Corsair Hydro Series H100 Review

ccokeman - 2011-08-17 19:02:34 in CPU Cooling
Category: CPU Cooling
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: September 15, 2011
Price: $119

Introduction:

Corsair's Hydro Series self-contained liquid cooling solutions have hit the mark and filled a void in the market. While the Corsair Hydro Series was not the first to market, it has easily gained the most traction with consumers due to the marketing and the Corsair brand identity. CooliT and Asetek have been there and have actually partnered with Corsair on the Hydro Series build-ups — Asetek on the H50 and H70, with CooliT on the H60, H80 and now H100. The Hydro Series H50 and H70 were the first of the series, offering the consumer significant improvements over the stock cooling solutions from both AMD and Intel. Even though fully capable of handling mild overclocks, the popularity of the Hydro series needed to address the user looking for a bit more. Not everyone has the ability to handle the financial commitment or confidence to build a custom liquid cooling system, but just about anyone can handle the lower financials of the Hydro series and can install a pre-built, pre-filled liquid cooling solution. The popularity of this kind of solution proves this, as enthusiasts are always looking for a better mousetrap when it comes to cooling performance and overclocking. Coming in at around $120, the H100 is not by any stretch of the imagination low buck, but with a 240mm radiator the costs will be there. Each generation and iteration of the Hydro Series seems to improve cooling performance, so let's see if the H100 will follow this trend and deliver best-in-class performance.

Closer Look:

The illustrations on the front panel of the packaging show a close-up view of the CooliT-designed pump assembly mounted into position on a motherboard to give you a representation of how it will look installed in a system. The H100 logo is prominently displayed on the bottom right-hand section, so there is no mistaking which of Corsair's Hydro Series cooling solutions is in the package. CPU socket compatibility is listed, including all current sockets for AMD and Intel up to Socket 2011. A picture of the Corsair Hydro Series H100 is at the bottom left side of the front panel with a reference to Corsair Link Digital technology. The back panel explains the benefits of the H100 over air coolers and shows a graph illustrating the relative cooling performance on the Hydro series H60, H80, H100, and a stock cooling solution run on an Intel Core i7 920 at 3.8GHz. The red coloring, as one might assume, indicates a failure with the stock cooling solution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the package, the Hydro Series H100 cooling system and all the included hardware are kept secured in a foam-covered, formed cardboard tray. Once pulled out of the box, the H100 and accessories look to present a substantial package.

 

 

The bundled accessories that come with the Hydro Series H100 include an install guide/user's manual, a note not to take the H100 back to the point of purchase, the AMD and Intel mounting hardware, and the common parts used in all applications, such as the thumb screws, fan and radiator mounting screws and washers, and last but not least, the 3-pin cable extension. The AMD-specific hardware allows the Hydro Series H100 to mount to motherboards with AM2/AM3 sockets. The Intel hardware supports sockets 775,155,1156,1366, and the upcoming socket 2011, allowing an upgrade path if you have older supported hardware.

 

 

 

As has been the case in the past with the Hydro Series cooling systems, Corsair has put together an all inclusive package. The key here is what are the challenges to installation and just how will it perform compared to past products?

Closer Look:

Once out of the box, the difference between the earlier Hydro Series coolers and the H100 stand out like a thumb smacked with a hammer. The larger 240mm radiator is the major point of difference between the H60/80. Add in the completely redesigned pump assembly and the differences are huge when compared to the H50/70. The pump/coldplate assembly is now designed by CoolIT instead of Asetek and employs a new micro-channel design to the coldplate. The use of a 240mm radiator means that there will be some installation challenges if your chassis does not have the ability to support a such a large radiator.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The radiator is the same size a standard 240mm form factor and is constructed from aluminum instead of copper. Why aluminum? It sheds heat faster than copper and is lighter to boot. That brings up some concerns about galvanic corrosion between the aluminum radiator and copper coldplate, but Corsair and its partner CoolIT use a proprietary coolant mixture that prohibits algae growth and inhibits corrosion. If it is still a concern, the five year warranty on the H100 should pretty much close that gap. In five years it will be upgrade time with new hardware and new cooling designs anyhow. The tubing connecting the pump to the radiator are corrugated and made of FEP (Fluorinated Ethylene Propylene). This tubing is used to minimize any evaporation of the coolant mixture and is secured to both the pump and radiator with what appears to be shrink tubing. I have yet to see this design leak or blow off during use, so the mounting mechanism seems to be secure.

 

 

 

The heart of the Hydro Series H100 is the unique pump/coldplate combo. This combo is the same one that has proven successful on the Hydro Series H60, then the H80, and now on the H100. The low-profile, advanced cooling block incorporates a split-manifold design to pump the liquid through the internal micro-channel copper base that sits over the warmest part of the processor, then out through the sides and into the radiator for the most efficient cooling possible. On top of the pump is a push-button switch to choose between three distinct cooling profiles: Quiet, Balanced, and Performance. Each profile adjusts the fan speed between the low and high limits based on the coolant temperature in the cooling loop. Quiet is the lowest profile and adjusts the fan speed between 900 and 1300RPM. Balanced ramps the speed up a little higher at 1300 to 2000RPM, while Performance toggles between 1600 and 2500RPM. The indicator lamps light up progressively to indicate which profile is in operation. There is no need to supply a thermal paste with the Hydro Series H100, as it is applied from the factory and does a great job of transferring the thermal load through to the micro-channel block. Attaching the pump to the board is accomplished by using the supplied mounting system. A positive stop system is used so you get a good solid mount every time without guess work. Not that the H100 will continually be removed and remounted, but with all the processors on the horizon, the need for an upgrade may dictate a reinstall.

 

 

The top of the block is not the only part that has some functionality. Looking at all four sides, three of the four have something worth looking at. The top side has the interface point for the fans. There a total of four 3-pin headers to control four fans when used on the radiator or for that matter you could get creative with the chassis fans and have them controlled by the pump assembly. That being said, getting them all inserted could pose a challenge in a tight case. The FEP tubing connects to a pair of 90 degree swivel fittings that eliminate any orientation problems due to the stiff tubing. Moving to this design was one of the best things Corsair did to improve this line-up back on the Hydro Series H70. Opposite the fan headers is a small port for use with Corsair's Link Commander, a hardware and software controller to allow for more granular control of the H100's operating characteristics. Power is supplied to the H100 through a 4-pin Molex connection in lieu of using a 3-pin connection to the motherboard. An RPM monitor wire is used to prevent a no-CPU fan error at boot up.

 

 

 

Much like past iterations of Corsair's Hydro Series cooling solutions, there really is not much information on the fans. They are 120x25mm in size and operate between 900 and 2500RPM and push between 46 and 92CFM based on the speed of the fan. Static pressure rises from 1.6 - 7.7mm/H20 with the associated fan noise operating between 22 and 39dBA. I found in my testing that it takes a thermal load higher than the overclocked testing to get the maximum CFM out of the fans when controlled by the pump assembly. Using a Kestral 4100 to measure airflow, I found that airflow would max out at about 10CFM less than the 92CFM rating unless the voltage was jacked up to drive the thermal loading higher for a net zero improvement.

 

Installation of the Hydro Series H100 into a chassis is going to require that you have a chassis that can accommodate a 240mm radiator within reach of the FEP tubing attached between the low-profile pump and the radiator. Most likely that is going to mean using one of the latest generation of cases out on the market or being handy with some power tools to make it happen. A little modding is always fun! My test chassis is one of Corsair's own and can accommodate the 240mm radiator used on the H100. To fit the H100 into place, I had to mount the fans above the chassis in the alcove provided on the case. The screws holding the fans on also mounted the radiator to the chassis. Mounting the pump assembly on an Intel-based system is no harder than attaching the backplate with the provided studs that are application specific, setting the pump assembly down over the studs and tightening the four thumbscrews in a cross-ways pattern until they bottom out. Simple, effective, and no mistakes, ensuring that the pressure on the CPU is the same every time.

 

 

 

With Corsair's latest cooling solution mounted up and ready to go, it's time to see if adding surface area has indeed made for a better cooling solution.

Specifications:

Radiator dimensions
122mm x 275mm x 27mm
Fan dimensions:
120mm x 120mm x 25mm
Fan speeds (+/- 10%):
up to 1300 RPM (Low Noise)
2000 RPM (Balanced)
2500 RPM (High Performance)
Fan airflow:
46 - 92 CFM
Fan dBA:
22 - 39
Fan static pressure:
1.6 - 7.7mm/H20
Warranty
Five years
Cold Plate Material
Copper
Fan Specification
120mm (x2)
Socket Support
AMD AM2, AMD AM3, Intel LGA 1155, Intel LGA 1156, Intel LGA 1366, Intel LGA 2011, Intel LGA 775
Radiator Material
Aluminum
Tubing
Low-permeability for near-zero evaporation
Compatibility
Hydro Series H100 requires a case with 240mm radiator support

 

Features:

Package contents




All information courtesy of Corsair @ http://www.corsair.com/cooling/hydro-series/hydro-series-h80-high-performance-liquid-cpu-cooler.html

Testing:

To gauge the performance of Corsair's top-of-the-food-chain Hydro Series H100, I will be making a comparison of the temperatures at idle and under load. Both will be made while the CPU is at the stock voltages and clock speeds, as well as when the CPU is overclocked and 'over-volted'. This will help to show what kind of cooling performance that this all-in-one liquid cooling system has to offer when compared to other Socket 1366-compatible high-performance cooling solutions. These heat sinks and liquid cooled solutions will be tested head-to-head as they are delivered from the manufacturer. I could throw in a bunch of testing variables, but it is not what the products are capable of "as delivered". To test the idle temperatures, I will allow the computer to stay idle for 30 minutes and take the idle temperature at this point. For the load testing, I will use Prime95 version 26.5 and choose the blend testing and allow the processor and memory controller to heat up to the maximum temperatures. The time frame is a four-hour run, to allow the temperature to peak — usually in the 14K test. I will use Real Temp 3.6 to take the high and low temperatures and average the temperatures generated over the four cores as my reported temperatures.

Testing Setup:


Comparison Heat sinks:

 

 

 

   

   

 

 

Much like the Hydro Series H80, the H100 steps further up the performance ladder than its predecessors and offers the best cooling of any self-contained liquid cooling solution I have tested to date. Under load at stock speeds, the Corsair Hydro Series H100 was the equal of the NH-D14 when run on high. Temperatures rose slightly as the airflow through the radiator was reduced, as expected. The larger surface area of the radiator increases load capacity enough to drop the temperatures under load without really impacting the idle numbers, as the fans are cycled down by the controller in the pump as the thermal load is reduced. Additional load testing was done to see if the H100 could deliver a Prime 95 stable 4.2GHz using 1.4v. This test puts a decidedly harsher load on the Hydro Series H100 and the system with the immense thermal load dumped into the chassis. My test CPU is good for 4.2GHz stability at less than 77 degrees Celsius under load. The H100 kept the CPU just below this threshold during the extended testing and is really the kind of load needed to get the most from the controller and fans on the H100. This same experience was noted in the Corsair Hydro Series H80 testing. How the fan speeds are controlled is really a function of the three controller presets and how the load is interpreted, leading me to believe a 100% fan speed at all times would lead to lower temperatures across the board.

Conclusion:

The Corsair Hydro Series H100 has proved to be the best performing self-contained liquid cooling solution I have tested. In fact, it's the best performing solution I have tested so far, aside from a custom water loop. This of course falls entirely into another cost and cooling spectrum, as putting together this kind of performance does come with a price tag that currently is right around $120. Where the H100 pulls ahead of its predecessors, specifically the H80, is in the increased surface area of the radiator that drives the cooling performance. With the same pump and controller on both the H80 and H100, the liquid flow rates and coldplate are going to deliver identical performance and the fans will move the same amount of airflow at a given thermal load. As such, the radiator capacity is what sets this cooling solution above the H80 and earlier H70. Needless to say, the performance speaks for itself and is easily a competitor for your cooling dollar. The performance can be tailored to the individual's needs with three distinct performance levels. Quiet, Balanced, and Performance mode, where all bets are off. Performance of course is the mode that delivers the lowest temperatures based on the highest fan speed setting. The fan speeds set by the pump and controller dictate the cooling level. The fan speeds are easily controlled by pushing a button on the pump head. The fans used on the H100 are the same as those used on the H80 that I recently looked at. As such, the H100 suffers from the same noise problems as the H80. Running at up to 2500RPM in Performance mode, the fans are rated for between 22 and 39dBA. 39dBA is loud enough to let you know that they are there. Fan noise can be attenuated somewhat with the installation location of the fans and whether they push in or pull out. Installed in the recommended orientation, pushing external air into the chassis, the H100 dumps the thermal load into the chassis raising the operating temperatures of the GPU, memory, and drives mounted inside. A simple fix is to flip the fans and take the small temperature penalty on the CPU to benefit the whole system.

Installation of the Hydro Series H100 is going to require a chassis that has support for a 240mm radiator or at least some modding of the chassis to make it fit. The length of the non-permeable tubing is the limiting factor in where it can be installed. In the Corsair 600T, or my previous CoolerMaster HAF 932, the top panel of the chassis was the only real location that could be used. As long as your chassis is compatible, the H100 is a great option but lacks the installation flexibility of the single 120mm-based H80. Mounting the pump assembly is a breeze. The mounting system used to hold the pump assembly in place is very solid and its design provides a repeatable mount each and every time. The pump and controller have the ability to control up to four fans. Adding two more fans to the radiator should help move more airflow, resulting in a small additional temperature drop or a way to reduce the noise by running the additional fans at a lower speed — something your ears will thank you for. Corsair's Link technology is supported and will allow for added flexibility in how the H100 can be controlled. So how do you wrap all this up in a nutshell? As an upgrade from stock cooling, it is light years ahead in cooling performance. As an upgrade from high-end air cooling, the temperature deltas are a bit less extreme, but still more than enough to make a switch. Corsair has continued to refine the Hydro Series and produce a product that delivers respectable performance in an easy to integrate package that comes with a great warranty. Corsair has continued to make liquid cooling easy for the masses.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: