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Alphacool Eisbaer 240 CPU Cooler Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
It wasn’t all that long ago that large dual bay closed loop "All In One" CPU coolers were the cutting edge of mainstream technology. These loops combined unmatched ease of use with performance that was beyond all but what the best air based coolers could offer. Of course many water cooling enthusiasts scoffed at these sealed units as they were not upgradeable, couldn’t provide performance that was close to custom loops and the only customization you could do to them was change the fans. These internet pundits simply considered them a fad. Others considered them to be an excellent gateway drug for mainstream consumers, and assumed that once people got a taste of what water could accomplish they would quickly outgrow the AIOs and move on to the One True Cooling Solution: full custom water loops.

Neither of these extremes has come to pass. Instead many users have grown to love the ease of use that AIO's offer, and while they would like to get even better cooling they aren’t willing to part ways with all that plug and play simplicity. It should come as no surprise that the invisible hand of the market would see this opportunity and create devices that correct this perceived limitation. The end result is the Customizable Loop All-In-One Cooler which boasts both ease of use and expandability, as well as potentially increased cooling performance.

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Last year we took a look one such example of this next generation AIO -the EKWB Predator 240- and walked away very impressed. However, that model is not what we would call novice friendly as it did sacrifice some ease of use in order to gain its incredible performance. The latest entry into this budding field is the AlphaCool Eisbaer 240 and on the surface this model has a lot going for it.

Another interesting aspect here is the Eisbaer’s price. At just $130 it is well below the cost of competing semi-custom solutions and actually aligns well with some more simple Asetek-based AIOs from the likes of Corsair, Cooler Master and others.


First and foremost, AlphaCool may have only been founded in 2011 but in this short time they quickly have gained
an excellent reputation for making products that have (in)famous 'classical' German aesthetics but also classic German engineering. This however is only the tip of the iceberg and the Eisbaer 240 is not simply another 'me too' product meant to expand their budding product portfolio. Instead it’s a uniquely different water cooling device that certainly won’t be accused of being just another Asetek clone.


Much like the typical closed loop cooling solution, the Eisbaer boasts a dual 120mm bay radiator, comes with two fairly decent 'Eiswind' ('IceWind') stock fans running at up to 1700RPM at 1.66mm² of pressure, and a custom waterblock/reservoir combination. That’s about all it shares in common with Closed Loop Cooler series such as the Corsair Hydro, NZXT Kraken, and a host of others.

While AlphaCool did indeed make ease of use and ease of installation a priority, they also made performance a major target. After all, 'Eisbaer' (pronounced ice-bear) literally translates to 'Polar Bear' and just like the apex-predator it is named for, this new CPU cooling solution is meant to devour the competition.


The AlphaCool Eisbaer doesn’t use a typical aluminum radiator and instead utilizes an AlphaCool NexXxoS based copper core design that has been painted jet-black to give it a lower profile appearance. As you can see in some of the pictures you can still see a copper sheen on the cooling fins as only the top edge of the fins has been painted.

This radiator alone promises to boost performance well into the stratosphere as versions of it have powered many custom water loops on the other side of the pond. AlphaCool has also built in proper shrouds that not only remove the dead-zone in front of each fan’s fan's motor hub, but also evens out the air being pushed through the radiator. This combination is supposed to reduce static pressure requirements, allows for lower rotational speed fans to be used, reduces noise, and can even boost overall performance. This truly is an enthusiasts-grade standard thickness radiator that would be right at home in a custom water loop.


The only minor issue is that it is a standard thickness radiator (with the shrouds on both sides it is 30mm thick) so this will put it a distinct disadvantage compared to the aforementioned EKWB Predator, and potentially even dual 140mm closed loop AIOs which make up for inefficiency with brute force quantity. However, on the flip side of that equation this design does allow for broader compatibility.


Moving on to the tubing, this may not be the first All In One cooler we have seen to use anti-kink exterior coils to reinforce the tubing, but the Eisbaer 240 is indeed the first AIO we have seen use these over colored enthusiast grade tubing. That’s right, this isn’t the usual automotive radiator PVC hose that most off the shelf AIOs use. Instead this is AlphaCool 's own 11mm (OD) AlphaTube HF PVC tubing that has quickly made a name for itself for both its tight bend radius and its UV-stability.

It is unfortunate that AlphaCool didn’t opt for clear, and rather their black colored iteration, as that would have made air burping the loop a lot easier. Nonetheless, the black looks quite good.


On the positive side, the waterblock reservoir does have a large window so finding and removing air bubbles via the 'fill' port is a snap. As such we recommend running this unit outside your case for a few moments while paying close attention to the reservoir window. If you see any air bubbles – which you may as ours came with a rather large one – you can then compensate accordingly. Once again this is an advanced feature that is rarely seen in the AIO marketplace. Brilliant stuff!


To ensure as much heat is transferred from the CPU IHS to the coolant inside this unit, AlphaCool has polished the all copper base of the waterblock to a literal mirror-like shine. This is easily the one of best finishes we have seen in a long time from any manufacturer.


Equally impressive is if you trace the tubing from the radiator back to the water block you will notice a rather large quick disconnect coupling. As with the tubing, this is an advanced feature rarely seen this side of custom water loops.

What this connector allows you to do is add in another radiator, another reservoir, even an entire second loop (e.g. GPU cooling solution) if you so choose, and do so without having to first drain and then refill the system. Of course there will be a minor amount of fluid and air leakage when you disconnect the coupler but it will make burping the loop much easier than with a typical Custom Loop AIO Cooler.

For those interested this too is taken directly from high end custom water loops. To be precise it is an AlphaCool 'Eiszapfen' Quick Disconnect kit which uses standard G 1/4 threads – so as to be universal as possible. It is unfortunate that AlphaCool only uses one of these 'Icicles' on their Eisbaer but considering this AIO only costs $130 and each retails for about ten dollars it is not all the unexpected.


Last but certainly not least is the waterblock and fluid reservoir that AlphaCool has used. As you can see it is downright massive compared to the typical AIO waterblock/res combination unit. This is because AlphaCool hasn’t hopped on the 'smaller is better' bandwagon which has recently infected the AIO marketplace. Instead this is a pump/res combination that could easily be found in a custom water loop.

Here, AlphaCool has used their DC-LT pump which is actually very quiet considering it is a 26000RPM unit. This pump is capable of moving upwards of 70 liters an hour with a reasonable .85 meter of pump head pressure which is impressive to say the least. Considering a similar AlphaCool combination unit retails for well over $50 USD it is bloody impressive to see it included in the reasonably priced Eisbaer 240!

This three pin pump backstopped by an actual reservoir of coolant blows the doors off any Closed Loop AIO on the marketplace. Instead, consumers have to look to the noticeably more expensive EKWB offerings to find its equal.

As you can see what AlphaCool has basically done is create a factory custom water loop for the masses, filled it at the factory and is selling it as an 'All In One' solution instead of the usual 'water cooling kit'. Honestly, if this unit's performance is just equal to the sum of its parts this it may just send shockwaves through the entire AIO marketplace. In either case AlphaCool has certainly put Asetek and the other OEMs on notice that the old way of doing things is quickly coming to an end and its adapt & evolve or die time.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
Setup & Installation

Setup and Installation Issues


It should come as no surprise that the AlphaCool Eisbär installation is as unusual and as quirky as the cooling device itself. Most All In One CPU cooling solutions try to replicate the installation process of air based units in that they are meant to be as simple, and user-friendly as possible. AlphaCool on the other hand have taken a different path. Instead of modifying hardware meant for air coolers and design a set of steps around it, they started with their custom water cooling kit and adapted it. The end result is the same: the waterblock and radiator are firmly attached, but for anyone with extensive experience with AIO's, that experience will be of little help.

Before we get to the meat of this installation and the issues that will indeed pop up, we do wish to make it crystal clear that the Eisbär is not an overly difficult device to work with, it is simply different from most and more finicky. Compared to the EKWB unit it is a ¬¬¬¬downright joy to work with. However, compared to something line the NZXT Kraken X31 there is certainly a lot of room for improvement.

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No matter what device you intended to use, <i>usually</i> the first thing that has to be done is to install the custom hardware that’s required to mount the waterblock to the CPU. This is done so that you can reinstall the motherboard as early in the installation process as possible.

AlphaCool does not do this. Instead there isn’t any 'top' mounting bracket to hold the plastic backplate in position. Instead the waterblock itself is what holds the backplate. This is how things are usually done in water cooling 'kit' side of the marketplace as it does save a few dollars on mounting hardware. It does however make installing the device harder, and makes the entire process much more tedious, time consuming, and does slightly increase the risk of damaging a critical component during the process.

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Basically what you have to do is hold the backplate in position with one hand, and gently lower the motherboard on to a flat surface, all the while hoping the four small integrated standoffs stay in position. You then have to gently lower the waterblock in position, and then screw the four bolts to keep the block in position while fighting the tubing which wants to move the block out of position.

We truly wish that AlphaCool had included <i>two</i> quick disconnectors so that we could have simply disconnected the radiator, mounted the waterblock/reservoir combination unit to the motherboard, and then reconnected the tubing. This is because the tubing is rather inflexible, and sprouts directly from the block’s topmost area. This is one area AlphaCool really needs to either take a page from other AIO manufacturers and mount the tubing on the side with flexible connectors, or include two quick disconnects.

If that was not enough to make things more difficult that needed, the non-integrated springs on the screws are rather stiff and will take effort to overcome. The knurling is also too small to grasp properly, forcing you to use a screwdriver to get them installed. That is not what we would classify as a 'user-friendly' combination to say the least.

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On the positive side this extra resistance is due to the built in anti-kink coiling that makes for a much more robust tubing setup that will never be damaged during the installation phase. Also, while the waterblock and reservoir are larger than any other AIO, this not necessarily a bad thing. This added volume gives the Eisbär much better cooling abilities and a higher thermal limit than most dual 120mm AIOs.

If all that is not enough, this waterblock is downright huge and rather unwieldy all on its own so a second set of hands is strongly recommended. However, even before you can do any of this, owners also have to first prep the block since AlphaCool doesn’t ship their devices with the mounting brackets pre-attached.

While large the Eisbär block will not interfere with the DIMMS on any motherboard that respect the Intel CPU socket area specifications, though we would not want to mount this cooler in a mITX case.

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Once this is done, the next step is to install the radiator. This too is an exercise in patience as the less-than-flexible tubing will become even more unwieldy and harder to bend into place. We found that getting the first screw into position is going to take patience and precision, as the hoses will want to yank the radiator out of position. Once again having a second set of hands will make the build go a lot faster.

Before you begin though, ensure that your case uses 15mm spacing standard for its two top mounted fans, and not the 20mm standard. Otherwise you will either have to drill new holes, get a new case, or create an adapter to mount the Eisbär to your existing case. In other words, double check to make sure the fan holes are far enough apart – but not too far!

With that done all that is left is to install the fans. This actually leads to the last issue: no built-in fan controller. AlphaCool expects you to use the motherboard to control the cooler’s fans. This means either using two fan headers or purchasing a fan splitter – as one was not included with our sample. In either case since these are 3-pin and not 4-pin the ability to be controlled via the typical motherboard is very limited. AlphaCool really should have at the very least included 4-pin PWM capable fans.

Overall this installation procedure is fraught with issues, but none of them is insurmountable. Rather, they are all more annoyances that simply make the setup and installation of this fantastic unit harder than it needs to be. This does highlight AlphaCool's lack of experience with AIO kits in general, as well as the level of experience that most AIO users have – as this installation is more custom water block territory than it is 'plug and play'. Hopefully future revisions will come with a more refined installation process. In the meantime, patience and persistence is the key to this battle.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
Stock & Quad Fan Performance Results

Stock Fan Performance Results


You can find our 2015 CPU Cooler Testing Methodology HERE.

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These results are damn good for relatively small dual 120mm CPU cooling solution. RPM for RPM this unit is right up there with dual 140mm radiator based solutions. Unforuntately as the two fans are not all that powerful (ie low static pressure) nor that fast (1700RPM) this unit is actually outclassed by smaller units that do have faster fans. That is a shame and did leave us craving more. With that being said, as you will see, AlphaCool's cooler retains impressively low acoustics.


Quad Fan Performance Results


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Once again this device is a excellent cooler, but one whose true performance potential will never be realized with those fans. Simply put they do sacrifice a lot of performance in order to be as low noise as possible. In this regard the Eisbär strongly reminds me of the Corsair H90 which also sacrificed performance for near-silence.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
Sound Level Testing

Sound Level Testing


<i>While everyone "hears" noise differently there is one easy way to remove all subjectivness and easily compare different fans: use a sound level meter. This way you can easily compare the various fans noise envelopes without us coloring the results and see what fans fit within your personal comfort level. Of course, we will endeavor to try and explain the various results (which are taken at a 30 inch distance) to help you our readers get an even better understanding of how loud a cooler's stock fan is, but even if you discount our personal opinions, the fact remains numbers don't lie. All fans are tested with both voltage regulation / PWM turned off. 32 decibels was the background noise level and as such anything below this level is considered inaudible. This is why the bottom of the chart stops at 32.</i>

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For consumers interested in a relatively potent cooling solution that is as quiet as a church mouse, the Eisbär 240 would be an excellent choice. For most though, this level of sound is not needed as case fans will be louder. For others still the idea of giving up so much performance potential just for a few dBA will see like anathema to them.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
Conclusion

Conclusion


The Eisbär 240 is certainly not AlphaCool 's first attempt at creating an "All In One" CPU cooling device but it is easily the best. This unit’s of ease-of-use combined with extremely impressive performance is a winning one. Even taking into account that it does cost about the same as what a premium 'name brand' <i>sealed</i> dual 140mm radiator AIO goes for it still just screams innovation and value to those willing to take a closer look. This is not just another Asetek or other OEM clone. Instead the Eisbär 240 is a truly unique design that borrows heavily from the custom loop market and as a result provides one of the best overall experiences available.

To be frank with you, this model does not just 'borrow' from AlphaCool 's expansive custom water loop lineup; it literally is made up entirely of premium off-the-shelf components. Everything from the radiator to the pump <i>is</i> designed with the enthusiast water cooling aficionado in mind. It is then rolled into a novice-friendly package which actually costs less than buying all those items separately and that is bloody impressive.

Let's face it, usually AIOs are the redheaded step child of the water cooling industry since they usually prioritize price over performance. This really is anathema to what water cooling is all about and why many enthusiasts would never dream of using any pre-built AIO. AlphaCool on the other hand must not have received the memo on how to properly build an AIO for the mainstream marketplace. Instead they did what they do best: created a factory prebuilt custom water 'kit', filled it with ethyl-glycol based coolant, and then renamed it an 'All In One' cooling device. Honestly, it is truly maddening that it has taken a manufacturer so long to realize this 'secret' to success, and even then it took a relative newcomer to do it.

Make no mistake about it: the Eisbär 240 is a custom loop, albeit a small and relatively simple one. This is what makes it so unique and of so exciting since it offers true water cooling performance for the masses. When you remove everything else from the equation this is why we believe should make massive waves in the industry. Consumers willing to spend $130 on a CPU cooling solution should do their homework before making such a purchase, and when they do they will quickly realize that there is now a polar bear hiding amongst the seals. When confronted with such a marked difference we expect a lot to take a 'risk' on a relatively unknown company that just happens to have more experience in cooling than most AIO 'manufacturers'.

With all that being said this model is far from perfect and in a few places does show AlphaCool is relatively inexperienced in created factory built water cooling devices for North American consumers. To be precise there are three areas that need improvements. The first is the installation process which may not be the absolute hardest we have seen recently, it certainly is not in the same ease of use league as NZXT, Corsair, or others.

Next, while low noise is probably a big plus in Deutschland, on this side of the pond users tend to want options. Most want high performance stock fans that can be controlled via software to customize the cooler’s noise profile for their specificneeds. Sadly, AlphaCool does not include any software abilities, nor do they even expect a user’s motherboard to control the fans all that much. Instead they have included two 1700RPM fans which are best described as low noise with moderate performance which lack the static pressure envelope necessary for the cooler to accomplish greatness. These fans do cost this unit a lot of potential performance in order to be as quiet as possible.

Furthermore, the reliance upon a relatively thin radiator is puzzling on some levels. A thicker AlphaCool radiator would have been more optimal from a performance standpoint but installation issues may have arisen in some cases. We can see why this one was utilized but I really can't wait to see what performance would be like with more adaptable fans and a thicker rad.

As it stands the Eisbär 240 is currently one of the best CPU water coolers available. It may have gobs of untapped potential but its combination of excellent performance, whisper quiet acoustics, plenty of expansion options and a very affordable price place it near the forefront of customized All in One devices.

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