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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Corsair H50: CPU cooling, redefined

Air cooling is simple and inexpensive, and for this reason it is by far the dominant method of CPU cooling. However, they aren’t flexible; overclocking will often overwhelm the cooler’s ability to regulate temperature. This was precisely the problem I ran into with my desktop rig:

  • Case: Cooler Master Centurion 5 Blue
  • PSU: Raidmax RX-530SS Hybrid 2
  • CPU: AMD Phenom X4 9850 Black Edition (125W TDP)
  • Cooling (old): Arctic Cooling Freezer 64 Pro 92mm
  • Motherboard: Foxconn A7DA-S
  • RAM: 2x2GB OCZ Reaper HPC DDR2-1066 (the good old days, when memory was dirt cheap…)
  • GPU: Sapphire Radeon 4830 512MB GDDR3
  • HDD: Western Digital Caviar Blue 640GB
  • Optical: Samsung SH-S223B
  • Add’l fans: 120mm, 2 x 80mm

At stock clocks and voltage, the CPU would idle around 33-35 degrees C. Seems pretty normal, right? Whenever the CPU encountered a heavy load, temperatures would easily skyrocket past 61C, which is AMD’s specified thermal limit for this particular chip. I was forced to take it easy with demanding applications like video encoding and processing – overclocking, of course, was completely out of the question. The latter was especially unfortunate as my chip seems to need a bit more voltage for any decent overclocking to happen.

So I decided to something about it.

After quite a bit of research, I came across the Corsair H50. It’s known as a closed-loop liquid cooler. Water/liquid cooling obviously provides vastly improved performance over air cooling, but a decent full-fledged setup with a pump and radiator is much more complicated to set up, and also much more expensive. The risks of watercooling (fluid leakage, regular maintenance) are also something to consider. The Corsair H50 claims to provide the benefits of liquid cooling in a completely sealed, compact package.

Corsair claims that installation is easy, but it ended up taking longer for me (maybe it was just a result of my own clumsiness?) I ended up doing some steps out of order before everything came together.

The H50 comes with a “high-efficiency” 1700RPM 120mm fan for its radiator. The radiator allows you to attach an additional 120mm fan to it to create a push-pull setup, which I did by using my existing case fan.

The results? Nothing short of phenomenal. Check out these temperatures:

idle: 27-29C (2.6GHz @ stock 1.28V); 33-35C (3.0GHz @ 1.312V)
load (running Prime95): 45C (2.6GHz @ stock 1.28V); 54C (3.0GHz @ 1.312V)

Under a more realistic load, my temps don’t go above 47C.

If you need serious cooling without the hassle of a full-blown enthusiast setup, I wholeheartedly recommend the Corsair H50. You’ll be blown away by what it can do.

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