NZXT Kraken X61 28cm Liquid Cooler

Cooling
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MP3 SOUND RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording system inside SPCR's own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We've listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

These recordings are intended to give you an idea of how the product sounds in actual use — one meter is a reasonable typical distance between a computer or computer component and your ear. The recording contains stretches of ambient noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject. Be aware that very quiet subjects may not be audible — if we couldn't hear it from one meter, chances are we couldn't record it either!

The recording starts with 5 second segments of room ambiance, then the fan at various levels. For the most realistic results, set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then don't change the volume setting again.

FINAL THOUGHTS

With the promising results of the NZXT Kraken X41, we were optimistic about the larger X61's chances. Frankly, this is the sort of performance we've been awaiting since AIO liquid coolers debuted. After repeated disappointments, the X61 is the first to truly impress us, doing so in stunning fashion. Not only did it shoot past all the closed-loop water coolers we've tested so far, it climbed to the very top of our leaderboard. Even so, we need to note that if you want a truly silent cooling system, the X61 is not it. We were able to get the SPL down to 16~17 dBA, but no better. This is very quiet by any standard but not truly silent. In contrast, the top air-only coolers on our leaderboard can go all the way down to the 11 dBA ambient level of our anechoic chamber, albeit with higher temperature rise.

The key to the X61's success is threefold. Time and time again, we've found the base shape to absolutely vital to performance. The entire Kraken series uses a slighltly convex base surface that enables superior contact with the CPU heatspreader. Size is the second factor. The X31 is nothing special, the larger X41 is good, and the even bigger X61 is excellent. Doubling the radiator's surface area makes the fans' job much easier than using a thicker compact and push-pull dual fans. Finally, the noise emitted is superb compared to other liquid coolers. The stock fans are the best sounding 14 cm models we've had the pleasure of listening to in some time and they deliver good cooling performance to boot. The pump has an unpleasant sound (as do all pumps we've heard) but at least the overall noise level is modest.

Our chief complaint is that achieving the low noise operation documented here requires a fair amount of creativity and experimentation. Following NZXT's standard instructions will provide superb cooling performance but not with low noise (as we define it). Both the fans and pump have very high top speeds, and the included software can't reduce it as much as is needed. Used as intended — i.e. connect the fans via the included SATA-powered fan headers, and set the software's speed controls to minimum — the X61 generates 29 [email protected] SPL, which is most definitely not quiet. You need other means to slow the fans and the pump down, like a third party controller or the headers on your motherboard, but it's a waste to have all those unused connectors dangling off the base.

The price is another hurdle. You have to plunk down a hefty US$140 for the X61's exceptional performance, putting it out of reach for all but the most extreme enthusiasts. It's a shame that the first closed-loop water cooler we can wholeheartedly recommend is so expensive. It offers value only if you ignore all the smaller air-only heatsinks that can deliver 90~95% of the cooling at a fraction of the cost. Still, if you're dead-set on quietly cooling a red hot CPU in a big system and have the cash to spend, then you can't go wrong with the X61.

Our thanks to NZXT for the Kraken X61 liquid CPU cooler sample.


The NZXT Kraken X61 is Recommended by SPCR.

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SPCR Articles of Related Interest:

Recommended Heatsinks
Enermax Liqtech 120X AIO Liquid CPU Cooler
Sub-$20 CPU Coolers: A Reader's Roundup
LEPA LV12 Direct-Touch Heatsink
NZXT Kraken X31 & X41 Liquid CPU Coolers
Noctua NH-D15: Update to an Icon

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