Battle of the Water Cooling Kits Page: 1
Introduction

In the beginning, only the most 'hardcore' of PC enthusiasts ventured into the world of water-cooling their PC's. It sounded like a dangerous business - mixing water with expensive electrical components all inside the same case.

After a while, the need for a better cooling system than air alone grew greater, with many processors pushing out more heat than ever. Companies in the computer cooling industry started realising the potential for releasing their own water-cooling products, and ventured into the market experimenting with ways to make water cooling easier to install.

Early attempts were pitiful, with water-cooling 'systems' being beaten by air-cooling both in price and performance. These system's have since been improved upon, but still do not match the performance given by water-cooling systems built by enthusiasts.

Today I'll be taking a look at some water-cooling kits from Alphacool, Swiftec, Thermaltake and XSPC. These 'kits' differ from the 'systems' I mentioned, in that they provide you with all of the components necessary to build your water cooling system, but don't actually come pre-built. You will also find that many of the components included in these kits are the same as those used by water-cooling enthusiasts.

The Kits

Narrowing down the manufacturers to include in this round up wasn't easy. Many manufacturers provide some form of water-cooling kit these days, and including every single one would probably have had me tied up for the next month. One of the most noticeable omissions from this review was Asetek, who despite numerous e-mails and support tickets, never got back to us.


Battle of the Water Cooling Kits Page: 2
Packaging & Manual

Out of all the kits, the Alphacool was the first to arrive. The kit was packaged in a large cardboard box with 'air packets' to cushion any impact. I was also surprised to see a rather cool (no pun) Alphacool poster for covering those plain areas of your wall!

Alphacool Box Alphacool Box

The retail box is very flashy, with both German and English language being used. The contents of the box are protected by two large foam inserts that prevent anything from moving around too much.

Most impressive of all was the way that Alphacool have gone to the trouble of individually packaging each and every component in its own plastic box. This may be due to the fact that Alphacool also sell each of these components individually through retailers, but it's a great touch never less.

Alphacool Package

With all the components laid out, you can see exactly what you are getting for your money. Lets see what Alphacool say about this kit and find out exactly what is included:

"The set for professional users!
New copper cooler with cross-running channels in the PCF (c) building method, by means of which the surface for the heat dissipation is drastically increased. This allows stable operation at extreme summer temperatures, highest Overclocking potential and Low Noise at the same time. This cooler is conceived for the highest requirements. The bearing surface of the cooler is flat and polished. Safe work with no additional start-up relay with extremely quiet 12 V pump. With the 240 single radiator and high-quality Alphacool fan - a set with very high performance!"


- NexXxoS Xtreme II 240mm radiator
- CPU Alphacool NexXxoS XP cooler
- Mountings for AMD XP, AMD 64 and Opteron, Intel 478 and Socket 775
- Laing DDC Pump, incl. Water tank (can also be mounted in 3,5" slot)
- Bridging plug for the ATX power supply
- 4 Meter hose PUR 10/8mm transparent,
- 2x Alphacool Fan 120x120x25
- Watter additive Tec-Protect-Plus 0,5litre
- 8x connections Plugin with G1/4"-external thread on 10mm (external diameter) hoses,
- Adhesive tape 13cm long and 10cm wide for pump mounting
- Thermal paste
- Manual

Alphacool Manual Alphacool Manual

The Alphacool manual is in both English and German, and covers the majority of information needed to get your water cooling system up and running. As this is not a pre-built kit, some basic knowledge is obviously advantageous. As you can see above, the manual is in black & white, but still manages to include clear, detailed images.


Water Block & Accessories

The water block plays a very important part in any water-cooling system. Without a well designed block, heat will not be efficiently transferred into the water. There are several types of block design, all which produce different results - I'd love to go into detail but I'm afraid this is beyond the scope of the review.

NexXxos XP NexXxos XP

The included water block is Alphacool's own NexXxos XP. Having photographed all components in all of the water cooling kits already, I can tell you that the NexXxos has by far the best finish of all the blocks in this review.

The internals of the block are based upon a jet impingement design whereby the water is forced through small nozzles onto the surface of the block. The blocks surface has small pins cut into its centre to further facilitate the transfer of heat into the water.

Alphacool have actually won many awards for this block, and it is often regarded as one of the top 3 water blocks available.

The only disappointing aspect of this block is its mounting hardware, which unfortunately hides the majority of the blocks good looks under an ugly metal frame. It would have been nice to see this block use the same mounting mechanism as Swiftech's latest blocks.

Alphacool Accessories Alphacool Accessories

Above you can see the 3 different types of mounting hardware provided in the kit. Each comes with a small allen key and a screw for clamping the block in place. Also included are two 3-Pin to 3-Pin fan extension cables, and a PSU jump-start plug, which allows you to power on the pump without switching the rest of the PC on - great idea.


Pump & Reservoir

Alphacool have yet again brought a smile to my face with their choice of pumps, opting for the Laing Delphi 12v. This pump is best suited to restrictive water-cooling loops, which indicates that it should easily be able to handle any additional water blocks (Graphics, Northbridge..) you might want to add at a later date.

Alphacool Pump Alphacool Pump

Alphacool pump Alphacool Pump

Most notable about this pump/reservoir combo is that it you have to build it yourself. The pump, as previously stated, is manufactured by Delphi, with Alphacool designing a rather cool looking reservoir to sit on top.

The process of installing the reservoir on top of the pump is fairly simple and detailed within the manual. However, you will find yourself reaching for certain screwdrivers that don't often get used!

The following specifications have been taken from Laing's website:

- Motor design: Electronically commutated, brushless DC, spherical motor
- Voltage Range: 8 to 13.2 VDC
- Starting Voltage: 9 to 13.2 VDC
- Maximum system pressure: 22 PSI
- Maximum flow @ 13.2 volts = 400 LPH
- Temperature range: Up to 140°F (60°C)

Alphacool have also included fittings so that this pump can be mounted in a 3½" drive bay area, or affixed to any part of your case using the provided sticky pad.


Radiator & Fans

Responsible for removing the heat dumped into the water, the Radiator and Fans play a large roll in keeping CPU temperatures down. Radiators are singly the hardest item to install within your computer case, with many people choosing to mount them externally.

Alphacool Radiator Alphacool Radiator

Despite Alphacool stating in their kit specification that the included radiator is a NexXxos Xtreme radiator, to me it looks like an identical match for the Black Ice Xtreme II radiator currently installed in my own PC.

If the radiator is indeed a BIX-II, then Alphacool have indeed made another great component choice. The BIX-II radiator is actually one of the most compact 240mm radiators on the market (133x273x45mm WxHxD), with performance matching or exceeding that of its competitors.

I was disappointed to see that Alphacool haven't included any external mounting hardware for the radiator. Many water-cooling kits have brackets which allow for the radiator to be mounted either from a 120mm fan vent or from the power supply screw holes.

Update 27/06/06
Alphacool have informed me that mounting hardware in the form of screws for affixing the radiator to the case should have been included in the kit. These allow for the kit to be installed in a way similar to the pictures here.

The fans are labelled up as Alphacool's own brand, and boast 43.5cfm at 19dBA when running at 12v. This should make the Alphacool an ideal kit for those of us who enjoy silence.


Battle of the Water Cooling Kits Page: 3
Packaging & Manual

When the Swiftech kit arrived I was rather shocked by the size of the box. I couldn't believe that Swiftec could fit all of the components specified in such a small space. I was almost certain that they had forgotten to include the radiator or something essential to that effect. The Swiftech package is actually half the size of Alphacool's offering!

Swiftec Box Swiftec Box

Swiftec have packaged their kit in a plain cardboard box, with a printed card sleeve to liven it up a bit. The sleeve really doesn't contain much information on the kit, but instead has a long list of review awards displayed along the top and down the left.

The packing material is minimalist, with most components being protected by bubble wrap. This could cause a problem if a courier handled the box roughly, but I'm glad to say that my kit arrived in perfect condition.

Another reason why this kit was so easy to fit into a small box is that it doesn't come with the necessary fluid to fill your water-cooling loop, only some anti-algae/corrosion coolant, which needs to be mixed with de-ionised water.

Swiftec Kit

No expense has been spared when selecting the components for this kit. Already I can see a Laing D5 pump and a Swiftec Apogee, both of which are highly regarded components among water-coolers. Lets take a look at exactly what is included:

"The Apex Ultra liquid cooling kit is the first kit in the industry to offer truly extreme dual use: maximum performance and minimum noise in the same package. Thanks to the new Apogee water-block, it benefits from a superior thermal performance and very low restriction characteristics. This makes the Apex Ultra a true high-flow system, capable of cooling multiple high-end CPU's and VGA's with optimum thermal performance and low noise..".

- Swiftech MCR220 Dual 120mm Radiator.
- 2x 120mm Fans + Fan Guards.
- MCB120 Radbox + mounting hardware for mounting radiator externally.
- 2x 12v to 7v fan adapters for reducing fan speed/noise.
- 2x 12v to 5v fan adapters for reducing fan speed/noise.
- Swiftech MCP655 12v Pump + mounting hardware & hose clamps.
- Swiftech MCRES-Micro + mounting hardware & hose clamps.
- 8ft 7/16" flexible PVC tubing.
- 2oz bottle of HydrX concentrated coolant.
- Syringe of Arctic Ceramique compound.
- Swiftech Smartcoils 625 to reduce hose kinking.
- Manual.

Swiftech Manual Swiftech Manual

I was slightly disappointed to find that the Swiftech manual was nothing more than a stapled A4 leaflet, however, the manual is thorough and does cover all aspects of setting up the water-cooling system. I was also impressed at the way the manual even covered subjects such as the assembly of the water block.


Water Block & Accessories

Swiftech are renowned among the water-cooling crowed for their water blocks. Their Storm G4 and Apogee blocks are some of the best blocks on the market at the present time, and no expense is spared during the construction process.

Swiftech Apogee Swiftech Apogee

Swiftech Apogee Swiftech Apogee

The Apogee block included is the very same one you would receive if purchasing it separately from a retailer. The block comes in a plain cardboard box, and is protected by a thick plastic wrapping that prevents the copper base from oxidisation.

Included in the box is all the necessary hardware for mounting the block on pretty much every socket imaginable as listed below:

- Socket 478 (Intel® Pentium® 4),
- Socket 775 (Pentium® 4 "Prescott"),
- Socket 603/604 (Intel® XeonTM - 400 and 533 FSB)
- Socket 462 (AMD® Athlon®, Duron®, MP, XP)
- Socket 754, 939, 940 (AMD® 64 bit processors)
- Socket AM2 (AMD® 64 bit processors)

The Apogee is a high-flow block as it does not employ any kind of jet impingement design. Instead water passes through a diamond pin matrix cut into the centre of the block. The Apogee is based on Swiftech's older MCW6000 block and has been tweaked for much improved performance, which many would argue is near to (if not better than) that of the Swiftech Storm G4 block.

You may notice that the Apogee doesn't have a mirrored surface like the Alphacool NexXxos block, however I must say that the surface of the Apogee is flawless, and appears very flat.

Swiftech Accessories Swiftech Accessories

As previously mentioned, the Swiftech kit does not include the fluid for filling your water loop. This shouldn't pose a problem for most of us, as a quick trip to your local supermarket or car store should be all you need to pick up a large bottle of de-ionised water for only a few pounds. This then needs to be mixed with the HydrX solution to prevent corrosion and algae from forming in your water loop.

It's good to see that Swiftech have included a funnel for filling your water loop, as it can be very hard to get the water inside the reservoir without spilling it everywhere (I speak from experience!).

Most of the accessory pack is pretty standard, with hose clamps, sticky mounting pads and fan screws. Also included is a Radbox and PCI bracket which allows you to mount the radiator outside of the case providing your case has a 120mm fan hole at the rear.

One thing that impressed me was the inclusion of some fan extension cables that reduce the fan voltage. By using these extension cables, you can reduce your radiator fans down to 7v or 5v for near silent or totally silent operation. I was slightly confused why Swiftech didn't include a fan rheobus on the on the PCI bracket as this would have allowed users to dynamically adjust the fan speed to suit the situation - but a good idea never less.


Pump & Reservoir

Swiftech are big fans of the Laing pumps, having relabelled both the D4 and D5 models under their own name. This is no surprise really, as the Laing Ecocirc pumps are quite possibly the best performing 12v pumps available - and in comparison with other 12v pumps on the market are also remarkably quiet.

Swiftech Pump & Res Swiftech D6 Pump

Swiftech Micro Res Swiftech Micro Res

Included in the Kit is Swiftech's MCP665 (aka Laing D6) 12v pump. The pump connects directly to a molex connector on your power supply, however despite this, the pump voltage can actually be adjusted from the back of pump by means of a small rheobus.

The following specifications have been taken directly from Laing's website:

- Nominal voltage: 12 V DC
- Operating voltage range: 8 to 24 VDC
- Nominal power (@ 12 V): 24 W
- Nominal current (@ 12 V): 2 amps
- Motor type: Brushless, microprocessor controlled
- Maximum head: 10 ft (3.1 m)
- Maximum discharge: ~ 317 GPH (1200 LPH)
- Connection size: ½" barbs
- Maximum pressure: 50 PSI (3.5 BAR)
- Temperature range: 32 °F to 140°F (0 °C to 60 °C)

The Swiftec MCRES-Micro reservoir is different in many ways to its 'BayRes' counterparts. Rather than being mounted in a 5¼" or 3½"drive bay, the MCRES can be mounted in a multitude of locations. Using screws or the included velcro pads, the reservoir is often mounted on the side of drive bays which can be seen here.


Radiator & Fans

Probably the hardest part about installing a water-cooling system is finding a place to install the radiator. Normally you would be forced to sacrafice some drive bays or hard disk cages in order to fit the radiator inside your case. Swiftech have come up with a solution to this problem by allowing the radiator to be installed outside of the PC, and affixed to the case using what they call a Radbox.

Swiftech Radiator Swiftech Radiator

Swiftech Radiator Swiftech Radiator

The MCR220 measures in at 128x284x34 (WxLxD) which is slightly larger than the Alphacool model, but is still very compact for a high performance radiator.

The included 120mm fans are Delta WFB1212M's, which push a hefty 86.5cfm at 34dBA when running at 12v. These fans could prove to be too loud for some people, so it's a good job that Swiftech included some extension cables to reduce the fan voltage down to either 7v or 5v.

A nice touch by Swiftech was to include fan grills on the side of the radiator without fans. This may seem strange at first, but it has been done in order to prevent any damage to the radiator fins when it is installed outside of the case.


Battle of the Water Cooling Kits Page: 4
Packaging & Manual

Thermaltake have always been big on flashy but functional packaging and the Big Water 745 is no exception. Being one of the most bulky boxes in the review, Thermaltake have gone to the trouble of including a plastic handle for easier transportation.

Thermaltake Packaging Thermaltake Packaging

Thermaltake Packaging Thermaltake Packaging

The back of the box gives a fair bit of information as to what is included in the kit, with some basic specifications of the pump and other components.

Credit has to be given to Thermaltake for the way in which everything is securely enclosed in moulded styrofoam inserts. I can confidently say that this kit could take quite a bit of rough handling by a courier before any damage would come to it.

Thermaltake Kit

The first thing that stands out with the Bigwater 745 is that the package includes both a dual 120mm and a single 120mm radiator, both of which can be used at the same time in your water loop for improved performance. At this point I would like to say that we will only be using the dual 120mm rad in our testing in order to obtain fair results against the other kits in this review.

Another thing that stands out from the rest of the kits in this review is the use of UV reactive tubing and coolant. This is a nice touch, and something that I had expected of Thermaltake considering most of their other products are aimed at the case modding scene.

Included in the box are the following items:

- Copper & Acrylic Water Block with Blue LED.
- Support for AMD K8, LGA775 and BTX motherboards.
- Thermaltake pump (400L/hr).
- Thermalte reservoir (350cc).
- Thermaltake 2x120mm radiator.
- Thermaltake 1x120mm radiator.
- Coolant (500cc)
- Green UV Tubing (3/8")
- Fan speed controller PCI bracket
- PCI Bracket for leading tubing outside of case.
- Manual

Big Water 745 Manual Big Water 745 Manual

The included manual from Thermaltake is quite possibly the best of the bunch. Every part of the install procedure is documented with full colour pictures. Thermaltake also include tips and answers to common questions throughout the manual, which will definitely be of great assistance for people new to water-cooling.


Water Block & Accessories

Having never personally heard much about Thermaltake water blocks, I was interested to find out the kind of design they employ. The Big Water 745 is different to blocks used in many of their other water-cooling solutions, so maybe this is a high performance block used only on their top-end kits.

Big Water 745 Block Big Water 745 Block

Big Water Block Big Water Accessories

At just at a quick glance I could see that the Big Water 745 water block is a low restriction, high flow block. Water enters the block and is forced to pass through a zigzag maze before exiting the block. This block layout has been tried and tested in the past, and normally offers mediocre performance. It is also worth noting that the block has a blue LED inserted into the Acrylic, which can be connected to your motherboard's fan header.

When inspecting the top of the block I noticed that a muddy residue had been left behind from when the block was manufactured. It shouldn't cause any problems for the kit when in use, but Thermaltake do need to take more care with the cleaning up process.

The bottom of the block is also a bit of a disappointment, having the worst finish out of all the kits in this test. The block has visible machine marks, scratches and is covered in small speckles, which I was unable to remove with alcohol based cleaner.

The accessories kit includes everything required to install the water block on the following platforms:

- AMD K8 (A64, Opteron, 939)
- Intel LGA 775
- Intel BTX

Also included in the accessories kit is a fan speed controller, a PCI bracket which allows for tubing to be routed outside of the case and two feet for standing the dual 120mm radiator outside of the case.

Big Water Tubing Big Water Coolant

As mentioned earlier, Thermaltake have provided a large container of coolant for filling your water loop. This is a nice touch as it means you don't have to go to the trouble of finding a retail outlet that dells de-ionised water.

The included 3/8" tubing is UV reactive and glows very well under a UV cathode. A large amount of tubing has been included, which should be more than enough even for the tallest of PC cases. Thermaltake haven't included any official figures to the actual length of the tubing included with every kit.


Pump & Reservoir

In a similar manner to Alphacool, Thermaltake have opted to integrate their reservoir with the pump. This has many advantages, including that the pump will never be starved of water as the pump inlet is directly connected to the reservoir. A big disadvantage is that you cannot place the reservoir elsewhere if space inside your case is tight.

Big Water 745 Pump Big Water 745 Pump

Big Water 745 Pump Big Water 745 Pump

Not the best looking of pumps in the world it has to be said. The Thermaltake pump connects directly to a molex, but also includes a speed monitoring wire, so you can keep an eye on how fast the pump motor is turning at. Another disappointing issue with the pump is its lack of mounting hardware. Thermaltake do not appear to have included any screws or sticky pads to affix the pump to your case.

The following information has been taken from Thermaltake's website:

- Dimensions: 75(L) X 70(W) X 75(H) mm
- Bearing: Ceramic bearing
- Maximum Capacity: 400 L/ hr
- Rated Voltage: DC 12V
- Noise: 16 dBA
- Life time: 70000 hr (MTBF)

The reservoir isn't the best looking of items either. I'm really not sure why Thermaltake decided to go for a brown smoked reservoir, as a clear one (so that you can show off some UV dye) would have been much better.

Most worrying of all, was the fact that the reservoir (containing up to 350cc of water), is in no way fixed to the pump. All that prevents water from leaking out between the pump and reservoir are two o-rings that slide over the pumps inlet. This could cause major problems when transporting your water-cooled case anywhere, as the reservoir is free to slide off the pump, and dump all of the water inside the case!


Radiator & Fans

What makes the Big Water such a 'big' kit is its use of two radiators. Normally a triple radiator or two separate radiators would only be used when there is a serious amount of heat to remove (from graphics cards, northbridge, mosfets..etc). Under almost all circumstances a dual radiator should be enough to remove the heat from a processor, which leaves me confused as to why Thermaltake have included two radiators.

Big Water Radiator Big Water Radiator

Big Water Radiator Big Water Radiator

Both radiators use Thermaltake's trademark orange and black fans. What I found most strange was that Thermaltake have quoted the fan on the single 120mm radiator as being 93.7cfm, whereas the fans install on the dual 120mm radiator as being a maximum of 54.4cfm. Whether these are indeed two different models of fan is yet to be seen, but we'll find out for sure during the testing.

The radiators are actually quite small, and should pose no more of a problem to install than the other radiators in this review. The exact dimensions are as follows: 272 x 120 x 35mm (LxWxD) for the dual radiator, and: 166 x 122 x 35mm (LxWxD) for the single radiator.

Big Water 745 Radiator

A slight problem I noticed on the dual 120mm radiator was that one of the barbs was overly bent. I'm not quite sure if this is a manufacturing fault, or something that has happened during the packing/transit of the Big Water, but as you can see from above, it has caused the piping to kink slightly, which will probably reduce the flow rate.


Battle of the Water Cooling Kits Page: 5
Packaging & Manual

Overclock3D have been very lucky to receive a pre-release water cooling kit from XSPC. XSPC are a UK company dedicated to high performance water cooling components, and have been in business since 2003.

As this water-cooling kit has not yet been officially released, please keep in mind the version we are reviewing will not be as polished as the retail version.

XSPC Box XSPC Box

The kit arrived in a plain cardboard box, with everything inside protected by a combination of both bubble wrap and air cushions. In addition to this, the majority of components in the kit were also contained within their own boxes. It would take a pretty brutal courier to cause any damage to the components within this box. I would also like to add that when the X20 Dual Xtreme kit is officially released, it will be contained within a more aesthetically pleasing packaging.

XSPC Kit

I was thoroughly impressed with the components included in the Dual Xtreme kit. I certainly wasn't expecting XSPC to include their Aluminium Passive Reservoir (blue tube on right of picture), which should further improve the cooling performance of the kit. The total kit comprises of the following items:

- XSPC R120-D Crossflow Radiator
- XSPC X2O Xtreme CPU Water Block
- XSPC X2O Pump with built-in Reservoir + Blue LED
- XSPC 150mm Passive Aluminium Reservoir + Blue LED (Choice of Black, Blue or Silver)
- 2x XinRuiLian 1700RPM 120mm Fans *2400rpm
- PVC 10/8mm High Transparency Hose
- Generic Silver Paste
- Zerex Water Additive (Coolant)
- UV Water Dye (Choice of colours)
- 2x Silicone Gaskets Fan Shrouds
- Mounting hardware for Pump, Radiator & Passive Reservoir.
- Manual
- PCI Plate for external tubing routing
- 2x Radiator mounting bracket set (120mm to 80mm)

XSPC Manual XSPC Manual

XSPC have included a full colour manual in English language only. The manual covers all aspects of setting up your water cooling system and mounting the water block and other components.

The included manual was actually for the single radiator version of the X2O kit, so some of the instructions differed slightly. However XSPC are working on a manual exclusively for the Dual Xtreme, which will be shipped with the retail version of the kit.


Water Block & Accessories

A new addition to the XSPC family is the X20 Xtreme water block. Previously XSPC were making use of the highly acclaimed 'Zern' water block, which despite producing some great results, did not have a universal mounting plate, and was therefore not a great companion for a water-cooling kit.

XSPC Water Block XSPC Water Block

The block comes with pre-assembled mounting hardware that supports the following platforms:

- AMD Socket 939
- AMD Socket 754
- AMD Socket 940
- Intel Socket 775
- Intel Socket 478
- Intel Socket 603
- Intel Socket 604
* AMD AM2 mounting plate coming soon.

Also included is a "CPU Extension Ring", which can be used to raise the height of the mounting plate on the water block. This is useful for motherboards that have capacitors or other electronics close to the CPU socket which may hinder mounting of the water block.

The base of the block is similar in finish to that of Swiftech's. The surface is very flat and there are no visible marks or scratches. It would have been nice to see the bottom of this block polished to a mirror finish, however, whether this would have any noticeable effects on performance is debatable.

The block is designed to give maximum performance while keeping the flow resistance to a minimum. Inside the block, the copper base has a grid of 429 pins with a brass insert to direct the flow around the block.

XSPC Water Additives XSPC Accessories

XSPC have included both a Water Additive and UV dye in with the package. Judging by the colour, the Water Additive looks to be Zerex - regarded by many as one of the best coolants available.

Also included in the kit are two LED's. These can be inserted into the holes drilled in the perspex on the reservoir and pump to add a bit of 'bling' to your water-cooling system. One thing I would like to have seen is the use of UV LED's rather than coloured LED's. This would mean that the water would glow with whatever colour UV additive had been used.

The reservoir mounting brackets can be used to place the reservoir anywhere within your case (drilling may be required) and can even be fixed to an 80mm fan hole.

In a similar fashion, the radiator can be mounted at the back of your machine over a 120mm fan hole, or the included brackets can be used to fix the radiator to an 80mm fan hole.

Should you wish to mount radiator on the outside of the case, XSPC have included a PCI Bracket for routing your tubing outside.


Pump & Reservoir

The XSPC X20 Dual Xtreme kit is supplied with XSPC's very own X20 pump and passive reservoir. Interestingly, the XSPC X20 pump actually has an integrated reservoir, so should you not be able to find a place to install the passive reservoir, you can use the pump's reservoir instead.

XSPC Pump & Res

XSPC Reservoir XSPC Pump

The included XSPC Passive Reservoir is 150mm in height, which should prove easier to install inside a mid-tower case than XSPC's larger 250mm version - especially with the included brackets which allow for it to be installed over an 80mm fan hole. The reservoir has a plexiglass top and base which allows you to easily check water levels at a glance. As mentioned earlier, the base of the reservoir can be illuminated with one of the included blue LED's to add a cool effect to the water.

The reservoir shaft is constructed from anodised aluminium with fins to disperse heat more effectively. This should help to reduce the temperature of the water slightly.

XSPC have chosen to come up with their own solution for a pump rather than using a solution from another manufacturer. The pump is powered directly from a 3-pin fan header which is certainly the first pump I've ever seen powered this way. The pump is designed to run at 12v, and at this voltage XSPC state that it should be "near silent". An obvious advantage to having the pump powered in this way is motherboard rpm monitoring: - If the pump was to stop functioning, you could configure your motherboard's BIOS to alert you to this.

The pumps specifications are as follows:

- Pump performance: 450l/h
- Delivery head: 1.65m
- Power : 9.5W
- Voltage: 12V (3pin) with rpm readout
- Connection: 1/4" thread
- Dimensions: 88x56x88mm

Mounting of the pump is similar to most in this review, with XSPC opting for a sticky pad, which not only prevents the pump from sliding around your case, but also dampens any vibrations from the pump, thus reducing noise.


Radiator & Fans

Having owned some of XSPC's radiators in the past, the greatest thing I found them is that they can be mounted in the front of the Coolermaster Stacker (and some other models) without any modification. Click here for an idea of how this was done in one of my previous projects.

XSPC Radiator

XSPC Radiator XSPC Radiator

The XSPC R120-D Crossflow radiator is actually the largest in our round-up, measuring in at 139x316x45mm (WxLxD). The R120-D is the only radiator in our review that has barbs at opposite ends of the radiator. I'm not quite sure why XSPC opted for the Crossflow model, rather than their standard one (with both barbs at one end), as this could make tube routing a bit more of a pain - especially when the radiator is used outside of the case.

In my opinion the XSPC is by far the best looking radiator in this review, with chromed fan shrouds making a break from the plain black radiators we've all become accustomed to.

The included 120mm fans are manufactured by XinRuiLian (*checks spelling*), and boast 60cfm at 30dBA when running at 12v. Due to this fans being 4-pin molex powered, XSPC have not included any kind of fan controller or voltage reduction cables in the kit.


Battle of the Water Cooling Kits Page: 6
Temperature Testing

By far the hardest part of this review was setting up each and every water cooling system, hooking it up to our test PC and taking temperature readouts of the CPU at idle and under load.

In order to make the testing procedure fair for all companies taking part in this review, we have removed certain components from some of the kits that may have affected thermal performance. The components removed were as follows:

- XSPC Aluminium Passive Reservoir
- Thermaltake Single 120mm Radiator

Water blocks were mounted a total of 3 times to ensure that they were seated correctly, and an average temperature was calculated from all 3 readings. None of the manufacturer's thermal grease or coolant was used. In order to keep the results fair, Arctic Silver 5 thermal compound was used along with plain de-ionised water.

All temperatures were taken from the motherboard's onboard diode using windows based software, which will give us comparable results. Load temperatures were taken after 30 minutes of Prime95 at a room temperature of 26ºC.

System Specification

AMD Opteron 146 @ 3.0ghz (1.6v vcore)
DFI NF4 SLI-D
G.Skill FF PC4800 @ 300mhz
XFX 6600 GT PCI-E
Silverstone Zeus 560w PSU
Windows XP SP2

Test Setup Test Setup

And now for the results....

CPU Idle Temps

At idle, the Alphacool Xtreme kit managed to snatch 1st place by beating out all of the other kits with a 3-7°C margin. The Swiftech and XSPC kits battled it out for 2nd place with the Swiftech just managing to grab silver with a 1°C advantage over the XSPC. Trailing behind the pack was the Thermaltake Big Water which may have well faired better with second radiator connected.

CPU Load Temps

Under load not much changed. The Alphacool and Swiftech kits yet again battling it out for 1st place, and both producing a very respectable result of 38°c. Showing that it can keep up with the big boys, and only missing out on the crown position by a mere 1ºC is the XSPC X20 Xtreme kit. Hitting temperatures in the mid 40's was the Thermaltake Big Water kit, which just couldn't keep up with the high performance water blocks and radiators of the other kits.


Noise Testing

Unfortunately Overclock3D does not have the equipment for reliably producing figures on the dBA output of these kits, so instead I will write a brief paragraph about my opinion on the noise output of each kit.

The Alphacool was the first in the test, and I was thoroughly impressed with the quietness of the included pump. Once the bubbles had worked their way out of the loop, the pump was so silent that I needed to put my ear to it to make sure it was still operational! The fans did not disappoint either, remaining very silent I was hardly able to hear these over the noise from my northbridge fan. It is also worth noting that despite the fans not having any kind of voltage control, they can be plugged into your motherboard's fan headers and controlled using software provided with most motherboards.

The Swiftech kit wasn't quite as impressive as the Alphacool, with the pump being slightly auidble at around 1 metre away. This however was overshadowed by the noise from the fans. Running at 12v the Delta's are certainly not ideal if you're looking for a quiet PC, however with the fan speed reduced to 7v by using the included adapters the noise levels were on par with the Alphacool fans.

Thermaltake appear to have concentrated all their efforts on making the fan noise low by including an adjustable fan speed controller. This is ideal for those of us (like me), who need their PC to be quiet while they are concentrating (like writing an article), but also need high performance when gaming. The pump on the other hand is a different story. Producing a rather annoying hum and occasionally vibrating on the surface of my desk, it certainly could have done with some kind of vibration dampening fixings.

The pump on the XSPC kit was quite a different story from the Thermaltake. Running very quiet at the required 12v, I'd personally place the pumps noise output between that of the Alphacool and the Swiftech. Unfortunately XSPC have not included any way to reduce the speed of the included XinRuiLian fans. Had they have been 3-Pin and not 4-Pin, they could have been controlled using the motherboard's fan headers. This means that the XSPC X20 Dual Xtreme kit may not be suitable for those of us seeking a quiet water-cooling system.


Battle of the Water Cooling Kits Page: 7
Conclusion

All kits have their strengths and weaknesses making them more appealing to different audiences. For example, if you want a high performance kit with a low price tag and don't mind a little bit of noise, the XSPC kit is a clear winner. However, if you are looking for the best performance kit money can buy, then Alphacool is the one to go for. Swiftech have also put together a great performance kit that can be run silently and will fit almost any case.

With very similar results between most of the kits, its been very hard choosing the awards and score that each kit should receive. In the end, the only factors that I could take into consideration to separate these kits was price, features and noise.

The prices at time of review, and retailers selling these kits can be seen in the table below.

KitPrice (GBP)
Purchase At
Alphacool Xtreme Pro 240
£135.95
Specialtech
Swiftech H20-220 Apex Ultra
£151.58
Tekheads
Thermaltake Big Water 745
£74.27
Specialtech
XSPC X20 Dual Xtreme
£114.99
WaterCoolingShop


Alphacool Xtreme Pro 240

Being the 2nd most expensive kit in our tests, the Alphacool Xtreme did not disappoint. Coming complete with some of the most highly regarded water cooling components available, the Xtreme Pro 240 managed come out top in both our idle and load temperature tests. In addition to this, the Xtreme Pro 240 is a good choice for people who enjoy silence. The High CFM/Low dBA fans are a great match for the radiator, and can be run at any speed by plugging them directly into your motherboards fan headers.

The only thing that prevented me from giving the Xtreme Pro 240 'Editors Choice' award, is that the mounting hardware included with the Alphacool kit would require most users to perform modifications on their cases to fit the radiator internally. Had Alphacool have included similar mounting hardware to that of Swiftech or XSPC the Xtreme Pro 240 kit would have undoubtedly received 10/10.

Pro's
+ Highly polished water block
+ High performance, good looking pump
+ Quiet pump & fans
+ Well packaged
+ Compact radiator
+ Coolant for filling entire system provided

Con's
- Limited mounting options
- Pump not pre-assembled
- Ugly water block mounting hardware

Recommended
Score 9


Swiftech H20-220 Apex Ultra

Managing to keep up with the Alphacool Xtreme kit when placed under load, the Swiftech H20-220 Apex Ultra kit is a great choice for those of us with limited radiator install options. Coming with everything required to install the radiator over a 120mm fan hole on the outside of your case, Swiftech have ensured that all of the components included in the kit are easy to install in mid sized cases.

Including components such as the D5 pump, Delta fans and Apogee water block have bumped up the price of this kit, making it the most expensive in our tests. However, despite the small size of the package, Swiftech have managed to cram in a good range of accessories which make it worth the money.

Pro's
+ High performance pump
+ Well respected water block
+ Cables for stepping down fan voltage
+ Radiator mounting kit
+ Compact reservoir

Con's
- Fans noisy when run at 12v
- Most expensive in tests
- Manual quality could be improved

Editors Choice
Score 9


Thermaltake Big Water 745

Coming in at £74, the Big Water 745 is the cheapest kit in our tests by a good margin. I was surprised by the features that Thermaltake managed to include for this budget price, but was unfortunately disappointed with the overall build quality.

The kit could not compete with the rest of the kits in this review, but this was somewhat expected as many of the other kits used top end water-cooling components.

The Big Water certainly would have produced better results if the additional 120mm radiator had been included, which is definitely something to take into consideration before dismissing this kit as a possible purchase.

Personally I was quite worried about the lack of fixings between the pump and reservoir, which during transit of your PC could easily come apart and spill water into your case.

Pro's
+ UV Tubing
+ 2 Radiators
+ Well packaged
+ Coolant for filling entire system
+ Fan speed controller PCI bracket
+ Stand for mounting dual 120mm radiator

Con's
- Base of water block dull and scratched
- Potential leakage issue between pump and reservoir
- Radiator barb kinked
- Pump noisy compared to others

Reviewed
Score 6


XSPC X20 Dual Xtreme

Being one of the cheaper kits in our review I was expecting the XSPC Dual Xtreme kit to have somewhat mediocre performance. However, I was pleasantly surprised when the kit exceeded my expectations and managed to keep up with the more expensive offerings from Alphacool and Swiftech. Beaten out by only 1°c in testing, I believe that the XSPC X20 could have closed this gap had the passive reservoir been used.

It is also worth noting that a Dual Xtreme kit without the passive reservoir will soon be available for a bargain £90.

Pro's
+ Excellent performance
+ External mounting hardware for radiator
+ Mounting hardware for reservoir
+ Quiet pump
+ Well packaged
+ Full colour manual
+ Silicone fan gaskets for vibration dampening

Con's
- Fans slightly noisy
- Radiator largest in tests
- Pump not the best looking
- Fans would be better as 3-pin (for use with fan controllers)

Recommended Value Award
Score 9



A big thanks to Alphacool, Swiftech, Thermaltake & XSPC for providing their kits for review.

Feel free to discuss this review in our forums.