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Corsair Hydro H50 CPU Water Cooler

Corsair Hydro H50 CPU Water Cooler

May 2, 2010 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Corsair Hydro H50

(CWCH50-1 PK1) CPU Cooler
Manufacturer
Corsair
Street Price
US$65~$80

With an excellent reputation as a top tier computer memory company, Corsair
has been able to diversify their product lines without much resistance from
DIY PC users. While the majority of its business still revolves around RAM and
flash memory products, Corsair also has been successful selling power supplies
and large EATX cases. The Obsidian line of cases is popular among water cooling
enthusiasts who need the extra room, so while a CPU water cooler from Corsair
is surprising, it doesn't come totally out of left field.



The box artwork is pleasing to the eye, but the image of water splashing
all around the H50 perhaps sends the wrong message.



The Hydro H50.

Water is the most widely used coolant on the planet due to its high heat capacity
and easy availability. Some PC enthusiasts use water cooling to achieve high
overclocks, while others see it as an effective way to cool their system quietly.
Of course, there are also those who simply think it's cool to have water flowing
through your desktop. There's more effort, time, money, and risk involved in
installing and maintaining a water cooling system than an air cooled heatsink,
so it's definitely one of the geekier things one can do. One-piece water coolers
like the Corsair Hydro H50 allow any slack-jawed yokel who can handle a screwdriver
to join this once exclusive club.

The Hydro H50 is a simple device with a stubby cylinder containing the waterblock,
reservoir and pump connected by plastic tubing to a radiator that mounts to
a single 120 mm fan placement. It's easy to see why the H50 retails for only
US$65~$80; most DIY loops have thicker tubing and bigger components that can
push larger volumes of water more quickly. They also commonly have transparent
parts so you can see the water circulating inside, while the H50 is painted
utilitarian black. It will be interesting to see whether the H50 can take down
any of the top air cooled heatsinks while generating an equivalent or lower
level of noise.



Accessory bundle. Our sample included mounting hardware for all current
desktop sockets.


Corsair H50: Key Features
(from the product
web page
)
Feature & Brief Our Comment
Pre-filled, closed-loop system is easy
to install
Practically idiot-proof.
Copper CPU cooling plate for maximum cooling
performance
Like most heatsinks.
Integrated pump and reservoir is sealed
for zero maintenance and improved leakage protection
Integrating the pump and reservoir means
less tubing and fewer joints, so it is less likely to spring a leak.
Large 120mm radiator for fast heat dispersion
A standard size for a budget radiator.
High-efficiency, low-noise 120mm fan for
drawing cool air across the radiator
To be determined.
Two-year warranty Okay.


Corsair H50: Specifications
(from the product
web page
)
Model CWCH50
Cold Plate Material
Copper
Fan Specs 120mm, 1700 RPM
Radiator Material Aluminum
Tubing
Low-permeability for near-zero evaporation
Warranty 24 Months

PHYSICAL DETAILS

The Hydro H50 consists of a cup-like structure holding the waterblock,
reservoir and pump, 10~11 inches of tubing and a radiator/fan. The entire unit
weighs about 570 grams, 700 grams including the fan and bolts.



Water cooling is similar to air cooling. The first link in the chain of
heat transfer is the waterblock, the equivalent of the base of an air
cooled heatsink. The H50's waterblock is a big piece of copper with a
relatively rough surface pre-slathered with generous amount of thermal
compound.


The waterblock is located at the bottom of a cylindrical structure that
also houses the reservoir containing the water and the pump that circulates
it through the tubing. These components are separated and much larger
in most DIY water cooling schemes.



The water cools down the waterblock and carries the heat with it along
one tube, through the radiator, and out the other tube so it can be re-circulated.
The tubing is somewhat analogous to the heatpipes found in tower coolers,
although the water stays in liquid state instead of changing dynamically
between gaseous and liquid states as in a heatpipe.



Heat is transferred from the water to the radiator which is composed of
very thin pieces of aluminum measuring about 0.14 mm thick. They are curved
to form long rows of coils with an average separation of approximately
1.20 mm. The coils are cooled by a 120 mm fan.



The fan and radiator are mounted together in a 120 mm fan placement. According
to Corsair it is ideal to use the fan as an intake blowing cool air from
the outside through the radiator and toward the pump. This should result
in lower CPU temperatures, but in most cases, it will also disrupt overall
air circulation.

INSTALLATION

The most critical aspect of installation is for the heatsink to
be securely mounted. The more firmly it is installed, the better the contact
between the cooler's base and the CPU itself. It's also less likely to fall
off. Ease of installation is also important — a simple mounting scheme
means less time spent installing, and a reduced likelihood of screwing up.



Installing the H50 is a simple affair and begins with inserting
four steel pegs into the appropriate holes on the plastic backplate. We
are usually appalled at the use of plastic, but given that most of the
H50's mass is not directly weighing down on the processor, it's an acceptable
choice.



Four plastic cups with holes in the bottom are inserted into the ends
of the mounting ring.



There are a series of metal tabs on the ring that line up with holes surrounding
the waterblock.



We found it easiest to partially secure to the ring to the backplate first
using the provided screws. Then place the waterblock through the ring
and rotate it so the aforementioned tabs line up, and finish screwing
the ring down.



Fully mounted. The portion of the H50 that sits on the processor is only
55 mm tall, short enough to fit in most smaller cases.



Pictured above is an approximate representation of our test setup. The
pump was connected to a 3-pin fan header with fan control disabled, and
the fan was placed in a foam stand that eliminates most vibration effects.
During testing, the radiator was placed 1 inch above the motherboard back
panel to simulate the position of a typical 120 mm rear exhaust port.

TESTING

Before thermal testing, we took some basic physical measurements.

Approximate Physical Measurements
Weight
570 g

700 g with fan and bolts
Fin count N/A
Fin thickness
~0.14 mm
Fin spacing
~1.20 mm
Vertical Clearance
N/A
Horizontal Overhang (+/-)
none

The fin spacing is very tight but the fins themselves are thinner than found
on any air heatsink, so the radiator's overall impedance to airflow does not
seem high. This bodes well for good performance at low (read: quiet) fan speed.

Comparison: Approximate Fin Thickness & Spacing
Heatsink
Fin Thickness
Fin Spacing
Scythe Ninja 2
0.39 mm
3.68 mm
Thermalright HR-01 Plus
0.45 mm
3.15 mm
Noctua NH-U12P
0.44 mm
2.63 mm
Noctua NH-C12P
0.47 mm
2.54 mm
Thermolab Baram
0.44 mm
2.52 mm
Noctua NH-D14
0.43 mm
2.33 mm
Prolimatech Armageddon
0.51 mm
2.08 mm
Prolimatech Megahalems
0.50 mm
2.00 mm
Zalman CNPS10X Quiet
0.40 mm
2.00 mm
Xigmatek HDT-S1283
0.33 mm
1.96 mm
Scythe Kabuto & Zipang 2
0.34 mm
1.94 mm
Scythe Mugen-2
0.31 mm
1.89 mm
Coolermaster V8
0.30 mm
~1.85 mm
ZEROtherm Nirvana
0.43 mm
1.82 mm
ZEROtherm Zen
0.37 mm
1.80 mm
Corsair H50
0.36 mm
1.78 mm
Cogage TRUE Spirit 1366
0.40 mm
1.70 mm
Zalman CNPS10X Extreme
0.42 mm
1.50 mm
Thermalright Ultra-120
0.45 mm
1.42 mm

Testing was done on our
new i7-1366 heatsink testing platform
. A summary of the test system
and procedure follows.

Key Components in Heatsink Test Platform:

  • Intel Core i7-965 Extreme
    Nehalem core, LGA1366, 3.2GHz, 45nm, 130W TDP.
  • Asus
    P6X58D Premium
    ATX motherboard. X58 chipset.
  • Asus
    EAH3450 Silent
    graphics card.
  • Intel
    X25-M
    80GB 2.5" solid-state drive. Chosen for silence.
  • 3GB QiMonda
    DDR3 memory. 3 x 1GB DDR3-1066 in triple channel..
  • Seasonic X-650 SS-650KM
    650W ATX power supply. This PSU is semi-passively cooled. At the power levels
    of our test platform, its fan does not spin.
  • Arctic Silver
    Lumière
    : Special fast-curing thermal interface material, designed
    specifically for test labs.
  • Nexus 120 fan (part of our standard testing methodology; used when
    possible with heatsinks that fit 120x25mm fans)

The system is silent under the test conditions, except for the CPU cooling
fan(s).

Normally, our reference fan is used whenever possible, the measured details
of which are shown below.

Reference Nexus 120mm fan

Anechoic chamber measurements
Voltage
Speed
12V
16 dBA
1100 RPM
9V
13 dBA
890 RPM
7V
12 dBA
720 RPM
5V
11 dBA
530 RPM

Measurement and Analysis Tools

  • Extech 380803 AC power analyzer / data logger for measuring AC system
    power.
  • Custom-built, four-channel variable DC power supply, used to regulate
    the fan speed during the test.
  • PC-based spectrum analyzer:
    SpectraPlus with ACO Pacific mic and M-Audio digital
    audio interfaces.
  • Anechoic chamber
    with ambient level of 11 dBA or lower
  • Various other tools for testing fans, as documented in our
    standard fan testing methodology
    .
  • SpeedFan,
    used to monitor the on-chip thermal sensors. The sensors are not calibrated,
    so results are not universally applicable. The hottest core reading is used.
  • Prime95,
    used to stress the CPU heavily, generating more heat than most real applications.
    8 instances are used to ensure that all 4 cores (with Hyper-threading) are
    stressed.
  • CPU-Z,
    used to monitor the CPU speed to determine when overheating occurs.
  • Thermometers to measure the air temperature around the test platform
    and near the intake of the heatsink fan.

Noise measurements are made with the fans powered from the lab's variable DC
power supply while the rest of the system was off to ensure that system noise
did not skew the measurements.

Load testing was accomplished using Prime95 to stress the processor, and the
graph function in SpeedFan was used to ensure that the load temperature is stable
for at least ten minutes. The temperature recorded is the highest single core
reading. The stock fans were tested at various voltages to represent a good
cross-section of airflow and noise performance.

The ambient conditions during testing were 10~11 dBA and 21~23°C.

TEST RESULTS

Stock Fan Measurements

Stock Fan Specifications
Manufacturer
Corsair
Power Rating
?
Model Number
?
Airflow Rating
?
Bearing Type
?
RPM Rating
1700 RPM
Corners
Open
Noise Rating
?
Frame Size
120 x 120 x 25 mm
Header Type
4-pin PWM
Fan Blade Diameter
105 mm
Start Voltage
~5.0 V
Hub Size
41 mm
Weight
120 g
Data in green cells provided by the manufacturer
or observed; data in the blue cells were measured.

The stock fan was a bit of a mystery as it had no identifying markers and no
specifications were listed for it on Corsair's website except for the RPM rating.
The blades had odd little notches at their bases, and were arrayed in an orthodox
manner, very close together at the hub. The blade diameter was also 5~6 mm shorter
than most 120 mm fans partly because the fan housing was thicker than the norm.



Odd notches near the hub.


Stock Fan Measurements
Voltage
Speed
SPL @1m
12V
1610 RPM
24 dBA
10V
1310 RPM
18 dBA
9V
1030 RPM
14 dBA
8V
680 RPM
<11 dBA
7V
480 RPM
5V (starting voltage)
330 RPM
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle from
the intake side of the fan.

Ambient noise level: 11 dBA.

The stock fan was loud and buzzy at full speed and turbulent but smooth at
10V. At 9V, it was quiet but developed a bit of a hum, and at 8V it was completely
inaudible. Overall it was an excellent sounding fan relatively free of tonality.

Like many PWM models, it did not respond in a typical manner to voltage control;
the speed dropped off rather quickly when undervolted, becoming inaudible at
a fairly high voltage. The fan speed changed very gradually between 5V and 8V.



At 9V, the H50 stock fan measured 14 [email protected]

COOLING RESULTS

Corsair H50 w/ stock 120 mm fan
Fan Voltage
Temp
°C Rise
Fan Only*
Fan & Pump**
12V
24 dBA
28~29 dBA
63°C
41
10V
18 dBA
24 dBA
66°C
44
9V
14 dBA
21~22 dBA
68°C
47
8V
<11 dBA
77°C
55
Corsair H50 w/ ref. 120 mm fan
12V
16 dBA
23 dBA
65°C
43
9V
13 dBA
21~22 dBA
68°C
46
7V
12 dBA
72°C
50
°C Rise: Temperature rise above ambient (22°C)
at load.

Ambient noise level: 11 dBA.

*mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle from the intake side of the fan.

**mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle from the halfway point between the
pump and fan.

The thermal rise for the H50 and stock fan was between 41°C and 47°C
at 12V~9V, an okay result if you only take into account the fan noise. The pump
generated a clearly audible and annoying buzz that pushed the overall noise
level above 20 dBA. We could also hear the water "gurgling" on occasion.
Our reference fan did slightly better at equivalent noise levels, but again,
the pump was so much louder it didn't really matter.

Note that in our open testbed, the performance was the same whether the fan
was mounted as an intake or an exhaust.

At
The pump at full speed makes the overall noise level at least 21~22 [email protected],
regardless of the fan speed.

Comparison Chart

°C rise Comparison
Heatsink
Nexus 120mm fan voltage /

SPL @1m
12V
9V
7V
Rank
16 dBA
13 dBA
12 dBA
Prolimatech Megahalems
38
41
44
#1
Noctua NH-D14
38
42
45
#2
Noctua NH-U12P
39
42
44
#2
Scythe Mugen-2
39
42
45
#4
Cogage TRUE Spirit 1366
40
42
45
#4
Prolimatech Armageddon
40
42
46
#6
Zalman CNPS10X Quiet
40
43
46
#6
Thermalright U120 eXtreme
40
43
48
#8
Thermalright U120
42
45
49
#9
Corsair Hydro H50
43
46
50
N/A
23 dBA
21~22 dBA
Noctua NH-C12P
43
47
51
#10
Zalman CNPS10X Extreme
43
47
53
#11
Zalman CNPS10X Flex
45
50
54
#12
Coolermaster V8
46
50
54
#12
Scythe Kabuto
51
53
60
#14

With two noise sources, the fan and the pump, the H50 is outclassed by most
of the larger modern air coolers. The pump raises the noise level of the system
above 20 dBA, and the performance level is good, but not great. You could undervolt
the pump to bring the noise level down, but this isn't recommended by Corsair
and it would of course result in an increase in temperature.

We concede that a water cooling system like the H50 may perform better in a
hotter environment, i.e. inside a case, but even if the H50 performed as well
as the Megahalems, the extra noise from the pump would still make it difficult
to recommend.

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 5~10 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

The Corsair Hydro H50 offers a hassle-free introduction to water cooling. No
need to worry about radiators, reservoirs, pumps, waterblocks, tubing, coolant;
Corsair has put it all together for you at a much lower price than a a DIY system
using discrete components. You don't need a big case, either, as all that is
required is a 120 mm fan placement. In fact, as the height of the pump is only
55 mm it will fit in many mATX and even mini-ITX cases that don't have enough
room for a high performance CPU cooler. It installs fairly easily and securely,
and the stock fan sounds smooth and is very quiet when undervolted.

Sadly it doesn't have what it takes to be a very effective quiet CPU cooler
by SPCR standards. Compared to most recent large tower heatsinks we've tested,
the H50's thermal performance is close to the bottom end of the spectrum whether
paired with the stock fan or our low speed reference fan. The H50 may be a victim
of our open testbed which we prefer because it eliminates several variables
impacting CPU cooling performance, but even if it cooled as well as the Megahalems
of the world, the noise of the pump would remain a problem. The pump generates
a loud buzzing sound like that of a toy motor, so no matter how well the H50
performs, in a closed case or otherwise, it will always be louder than a traditional
high performance air cooler unless you use a loud fan to drown it out. Furthermore,
the H50 lacks a soft mounting option for the radiator and fan, so vibration
may also have an additional negative impact on its overall acoustics.

While the Hydro H50 is an affordable single-piece water cooling solution, it
is still on the expensive side compared to most high performance heatsinks.
Ideally a CPU cooler should have a good balance of performance, noise level,
and cost. If you judge the H50 on any two of these criteria, it fails to make
a splash.

Corsair Hydro H50
PROS



* Stock fan has good acoustics

* Easy to mount

* Pump portion only 55 mm tall
CONS



* Loud, buzzy pump

* Poor performance/noise ratio

* No fan soft mounting option

* Expensive

Our thanks to Corsair
for the Hydro H50 sample.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest


Prolimatech Armageddon & Coolermaster
V8 CPU Coolers

Cogage TRUE Spirit
& Zalman CNPS10X Quiet CPU Coolers

SPCR's 2010 CPU Heatsink
Test Platform [UPDATED: 10 April 2010]

Zalman CNPS10X Flex CPU Cooler
Noctua NH-D14 flagship dual-fan CPU
cooler

ZEROtherm Nirvana CPU Cooler

* * *

Discuss
this article in the SPCR forums.

POSTSCRIPT, 14 July 2010: A Second Sample...



...obtained as a follow-up due to questions in the forum discussion
about whether the first sample was somehow defective, turned out to have
about the same acoustics as the first. If anything, it might be a tad noisier.
So our original assessment stands. It may be a good solution for cases that
have very tight spaces, but for the typical silent PC enthusiast, the Hydro
H50 is not really a viable cooling option.
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