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Corsair H80i & H100i Review

AkG

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All in one water coolers have rapidly been gaining popularity due to a number of factors. They are supposed to offer ease of installation coupled with cooling performance that should easily overcome air-based solutions. Unfortunately, that combination has rarely happened but Corsair's Hydro series have continually led the market from nearly every angle.

Very recently we witnessed first hand the performance enhancements Corsair's latest generation H60 brought to the table. The H60 2.0 was not only able to offer better cooling performance than previous iterations, but also had a straightforward installation procedure. However, the lack of fine grain control over the excellent stock fan coupled with the realities of relying upon a single height, standard thickness radiator did leave us wanting even more in the performance department.

Fortunately, the second generation H60 is not the only Corsair Hydro AiO to get a much needed upgrade. Along with the H55 and H60 2.0, Corsair has also released the new H80i and H100i models.

Just as the H60 can be considered the more economical, mid-grade solution, the H80i and H100i are Corsair’s higher end, enthusiast-orientated single and dual radiator Hydro models. These are truly “second generation” designs which are supposed to improve upon their predecessors in every way imaginable.

Both of these new models also boast an upgraded water block, enhanced tubing and come standard with a pair of the impressive SP120L fans. All of this leaves very little doubt about the true potential of these two models.


These enhancements are not the only new features Corsair is bringing to the table. As the ‘i’ moniker suggests, both the H80i and H100i also include an integrated Corsair LINK 2 controller. Unlike the original H80 and H100, this hardware and software suite has been built right into the waterblock/reservoir. It allows users to easily customize the fan speed / noise profile of each model. In addition, modifications have been made to everything from the radiator, to the pump to the tubing used, resulting in a brand new design.

Considering the H80i and H100i are very much considered Corsair's flagship products in both the single and dual 120mm markets, they're priced accordingly. At $109 and $119 respectively before rebates, these are some of the most expensive AiOs available.

 
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AkG

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Specifications

Specifications



H80i










H100i









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AkG

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Closer look at the H80i

Closer look at the H80i



As with Corsair’s previous models, the H80i’s box will be bound to get attention on retailer’s shelves. It is bold, brash, covered with useful information and surprisingly large considering it houses a single bay cooler. Opening it up, we can see an extensive internal protection scheme consisting of a sturdy cardboard buffer zone which is topped with a layer of foam.


As with the second generation H60, the accessory / mounting component list is complete with complete compatibility for AMD and Intel based motherboards. Every one of these components is built to exceedingly high quality standards so longevity shouldn’t be a concern.


On a cursory glance, the H80i bares very little resemblance with the original H80 and appears to be a near carbon copy of the second generation H60. The only real differences which are visible to the untrained eye are the second included Airflow SP120 fan, a thicker radiator and a SATA instead of MOLEX power connector. This last point is actually quite significant since it allows builders to make use of existing connections while leveraging the ability of modular power supplies to reduce cable clutter.


Gone is the standard 3/8 OD ribbed tubing found on the H80. That rather inflexible and limited tubing has been replaced with a 9/16 (OD) design made from a hybrid rubber compound that is both malleable and quite durable. More importantly, the H80i’s pump has received a substantial upgrade and is now capable of moving liquid through these larger tubes at a quick pace for optimized cooling performance.


Other upgrades have been performed to the CoolIT-supplied water block itself. The combination of a more efficient pump, revised internal heatsink and a sleeker design have allowed Corsair to save space while also improving cooling capabilities. This is augmented by the addition of a built-in fan controller alongside compatibility with Corsair’s LINK monitoring and control software.

In order to accomplish the expansion of various features, a few changes were necessary. Corsair has foregone the convenient yet sometimes inaccessible fan speed button atop the water block and incorporated custom fan headers. Neither of these moves is particularly worrying since the fan speed control (along with plenty of other options) is now lumped into the included LINK software stack while Corsair has included adaptor cables to make standard fan headers compatible with the H80i.

Both the USB and custom fan connectors are a touch delicate to install but do get the job done nicely. On the positive side, the water block has two fan controller connectors and two USB connectors for the Corsair Link software. One of the USB data ports is the older direct connection style similar to the ones found on the AXi Power Supplies and the H80 while the other is a standard USB connector which fits the included USB accessory cable. Either will allow the Corsair Link software to connect and control the integrated fan controller.

A few other convenient additions have been implemented as well like the swiveling 90° tubing connectors (which make installation a breeze) and two small diagonally opposed magnets which allow the top bracket to ‘stick’ to the water block, facilitating installation. This is an ingenious solution to the age old dilemma of having the top bracket fall off at the most importune of moments.


As with all Corsair Hydro series coolers the water block comes with TIM pre-applied. Unfortunately, while the block itself has undergone an extensive makeover, the finishing quality on the copper base hasn’t been improved in any drastic ways. Believe it or not, the surface quality of Corsair’s lower-end H55 is better than this. Considering the difference in price between these two models, this is disappointing to say the least.


Unlike the new block, the radiator itself looks to be the same classic CoolIT design which accompanied the H80. It sports 12 fluid channels and while is still a standardized 120mm form factor, depth has been increased to 38 mm. This should significantly increase cooling capacity without moving the H80i’s dimensions outside of standard proportions.


While the first generation H80 was equipped with a pair of 2500RPM fans which could be charitably classified as ‘loud’, this cooler receives a non-PWM version of the Air series SP120L from Corsair. These are rated at 2000RPM, move 54CFM of air and boast a moderately high 2.36mm static pressure rating.
 
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AkG

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Closer look at the H100i

Closer look at the H100i



With the exception of the length and model listed on it, the H100i’s box is very similar to the H80i’s shipping container. It too is packed with information for first-time buyers and even jaded enthusiasts may learn a thing or two by taking a few minutes to peruse its surfaces. The same can be said of the internal protection scheme, as it is only a slightly modified – to accommodate the longer radiator - version of the one used on the H80i.


With only some minor differences, the accessories which accompany the H100i are the same as the H80i. You get all the components for mounting it on AMD and Intel sockets motherboards. The only real difference is the inclusion of two – instead of one – Y fan splitter for attaching up to four fans to the H100i’s integrated LINK controller.


Moving on to the H100i itself, it may be physically larger than any other Hydro series model, but it still consists of the same four main parts: the radiator, the water block/pump combination block, the tubing which connects the two together and the fans. As with the H80i, in three of these four key areas the H100i shares more in common with the new H60 than its predecessor.

For those of you wondering, the H100i is essentially a H80i with a larger radiator and better cooling potential.


The only area where the H100 and H100i appear to be similar is the radiator which they use. Unlike the H80i, this radiator is a standard thickness design using a dual bay 240mm layout which trades broad spectrum case compatibility for increased performance. It requires that a case comes equipped with two 120mm fan exhaust ports and enough clearance for the rad and fans. Typically, this means the H100i will be mounted to the top two 120mm exhaust fan locations in larger cases, rather than the rear exhaust fan port like Corsair’s H55, H60 and H80i. Naturally, other mounting options are possible for those with creative minds and access to the necessary tools.


On the positive side, everything else about the H100i has been upgraded. The tubing is now 9/16 (OD) design made from a hybrid rubber which facilitates installation and the water block has rotational mounts for some added security against crimping. Like the H80i, the water block also includes connections for two fans (though up to four can be controlled) and a built-in LINK controller for on-the-fly monitoring and fan speed modifications.


As with the H80i, the H100i’s waterblock is the latest generation CoolIT design and unfortunately it exhibits the same lackluster base design but the pre-application of thermal compound will make installation all that much easier for novices. Corsair has however integrated a pair of magnets, allowing the mounting plate to stick to the H100i’s base, further helping along installation.


To further help address the largest complaint consumer had with the original H100 – besides installation issues – Corsair has opted to upgrade the included fans. Like on the H80i, they are the non-PWM version of Corsair’s Air series SP120L which are rated at 2000RPM, move 54CFM of air and boast a moderately high 2.36mm static pressure rating. More importantly, they significantly reduce noise levels versus the previous generation.

There is however one minor problem here. For whatever reason, the H100i isn't fully compatible with most other fans due to a limitation with its LINK controller. Plugging in two or more aftermarket fans will result in a lack of speed control, often leading to full-tilt (and loud) operation. Corsair has assured us they are working on this issue but as you will see from the results on the following pages, we really can't recommend moving away from the two SP120Ls which the H100i ships with.
 
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AkG

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Corsair's Link Software

Corsair's Link Software



Both the H80i and H100i feature a built-in Corsair Link controller. At its most basic this is a hardware and software combination solution which allows real time tracking and customization of the attached fans. Compare and contrast this quick, easy and precise control to that of the H60 second generation Hydro cooler which – like most AIO’s – relies upon the motherboard to control the fan speed profile and you can instantly see why this is such a large benefit to overclockers and silent PC aficionados alike.


To use this software, simply attach the included USB cable to the motherboard and the Hydro ‘i’ CPU cooling solution. With this accomplished,download the latest version and run it. The software will communicate with the Hydro cooler’s built in fan controller and allow you to customize any and all fan profiles to your heart's content.

Not only can you control the fan speed via the including 3 default profiles –similar to those which come with the original H80 & H100 - but the fan speed profile can also be customized via RPM, percentage or a completely custom fan profile can be enabled which has multiple set points.


Controlling the fan profiles may be the most used feature of the Corsair Link software, but it is not the only thing that can be modified. The LED on the top of the waterblock can be changed to every color imaginable and warnings can be set up in order to alert users to a potential problem. For instance, if the waterblock pump fails,the software can actually email you and change the LED to –for instance – RED as well as set all fans to maximum speed.

There's also the possibility of using LINK to upgrade the firmware of the AIO unit itself. This is especially crucial as firmware updates could potentially offer performance improvements as time goes on.


Unfortunately, for some users, the software may be a touch too customizable. To control the dual fans of either the H80i or H100i you have to tweak each fan profile separately. This can lead to some very odd fan profiles – especially in quad fan configurations - but even the novice user will quickly realize this quirk and find ways around it.

All in all, Corsair's LINK is an innovative, easy to use tool which can either run stealthily in the background or be used to maximize performance across a wide variety of domains. Other all in one water coolers that don't support software control now feel oddly incomplete.
 
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AkG

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H80i & H100i Installation (Intel & AMD)

H80i / H100i Installation (Intel)


The H80i’s installation is quite straightforward can be easily accomplished by novices in a matter of minutes. Corsair’s process seems to have been perfected here and with only one or two minor exceptions, we couldn’t have asked for more.


As with all serious CPU cooling solutions the H80i includes a “3 in 1” back plate which is adaptable to Intel 1155, 1156 and 1366 systems. Socket 2011 systems do not need a back plate as they use the stock Intel one. Unfortunately, the H80i doesn’t included socket 775 compatibility but this is about the only ‘modern’ Intel socket this cooler does support.


Actually getting the backplate onto the motherboard is a relatively easy process which could have been made simpler with the inclusion of double sided tape. Once it is installed, a quartet of metal standoffs are screwed into place in preparation for the top retention bracket.


The H80i & H100i’s top retention brackets’ installation procedure is a lesson in simplicity. It just needs to be laid over the water block while the built-in magnets ensure a perfectly good mount isn’t wrecked by the block sliding from side to side. After this, it’s just a matter to tightening down the four included thumb screws in order to provide even mounting pressure.


Before actually attaching the waterblock to your motherboard, take a moment to plug in the USB and fan adapter cables. These ports on the waterblock are small and their fitment is a bit finicky so waiting until the whole affair is tightened down will make this step a touch more difficult.


With this accomplished, the radiator and fans need to be installed. As with all single bay units, the H80i requires a case be equipped with a 120mm rear exhaust port, though a top mount can be used in a pinch. As with the H55, Corsair recommends sucking cool air in from outside the case and then over the radiator but we don’t recommend using this setup as it will invariably increase temperatures within the enclosure.

Unfortunately, Corsair’s recommended orientation for the H80i may not be possible as the bottom of the 120mm radiator protrudes down just enough to make it impossible to install in some cases due to expansion slot placement. If your case can only accommodate 120mm fans this may be something to consider before purchasing it but enclosures with 140mm or dual 120mm fan support won’t have any issues.


The final installation steps for the H100i are also quite straightforward but its size may cause a concern for some. As with the original H100, the new H100i requires a case that has dual 120mm exhaust ports. Most modern cases come with dual 120mm top exhaust ports but without them or at least some fancy modifications on your part, this massive cooler just won’t fit.

Unfortunately, there is one other issue that is ‘unique’ to the new ‘i’ series – the fan controller. At this time, if you wish to use any fan other than the SP120L – including full speed SP120’s – you may run into issues. Namely, the fan controller may not correctly work with them and in fact may cause the fans to run at either full speed all the time or not work at all. Corsair are working on a firmware upgrade to this issue, but it is a major concern for anyone wishing to use quad fan configurations. For dual fan configurations the combination of stock lower noise fans and ultra fine tuning software will make it all but a non-issue. Few will find the adaptability of the stock fans to be lacking.


AMD System Installation


As with the Intel installation, the H80i and HD 100i’s AMD installation procedure is a near-perfect set of steps for AMD users.


The main reason why this process is so easy is Corsair’s reuse of AMD’s durable and immensely versatile stock mounting system instead of installing a secondary mount or backplate. The only items which are needed is a pair of metal retention clips that are screwed onto a metal retention bracket with thumb screws. Corsair recommends barely tightening the screws in order to ensure proper mounting compatibility.


In order to actually install the water block, it needs to be placed over the CPU followed by the previously prepared metal bracket. The bracket’s retention clips should slot easily onto the small “fingers” on AMD’s plastic mounting system and can then be screwed down to provide adequate mounting pressure.
 
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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 review. 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 it 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

*Dual fans only used if the cooler comes with the necessary mounting hardware.


92mm Fan:

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 HAF-X. We chose the HAF-X as it a highly adaptable case with not only multiple fan ports but is capable of handling even the largest of AIO coolers. 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 front fan port will use the stock CM 230mm fan. The rear exhaust port will be populated by the review item's fan and radiator where possible, for the air based cooling alternative used in the review as a counter example another Scythe E will be used.


Warm Up:

Before testing commenced 15 minutes of running Prime95 “small fft” followed by 45 minutes of idling was done. This warm up period was done at stock CPU core frequencies. This additional pretest was done to ensure that the fluid in the liquid CPU cooling solutions were at ambient room temperature and thus the test results would be more indicative of real world scenarios. For all air based cooling solutions the same 15 minutes of heavy load followed by 45 minutes of idle was also done.


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 a air based CPU cooling 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 an Air based CPU cooling solution which is in the same approximate 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 new 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 HAF-X
Processor: Intel i7 920(Intel) AMD Phenom 2 1090T(AMD)
Motherboard: Gigabyte X58-UD3R (Intel) Gigabyte 890FXA-UD7(AMD)
Memory: 6GB Mushkin Silverline Stiletto DDR3-1600
Graphics card: EVGA GeForce GT 240
Hard Drive: 1x 240GB Intel 520 SSD
Power Supply: Topower Powerbird 900W

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





No matter what the heat load, these new Hydro models are simply outstanding performers. Even with lower noise and slower stock fans both the H80i and H100i easily outperform their predecessors. Obviously the improvements in waterblock efficiency and flow rates make this possible as the previous H80 and H100 came equipped with much higher performance fans.

Just as importantly, the new software allows owners the ability to decide what ratio of cooling performance vs. noise they are comfortable with, all without having to open the case and physically adjust a fan controller.
 
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AkG

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High Speed Fan Performance Results

High Speed Fan Performance Results


Note: These tests use a SINGLE Scythe S-Flex fan operating at 1900RPM




Much like the previous H80, the H80i requires dual fan configurations to properly move heat from the radiator to the air. The H80i may be better in this regards than its predecessor but this is more than likely due to increase efficiencies of the waterblock and thicker tubing than any changes to the radiator itself. As such, when equipped with a single high speed fan, its performance tends to suffer.
 
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Dual and Quad Fan Performance Results

Dual and Quad Fan Performance Results




Because of the included Corsair Link software and highly adaptable stock fans, we doubt many consumers will bother changing the out of box cooling configuration of either of these coolers. In the H80i’s case this is certainly a good thing as it needs high static pressure fans to properly cool its thick radiator. H100i also prefers faster fans but it doesn't seem to need high static pressure to get the job done.

Using NF-P12-1300 fans certainly is a "decent" solution but one that we can't necessarily recommend since the stock fans can easily be slowed down to 1300rpm. Interestingly enough, adding two more stock fans to the H100i does not increase performance all that much. The long and thin radiator is more than adequately cooled with only two fans.
 
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