Water Cooling Kit Group-Test
Published: 8th July 2013 | Source: Special Tech | Price: £142 - £175 |
EKWB L 240 - £174.95 @ SpecialTech
Priced at £174 the EKWB L 240 is the most expensive kit in the test. You do however get a real feeling of quality, the unboxing process alone leaving you as giddy as a school girl. With it's cylinder res/pump assembly, chrome compression fittings and matte Black tubing we also think it's the best looking kit in the group test. As potential buyers of kits include those who have never installed a loop before EK have included a comprehensive set of spiral bound A4 sized instructions to help guide them through the installation process. This we feel is an important point and one not necessarily appreciated by all the manufacturers in this test. As a result of the instructions and the simplicity of the compression fittings (we appreciate they're not to everyone's taste) the fitting process was a breeze. The inclusion of a bracket that enables the res/pump combo to attached to a fan mount enabled us to build a clean and tidy loop with all of the goodies in a position where they would be clearly visible through a case window. In use the 1600rpm fans were reasonably quiet at 12v and essentially inaudible at 7v. Pump noise was also un-intrusive. The performance of the EKWB system was on a par with the others for the majority of the testing. At 4.6GHz and with the fans at 12v it was beaten by only 1 degree by the Alphacool kit and with the fans stepped down to 7v beaten only by the Phobya with it's much thicker Radiator.
The EKWB system may not have had the highest outright performance but all things considered we think it very worthy of a gold award
XSPC Raystorm 750 RS240 V4 - £142.95 @ SpecialTech
The XSPC kit will set you back a mere £142, making it the least expensive of the kits on test here. The low price however does not belie the inherent feel of quality and attention to detail. XSPC have bundled the excellent Raystorm Cold plate with V4 of X20 750 pump res combo and the slim RS240 Radiator. Opening up the XSPC kit won't give you the wonderful wow feeling that you get with the EK kit as XSPC have chosen predominantly plain brown boxes. But on the other hand you're not left wondering just how much of the cost of the kit went on glitzy packaging. XSPC also include an A4 instruction booklet again recognising that kits such as these are likely to be bought by those making their first tentative steps into water cooling. Assembly was a smooth affair using the old trick of warming the 7/16" tubing before slipping it over the wide bore 1/2" black chrome barbs. XSPC recommend that you use the included black nylon double grip hose clamps which is a shame really as they are fuggly as hell and do nothing for the aesthetics which are otherwise enhanced by the LED back lit RASA cold plate. From a sonic perspective the X20 750 is the quietest on test here, and in fact one of the quietest we've ever heard. Not something you could have said a few years back when they were more than a bit prone to resonance issues. The pump was so quiet in fact that during leak testing we had a moment of panic when we thought it had failed only to find out it was actually going quietly about it's business. On the down side the silence of the pump does make the noise from the 1650 RPM fans a bit more noticeable but we can hardly hold that against them. When it came to testing the XSPC managed to keep pace with it's more expensive brethren. When it came to the extremely demanding 4.6GHz test at 12v It slipped into equal last place with the Phobya by only a few fractions of a degree . Not bad when you consider that I has the thinnest rad on test with the RS 240 measuring a mere 35mm thick as compared to the Phobyas monster of a Rad at 60.5mm thick. At 7v the XSPC came dead last, but if you take the time to look at the graphs you'll see that Phobya aside there's not a lot to choose between all the others at 7v Swapping the fans out for the Noctuas saw the XSPC kit take second place behind the EKWB rig at 12v and second to last just above the Phobya at 7v. This perhaps indicates that it's the fans that are letting the side down somewhat.
XSPC also get a well earned Gold. They might not have come at the top of the performance charts but the system still coped with the tortuous 4.6GHz test at both 12v and 7v. A knock down price of £142 makes this the kit to go for if you're on a limited budget.
AlphaCool NexXxoS Cool Answer 240 DDC/XT45 - £169.99 @ SpecialTech
At £169 the AlphaCool NexXxoS Cool Answer 240 DDC/XT45 is only a fiver or so shy off the price of the EKWB offering. coincidentally It also comes packed in a very similar briefcase style box with each of the components individually packed inside. AlphaCool are also the only suppliers to include a bottle of coolant in their kit so should you buy it, you will truly have everything you need to get up and running. Rudimentary instructions are provided to guide you through waterblock assembly but you're going to have to work the rest out for yourselves, as this kit appears to be aimed more at those who have a decent grasp of how to assemble a loop. That said a quick look at the Alphacool website and you'll find a few videos to help you out, and should you happen to speak German they'll help even more. Instructions aside It's fair to say the Alphacool kit was a bit of a pig to put together. The DDC style pump has to be crammed and clipped into the rear of the single bay res while trying to hold the very thin anti vibration mat in place. We also had to bend the 5.25" bay guides on our Cooler Master "Test Trooper" case in order to actually get the bay res in. Alphacool supply 6 "Deep Black" 1/2" ID compression fittings along with a good 3 metres of 3/8" ID - 1/2" OD (10-13mm) tubing. The tubing is highly flexible but we found to be quite prone to kinking in tight radius bends. All in all the assembly was not a good experience and one that would have sent a novice running for the hills scarred for life by their first foray into water cooling. In use we found the pump to be noisier than expected, with a degree of resonance through the case. The 1300rpm fans however were the quietest on test and from the results obtained appear to do a good job for such a low rpm unit. At 4.6GHz and 12v the Cool Answer took the Performance crown beating even the thick rad'd Phobya. At 7v things weren't quite so good with the Cool Answer dropping to second last just above the XSPC rig. Popping the Noctuas in at 12v and 4.6GHz saw the AlphaCool rig slip to second last but with exactly the same temps as with it's kit fans. This would indicate to us that the fans it comes with are pretty damn decent as unlike the other units the temps are not really improved by the substitution of the Noctuas.
AlphaCool take the performance crown however a difficult assembly and installation process, tubing that is a bit too prone to kinking and lack-lustre instructions keep it from netting a Gold over all.
Phobya UC LT 240 - £147.05 @ SpecialTech
Finally we come to the "Fear It" Phobya. At £147 it's the second cheapest on test here, being only five quid more than the XSPC set up. Unlike all the others the Phobya does not come with an integrated pump/res, making assembly that bit more tricky, and potentially considerably more ugly. Phobya look to have brought this kit together not so much for the novice but more for the experienced water cooling enthusiast. We say this as I is not so much a kit so much as a collection of parts brought together by the manufacturers and retails to enable you to buy everything in one place at the best possible part. This we thing goes some way to explain why an installation guide is not included with the phobya kit. Still, it would have been nice to have some guidance in other areas, the Water block assembly for example. On a more positive note at 60.5mm thick the G-Changer 240 v2 radiator is the thickest on test here. It just fitted into the roof of our case with the 25mm thick fans attached but you wouldn't have gotten a Gnats toe nail between it and the RAM. Under testing at the highest overclock and with the fans at 12v the Phobya kit came equal third with the XSPC set up. However it's at the lower fan speeds brought about at 7v that the Phobya's big thick rad came into it's own, beating all around by a clear 4 degrees and being only 1.5 degrees warmer at 7v than the XSPC kit at 12v. Lob in the Noctuas and like the AlphaCool the temps at 12v remain unchanged with the temps at 7v actually increasing by a few degrees.
The Phobya kit was a bit let down by it's complete lack of instructions awkward installation process and potentially less aesthetic results, but recognising it's performance results especially at 7v the Phobya gets a Silver
It's clear from the results that up to 4.6GHz there's not really a lot to separate these kits. At 4.6GHz things do seem to become a little clearer with a different performance winner at 12v and 7v. This as you've probably guessed it is down to the fans and the thickness of the radiators. This is best shown by the results achieved when the fans were swapped out and standardised with the Noctua NF-F12s. Under these conditions the EK saw an increase in it's performance enabling it to take the performance crown from the Alphacools set up at 12v and pretty much share it at 7v. Don't go thinking that this was a poor performance on behalf of AlphaCool though, part of the reason the EK took the win was because the AlphaCool fans were so good in the first place and swapping them out made little difference to it's standing when the Noctua's were attached.
If you're wondering how these kits measure up against the AIOs then you might like to cas your eyes back over the graphs, and in particular the performance of the NZXT X60. At it's extreme setting the Humble X60 pretty much trounces anything in this group and doesn't do too bad at 7v. This is pretty much down to the 2000rpm fans used by NZXT in the X60 so there is a sonic penalty to pay for that level of performance. The H100i also makes a good fist of keeping things cool at 4.6GHz achieving a temp just a fraction lower than all but the AlphaCool system.
So why go for a custom loop over an AIO? Well a lot of it has to do with aesthetics and versatility. A properly installed water cooling system should be a thing of beauty. Now we're not saying AIOs are ugly, but in no way can you achieve the same sort of results as you can with a custom loop. If you're guiding forces are those of price and simplicity then an AIO is perhaps the way to go. If however you prize beauty, versatility, expandability and individuality, then you need to think more about the custom/kit option. Each of the kits on test here today has something slightly different to offer, whichever you go for you won't be disappointed.