After adding the entire bottle of additive, Corsair instructs you to fill the reservoir with distilled water and then fire up your PC. What on earth is Corsair thinking? If the pump is stuck or there’s a major airlock you risk destroying your PC in double-quick time. Considering this is no budget water cooler, I find it rather ludicrous that Corsair couldn’t supply an ATX power bypass plug to activate the power supply and allow the HydroCool to operate independently of the PC, at least until the coolant has safely circulated and the air has been expelled. At the very least Corsair should explain how you could achieve the same thing yourself with a short length of insulated wire. I use a paper clip but I’ve only myself to blame when it touches something and shorts out on me some day. I’m sorry, but instructing users to power up a PC when the coolant hasn’t even circulated yet is just asking for trouble.
After running the unit independently for about ten minutes to purge it of air, and to perform a quick check for leaks, it was time to plug the ATX block back into the motherboard and power everything up. The PC booted as expected and after a quick diagnostic routine the HydroCool flashed up a reading of 25C on the large, four digit LED display. As expected this slowly climbed as the coolant got warmed through before settling at around the 29C point. We need to remember that this temperature is taken from the top of the water block which is where the thermistor is located and is certain to be considerably lower than your actual CPU core temperature. In fact when the HydroCool was displaying 29C the Athlon was reporting a temperature of 38C. For this reason it’s best to think of the HydroCool’s reading as an indicator of general performance rather than a deadly accurate reflection of actual CPU temperatures. That said it might be useful if the HydroCool’s readout could be calibrated to match that of your CPU’s monitored temperature, not that that’s likely to be very accurate either.
The final step in the setup procedure was to set the two alarm temperatures. The first is used to sound an audible temperature warning and alert you that something may be wrong, while the second is the actual shutdown temperature. Pressing the “SET” button to the left of the display flashes up “AL 1” at which point you use the Celsius/Fahrenheit selector buttons to adjust the threshold up or down. You then repeat this for “AL 2” and you’re all done.
Although the HydroCool will automatically run the fan at 50 per cent full speed (Whisper Mode) so long as temperatures remain below 40C, it does step up to full speed (Turbo Mode) above this, you can also use the “TURBO” button to override the thermal monitoring and force the unit to run in Turbo Mode continuously should you wish. Noise levels are a subjective thing but I personally felt that the unit was very quiet in Whisper Mode but fairly intrusive in Turbo Mode. For the difference it made to temperatures I’d suggest you leave it in Whisper Mode and let it fend for itself.
The transition from air to water-cooling is more of a slow trickle than a raging torrent at the moment, but I believe it’s a transition that will have to happen failing the appearance of any new and alternative technologies.
Corsair has used its own marketing muscle and the vast experience of Delphi to create what amounts to one of the best self-contained water-cooling solutions currently on the market. Corsair has avoided any temptation to create anything too radical or eye-catching and gone for a simple, elegant and above all efficient design that actually works.
Performance levels are exemplary for this type of system, and while they don’t reach the lofty levels you could perhaps achieve from assembling your own circuit using handpicked components, it’s not a long way off. It could be argued that the HydroCool200EX is the proverbial jack-of-all-trades, master of none, but with systems as critical as water-cooling it’s not a master you need necessarily, but a loyal servant, a role that it would appear the HydroCool was designed and built to fulfil.
Efficient water-cooling systems aren’t that difficult to assemble, but the peace of mind that comes from being able to confirm coolant flow and temperatures at a single glance and from knowing that your PC Is protected by audible fluid level and overheat alarms and ultimately by an unattended overheat shutdown capability are what really sells the HydroCool for me.
The graph below indicates temperature in degrees Celsius while under load and idle. The HydroCool is compared to an Asetek WaterChill water cooler and an Ajigo heatsink/fan cooler. All temperature readings were taken from the motherboard thermal sensor.