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DeepCool Maelstrom 120 Water Cooler Review

AkG

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Joined
Oct 24, 2007
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5,270
DeepCool may not be as well-known as some other manufactures here in North America but they have been making high performance, reasonably priced, computer accessories for many years. While mainly known for their air based CPU cooling solutions, DeepCool make a wide assortment of computer parts that start at the chassis and goes on from there. Like nearly every other case / cooler manufacturer they’ve now decided to get their feet wet in the closed loop All in One water cooling market.

The Maelstrom 120 we’re taking a look at today is only one small part of their lineup though. Like most companies entering the increasingly popular AIO market, DeepCool has taken a multi-prong approach and released numerous units at the same time. Right now they have two unique lines -the high end CAPTAIN series and the more affordable Maelstrom- which are designed and marketed towards radically different market segments. Maelstrom 120 targets mainstream buyers looking for a single bay 120mm unit and that means it come competes against the likes of Corsair’s H55 and NZXT’s Kraken X31. Like those well-entrenched alternatives, DeepCool has designed this cooler for ease of use and value rather than extreme performance.

By opting for a single bay 120mm form factor design, DeepCool has allowed their Maelstrom 120 to reach as wide as a range of consumers as possible. Unfortunately the other side of the coin is that by opting for such a common form-factor the Maelstrom 120 will have a tough time differentiating itself from some very well respected competition.

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To help with some of that differentiation, DeepCool has gone with an entirely custom design that is not simply an Asetek knock-off. Rather, what we have here is a completely unique setup that promises to be low profile, low noise, and easy to install while proving good cooling performance.

Beyond using a custom waterblock design this AIO also sets itself apart from the competition via its accompanying fan which takes advantage of DeepCool’s years of OEM expertise for some of the largest vendors around. It uses an exlusive high performance Fluid Dynamic bearing and many additional advanced design features to ensure that it features an optimal blend of performance and noise. As an added bonus, it boasts a removable fan impeller design which allows for easy cleaning. This small tweak should help it get on the radars of enthusiasts everywhere.

On the surface these features should certainly help the DeepCool Maelstrom 120 stand out. However with an MSRP of $75.99 it has been parachuted directly into the heart of the single bay AIO marketplace and is neither the most expensive nor cheapest model available. Sadly the lack of a built-in fan controller may make it a tough sell at this price, but DeepCool certainly cannot be accused of simply copying the competition.

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The Maelstrom 120 is your fairly typical All In One CPU cooling solution and as such comes with a fairly typical assortment of accessories designed to allow mounting to a wide variety of Intel 115x, 1366, as well as 2011 systems and AMD AM2/3+ and FM1/FM2+ motherboards. There’s an all-in-one backplate too which does double duty for Intel and AMD systems. Also included is an installation pamphlet which may not be the best we have ever read, but is more than serviceable.

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Further helping the DeepCool Maelstrom 120 get noticed by enthusiasts and system builders is its unique color scheme. The radiator, pump and tubing may be the typical 'basic black' but that custom fan makes use of red blades and has a red 'racing stripe' molded right into the its main body. This gives the DeepCool Maelstrom 120 a very distinctive look that will fit right in with the overall color scheme of many custom PCs that use ASUS RoG or Gigabyte G1 Gaming motherboards.

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In many ways the Maelstrom 120 goes about its business in a similar fashion to Cooler Master’s Seidon series since it uses a custom waterblock that takes its cues from neither CoolIT nor Asetek designs. This neatly sidesteps all of the patent lawsuits that have been launched by these two OEMs against their competitors.

As with the Seidon it bears more than an overall passing resemblance to, this waterblock is extremely clean and tidy looking. In fact, it only has a single 3-pin cable for the pump sprouting from the side, handy 90° connectors and an integrated LED but this sleek appearance also means it lacks integrated fan controller abilities DeepCool expects your motherboard to handle all the fan speed control duties which is perfectly fine considering how well current models do that.

The pump being used here is also noteworthy since it uses an advanced ceramic bearing design that is nearly silent and is rated for 120,000 hours of operation. Oddly enough the pump is actually rated for 6V to 24V volt pump but is only running at a max of 12V in this application. This does make it very quiet but at a cost of some potential water flow performance as well as pump head pressure. Thankfully it only has to push water through a block with moderate restrictions and a single 120mm high radiator.

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DeepCool seems to also be taking some inspiration from the past since the Maelstrom 120 makes use of the older standard FEP tubing. Many companies have moved away from this less flexible tubing and towards more flexible Polyamdie (PA) rubber compounds which offer similar low evaporation properties but are much easier to work with. On the positive side, the 3/8” OD tubing is fairly long at about 12inches, and should prove to be more than adequate in most cases.

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The radiator being used here is also very similar to the one found on Cooler Master's Seidon 120 series. That is to say it is a reference 27x120x120mm unit with a small reservoir at its base. Compared to what ships with SilverStone's TD series, we do feel that DeepCool would have been better served by using them for their designers’ 'inspiration' instead of Cooler Master's older model.

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One area where DeepCool obviously did not copy, clone, or borrow from any other company's design is the base of the waterblock. Put bluntly it is one of the worst, most poorly finished blocks we have ever seen. Even calling it 'polished' is borderline factious as we would classify it as a 'matte' base which has a number of undulations which raises serious concerns about quality control.

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That fan we alluded to before has some impressive specifications: 91.12CFM at 3.71mm of static pressure is nothing short of spectacular. It accomplishes these massive numbers at just 2200RPMs which surpasses the fans found on competing units by a fair amount.

As an added bonus the entire fan hub and blade assembly is easily removed for cleaning. As such this is one of the most impressive fans we have seen grace an All In One cooling solution in a long time.
 
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AkG

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Oct 24, 2007
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5,270
Setup and Installation Issues

Setup and Installation Issues


While not as well known on this side of the pacific, DeepCool has garnered quite the reputation for creating intuitive, easy to use devices and we must admit to having high hopes for the Maelstrom 120's installation procedure.

After installing this AIO many, many times during the testing stage we have formed some very definite opinions about its installation process. Some of these opinions easily fall into the positive category while other parts could charitably be called less than optimal. In either case this cooler's setup process will be quite polarizing and we doubt anyone who ever uses it will walk away feeling ambivalent.

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No matter where you fall on the spectrum, a few things are blatantly clear. DeepCool's engineers wanted to create an install process that was as familiar as possible for first time users. In fact, anyone who has never installed an AIO device and have only dealt with air based, aftermarket CPU cooling solutions will feel right at home. Compared against other AIO’s though, the Maelstrom feels like a rather large step backwards.

It all starts with the all-in-one one backplate which is actually quite handy since it allows for multiple compatibility standards across every available modern system without needing a change-out of components.

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Just as with an air based CPU cooling solution, you are going to be handed a big bag of parts and expected to customize the waterblock to fit your motherboard's socket type. This is done via the use of two bracket arms that use miniscule screws to attach to either side of the waterblock and thus allow the Maelstrom 120 to mount to either Intel or AMD systems. The upside to this is you will not have to first uninstall Intel equipment if you intend to use the Maelstrom 120 on an AMD system.

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The backplate needs additional equipment installed in the form of bolts and spacers for whichever system it is being mounts to. Once again, all of these components are separate without any being pre-installed.

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One benefit to this bracket and backplate system is that it results in a very strong, very secure mount very precise and even mounting pressure across the entirety of the IHS. Whether this additional extra precision is worth the effort will entirely depend on you, your needs and how you feel about small screws. Once that step is taken care of the Maelstrom does follow the typical AIO install procedure and will have no more surprises up its sleeve.

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Since this is a single thickness, 120mm radiator-based AIO that you can expect fairly smooth sailing for the rest of the install. Nearly every modern case we can think of will accept 120mm AIOs without problems and with the exception of the touch short tubing the Maelstrom 120 will prove to be as easy to install as any other more well-known AIO.

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Overall, the Maelstrom 120 does feel old school in its approach to installation but there is a lot to be said for this setup over that of any competitor that uses magnetic brackets. Everything from mounting pressure to adjustment room is superior but then again, novices may find the entire process a bit daunting.
 
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AkG

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Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,270
Stock Performance Results

Stock Fan Performance Results


You can find our 2015 CPU Cooler Testing Methodology HERE.
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<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/water_cooling/DeepCool/oc_38.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/water_cooling/DeepCool/oc_40.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/water_cooling/DeepCool/oc_45.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

Your final opinion of this AIO's abilities will really come down to what levels of performance you demand from it. Many people buying into the entry level water cooling category are simply interested in moderate overclocking and for them the difference between this AIO and the competition is slim.

Unfortunately, things rapidly fall apart as overclocking hits higher levels and the Maelstrom just isn’t able to provide adequate performance at anything but its highest fan speeds. In many ways this points towards an older design like Corsair’s H55 and H60 that wasn’t engineered to keep up with the rigors of cooling Intel’s latest processors. This causes an issue since the NZXT X31 matches the Maelstrom’s price but completely dominates it from an RPM / cooling standpoint.
 
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AkG

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Joined
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Dual Fan Results / Sound Level Testing

Dual Fan Performance Results


<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/water_cooling/DeepCool/dual.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

Once again the Maelstrom 120 does acquit itself reasonably well but only at higher RPM levels. It just doesn’t feel like a current generation product. This is a shame as we really like the looks of this spunky little AIO and could easily see building an entire system build around its red and black theme.


Sound Level Testing


<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/water_cooling/DeepCool/noise.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

These results are actually quite impressive even though they don't necessarily lead to good cooling performance. The fan's advanced design and fluid dynamic bearings lead to a noise profile that is surprisingly quiet throughout its RPM range even though it can't quite compete with the units being provided on Corsair's H55 and H60 v2.0.
 
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AkG

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Joined
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Messages
5,270
Conclusion; Good but Not Good Enough

Conclusion; Good but Not Good Enough


Going into this review it was obvious the Maelstrom 120 would need to be extremely competitive since DeepCool decided to launch it into a hotly contested price point. With very little recognition on this side of the Pacific, they needed a knock-out performance hit or offer supreme amounts of value in order to make a dent in the armor of Corsair, Cooler Master, NZXT, Silverstone and others. For the most part, that didn’t happen.

At first glance the Maelstrom 120 has some unique features which do allow it to stand out from the immediate competition. Its mounting methods may be archaic compared to newer models but they allow for better CPU contact pressure and adjustability, there’s easy access to the fan’s inner workings for cleaning and the pump’s bearing seems to be second to none. Unfortunately, an integrated fan controller and associated software haven’t been included, which is a huge miss considering several similarly-priced competitors have this key addition.

The main issue with this water cooling unit is that it doesn’t bring anything new to the table within the performance department. As a matter of fact, its cooling potential is roughly analogous to previous generation pre-Haswell units from Cooler Master and Corsair. At moderate to low heat loads everything goes well but performance falls apart when higher overclocks are achieved unless the fans are spinning for all they’re worth. NZXT’s new X31 can achieve lower temperatures at lower fan RPMs and costs about the same as DeepCool’s Maelstrom 120. Naturally, we have to wonder how much the CPU block’s atrocious base finishing contributed to the relatively poor performance results.

One of the surprising benefits we see in this design is its fan, which was extremely impressive throughout testing. It was able to move an astonishing amount of air while achieving decent decibel levels, even at 2200RPMs. Had these capabilities been paired up with a different design and perhaps better base finishing, the Maelstrom 120 may have achieved some excellent results.

We can play hypotheticals for the next several pages but the fact of the matter is that DeepCool needed a home run with the Maelstrom 120 and failed to achieve that. While there’s a ton of potential here, for a relative newcomer to compete in the sub-$100 all in one cooling market, a lot more is needed than just a few unique features.
 
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