Fall 2014 Cooler Roundup

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Product(s):

Provided By: Noctua, NZXT, Thermaltake

Introduction:

Today we are taking a look at a bunch of coolers from a few different companies and putting them up against each other in a massive cooler showdown. In this article we'll briefly cover each cooler that is going into the ring and then simply take a look at performance. We aren't reviewing each cooler in depth, but we will highlight some of the features of each unit so that you can quickly and easily know what you're getting with each unit. At the end, we'll post a chart of all of these coolers compared to each other and see how they all compare when going head-to-head.

Cooling Roundup

 

We have coolers from Noctua, Thermaltake and NZXT represented here today and this round will cover HSF units as well as liquid cooling kits. We won't do a direct comparison of noise, but we will make some notes as to noise levels as we go. If you want some good kit-cooling and have a decent budget, make sure you follow along to see the candidates.

 

Noctua NH-D15:

The first cooler up on the bench is a huge unit from Noctua. Every time we get a Noctua cooler, we are amazed at how they manage to up their performance without upping the noise produced by their coolers. The way they increase the performance with this (their current flagship), is by making it huge and including two massive fans. You can run this cooler with either one or two fans and use fan speed reducers to make it even quieter. Even if you leave the fans running at stock speeds, they are still quiet.

Accessory Boxes
Noctua Accessory Boxes

NH-D15 Profile
NH-D15 Profile

 

As you can see below, this cooler has a total of six heat pipes that travel up into two separate cooling fin sections. By default a fan is installed between these, allowing it to pull air through one side and push air through the other section. If this isn't good enough, you can add a second fan - which is included.

NH-D15 Base
NH-D15 Base

Size Comparison
Size Comparison

 

As with all Noctua coolers, installation will either require motherboard removal or a large hole in your motherboard tray in order to attach the stiffener plate. You really need this plate in order to secure this 1.32kg cooler (2.91lb) to your CPU. The beauty of this cooler is that it is massive - in terms of sheer size and as well as its promised performance. When you combine the claim of silent and awesome cooling with a six year warranty, you just may have a winner.

NH-D15 Installed

Noctua NH-D15 Installed

 

If you want to check out all the features and specifications of this cooler, please be sure to check this manufacturer's site here.

Next up, the NZXT Kraken X31 Liquid Cooling System.


 

NZXT Kraken X31:

The second cooler on our bench is the entry-level Kraken X31 from NZXT. NZXT has marketed a few liquid cooling systems in the past years and the Kraken X31 is their new low-end cooler. It is based on and built by Asetek, so it has a lot of good quality components including a variable speed pump, wide compatibility with a ton of cases and NZXTs CAM software that works to control and monitor your PCs cooling system - both locally and via an iOS App (Android coming soon).

Kraken X31 Box
Kraken X31 Box

Kraken X31
Kraken X31 Bundle

 

As you can see above, this 120mm cooler comes with a basic kit of everything you need to install it on your favorite AMD or Intel system. NZXT includes support for the latest Intel CPUs as well as backwards compatibility for 1366, 1155 and more. On the AMD side of things, this will work on everything from AM2 and newer - both APU and CPU systems.

X31 Profile

X31 Profile

 

The X31, although entry-level has nice long tubing that will allow it to work in most cases on either the CPU or even a graphics card with a bracket available from NZXT. It's not often that the entry-level cooler gets the same fans, tubing and installation hardware as the more pricey options. While this cooler isn't extra fancy - and it doesn't have any extras, it still is a decent value and we'll find out how the performance stacks up shortly.

Kraken X31 Installed

Kraken X31 Installed

 

If you want to check out all of the features and specifications of this cooler, please be sure to check the product page here.

Next up, the NZXT Kraken X41 Liquid Cooling System.


 

NZXT Kraken X41:

The next cooler in the lineup is the NZXT Kraken X41. This cooler is based on a 140mm fan and radiator and offers 36% more surface area when compared to a 120mm radiator. NZXT has also made this radiator a bit thicker than the X31 and so you should gain even more cooling prowess through this extra area as well. Again, this is an Asetek cooler but with a few extra NZXT flares including an LED color adjustable water block cover that ups the feature set when compared to the X31. Much like it's smaller sibling, the X41 also integrates with the CAM software allowing you to monitor and control the cooler from your PC or remotely via an App.

Box

Kraken X41 Box

 

The gear is packed pretty well in this box and you get a single 140mm Nano Bearing fan that can move a over 100CFM of air at a mere 37db. Also included is the same mounting hardware for AMD and Intel CPUs and switching these coolers out is a breeze. There are enough screws in this package to mount a second 140mm fan if you want to do a push-pull configuration to squeeze out every last bit of performance from this cooler.

X41 Bundle

Kraken X41 Bundle

Kraken X41 Profile

Kraken X41 Profile

 

The X41 has the same type and length of tubing as the smaller X31 and it offers a performance upgrade at the cost of some compatibility. Not every case supports these larger 140mm fans, but if you have one, you should consider at least one of these larger coolers. The advantage of course is that you can get cooler temperatures with similar noise or even the same temperatures with much less noise. Liquid cooling is not always for the overclocking tweaker - it is a great tool for those that need very quiet cooling.

Kraken X41 Installed

Kraken X41 Installed

 

If you want to check out all of the features and specifications of this cooler, please be sure to check the product page here.

Next up, the NZXT Kraken X61 Liquid Cooling System.


 

NZXT Kraken X61:

The last NZXT cooler in our lineup is the Kraken X61 and this is their current flagship liquid cooler. It is a full 280mm radiator that comes with a couple of very quiet 140mm fans and can support two additional fans with the included hardware. If you are serious about cooling and have a seriously large case, this cooler may be what you're looking for. As with the other Kraken coolers we are comparing today, it features long hoses, the same CAM software package, water-block lighting effects and support for both AMD and Intel platforms.

Kraken X61 Box

NZXT Kraken X61 Box

 

NZXT opted to use a larger 280mm radiator for the Kraken X61, but the radiator is thinner than the X41 and measures in at about the same thickness as the X31. Essentially, the X61 is a 280mm version of the 120mm X31. With that in mind it will be offering over 2.5x the cooling area as the X31 so we should see some pretty impressive numbers.

NZXT Kraken X61 Bundle

NZXT Kraken X61 Bundle

NZXT Kraken X61 Block

NZXT Kraken X61 Block

 

As with all of thethe NZXT coolers, the block bracket for Intel CPUs comes pre-installed and if you are going to use this on an AMD system, you'll have to carefully remove a plastic lock ring from the block in order to install a different retention ring for the other CPU. This is tool-less and should only take a minute. Once that is done, you'll be ready to go with some pretty impressive performance (or so they say). We'll find out here in a few more minutes.

NZXT Kraken X61 Installed

NZXT Kraken X61 Installed

 

If you want to check out all of the features and specifications of this cooler, please be sure to check the product page here.

Now that we've got the NZXT coolers out of the way, we have a few Thermaltake coolers to look at as we continue through our fall cooling roundup.


 

Thermaltake Water 3.0 Pro:

The first Thermaltake cooler we have on our bench is the Water 3.0 Pro. We've looked at a few of their Water 2.0 products in the past so it's nice to see what they have changed and how they compare to the other coolers in our roundup today. The Water 3.0 Pro comes with a somewhat-standard 120mm radiator, but they make it "Pro" by making this radiator about twice as thick as some of the more mainstream models (such as the NZXT X31). This kit also includes a couple of high performance 120mm fans to install in a push-pull arrangement.

Thermaltake Water 3.0 Box

Thermaltake Water 3.0 Pro Box

Thermaltake Water 3.0 Pro In-Box

Thermaltake Water 3.0 Pro In-Box

 

Unlike the NZXT coolers, the Water 3.0 Pro doesn't have any software to install or extra cables to plug into a USB motherboard header. All of the fan controls are handled through the BIOS and there is no separate pump control or liquid temperature monitoring. This is a straight-forward kit that should mount in pretty much any case that can support a standard 120mm fan. 

Bundle

Thermaltake Water 3.0 Pro Bundle

 

One thing to make note of with the Water 3.0 Pro is the hose length. It is much shorter than the NZXT kits and for some things that is great. Less hose = less messing around and trying to keep it out of the way of other case fans. On the other hand, it does limit where this cooler can be placed in order to cool your CPU and the top and rear of your case will likely be your only options. With that in mind, the location is pretty standard for a liquid cooling kit and this may not be of any concern to you. If you are planning on mounting it at the front of your case, you may end up short.

Thermaltake Water 3.0 Pro Installed

Thermaltake Water 3.0 Pro Installed

 

I do expect to get some pretty decent performance from this system as the radiator is much thicker than we've seen with any other cooler so far. Time will tell as we put them head to head shortly. If you want to check out all of the features and specifications of this cooler, please be sure to check the product page here.

On the next page, we'll take a quick look at the last liquid cooler of our roundup - the Thermaltake Water 3.0 Ultimate before we wrap up with a few standard heatsinks.


 

Thermaltake Water 3.0 Ultimate:

The Thermaltake Water 3.0 Ultimate is the largest cooling system I've ever used. This cooler is designed for some serious cooling in a case with some serious space. It is a 120mm x 360mm radiator that comes with a total of three 120mm fans and the ability to mount another three on the other side to complete the push-pull configuration. It is a beast that won't fit in every case, so before you decide that this is the one for you, make sure that your case will support three 120mm fans on the top.

Thermaltake Water 3.0 Ultimate Box

Thermaltake Water 3.0 Ultimate Box

 

When I received this box from Thermaltake, I actually laughed out loud. The box is outrageously long - and it has to be to house and protect such a long radiator. While the radiator is long, it isn't near as thick as the Extreme Pro so it won't perform as good per inch as the thicker sibling. That being said, Thermaltake makes up for its lack of girth with length and this; combined with three 120mm fans should still provide some pretty impressive cooling numbers.

Thermaltake Water 3.0 Ultimate Profile

Thermaltake Water 3.0 Ultimate Profile

 

Once again, there is no software to install and nothing to monitor coolant temperature. There is a motherboard fan header for the pump and a triple-Y adapter for the fans that will also plug into a another motherboard header. This allows you to monitor and control fan speed through your BIOS or motherboard manufacturers software. We are using the MSI Command Center software that shipped with our motherboard it works well.

Thermaltake Water 3.0 Ultimate Installed

Thermaltake Water 3.0 Ultimate Installed

 

While this kit is made by ASETEK, Thermaltake has a slightly different twist on the motherboard mounting brackets and I honestly prefer the NZXT style. The Thermaltake brackets don't feel quite as sturdy and require a bit more assembly. Either way, both companies hold the block/pump securely to your CPU and that's really what matters as you won't be installing the kit every week. One install should last you until you upgrade.

If you want to check out all of the features and specifications of this cooler, please be sure to check the product page here.

On the next page, we'll jump into the first of the three heatpipe enabled coolers from Thermaltake as we continue looking at the candidates.


 

Thermaltake NiC L32:

The smallest cooler we have on our bench this time around is the NiC L32 from Thermaltake. This is a single-tower, large 140mm fan that can move a whole pile of air. The thing that really sets the L32 apart from the other coolers on the bench is the fact that it is a non-interference cooler. The heatpipes on the base of this cooler are exposed and that should (in theory) provide better thermal performance.

Thermaltake NiC L32 Box

Thermaltake NiC L32 Box

 

The L32 comes complete with all the mounting hardware for any AMD or Intel CPU platform from the last 4-5 years. The compatibility is excellent and while the mounting process is a bit more complicated than it needs to be with all the extra parts, in the end it will be a stable frame on which to mount the cooler.

Thermaltake NiC L32 Bundle

Thermaltake NiC L32 Bundle

Thermaltake NiC L32 Profile

Thermaltake NiC L32 Profile

 

Even though I'm going to guess that this cooler is one of the lowest performing coolers in this roundup, it doesn't skimp on looks and build quality. Thermaltake has taken time to really put some polish on the looks and the fins are interlocked and durable. While there are some small gaps on the base of the cooler where the heatpipes pass through the aluminum, these gaps should be filled with thermal paste. The goal is that the non-interface design will perform better than the imperfections on the base will prevent.

Thermaltake NiC L32 Base

Thermaltake NiC L32 Base

 

If you want to check out all of the features and specifications of this cooler, please be sure to check the product page here.

Thermaltake NiC L32 Installed

Thermaltake NiC L32 Installed

 

On the next page we'll take a look at one of the larger coolers in this roundup.


 

Thermaltake Frio Extreme:

This cooler is no slouch when it comes to cooling a CPU and if you want great performance but don't want liquid inside your system, this cooler could be one of the choices that you turn to. The Frio Extreme is a dual-tower heatpipe-laden cooler that has a thermal rating of 250W. If you have a crazy hot CPU and are pushing overclocks to some pretty impressive speeds, the Frio Extreme will be able to handle the load.

Thermaltake Frio Extreme

Thermaltake Frio Extreme

 

The Frio Extreme comes with everything you need to install on current AMD and Intel platforms and there is even a module/controller that can switch the fans from PWM to VR regulation. For this review we decided to leave this out and treat the cooler just like every other cooler and control the fan speed through the motherboard settings.

Thermaltake Frio Extreme Heatsink Bundle

Thermaltake Frio Extreme Heatsink Bundle

Thermaltake Frio Extreme Accessory Bundle

Thermaltake Frio Extreme Accessory Bundle

 

The Frio Extreme has two large fans and if you want to take advantage of the massive cooling performance, be aware that it won't be the quietest cooler in our roundup. With both 140mm fans spinning up to ~1800rpm this system can move well over 200cfm of air. We will be running this cooler at full speed (as with all of our other coolers) to find out the maximum performance of each of these for this roundup.

Thermaltake Frio Extreme Profile

Thermaltake Frio Extreme Profile

 

One thing you'll have to keep in mind with this cooler is that it is LARGE. Make sure that you have enough room in your case to fit this beast. If you want to check out all of the features and specifications of this cooler, please be sure to check the product page here.

Thermaltake Frio Extreme Installed

Thermaltake Frio Extreme Installed

 

On the next page, we’ll look at the last entry to the roundup before we show how they all stack up.


 

Thermaltake NiC C5:

The Thermaltake NiC C5 is the last cooler in our roundup, but it is no way one of the last coolers you should consider when shopping for your next build. This cooler has a very slick fan-shroud that seals in airflow from a pair of 120mm fans. The design of the cooler is very unique and I really like the way the sides cover up the edges of the fins and make this "untouchable". The large 120mm fans are arranged in a push-pull configuration that should move a lot of air.

Thermaltake NiC C5 Box

Thermaltake NiC C5 Box

 

The C5 comes with the same mounting hardware as the Frio Extreme, right down to the bracket, screws, spacers and everything. One thing that is missing from the C5 bundle is a large add-in switch and control for the fan. Instead, the C5 comes with a small rheostat that controls fan speed that ranges from silent to "Shut the hair dryer off!". As we are testing the maximum performance of all of these coolers, we will be running this cooler cranked up - but I wouldn't recommend that for long periods if you share accommodation with anyone that has their sense of hearing. It's loud.

Thermaltake NiC C5 Bundle

Thermaltake NiC C5 Bundle

Thermaltake NiC C5 Base

Thermaltake NiC C5 Base

 

This cooler is pretty. I really like the detail of the fan shroud and even the metallic accents on the top of the cooler. All of these things state that Thermaltake is proud to have this in their lineup. The fans, control and even the base is very polished making this one of the best looking coolers in our roundup.

Thermaltake NiC C5 Profile

Thermaltake NiC C5 Profile

 

While the picture shows the cooler mounted to blow air up toward the top of the case, for testing we mounted in blowing toward the rear fan - just as we did with every other cooler.

Thermaltake NiC C5 Installed

Thermaltake NiC C5 Installed

 

If you want to check out all of the features and specifications of this cooler, please be sure to check the product page here.

Now that we've seen all the candidates, we'll take a look at how they all compare on the following page.


 

Test Setup:

This article is not as much about individual coolers as it is about how they all compare to each other when it comes to maximum cooling performance. For the performance tests we turned up the fans to maximum in our motherboard software and let them scream away. While you certainly don't want to have a system running at 100% fan speed all the time, this shows the maximum cooling potential of each system. During internal testing we backed the fan speed down to 50% to see how that affected performance. The performance scaled quite evenly without exception so we opted for maximum CPU load as well as minimum idle temperature.

To get these temperatures, we used CoreTemp and took readings from the maximum logged temperatures on each core and averaged them. The CPU was heated up by using the Prime95 stress test with the setting for "maximum heat". To get our minimum idle temperatures we did the same average - after letting the system cool down from the maximum load test. This is indicative of letting your system cool down after a hard gaming session.

Our test system was comprised of an Intel Core i7 4790K clocked in at a solid 4.4GHz. It was plugged into an MSI Z87-GD65 motherboard using 8GB of DDR3 1600 memory. We also have a Radeon R9 270X plugged in as well as booting Windows 10 on a Crucial M500 512GB SSD. Ambient temperature here at BCCHQ South was kept at 23°C. All temperatures recorded below are in Celcius.


Cooling Performance

The chart tells only part of the story. While the Thermaltake Water 3.0 Ultimate comes in with the best cooling performance (followed very closely by the NZXT Kraken X61), the fact is it is quite loud. In terms of air-cooling, the clear winner is the Noctua NH-D15 as it bests (only slightly) the Thermaltake Water 3.0 Pro but that falls within margin of error. The fact is that even with that Noctua behemoth spinning at full speed, it is quieter than the Thermaltake Water 3.0 Pro.

 

CPU Temp vs Price

The chart above shows the cooling performance next to the price of the cooler. As you can see, some coolers are quite affordable - such as the Thermaltake NiC C5 and still offer good performance. Other coolers are more expensive and offer poorer performance. Even this chart doesn't tell the entire story as you have to be able to stand the noise from the coolers and some of these are crazy loud.

On the last page we'll break down our thoughts on each of these coolers.


 

Conclusion:

We have recently upgraded our cooling test rig and wanted a bunch of coolers to put head-to-head to get a start on a new database. I thank Noctua, NZXT and Thermaltake for helping us get this new test-bench off the ground. As we have simply piled up the data, we are going to wrap up with a few thoughts and points about each cooler.

Noctua NH-D15:
This is the largest and most expensive HSF unit in this roundup and is the largest cooler we've ever tested. True to Noctua form, the NH-D15 is virtually silent - and the volume level is even quiet managable at 100% fan speed (~1500rpm). The cooling performance of this monster actually bests all but two of the liquid cooling systems and every other heatsink we tested. At full speed it is quieter than most coolers and is about the volume of the NZXT Kraken X31 and X41

 

NZXT Kraken X31:
This is the smallest Kraken cooler that we tested and while it comes in dead last in terms of performance, it is quieter than some of the Thermaltake HSF units and offers software control, relatively low noise - even at full RPM - and has great case compatibility. If you want to lose the noisy fan and get into liquid cooling, this cooler won't break the bank.

 

NZXT Kraken X41:
This larger cooler from NZXT offers very good performance for a modest price. While this is no budget cooler, the X41 has software control, LED lighting options on the pump and long hoses that will allow you to install the cooler pretty much anywhere in your case that you want. It comes right in the middle of the pack both in terms of performance and price and is a very good choice if you want to push your CPU a little faster without hurting your ears with noise or crashing your system.

 

NZXT Kraken X61:
The 280mm Kraken X61 is a large unit that will require a large case. With two 14cm fans keeping the radiator cool, it comes in as the second highest performing cooling in the roundup. As with the other Kraken coolers, it includes software monitoring and control as well as nifty LED lighting on the pump. The long hoses make sure you'll be able to mount this anywhere in your case and still get top-notch performance. When cranked to 11, it's not very quiet, but it is quieter than both the Thermaltake Water 3.0 Ultimate and the NiC C5.

 

Thermaltake Water 3.0 Pro:
The Water 3.0 Pro comes with a very beefy 12cm radiator that offers great performance for its size. It includes a couple of fans that maximize airflow through this thick radiator and it gives you great performance. It's pretty loud when cranked up, but if you're overclocking your system, the payout is great. It comes in third overall and has a very decent price:performance ratio.

 

Thermaltake Water 3.0 Ultimate:
The Water 3.0 Ultimate is just that - Ultimate. It will require a case that is designed for a 360mm radiator mounted at the top. Case compatibility is going to the be biggest drawback here as the short hoses won't allow you to install in at the front of the case. The other major drawback is the noise. With three 120mm fans spinning like mad, it's loud when maxed out, but for most applications it can be ran very quiet and offer good performance. It's the performance king - but you pay for it with price and noise.

 

Thermaltake NiC L32:
This cooler surprised me. With the small size and low cost, I didn't expect this cooler to do well at all. It comes in at $38 and outperforms the more expensive Kraken X31. The only kicker is that in order to get that performance, this cooler makes a lot of noise. For stock systems or enthusiasts wanting a good cooler for a great price, this is my pick.

 

 

Thermaltake NiC C5:
When I plugged in this cooler and turned the fan speed up, I thought to myself "Welcome to the FOP32 in 2001". This cooler absolutely screams when spun up and while you may not do that on a daily basis, if you want to push the performance of this cooler, you'll have to push on some hearing protection. It performed very well and looks fantastic, but in the end, it's just too loud to be a serious contender in the high-performance cooling roundup.

 

Thermaltake Frio Extreme:
The Frio Extreme costs more than a liquid cooling kit and offers performance that is better than the Kraken X41 and X31 liquid cooling systems. It is massive and offers great performance at a decent volume level. It's louder than the NH-D15 from Noctua and doesn't quite measure up to the other massive HSF unit, but it's still a beast of an air cooler - both in size and performance.

 

As previously stated, this is a roundup and there must be winners and losers. The winners are listed below.

  1. Best performance cooler: Thermaltake Water 3.0 Ultimate
  2. Best low-noise performing cooler: Noctua NH-D15
  3. Best overall value/performance/noise: NZXT Kraken X41 


 

If you have any questions, comments or general feedback, please feel free to post in the forum at the comments link below. I would like to thank Noctua, NZXT and Thermaltake for helping us kick this new cooling test bench off the ground.