Just when you think you have seen just about everything you can out of the all-in-one water coolers, someone is always trying to find a way to make their product stand out against the rest in the crowd. When we took a look at the KUHLER H2O 620 a little while ago, I was impressed with what Antec and Asetek were able to come up with. While it wasn't a huge departure from the H50 from Corsair, there was enough to visually tell them apart as well as the Antec version performing slightly better in the testing. So what was left to improve on?
Since I caught wind of the H2O 620, I assumed the "fat radiator" version was already in the works. Why not keep up with the Jones' if you are already basically mimicking a product already on the shelf is my take, and I was right, well, sort of. Antec did release the thicker radiator design with the 920 moniker, and we are about to take an up close look at not only the cooler, but the software that comes shipped along with this new cooler from Antec.
The software side of all-in-one coolers has been done before in some shape or form. CoolIt had the Maestro software, and even incorporated changeable LEDs and temperature readout of the coolant in the head unit of one of these units. The issue there is very basic. While the functionality and ability to see the liquid temperature is there, you need a direct line of sight to the head unit, and to make an adjustment you have to dive into the chassis and look for the tiny buttons.
Asetek and Antec have devised a more elegant solution to this, and I will cover it and the KUHLER H20 920 from Antec as we continue. Let's take a bit of time to go over the specifications and a better description of the feature set.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
Most obviously the difference between the 620 and the 920 is the thickness of the 120mm radiator. The 620 used a 27mm thick radiator whereas the 920 has moved to the much thicker 49mm radiator. The 151mm height and 120mm width stay the same. On the opposite end of the 920 there is also an additional change. The head unit on the 620 had the KUHLER 620 painted in white and an Antec logo painted in yellow. For the 920 The KUHLER 920 logo is still applied with white paint, but this time the Antec logo is backed with a customizable LED so you can match the LED to the color of its environment, offering a bit of stylish customization.
The rest of the unit is much the same as others in the Asetek family. They use a copper cold plate to remove heat from the CPU. The liquid inside is then propelled via the pump that sits above the chamber of the cold plate. The coolant then travels through thirteen inches of black rubber hoses, again without the corrugated covering. At this point it is up to the 49mm thick radiator and the pair of included fans to cool the liquid inside the sealed loop. Antec held back no punches with the choice of fans in this unit. These fans are capable of moving 110 CFM of air, each, and are rated at 27 dBA at 2400 RPM. The cooled liquid then returns to the head unit to start the cycle all over.
Unlike most of the other all-in-one water cooling units, there is either PWM or BIOS control for the head units pump and attached fans. Like I say, CoolIt had the concept, but the implementation on the Vantage wasn't so user friendly. Antec took this concept and ran with it into an application form that can be controlled on the desktop. The instructions seem pretty simple on this. Install the unit, install the software, and via a USB connection that you run to a motherboard header, the software will give you control of everything you would like, and also be able to monitor the coolers performance and fan speeds and noise levels. Don't worry if I didn't give you the full story on the software, there will be a page dedicated to the software as you continue.
I was supposed to have this review for you upon release, and I will cover why in the conclusion, but "things happen" and it delayed me bringing this to you sooner. In the mean time the availability of this cooler has gone way up, and I can actually now say that it is stocked on a lot of shelves. Thirty-six e-tailers at the moment, and I haven't checked to see if any of the box stores are showing stock yet. What you will find is that this new version is requiring quite a bit more to purchase the 920. I was able to find a couple of places that I would spend my money at if I was buying, since Newegg.com isn't currently showing stock. Provantage and ExcaliberPC both have the KUHLER H2O 920 at $116 and some change and $117 and some change, respectively. So you will have to dig a little deeper than usual to buy the 920, but hopefully by the time I finish you will see it is worth it, as I did.
The 920 ships in a similar package to the 620, but there are subtle changes. One of course is a lit image of the head unit and the thicker radiator of the product image. The second is the fact that this unit is PWM controlled.
The testing chart shows that the 920 is about five to six degrees cooler than the sixty-six degree reading of the 620 packaging.
The rear of the box has a mission statement from Antec and four main features discussed at the bottom. The Antec CC software, the flexible hoses, the thicker radiator, and the customizable LED head unit get top billing.
Antec makes sure to disclose as much about the specifications and included hardware on this panel. This should make for an informed decision when purchasing this unit from say a box store locally.
The top of the box makes you realize once again that you are about to be looking at the "next generation maximum performance liquid CPU cooling system". To tell you the truth, the packaging has paid off, as I am eager to see how everything works!
Inside we find the same recycled cardboard tray for all the components. Again, it is covered with a thin layer of high density foam. On the top of the foam you will find both the instruction disc and the installation guide.
The Antec KUHLER H2O 920 CPU Cooler
When I removed the 920 from the packaging I could see there was a lot going on, so I will break it down and hopefully I will cover it all.
The 49mm thick radiator still uses the higher FPI (fins per inch) count as do all of the other Asetek build units. A radiator with a high FPI requires some serious fans to produce good results and is likely why Antec includes 110 CFM fans to cool this unit.
From the side you can see not all of that 49mm of thickness is radiator fins. Both the front and back of the unit have a built in spacing offsetting the fans by about 5mm on each side.
I just found this sticker interesting. Most notably is the 3.1W of power draw. I have to assume that is the draw of the pump and possibly the LEDs. This should result in a pretty powerful head unit, as I remember it CoolIt was using a 1W pump!
The hoses are held tightly in place with the use of a smooth color that locks the tubing onto the barb. I tugged at these a bit and from the abuse I could give it, the units connections held up and no leaks were produced.
The specifications on the 920 say that there is thirteen inches of tubing, well my unit fell just a bit short, and has the same twelve inches that all the other units like this have. The USB connection to allow the software to control the unit is two foot long and will be no issue getting to the bottom of a motherboard.
There are three main connections that are wired to the head unit. On the left is the 5-pin USB connector to allow for full control of the 920. In the middle is a fan lead that terminates in two fan connectors to give power to the included fans. The last connection on the right is to allow power for the pump inside the head unit via a 3-pin connection.
The Antec KUHLER H2O 920 CPU Cooler - Continued
Attached to the side of the head unit are the two swivel fittings that allow the tubing to get routed inside the chassis. Both fittings are bent outward to the fullest extent and you can see it offers pretty good flexibility for a clean install.
Like I said earlier, the KUHLER H2O 920 name remains painted on, but the Antec logo looks a dull gray at the moment. Once the connections are made, this Led comes alive and is fully color customizable.
With all of these units, they have the plastic covers to protect the pre-applied thermal paste.
I am happy to see that this is the first unit out of the last few Asetek built coolers that didn't arrive with dirt in the paste. I'm glad that issue has been resolved!
With the paste removed we have the same circular milling pattern that is found on all of these head units. The base is pretty level across the contact area, but does start to deflect a bit near the screws.
This image is to act as a heads up to those who are going to purchase this unit. Fully assembled with both fans in place, the 920 will hang four full inches inside the case, so be sure there is plenty of clearance in your case of choice.
This is the last look at the Antec KUHLER H2O 920 before I go ahead and strap it up to the TECC, but we need to cover some of the hardware before I use it.
Accessories and Documentation
Along with the easy to follow installation guide that offers great illustrations along with very comprehendible text to aid you with any issues you may have during installation is the Antec CC software. As you can see the CC stands for Chill Control, which not only controls the 920, it also offers a way to monitor the unit while in operation.
Breaking down the included hardware into groups seems to be the easiest way to show the multitude of it so it's easier to understand how it works. Here we have the back plates and mounting rings for AMD on the left and Intel on the right.
This hardware will help to finish the mounting of the 920. The blue inserts are for Intel 1156, 1155, and 1366 socket installations. There are the four thread inserts that go in either back plate, and with Intel the labeled holes for the socket you intend to install it on. There are two foam pads that help to isolate and add space for either back plate. The green inserts are for both Intel LGA 775 and any AMD; it depends on which way they are inserted into the mounting ring. The four screws at the bottom go through the inserts and secure into the threaded inserts you placed in the back plate.
To mount the two included fans, this bag contains eight long screws with Phillip's heads on them, along with a set of eight washers to insure the screws don't tighten into the fins of the radiator.
Here is the pair of fans that Antec include with the 920. These will run with speeds from around 700RPM all the way up to 2400 RPM delivering up to 110CFM of air flow each! These 4-pin PWM controlled fans should offer silence while at rest, but still be able to take the entire heat load you can produce and shove it out of the case with gusto!
The Software / Antec CC
After a number of issues that a new OS install seemed to have fixed, I was able to run the software included with the 920. I sort of skipped ahead before I grabbed my images, and as you can see I am already running a custom profile. Here in the "dashboard" tab the Antec Chill Control software not only has the three profiles to use at the top, it also monitors the coolant temperature, fan speed, pump speed, and noise levels of this new unit from Antec.
The "graphs" tab gives you exactly what you expect, graphs! Here you can keep an eye on the coolant temperature as well as the fan speeds.
The "fan control" tab offers you the ability to tell the cooler at what temperature to start the fans ramping. On top of that, the next step allows you to set the top of the fan curve and control at which temperature the fans will run at full speed. The notifications section is for setting the warnings if either the coolant gets too hot or the fans drop below a certain speed.
The "settings" tab contains the ability to change the display from its native Celsius scale to Farenheit, whether to start minimized or start with Windows on boot up, the rate at which the software logs temperatures and data, and the scale of the charts time frame. At the bottom is the LED lighting controls. Simply use any color value of 0 to 255 in either the red, green, or blue section to make any color you could desire. At the top you will notice there is even the ability to change the skin from night to ocean, or a blue theme.
Switching the skin just so you can see them both, I reset to the dashboard, and set the custom profile. With the coolant staying around thirty-six degrees, I set a moderate fan speed of 1600 RPM with the pump running full speed all the time (controlled with the bios). The sound level is done with a math equation based on the fans speed. There isn't an actual MIC that would change if another fan was added or if it was in a loud environment, in that instance no matter how loud the area around the unit, the noise level stays the same.
In silent mode the 920 is indeed that! Just over 600 RPM on the fans, the dB meter isn't registering at 15, and you can see the pump is still going full speed, and quietly I might add.
Using the Extreme tab you can see the fans kick into action and both the 2300 RPM shown and the 52dB rating both show that this cooler is taking every measure to keep your processor under control.
There is a help icon in the dashboard to solve any issues you might have with the unit or the software. At the time I tested this feature it would take us to a page that simply said 'Under Construction'. However, the link has since been updated and now takes you to Antec's support site.
Test System & Testing Results
Test System & Test Results
TweakTown uses a different method for testing CPU heatsinks which allows for an even playing field across all product tests. We feel that by using the same ambient temperature and strict lab-like testing procedures we are able to accurately compare one product to another. More information on our testing procedure can be found in the T.E.C.C. article here.
At idle the 920 didn't take top honors on the overall listing, but they sure took the number one position on these all-in-one coolers.
Load testing with essentially extreme mode running in the TECC box, I was really surprised to see just how well this cooler ranked and how well it took the abuse. For the earlier screen shots of the software I was running a 65nm E6400 with 1.65V going through the processor. I wasn't able to break out of the nineties even giving that old hot tech a lot of volts.
Don't let this rating fool you on the quiet capabilities of the 920. In silent mode with the software, the unit is exactly that, silent! - To keep things fair, I gave these fans the same 7.5V I give all the other fans on this list for a more even playing field for the results.
In extreme mode, with 12V going through both fans, the 920 takes top honors in being the loudest pair of fans I have tested. Keep in mind that with the included software, this level will likely not be the normal level of operation, more like when you are benching or gaming for many hours, and even then you can still make the fans not run at 2400 RPM.
While I would have loved to have been able to bring this cooler review to you on release day, I did run into an issue and I wasn't quite sure how to resolve it. Going back to Antec and explaining the issue, I was sent to a representative from Asetek so I could work directly with them to try and resolve my issue. The issue was simple really, I could use the unit, but when I connected the USB the software wouldn't load properly without an error. Well, a couple of motherboards and a couple of OS writes and another unit being sent from Astetek after a thorough testing, I got a unit that was fully functional and to say the least, impressed me with its testing results long before I figured out the software wasn't operational.
The software or the Antec Chill Control V gives you everything you need to control the 920 with just a few clicks. Unlike the earlier concepts of this tech in a water cooler, there isn't any fishing for tiny buttons or contorting your body into a position to even read the LCD on the head unit. With the application on your desktop, you simply turn on the software and set the fan speeds that serve your needs. The pump itself gets controlled via your BIOS, but the visual indicator will show you if something in the BIOS is amiss as well with one glance. The Antec CC is super easy to use and very intuitive and makes a great partner with the KUHLER H20 920.
I know I am a bit spoiled when it comes to pricing on things, and I really took a hard look at this one. The CoolIt Vantage is the only current cooler that offers even close to the same full package as the 920 brings to the table, and that is getting from $120-150 US dollars depending on where you buy it. The next best thing in line would be the Corsair H70, and that is priced from $90-150 USD, again depending on the retailer. Antec seems to have priced this unit right where the market has dictated. The $120 average pricing of the KUHLER H20 920 is right on point, if even just for the fact that it beats all the other all-in-one water coolers offered today, I haven't added the really cool software and customizable LED Antec Logo that will allow you many, many choices in colors to match your interior or mood. I feel for the price, the KUHLER H2O 920 is worth every penny of the asking price!