Even though the clock madness is apparently over, there is still room for many innovators that offer a different perspective on cooling. Innovating solutions made small companies such as Zalman, Swiftec, Koolance, Thermaltake, Asetek household names of today.
Now, a Canadian company is putting the innovations from their own back yards into the world. Canada is a country well known for overclocker-friendly temperatures even in the air cooling world, but CoolIT Systems decided to take watercooling to a different level. The company built its reputation upon supplying excellent water-cooling for Alienware's ALX series of bleeding-edge computers.
One of more radical ways to cool down the CPU was using a Peltier element, more known as thermal pumps or TEC (Thermal Electric Cooler). The basic principle of the work is very simple: you have a bi-metal component which, in the end, one side gets dead-cold and other is hotter than hell. Of course, the main problem with Peltiers was that you had to cool down the hot platter or the heat would start to come back at the CPU... and as one of my ex-colleagues discovered, it can be hot enough to melt the CPU.
Freezone is a closed-circuit water-cooling system that does not use the TEC element for cooling down the CPU itself, but rather cools the coolant which then flows through the nickel-plated copper block. The system consisted of three elements: the CPU block, controller and the watercooling base (fan, radiator, TEC element and the pump). Since the system is designed for installing into the PC case, we were suprised to see that CoolIT has decided to use a 92mm fan - with all due respect to designers of this system, vast majority on enthusiast cases has either single 120mm or dual 80mm fan bracket, not the 92 mm one.
To check the matter out, I went into a local hardware enthusiast store, and perused 73 cases they had on display. Out of these 73 cases, 92mm fans were found only on several midi and big tower cases (mostly from Chieftec and Casetek) - with big towers having 92mm fan slot for filling the position above the PSU. Since the system is pre-assembled, you cannot install the Freezone system without dismounting the tubes and filling the system with liquid all over again. For mounting the system to a 120mm bracket, CoolIT has supplied a 92-120mm fan adapter.
The reason for this system's existence is probably Dellienware, which uses custom-designed Chieftec cases, which come with a 92mm vent on the backside. Anyhow, the manufacturer has certain improvements in the pipe, and we're pretty much sure Freezone 2 will come with a native 120mm design.
Over the past several weeks, I've tested the system with AMD's Socket 939 platform, Socket 940 and Intel's Socket 775 with six different CPUs. Sadly, we could not test the AM2 platform since our sample from Freezone didn't came with appropriate adaptors - Freezone being mounted on the motherboard. So, in most cases, that means removing the motherboard from the case in order to put in this Peltier-powered baby.
Installing the device goes without any major hiccoughs, since it's quite easy to place the metal wires in the middle of the CPU and then just screw in the screws by hand. Once we started the computer, we were awarded with complete silence, which continued after Windows greeted us with the boot up screen. The system works using thermal sensors that check the temperature and keep the CPU working at ambient temperature. That's right, no sub-zero cooling with this one. Electronics checks that TEC element never cools the water to levels which could cause codensation.
Our first experience with the Freezone cooler however, was disappointing - on Athlon 64 X2 4800+, we measured 27C in idle and 47C when both cores were working at 100 per cent. Altough the idle temperature was excellent, our reference Zalman CNPS9500Cu measured 35C in idle and 47C in full load - equal load performance to an air cooler. However, the CNPS was working at 100 per cent fan speed, and was quite audible.
With Conroes E6700 and X6800, the same story happened. Zalman was equal to water-cooling, and any normal bloke would ask himself why he spent all that money on a water-cooling system. Of course, real results came when we overclocked the processors. At 3.27GHz (11x275), our 4800+ was purring at 31C in idle and 68C in full-load mode. So, you have a dead-silent system working at 870MHz higher. Air-cooling gave up the ghost at 10x300, or, clean 3GHz clock. In La Intella's world, EE955 worked at 4GHz straight (20x200), but the temperature was 87C - or 6C higher than stock cooler at default 3.46GHz. Zalman's baby keeps the temps in low 60s at 3.46GHz, but cannot get clocked to 4GHz. So, Freezone is really showing us a cooler that will keep the system dead silent and keep your clocks above standard.
However, real fireworks start if you want to sacrifice silence for performance. Although the sound of the fan isn't that annoying in fastest rotation mode (would take Freezone over air-cooling screamers every day), we preferred the dead silent version. But, once you change the speed of the fan and power that Peltier consumes using a screwdriver on a controller PCB, you're unleashing the beast which will keep the CPU temps under 60C even in highest attainable clocks when using water.
Our previous testing with Innovatek's system shown to us that our EE955 sample works at 4GHz, X2 4800+ works at 3.3GHz (11x300), E6700 will stop at 3.07GHz (10x307), and X6800 will stop at 3.53GHz (11.5x309). The CPUs even booted at higher clocks (Conroes and EE), but under stable overclock we only take the clocks which enable full set of benchmarks.
CoolIT Freezone managed to match those clocks, and offer a lower idle and load temperatures, which is the first for an integrated water-cooling system. Previously, we tested two integrated water-cooling systems - CoolerMaster AquaGate and Thermaltake AquariusIII. Neither of which don't come anywhere near the performance of Freezone.
The most interesting CPU was the EE955, which gets hotter than most of the CPUs tested with the Freezone. At 4GHz clock, CPU worked at measily 38C in idle and 69C in full load - massive 11degC lower than retail, stock cooler on default clocked processor. We were also impressed with 67C temperature on 3.3GHz Athlon.
In short, the CoolIT Freezone is a great product, which comes up short only on single flaw, its 92mm fan. The adapter for the 120mm fan looks solid, but having over two kilos of weight lying on the adapter which is originally designed to keep the fan on the smaller cooler, not the other way around - brings up some questions.
Without any doubt, this cooler comes with best performance an integrated system has ever achieved, and I am recommending this solution to people who wants to have nice, low temperatures on highly-overclocked machines. Even if you're not overclocking, if you have a CPU that likes to heat up to heaven's high, take a good time to think about the influence high CPU temperatures make on the rest of the computer. Freezone belongs to Formula 1-class of products and the company has definitely shown a good reason why Alienware chose them.
Now, if I could only get my hands on that ALX cooler that cools down the graphics cards as well... ?
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