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CoolIT ECO A.L.C CPU Cooler Review

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AkG

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It certainly has been awhile since we took a look at the state of sealed “all in one” water cooling units. It was the Domino ALC from CoolIT we checked out last time and while it was a good all-round product, its performance wasn’t earth shattering while there were some additional issues that kept us from outright recommending it. Luckily, CoolIT didn’t stop with the Domino and has learned from their mistakes in order to create the new ECO A.L.C.

CoolIT needs no introduction as they are well known Canadian owned and operated company who have become known for their push to bring high-end cooling solutions closer to mass market appeal. It has been a tall order to fulfill but for the most part, they have succeeded on a number of fronts. Their success hasn’t gone unnoticed either as companies like Corsair have also released closed system liquid coolers as well.

The biggest advantage these sealed water cooling units have is their ease of installation which not only rivals that of more standard heatsinks but can actually be much, much easier. These single 120mm-sized units are perfect for first time enthusiasts who want to get into water cooling but do not have the know how, experience or even the patience necessary to set up a massive, high performance water cooling loop. Unfortunately, this ease of use is a double edged sword as a small radiator is not as efficient as a larger stand-alone unit at cooling hot running CPUs.

While the ECO is a relatively new model, CoolIT has decided to price it quite aggressively at between $60 and $67 at most retailers. If this product can live up to our past CoolIT experiences this means you can get into water cooling for LESS than what some enthusiast class air based CPU cooling solutions will cost you. But can it come out on top against its predecessor and the competition?

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AkG

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Specifications

Specifications

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AkG

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories


CoolIT_ECO_box_f_sm.jpg
CoolIT_ECO_box_b_sm.jpg

Unlike with the Domino packaging, CoolIT went with a decidedly muted box design for the ECO. There is a liberal amount of information about the product sprinkled here and there but for the most part stark white dominates this package.

CoolIT_ECO_box_o_sm.jpg
CoolIT_ECO_access_sm.jpg

Opening the box up we can also see that CoolIT has gone back to their roots when it comes to the internal protection scheme and have opted for the tried and true mass of Styrofoam method. The amount of protection this affords the ECO is excellent to say the least.

As for the rest of the accessories, mounting equipment for Intel 775, 1156 and 1366 systems as well as AMD systems is included. Meanwhile, the backplates are plastic which would be completely insufficient for air coolers but since there will only be a lightweight water block hanging off your motherboard in this case, they are more than sufficient. An excellent set of installation instructions is also included.
 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the CoolIT ECO ALC

A Closer Look at the CoolIT ECO ALC


CoolIT_ECO_full_shot_sm.jpg
CoolIT_ECO_full_shot2_sm.jpg

Just like the Domino and PURE models before it, there is no need to add any coolant for the life of entire life cycle of the ECO so in essence it is set up and ready to go right out of the box. All you really have to do is install it onto your motherboard and plug in the two (one for the fan and one for the pump) 3-pin fan connectors.

When compared to the Domino the ECO looks positively svelte, albeit with an oversized heat transfer block. The reason for the differences in appearance is partially due to the lack of controller and LCD screen the Domino sports but mainly due to the fact that (much like the Corsair H50) the ECO is for all intents and purposes a two piece item, with only two hoses joining the water block and radiator together.

CoolIT_ECO_water_block_ang_sm.jpg
CoolIT_ECO_water_block_ports2_sm.jpg

The first of these critical components is the heat transfer block or “water block”. In this case, CoolIT chose to go the route of having a water block / pump combination instead of moving the pump closer to the radiator. The only downside to doing this is it does decrease the efficiency of the water block due to the heat from the pump being in close proximity to the CPU. The upside to this approach is it makes for one heck of a compact unit. This is because the radiator no longer has that long, wide plastic or metal (depending on the CoolIT model) shroud running along the outer side of the radiator to house the pump. The reservoir however is still off-site and located where it should be: at the radiator.

Another noteworthy feature of the ECO’s block is the connectors used for the tubing: they’re 90° swivel connectors. This minor looking tweak will certainly reduce stress on the tubing connectors and should make installation a breeze as it will, in theory, make the tubes more flexible allowing you to get the attached radiator into position more easily. Unfortunately, as with most things in life there is a down side to using 90° connectors: increased flow restriction.

CoolIT_ECO_base_tim_sm.jpg
CoolIT_ECO_base_sm.jpg

Moving on to the base of the water block we can see that it has TIM pre-applied. Wiping away the compound we can see the copper base is matte finished and shows some minor tool marks. It isn’t one of the better finished bases on the market but it is far from the worst, that’s for sure.

As for information about the pump itself, the specifications are quite bare but CoolIT had this to say on their forums:

“….The pump we use is a slightly modified CFF1.1 pump. The pump runs in our ECO ALC at about .8 L/min and consumes 1 watt…."
 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the CoolIT ECO ALC pg.2

A Closer Look at the CoolIT ECO ALC pg.2


CoolIT_ECO_rad_front_sm.jpg
CoolIT_ECO_rad_back_sm.jpg

While the block and pump may be only one half of the equation when it comes to good closed system liquid coolers, the radiator is the other half. Unlike the all new water block, it appears CoolIT has opted for a very similar yet smaller radiator than the one which graces their Domino.

This radiator is a 12 channel, 22-23 folds per inch design and about the only complaint we have with it is the fact that it is noticeably thinner then the Domino’s. Will the lack of rad depth affect heat dissipation? We’ll find out later.

CoolIT_ECO_rad_bottom_sm.jpg
CoolIT_ECO_tube_connect_sm.jpg

The tubing which accompanies this unit is for all intents and purposes the same ¼”, heat sealed affair which came with the Domino. While we miss the large pinch clamps which accompanied the Freezone and PURE models, these heat sealed joins should provide less worries from a quality assurance standpoint.

CoolIT_ECO_fan_sm.jpg
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As we said earlier this unit requires active cooling and CoolIT has opted for a well-mannered120 x 25mm, 1800rpm fan. Unfortunately, there is no information written on the fan itself so we can’t positively trace its bearing type or other specifications. What we can say is that it is easily swappable in case you wanted increased performance.

As with the 3pin cable for the pump, the fan's cable has not been sheathed. Rather, all 4 cables are fused into a wide yet fairly then cable which makes for a tidy appearance.
 
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AkG

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Installation

Installation


For anyone familiar with CoolIT products, especially their all-in-one water cooling units, the ECO’s installation will be very familiar. For those of you who have never touched a CoolIT product, let’s just say that installing the ECO is extremely easy.

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As with all serious CPU cooling solutions the first thing you need to do is install this back plate. The ECO comes with three of them for Intel systems while AMD installation uses the backplate that comes with all AMD motherboards.

Since these back plates come with double sided tape, positioning and holding them in place is a breeze.

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The ECO comes with pre-mounted Intel all in one retention arms that are clearly labelled for their various uses. You simply pull up on each of the retaining bolts and then slide them into their proper location based for the Intel socket type you have. Since ours already came set up for 1366 socket we need not do anything special with them.

CoolIT_ECO_install_block_sm.jpg
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In order to actually install the water block onto your motherboard, just line up it up so the two tubes are facing towards the ram slots of your motherboard and lay it gently in place.

In the Domino review we bemoaned the loss of the retention bolts with their large heads as they made hand tightening the older CoolIT units into place a snap. The Domino on the other hand replaced the top knurled portion with plastic cups which could spin in place, forcing you to get a screwdriver and use it right from the get go. We are pleased to say that CoolIT didn’t go with either of these solutions. The retaining bolts on the ECO combine the hand tightening method with recessed screw heads so your screwdriver doesn’t slip out of position. All that needs to be done is hand tighten them into place and then finish off with a screwdriver to tighten everything down. We hope every other manufacturer looks at this and realizes how things SHOULD be done.

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The ECO requires your case be equipped with a 120mm rear exhaust port, if you have an older case which uses smaller fans, you will need to buy a plastic 80/92 to 120mm fan adapter. Naturally, in order to install the ECO we recommend uninstalling your case fan as the one which is included with this unit is specifically made for high static pressure situations.

CoolIT has made this part simple as well by allowing the ECO to be installed in exactly the same manner by which a standard case fan is attached to the case. This is where the rotatable ports on the heat transfer block really do come in handy.

CoolIT_ECO_install_full.jpg

With the ECO ALC securely in place all that is left to do is plug in the plugs and then give yourself a pat on the back as you have successfully installed what is most likely your first water cooling setup. All in all it is an extremely easy installation and you shouldn’t run into any motherboard compatibility issues.
 
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AkG

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Testing Methodology

Testing Methodology


To ensure that the results from one review to another are not only reproducible but actually pertinent to this review, the Testing Methodology will be the same throughout all water cooling reviews used. If something does change we will be sure to make a special note of it and explain why this change was done and more importantly why things had to be changed or altered.


Thermal Paste and Application Methods:


Arctic Cooling MX-2 thermal paste was used for all water based CPU cooling solutions during these tests unless otherwise noted. Application of thermal paste was in accordance with the TIM manufacturer’s instructions; and while not necessary, the TIM was allowed to cure for 24 hours under moderate to high loads (with periods of low loads) prior to testing.


Fans Used:


120mm:


For all water based CPU Cooling Solutions which do not come standard with a fan, a pair of Noctua NF-P12-1300s and a Scythe S-Flex “G” 1900RPM fan will be used if the unit accepts 120mm fans. With these two fans we are able to simulate different fan speed conditions as indicated below.


High Speed:


1900RPM Scythe S-Flex “G”. To be more precise our specific fan runs at 1860RPMs. Any stock fan which comes with the ability of being controlled by means other than the motherboard (e.g. remote fan speed controller, potentiometer, rheostat, etc) will be set to this speed during the High speed test and BOTH sets of performance results will be included.


Dual Fans:


Dual NF-P12-1300s


92mm Fan (if applicable):


If the cooler being tested only accepts 92mm fans, a Noctua NF-B9-1600 will be used.

If the given CPU cooling solution comes with a stock fan we will also include its numbers in the closest of the main tests BUT we will also include our standard fan results in that particular tests.


Fan Notes:


- If a water cooling solution cannot mount an aftermarket fan, we will be only including the stock fan results. However, if the stock fan speed can be precisely controlled by means other than the motherboard BIOS (an included remote fan speed controller, potentiometer, rheostat, etc), the cooler will be tested at different fan speeds.

- For dual fan results ALL water coolers capable of mounting two fans (and come with the necessary hardware) will be tested with two NF-P12s and the Dual Fan graph will contain data for other such dual capable fan coolers.


We feel that the combination of multiple speeds and multiple fans will allow us to give you our readers clear and precise idea of the capabilities of a given unit, in an accurate comparison. It will also help eliminate the occasional “zinger” such as when a manufacturer includes an extremely high-speed fan in order to possibly offset poor thermal performance.


Environment:


Except where noted all comparison testing was done inside a closed case with a room ambient temperature of 24c. If at any time the room temperature increased or decreased by more than 1°C, testing was halted until the temperature constant was re-established.


Testbed:


The case chosen for this test bed is a Cooler Master CM690. We chose the 690 as it is a highly adaptable case with a massive number of fan locations. To populate these fan ports we chose Scythe E 120mm units with Sony Fluid Dynamic Bearings.

Unless otherwise noted, only one of the top two exhaust fan ports, the rear exhaust port and front fan intake port will be populated. The rear exhaust port will be populated by the review item’s fan and radiator where possible while for the air based cooling alternative used in the review as a counter example another Scythe E will be used. Where possible, all review items fans will be set up to exhaust hot air outside the case, regardless of any manufactures “recommendations” to the contrary. If a manufacturer recommends otherwise, the changes will be made accordingly.

Temperature Recording:


Recorded temps were as reported via the Real Temp plug-in for the RivaTuner monitor program.

Max and Average load temps are based on 15 minutes of running Prime95 “small fft” and are taken directly from RivaTuner’s built in capabilities.

The maximum temperatures will be the highest recorded temp displayed for any of the cores during the 15 minute test. While RivaTuner will display each core's average temperature it does not easily show the average of ALL the cores. To this end we will be simply taking the average of all the cores adding them together and then dividing by the number of cores.

If during any test temperatures of 95°C or more are displayed in RivaTuner (for any core) for more than 10 consecutive seconds the testing will be halted and that test run will be considered a "fail".

Idle temperatures are the lowest recorded temperature during idle period as recorded by the RealTemp Rivatuner monitoring program.


All CPU throttling technology was disabled in the BIOS; as was all CPU fan speed control. In addition, Turbo Mode was disabled and Hyperthreading was enabled. All power connectors for the review item are connected directly to Molex connectors to ensure they were running at full speed.

All tests are run a minimum of three times and only the best results are represented.


Charts & Graphs:


Each chart will include the Maximum or “peak” temperature we recorded, the average temperature and the idle temperature.

No passive results will be shown UNLESS manufacturer claims the ability to passively cool a processor. If a manufacturer claims passive capabilities we will include the performance numbers in the charts. The only exception to this is if the review is a “review roundup” and to keep the charts from becoming confusing we may not do so.

All water cooling reviews will also include air based CPU cooling solutions which best approximates the price range of the water cooling solution being reviewed. This way you will not only know how it compares to other water cooling units but also Air based coolers which are in the same approximate price range. All CPU cooling solutions, be they air based or water, which do not come with a stock fan will have the cost of a fan added to its price to find its true price range.


Sound Pressure Testing:


To give a more accurate and less of a personal opinion on the noise level of the stock fan which accompanies the heatsink, we have included a section for sound pressure testing. These tests are done in our open case setup outlined above with the meter positioned 30 inches away from the cooler and mounted on a tripod. To ensure the background noise does not skew the results all tests will start by recording the ambient noise of the room. Only when it meets our standards will the testing commence.

To ensure that no external noise unduly skews the results, the GPU used will be a passively cooled unit and the only active fan will be the one on the cooler while the PSU and HDD are isolated away from the immediate area.

These tests are run late at night when no other people or animals are awake and thus unable to influence the results.

All fans are run at their maximum speed with no voltage or PWM control being used during the sound pressure tests.

The sound pressure meter used is a DT-805 which has been professionally calibrated and NIST certified. We will record the highest levels obtained with said meter and record it as our result. The test will be 15 minutes long and will be run while the fan is running full speed via a Molex connector and the CPU cores are under a full load via Prime 95 Small FFT.


Please note: The Scythe S-Flex G and Noctua NF-P12-1300 (at 1300 and 900rpms) numbers are taken when mounted to a Cooler Master Hyper 212+. We feel that it would be extremely unfair and unrealistic to include noise rating for these after market fans if they were NOT mounted onto a cooler. They are included to help give some sense of proportion to the charts and allow you to more easily compare a stock fan against a known quantity.



Complete Test System:



Case: Cooler Master 690

Processor: Intel i7 920

Motherboard:
Gigabyte X58-UD3R

Memory: 6GB Aneon Xtune DDR3-1600

Graphics card: EVGA 7300GT passive

Hard Drive: 1x WD 320GB single platter

Power Supply: Topower Powerbird 900W


Special thanks to Direct Canada for their support and supplying the i7 920 CPU.

Special thanks to Gigabyte for their support and supplying the i7 motherboard.
 
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AkG

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Stock Fan Performance Results

Stock Fan Performance Results


Please note: All results are taken from a closed case testbed and can not be directly compared to that of our open bench results.

2.6GHz


stock_26.jpg

At stock speeds the CoolIT ECO is slightly behind the Corsair H50, but the difference is so slight that it is negligible. This of course, is with the ECO’s 1800rpm fan vs. the Corsair’s 1600 rpm unit. As expected the Domino with its much faster fan (ours clocks in at over 2700rpm) at full speed is out front. Interestingly enough when the Domino’s fan is at set to a more moderate noise profile the ECO handily beats it.


3.42GHz


stock_34.jpg

Once again the difference is very minor between the ECO and H50, although the gap is starting to widen ever so slightly.


3.8GHz


stock_38.jpg

We can now definitely see a gap between the H50 and ECO and can’t just chalk the difference up to margin of error. It seems that even when the Corsair is running its slower fan it still can slightly outperform the ECO. On the positive side, the ECO is certainly a step in the right direction as it is showing marked increase in performance when compared to the Domino.
 
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AkG

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High Speed Fan Performance Results

High Speed Fan Performance Results


Please note: All results are taken from a closed case testbed and can not be directly compared to that of our open bench results.

2.6GHz


scythe_26.jpg

Here it appears that the air coolers are just not getting enough fresh air to excel, whereas all three water coolers are able to cope with an in-case environment Once again, there is a small yet noticeable gap between the ECO and the H50.


3.42GHz


scythe_34.jpg

Here the Corsair H50 is pulling consistently away from the ECO. The difference is still minor but it is definitely a trend.


3.8GHz


scythe_38.jpg

When all is said and done the CoolIT ECO a more user friendly CPU cooling solution but it is still not quite as good as the more hassle prone Corsair H50. A difference of two degrees is significant if you are looking for the absolute best performance, but then again if absolute performance is your only criteria you are most likely not going to be looking at any of these solutions.
 
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AkG

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Dual Fan Performance Results / Sound Level Testing

Dual Fan Performance Results


Please note: All results are taken from a closed case testbed and can not be directly compared to that of our open bench results.

dual.jpg

Interestingly enough, the Corsair’s lead actually shrinks from nearly 2°C to about 1.5°C here. If we were to hazard a guess we would say that the slight differences between the Corsair and ECO radiators is the root cause of this small variation. Nonetheless, the ECO still has very respectable results.


Sound Level Testing


Please note: All Noise readings are taken from an open bench setup.

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 colouring 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.


noise.jpg

On paper the Corsair’s fan is a much better unit and this is borne out by the results we see above. However, its tonal properties make it more annoying than the CoolIT ECO’s when it is actually running but this is just our personal observations and it is next to impossible to provide any hard numbers to support this.
 
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