable pushing the system to while using air cooling....not only is this a test system, but its my baby.....and I wouldn't risk damaging it for anyone!
I was extremely impressed with the Cools idle temperature. While it did hover right around 30C, it stayed at 29 for over an hour while I finished up some other work. After the last cycle of testing I was extremely happy to see that the Cool maxed out at 36C while under load at 2.6GHz. While everyone knows that the AMD Winchester series is an extremely cool processor, getting 2.6GHz without cracking 40C is very nice.
While I am extremely impressed with this system, I cannot wait for Corsair to introduce some more water blocks to implement into this system as both the mosfets and chipset easily broke 50C while testing at both 2.4 and 2.6GHz. Regardless, this is a good lesson for everyone in that you need to keep an eye on ALL of your components while overclocking.
As a side note I have been playing with this system and various settings, running 1.65V through my Winchester without breaking 32C at idle. I am currently running my system at 272x10 completely stable, while idling at 30C!
I really like Corsair's "Cool". They took an incredible design and tweaked it to perfection. Having installed a few water cooling units myself, it took me about 40 minutes to install this kit. I honestly believe that if Corsair had included an instruction manual instead of a CD, the whole process would take anyone about 30-40 to complete
I was impressed with both the performance and noise level of the system. The pump, as well as the Panaflo fan, both show why they are the cream of the crop in their respective fields, as they exhibited incredible performance at near silent noise levels. I do wish that Corsair had included some sort of fan controller for the 120mm Panaflo fan, as I think a slightly slower speed would show minimal performance drop while making the system run even quieter. Most people have the misconception that water cooling is some sort of miracle solution for processor cooling. There are usually two things that you need to keep in mind when using this type of cooling solution. First, your processor will drop a few degrees Celsius using water, but it is still going to generate as much heat as it would with any type of cooling. What you will see is a quicker drop in temperature from load as the combination of a copper block and water quickly removes heat away from the processor. Users also need to keep in mind that the CPU is not the only component in their system which suffers when put under excessive pressure or load. Both the motherboards chipset and video card are also susceptible to heat. Keep this in mind if you happen to purchase this cooler and really push your system. I do however want you to know that there are additional blocks coming to market for the Cool. You should shortly see blocks for the chipset as well as a universal water block for your video card, be it ATI or nVIDIA based.
What is my one big disappointment? Corsair did not implement the Swiftech quick connects. Quick connects would have made adding blocks to the cooling system much easier and cleaner. While the "Cool" is definitely an entry level cooling unit, it is equally suitable for the beginner or experienced enthusiast. Just based on its price to performance ratio alone this, this under $200 water cooling system is sure to be extremely popular and for good reason.
Legit Bottom Line
Ready to get your feet wet (Figuratively)? Corsair's "Cool" Definitely lives up to its name.