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Corsair Hydro Series H80 Liquid CPU Cooler Review

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AkG

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With Corsair and CoolIT announcing their partnership at this year’s CES, many had hoped for a new renaissance in the prebuilt, closed loop liquid CPU cooler market. The first byproduct of this new relationship the H60 which ended up doing quite well in our testing. While the H60 was indeed a much better performing cooler than the venerable H50, we knew Corsair had more products being cooked up by their engineering alchemists. The next product to be released was the H80, a higher performing cooler that still carries a sub-$100 price.

Much like the H60 can be considered an upgraded “second generation” version of its forefather, this new H80 is a direct descendant of the very successful H70. Much like its predecessor, the H80 sports a single height, dual thickness radiator connected to an upgraded water block / reservoir combo. This means Corsair’s newly minted mid-tier cooler may indeed be perfect for consumers who are unable to opt for dual bay radiator designs but still require performance that only water can deliver.

There is no doubt the H80 will do a very good job at cooling today's modern processors. It is after all a Corsair branded cooler backed up by CoolIT engineer’s massive experience. The only main concern whether the performance increase is large enough to justify its premium over the H60. Luckily though, the H80 has very little competition at this point other than a few similar products from Antec, Asetek and Swiftech.


 
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Specifications

Specifications








 
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Closer look at the Corsair H80

Closer look at the Corsair H80



As with previous models, the H80’s box will be bound to get attention on a retailer’s shelves. It is bold, brash and surprisingly large considering it houses a single bay cooler insider. Also like previous models, the box is festooned with all the information a first-time user could possibly need.

Opening up the box and peaking inside, we can see the same internal protection scheme as the one used with the H70. This setup works and works well as it consists of a sturdy cardboard with a foam topper layer.


When it comes to accessories, you get all the components for mounting on AMD and Intel sockets motherboards including – apparently - Intel’s upcoming socket 2011. These components are all of a very high quality and are very similar in their straightforward manner to those which came with the H60. While our particular sample did not include the manual, an installation guide that covers both AMD and Intel installations is included.


Like all of the Hydro series coolers, the H80 consists of four main parts: the radiator, the water block/pump combination block, the tubing which connects the two together and the fans. There are quite a few similarities between it and the H70, the most obvious of which is the single bay, dual thickness 38mm by 120mm radiator.

On the flip side of the coin, the differences between it and the lower end H60 couldn’t be more striking. This new cooler uses the aforementioned thick radiator, is compatible with Corsair’s Link Digital Corsair Link Kits technology, has a redesigned CPU block and comes equipped with a pair of high performance fans.


The H80’s radiator is a 38mm thick monster which is almost as thick as a H60 with a fan attached. When you add in another 50mm for the pair of included fans there is no denying this is a somewhat bulky design. If past iterations are any indicator, this should translate into great performance but at the expense of compatibility due to its large footprint.


Taking a closer look at the radiator we can see that unlike the H70’s design which used an 8 tube layout, the H80 uses 12 thinner tubes to carry the coolant through the rad structure. This should in theory increase the static pressure requirements needed to properly cool the fluid when compared the H70s radiator. While the tube count has changed the number of folds per inch in the fins is about the same as the previous model’s at an approximate 20 FPI.


Luckily, the included fans have also received an upgrade. The previous model relied on fans capable of hitting 2000rpm whereas the H80’s are capable of hitting a whopping 2500rpm with 7.7mm of static pressure. This should render any concerns over static pressure requirements relatively moot.
 
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AkG

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Closer look at the H80 Cont'd

Closer look at the H80 Cont'd



The tubing is the same ¼” ID PVC or coated neoprene affair used on previous Corsair water cooling units which 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 since heat sealing is a cheaper, more secure and generally easier method.

As with the H60, the H80 uses 90° connectors which can swivel to mate the tubing and the water block together. This is a great feature which will reduce the pressure on the connectors and should (if past history is any indication) make installation a heck of a lot easier.


There is a large button atop the H80’s block surrounded with three illuminated indicators. This button acts much like a selector switch allowing you to quickly and easily cycle through a trio of built in fan speed modes. Low noise mode (maximum fan speed of 1300rpm), balanced mode (maximum fan speed of 2000rpm) and a high performance mode (maximum fan speed of 2500rpm) can be cycled through depending on your needs.


The H80 also has a digital port on its side, which allows the H80 to be controlled via the Corsair Link software. This is an aftermarket feature which does not come standard with this particular cooler.



Another great addition to the water block is the built in dual fan controller. With this, plugging the H80’s fans into separate ports or via Molex adapters will be a thing of the past. It is also noteworthy that while the stock fans use 3 pin connectors, the integrated fan controller can accept 4 pin fans, making your choice of aftermarket fans even easier.

To power the pump and two fans, the H80 comes with a Molex adapter as well as a standard 3 pin fan connector. In all likelihood the 3pin is simply to provide motherboard compatibility – as some motherboards throw a fit when a CPU fan isn’t plugged in – and most if not all of the power comes via the Molex connector. The only downside to all these new features is the fact that the water block is about 1cm taller than a H60’s yet it is still quite compact.
 
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AkG

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Installation of the H80

Installation of the H80


For anyone familiar with CoolIT products - especially their all-in-one water cooling units - or the Corsair H60, this sealed water cooler’s installation will be very recognizable. If you have have never touched either Corsair’s later Hydro series or a CoolIT product, the process is best described as being extremely easy and straightforward. Compared to the older H70’s installation, this process is simply in a different league.


The H80 includes a “5 in 1” backplate which is adaptable to Intel 775, 1155, 1156, 1366 and even upcoming 2011 Sandy Bridge E systems. Meanwhile, AMD installation uses the standard backplate that comes with all AMD motherboards.

The H80 cooler includes Intel all in one retention arms pre-mounted to the water block. If you plan on installing it on an AMD system, you will have to first uninstall these arms and then apply the ones which come in the box.

In order to begin installation, the included double ended retention bolts (which secure the block’s arms are secured to) need to be screwed into the motherboard. To actually install the water block onto the motherboard, the two tubes have to be aligned so they are facing towards the ram slots before the whole affair can be gently lowered into place. The next step is to simply tighten the retention bolts before moving on to the fan installation.


As with all single bay units, the H80 requires your case be equipped with either a 120mm rear exhaust port, or at the very least a top 120mm port. If you have an older case which uses smaller fans, a plastic 80/92 to 120mm fan adapter will be required before you can install this cooler. Luckily, these adapters are relatively inexpensive.


Corsair has made installing the fan / radiator setup quite as well by allowing the H80 to be installed in exactly the same manner as a standard case fan. This is where the rotatable ports on the heat transfer block tend to come in handy. We recommend you first plug both fans into the integrated fan controller before installing the H80 to your exhaust port.

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With the Corsair H80 now securely in place, you have just successfully installed what is most likely your first water cooling setup. Overall, this is an extremely easy installation and you shouldn’t run into any motherboard compatibility issues.
 
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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









The two fans which accompany the H80 are extremely impressive when running at full speed which leads it to best in class results. However, the success of this new all in one cooler doesn't rest solely on the shoulders of those high performance fans. Even when set to a more balanced setting (aka “Balanced” mode) the H80 is clearly superior to the H70 it replaces. The upgraded water block and great fans, coupled with those three impressive cooling modes makes for one truly potent combination.

It is also noteworthy that at low and moderate heat loads the difference between the modes is not extreme. It appears that this device is smart enough to know when to let the fans idle and when to really apply the voltage. This does make for a much more enjoyable experience since the H80 only gets loud when it absolutely has to and is otherwise all but inaudible.
 
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High Speed Fan Performance Results

High Speed Fan Performance Results







When dealing with not one but two stock fans that run at upwards of 2500rpm it is not surprising in the least to see our single Scythe G results get dominated. More importantly, what these results tell us is this ultra thick cooler really demands a push-pull configuration to reach its true potential.
 
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Dual Fan Performance Results / Sound Level Testing

Dual Fan Performance Results





While the H80 doesn't exactly like low speed fans, it is actually slightly better dealing with them than the previous H70. Also unlike the H70, you do not need to purchase after market fans to enjoy a quiet cooling setup as the “quiet mode” keeps the included fan quiet and docile at a maximum of 1300RPM. At this low rotational speed the stock fans are still rated for 1.6mm of static pressure, which is very similar to the Noctua NF-P12-1300’s 1.68mm static pressure rating. This explains why the results for the low noise mode are so very close to those of the dual Noctua fan.


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 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.



These results highlight the large performance envelope of the stock fans and show that Corsair has done the right thing by including selectable fan speed modes. With a simple press of button you can literally change the H80 from a high performance yet loud device to a fairly mild mannered one depending on the amount of cooling power you need.
 
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Conclusion

Conclusion



In every way imaginable the Corsair H80 deserves its “High Performance” moniker. No matter what the heat load this sumo sized – yet still only single bay form factor – all in one water cooling solution simply performed flawlessly. But then again, we expected nothing less from Corsair since through their partnership with CoolIT; they seem to have the design of closed loop water coolers down to a precise science.

The predominant reason for the H80’s performance is its extra thick radiator which can handle massive heat loads. Naturally, the new water block design along two high performance fans also contribute towards those impressive results and from where we stand certain custom water cooling loops may have a tough time beating this pre-built device. Adding to the H80’s appeal is an installation process which is deceptively easy and won’t pose any problems for someone building their first system.

While Corsair’s design for the H80 makes it an excellent competitor in the high end CPU cooling department, it is also quite versatile. Due to its onboard fan controller, this is one of a select few heatsinks that can adapt to a wide variety of heat loads at the touch of a button. Planning on overclocking your CPU? Crank up the fans but be prepared for slightly louder experience. On the flip side of that coin, Corsair’s Balanced and Silent profiles still provide enough cooling performance for some overclocking but won’t put a strain on one’s ears. Unfortunately, unless buying a $99 Corsair Link controller and its associated software sounds appealing, you’ll have to pop the side panel every time you want to change the fan speed.

The only thing which keeps this from being the absolute best device for all consumers is the fact that it is a bit pricey. Thus while it is an extremely good deal for the amount of cooling and versatility being offered, the H80 is simply going to be out of reach of some consumers. But if the asking price of around $90 is within your reach, this device is sure to satisfy and can be considered a great purchase.


Pros:

- Great stock cooling performance
- Can adapt to numerous situations
- 3 cooling profiles built into the water block
- Built in fan controller which can accept PWM capable fans
- Comes with two high performance fans
- Very easy installation
- Almost no compatibility issues

Cons:

- Need physical access to water block to change cooling modes
- Price
- At full speed the fans are rather loud



 
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