With Water cooling becoming ever more popular, and having whetted your appetites of late with a look at the current crop of AIOs we thought we'd turn our sights on self assembly systems from four of the biggest water cooling kit manufacturers. All of the systems on test here today have been supplied by Specialtech, well known purveyors of one of the best known water cooling candy shops you'll ever hope to find. They all contain pretty much everything you'll need to assemble your own loop, and with the added assurance that all the gear from each manufacturer will play nicely together so you're not going to have to worry about compatibility issues. Heck in some cases they've even included instructions!
Although reservoir, pump, contact plate, tubing and fittings may vary between the kits, they do all have something in common. All the kits on test come with a 240mm radiator as standard. Granted some of the kits are available with larger rads, but with the 240mm offering the greatest case compatibility it makes sense to use this size as the basis for comparison.
We'll be testing each of the systems at 4 levels of overclock with fans at both 12v and 7v. Not only that but for good measure we'll be testing each of the rads at the highest overclock with a set of 120mm Noctua fans again at 12v and 7v both to add an element of additional comparison but also help in determining whether the performance of a specific system comes from the fans supplied or the characteristics of the radiator. With our OCCT test taking 45mins per run that works out at 7.5 hours testing for each set up, and with 4 rigs to test that makes for a colossal 30 hours of testing alone. For those of you who tend to skip to the graphs and the conclusion, if you want more detail with regards to quality and ease of build etc then it's best you spend a bit more time perusing each of the individual sections as there's quite a deal of detail to be had.
The technical specifications of each of the systems will be covered over the next 4 pages as there's far too much information to fit here. Instead a little appetiser of what awaits.
Up Close: EKWB L240
If first impressions count the L240 Kit from EKWB certainly scores higher than any of the other kits here. Packaging and presentation are second to none. It's not all style over substance either, the goods within are well protected and separated to keep them both safe and easy to locate.
Priced at £174.95 the L240 is also the most expensive kit on test here. For the lowdown on what our money gets us let's have a look at the full Technical specification.
|Intel Compatibility||Socket 2011 Socket 1366 Socket 1156 Socket 1155 Socket 775|
|AMD Compatibility||Socket FM2 Socket FM1 Socket AM3+ Socket AM3 Socket AM2+ Socket AM2|
|CPU Waterblock||EK Supreme LTX UNI CSQ 2013|
|Pump||EK DCP 2.2|
|Pump Flow Rate||400 L/ph|
|Reservoir||EK DCP X Res|
|Radiator||EK CoolStream Rad XT 240|
|Radiator Dimensions (L x W x H)||276 x 123 x 47 mm|
|Radiator Fans||2 x EK Fan Silent 120mm Fans (3 pin)|
|Fittings||6 x EK 3/8" ID - 5/8 " OD CSQ Nickel Compression Fittings|
|Tubing||2 meters EK ZMT Matt Black 3/8" ID - 5/8" OD Tubing|
|Fluid||100ml EK UV Blue Concentrate *|
|Special Features||Complete CPU Watercooling Kit Plenty of Cooling Capacity for Overclocking Easy to Expand the Loop to Include a GPU Block Compression Fittings Pump and reservoir Combination|
|Package Contents||1 x EK Supreme LTX UNI CSQ Waterblock 1 x EK DCP2.2 with X-Res 1 x EK Coolstream 240 Radiator 2m Tubing 6 x Compression Fittings 2 x 120mm Fans 100ml of EK Concentrate|
The core components of the L240 kit comprise of the 240mm EK Coolstream radiator, the EK DCP2.2 pump with X-Res and the EK supreme LTX UNI CSQ water block. Seen below right the water block has a clear top allowing the flow of coolant to be seen within, particularly nice when coupled with coloured coolants. The block comes pre assembled with large oval holes providing accommodation for Intel CPUs, with a separate mounting plate available should you wish to mount to AMD hardware.
The Pump res assembly also comes pre assembled but it's worth noting that the blanking plugs capping two of the 3 inlets are not tightened down and will leak if not tightened with the supplied Allen key. The Radiator is well made with no evidence of bent or buckled fins, and has the EKWB logo embossed onto it's sides. The separate end tanks have the standard G1/4" fittings for inlet and outlet on only one side.
Assembly and Testing
The water block mounted easily onto our Socket 2011 CPU by means of threaded pins. The correct pressure being achieved by use of tensioned springs under capped screws which also served to keep the assembly looking clean and tidy. The reservoir comes with 2 mounting plates, the first of which enables it to be mounted to the holes for a 120mm floor fan, and the second, shown here enabling mounting to the rear of the case via the fan mount holes. The pump itself is not directly mounted to the plate but rather mated to the reservoir which is attached via rubber isolating feet. The effect of this is to improve de-coupling of the pump and as such reduce noise and vibration.
The close proximity of the components makes for a very compact loop and uncomplicated loop, something we're great protagonists of here at OC3D. and although we're not particular fans of compression fittings ourselves we were rather taken by the effect the chromed compressions had when combined with the unusual choice of matte black tubing. The whole build process is made much easier by one of the most comprehensive sets of instructions we've ever seen. Not content with a few fold out sheets EK have actually included a spiral bound A4 booklet to guide you every step of the way.
Installed into our trusty "Test-Trooper" case the EK kit is demure and understated. The tubing although thick walled is still quite flexible and resists kinking well. For those more used to bay reservoirs mounting the reservoir like this may seem a little odd however we feel it adds to the aesthetic and assuming you have a window in your case you should be able to keep an eye fluid levels with no problem. We have to say we were very pleased with the results.
Up Close: XSPC Raystorm 750 RS240 V4
XSPC kits based on the X20 750 bay/res pump combination have been around for a while now, indeed, it's a predecessor of the kit supplied for test by those grand chaps at SpecialTech that sits in the PC i'm writing this review on. Never one to rest on their laurels though XSPC have continually evolved the breed, offering new CPU blocks, rads and pump res combinations. The box housing the goodies appears to have taken a bit of a battering along the way, but once you have made your way through the two (yes two) internal brown boxes you find....yet more brown boxes. These certainly don't have the wow factor of EK's but then again, you're not left wondering just how much of the cost of the kit went on the packaging, as at £142.95 the XSPC kit is the cheapest on test here.
|XSPC||Raystorm RS 240V4|
|Intel Socket Compatibility||Socket 2011 Socket 1366 Socket 1156 Socket 1155|
|AMD Socket Compatibility||Socket FM2 Socket FM1 Socket AM3+ Socket AM3 Socket AM2+ Socket AM2|
|CPU Waterblock||XSPC Raystorm|
|Radiator Dimensions||277 x 121 x 35mm|
|Radiator Fan Specification||2 x Low Noise 1650rpm 120mm Fan|
|Pump||XSPC X20 750 12v|
|Pump Flow Rate||750 L/ph|
|Reservoir||Built In Pump|
|Tubing||7/16" ID - 5/8" OD Clear|
|Fittings||6 x 1/4" thread 1/2" Barbs|
|Suitability||Simple CPU Watercooling Mild Overclock CPU Cooling|
1 x XSPC Raystorm CPU Waterblock 1 x XSPC RS240 Radiator 2 x 120mm Fan 1 x XSPC X20 750 Pump & Reservoir combo 2 x 7/16" Clear Tubing 6 x 1/2" Barb Fittings 1 x 3mm Twin Blue LED with 4Pin Molex 1 x 5mm Blue LED with 4Pin Molex 1 x Intel and AMD RayStorm Brackets 1 x Socket 1366 and 1155/1154 Backplates 1 x Socket AM2 and AM3 mounting kit 6 x Hose Clips 1 x 80 - 120mm Radiator Mounting Kit 1 x Thermal Paste 2 x 120mm Fan Grill
The latest incarnation of the X20 750 reservoir (so named because the pump therein outputs 750 litres/minute) is the V4. This has been coupled with an RS 240 radiator and the Raystorm CPU water block. The Raystorm water block has a removeable face plate, enabling you, should you want to, to paint it to match the colour scheme of your build. The clear acrylic section of the Raystorm can also be illuminated using the supplied blue LEDs
From the front at least theX20 750 reservoir/pump looks exactly the same as the older units which is no bad thing. Gone though is the all acrylic box with interchangeable fronts, replaced instead with a black nylon reservoir with a single removable faceplate. Although a slightly bigger window wouldn't be unwelcomed the simple elegance of the twin 5.25" bay reservoir continues through to this evolution. XSPC have also kept the ability to illuminate the inside of the reservoir using the supplied blue LED. The Matte Black RS240 radiator in the kit is something of a water cooling staple, partly we think due to it's looks, and partly due to it's reputation for producing good results, although at 35mm thick the RS240 is the thinnest radiator on test here so it certainly has it's work cut out if it's to measure up. Like the EK rad though the RS240 only has connections on one side of it's end tanks which may limit your tubing routing options.
Assembly and Testing
The Raystorm Water block attaches in much the same way as the EK unit, with mounting pins locating the block and springs being compressed by thumb bolts over the top. The tubing provided is clear 7/16" ID 5/8" OD, which is secured to the supplied Gun metal effect 1/2" barbs by rather ugly black plastic double grip circumferential clips. The tubing is easier to attach to the barbs by dipping it in warm water and as the grip it has on the tubing once cooled is substantial you could probably do away with the clips. However as XSPC have supplied them we have used them and would suggest you do also. Positioning the rad so as to have the connections at the front of the case enables you to construct a compact loop without the need for runs of tubing to cross over the length of the motherboard.
The clear tubing may look a little bland by today's standards, but as the only thing not included in the kit is the coolant, this does leave you option of choosing from the myriad of colours available, picking a colour scheme to match the rest of your kit. In use the X20 750 pump is as near silent as we've heard from a water pump, in fact during leak testing when only the pump was powered there were several moments of panic when we thought the pump had failed only to find it was pumping happily and very quietly away. The propensity of the X20 750 to vibrate within the drive bays and resonate through the case has also been negated with the V4, leaving the user with a very quiet pump indeed. The 1650rpm fans supplied with the kit aren't however the quietest on test, and perhaps overly noticeable when compared to the pump.
It's worth remembering that if you have a smaller case the X20 750 is going to take up 2 of your 5.25" bays. As the filler for the res is on the top if you are able to mount the res in lower bays it will make filling a lot easier, removing the need for additional tubing in the loop which would otherwise be required to enable the res to be slid out. We mentioned earlier that unlike previous iterations of the res the V4 only comes with a black face plate. With the majority of cases being black these days we don't really see this as an issue, and as it is can be taken off easily you can always paint it up to match your case colour
Up Close: AlphaCool NexXxoS Cool Answer 240 DDC/XT45
With a name only its mother could love the AlphaCool kit comes packed into a neat briefcase style box. Delving inside we extract similarly coloured Alphacool branded boxes complete with blister packed Black compression fittings. The only exceptions to the brand are the Phobya PSU jumper and the Yateloon fans that come bundled with this kit. The Alphacool ki is also the only one to include a bottle of coolant.
NexXxoS Cool Answer240 DDC/XT45
Intel Socket Compatibility
AMD Socket Compatibility
NexXxoS XP³ Light - Acetal Edition - Intel/AMD
Alphacool NexXxoS XT45 240mm
124 x 280 x 45 mm
Radiator Fan Specification
2 x Low Noise 1300rpm 120 x 25mm Fan
Laing DDC-1T Pro Pump : DDC-1T
Pump Flow Rate
440 L/hr 10W
Alphacool Repack - Laing DDC - 5,25 Single Bay Station
Alphacool AlphaTube HF 3/8" ID - 1/2" OD (10-13mm) : Clear
6 x Alphacool 1/4" Thread Barb Fittings for 1/2" ID : Deep Black
Coolant Clear 1000ml
Simple CPU Watercooling
1 x Alphacool NexXxoS XP³ Light - Acetal Edition - Intel/AMD
The beating heart of the AlphaCool system is the NexXxoS XP³ Light Acetal edition. Sporting a large gold Alphacool logo the XP³ Light is quite the recumbent monolith. Two clearly labelled ports are positioned towards the upper edge of the contact plate, and as such their close proximity to each other may limit the size of fittings that can be used and/or the angles that rotaries must be placed at. No such worries with the supplied 13/10 G1/4" Deep Black compression fittings that come supplied in the kit.
The Alphacool repack Laing DDC single bay reservoir when coupled to the Laing AlphaCool DDC 1T Pro pump provides an integrated solution and with a large clear gauged window there should be no problems keeping an eye on those fluid levels. As with a great many bay reservoirs the fill port is positioned centrally in the top and although quite posterior it is sill easy enough to reach into with a bit of tubing and a funnel if you leave a vacant bay above it. At 45mm Thick the NexXxoS XT45 is the second thinnest on test but only a smidge thinner than the 47mm thick EK radiator. The NexXxos is however the only radiator to have fittings on all sides of each of the two end tanks, making for a total of 3 in and 3 out. This of course offers much greater flexibility when it comes to plumbing in your loop and should be applauded.
Assembly and Testing
Although the CPU block is compatible with a great many Intel and AMD socket types instructions for fitting to socket 2011 aren't provided, leaving us to prove we're real men and work it out for ourselves (which was actually easy enough). After first threading a thumb-bolt, spring and washer onto an Allen bolt this bolt is then screwed into the motherboard socket holes. The Thumb bolts are then tightened down to provide pressure via the springs onto the CPU. Assembling the Pump Res set up was again an instruction free adventure, this time with a little more head-scratching and brute force involved. In essence the Pump is inelegantly stuffed into the back of the reservoir with tubular rubber seals around the nozzles making for a watertight seal. If we thought that was hard we were in for a real treat when we came to fit it into our 5.25" bay. Why? Because it's slightly larger in height than the height of a 5.25" bay that's why, or more specifically, the large acrylic port plate at the rear of the reservoir sticks up proud just enough to cause the top of the res to foul the guide rails of the bay above, necessitating these to be bent upwards with some pliers.
With the swearing and grunting over it was time to plumb everything together. AlphaCool have coupled their Deep Black 13/10 compression fittings with some 13/10 clear tubing. The thin diameter of this tubing makes it easier to manoeuvre than some thicker tubes, however the thin walls and high flexibility did seem to make it more prone to kinking than some of the others on test here. On start up we noted the pump was on the noisy side with a distinct vibration through the chassis, seems simply cramming the pump into the rear of the res with only a thin rubber pad as isolation doesn't make for quiet running! On the plus side, the fans were very quiet. God old Yate Loon eh.
Once the whole assembly has been wedged into place, the slightly smoked glass look of the front panel does give the reservoir that little hint of class. The Gold AlphaCool logo is ever present of course but does nothing to detract from the looks
Up Close: Phobya UC LT 240
You might be wondering why there isn't a picture of the box that the Phobya kit comes in. The answer is simple, unlike all the other kits the LT240 doesn't come in its own custom box, instead it is simply supplied as a collection of parts. This isn't a problem in itself as the box will surely be discarded anyway, but it might go some way to explain why there are no instructions whatsoever included with the phobia kit. And we mean none, not a sausage, nil, diddly squat. Well you get the idea. This might seem like no big deal if you've already slung a loop or two together, but if you haven't you might be slightly put off by this. Granted some of the manufacturers have gone the extra mile and included extensive installation instructions, but that doesn't mean that this is a given with kits as manufacturers also bring components together like this as a way of assuring value and compatibility without the need for the consumer to shop around for all the bits and pieces involved in bringing a custom loop together.
|CPU Waterblock||Phobya UC2 LT|
|Intel Compatability||Socket 2011 Socket 1136 Socket 1156 Socket 1155 Socket 775|
|Reservoir||Phobya Single 5.25" Drive Bay Reservoir|
|Pump Flow Rate||400 L/ph|
|Radiator||Phobya G-Ghanger 240 V2 Full Copper (275x125x60.5mm)|
|Radiator Fans||2 x Phobya NB-eLoop 120mm|
|Fan Speed||1600 rpm|
|Fan Noise||22.5 dBA|
|Fan Connection||3 Pin|
|Fittings||8 x Phobya 1/4" Thread 3/8" ID - 5/8" OD Silver Compression Fittings|
|Tubing||2 Meters Masterkleer Clear 3/8" ID - 5/8" OD Tubing|
|Package Contents||1 x CPU Waterblock 1 x Drive Bay Reservoir 1 x Pump 1 x 240mm Radiator 2 x 120mm Fan 2 x 120mm Fan Grill 8 x Compression Fittings 3.3 Meters of Clear Tubing 1 x HeGrease Thermal paste PSU Bridging Plug All Mounting Hardware|
The Phobya kit utilises a single bay reservoir that is similar to the Alphacool unit, with the exception that this one fits easily into the intended bay. The black gauged front of the res sporting the Phobya name is removable should you want to whip out those rattle cans. There are also ports for 5mm LEDs in the res although no LEDs are supplied. The UC-2LT cold plate comes pre assembled for Intel sockets, with no provision in the kit for adaptation for AMD CPUs. The cold plate itself is a hefty affair, however you do get the feeling that the plastic top cover is there to conceal the name of the OEM underneath
Those of you familiar with water cooling will no doubt recognise the fairly ubiquitous water pump used in the Phobya kit. Nothing wrong with this, tried and tested is always a good thing. Unlike the other kits however the pump cannot be integrated into the reservoir in any way so prepare yourself for a fair bit of head scratching as you endeavour to work out where to mount it. It's in the Radiator department that the Phobya kit really excels. With the G-Changer 240 V2 a smidge over 60mm thick we're pretty sure it's going to produce the goods when it comes to the torture tests. It's not just in size where the G-Changer has the edge over some of the others on test here, with the EK and XSPC rads only having side tank ports, the G-Changer has an additional set of ports on the end of each end tank making for 4 in total, just shy of the Alphacool's fully flexible 6 ports.
Assembly and Testing
The fitting method for the Phobya Cold plate is identical to the AlphaCool unit, with even the blocks having more than a passing resemblance to each other. Phobya have supplied 8 3/8" ID x 5/8" OD 1/4" thread chrome compression fittings along with a very generous 3.3 metres (10 foot) of MasterKleer clear tubing to help you bring it all together. The fans included in the kit are the rather unusual NB-eLoop 120s, with red blade edges extending all the way around the interior of the cowling they look to better focus the airflow into the rad. The bright red areas in the corners of the cowlings are actually rubber pads which protrude slightly offering a degree of vibration damping.
Once assembled the kit ran well although the noise from the pump was the highest observed in these tests. The fans however were very quiet at 12 volts and almost silent when stepped down to the lower speed under the 7 volt supply. It seems the blade design and the rubber mounts must be doing some good at least. We again chose not to mount the res in the highest bay which although might be most aesthetically pleasing does make for a tiresome filling process. On the subject of filling, the Phobya rad is he only one on test to have a bleed port built in, just a shame we couldn't access it as it as the clearance at the rear of the case didn't permit.
The high gloss acrylic front panel of the single bay reservoir looks rather elegant, with even the large Phobya name and gauge not managing to ruin the looks. Unlike the Alphacool unit the Phobya res slipped easily into the bay, being secured by screws from each side or your cases tool-less mechanism.
Testing and Performance.
Intel i7 3960X 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.
Continuity is very important in testing, and for this reason we keep as many of the potential variables as locked down as possible. We will be using OCCT in Linpack X64, AVX compatible with all logical cores tested and 90% free memory utilised. The test is set up to run automatically with just a few clicks to set it going. A 10 minute idle followed by 30 minutes of testing and a 5 minute cool down is the order of the day and brings the total test time per clock speed to 45 minutes. So as to remove subjectivity in determining whether a CPU has failed, OCCT is set to stop the test and register a fail should the max temp exceed 80 degrees. In testing we noted that if even just one of the cores exceeds 82 degrees OCCT halts the test and a fail is recorded.
All tests are conducted with the pump at the full 12 volts direct from the PSU. We have also tested the fans at the full 12 Volts and at lower speeds enabled when fed with just 7 Volts. At 45 minutes per test and 8 tests per kit that makes for a total of 6 hours per kit and a grand total of 24 hours total testing. Not content with that we also decided to test all of the systems at their highest overclock using a set of Nuctua fans. Add in assembly/disassembly and leak testing and you can see what a mammoth operation this is.
As usual we'll be testing our coolers at varying levels of overclock and increasing levels of voltage. this in turn of course means increasing levels of heat which the coolers need to dissipate. To begin with we start with the undervolted stock speed. Why undervolted? well if you have things set on "Auto", you may well be using more volts than are actually required to run at the chosen frequency, for example our 3960s will run quite happily at just 1.1volts, solid as a rock, 24/7, and as such we use this as our starting point.
It's no surprise that all the kits on test here today passed with flying colours, and with only a degree or two separating them across the board even when comparing high and low settings we get a bit of a hint that they have barely begun to stretch their legs.
Turning now to the 4GHz test we up the voltage to 1.25 volts, this is what is deemed normally as stock volts. Something we are always harping on about on the forums is AUTO does not mean stock volts, and normally if you overclocking with "auto" volts the motherboard will be upping the volts much more than needed if you were to do it manually. By whichever means it happens, upping the volts (especially from our 1.1v undervolt) does have a big impact on temps, with an average increase of 10-15 degrees seen in the results.
The 4GHz test sees the differences between the 7 volt and 12 volts temps star to widen across the test group, but again the comparative figures from one manufactures temps to another remains slight.
Upping the volts still further we achieve a stable 4.4GHz overclock at 1.35 Volts. It's here we start to separate the wheat from the chaff, with lesser coolers not able to disperse the increased heat effectively. Again we see a jump of 10 degrees or so from the figures at 4GHz. Both the H100 and the well-respected D14 are creeping into the 70s here, indicating that only the cream of the crop will excel at this level.
All the coolers on test are now into the low 40s at 12 volts and mid 40's at 7 volts, but again there is little to choose between them with only a degree separating the four at 12 volts and 2.5 degrees at 7 volts.
Finally our 4.6GHz test. Don't be fooled, this is an extreme test and the graph reflects this, you will only see the very best featured in this graph.
If we really want to measure outright performance, this is where we do it, and a quick glance will tell you that at 12 volts the ALphaCool NexXxoS wins by a few fractions of a degree from the EKWB and Phobya systems, with the XSPC kit some way behind. Dropping the fans down to 7 volts and this time the thicker radiator of the Phobya kit causes it to take the Laurels with the other three coming close together a few degrees behind.
Testing With Noctua NF-F12 fans
As both the fan speed and radiator characteristics can greatly affect the cooling performance of a given system, we thought we'd undertake a further test to help better define the radiator performance of each kit. We've done this by swapping out the kit fans for a set of Noctua NF-F12s, which are, it has to be said, one of the best regarded fans on the market.
So did swapping the fans change the results? Across the board temps were 3-4 degrees lower with the Noctuas than with the kit fans at 12 volts, with the variance being even less when things were stepped down to 7 volts. The Phobya though actually performed better with its own fans at 7 volts and about the same at 12 volts. The winner here though was EKWB, taking the crown from AlphaCool at 12 volts and pretty much sharing it at 7 volts. What is surprising is that the Phobya, with a rad almost twice as thick as the EK couldn't better it. Just goes to show that bigger isn't always better.
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.
Thanks to the boys at SpecialTech for sorting us out with all of the kits on test today, you can discuss your thoughts and ask for advise about any aspect of your system in the OC3D Forums.