Breaking the Cold Mold

Maximum PC Staff

Two CPU coolers combine forces in different ways

Closed-loop liquid coolers (CLCs) have a number of advantages for enthusiasts. They can overclock higher than an air cooler but they don't require the expense, fiddling, or maintenance of a full-on custom loop. However, there hasn't been a lot of variety in the basic design lately. So today, we're taking a look at two CLCs that have broken from the herd. Cooler Master is working with Swiftech, which usually makes parts for custom loops, and Antec is putting its pump on the fans itself.

Cooler Master Glacer 240L

At first glance, the Glacer 240L is very similar to Swiftech's H220. This time, though, it sports two 120mm Cooler Master Blademaster fans, a beefier PWM pump, and a different cabling setup. Asetek sued Swiftech last year, alleging that the H220 infringed on some of its patents, and Swiftech pulled the product from US shelves; this collaboration with Cooler Master apparently allows them to stay in the game.

The 240L’s copper block comes polished to a mirror shine.

The 240L (named so because it sports a 240mm radiator) still has the H220's distinctively thick and shiny PVC tubes, which you can still detach using a Philips screwdriver. Technically it’s a semi-closed loop since once you’ve detached it from the water block you break the seal on it. One tank on the radiator includes a fill port to top it off after you’ve detached it.

The LGA1150 backplate actually came pre-attached out-of-the-box, so it took a couple of minutes of tweaking to remove that. Since our test bed is LGA2011, we also had to replace the spring-loaded screws with another set included in the box. These are fixed to the bracket with tiny plastic clips that took some wrangling to get off. We'd recommend pliers. Overall, installation was more fiddly than usual, but it was actually the cabling that provided the biggest obstacle.

There's no splitter cable in the box to combine the two fan cables into one. Normally, the fans get a splitter to plug into the CPU fan header. The SATA cable for powering the pump is straightforward enough. But the pump also has a 4-pin cable for PWM control—does that go into the CPU fan header, too? The documentation offers no guidance. Standard ATX motherboards max out at two fan headers that are actually designed to handle PWM hardware: They're usually labeled CPU Fan and CPU OPT, the latter of which is used for a second CPU fan. We had to scrounge a splitter cable from another company's kit to plug both fans into the board's CPU OPT.

On the bright side, once you've conquered the installation phase, the cooling is excellent. In fact, the Glacer 240L is right up there with the Kraken X60, despite the latter having 280mm of surface area to work with. Then again, the X60 frequently gets down to $110, and the similarly performing Corsair H100i gets even lower. Both also have noticeably better noise levels, mostly because their pumps are much smaller. But the $140 price tag on the Glacer 240L still takes some convincing. How much do you value being able to replace the individual components and the coolant itself, or being able to expand the loop to add a video card, using standard G1/4 fittings? As the basis for a full-system loop, the Glacer 240L is practically a bargain. But if you just want to cool your CPU, there are more budget-friendly options out there, with smoother installation experiences.

Cooler Master Glacer 240L


$140, www.coolermaster-usa.com

Antec Kuhler H20 1250

CLCs look so similar these days that you usually have to install and benchmark them to detect differences in design and performance. Antec's Kuhler H20 1250, meanwhile, doesn't even need to be taken out of the box. You might ask, "What are those huge knobs on top of the fans?" Those aren't knobs. Those are the pumps. Yes, interestingly, Antec has chosen to integrate the motors that drive the fan and pumps into one. Why, we’re not sure, but there's something to be said for symmetry.

Specifications

Cooler Master Glacer 240L
Antec Kuhler H20 1250
Radiator Dimensions
(H x D x W)
1.14 x 10.6 x 5 inches 1.14 x 10.6 x 5 inches
Stock Fans 2x 12cm PWM 2x 12cm PWM
Socket Support LGA1150/1155/1156/1366/2011; AM2/AM2+/AM3/AM3+/FM1/FM2/939
GA775/1150/1155/1156/1366/2011; AM2/AM2+/AM3/AM3+/FM1/FM2
Additional Fan Support 2x 12cm 2x 12cm

On the other hand, the 1250 is one of the easiest installs that we've experienced. The fans come pre-installed, with their cables pre-attached to a splitter that's already plugged into the heatsink that sits on the CPU (which Antec refers to as a "cold plate"). There are two more cables coming out of the heatsink. One is a basic 3-pin job to provide power to the fans and pumps, and the other is an internal USB cable that allows you to control the fans through Antec's bundled Grid software. This is a basic application providing speed presets, temperature, and fan-speed data and graphs. The cold plate also has an LED on top whose color and behavior you can customize. You won't find Grid on Antec’s website, though, so if you lose the bundled installation CD, you might be in trouble. This was a pretty new product as this issue went to press, so that issue may be resolved by the time you read this.

Since the H20 1250’s pumps are on the fans, the "cold plate" over the CPU can be very low-profile.

The biggest downside to this unit is the sheer real estate it requires. A standard radiator is 25mm thick, as is a case fan. That's about two inches total. The Kuhler 1250 needs about 3.5 inches, though the extra bulk is mostly centered on the pumps sitting on top of the fan motors. We had no problem in our test bed, but we chose its Corsair 900D case primarily for its cavernous interior. The 1250's effective thickness is bigger than a radiator with one fan on each side, so if that wouldn't fit in your case, this probably won't either. We couldn't fit it into two different mid-tower cases; it bumped into the heatsinks around the CPU tray. Antec does not have a compatibility chart, so sizing would have to be tested on a (pardon the pun) case-by-case basis. Since that's not very practical, this is effectively a cooler for a full-tower or super-tower ATX case (especially if you have any plans to add a second set of fans on the other side of the radiator). And you may still encounter physical obstructions.

Benchmarks
Glacer 240L Quiet /Performance Mode
Kuhler H20 1250 Quiet /Performance Mode Kraken X60 Quiet / Performance Mode Kraken X60 Quiet / Performance Mode
Ambient Air 22.7 / 23.2 24 / 22.5
20.9 / 20.7 20.3 / 20.5
Idle Temperature
33.7 / 29.5 35.8 / 31.7
29.7 / 28.8 30.7 / 29.3
Load Temperature
67.2 / 62.8
69.3 / 63.3
66 / 61.8 67.1 / 61
Load - Ambient 44.5 / 39.6
45.3 / 40.8
45.1 / 41.1 46.8 / 40.5
Price $140 $120 (street) $120 (street) $110 (street)

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.

The 1250 has excellent performance and acceptable noise levels, fortunately. It’s right in line with premium CLCs such as the NZXT Kraken X60 and the Corsair Hydro H100i. It even has a solid three-year warranty. But with the pumps integrated into the fans, you can never replace or upgrade the fans. If they are damaged at some point, or if they wear down after the warranty expires, you have to replace the whole kit. When you consider both the lack of flexibility and the huge physical footprint, it's difficult to recommend the Kuhler 1250 over the competition.

Antec Kuhler H20 1250


$120(street), www.antec.com

This article was taken from the February 2014 issue of the magazine.

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