Who would of guessed 3 years ago when Corsair released the H50 they would become as popular as they are today. It was a slow start but things really kicked in when the H100 was released. In our eyes the H100 was the first of the viable performance AIO water coolers, the fans were far from great but that just made things easy when Corsair released the SP120 fans. One of the OC3D work stations was cooled with a H100 and a pair of SP120 QE's, temps were great but most importantly the system was quiet.
So in 2012 and NZXT start talking about their new Kraken AIO's, an Asetek design based around a 140mm and a 280mm radiator. If things look familiar with these then that's because the CPU block housing at least is the same as the H70. We would hope the internals have changed but the main unit and the mounting procedure is the same fiddly affair we disliked back then, time hasnt made us think any different!
When the Kraken X40 & X60 arrived our original i7 950 test rig decided to pack up, so we have been forced to make the switch to a 2011 3930K system. The main problem with a new test rig meant none of the old tests would be comparable any more and graphs with just the NZXT units in wouldn't be much of a review! So we decided to bring out the H100, H100i H80i and just for good measure as a baseline we chucked the NHD14 in too. That would have been plenty for the initial graphs but just as the testing was complete the Corsair H90 and H110 AIO's arrived. We got these tested too as they are nearly identical to the NZXT's and it seemed a great chance to compare them.
So with the first review on our new test rig we will be comparing the:
NZXT Kraken X40
NZXT Kraken X60
Intel i7 3930k
Stock@ 1.1v (undervolted)
4.0GHz @ 1.25v
4.4GHz @ 1.35v
4.6GHz @ 1.45v
Gigabyte X79 UD3
Corsair Vengeance LP Memory
Corsair HX850 V2
Corsair Force GT 60GB
Coolermaster Storm Trooper
So we have arranged our tests to gradually get more and more strenuous, with a 2011 system able to put out a huge amount of heat we needed a basic test for basic coolers. Most CPU's at stock don't need stock volts and many people don't realise this. We have managed to get our 3930K running at stock at just 1.1v. This is 100% stable and will be our initial baseline test.
We run all of our tests in the same way, only the fan speeds and the overclocks differ. We use OCCT in Linpack X64, AVX compatible with all logical cores tested and 90% free memory utilised. We have set the test up so its simply a click and run affair, there is a 10minute idle period for the system to settle followed by a 30minute torture test. We have allowed a 5 minute cool down to the end of the test to round the total test time to 45minutes.
We have set an upper limit of 80C as a maximum, OCCT has a feature that it will stop the test if temperatures exceed this limit. During testing we have noticed that it fails if one of the cores hits 82C. Never the less if the program halts the test we consider this a failed run.
Moving on to the 4GHz test, this is at 1.25v which is pretty close to what boards run at when left on 'auto'. If you are a regular on our forums you'll know how many times we end up telling beginners auto DOES NOT mean stock when overclocking!!! This does make quite a large difference in temperatures though with over a 10c increasing being seen on most coolers over our stock test. This is a good comparison for a basic overclock.
Our 4.4GHz run has the volts increased again to 1.35v, this does put a lot of demand on the cooler and only good performing heatsinks should make it into this graph with decent temps. You can see the D14 and the H100 both tipping there toes into the 70C averages here showing that they are getting close to the limits of our acceptable maximum.
Finally our 4.6GHz test. Dont be fooled this is an extreme test and the graph reflects this, you will only see the cream of the crop featured in this graph. The most surprising result here for us was that the H80i passed this test, quite the achievement considering both the 140mm units, the H100 and the NH-D14 all failed.
So the main idea of this review was to compare the new 140mm fan based coolers with the older 120mm ones. Initially we didn't think the Corsair units would get here in time but it was great to put them side by side with the NZXT's. The only real difference is the built in fan control and the LED on the front of the NZXT's. The cables are fixed to the NZXT's though and will need some clever fitting to not add too much clutter around the CPU area of your rig; it can be done but we foresee a lot of lazy installations.
The first thing to consider when choosing between the two is the spacing between the fans. The Corsairs are 20mm and will fit most Corsair cases, NZXT is 15mm which we think will end up becoming a standard as it did with the 120mm rads. Its worth noting a wide range of cases do support both, the CM Storm Trooper for example has elongated screw holes so that it can fit both of these units. In any case this should be you first consideration when looking at buying either of these.
Secondly it would be price, the Corsairs are much more stripped back and aimed at value. For example H110 is £25 cheaper than the X60 and comes with a 5 year warranty rather than NZXT's 2 year warranty. So you pay £25 more for the fan control LED on the front of the unit and 3 years LESS warranty cover.
Thirdly it's the fan control. The NZXT's have it, the Corsairs don't. It will really depend if you have your own fan controller or plan on changing the fans. If either of the answers to these are "yes" then we would save the money and get the Corsair because otherwise you are paying for features you don't need, will use, and its less cables you will have to try and hide.
So he AIO's from both brands perform very well with only really the fans to separate them, other than that performance wise they are identical. We have swapped the fans about to check this but we already know under the hood they are exactly the same. NZXT did favor a 2000RPM fan and for that reason alone is why they perform better. We do think that both fans are mediocre at best and think that a better designed fan could bring out the best from these units. To prove this we have got some Noctua 140mm static preasure fans in to prove that these units can perform well and be quiet. After all this testing it will be a good few weeks before we want to be doing any more testing!
Surprisingly our thoughts from this review may go against the grain with both manufacturers, because if it was our money we would buy the H100i. Why? Well performance is still great, prices have fallen a great deal, Aria have them for under £88 at the time of writing the review. Fan upgrade options is obviously much bigger with the 120mm layout but the single biggest point would be most performance cases support it with no faffing or worrying, you could even go as far as to say many case manufacturers design them to be able to support the layout of the H100/H100i now. Lets face it at £88 its almost a no brainer purchase.
So we Award the Corsair H90 and the NZXT Kraken X40 a very generous OC3D Silver Award. Noise levels are beyond what we expected for a 140mm fan based unit and for the noise they do create the temperatures are just not low enough in our eyes.
The big daddy gold award goes to the NZXT Kraken X60 and Corsair H110 in main part for the awesome temperatures. They are both a little rough around the edges and think they both have areas in which they can make them better all round performers.
Thanks to NZXT and Corsair for the samples tested here today, you can discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.