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Maximum PC Staff

Jul 24, 2014

Antec Kuhler H20 950

At A Glance

Gold

Fits better than expected; easy cabling.

Pyrite

So-so performance; fiddly installation.

A sizeable quandary

Re-engineering computer hardware is an expensive and time-consuming process. That’s why the technology usually evolves gradually, rather than in fits and starts; great leaps are risky. When you do something novel, it needs to be for a good reason. When Antec recently introduced two new types of coolers, the Kuhler 1250 and the 950, it did something pretty different. In a closed-loop liquid-cooling (CLC) system, the pump is customarily integrated into the heatsink that sits on top of the CPU. But with this new series of Kuhler units, Antec has moved the pump on top of the fan, which it uses to power the pump. The 950 ups the ante even further by putting a fan on each side of the radiator, making it a truly bulky piece of equipment. Always happy to see an innovative design, we hoped that perhaps the 950 would excel where the 1250 (reviewed last issue) was just OK for the price.

Despite its mass, this cooler fit in our test bed, as long we installed it in the rear and not the top.

Looking through the documentation and the marketing materials, one does not find bold claims of breakthrough performance or whisper-quiet operation. Antec does not appear to assert any advantage over other CLCs. But one look at the pictures, and it’s pretty clear that this guy wants a bold amount of real estate inside your PC. Ironically, though, despite having one fan on either side of the rad (which itself is 50mm thick, twice the usual), we found the 950 was actually easier to install than its big brother. The whole assembly cleared the large heatsinks on our Asus Rampage IV Extreme motherboard, which is not known for modesty. Our tall and fancy-looking sticks of RAM also had plenty of room. The 950’s immobile pipes that go from the pump to the rad partially obstructed one of the screw holes on the CPU tray bracket, but we were able to angle it in after some fiddling. (Pro tip: Don’t fully insert your screws until all four corners of the bracket are attached.)

So far, so good. Next is the cabling. Like the 1250, it’s all integrated into the heatsink—if you don’t mind using only the bundled “Grid” fan control software to report your temps and speeds. We needed our usual testing tools, so we had to grab a Y-splitter to connect the unit’s two fans to one motherboard fan header, in addition to testing with the official installation method. When we linked the fans to the motherboard, though, Grid could no longer “see” the fans. This either-or scenario is a bit vexing, but not a deal-breaker. Most people should be fine with Grid. You can install it from the CD in the retail box, or download it from the product page on Antec’s website.

In terms of raw performance, the 950 did not fare as well as we hoped. It regularly outpaced the best air coolers, but it also ran consistently behind top-shelf CLCs (both the 120mm and 240mm variety). Since the design of the cooler is so unconventional, it’s difficult to define the source of these underwhelming results. On the plus side, the fans had pretty good noise levels; once the side panel was on, we could barely hear the 950’s fans, as long as we weren’t running them full-tilt. We don’t measure noise scientifically, though, so your mileage may vary.

The difference between this and, say, an NZXT X60 is only a few degrees Celsius. In the real world, you may never take advantage of that additional edge. Every buyer, however, will need to deal with the 950’s somewhat-awkward installation and nonremovable fan. In the end, the 950 does some interesting things, but it doesn’t quite have the performance to make up for its quirks.

$100, www.antec.com

Note: This review was originally featured in the March 2014 issue of the magazine .

Benchmarks
 Kuhler 950 Quiet / Performance Mode
Kuhler 1250 Quiet / Performance Mode212 Evo Quiet / Performance ModeKraken X60 Quiet / Performance Mode
Ambient Air
22 / 22.3
24 / 22.5
20.5 / 20.320.9 / 20.7
Idle Temperature 38 / 32.235.8 / 31.735.5 / 30.529.7 / 28.8
Load Temperature
72.1 / 67.769.3 / 63.3
70 / 67.366 / 61.8
Load - Ambient50.1 / 45.445.3 / 40
49.5 / 4745.1 / 41.1
Price$100$120 (street)
$35 (street)$120 (street)

Best scores are bolded. All temperatures in degrees Celsius. All tests performed with an Intel Core i7-3960X at 4.1GHz, on an Asus Rampage IV Extreme motherboard, in a Corsair 900D with stock fans set to Standard.

Specifications
Radiator Dimensions (H x D x W)
6.3 x 2.0 x 4.7 inches
Stock Fans 2x 12cm PWM
Socket Support LGA1150/1155/1156/1366/2011; AM2/AM2+/AM3/AM3+/FM1/FM2
Additional Fan SupportN/A
THE VERDICT

Antec Kuhler H20 950

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