AMA Aragon 900 Water Cooling Kit Review

Zertz - 2009-02-12 15:53:37 in Cooling
Category: Cooling
Reviewed by: Zertz   
Reviewed on: March 22, 2009
Price: $210

Introduction

Due to the pace at which hardware evolves, just about every part in an enthusiast system tends to quickly become somewhat outdated or under performing compared to what has just been released. As you are most likely aware, it's simply impossible to keep up with the latest and greatest technologies. However, once you do decide to upgrade a part, there's something that must always be kept in mind - cooling. Chances are, that brand new processor or video card isn't only faster, but also more power hungry and requires serious cooling in order to get those sky-high overclocks. Fortunately, many solutions exist and there's a plethora of companies that design and manufacture various models. When it comes to air cooling, some cool better than others, much better in fact. The amount of heatpipes or the cooler's sheer size differentiates the best from the others. However, water cooling isn't as easy to figure out, as the whole cooling process is going on under the hood making it hard to evaluate prior to buying.

Water cooling kits, unlike custom builds, have a reputation of including a bunch of low end components. AMA Precision is a company unknown to me until now, but they apparently are ASUS' thermal solutions design firm, so they aren't a newcomer in the cooling department. What we have here today, is a kit they call Aragon 900, which includes a processor block, 240mm radiator, pump and a reservoir. They claim "ultimate cooling performance for Core i7" and support for "extreme overclocking". This is no small claim, since i7 is capable or outputting impressive power under load, especially when it's overclocked. But I disgress - let's see for ourselves if AMA's latest cooling solution lives up to the hype.

 

Closer Look

 

AMA ships the Aragon 900 in a rather unique looking box. I'm personally not a huge fan of dragons and the whole medieval theme, but I'm sure some will like it. Looks aside, the kit comes into a solid cardboard box with a small windows giving you peek at the radiator's fan grill. Both the front and back of the packaging don't say much about the product beside the model name and a catchy phrase. One side is a lot more technically rich, displaying information on the components specifications while the other side makes some bold claims. Most notably, dual video card is definitely stretching it, but the kit can apparently be extended to cool up to 230W worth of components.

 

 

 

Inside the box lies yet another box along with protective foam which houses the main components of the water cooling loop. The radiator, along with both of it's 120mm fans, lies above the processor's cooling block, the pump and the reservoir. Ironically enough, as you can see on the pictures below, the accessory box was victim of a leak of some sort. At first I thought it might have been a leak from the coolant bottle, but, fortunately, it was full and it wasn't showing any signs of leaking. All you need is in there, so no need to go searching for anything except a couple of tools.

 

 

Let's have a closer look at the contents.

Closer Look

AMA includes all the hardware you need to get going without too much trouble. There's an undisclosed length of 3/8 inch diameter unnamed tubing of seemingly good quality. The clear blue coolant consists of 72% water, 25% ethylene glycol and the last 3% is various additives including anti-freeze, anti-corrosive, anti-rust, anti-foamer and anti-UV. The user guide is detailed enough and pictures make it easy to follow. Just make sure you don't skip a step or skim through one too fast, or you might end up having to start over. Planning is a huge part of setting up water cooling loop. In the black box are mounting systems for Intel's LGA775 and LGA 1366, as well as AMD's AM2, AM2+, AM3 and socket 1207 for those few owners of their dual socket platform.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AMD owners get a mounting mechanism similar to the one used on the stock heatsink. Each of the brackets attach to a side of the socket and you simply have to flip handle down and the whole thing will tighten itself. Both Intel mounting systems are quite similar, the main difference obviously being their size. They use a backplate with spring loaded screws.  The installation part of this review has more details on their functionality and ease of use. Alongside this hardware is a tiny funnel, thermal paste, 4 pin extension cord and PCI bracket to route the tubes. Those two black pieces of aluminum are used as a base to hold the radiator on its side. Finally, AMA bundles just enough barbs and clamps for their kit, so it's important not to lose any.

 

 

Here's the main cooling hardware. This kit includes the basics to get started with water cooling, so there is a 240mm radiator equipped with two PWM fans which sport blue LEDs. The pump is Laing's widely used DDC design, powered using a standard Molex 12V rail and it also has a 3 pin fan header to monitor its rotation speed. The water input and output are indicated by an arrow pointing in the respective direction. Under it is a thick layer of noise dampening foam with a sticky surface, so it can easily stay into place. The reservoir is a bit fancy for my tastes and it seems like its good looking appearance might hinder its functionality.

 

 

 

The radiator is nothing less you would expect from one - it's just high enough to fit a pair of 120mm fans which each have a fan grill to keep them safe from various objects, including reckless fingers. Their simple, yet efficient, design shouldn't influence air flow too much.

 

 

Lastly, the processor's cooling block. The suggested input and output are indicated by "in" and "out" right beside the nozzle. The top is made out of plastic while the mounting system is lucky enough to get aluminum. The block itself is made of copper and the surface is flat, reflective and doesn't show any machining marks.

 

 

Now that we know what we're dealing with, let's get it installed.

Installation

Firstly, before going too far into the installation, remember that component layout will vary on a case-by-case basis, although the basics remain true. Secondly, it's important to take your time when setting up a water-cooled loop, because once you've started to cut tubing, you can't easily go back. As usual, measure twice, cut once. Also, keep in mind that tubing does not bend indefinitely and sharp turns will kink it, or at least hinder flow.

Now that I have the very basics covered, it's time to get this AMA kit installed. I started by installing the processor cooling block which is pretty much identical as air cooling as far as mounting goes. The block uses a backplate, so you will need the motherboard out of the case to proceed. All four small, flat headed screws have to be screwed into the the aluminum plates used to keep the block into place. Then, with the backplate lined up with the socket, drop the block into place and insert both plates onto the block and lightly screw every corner. Once all four are in, tighten them up as equally as possible for optimal cooling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Proceed with the installation of barbs on the block, reservoir and radiator. The process is pretty straightforward, just tighten them using a 5/8 wrench, but not too tight, so not to break the threads and rubber sealing ring. Once you've done that, it's finally time to move on to the fun part.

 

Before inserting tubing on a barb, it's important not to forget to slide a clamp in first, especially when one side is already clamped into place. Tubing can be quite a tight fit, so use warm water to help stretch it just a bit, but enough to make it less of a pain to install. Once the tube is fully inserted onto the barb, slide the clamp in and tighten it. Beside the length, which will obviously vary, the very same steps have to be followed for the rest of the components.

 

 

 

Once everything is wired up, it's time to fill it up. AMA provides a solution composed of various liquids. Running the pump without water in it isn't exactly good, so, when filling for the first time, it's important to have the reservoir higher or at least level with the pump. To achieve that, I temporarily removed the second hard drive bay on which the pump is resting and put it back after the loop was filled. Simply fill the reservoir, get some liquid to flow into the pump and power it for a couple seconds to get some water into the loop. Make sure you don't completely empty the reservoir, else the pump will start sucking air and that's something you don't want. So simply refill until the loop is full. It's possible some bubbles will have gotten stuck somewhere, which will cause additional noise for the first couple minutes or so.

Finally, you can turn the system up and hope for the best, which, clearly, isn't a good idea, or use a spare power supply to power the pump alone. I let it run from another system's power supply for a couple hours in order to ensure there wasn't any leaks and, luckily enough, there wasn't.

Here's a shot of the final product installed into a Thermaltake Armor, which is a full tower. I installed the radiator like AMA suggests, outside and held on its side by the aluminum feet they provide. In order to keep the pump and reservoir inside the case, I had to sacrifice one of the bottom hard drive bays - there was simply no other place to put that reservoir without interfering with one thing or another. On a brighter note, the fans light up blue when powered on.

 

 

With the setup into place, let's see how AMA's water cooling fares.

Specifications:

Water Block  
Dimension 61.56(L)x62.8(W)x26.7(H) mm
Material Copper with protective plastic top cover
Pump  
Dimension 88(L)x88(W)x48(H) mm
Flow Rate 360 L/hr
Rated Voltage DC 12V
Connector 4-pin power supply connector
Tank  
Dimension 60(O)x152(H) mm
Material POM
Capacity 178 c.c.
Radiator  
Dimension 275(L)x68(W)x120(H) mm
Material Copper
Fan Dimension 120x120x25mm (dual fan)
Max. Fan Speed 1,900 rpm with PWM function
Acoustic at normal operation 21,9 dBA
Fan Connector 4 pin with PWM function
Coolant  
Capacity 500 c.c.
Main Material Ethylene Glycol
Ingredient  
Tube  
Dimension O 9.5mm(ID)xO 12.5mm(OD)
Material PU
CPU Support  
Intel

Intel Core i7 (LGA1366)

Intel Core 2 Extreme (LGA775)

Intel Core 2 Quad / Core 2 Duo (LGA775)

Intel Pentium processor family (LGA775)

AMD

AMD Phenom FX/X3/X4 (Socket 1207/AM2+)

AMD Athlon 64 FX/X2 (Socket AM2/AM2+)

AMD Athlon X2 (Socket AM2/AM2+)

 

Features:

 

 

All information courtesy of AMA

Testing

In order to test the ability of AMA's Aragon 900 to cool a processor, I will monitor the processor's temperature over time at idle and under load. Temperatures will be gathered into four different conditions. The first test is going to be performed at idle at stock settings, which will have minimal CPU usage. During the next test, the processor will still be at stock settings, but at full load this time. I will then undergo the same testing, but with the processor overclocked. To monitor the i7's temperature, I will be using the latest version of RealTemp. In order to make sure I am really stressing the processor as much as possible, I will be using Prime95 25.7, which has the ability to achieve 100% load on eight threads. I will be using the Large FFT's test for an hour to ensure I am hitting maximum temperature. The settings used during the overclocked tests are going to make the i7 processor run 25% higher than stock speeds, which ends up at 3.33 GHz using a 166 MHz BCLK and the 20x multiplier. The processor's core voltage will be set to 1.25V. With these settings, the i7 will be dissipating an impressive amount of power. Let's see how AMA's Aragon 900 will handle the load of Intel's latest quad cores.

 

Testing Setup:

 

Settings:

 

Comparison Heatsinks:

 

 

At stock settings, under both idle and load conditions, AMA's water cooling kit is able to hang out not only with the top end air coolers, but also the custom water cooling loop built out of high end components. Temperatures aren't exactly impressive, but water, just like air, has it's cooling power limited by ambient temperature. So under relatively light loads, there isn't much gain to be had. The same trend continues under load, where AMA's cooler outperforms the rest of its competitors. Once overclocked and at idle, all four unsurprisingly keep the processor around the same temperature. However, results get scrambled up once under load. AMA's kit can't quite keep up with the custom loop, although it does come ahead of Noctua's flagship air cooled heatsink and equals the performance of Thermalright's.

Conclusion

Water cooling may not be for everyone, but the Aragon 900 from AMA surely gives anyone with little knowledge in the matter, the opportunity to take the plunge. All you need is offered in one package, from the pump, radiator, processor cooling block and reservoir to the small, but essential accessories. They also provide the liquid to fill the system, with all the relevant protection required for the fluid. Don't expect any extras though, as they supply just enough barbs and clamps to get up and running and the box will be empty once you're done building. I had some liquid left after the initial installation, but not nearly enough for a second refill. However, you can easily recuperate and reuse it. Fortunately, AMA includes plenty of tubing to get the job done. I installed the kit in two different full tower cases, which required changing two segments and there's still about three feet of untouched tubing left.

While the whole installation is certainly lengthier than traditional cooling, as long as the steps are correctly followed, it really isn't that complicated. It's just a matter of planning, measuring, measuring once more and then cutting. The manual does a pretty good job at explaining everything although some coloring would've been appreciated. The mounting system works well, as the use of a backplate along with spring loaded screws makes a solid mount. Also, since water blocks are small, they aren't nearly as awkward to install. Core i7's mounting kit is identical in functionality to Core 2, except that the 775 mounting plate comes in one piece, while the one for the larger 1366 socket is in two pieces. It saves them a couple inches worth of aluminum, but makes installation a bit harder for the user. Far from killing the deal, but a minor annoyance nonetheless. Something the kit lacks is some way to mount the radiator off the ground, which I found rather disappointing. The provided feet work, but they aren't nearly as convenient as other solutions.

Performance offered by this entry level kit is pretty decent, especially at stock settings where it manages to beat all the other coolers. The kit had a little trouble keeping up with the higher end water cooling under the load of an overclocked processor, although, as you would expect from water cooling, it stayed ahead of air cooled heatsinks. AMA has chosen components which are far from low end. In fact, the block is a rebranded D-TEK Fuzion with a different mounting kit. The pump is also a well known player, the Laing DDC also sold by Swiftech as the MCP350. The radiator is similar to others on the market, but there aren't that many ways to design one. Of course, it doesn't share everything with its competitors - the reservoir is unique to them and certainly looks better than most others. However, I'm not so keen on trading functionality for looks. The circular shape and its height makes it painful to find a good spot without sacrificing too much. It can be installed outside, but I don't think that's a practical configuration, especially with the radiator already sitting on the ground. I didn't want to have something else out there and a lot will most likely agree with me. Obviously, this is all takes a lot more space than a standard heatsink, so anything less than a full tower will have trouble fitting more than the block and pump inside the case.

Once all the bubbles have made their way out, all you can hear is the slight buzzing of the pump. The fans, equipped with shiny blue LEDs, are PWM controlled to keep the noise down and will automatically have their rotational speed adjusted assuming the BIOS is configured as such. At no time did the fans make enough noise to be noticeable. This is definitely an advantage compared to air cooling, where you often have to sacrifice noise for performance. The retail units will actually use a potentiometer instead of this PWM control so you will be able to set the fan's speed exactly like you wish. This will allow you to go for silence or crank the speed up for an overclocking session.

Overall, the Aragon 900 is a decent kit. It's perfect to get your feet wet, but this is not quite for those looking for top end performance. At a MSRP of $210, it really isn't overpriced considering the bundled components. Buying them online individually will end up costing about the same, if not more once you start adding up fans, tubing, barbs and clamps. Water cooling is definitely an interesting venture, so it all comes down whether you're willing to spend the money for this kit to shave off a few degrees or stick with a traditional heatsink.

Update: An issue has been found out with the PWM controller AMA is using for both of the radiator's fans causing them to ramp up speed at a much higher temperature then intended. This limited the kit's performance so the retail kit will use a potentiometer instead to control the fan's speed. Results in the review have been updated to reflect this design change. They should be considered as near maximum fan speed results which is clearly noisier then the minimum speed at which the original testing was done, although it is tolerable.

 

Pros

 

Cons