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Corsair Hydro Series H100 Liquid CPU Cooler Review

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AkG

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We recently witnessed first hand the amount of performance, features and customizability that the CoolIT and Corsair partnership could bring to the table with their all new H80 liquid CPU cooler. With very little room left for improvement on their single fan radiator design, it came as no surprise that – unlike the H70 before it - the H80 wasn't actually meant to be Corsair's flagship model. That's where the H100 Extreme Performance CPU cooler comes into the equation.

Instead of trying for minor modifications to distinguish the High Performance branded H80 from the Extreme Performance H100, Corsair took a different approach and went straight for the brute force method of improving cooling potential. This was done by using a large dual height (240mm) radiator to exponentially improve upon heat dissipation. This all by itself should put the H100 into an entirely different performance (and price) bracket.

Naturally, by doubling radiator's length in the search for even more performance means that Corsair has somewhat moved away from the easy to install mantra that has graced past all in one coolers. This thing does indeed take up a ton of room and will not fit into some cases but will enthusiasts be able to overlook this and focus upon its performance? We certainly think so. On the flip side of that coin, first time water cooling buyers may also be daunted by the H100's price of about $110 but if it lives up to expectations, this could still be a less expensive option than going with a custom loop. So with that being said, let's see if the new H100 can hit all the right points and usher in a new era for all in one water cooling solutions.


 
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Specifications

Specifications










 
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A Closer Look at the H100

Closer look at the H100




With the exception of the length and model listed on it the H100’s box is very similar to the H80’s shipping container. It is packed with all the information a first-time user could possibly need. 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 H80.


With only some minor differences, the accessories which accompany the H100 are the same as the H80. You get all the components for mounting the H100 on AMD and Intel sockets motherboards; and all components are of the same high quality. Even the included two fans are the same as the H80’s fans.


Moving on to the H100 itself, this device may be physically larger than any other Hydro series model, 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.


Unlike the H80, the H100 is a dual bay 240mm unit which trades compatibility for increased performance. This is why this model is listed as an “Extreme Performance” model, unlike the H80 which is listed as merely a “High Performance” model. The only potential negative to this is it will have higher space requirements and lessened compatibility with certain enclosures. Unlike the H80 which simply needs your case to use a standard 120mm fan exhaust, the H100 requires your case come equipped with two 120mm fan exhaust ports. In practical terms this means you will mount the H100 to the top two 120mm exhaust fan locations in your enclosure, rather than the rear exhaust fan location. If your case only has one top exhaust – or worse still does not come with any top exhausts – you will have to be more creative in mounting this device; or more likely, be unable to mount it easily inside your enclosure.


On the positive side, while the radiator is capable of mounting two 120mm fans, it is only as thick as the H50 or H60 models. This means that while it is literally twice as long as a H80, it is only about two thirds that models thickness at 27mm vs. 38mm. This will make things easier in finding room inside your case, and unless you mount four fans to it – making it 7.7cm or just a hair over 3 inches thick - there is a lower chance of it interfering with your motherboard. Also on the positive side, and if other 120mm vs. 240mm radiators are any indicator – this increase length should actually translate into much improved cooling performance even when compared to a double thick single height radiator unit like the H70 or H80.
 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the H100 pg.2

A Closer look at the H100 cont'd



While the radiator is radically different from past integrations, the two included fans are the exact same as those found on the H80. They are rated for a whopping 2500rpm and an extremely impressive 7.7mm of static pressure, making them perfect for radiator duty.


Much like almost everything else about the H100, the tubing is the same ¼” ID coated neoprene affair used on all previous Corsair water cooling units and has been heat-sealed onto the radiator and water block barbs. This is par for the course as very few companies bother with pinch clamps as heat sealing is a cheaper, more secure and an altogether easier method.


The tubing length may appear to be rather short but at approximately 11 inches, it should reach most parts of even the largest cases. Unfortunately, due to the H100’s large size and limited mounting options, we wish at least 14 inches was given so it could be easily mounted further away from the CPU socket.


As with the latest editions to the Hydro line, the H100 uses 90° connectors which can swivel to mate the tubing and the water block together.


The water block includes an adjustable three speed fan speed controller along with a quartet of fan connectors so the H100 can actively use up to four fans at the same time.
 
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AkG

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Installing the H100

Installing the H100



Much like the H80, the H100 includes a “5 in 1” backplate which is adaptable to Intel 775, 1155, 1156, 1366 and 2011 systems. Meanwhile, AMD installation uses the standard backplate that comes with all AMD motherboards. It also comes with the Intel all in one retention arms pre-mounted to the water block but different retention arms need to be installed for AMD systems.


After placing the backplate in its proper location, the included double ended bolts which secure the water block in place need to be applied.


As with all previous Hydro models, Corsair states that the water block's two tubes have to be aligned so they are facing towards the memory slots before the whole affair can be gently lowered into place. The next step is to simply tighten the retention bolts and secure the water block to the motherboard.

Before moving on to the actual radiator installation, we recommend you first plug both fans into the integrated fan controller. You have four ports to chose from, but for ease of access we chose the nearest two towards the ram slots. To help ensure the fan cables reach the water block, Corsair has included two braided fan extenders.


Up until this point, the installation is fairly routine but when it comes to actually mounting the H100's radiator, things get a bit complicated. Other than the limitations incurred due to its need for two fan mounts there are still some larger cases that just won't support it. There is also no way to mount it outside of your case since the H100's tubes are sealed in place and can't be fished through premade water cooling grommets.

Due to the H100's thickness with fans installed, it may not fit between the motherboard and the top of your case and even if it managers to slip in, securing it with the included screws can be tricky. So much so that the H100 barely fit in our Cooler Master 690 but once in place, things worked out quite well....

 
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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.


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

Motherboard: Gigabyte X58-UD3R

Memory: 6GB Aneon Xtune DDR3-1600

Graphics card: Asus 8800GT TOP

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






With its two extremely powerful fans and comparatively large radiator the performance mode results were spectacular and set a new standard for all in one liquid coolers and the same can even be said of the balanced mode. The performance may be lower at high heat loads, but the moderate reduction in performance will be considered by many to be well worth the trade off in the reduced acoustics of the H100's moderate fan speed profile. The low noise numbers are equally impressive and still do an great job of keeping the processor's heat in check.
 
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Dual Fan & Quad Fan Performance Results

Dual Fan Performance Results




While the H100 is a much better cooling solution than previous models when equipped with low speed fans – or set to quiet mode – but this isn’t to say it is an optimal choice for every situation. For overclocked processors, you will be able to run the fans at a lower speed than say an H80 but whether or not you will actually NEED this massive cooling capacity is really up to how much heat your processor puts out.

As with the H80 we reviewed recently, the H100 doesn’t require that you to purchase expensive aftermarket fans such as the Noctua NF-P12-1300 as the quiet setting does take care of this need quite nicely. The results may be slightly lower than what a pair of NF-P12s will provide, but the difference doesn’t actually justify the added expense.


Quad Fan Performance Results


Please note: Considering the H100 in stock configuration barely fits inside a CM 690 it come as no surprise that with four fans attached, it didn’t fit at all. The only way to test quad fan performance was by removing the 690’s top fascia and attaching the top two fans to the outside. Thus, this chart is for “informational purposes only” and you will need an extremely large case if you plan on using a H100 with four fans.

Since this is our first quad fan capable water cooler we have taken the results for the other coolers from our stock cooling chart



While the results of four Scythe S-Flex G fans are indeed better compared to the stock fans, the performance difference is not all that large. This thin radiator really does not need anything more than its pair of stock fans to perform at nearly peak efficiency. If however, your goal is insanely high overclocks then every little bit will count and we’d recommend going with a quartet of high speed fans.
 
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Sound Level Testing

Sound Level Testing


While everyone "hears" noise differently there is one easy way to remove all subjectivity 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.



Since the H100 uses the same fans as the H80 it came as no surprise that at full speed the H100’s stock fans are quite loud. Luckily, Corsair built in a fan controller so with a simple press of button the high speed fans can be tamed. Both the Balanced and Low settings offer an excellent combination of performance and quiet operation which makes the H100 a truly versatile cooling solution.
 
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Conclusion

Conclusion


In terms of overall performance there is no denying that Corsair’s new H100 is nothing short of spectacular. Its large dual bay radiator, two high end fans and excellent block design allow for temperatures that until recently seemed impossible for an all in one system to achieve. This isn’t to say our latest Hydro series experience was problem free but in many ways, Corsair has now put themselves far ahead of the competition.

One of the H100’s more noteworthy achievements is the seamless integration of four fan headers and very effective fan speed controller into the water block. This does tend to make changing fan speeds on the fly a royal pain in the ass but we see this as a “set it and forget it” feature that doesn’t need quick access. Some may argue that the H100 should have come standard with the Corsair Link kit but that would have added a significant amount to its price. Plus, even the lowest manual speed setting will likely be enough for most processors.

We know there is one question that is on everyone’s mind: is the H100’s premium over a H80 really justifiable? That really depends upon expectations. For the most part, today’s Sandy Bridge processors aren’t going to need the tons of cooling mass to reach their highest 24/7 overclocks. However, AMD’s Bulldozer and Intel’s own upcoming Sandy Bridge E are different monsters altogether and could benefit from what the H100 brings to the table. The installation of this new cooler also happens to be much less adaptable than its smaller sibling.

Bigger may be better in terms of cooling performance but the H100’s size does hinder one of the Hydro series’ hallmark qualities: ease of installation. Since it is a completely sealed system, there’s just no way to snake the tubes through the water cooling grommets on most cases for an external radiator mounting. You’ll need dual top or rear 120mm fans and this leads to a very limited selection of cases which can support the H100 and downright eliminates most mid towers. Even with all of these things taken into account, the mounting process can still be downright frustrating.

We see the H100 as a bridge product between Corsair’s lower end all in one water cooling units and custom designed loops and in this respect it succeeds very well. It is still less expensive and certainly less complicated than many other high performance cooling setups but $110 is a hefty investment. When you couple this with a limited cross section of affordable cases which support internal dual 120mm radiators and the less expensive H80’s excellent results, things don’t look all that great. But for those aware of the H100’s limitations, there is currently no better option out there for closed loop high performance liquid cooling.


Pros:

- Great Performance across a wide range of settings and scenarios
- 3 cooling profiles built into the water block
- Built in 4 port fan controller perfect for future upgrades
- Comes with two good fans


Cons:

- Major case compatibility issues
- Needs physical access to water block to change cooling modes
- H80 is less expensive and gives most of the H100’s performance



 
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