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Corsair Hydro H90 & H110 CPU Coolers Review

AkG

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Please note that we are experiencing some technical difficulties which will cause image errors in some reviews. Hardware Canucks is actively working to solve the issues and the images should display correctly soon.

With the closed loop liquid cooling market heating up with new competitors, Corsair has found their Hydro series beset from nearly every angle. Many of these coolers attach themselves to either the standard 120mm or 2x 120mm form factors in order to maximize compatibility and call it a day. However there are a few which buck this trend and Corsair’s H90 and H110 are two of the latest to do exactly that.

Very recently we had the opportunity to review both the NZXT Kraken X40 and X60 All In One units and walked away very impressed with both. They paired a high efficiency waterblock to large 140mm or 2x 140mm form factor radiators, included good fans and then sealed the deal with decent fan profile tweaking software. Essentially, the H90 and H110 are Corsair’s answer to these new competitors.


On paper both the H90 and H110 share a lot in common with NZXT’s Krakens and appear to be designed solely to contest the Kraken’s position at the top of their perspective single and dual bay AIO classes. Much like the Kraken X40, the Corsair H90 is based on a 140mm single bay design, whereas the H110 is a dual 140mm unit. Also like their Kraken counterparts the H90 comes with a single high performance 140mm fan and the H110 comes equipped with dual 140mm fans. However, this is where the similarities end.

Unlike the H80i and H100i, neither of these new Hydro coolers come with software monitoring and control abilities. This certainly will put both at a distinct disadvantage compared to the software-enabled X40 and X60. However, with a low noise stock fan this potential issue may not translate into a deal breaker.

In either case, with prices of $99.99 and $129.99 respectively, Corsair hopes their unique blend of performance and price will make these new units not only excellent additions to the Hydro line, but also great competition for the likes of up and comers such as NZXT.

 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the H90

A Closer Look at the H90



Unlike most of Corsair’s high performance All In One’s, the H90 comes in a rather low key box which is very similar to the that of the H55. It is packed with information that will help educate first time consumers on exactly what this cooler has to offer.

The H90 resides inside a sturdy cardboard protector with a foam topper layer. This protection scheme is effective at reducing the chances of it being damaged in transit.


The accessories which accompany the H90 are almost identical to the H55 and other Asetek built sealed water cooling devices we have recently looked at. This includes all of the components required for quick and relatively easy mounting on both AMD and Intel motherboards. Like the Corsair H55 and NZXT Kraken series, every one of these components is built to exceedingly high quality standards so longevity shouldn’t be a concern.


On a cursory glance the 140mm H90 bears a striking resemblance to the NZXT Kraken X40 which isn’t a surprise since both are manufactured by Asetek. Further scrutiny reveals these similarities continue and are more than just ‘skin deep’.

The radiator – just like the X40’s - has 13 water channels and uses a moderately low 20s folds per inch. Even the depth of the H90’s radiator - ~27mm – is for all intents and purposes the same as NZXT’s design. In fact, the only thing which will likely differentiate the two coolers will be the fans.


In comparison to the H80i, H90 should provide better performance since its radiator boasts ~36% more surface area of that of a standard 120mm unit. If Corsair has to play follow the leader with the H90’s radiator, at least they picked a solid design to use.


There are quite a few positive aspects of using the same radiator as NZXT rather than CoolIT’s standard design since it offers more surface area and slightly less restrictive flow constraints. However, the H90’s standard 3/8” tubing just can’t compete with the 9/16” piping found on some of Corsair’s other units. It does however utilize the newer highly malleable rubber type compound material rather than an inflexible FEP design, making for a much easiler installation process.


Even though the tubing and radiator are nearly identical to the NZXT X40’s, Corsair has not simply produced a clone here. In some ways, Corsair would have been much better off doing precisely this as the areas in which they have taken a different approach are not necessarily to the H90’s benefit.

The largest difference between the extremely versatile Kraken X40 and the Corsair H90 is the waterblock itself. Both use the same general internal design but Corsair made the decision exclude Asetek’s ‘optional’ fan controller features. In fact, even though its design is quite elegant, this rather expensive Hydro-series cooler will have to rely upon your motherboard’s built in fan controller as it has no abilities of its own.

Corsair states this was done because the Asetek USB controller hardware is incompatible with their Corsair LINK software. However, Asetek does offer a software solution of their own and it would not have been difficult to ‘reskin’ it like NZXT did and release it solely for the H90 and H110.

Luckily, the base’s quality and finishing is every bit as good as NZXT’s and is everything we have come to expect from Asetek built units.


Since Corsair didn’t see the need to include Asetek’s optional fan controller they had to make some adjustments to the fan itself in order to ensure optimal airflow for all circumstances. As a result the decision was made to use a low-RPM sleeve bearing unit which may be quiet but is much less capable than the H80i’s SP120L, let alone the high performance FX 140LB which accompanies NZXT’s Kraken X40. At 1500RPM it can move 94CFM of air while retaining a constant static pressure of 1.64mm which should be adequate for most scenarios but its bearing design may impact longevity.

When taken as a whole the H90’s design is a lot more controversial than the NZXT 40’s, but at least Corsair cannot be accused of simply copying anyone else’s design. The H90 may have a similar hardware foundation but it really has taken a radically different approach to things.
 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the H110

Closer look at the H110



Like the previous generation H100, the H110’s bright and attention getting box contains all the information anyone could want to know about what’s inside, compatibility and warranty information. The internal protection scheme consists of the same cardboard container and foam topper


The H110’s accessory list mirrors that of the H90 with mounting mechanisms for both Intel and AMD systems. Unfortunately, even though this cooler uses a pair of fans, a Y-adapter that allows both fans to run off of one header wasn’t included, making cable routing an absolute nightmare.


Quite a few comparisons will be drawn between the H90 and X40 and that also holds true for the similarities between the H110 Kraken X60 since both share many of the same Asetek design characteristics. With that being said, once again, the differentiating factors play into NZXT’s hands.


The H110’s dual 140mm radiator is for all intents and purposes the same one NZXT’s X60 uses. Both are approximately 27mm thick and use 13 water channels while providing about 36% more surface cooling area than a standard dual 120mm radiator. However, there is one crucial and critical way in which they differ: the fan spacing offset. The Kraken X60 uses the newer 15mm spacing standard for the distance between its two fans, whereas the H110 uses the older 20mm offset.


In practical terms a smaller offset leads to less ‘gap’ between the fans on the X60, while the H110 features a small half centimeter space. This becomes extremely important when case compatibility is factored into the equation.

Not all cases which can technically accommodate dual 140mm radiators use the same standard. While 15mm spacing is the new standard, if your case uses 20mm installing a Kraken will be problematic. Conversely, it will be very difficult to install the H110 into a case which uses the newer 15mm spacing for its exhaust ports. Be aware of this issue and choose wisely based on what your case can accommodate.

Even opting for a Corsair case does not guarantee success since their own line-up isn’t homogenous, with some supporting the new 15mm standard while others support the older 20mm. At the very least, Corsair should have included mounting adapters for the H110.


While both H110 and its NZXT doppelganger do use the same thin yet flexible 3/8” OD tubing, the H110’s tubing length is rather short. It only comes with about 8 inches which is quite limiting when compared against NZXT’s 16 inches and could cause some installation concerns.

The waterblock itself is also a mixed bag of positive and negative attributes. The quality of the base’s finishing is first rate and its internal design uses Asetek’s latest bag of tricks to optimize performance. Unfortunately, despite this being Corsair’s flagship model, any semblance of included fan control has been kicked to the curb. This wil lseverly limit adaptability and is simply inexcusable at the H110’s price point.


Because Corsair opted to forgo the fan controller hardware, lower RPM fans were used. We aren’t expecting these to negatively impact performance but enthusiasts deserve the option to sacrifice acoustics for performance and that can’t be done here.
 
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AkG

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H90 & H110 Installation (Intel / AMD)

H90 & H110 Installation (Intel)


Corsair’s H90 and H110 use the classic Asetek installation procedure which has far too many intricate steps for novices, but is still fairly intuitive once the thought process behind it is understood. Consumers will want to take the time to read the instructions from start to finish before attempting to install either of these coolers.


Each corner of the Intel backplate has a cluster of three holes which are 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. There are two small pieces of double sided tape which have to be installed and ensure the backplate won’t move around during the installation process.


The next step is to prepare the top mounting ring. As with all Asetek units, the included retaining rings (one for Intel 115x/1366/2011 and another for AMD) are made of high strength metal. The bracket is installed atop spacers and small tabs but actually getting every one of the small components prepped and into their correct locations can be a bit tricky.


With the retention ring in place, it can then be secured to the motherboard with four long black bolts which 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 water block won’t fit below the retention bracket and you will have to loosen each corner until it does.

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

With all these delicate and intricate steps accomplished, the real tricky part is next. The water block needs to be threaded through the retention ring’s notches and given a slight twist so it locks into the “teeth” protruding around the perimeter of the waterblock. When this is done, hold the block in place and then screw the four bolts all the way down to apply mounting pressure to the CPU.


With all this accomplished, the radiator and fans need to be installed. As with all single bay units, the H90 requires a case be equipped with a rear exhaust port, though a top mount can be used in a pinch. The only difference is compatibility requires a 140mm fan location.


The H110’s larger radiator will make proper case selection key to the success or failure of your installation. Before purchasing it, take a close look at your case’s top exhaust ports and make sure they have 140mm mounting holes which feature the necessary offsets.


While the NZXT Kraken series includes enough bolts to mount additional fans to the radiator, the H90 and H110 do not. This expands the Hydro series’ cost if you want additional cooling power.


AMD System Installation


Since the H90 and H110 rely upon standard Asetek hardware, installing them onto 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.


The first step is to replace the motherboard’s stock AMD backplate with the included backplate solution. From this point forth, the next few steps are nearly identical to the aforementioned Intel process with only one minor change. As with the Intel you apply spacers to the top ring, however unlike the Intel side of things, you then attach the top ring on to the waterblock, snap in the AMD retaining ring to lock the top ring to the waterblock and then mount the entire kit to the motherboard by tightening down the four corner bolts.


The last few steps are what make it more difficult than the Intel process as you’ll have to perform a juggling act to keep the entire mounting hardware in place while safely mounting it to the motherboard. Overall, this complicated procedure makes the AMD installation seem rather antiquated and outdated compared to the H80i or H100.
 
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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





With such low speed fans, these results are better than expected. At all but high overclocking levels, both the H90 and H110 perform reasonably well, likely due to the efficient radiators Corsair has opted for. Simply put, even low performance fans are ‘good enough’ to keep them well fed with air.

Remember, neither of these units is inexpensive devices and neither is class leading. Simply outperforming the H80i or H100i just isn’t good enough in today’s marketplace. For the same price - or slightly more in the case of the X60 - consumers can obtain better cooler which combines even higher performance and more adaptability. If Corsair’s goal was to match the abilities of the Kraken series they have missed their mark by a wide margin.
 
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AkG

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Dual and Quad Fan Performance Results

Dual and Quad Fan Performance Results




As expected, when the stock fan(s) are replaced with good high performance fans these coolers go from mediocre performers to downright excellent performers. It is a shame that in order to get this level of performance you have to opt for aftermarket fans.

Also, unlike their NZXT Kraken counterparts, there still is no built-in fan controller so consumers who do opt for faster fans will have to deal with increased noise. That is, unless you’re willing to use the motherboard’s onboard solution. These are issues consumers should never have to deal with considering how expensive the H90 and H110 are.
 
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AkG

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Sound Level Testing

Sound Level Testing


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 endeavour 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.



While the cooling performance of the stock fan(s) Corsair has opted for may not be up to the levels of other devices, they are amazingly quiet. Of course, how long they stay quiet remains to be seen. Sleeve bearing based designs are notorious for being short lived and become very noisy towards the end of their relatively short lives. Luckily, they're backed by a 5 year warranty.
 
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AkG

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Conclusion

Conclusion


Corsair’s history in the water cooling field has been long and filled with award winning products so we had high expectations for the H110 and H90. They may use a slightly odd 140mm form factor but this has allowed for an expanded surface area and the potential for better overall performance while maintaining a small acoustical footprint. For the most part, Corsair’s approach worked but several design decisions contribute to lessen these coolers’ value.

With relatively low RPM 140mm fans, there were some concerns about cooling performance, particularly since these units lack the fan speed controls featured so prominently on competing solutions. Those concerns proved to be unfounded since the H110 and H90 were able to hang on tenaciously, narrowly beating Corsair’s own H100i and H80i respectively. All of this was accomplished while the fans remained some of the quietest around, proving you don't need high speed fans to optimize airflow through a fairly restrictive radiator.

Even though Corsair’s H110 and H90 provide adequate temperatures for enthusiasts, they ultimately fall flat in a number of other areas. The adaptability of an integrated fan controller and included mounting hardware for additional fans are conspicuous by their absence since NZXT offers both on their similarly priced Kraken X40 and X60. It doesn’t help matters that NZXT’s units also serve up better performance and longer tubing for easier installation. Even the less expensive H100i and H80i provide nearly identical performance while also including the excellent LINK software and broader compatibility.

When all of these points into account, they lead us to a strictly divergent opinion about these new coolers. The $99 H90 should have been an excellent alternative to NZXT’s own $99 X40 but the lack of fan control severely handicaps it. Enthusiasts want as much control as possible over their components and Corsair simply doesn’t offer that here. Nor does the H90 offer good value for your money so we recommend you look towards the aforementioned X40 or H80i instead.

On the other hand, Corsair’s H110 was impressive in nearly every respect, particularly when you consider it uses lower speed fans than the other coolers featured in this review. This results in a slightly quieter acoustical profile. Its radiator has the ability to disperse a ridiculous amount of heat, a 5 year warranty guarantees worry-free performance and a price of $129 undercuts NZXT’s X60. Whether or not it is right for you will ultimately come down to features rather than overall performance.
 
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