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Anyone who has been following the evolution of the CPU must surely be wondering how on earth we’re going to keep these high-powered silicon workhorses cool. The problem lies not only in their ever-increasing power requirements but also in the fact that they have a limited surface area from which to radiate the heat this generates.
Since the birth of computing, air has been the coolant of choice, but its limitations are finally beginning to be realised. Not only are heat sinks are getting bigger and bigger leading to inevitable concerns over their weight, cooling fans are also having to spin ever faster to generate increased airflow, which of course means elevated noise levels.
The solution is quite a simple one, and though you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise there’s actually no black magic or experimental science involved. I’m referring to water, a substance that, considering it plays such a vital role in life on earth, seems to have a strangely villainous reputation when it comes to cooling our computers.
Take a look at any enthusiast orientated hardware retailer’s website and you’ll find a wide selection of water-cooling products for sale. Some are aimed quite squarely at experienced users who are expected to plan the layout and assembly to suit their particular chassis, while others offer a more compact, user-friendly approach, often at the expense of the overall performance levels to some extent. Very few products manage to successfully incorporate efficient cooling into a product that almost any level of user can get to grips with, while those that do often lack those reassuring safety features that help the new user come to terms with the disconcerting knowledge that disaster is just a pump failure or a serious leak away.
The HydroCool200EX is a rare bird in that it claims to offer all the benefits of a self-contained, chassis independent cooling product with more advanced features such as low fluid level alarm, user definable fluid temperature alarm, visual flow confirmation, temperature readout, thermally controlled fan with override, emergency shutdown function and self diagnostic routine. Designed in tandem with transportation components and systems technology giants Delphi - is this the ultimate foolproof water-cooling kit? Let’s see.
Naturally my first action once I received the HydroCool200EX was to remove the four screws that secure the outer casing and take a look at what lurked beneath. As a rule my priority when appraising any water-cooling kit is the pump, and on this score I was pleasantly surprised. Corsair has opted to use a relatively expensive Bosch PAD type PA66 pump. Rated at 15 Litres per minute it doesn't sport the highest flow rate you’ll find but provided the radiator and CPU water block are well matched this will not be a problem.
The PA66 is a magnetic drive pump; meaning the motor and impellor are coupled magnetically and need no physical drive shaft between them. Mechanical drive shafts need to be sealed to keep water out of the motor casing so of course using a magnetic drive makes for one less potential source for leaks. The motor itself is a 12-14V DC brushless unit and the whole assembly has a very commendable 10,000-hour estimated lifetime. I say commendable because in pump terms it’s a pretty good rating, but that actually translates to only 417 days of 24-hour use which sounds slightly less impressive. The pump was designed to handle a normal ethylene glycol and water coolant at temperatures up to 100 degrees Celsius, though if your coolant ever gets this hot I’d suggest something is seriously wrong somewhere, not least with the emergency shutdown!
The radiator is an all Aluminium affair with cylindrical tanks on either side rather than top and bottom. It has a very tight matrix, which should really help dissipate the heat. It will also have a tendency to clog rather easily with dust, making the two air filter assemblies that the HydroCool uses all the more critical. A potent looking 120mm fan provides the airflow. This was unbranded so far as I could tell.
The interior layout of the HydroCool is neat and tidy with all the pipe work thoughtfully routed. My only complaint is the slightly shoddy way in which the reservoir has been riveted to the rear wall of the unit. I could easily rock the reservoir a little laterally and though it wasn’t vibrating at the time of testing, the potential exists.
At this point I replaced the cover and took a look at the unit as a whole. The cover is actually manufactured from a very dark coloured Perspex that doesn’t offer much of a view inside under normal daylight but which seems to become magically transparent in low light. Then the bulb used to backlight the flow meter illuminates the internal workings of the HydroCool. The black, gloss finish combined with the chrome fan grills either side and the chromed carry handle on top do make for a reasonably stylish, if slightly boxy appearance.