Thermaltake seems to be the only manufacturer designing water-cooling kits specifically for the home-theater crowd, and we applaud the company’s cojones for doing so. Because most folks want their HTPC to be as quiet as the rest of their A/V components, water-cooling is an excellent way to maximize performance while minimizing noise.
The latest Thermaltake HTPC cooler is a smaller version of the giant Symphony, which is itself a great cooler, albeit freaking huge and way too pricey at $500. The Mini is much more affordable, and manageable.
The idea is to place it somewhere near your HTPC cabinet so that it blends right in; it looks just like a tower speaker. Most people would never know the truth—that behind its mesh grill sit a reservoir and a massive aluminum radiator cooled by three quiet 12cm fans running at a mere 1,400rpm.
The setup uses a dual-pump configuration, and fits all late model CPU sockets, including BTX designs. It ships prefilled with coolant, and the CPU water block comes attached. Mobo removal is required for Intel systems, but not for AMD. We love the Mini’s quick-detach hoses, which make moving your system around much easier; and we love that Thermaltake included enough tubing to place the tower 7 feet from your rig.
In our tests, we compared the Mini to Zalman’s Reserator 1 Plus (reviewed Holiday 2005). The Symphony outperformed the fanless Reserator by a few degrees, which we attribute to its triple-fan setup. However, it ran nearly as quiet as the Reserator. We could only hear the fans when we placed our ear right next to the Symphony’s tower.
Of course, there’s a catch: The Symphony Mini only cools the CPU, and it’s not upgradable. That makes it damn pricey, especially considering that the Reserator 1 Plus costs the same, and includes a GPU block. For our money, the 1 Plus is a better deal, but the Symphony Mini is a close second.