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Corsair Hydro H60 & H55 Review

AkG

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In 2009 Corsair helped change the very landscape of aftermarket CPU cooling by introducing their Hydro series of all in one water cooling solutions. While the original Asetek designed and built H50 was not ground breaking in any way, the combination of fairly easy installation, good cooling performance, reasonable price and – above all else –excellent customer service helped redefine the marketplace. To put it simply, the H50 helped put the aftermarket All In One water cooling device on the map and made Corsair the industry’s dominant player.

After the H50’s launch, Corsair branched out with a full range of solutions from highly capable enthusiast level devices to entry level options that tended to undercut certain high end air coolers. While Asetek continued being an integral part of Corsair’s manufacturer base, several of the newer units were OEM’d by CoolIT (such as the H60). This varied and adaptable approach helped further entrench the Hydro series in its growing marketplace.

By playing the pioneer and delivering consistently high quality products for the sealed system water cooling niche, the Hyrdo series became and in many ways remains the dominant player. However, even after the venerable CoolIT fell under the auspices of Corsair, the competitive landscape has changed with Antec, Thermaltake, Cooler Master and even Intel and AMD entering the game. The original H60 and H50 have remained the go-to options for many enthusiasts but after years of using the same designs, they were growing a bit long in the tooth. In the last few years, fan, pump and radiator designs have been gradually refined so it was high time for Corsair to bring their entry level water coolers up to today’s technological standards.

In order to refresh the H60 and H50 while maintaining roughly the same price, Corsair couldn’t drastically depart from their initial designs. Instead, minor changes –many of which can’t be seen by the naked eye- were made that directly impacted liquid speed, radiator efficiency, pump longevity and the fan’s static pressure envelope. The end result of their hard work is the all new H55 and second generation H60. On paper the differences between the original and new models may not seem all that significant but looks can be very deceiving. If these new designs are indeed able to outperform their predecessors - while making less noise - their MSRP of $69 and $79 respectively should help Corsair gain back market share lost to the hungry competition.

 
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AkG

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Specifications

Specifications



H55








H60





 
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A Closer Look at the H55

A Closer Look at the Corsair H55



As usual, Corsair’s box is bound to get attention on a retailer’s shelves while being festooned with all the information a first-time user could possibly need.


Opening up the box and peaking inside, it is obvious the internal protection scheme is identical to the H70, H80 and H100. Gone is the plastic clamshell container of the H50 and in its stead is a sturdy cardboard protection scheme with a foam topper layer.


When it comes to accessories, the H55 continues to impress. The original H50 basically received Intel mounting equipment but AMD users had to purchase separate “accessories” to mount the cooler into their systems. This approach never sits right with us and luckily, Corsair has done an about-face. The H55 includes all of the components required for quick and easy mounting on both AMD and Intel socket motherboards.

In addition to the inclusion of multiple mounting options, Corsair has also revised their top retention bracket design. Instead of using a somewhat flimsy plastic ring that tended to flex under pressure, the H55 uses the same high strength piece of metal first seen on the H70.


The H55 is still a single bay 120mm unit which should come as no surprise since this design facilitates compatibility with a wider range of enclosures. Much like the H50, it consists of four main parts: the radiator, the water block/pump combination block, the tubing which connects the two together and the fans. Mounting is relatively easy as well since it is compatible with any 120mm fan port, provided the radiator is placed close enough to the water block.


Taking a close look at the radiator we can see that unlike the H50’s design which utilized a dozen parallel tubes, the H55 uses only 11 slightly thicker tubes to carry the coolant through the fins. We assume this reduction was done to help keep flow restrictions to a minimum.
 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the H55 (pg.2)

A Closer Look at the Corsair H55 (pg.2)



The H55’s tubing has also undergone some refinement in order to bring it up to current generation expectations. Instead of the rather stiff 3/8 OD ribbed variety, the H55’s uses highly flexible tubing made from a special rubber-type compound material. Corsair states this new tubing still has the same low permeability as previous models but is much easier to work with. In fact, unlike the H50 which only carried a two year warranty, Corsair is so sure of this new design that it carries the same 5 year warranty found on Corsair’s other higher end Hydro models. For those of you wondering, Corsair uses such small diameter tubing because the H55’s pump can’t sustain sufficient water flow speed through larger diameter openings.


Instead of using a high rise waterblock like some other units (including the outgoing H50), Corsair’s H55 condenses the pump and block into a surprisingly low profile design. It uses handy 90° connectors to mate the tubing and the water block together, making for an easier installation process than its predecessor offered. This is a great feature which will reduce connector pressure and thus increase longevity, particularly in closed quarter situations which defeated the H50.


As with most of Corsair’s Hydro series, the H55 uses a copper contact plate with pre-applied thermal compound. While the original H50’s base finish quality was adequate at best, the H55’s is leaps and bounds better. In fact, it has almost been polished to a shine and is easily the best finishing job we have seen on any All In One CPU cooling solution. This was one area Asetek previously lagged behind CoolIT and it is nice to see a company make an effort to get even the small details correct.


While the radiator, tubing and water block have been upgraded, it appears the stock fan has remained the same. The first generation H50 was equipped with a 1700RPM unit capable of 57CFM with a static pressure of 1.9mm and the 2012 version mirrors those specs. Neither is PWM capable and acoustics remain at 30.32dbA. It is disappointing to see that Corsair didn’t improve the fan in any way since it is an integral part of the water cooling equation.
 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the H60

A Closer Look at the H60



Once again, Corsair has designed a box that is bound to get attention on a retailers shelves. It is packed information for first-time buyers and even jaded enthusiasts may learn a thing or two by taking a few minutes to peruse its surfaces.


Opening up the box and looking inside, we can see a well-heeled internal protection scheme which mirrors the H55’s. This setup works well as it consists of a sturdy cardboard with a foam topper layer.


As with its predecessor and the H55, the accessory and mounting component list is complete and one-ups several competitors in this regard. Mounting systems for both AMD and Intel socket motherboards are included and as with previous designs, these components are all of a very high quality.


On a cursory glance, the second generation H60 appears to be a near carbon copy of the original CoolIT-designed H60 model it replaces. The only real difference that’s visible to the untrained eye is the included Airflow SP120 fan which uses a drastically different design.


When scrutinized, carefully the H60 20 is unlike any other Corsair branded product we have seen in the past. The standard 3/8 OD ribbed tubing has been replaced with a 9/16 (OD) design made from a hybrid rubber compound that is both malleable and very durable. More importantly, the H60’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.


The other main difference between the new and old units is a touch more subtle: the water block has been made even shorter, resulting in a sleek and understated appearance. In order to keep costs to a minimum, Corsair is still reserving the built-in fan controller and LINK capabilities for higher end units so they aren’t particularly missed on a product that costs less than $90. However, even with these two exceptions this new and improved water block is a marvel of engineering and contains several cutting edge features.

The most obvious example of this enhanced engineering are the two small magnets at diagonally opposed corners 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.
 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the H60 (pg.2)

A Closer Look at the H60 (pg.2)



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. Hopefully Corsair will address this when the time comes to refresh the H60 once again sometime in the future.


Much like previous CoolIT-branded designs, the H60 2.0 uses 90° connectors which can swivel . This is a great feature which will reduce the pressure on the connectors and should (if past history is any indication) make installation even easier.


Unlike the new block, the radiator itself looks to be a classic CoolIT single bay, single width design which sports 12 fluid channels and sports approximately 23 folds per inch. The only noticeable difference is the reservoir at the bottom of the radiator is slighter taller to allow for the larger inlet and outlet ports. This added height may cause installation issues as it appears the radiator no longer uses a standard 120mm fan form factor and rather may be a touch oversized for some situations. On the flip side, we doubt this change will augment performance in any noticeable way.


While the first generation H60 was equipped with a 1700RPM fan which could be charitably classified as ‘loud’, this cooler receives a PWM capable, Air series SP120L fan from Corsair that is rated at 2000RPM, moves 54CFM of air and boasts a relatively high 2.36mm static pressure rating.
 
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AkG

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H55 Installation (Intel / AMD)

H55 Installation (Intel)


For anyone who owns an H50, H70 – or any Asetek designed AIO - the H55’s installation procedure will seem very familiar. Corsair and Asetek have essentially taken the H70’s streamlined process and have tweaked it ever so slightly to be more inclusive and a touch easier. The end result is a multi-step process which may not be as straightforward as some CoolIT design and has far too many intricate steps for novices, but is still fairly intuitive once the thought process behind it is understood.


The first step is preparing the back plate. Each corner of the Intel backplate has a cluster of three holes which labeled according to a given socket type. Simply pick the right hole combination for your motherboard and install one of the short hollow threaded tubes into the proper hole. Corsair has also included double sided tape on the backplate so it won’t move around during the installation process so you won’t need a third hand when maneuvering the whole affair into position.

As with Corsair’s H70, the included retaining rings (one for Intel 115x/1366/2011 and another for AMD) are made of a high strength metal rather than the flimsy plastic found on the H50. The bracket is installed atop spacers and small tabs but actually getting every one of the small components prepped and into their correct location can be a bit tricky.


With the retention ring in place, it needs to be secured to the motherboard and this is done with four long black bolts. These bolts need to be pushed into place (as you would with the stock Intel heatsink’s push-pin installation) and then tightened by about ½ of a turn. This may seem completely backwards but if these bolts aren’t left loose, the H55’s water block won’t fit below the retention bracket.


Before we continue, there is one point worth mentioning about these plastic spacers and bolt combination. Once a bolt is installed into them, removal becomes problematic. Unless care is taken when prying apart the three small plastic arrowheads in each retainer, one will likely break, making the H55 literally unusable on a different system.


Now comes the hard part. The water block needs to be threaded through the retention ring’s notches and given a slight twist so it locks into the provided “teeth”. Hold the block in place and then screw the four bolts all the way down to apply mounting pressure to the CPU.

With the water block installed you then can reinstall the motherboard, remove the case’s rear exhaust fan, install the include fan and attach the radiator via the included screws. Corsair still recommends sucking cool air in from outside the case and then over the radiator. If you are like most people, you will likely ignore this orientation, pick up four short screws from the hardware store (or your parts bin) and install the fan so it is sucking air from the case over the radiator and then out the back. Doing it the recommend way may potentially improve CPU temperatures but removes the largest benefit of water cooling: dumping the CPU’s heat outside the case. We do wish Corsair would recognize this fact and include the extra four screws. In addition, Corsair recommends you have the radiator tubes orientated towards the bottom of the case rather than the top.


AMD System Installation


Installing the Corsair H55 on AMD AM2, AM3, FM1 and FM2 systems follows the same basic footsteps as the Intel process. The only difference between the two is the hardware components being used and a few less choices since AMD uses the same CPU retention configuration for AM2 and AM3 mounting types.


Since the H55 comes with the Intel mounting system pre-installed, the first step is to naturally replace it with the AMD kit. Unlike some cooling solutions, Corsair has included their own backplate solution (equipped with double sided tape) instead of having users recycle the pre-installed one on AMD motherboards. From this point forth, the next few steps are identical to the aforementioned Intel process: apply spacers, install the top ring and push in / partially tighten the included bolts.


The last few steps once again reflect the installation into Intel systems; you’ll have to perform the same circus act by carefully sliding the water block below the retention ring and then slightly twisting to lock it in place. Luckily, this installation is light years ahead of what Corsair’s H50 offered AMD users AMD installation but as we will see on the next page, the new H60’s procedure makes the H55 seem rather antiquated and outdated.
 
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AkG

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H60 Installation (Intel / AMD)

H60 Installation (Intel)


Not only is the H60’s installation quite straightforward but it can be easily accomplished by novices in a matter of minutes. Unlike our experience with the lower end H55, Corsair’s process seems to have been perfected here and we couldn’t have asked for more.


As with all serious CPU cooling solutions the H60 includes a “4 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. Actually getting this onto your motherboard is a relatively easy process which could have been made simpler with the inclusion of double sided tape (like the H55) but that wasn’t meant to be.

Once the backplate is installed, a quartet of metal standoffs is screwed into place in preparation for the top retention bracket.


The H60’s top retention bracket’s installation is a lesson in simplicity. It just needs to be laid over the water bock where the built-in magnets ensure it doesn’t wreck a perfectly good mount by sliding from side to side. There is no need to mess around with adjustable arms, or brackets. You simply lay it in place over the block and then tighten down the whole affair with four thumb screws.

However, before the water block is installed, make sure to position the inlet and exhaust ports so they and the attached tubes have are facing towards the ram slots. Unlike the H55 or first generation H60, the new H60’s larger but infinitely more flexible tubing makes this a snap.


As with all single bay units, the H60 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 may not be possible as the bottom of the 120mm radiator protrudes down just enough to make it impossible to install in some cases. If your case can only accommodate 120mm fans this may be something to consider before purchasing the H60 2.0 but enclosures with 140mm or dual 120mm fan support won’t have any issues.


AMD System Installation


In the past, we’ve seen many air and water cooling units simply leave AMD users out in the cold without the necessary installation hardware. There have been other situations where an Intel-centric process has been disastrously adapted for the AMD mounting system, resulting in nothing but frustration. While all of Corsair’s new all in one units include the sought-after multi system compatibility but some –like the H55- could still use some improvement from a usability standpoint. The H60 on the other hand features what can only be called 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 mounting system or backplate. The only items that are needed is a pair of metal retention clips which are screwed onto a metal retention bracket with thumb screws. Corsair recommends barely tightening the screws in order to ensure proper mounting compatibility and we found ½ turn to be plenty.


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. The only thing left to do is mount the radiator to the chassis and you’re off to the races.
 
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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 690. We chose the 690 as it a highly adaptable case with not only multiple door fan ports, but also multiple top fan ports as well as the typical single front and back fan ports. 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, for the air based cooling alternative used in the review as a counter example another Scythe E will be used.

Please note: The top plastic fascia of the 690 was removed to allow for better internal air flow. <!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> <w:LatentStyles DefLockedState="false" LatentStyleCount="156"> </w:LatentStyles> </xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 10]> <style> /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;} </style> <![endif]-->


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 690
Processor: Intel i7 920(Intel) AMD Phenom 2 1090T(AMD)
Motherboard: Gigabyte X58-UD3R (Intel) Gigabyte 890FXA-UD7(AMD)
Memory: 6GB Aneon Xtune 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






Although the H60 and H55 show good improvements over the previous generation designs, our overclocked i7 920 seems to have pushed both very close to their thermal dissipation limit. The H55 provided adequate cooling up until higher clock speeds were reached and comes extremely close to the first generation H60's performance envelope. The new H60 on the other hand achieves good temperatures, particularly when compared against its predecessor.

These water coolers aren't be meant to provide advanced cooling performance to higher end, hot running processors but they still succeeded relatively well in these tests. If the best possible performance is required, consider stepping up to Corsair's H70, H80 and H100 instead.

With that being said, Corsair's changes have indeed yielded some noteworthy cooling benefits for the H55 and H60. They are now able to compete with (but not surpass) the first generation H60 and H70 respectively and that's no small feat.
 
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