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Fractal Design Celsius S36 AIO Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
Location
Montreal
After an initial rapid fire introduction, the all in one cooler has very much settled into a state of slow but steady progression. Many believe we have already hit a plateau of sorts when it comes to how well both water and air are able to cool off our processors. While some like NZXT have begun focusing in on prettying up their product lineups or adding a wide range of features, Fractal Design is taking a bit more understated approach with the Celsius S36 and S24.

With such excellent options like their benchmark-setting Define series, many enthusiasts consider Fractal Design a company that focuses mostly upon case design and not much else. While this is somewhat correct it is a very North American centric point of view. In 2014 Fractal Design made some waves in European PC market with their first All In One CPU cooling solution named the 'Kelvin'. For various reasons, including a lawsuit by Asetek, this AIO series was not offered to North Americans.

The demise of the Kelvin series for the North American market was a shame since it boasted a rather innovative design. For example it offered expandability via standard water cooling G 1/4" fittings, before most other AIO manufacturers -including Asetek- were even debating the possibility of granting owners the ability to customize their AIO water loops.

So with the Kelvin series unavailable in North America and beginning to show its age, it was time for a rethink and that’s exactly what Fractal did. Not only does the new Celsius series incorporate everything that made its predecessor something to be proud of but it also adds in new features, upgraded components and better overall performance. In short these are completely new AIO coolers that are hoping to leapfrog the competition in a big way.

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

Today we will be taking a closer look at what Fractal Design has done and how they intend to compete against more firmly entrenched manufacturers here in the North American market. After all, NZXT and their second-generation Kraken series, Corsair and their multi-Hydro series, and a whole host of other companies like Cooler Master have been offering North Americans some very impressive AIOs for years now. Mix in 'newcomers' like AlphaCool or even EK-XL, and Fractal Design may indeed be wishing they had hit the ground running in 2014 and not 2017.

In order to impress a rather conservative thinking crowd Fractal has pulled out all the stops. Much like their original AIO, Fractal Design's new Celsius S combines elegance and grace to create a model that is aesthetically pleasing without handicapping performance. A classic combination of either a dual 120mm radiator (Celsius S24) or triple 120mm radiator (the Celsius S36 being reviewed today) with a high performance waterblock is a proven winning combination. So much so that we have little doubts about this massive 360mm AIO's cooling performance. If Fractal Design had stopped there we doubt it would raise many eyebrows as the North American market is filled with similar designs. What seems to be missing however are more versatile 120mm / 140mm options but we’re sure those are coming down the pipeline soon.

To make the Celsius stand out, and much like the Kelvin series before it, they have included those nifty G 1/4 connectors. This allows owners the <i>option</i> of doing things like 'burping' the loop to remove air bubbles, replacing the coolant after a few years to refresh performance, upgrading the cooling performance via an additional radiator - or even adding in a different block if required. We will go over this feature in the coming pages but the Celsius S does indeed offer a level of customizability that is sorely lacking in most other off the shelf units – we are looking at you Corsair and NZXT.

To close the deal with potential owners still unsure if the Celsius S series is right for them Fractal Design has also included one more feature – the asking price. With MSRP's of only $110 (Celsius S24) and $120 (Celsius S36) these coolers are actually some of the most inexpensive <i>customizable</i> All In One cooling solutions on the market. That is indeed one hell of a closing act and sure to nudge many buyers in their direction. But then again, one has to wonder whether or not many users will actually take advantage of this feature.

With all of this being said, it is also important to compare the Celsius S36 we have on hand to its immediate competition and that is actually quite challenging since it falls into a very underserved niche. Even though Fractal has priced it lower than the likes of NZXT’s Kraken X62 and Corsair’s H115i, it boasts three 120mm fans and absolutely tons of cooling potential. That means it compete against only a handful of alternatives like EKWB’s $250 Liquid series and Thermaltake’s Water 3.0 Ultimate. While there may be some questions about compatibility, the S36 should definitely appeal to people who have the space and willingness to experiment with a larger water cooler.

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/water_cooling/Fractal_Design_Celsius/1.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> </div>
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
Location
Montreal
A Closer Look at the Celsius S36

A Closer Look at the Celsius S36



We usually don’t spend much time on the box which a CPU cooling solution comes in, but we do feel that it is necessary in this case since the box Fractal Design's Celsius S36 comes in is bloody massive.


As with many others the exterior 'box' is not much more than a cardboard sleeve and the AIO itself is housed internally in a – very – large cardboard container.


The accessories themselves should also be recognizable to any owner of a Corsair or NZXT or many other AIO models. The only minor points worth mentioning is that this AIO comes with AMD Ryzen AM4 compatible mounting hardware right out of the box and not just Intel LGA115x, Intel LGA2011, and older AMD AM3 hardware.

Sadly, while Fractal Design did go the extra mile for AMD users they did overlook two accessories that <i>should</i> have been included. Firstly they did not include a rubber gasket to reduce fan vibration noise. This is not that concerning as few go that extra mile. What is frustrating is they <i>also</i> excluded mounting hardware for six fan configurations. Instead you will only find enough washers and screws to mount the three included fans. This is a puzzling move, but one that will become crystal clear in a moment.

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

Before getting to that answer, the reason for some similarities is that Fractal Design has taken a very safe, patent-friednly path when designing the Celsius. Instead of having 'another' ODM design and build the Celsius S36 themselves, Fractal Design has reached out to Asetek to build, but not design, the cooler for them. This however does come with a few issues we need to discuss. Some are positive while other less so.

With Asetek backing the Celsius series, Fractal is able to use components that are known to knowledgeable customers as good quality parts with an installation path that should create few surprises. This is certainly a good thing as AIO owners are a conservative bunch. We don't like buying a new cooling device from a new company based on marketing and faith alone. This should alleviate many questions potential owners will have.

The downside to this is that Asetek-based units are a dime a dozen so there's very little that makes the Celsius all that unique. Quite literally the marketplace is filled with AIO models that use Asetek's latest waterblock, latest radiator and tubing. Even the fan controller software some units come with is very similar. Basically, Fractal had a huge hurdle to overcome in order to make their new cooler unique.

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/water_cooling/Fractal_Design_Celsius/ang1.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

To do this Fractal Design made many design decisions and were obviously active players in the process. So much so that we would classify Asetek as the Original Equipment Manufacturer and not the Original Design Manufacturer. That one word makes all the difference as this is not an Asetek design per se. Fractal Design may have used Asetek 'off the shelf' components but their unique way of solving problems does shine through clear as day.

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

Let's start with the radiator, as it is home to many of these key differences. While this is a standard Asetek 30mm by '360mm' by 120mm radiator capable of attaching <i>six</i> high performance 120mm fans there are a few additions that make it unique. The most obvious change is the use of standard G 1/4-inch connectors. With those you can <i>easily</i> add in another radiator, waterblock (for cooling a GPU), reservoir, and even a secondary pump. Yes these two little tweaks allow this AIO to be the foundation of a future full custom water loop if you so choose. Compared to EK-XLC's Predator series or AlphaCool's Eisbär series the Fractal Design Celsius S36 is a not a bargain it’s a bloody steal of a deal.

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

This however is not the only major difference between the Celsius S series and typical Asetek models, rather it is just the beginning. In addition to this massive change Fractal Design also included an actual hardware fan controller that does not require software to be controlled. Instead this new model can be controlled all via the waterblock itself!

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/water_cooling/Fractal_Design_Celsius/cont1.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

In order to do this Fractal Design has used the tight braid covering the tubing for more than just aesthetics. Instead it hides from view, and protects, the controller/power cable that snakes up from the waterblock to the little 4-way fan header that is located between the water inlet and output ports. If you look closely at the leftmost header you will see where this 4-wire cable exits the inlet tubing and connects to this little board.

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/water_cooling/Fractal_Design_Celsius/ang2.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

This ingenious design allows for a lot of possibilities and adaptability as the 4-way splitter is just that. As long as you don’t go crazy you could swap this 4-way splitter out for a 7 way to control the additional 3 fans you could attach to it. Alternatively, you can have one of the headers connected to a secondary 2 or 4-way splitter to control the fans on a secondary radiator. All very easily. The downside is by locating it between the radiator's inlet and outlet headers you will have to be <i>extra</i> careful when you do decide to upgrade the Celsius S36, lest you get coolant on this board and short it out.

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

This is why Fractal Design – distastefully – uses 'warranty void' stickers on the two headers. Its almost as if they created a customizable loop model and then didn't want anyone to upgrade it. I'm certainly not a fan of this but it is understandable.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
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Messages
13,410
Location
Montreal
A Closer Look at the Celsius S36 pg.2

A Closer Look at the Celsius S36 pg.2


<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/water_cooling/Fractal_Design_Celsius/block_top2.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

Fractal Design did not just include hardware fan controller abilities but actually allows you the owner to choose between two modes. The first is 'auto' which relies solely on water coolant temperatures to scale up or down the fan rotation speeds. The second is 'PWM' which allows the motherboard to detect <i>CPU</i> temperatures and control fan speeds in real time to balance out heat. Thus, if you have an expensive motherboard that allows for fan tuning in the BIOS the second option may result in a more optimized noise or performance profile. That is downright ingenious as this device needs no USB port, no software installation, or anything else in order to provide total fan customization. Bravo Fractal Design as you have just created the most user-friendly fan controller on the market in this price range.

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


There is however one issue to this design that may throw a bit of cold water on the parade. That issue stems from the fact that all three – or six – fans <i>and</i> the water pump are all powered by one 4-pin fan connector. Each of these 2000RPM fans is rated at a max power draw of 0.2 Amps – or a total of .6A for three or 1.2A for six. The waterblock is also rated for 0.15A. This means the maximum power draw is 0.75A for three fan configurations or 1.35A for six fans.

To put that in more easily digestible format the Celcius can theoretically draw upwards of 9W of power in 3 fan mode, and a whopping 16.2W <I>from a single motherboard 4-pin fan header</i>. This most likely explains why Fractal Design does not make it easy to add three more fans. We invite you to draw your own conclusions based on the power draw level and if you are comfortable with <i>your</i> motherboard's ability to handle this load.

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/water_cooling/Fractal_Design_Celsius/block_top3.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

We strongly recommending in stock configuration using only motherboard headers rated for 1A and if you do decide on six fans we suggest using a High Amperage header that some motherboards come equipped for peace of mind. This issue could have easily been avoided had Fractal Design simply included a dual fan header adapter. Thankfully this is a non-issue for the smaller Celsius S24 as it will only pull 0.55A or 6.6W from a single header.

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


Moving on, the waterblock itself is an ultra-low-profile affair that does not make use of standard G 1/4-inch connectors nor 90-angle 'swivel' connectors. Instead both the inlet and outlet ports are located directly on the top – just as they are on the NZXT Kraken series.

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/water_cooling/Fractal_Design_Celsius/block1.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

In other words, with the exception of the built-in fan control abilities it is Asetek's latest waterblock, right down to the mounting bracket setup it uses. This is not a negative as Asetek does make very good blocks, but does put the Celsius S series at a disadvantage compared to EK-XLC and AlphaCool who use more high performance blocks. It does however cost significantly less than either of those two models. More importantly with a radiator that has 43,200 square millimeters of surface area it is not going to be a major issue for most owners.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
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Messages
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Setup and Installation Issues

Setup and Installation Issues


<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/water_cooling/Fractal_Design_Celsius/inst4.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

Since Fractal Design Celsius S36 is an Asetek built AIO it should come as no surprise that it uses the standard Asetek installation and mounting hardware. The downside is that buyers will have to be prepared to deal with classic el cheapo Asetek plastic backplate.

This design has indeed improved over the years but flimsy plastic still has no business being on an AIO of this caliber. Thankfully neither the Socket 2011 systems nor AMD systems will have to deal with this since the Celcius mounts directly to their backplates. However this is one area where Fractal Design should have flexed their muscle as a majority of buyers will be using one flavor of Intel's 115x series or another.

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/water_cooling/Fractal_Design_Celsius/amd1.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

Assuming you are indeed using a Intel 115x based system the backplate needs to be moved into position and four standoff screws have to be installed. These screw down through the motherboard's CPU cooler mounting holes and into the hollow tubes in the backplate. This securely attaches the backplate to the motherboard and ensures the proper spacing for the waterblock. If you are using an AMD or Intel LGA 2011 based system the stock backplate is used to attach these screws but for AMD you need to first remove the two plastic AMD stock top brackets.

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/water_cooling/Fractal_Design_Celsius/inst_fan2.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

Before you proceed to the actual installation of the waterblock we recommend taking a moment to install the three stock fans. This is actually not as straightforward as it <i>should</i> be since the power cable is barely long enough to reach from one end of the radiator to the other and still have enough length left to plug into the header. We recommend <i>not</i> using the two fan cable holders that Fractal Design includes and instead sticking the cables behind the fan screws so that you will have more than enough cable on the furthermost fan to reach the header.

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/water_cooling/Fractal_Design_Celsius/amd2.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

The next step is already taken care of for you <i>if</i> you are installing the Celsius into any Intel system. On the other hand if you have an AMD system you will first have to uninstall the Intel top bracket, then install the AMD compatible one.

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/water_cooling/Fractal_Design_Celsius/amd3.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

For most consumers though, having the most common top bracket come preinstalled will save a lot of time. If you are installing it on a AMD system you will need to flip the waterblock over, remove four small screws, and then gently twist the Intel top bracket slightly to the left. This unhooks the top bracket from the waterblock and allows you to pull it off the block. Then using the included AMD AM3 and AM4 universal top bracket reverse the steps to prepare the waterblock for AMD systems.

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

Once the top bracket has been confirmed to be the right one all that needs be done is gently place it over your CPU and secure it to the motherboard via the use of four large and easy to use nuts. Unlike most Asetek based AIOs the direction of the waterblock actually does matter. If you have the single but thick power cable oriented towards the DIMMS you may run into issues. It may bend the cable more than you would like and may even put pressure on the stick of RAM installed in your innermost DIMM.

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/water_cooling/Fractal_Design_Celsius/amd5.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

Conversely if you have orientated towards the motherboard's VRM heatsinks you may run into issues if the heatsinks are overly tall. Our Z170 Deluxe and MSI X370 SLI Plus did not have any issues in this regard, but pay careful attention before tightening down the large nuts to secure the block in place.

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/water_cooling/Fractal_Design_Celsius/inst3.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>


This where things do go off the rails as your case will <i>have</i> to be able accommodate the Celsius' massive size. Pay careful attention to your case's compatibility as not all will be able to accommodate such a massive radiator .

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/water_cooling/Fractal_Design_Celsius/amd5.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

Once you have installed the S36 in your case all that is left is to plug the power cable to the motherboard and ensure the waterblock fan controller is in the mode you wish to use – PWM or Auto. At this point you are done and can power on your system and enjoy your new rig.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
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Messages
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Performance Results

Performance Results


You can find our CPU Cooler Testing Methodology HERE.

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/water_cooling/Fractal_Design_Celsius/oc1.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/water_cooling/Fractal_Design_Celsius/oc2.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/water_cooling/Fractal_Design_Celsius/oc3.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> </div>

As expected the Fractal Design Celsius S36 offers incredible cooling performance. With that being said it is not 50% better than either standard '280mm' AIOs or higher priced 240mm models like the EK-XLC Predator 240 and AlphaCool Eisbär 240. This is because it may have an overly long radiator but it isn't that thick at only 30mm. That means cooling mass is tightly constrained and the actual surface area of the fins is roughly akin to more compact yet thicker designs.

When you mix in a 40LPM pump that is obviously being pushed to its limits by being asked to provide adequate liquid flow to such a large area and things could certainly be better. Fractal Design may wish to rethink using stock off the shelf Asetek parts for their largest AIO models. This is a bit of a moot point as this unit does cost significantly less than the typical customizable AIO, and actually less than the typical 280mm AIO. For example the NZXT Kraken X62 costs nearly $200 USD, and the smaller Kraken X52 – at $140 - is still more than the Celsius S36. That to us makes the Fractal Design Celsius S36 one heck of a deal.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
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Sound Level Testing

Sound Level Testing


<i>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 coloring 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. 30 decibels was the background noise level and as such anything below this level is considered inaudible. This is why the bottom of the chart stops at 30.</i>

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

The Fractal Design Celsius S36 is a surprisingly mild mannered AIO. It may not be the quietest we have ever heard but the combination of a massive radiator and decent fans means it will be quieter than dual bay models in the real world – as the fans will spin slower to meet the same cooling performance level.

With that being said Fractal Design could have done more as we did notice a rather significant amount of fan vibration noise. This could have been alleviated easily via including a simple 360mm rubber gasket. On the positive side the included pump may indeed be working hard to push coolant through such a long radiator but it is all but silent during stress testing and will be nearly silent under more realistic, less 'worst case scenario' conditions. After all you will not be plugging this device to a 12V fan adapter and running it flat out in PWM mode all the time.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Conclusion; All Hail The King

Conclusion; All Hail The King


Before I begin I need to make one thing crystal clear: although Fractal Design may indeed be using Asetek as their ODM there is actually very little of their DNA in the Celsius S36 beyond the hardware. This truly is a revolutionary design that simply blows the typical Asetek-based AIO out of the water. Everything from great performance to its understated looks, and the most sensible fan controller design released to date marks the Fractal Design Celsius AIO series as <i>different</i>. This approach needs to be applauded since Fractal could have easily taking the path of least resistance by simply rebranding a standard Asetek design and calling it a day.

To be blunt the Celsius S36 may not be a perfect product since there are some nagging hiccups here and there. For example, that otherwise awesome fan controller needs a second header to power it and that Asetek-supplied mount just doesn't exude much confidence. However, Fractal's methodology shines through where it counts: in the innovation and adaptability departments.

If you are someone who just wants a plug and play solution and you have a chassis that natively supports such a large cooler, then the Celsius S36 will be a great fit. It was by far the best cooler in our tests (granted it is also the only triple-bay AIO we've tested) and due to its AM4 mount it isn't hard to see it becoming a great choice for Ryzen users.

On the other hand enthusiasts will love the fact that Fractal's design team has found a way for this series to become the foundation upon which a larger water cooling setup can be built. The ability to add another radiator, another waterblock, or even a secondary pump all via <i>standard</i> off the shelf water cooling components is a revelation. Now granted there may not be that many people who will take advantage of this feature but at least its there. The Fractal Design Celsius S series may not be the first to travel down this path, as EK and AlphaCool already blazed a trail for them, but this is the first model that we can see the average buyer wanting to purchase. There really is not much downside to opting for it instead of a closed loop AIO.

If all this seems like we are overhyping what Fractal has accomplished, then count me guilty. There's just so much to like here and I haven't even mentioned cost once. At just $120, the Celcius S36 is an absolutely screaming deal. So much so I don't know how competitors will be able to keep their respective pricing structures. No longer will 'manufacturers' be able to simply slap their names on a bog standard Asetek design and and charge a fortune for it.

In one fell swoop Fractal Design has done to the AIO market what they did to the enclosure market not long ago: they've released a genre-defining product that will likely have repercussions for years to come. The S36's combination of value and performance is almost irresistible. Hopefully this is just the start of what Fractal has in store for the cooling market because if they can retain this momentum, their competition has a lot to worry about.

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/water_cooling/Fractal_Design_Celsius/dam_good.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> <img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/water_cooling/Fractal_Design_Celsius/DGV.gif" border="0" alt="" /> <img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/water_cooling/Fractal_Design_Celsius/di.png" border="0" alt="" />
</div>
 

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