Cooler Master, DEEPCOOL, Noctua, and Thermaltake CPU Cooler RoundupWaco -
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Closer Look (Thermaltake Water 2.0 Extreme)
The Thermaltake Water 2.0 Extreme is the final (and largest) cooler being tested. Being the only self-contained water-cooling unit in the group, it has both an unfair advantage (in cooling performance) and a built-in disadvantage (in cost and case compatibility). Breaking open the box reveals a recycled cardboard carrier with all of the good parts tucked safely away in their own little compartments. Pulling everything out of the carrier reveals the pump and radiator assembly, the mounting brackets and hardware, a driver disc, and the twin 120x25mm PWM fans. Each fan is rated for 1200-2000 RPM operation and can move up to 81 CFM at full speed. At full speed these fans aren't going to be very quiet, but should move a massive amount of air!
Freed of its packaging, the radiator makes its presence known. This is a dual 120mm radiator with a 25mm core (although it is 38mm thick overall) and it is attached to the pump via very flexible rubber hoses. The radiator core is crammed full of very dense aluminum fins which don't bode well for quiet operation (increased density usually requires high speed fans to effectively move air), although the bundled software breathes some life into the notion that this can be a quiet cooler.
The heart of the Water 2.0 Extreme is the Water 2.0 pump and water block combination. Rated to run at 2800 RPM at full speed, it is designed specifically to extract heat from your power-hungry overclocked CPU as fast as possible with the minimum amount of noise. Interestingly enough, it has an integrated fan controller and can adjust both pump speed and fan speed via an attached USB internal header connection. The water block itself is machined from copper to maximize heat extraction into the cooling fluid. Straight from the box the pump is quite bare, but installing the appropriate CPU bracket is quite straightforward. The required bracket essentially snaps into place and then requires you to build the hold down screws on each corner. The manual helps this process along nicely, although it is possible to figure out without resorting to any reading.
The back plate is simple to put together for the appropriate socket size although it does have a bit of a drawback. The small nuts that fit into the back plate don't stick through the board very far at all and require some dexterity to hold into place, while securing the pump in place. Thankfully, Thermaltake has used nice thumb screws on the hold down bracket, which makes this a lot less painful that it could have been. The huge bonus to this type of design (and for almost all self-contained water cooling systems) is that you have zero chance of interference between the cooler and your motherboard components or RAM sticks, no matter how crazy they are.
All bolted up to the board, the only real complaint I can muster is that the cabling is a bit hard to hide. The USB 2.0 header along with the two 4-pin PWM fan connectors are quite bulky and hard to route. The power connection to the pump itself is appropriately long, but not annoyingly so. The real rub here is that you must have a case that can not only mount dual 120mm fans side-by-side, but also be able to accommodate the 38mm radiator plus the 25mm depth of the fans, without interfering with any other components. In many cases (ha, get it?) the Water 2.0 Extreme simply has nowhere to fit, although the OCC testbed has no issues housing such a beast.
Unlike the other coolers in the roundup, the Water 2.0 Extreme comes with its very own software package to tailor the system to your tastes. With the USB 2.0 header plugged in and the driver installed, you are greeted by a sleek black interface that allows you to control every aspect of the Water 2.0 pump and fans. The top-right features a small selector with three settings: Extreme, Silent, and Custom. Extreme runs everything at maximum speed, Silent spins the fans down to keep them quiet, and Custom allows you to set the fans to ramp up based on a fan curve you define.
As mentioned above, you can set a custom fan ramp that is based on the liquid temperature measured by the pump. You can have the fans run at minimum speed (which is quiet silent), until a given RPM then smoothly ramp up to full speed based, on a given coolant temperature. Also included on the Fan Control tab is the ability to have the software notify you when fan speeds or coolant temperatures exceed certain values. The Graphs tab takes the measurements seen on the Dashboard and displays them over time on a pair of graphs. The update rate can be set along with the startup configuration on the Settings tab. There is a second skin for the application as well (it's blue-themed), but the effect is fairly subtle and I doubt anyone will really spend time staring at the interface anyway.