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NZXT Kraken X40 & X60 CPU Coolers Review

AkG

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CPU cooling is typically broken into two categories: air and water. Many feel like air-based heatsinks have reached a pinnacle and will only become marginally better if their size is increased dramatically. However, the water cooling segment has undergone a renaissance and revitalization as of late and NZXT’s new Kraken X40 and X60 are hoping to take advantage of this.

What was once the domain of hard-core enthusiasts has become accessible for the average consumer with numerous options tailor-made for their needs and skill levels. This is the era of All In One devices which are easy to use plug and play solutions, and don’t require maintenance or a degree in plumbing to install. However, compared to custom water cooling setups, the AIO’s usually are perceived as sacrificing performance for their increased adaptability, regardless of the advent of certain dual bay designs.

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With the release of the new Kraken X40 and X60, NZXT hope to change this perception of inadequacy with two of the largest sealed water coolers to grace the marketplace. Instead of the standard 120mm and 240mm radiators the X40 makes use of a 140mm radiator, while the X60 has been given a massive 280mm radiator. These larger radiators are attached to Asetek’s latest waterblocks but the overall design of these units is clearly what sets them apart.

Of course, just like Corsair and their latest offerings, NZXT understands not everyone has the same priorities when it comes to performance versus noise. Instead of simply using the best hardware Asetek offers and calling it a day, NZXT have also included custom software which allows consumers to create the ‘perfect’ fan profile for their needs.

With prices of $99 and $139 respectively, hopefully the X40’s and X60’s unique blend of features and performance will allow the new Kraken series to carve out a niche in a rapidly expanding marketplace.

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AkG

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A Closer Look at the X40

Closer Look at the X40


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Much like any serious All In Once cooling device the X40’s shipping container is both informative and eye catching. The internal protection scheme is very similar to that of the competition as well. A sturdy cardboard tray with foam topper is the de-facto standard for AIO’s and while the cardboard box may be slightly bigger – to accommodated the larger radiator – it is the same as you would find inside any Asetek built AIO cooler.

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The list of accessories which accompanies this model is both complete and contains almost no surprises. There is enough included equipment to mount the X40 to nearly any Intel or AMD system and NZXT has also included adapters to mound a second fan to the unit. This second fan may not be included but unlike the Corsair H55 you need not worry about how you will mount it.

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With Asetek being the X40’s primary OEM, the only things which distinguish it from previous units is the included white-bladed fan and the oversized water block. Past that, NZXT’s latest single bay unit would pass for any other AiO device.


The X40 uses a fairly low profile waterblock / pump combination which is circular in shape and uses Asetek’s latest generation copper block design. It also utilizes a distinctive tongue and groove universal mounting configuration which gives the circular water block its distinctive “saw tooth” appearance. Meanwhile, the base itself comes equipped with pre-applied thermal compound and a beautifully mirror-like finish.

NZXT has added 90° connectors to mate the tubing to the water block, making for an easier installation process. This is a great feature which will reduce connector pressure and thus increase longevity. We can also see that NZXT added a trio of hard-wired cables extending from the waterblock: a USB internal header, a 3 pin power cable and a double headed 4 pin fan controller wire which allows for up to two fans to be powered and connected to the X40.


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Instead of using rather stiff 3/8” OD ribbed tubing from previous Asetek designs, NZXT’s special rubber-type compound provides a highly flexible and yet durable finish.

Speaking of the tubing, its 3/8 size is rather small compared to Corsair’s latest design but that’s understandable since the X40’s pump targets low noise output rather than maximizing water flow speed through larger diameter openings.

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Moving on we come to what is easily the most distinctive and obvious feature which separates the X40 from its competitors: the radiator. As noted in the introduction the X40 uses a 140mm radiator which dwarfs other units, giving it 36% more surface area but additional installation hassles.

This 27mm thick radiator not only has a drastically increased surface area but also has an increased number of water channels. In the typical Asetek 120mm radiator there are 11, whereas the X40 has 13 longer channels which should increase the radiator’s efficiency.

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Unfortunately, there is one major issue with opting for a larger form factor is the limited number of high static pressure 140mm fans. For the time being most 140mm fan designs are built with case intake and exhaust duties in mind rather than not heatsink/radiator scenarios. To help minimize the static pressure requirements of the X40s radiator NZXT has opted for a thickness of 27mm instead of 38mm or greater.

To help further alleviate the limitations of the larger radiator, NZXT also released a specialized fan for it. The so-called FX 140LB is an in-house design which can spin as low as 800 RPM or as high as 2000 RPM. At its maximum speed this 4 pin, PWM capable fan can move 98.3 CFM of air and do so with 2.2mm of static pressure. Even at its slowest speed of 800rpm it still is rated for 0.8mm of static pressure which is quite impressive.
 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the X60

Closer look at the X60


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The X60 is simply a massive 280mm water cooler which uses a radiator that provides a huge amount of surface area but from the tubes on, it uses the same hardware and multi socket mounting system as its smaller X40 sibling. The only difference between X40 and X60 is the inclusion of a second fan and additional mounting hardware to attach four fans.

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As with the X40, the X60’s 27mm thick radiator not only has more surface area, but additional water channels which are also longer than any 240mm radiator currently available. For example, a Corsair H100i uses 12 channels which are ~240mm in length while the NZXT Kraken X60 uses 13 water channels which are ~280mm in length. This coupled with the large increase in surface area should translate to best in class cooling abilities.

Unfortunately, the tubing which connects the X60’s impressive radiator to the waterblock is the same which graces the X40. At face value, this wouldn’t be an issue except now its 16” long so crimping becomes an ever-present issue and the pump needs to cope with the increased distance.

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To help adequately cool this large radiator NZXT has included two of their new high performance 140mm fans. These ‘liquid state’ (aka Fluid Dynamic) bearing-based FX 140LB fans are the same which are found on the Kraken X40. In other words, they should provide some incredible performance when paired up with such a large radiator.

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The water block has also been refined over last Asetek designs and uses 90° connectors to mate the tubing and the water block together, making for an easier installation process. The base comes with pre-applied thermal paste while the quality of the finishing job is well above average.

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The only fault that could possiblly be found with the waterblock design is the hardwired cables. While they are indeed sheathed in a tight mesh their length and quantity does make for a rather untidy appearance. In grand total there is a 3pin power connector, SATA power connector cable, a USB internal header connector cable and fan cable with four 4pin fan connector pigtails on it. The lack of an included Molex to SATA adapter is also a touch disappointing since some enthusiasts tend to use every available PSU SATA connector.
 
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AkG

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Kraken Controller Software

Kraken Controller Software


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In previous years sealed water coolers either relied upon external controller hardware or simply expected the customer’s motherboard to determine an ‘optimal’ fan profile based on CPU temperatures. In reality, neither solution was particularly optimal.

Much like the Corsair H80i and H100i, the new NZXT Kraken series is part of a new breed of ‘smart’ cooling solutions. They have a hardware fan controller integrated directly into the waterblock and also utilize a USB data port which can communicate in real time with compatible software.

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In the case of NZXT’s X40 and X60, this software stack takes the form of a reskinned Asetek solution. The resulting “Kraken Controller” is broken down into multiple tabs with each dedicated to a specific task and labeled in easy to understand terminology. All of thisallows for quick, easy and precise control over the fans attached to the Kraken’s built in controller. This software gives these AIOs a level of adaptability and customization that few on the market can match.

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Much like certain parallels can be drawn between the Kraken and Corsair’s Hydro ‘i’ series, so too can the software of each be compared and contrasted. Like Corsair Link, the Kraken application allows for customized fan profiles but it also has a setting which links every fan to a give speed. This tends to make the Kraken much easier to work with but at the expense of customizability.

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The Kraken program also incorporates real time monitoring of CPU temperature, fan speed, pump speed and coolant temperature. You can also customize the waterblock’s integrated LED color and set it to alert the world to a pump or fan failure.

However, unlike Link, Kraken is more basic in how it handles these alerts. You can’t configure it to change the fan profile, nor run an application or even send you an email when a system error occurs. It simply creates a popup alert notification on the desktop. This is still better than nothing but it is a crucial difference between this first generation software and Corsair’s second generation offering.

The other missing feature is firmware updating. Corsair allows their Link software to perform upgrades on the hardware itself whereas Kraken has no such feature.
 
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AkG

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X40 Installation (Intel/AMD)

X40 Installation (Intel)


For anyone has ever used an Asetek designed AIO the Kraken X40’s installation procedure will seem very familiar. With one or two minor exceptions the larger 140mm radiator is just as simple and easy to install as its Asetek 120mm counterparts. That is to say that it is a multi-step process which isn’t all that simple or straightforward as other designs. There are far too many intricate steps for novices, but is still fairly intuitive once the thought process behind it is understood.

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As with any Asetek based unit, the first step is preparing the back plate. Each corner of the Intel backplate has a cluster of three holes which are labelled according to a given socket type. Simply pick the right combination for your motherboard and install one of the short hollow threaded tubes into the proper hole. NZXT have thoughtfully included double sided tape for the backplate so it won’t move around during the installation process. This allows you to stick the backplate into position and you won’t need a third hand when manoeuvring the whole affair into position.

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

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With the retention ring in place, it needs to be secured to the motherboard and this is done with four long black bolts. These bolts need to be pushed into place (as you would with the stock Intel heatsink’s push-pin installation) and then tightened by about ½ of a turn. This may seem completely backwards but if these bolts aren’t left loose, the water block won’t fit below the retention bracket and you will have to loosen each corner until it does.

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Before we continue, there is one point worth mentioning about the plastic spacers and bolt combination. Once a bolt is installed, removal becomes problematic. Unless care is taken when prying apart the three small plastic arrowheads in each retainer, one or more are likely to break, making the X40 literally unusable on a different system.

Finally, the water block needs to be threaded through the retention ring’s notches and given a slight twist so it locks into the provided “teeth”. When this is done, hold the block in place and then screw the four bolts all the way down to apply mounting pressure to the CPU.

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The final step of the installation process is the most limiting as the X40 requires a 140mm fan port, something which isn’t included on all enclosures. Please be cognizant of this potential issue before opting for this slightly larger AIO. On the positive side, this should be the only potential installation issue since the smaller diameter tubing coupled with swivel 90° connectors makes for a trouble free install. NZXT even includes the hardware necessary to mount a second 140mm fan.


AMD System Installation


Installing the X40 on AMD AM2, AM3, FM1 and FM2 systems follows the same basic footsteps as the Intel process. The only difference between the two is the hardware components being used and a few less choices since AMD uses the same CPU retention configuration for AM2 and AM3 mounting types.

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

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

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X60 Installation Particulars

X60 Installation Particulars


Since the NZXT X60’s waterblock installation precisely mirrors that of the X40’s on both Intel and AMD systems, we won’t go into detail here. Rather, let’s skip right to the toughest part of this procedure: actually getting this behemoth into your case.

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The X60’s larger radiator will make proper case selection key to the success or failure of your installation. As you can see in the above photo, even the relatively spacious Cooler Master HAF-X has issues with this downright massive cooler.

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Before purchasing the X60, you will want to take a close look at your existing case’s top exhaust ports to make sure they have 140mm mounting holes. Further making things more complicated is the fact that not all cases have dual 140mm top exhaust ports which use the required 15mm spacing. Many still use the older 20mm standard which is incompatible with the X60’s configuration. This does make things a lot more difficult and will require you to drill new holes.

On the positive side, NZXT includes all the necessary mounting hardware for two additional fans and actually getting the X60 attached to a case couldn’t be easier. Including eight extra bolts may not seem like a big deal but NZXT does deserve kudos for recognizing the fact that some customers will want to opt for quad fan configurations.

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With the radiator and fan installed all that is left is to plug in the USB cable, SATA power cable, turn on the system and install the software. Just remember that you'll certainly need enough space above the motherboard for the radiator, fans and the associated cabling.
 
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AkG

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Testing Methodology

Testing Methodology


To ensure that the results from one review to another are not only reproducible but actually pertinent to this review, the Testing Methodology will be the same throughout all water cooling review. If something does change we will be sure to make a special note of it and explain why this change was done and more importantly why things had to be changed or altered.


Thermal Paste and Application Methods:

Arctic Cooling MX-2 thermal paste was used for all water based CPU cooling solutions during these tests unless otherwise noted. Application of thermal paste was in accordance with the TIM manufacturer’s instructions; and while not necessary, the TIM was allowed to cure for 24 hours under moderate to high loads (with periods of low loads) prior to testing.


Fans Used:

120mm:

For all water based CPU Cooling Solutions which do not come standard with a fan, a pair of Noctua NF-P12-1300s and a Scythe S-Flex “G” 1900RPM fan will be used if it accepts 120mm fans. With these two fans we are able to simulate different fan speed conditions as indicated below.


High Speed:

1900RPM Scythe S-Flex “G”. To be more precise our specific fan runs at 1860RPMs. Any stock fan which comes with the ability of being controlled by means other than the motherboard (e.g. remote fan speed controller, potentiometer, rheostat, etc) will be set to this speed during the High speed test and BOTH sets of performance results will be included.


Dual Fans:

Dual NF-P12-1300s

*Dual fans only used if the cooler comes with the necessary mounting hardware.


92mm Fan:

If the cooler being tested only accepts 92mm fans, a Noctua NF-B9-1600 will be used.

If the given CPU cooling solution comes with a stock fan we will also include its numbers in the closest of the main tests BUT we will also include our standard fan results in that particular tests.


Fan Notes:

- If a water cooling solution cannot mount an aftermarket fan, we will be only including the stock fan results. However, if the stock fan speed can be precisely controlled by means other than the motherboard BIOS (an included remote fan speed controller, potentiometer, rheostat, etc), the cooler will be tested at different fan speeds.

- For dual fan results ALL water coolers capable of mounting two fans (and come with the necessary hardware) will be tested with two NF-P12s and the Dual Fan graph will contain data for other such dual capable fan coolers.

We feel that the combination of multiple speeds and multiple fans will allow us to give you our readers clear and precise idea of the capabilities of a given unit, in an accurate comparison. It will also help eliminate the occasional “zinger” such as when a manufacturer includes an extremely high-speed fan in order to possibly offset poor thermal performance.


Environment:

Except where noted all comparison testing was done inside a closed case with a room ambient temperature of 24c. If at any time the room temperature increased or decreased by more than 1°C, testing was halted until the temperature constant was re-established.


Testbed:

The case chosen for this test bed is a Cooler Master HAF-X. We chose the HAF-X as it a highly adaptable case with not only multiple fan ports but is capable of handling even the largest of AIO coolers. To populate these fan ports we chose Scythe E 120mm units with Sony Fluid Dynamic Bearings. Unless otherwise noted, only one of the top two exhaust fan ports, the rear exhaust port and front fan intake port will be populated. The front fan port will use the stock CM 230mm fan. The rear exhaust port will be populated by the review item's fan and radiator where possible, for the air based cooling alternative used in the review as a counter example another Scythe E will be used.


Warm Up:

Before testing commenced 15 minutes of running Prime95 “small fft” followed by 45 minutes of idling was done. This warm up period was done at stock CPU core frequencies. This additional pretest was done to ensure that the fluid in the liquid CPU cooling solutions were at ambient room temperature and thus the test results would be more indicative of real world scenarios. For all air based cooling solutions the same 15 minutes of heavy load followed by 45 minutes of idle was also done.


Temperature Recording:

Recorded temps were as reported via the Real Temp plug-in for the RivaTuner monitor program.

Max and Average load temps are based on 15 minutes of running Prime95 “small fft” and are taken directly from RivaTuner’s built in capabilities.

The maximum temperatures will be the highest recorded temp displayed for any of the cores during the 15 minute test. While RivaTuner will display each core's average temperature it does not easily show the average of ALL the cores. To this end we will be simply taking the average of all the cores adding them together and then dividing by the number of cores.

If during any test temperatures of 95°C or more are displayed in RivaTuner (for any core) for more than 10 consecutive seconds the testing will be halted and that test run will be considered a "fail".

Idle temperatures are the lowest recorded temperature during idle period as recorded by the RealTemp Rivatuner monitoring program.

All CPU throttling technology was disabled in the BIOS; as was all CPU fan speed control. In addition, Turbo Mode was disabled and Hyperthreading was enabled. All power connectors for the review item are connected directly to Molex connectors to ensure they were running at full speed.

All tests are run a minimum of three times and only the best results are represented.


Charts & Graphs:

Each chart will include the Maximum or “peak” temperature we recorded, the average temperature and the idle temperature.

No passive results will be shown UNLESS manufacturer claims the ability to passively cool a processor. If a manufacturer claims passive capabilities we will include the performance numbers in the charts. The only exception to this is if the review is a “review roundup” and to keep the charts from becoming confusing we may not do so.

All water cooling reviews will also include a air based CPU cooling which best approximates the price range of the water cooling solution being reviewed. This way you will not only know how it compares to other water cooling units but also an Air based CPU cooling solution which is in the same approximate price range.


Sound Pressure Testing:

To give a more accurate and less of a personal opinion on the noise level of the stock fan which accompanies the heatsink, we have included a new section for sound pressure testing. These tests are done in our open case setup outlined above with the meter positioned 30 inches away from the cooler and mounted on a tripod. To ensure the background noise does not skew the results all tests will start by recording the ambient noise of the room. Only when it meets our standards will the testing commence.

To ensure that no external noise unduly skews the results, the GPU used will be a passively cooled unit and the only active fan will be the one on the cooler while the PSU and HDD are isolated away from the immediate area.

These tests are run late at night when no other people or animals are awake and thus unable to influence the results.

All fans are run at their maximum speed with no voltage or PWM control being used during the sound pressure tests.

The sound pressure meter used is a DT-805 which has been professionally calibrated and NIST certified. We will record the highest levels obtained with said meter and record it as our result. The test will be 15 minutes long and will be run while the fan is running full speed via a Molex connector and the CPU cores are under a full load via Prime 95 Small FFT.


Please note: The Scythe S-Flex G and Noctua NF-P12-1300 (at 1300 and 900rpms) numbers are taken when mounted to a Cooler Master Hyper 212+. We feel that it would be extremely unfair and unrealistic to include noise rating for these after market fans if they were NOT mounted onto a cooler. They are included to help give some sense of proportion to the charts and allow you to more easily compare a stock fan against a known quantity.


Complete Test System:

Case: Cooler Master HAF-X
Processor: Intel i7 920(Intel) AMD Phenom 2 1090T(AMD)
Motherboard: Gigabyte X58-UD3R (Intel) Gigabyte 890FXA-UD7(AMD)
Memory: 6GB Mushkin Silverline Stiletto DDR3-1600
Graphics card: EVGA GeForce GT 240
Hard Drive: 1x 240GB Intel 520 SSD
Power Supply: Topower Powerbird 900W

Special thanks to Gigabyte for their support and supplying the i7 motherboard.
 
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AkG

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Stock Fan Performance Results

Stock Fan Performance Results


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NZXT certainly have a winning combination on their hands as they've combined a good water block with good sized radiator and even included decent software for modifying fan profiles. To be perfectly candid, these results may not be all that surprising considering the size advantage these new coolers have but they are still impressive.

At all heat loads both the Kraken X40 and Kraken X60 exhibit what can accurately be described as ‘best in class’ performance. They may indeed come with increased installation issues but their amazing cooling numbers more than make up for this added hassle factor.

The stock fans are also very good and quite adaptable. Based on this level of performance we doubt many will opt for spending even more money and changing them out. Most consumers would simply be better served by using the included software and modifying their performance profile rather than swapping them out for lower noise solutions.
 
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AkG

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Dual and Quad Fan Performance Results

Dual and Quad Fan Performance Results


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As expected neither the X40 nor X60 really don't need additional fans since their stock configuration provides excellent results. Their radiators may have much more surface area than the typical All In One water cooling device, but they are relatively thin.

Thin radiators usually don’t need much in the way of static pressure for their fans to effectively cool them so adding fans doesn't accomplish all that much. With that being said, unlike the Corsair Hydro ‘i’ series with its current firmware ‘issue’ which limits fan compatibility, there is absolutely no downside to doing so besides increased noise and expense. The included hardware and software can easily accommodate a wide variety of fans.
 
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AkG

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Sound Level Testing

Sound Level Testing


While everyone "hears" noise differently there is one easy way to remove all subjectivness and easily compare different fans: use a sound level meter. This way you can easily compare the various fans noise envelopes without us colouring the results and see what fans fit within your personal comfort level. Of course, we will endeavour to try and explain the various results (which are taken at a 30 inch distance) to help you our readers get an even better understanding of how loud a cooler's stock fan is, but even if you discount our personal opinions, the fact remains numbers don't lie. All fans are tested with both voltage regulation / PWM turned off.

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Even though both the NZXT X40 & X60 use liquid state – or what is usually referred to as Fluid Dynamic – bearings the fact still remains that they are big fans going operating at a fairly fast rotational speed. This does make them a touch less civilized than the Corsair SP120L fans, but they do move a lot more air for a moderate increase in noise.

Just remember, this is the worst case scenario since all fans in this test are running at full speed. Thanks to their larger, more efficient radiators and larger fans, neither the X40 nor X60 typically run at these unless set accordingly within the included software. At lower RPMs these fans still provide very good cooling performance and do so without making as much noise.
 
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