Zalman has a well-earned reputation for high-quality air coolers. The “flower” design of its older all-copper heatsinks was eye-catching and distinctive, and its large (for the time) fans ran quietly even under load. Lately, though, liquid cooling has been all the rage. Closed-loop units from companies such as Corsair and NZXT are packaged with the cooling tubes and pump pre-attached to a radiator—referred to as an “all-in-one” (AiO) design. These units are much less expensive than cobbling together separate components, and there’s little maintenance required. The LQ-320 marks one of Zalman’s first forays into the AiO market, and it’s a respectable part, though arguably priced too high for its performance.
The LQ-320’s radiator gives it 7.7cm of total length, once the fan is installed.
Its noise level isn’t a problem, though. Left to its own devices, the LQ-320 hovered around 1,700rpm under load, creating a noise level that was noticeable but not distracting. Even with the fan cranked to 2,000rpm, it wasn’t that distracting and our overclocked Core i7-3960X test machine never cracked 70 C under a pretty hefty load. We use an internal Intel tool to load up the CPU to its limit, more so than with Prime95.
Under normal operating conditions, the LQ-320 noise level blends into the background—pretty much on par with a Phanteks or Noctua air cooler.
The radiator is large and in charge. At about 2 inches thick (that’s thicker than two stacked case fans), to which you must bolt a 1-inch-thick fan. If you’re sporting an LGA2011 board with tall RAM, there’s a chance the DIMMs will bump into the cooler but it depends on your case and motherboard. Unlike a typical fan, the included unit has only four mounts on one side so it can only be mounted to the radiator where air is pushed through it.
The fan uses a 4-pin PWM plug that goes directly into your motherboard as opposed to the USB-controlled (and similarly priced) Corsair H80i or NZXT Kraken X40 “intelligent” coolers. If your mobo has really granular and intelligent control over fan headers, such as Asus Fan Xpert 2, it’s probably OK. But if you’re using a budget board that’s “dumb,” don’t expect much control.
The pump is powered by a separate 3-pin plug that goes directly into an available mobo fan header. On boards that give you very little or no control over the fan headers, we’d advise you to get a $3.50 Molex-to-3-pin adapter to give the pump as much power as possible. Even on boards with control, we’d recommend that you make sure the pump is getting the proper voltage to get the full performance out of this cooler.
But although it lacks control software and unified cabling, it doesn’t really need software tweaking, and you don’t have to factor in software glitches. And plugging it directly into your power supply is not a major inconvenience. The biggest problem with the LQ-320 is actually its street price of about $90, which is virtually the same as the superior NZXT X40 and Corsair H80i. Granted, the X40 requires a 14cm fan mount, so it’s not directly comparable. But since you can buy it for under $100, it’s a factor, and the LQ-320 does not emerge victorious. If the LQ-320 settled into the $60-$70 range, it would probably fare better.
High-quality construction; performs better than almost all air coolers.
Price is not in line with the competition; lacks software controls.
Zalman LQ-320 (Quiet mode in Fan Xpert 2)
Zalman LQ-320 (Performance mode in Fan Xpert 2)
CM Hyper 212 Evo (Performance mode Xpert 2)
NZXT Kraken X40 (Performance mode)
Corsair H80i (Performance mode)
Burn – Ambient
All temperatures in degrees Celsius. Best scores bolded. All tests performed using an Intel Core i7-3960X at 4.2GHz, on an Asus P9X79 Deluxe motherboard, in a Thermaltake Level 10 GT with stock fans set to High.