Mmm. That's the noise I made upon receiving a huge package from CoolIT and Silverstone this past week. Not just because of the contents -- a sweet, sweet system, featuring CoolIT's new Boreas cooler, packed into a TJ07 case -- but because the damn thing weighted nearly as much as I do, I swear. Getting that thing onto a Labs bench reminded me of Homer and the Stone of Triumph. Not fun.
That said, there is a heckuva lot of cooling power in this monstrosity. Unfortunately, eager enthusiasts aren't going to get the same goodies I played with -- two 8800 GTX cards, nestled atop an EVGA nForce 680i SLI motherboard, with an Intel QX 6700 processor fueling the entire deal. CoolIT and Silverstone are only going to be selling the case and cooler combination. While the Boreas will come with all the fixins' to cool your CPU and two video cards, like a bad college party, you'll be responsible for providing your own... entertainment. BYO parts?
Need a space heater? The case comes with an exhaust hole on each side, which spits out quite the warm air when the Boreas is cranked up to 100% operating power.
Opening the case leaves me with one question: where to begin? Cooler? Enclosure? Sticker? I'll start with the case, Silverstone's TJ07 model. As you can see, this little guy is a wonder of practical design. The power supply rests comfortably below (and out of the way of) the system's parts, with a nice little hole for practical cable management. I love the addition of two fans right in front of the hard drive bays; while Maximum PC cooling tests have shown that airflow overkill isn't necessary for the drives, I'd rather have too much than too little. The fans are a wee loud, but compared to the Boreas at full-speed. Well. At that point, extra fan noises hardly make an audible dent.
Unlike this writer's, the basement of the TJ07 case features a healthy dose of airflow. Begone, foul heat!
I also like how the PCI cards are not only screwed in place at the case's exterior, as is customary, but that you can actually lock them in place on the opposite side as well. It's a nice, extra measure of stability for those of us who turn a skeptical eye to the increasingly larger video cards hitting the market. Less component jiggling is great, 'far as I'm concerned.
Alas, the RAM fan and the PCI fan aren't included in the final packaging, far as we can tell. They do add a nice touch of color to an otherwise lifeless case.
As you can see, the big-ass Boreas cooler chops your ability to expand much into the 5.25" bays. But come on, now; three should be enough for anybody. Two optical drives, one soundcard port. Done and done. Unless, of course, you're one of those crazy modding types that likes to stick all kinds of information-themed displays in the front. By that same logic, though, you likely won't be buying a pre-built cooling system, and thus, would have no need for the Silverstone-CoolIT deal. But I digress.
For overkill, the Silverstone case even includes two fan mounts on the side. You know. In case the water cooling setup, RAM fan, PCI fan, hard drive fans, and power supply fan weren't enough of a tornado-in-a-box. But hey, we can't fault a case for offering too many options, right?
For a water cooled rig, this case goes pretty heavy into the air side of the equation as well.
The Boreas cooler comes with a block for your CPU, as well as two graphics cards. While the cooler for the 8800 doesn't quite fit the entire card the way other water blocks do, it's still a far better solution than trying to use air to chill these warm monstrosities. The Boreas itself rolls with 12 ThermoElectric Coolers (peltiers) -- three times that of CoolIT's Eliminator Cooler. Attached to the large heatsink are four fluid heat exchangers, which house the TECs. At its peak, the giant cooler pulls in 130 watts of juice... and turns you deaf, as the two attached 120 CFM fans redefine the notion of "kicking it into high gear."
You don't want to know how tempted we were to strap a beer can around this thing and see how frosty a beverage we could get...
Enough about looks; you're probably curious how this rig performs, eh? Well, seeing as I can't really compare the cooling of a quad-core rig to the coolers we strap to our standard FX-60 test machines, I decided to do the next best thing. Oh, yes. The thermal camera is making a repeat appearance. And to note: all the images are using the same color/temperature scale. For convenience's sake, we've attached it to all the images.
As you can see, the warmest portion of the case's exterior is obviously the fan hole, where a heckuva lot of warm air blows out on both sides. This shot was taken with an idle CPU, mind you; when you're playing a game, it's like a miniature rocket pack.
Taking off the case door, we're greeted with the traditional hotspots of any computer -- the damned voltage regulators. But as you can see, the ambient temperature of the case itself is solidly chilly.
And there's the Boreas. Even using its default setting, which keeps the coolant at 30 degrees celcius, the large heatsink doesn't get absurdly warm. We do love that blue color at Maximum PC.
The top of one of the 8800 cards is a lot less red than what it would look like were we not using water cooling. But, also, this is the computer chugging along at idle; just wait until I fire up 3DMark.
Underneath the paired 8800s, you can see exactly how much area the water block covers -- not a great deal of space.
While the Boreas does a fabulous job of cooling the CPU, those little voltage regulators are going to stay hot-hot-hot forevermore. But at least they make for a pretty thermal image.
At this point in the "testing," I got tired of taking sissy pooh-pooh shots of the Silverstone/CoolIT venture, and was itching to see just how much I could stress this machine out. So I fired up an instance of Prime95, making sure it was taking a good chunk out of all the CPU cores, and ran a loop of 3DMark with all the settings maximized. Oh yes, I wanted to make this baby burn, and while it didn't catch ablaze, it did get noticeably warmer. Shown here:
As a whole, the cooler functions remarkably well. Considering that it's packing a flaming CPU and two 8800s in the same loop, I was pleased to see temperatures staying within reasonable ranges (40 degrees-ish). Heck, I was even able to get the coolant itself down to a pleasing 25 degrees (on an idle system, mind you). Which reminds me; the software package that powers the entire deal, CoolIT's MTEC Control Center, is unequivocally badass. And simple. All you need to do is pick a temperature that you want the coolant to hover around, and the Boreas will take care of the rest by automatically raising or lowering the fan speeds. It's a mixed blessing; you get lower fan speeds (and lower noise) when the computer's running normally. But when it starts to output the heat, and the Boreas kicks it up a notch to match your cooling preferences... you might want earplugs.
But that's how the computing cookie crumbles. It sure beats a Boreas that's running at 100 percent all the time, that's for sure. And as I've gushed, the unit's cooling prowess -- strapped into a pretty "1337" case -- is a great combination. Heavy as all get-out, but great. As always, CoolIT provides an excellent alternative for those who don't want to futz with building their own custom water cooling rig.