Koolance Super Liquid Cooled Case

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A packaged water-cooling solution–Joe

SUMMARY: First look at Koolance’s latest entry designed to handle hot, high powered CPUs at low noise.

The good guys at Koolance were nice enough to send us a sample of their latest entry – the “Koolance Super Liquid Cooling System”. This is totally different from Koolance’s earlier approach HERE.

Case

In this case, Koolance uses a more traditional radiator setup, placing it at the top of the case and using 3 80mm fans to exhaust waste heat.

Case Top

The 3 fans are arranged such that the two fan closest to the front of the case blow in and the rear fan blows out. This, with the power supply fan, serves to exhaust hot air out of the case. The radiator compartment is isolated from the rest of the case, so there is no intermixing of air streams, as shown here:

Case Inside

In about the top middle of the case, you can see a portion of the radiator. The inside is standard for a mid-tower: 3 CD slots, 2 floppy and 2 hard drive (the HD tray slides out). One of the CD slots is taken by the radiator assembly.

The fans have rubber skirts on the front two to better direct airflow into the radiator:

Fans

Removing the top gives a clear view of the radiator and power supply (this is my power supply – the Koolance PS was DOA):

Case Top

The aluminum radiator has two tubes on either end with channels welded to the top and bottom tubes:

Radiator

This is more like a car radiator or heater core design. Most of the radiators offered by others feature a tube that loops through the fins. The User Manual indicates that there is a pressure relief valve on the radiator – it can be found either on the left or right side.

The radiator is held in place by the rubber fan skirts. Once the top is fully off, the radiator can be eased out of the way:

Top Open 1

This shot straight down into the case shows the power supply, temperature controller PCB, and radiator duct assembly. The latter is a plastic one piece unit that bolts into the top of the case, isolating the radiator and power supply from the rest of the case.

Top Open 2

{mospagebreak}

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The temperature controller unit is a compact PCB behind the power supply. I have removed the plug to the LED screen and the four fan plugs; the fans are temp controlled, so that at a preset temp, they go from 45% power to 100% power. There are 3 temp programs that can be set – more on this as we test.

PCB

With the top on, the controller is tucked away behind the power supply and below the radiator:

Controller

The waterblock is very non-traditional; it has a plastic top and copper bottom. It’s a good way to make sure the water is in the system and flowing. The bumps you see are designed to increase surface area and probably turbulence to enhance heat transfer. The assembly is held in place by four screws.

Waterblock

The copper bottom fits into the plastic top so that the plastic skirts around the edge of the copper block. I do not know how this is sealed and will try to get more information on this – I consider this to be critical to system integrity. I asked Koolance about this and received the following:

“The plastic upper CPU shell is injection-molded plastic (it is rated up to 150ÂșC). There is a thin clear seal gasket made of Silicon that runs around its junction with the copper plate. It is very secure– we have no leakage issues, save for if a nozzle is damaged when someone overcrimps the connection. We feel is it more reliable than even our last CPU assembly, while able to transfer a larger amount of processor heat.”

The copper base is highly polished – the reflection is of my hand holding the camera.

Back

The four screws hold the plastic top to the copper base. The silver tape holds the waterblock temp thermistor in place. This is used to monitor coolant temps for the temperature controller. {mospagebreak}

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The water pump assembly is very interesting:

Pumps

There are two pumps in the reservoir – should one fail, there is a backup; the manual states “If one pump should fail, the other will maintain an acceptable temperature or gradually bring the system to shut itself down.” If temps exceed 50C, the system will automatically shut down in 30 seconds if there is no user intervention.

I asked Koolance for more on this, and they state “We do not intend for anyone to run their systems with only one pump, but some amount of flow is better than none in blanketing potential hardware damage.”

One pump draws fluid in, one out. The pumps are always both on, very quiet and run on 12 volts. The reservoir is bolted to the case floor and can be filled from a plug accessible from the bottom of the case. With the temp safeguards in place, it looks like Koolance has designed in some good failsafe measures.

The case ships fully charged with fluid and you also get a little bottle with extra, should you need it.

The case itself is typical:

Front

The rear has a space for an 80 mm fan – not a bad idea to take advantage of this:

Case

The instructions that come with the case are very detailed and well written; I’ll get into more on this later.

This is a first look – I am running tests as I write this with a KK266+ and a 1.4 GHz T-Bird. Test results and more details will follow shortly.

PERFORMANCE TEST on page 4…

Thanks again to Koolance for allowing us to test this product.

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CASE SETUP

The User Manual Koolance provides is very good – well written, it covers a lot of territory¹ (25 pages) and pretty much answers every question. I would strongly suggest you read it cover to cover before starting; I missed one point and I thought I cracked the waterblock (more on this later).

Standard are are the usual case nuts and bolts; in addition, included is one meter extra PVC tubing (3mm/3/16″ inside diameter), 200 cc of extra fluid, 2 extra hose clamps, the CPU water block and two clamps (one for AMD/Intel PIII, one for Intel PIV). This is all you need to get started.

Because you can add additional components, one clamp on the CPU waterblock is not set; this allows you to add additional waterblocks (e.g, for GPU, Northbridge or hard drive) as needed. The clamp is crimped on with wire cutting pliers (I know, sounds not right but it works) and is no big deal to do. This is different from Koolance’s first case, which required no user setup (more flexibility with this one). This is all explained, with pictures, in the manual.

However, I would prefer clamps that are tightened by a screw – this would allow users to more easily make changes or add components. Removing the clamp does require more effort than I think is necessary.

Jumper

To test the case, Koolance provides an ATX power supply jumper which enables you to run the system without a motherboard. This is a great idea to make sure that you get all the bubbles out of the system and ensure there are no leaks in the setup (all explained in the Manual).

Because this system uses a reservoir, running it for an hour or so should be enough time to check for leaks and clear out any bubbles.

The waterblock ships with some grease; I cleaned this off and used Arctic Silver instead.

The clip attaches to all three of the socket’s lugs; the waterblock is held in place by the clip’s design – there is no wiggle room. You then tighten the knurled knob. I did this and heard what I thought was a “crack”. I thought I tightened it too much and cracked the plastic top.

Clip

Now, if I had read the instructions completely, I would have known that this is to be expected; once the proper force is applied, the bolt top “clicks” (similar to car gas caps), preventing you from over-tightening. Very nice – a good feature.

The case has some nice features:

  • Each side is removable – two screws;
  • The case front comes off easily and only requires removal of the left side panel;
  • The hard drive cage slips out and is held in place with one screw.

Nothing out of the ordinary here – as cases go, it’s an OK case – no sharp edges, not flimsy, etc.

And that’s pretty much it; crimp the waterblock connector, check for leaks, install components, mount the waterblock and you’re set to go. The only thing I would have liked is a little longer bottom hose – it’s length as shipped is OK, but maybe another 3 inches or so would not hurt.

PERFORMANCE TEST on Page 5…

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¹There is a section on the discrepancy between in-socket thermistor temp readings and actual – first time I have seen this! Included are instructions for CPU back temps using a thermocouple.

KOOLANCE PERFORMANCE TESTS

I just bought a 1.4 GHz T-Bird, so I decided to use it in the Koolance with Iwill’s KK266+. I ran it first underclocked to make sure everything was OK. No problems, so I did two test series – one at spec (72 watts) and one at 1600 MHz, 1.97 volts (104 watts).

Kool Test

I used a Digital Doc 5 to record temps, along with thermocouples placed as indicated above. I also recorded temps from the back of the CPU, Motherboard Monitor for CPU and Case temps (per thermistor on the Iwill) and Koolance’s waterblock temp, as indicated by its LED display.

The user can select from three programs to control fans:

  1. Mode 1: Fans at 45%, then 100% at 45C;
  2. Mode 2: Fans at 45% until 35C, then speeds gradually increase to 100% at 40C;
  3. Mode 3: Fans at 100% continuously.

I selected Mode 2, although temps did not get to 35C for the program to kick into higher gear.

Performance Test – No Case Fan – CPU @ 72 Watts

Temp Probe

Boot Up

Idle

Prime 95

1 – Case Exhaust

24.9 C

32.4 C

36.6 C

2 – Video GPU

41.2 C

51.1 C

56.3 C

3 – Left Case Top

24.9 C

32.9 C

38.7 C

4 – Below Radiator

23.6 C

24.1 C

28.9 C

5 – Right Case Bottom

23.7 C

26.3 C

28.3 C

6 – PS Exhaust

24.2 C

26.4 C

30.9 C

7 – Right Case Top

22.9 C

24.8 C

26.7 C

8 – Right Fan Intake

21.6 C

22.3 C

22.3 C

9 – Left Fan Exhaust

21.5 C

23.1 C

26.2 C

10 – MBM Case Temp

22 C

30 C

33 C

CPU Back

36.4 C

28.1 C

48.0 C

MBM CPU

27 C

32 C

45 C

Koolance Waterblock

25 C

27 C

32 C

NOTE: Idle temps reflect sleep state temps.

Based on my experience with Koolance’s first case, I assumed that case temps would be on the high side. The Koolance case does have provision for a rear case fan, so I ran a second series (after letting the system cool down to ambient) with a Sunon 80mm fan (KD1208PTB2-6; not a current model, but looks to be about 2800 rpm, 38 cfm, 32 dBA). I ran this test series with the fan first as an INTAKE fan, then I ran Prime 95 with the fan EXHAUSTING air out of the case:

Performance Test – With Case Fan – CPU @ 104 Watts

Temp Probe

Boot Up

Idle

Prime 95 Case Fan INTAKE

Prime 95 Case Fan EXHAUST

1 – Case Exhaust

24.4 C

25.9 C

29.4 C

30.7 C

2 – Video GPU

35.1 C

38.3 C

43.9 C

50.3 C

3 – Left Case Top

24.2 C

26.1 C

29.6 C

31.7 C

4 – Below Radiator

24.2 C

24.6 C

30.9 C

28.6 C

5 – Right Case Bottom

24.4 C

26.7 C

30.9 C

28.6 C

6 – PS Exhaust

24.9 C

25.6 C

29.7 C

27.5 C

7 – Right Case Top

23.7 C

25.4 C

29.3 C

25.7 C

8 – Right Fan Intake

21.7 C

22.2 C

23.1 C

24.1 C

9 – Left Fan Exhaust

23.3 C

23.8 C

28.8 C

26.6 C

10 – MBM Case Temp

21 C

26 C

30 C

30 C

CPU Back

38.6 C

26.4 C

51.0 C

53.4 C

MBM CPU

27 C

26 C

42 C

47 C

Koolance Waterblock

26 C

25 C

32 C

33 C

NOTE: Idle temps reflect sleep state temps.

Compared to results without the additional case fan, there’s no contest. Koolance does have options to include cooling both the GPU and Northbridge chip which would lower case temps somewhat. Whether the additional expense for these components is justified compared to a relatively cheap case fan is up to each consumer to decide. No doubt the GPU will run much cooler and could be a good add-on.

However, in any scenario, I think an active rear case fan is necessary and I would suggest that Koolance provide one as standard equipment.

I would also suggest that perhaps a better arrangement might be to use a low-noise power supply and use the fourth fan header on Koolance’s PCB (free if you use your own PS – the Koolance PS fan is temperature controlled) to hook up the rear exhaust fan. This then runs the fan at 45% power until the waterblock exceeds 35 C, at which time the cooling programs kick in (I am going to test this out).

NOISE TEST

I used a Radio Shack Sound Meter to record noise levels (these readings are with my Silent 275 Power Supply). I held the meter 24″ from the case (readings too low at 3 feet) at a 45 degree angle from the top, facing the left side of the case; I include a reading from my microwave, 24″ from the front, at full power for a sound reference :

  • Fans at 45%: 51 dBA
  • Fans at 100%: 55 dBA
  • Fans at 45% + rear case fan: 54 dBA
  • Fans at 100% + rear case fan: 57 dBA
  • Microwave, full power: 59 dBA

Obviously, if you locate the case further away from where you sit, the sound drops off quickly. The first Koolance is virtually silent – a radio playing softly will mask any case noise. With this one, you may have to turn it up a notch.

PRICING

Prices are not yet posted; Koolance sent me the following:

“The MSRP prices are as follows:

System without power supply, including CPU cooler – $199.00
System with 350W SPI/Fortron P-4, including CPU cooler – $259.00
System with 465W Enermax P-4, including CPU cooler – $289.00

Optional CPU cooler kit (SMP, etc.) – $25.00
Optional Video cooler kit – $19.00
Optional Motherboard cooler kit – $19.00
Hard Drive Cooler Kit – $30.00
2nd Hard Drive Kit – $15.00
USB/Audio Front Bracket – $6.99″

CONCLUSIONS

Koolance has done a good job designing a high-end watercooling system that pretty much is idiot proof. I think one of the biggest hurdles preventing CPU water cooling from going “mainstream” are the case modifications needed to mount a radiator. Koolance’s integrated case adresses that issue nicely.

In contrast to other systems, Koolance’s temp controlled fans tackle the noise issue; this is the only system I know of that includes this capability built-in. The absolute best approach would be one that allows users to modify settings (maybe down the road?).

If you have a hot CPU and can’t stand noisy air cooling, your options are limited; there are some lower noise air cooled heatsinks around (e.g., Glaciator, Swiftech), but the Koolance solution, while not cheap, is incredibly effective and quiet.

The alternative is to “roll your own” with a water cooling kit, a number of which are quite good as well. Some watercooling vendors are also selling complete cases, although so far, none I know of includes a temperature control circuit for noise control.

Many thanks to Koolance for sending this our way – we’ll try some mods and see if we can improve on performance.

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