Date: August 24, 2011
Author(s): Ryan Perry
We mentioned in a recent chassis article that having the best of both worlds where cooling and noise is concerned is difficult, but as Corsair’s H80 proves, the same can’t be said about CPU coolers. In fact, for both those aforementioned reasons, the H80 might have just become the best CPU cooler we’ve ever tested.
CPU. Check. Overclock. Check. Cooling. Uh oh!
If that’s how your overclocking session usually goes, fear not – for today we review the Corsair H80 all-in-one liquid cooler. This bad boy is the next step in the progression of the Hydro series and boasts a thicker radiator with dual fans similar to the previously released H70 but also the advancements in the design of the copper block, like the recently reviewed H60. Both models kept the CPU in our test system nice and frosty, but will combining the two take performance to the next level?
The H80, like all coolers in the Hydro series is a self-contained loop. The unit is leak-tested before it leaves the factory to ensure there are no mishaps once installed. It supports AMD systems starting at AM2 all the way up to the new FM1 for Llano chips, and also Intel systems beginning with LGA775 straight through to the unreleased LGA2011 – so even if the upgrade bug bites, the cooler is (temporarily) future-proof.
Couple that with support for Corsair’s upcoming Link temperature monitoring and lighting system that allows both fan speed and added LEDs to be controlled from within the operating system, and there are a ton of options for potential buyers.
Well, enough talk. It’s time to see what the H80 can do, but first an overall look at the system:
On the outside of the block and integrated pump unit there is quite a bit that has changed since the H60 was released. The top now features a push button control that allows for the fan speed to be set to one of three different performance levels, although switching between the settings requires the case to be opened. Depending on what level is chosen, the corresponding white area(s) around the button will light up.
Along the top edge of the block and pump are the recessed connections for the fans. On previous models the fans would connect directly to available headers on the motherboard and still can be, but this method makes for less clutter. The H80 draws power in differently as well, as the pump is still connected to the CPU fan header. But now, the fans are powered by a 2-pin Molex connector, both of which run from the top edge.
Over on the left side is the header where the Link system connects. That’s a separate unit that mounts in a free 3.5″ hard drive bay and connects to the motherboard via USB internally. We’ll have a full review of the Link system in the near-future, so stay tuned.
Flipping the block and pump unit over shows the contact area where heat is transferred from the CPU to the cooler. The H80 ships with a layer of thermal interface material (TIM) pre-applied that is protected by a plastic cap. Under the TIM the contact area looks like the H60, and rightly so seeing how both use the same model of block with the same finish. The machine marks are very light and the base is perfectly flat on both axis when checked with a straight edge. On the inside is the same split manifold and micro channel design found on the H60.
Running from the right side of the block and pump unit are the ribbed hoses that carry the cooling fluid. Similar to what is found on previous models, they swivel somewhat to provide enough movement to position them. After stretching about 11″ from the block and pump they join up at the aluminum radiator.
If a computer case were a trailer park, this would be the fanciest double wide on the block. It measures 38mm thick instead of 27mm, which is the standard thickness for most 120mm radiators. The fins are densely packed and will require strong fans with good static pressure to move air through and cool efficiently.
The H80 ships with dual 4-pin fans that carry the part number CF12S25SH12A and, like the H60 there is no mention of the OEM. Corsair has them rated at three different speeds. For those who value near-silent operation, the fans can be set to 1300 revolutions per minute (RPM), or a balanced 2,000RPM for a mixture of performance and noise or 2,500 if maximum performance is required. In terms of airflow the fans can push a combined 46 to 92 cubic feet of air per minute with noise levels topping out at 30 A-weighted decibels.
The bits and pieces included are all that’s needed for installation. On the left are the parts used to install the cooler in AMD systems and on the right, Intel. The parts in the middle are shared among the two platforms and below them is the fold-out installation guide.
Seeing how this cooler has the same mounting method as the H60, instead of the sometimes tricky ring method of previous coolers released in conjunction with Asetek, I expect the H80 to just slide right in. Let’s stick it on our test system and put it to work.
Our H60 review showed how to install the cooler but I’ll go over it again because it’s so simple. AMD users will need to remove the Intel mounting system by removing two screws from each side of the block and pump. These are replaced by the AMD mounts and the screws fastened back into place.
Once the AMD mounts are on and some TIM is applied to the CPU, the two metal loops are threaded up through the holes in the mounts and the thumbscrews are threaded over them to be tightened down. To ensure the loops or thumbscrews don’t fall off during installation, it might be easier to put them in place first, but leave them loose to allow for some wiggle room before hooking them onto the mounts on the motherboard and securing the cooler.
Intel users are good to go out of the box. The back plate goes on the backside of the motherboard and the correct risers thread through each corner from the topside to hold it in place. With some TIM spread on the CPU the cooler goes on next, each corner threading over the risers and then the four thumbscrews tightened down to secure it in place.
One set of long, threaded bolts by themselves can be used to secure the inside fan to the radiator, and the bolts with washers thread through the holes in the case at a free fan opening, then through the fan and into the radiator.
Here’s what users can expect to see -it’s mighty impressive to look at simply on size alone. Powered on, it’s even nicer, with each level on the block and pump unit glowing white as it is selected.
Stock CPU settings were obtained by setting the AI Tweaker option within the BIOS to Auto. and the maximum stable overclock frequency of 3.85GHz was obtained after setting the base clock to 107 and the multiplier to 36. Our locked CPU was able to do this on stock voltage so the vcore was raised to 1.25V to generate additional heat.
All of our testing is performed in a near steady 20°C ambient environment with readings taken before and after with a standard room thermometer. AIDA64 Extreme Engineer is used for monitoring and recording all system temperatures throughout the testing process. All fans are run at 100% during testing and all coolers have any pre-applied thermal interface material replaced with Zalman’s ZM-STG1 Super Thermal Grease due its ease of application that virtually eliminates the possibility of skewed temperatures due to poor surface contact.
Windows is allowed to sit idle for 10 minutes after startup to ensure all services are loaded before recording the idle CPU temperature. CPU load temperatures are generated by performing a 20 minute run of OCCT LINPACK using 90% of the available memory.
The components used for testing are:
Techgage Test System
Intel Core i5-2400 – Quad-Core (3.10GHz)
Asus P8P67 WS Revolution – P67-based
Corsair Dominator 1x2GB DDR3-1600 7-8-7-20-2T
AMD Radeon 5450
Kingston/Intel SSDNow M Series 80GB SATA II SSD
Corsair HX650 650W
Thermaltake Armor A90 Mid-Tower
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
And the results!
After stepping away for a bit and coming back to check the numbers once the overclocked load test had completed, my reaction was one that shouldn’t be repeated in a review. The H80 is an absolute monster and bested it’s dual fan cohort, the H70, by 6 degrees under full load. It goes without saying that we have a new champ!
When our test system is first started, the fans spin up to 100% and then settle down to the level selected on the pump and block. Even at the highest setting the fans still spin slower than the maximum RPMs, and I thought it was strange that selecting maximum performance didn’t make them top out.
While running the stock load test the fan speed didn’t increase, but during overclocked load testing I heard them ramp up a bit when the temperature hit 38 degrees – so it’s safe to say that they are set to spin up based on certain presets. Seeing how this cooler was developed by CoolIT, they could be governed by the temperature of the cooling fluid as the Vantage is.
This results in a bit of a trade-off. Without a separate fan controller or through the use of software, users lose the ability to run the fans at 100% all the time if needed.
To see just how well the H80 does based on hardware alone and not on fan speed, another load test was performed with the fan on the lowest setting, and I am happy to say that the temperature topped out at only 43 degrees. That’s right. It still managed to best the H70 by 1 degree while remaining dead silent. Mileage will vary if used with more aggressive overclocks.
Phew! I’m all hot and bothered. It’s a good thing that our CPU isn’t.
A couple of days ago I made a post in our forums about air cooling reaching a point where the coolers themselves can only get bigger and bigger in order to keep pace with new cooling technology, including liquid coolers that are now starting to receive serious attention from designers and enthusiasts. After years of lack luster products, the H80 proves that all-in-one liquid coolers are able to go toe-to-toe with some of the best air coolers.
The last air cooler that was reviewed caused clearance issues with the GPU and memory but cooled very well because of its size. Liquid coolers on the other hand have stayed roughly the same size with the exception of the size of the radiators. Not everybody will have a case that can support a 240mm or monster 360mm radiator, but the H80 is proof that a single radiator, albeit a thicker one, is still up to the job.
In my opinion, the amount of noise created by previous Hydro series coolers has been the only draw back. Now that this has been remedied, and combined with improvements in the design, there’s no reason not to run out and pick one up.
At ~$90 from various online retailers, you’ll pay for the performance that you gain. Is it worth the extra money on top of the H70 or other high-end air coolers? You bet! Not only does it provide what amounts to a ton of extra performance when talking about CPU coolers, but it’s incredibly quiet and expandable thanks to the Link system – there is no doubt in my mind that the price premium is warranted.
Performance, build quality, functionality and low noise levels all create a remarkable piece of kit that any enthusiast should be tripping over themselves to buy.
Corsair H80 CPU Cooler
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