Since the inception of AIO coolers, and when CoolIT and Asetek went to making third party coolers and dealing much less with a retail product of their own, Corsair was one of the first to get on board and start selling AIOs under their name with the Hydro series. Back in the beginning, things were chunky, failures were a bit more rampant in forums, but with a brand like Corsair they were able to overcome issues along the way. With every generation, there have been design improvements, thermal improvements, and various types of mounting systems to keep reviewers on their toes over the years.
With every unit in the lineup developed to this point, the units were all based on a 120mm radiator, or a dual 120mm radiator to cool the fluid within the loop. While using lower voltages in the head units produced less heat dump into the loop, and like the H60 (2013) trying different fans also helped out with the performance. That being said, there is only one more way to increase the performance with the latest generation of head units being used on the market, and that would be a move to a larger radiator and fan to provide more surface area for the fluid to travel through while the fan attached is cooling said liquid.
Today from Corsair's Hydro Series we are going to be getting up close and personal with the H90. This is an AIO CPU cooler that took the step into the larger radiator direction, now coming equipped with a 140mm radiator. Since more and more cases are giving up on 120mm cooling solutions, and most even offer a 140mm in the back now, the move seems very natural, almost a shame it took this long to be honest, but all of the pieces had to fall into place for this to actually work well for a lot of users.
Well, it seems that time is now, and we will see soon enough if the move to a larger radiator is worth the hassle, or if the AIO has been taken to its limits already.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
The first chart is the one you will find on the Corsair website as well as being displayed on the packaging. It isn't very informative, but let me try to elaborate a bit. First it covers the 140mm aluminum radiator, but I would have liked to have the FPI included, which happens to be 26 FPI when I actually measured it. It then covers the 140mm, high static pressure fan, but you will see that discussed in the next chart. It then goes on to show that the unit is more than capable of cooling all of the latest sockets with the included hardware. It then goes on to describe the cold plate and manifold, but doesn't mention that the plate is copper, milled rather well, and is convex when finished. It does however go on to mention that this kit is pre-filled and sealed, so that there is no maintenance other than cleaning the fan and the radiator from time to time.
The second chart is the specifics of the 140mm fan that I located in my reviewers guide. While neither this chart, nor the back of the fan display a model number to cross reference, the specs listed are very descriptive. The chart oddly starts off with the radiator dimensions, something to me that should have been on the box chart or on website, but here it is anyways. As for the fan, it is 140mm by 24mm thick, and receives power via a three pin fan connection. The fan will top out at near 1500 RPM, give or take a little bit, while delivering up to 94 CFM of air flow. Maybe for a 140mm fan 1.64mmH2O
is considered high pressure, but I was expecting something over 2mm, maybe even closer to 3mm H20 to be specified as having a "high static pressure fan".
It also rates this 140mm fan at 35 dBA of noise level, hinting to me that there may be a lean to silence of operation in these units as well as the increasing of surface area. The last thing that is mentioned is the power draw of 5.76W. That isn't the fan; they have jumped back to the draw of the pump in the head unit.
With the fact that the Hydro Series H90 is so new, there is only one hit via Google to find this on the shelves currently. Of course the one place it is available is Newegg, and they are asking $99.99 for these units. For the same price you can also buy them direct from Corsair, but with free shipping and a promo code of "Corsairnew10" to save another $10 off the price, why bother? While that price is really good at $89.99 to your door, it is a limited time offer. For the aspect of value in this review, I will be basing it off the $99.99 price point.
On the whole, as the market has shown time and time again, most of these single radiator units release right around $100 and the duals are in the $130 range, so the Hydro Series H90 is at least priced right on paper, so let's see how it does in the real world.
This Hydro Series cooler comes in a grey package with black and light blue used to highlight things around the image of the H90 near the top. Things shown right up front is the universal mounting included, and the fact that this does use a 140mm fan.
On the right you start with a Corsair logo, and then the text gets right to the fact that this is a 140mm cooler for superior performance. It then states that these are designed to be used with cases with 140mm rear exhaust fans in them.
The back starts with you can increase the overclock potential of your CPU with this cooler, and jumps into thermal results of testing against the Intel stock cooling solution. The panel than covers all the sockets this is compatible with and finishes things with list of four contents in the box.
The left side of the packaging offers a specifications chart for the fan only, with no information given about the radiator or head unit. This information is then repeated in the same five languages we have seen on this and the other panels.
The top of the box has information as well, but after closer inspection, you can see this is more of a features list as it covers the fan, tubing, the cold plate and the mounting hardware. It also is the only place I have seen the five year warranty icon.
Once the outer packaging is removed, we receive the H90 in the same recycled cardboard container that all of the Hydro coolers arrive in. Here the radiator is at the far left, with the 140mm fan to its right. The tubing wraps around the bottom, has the hardware setting on it, and the head unit wraps around and is settled in its own space.
Corsair Hydro Series H90 AIO CPU Cooler
The head unit on the H90 is round and is a sure sign of its Asetek roots. The head unit consists of a plastic cover over the pump with the large Corsair logo. Off the one side are the fittings to move the liquid and the three wire lead to power it.
That pair of fittings will swivel until they run into the other fitting, allowing for a few options when installing this and routing the hoses. You can also see all of the locks around the edge that will allow for the hardware to grab on and press it onto the CPU.
To protect the copper cold plate of the H90, just like all the other units, this one gets the plastic cap to keep things from hitting the base, or dirt from getting into the thermal paste.
The paste comes pre-applied on these units. Even with a round application on the base of the H90, it is large enough to cover my processor from corner to corner. Also the cap worked well at keeping debris out of the paste.
Removing all the paste you can now see the round pattern that the cold plate was milled in. As I placed the razor against this plate, only the center 5mm are flat, the rest of the plate curves away toward the screws, and makes for a very convex shaped plate.
The black rubber tubing going from the head unit fittings to the radiator is eleven and a half inches on this H90, and the power lead is ten and a half inches. The tubing is used to keep the liquid in for the five year warranty, so evaporation shouldn't be an issue, and they are black to keep sunlight from affecting things.
Corsair Hydro Series H90 AIO CPU Cooler Continued
As that tubing covers the aluminium barbs that were painted black here, there is a ring that is pressed over the tubing to lock the hose onto the barbed fitting. This should ensure the hoses won't come lose.
If this radiator looks a little larger than normal, that is because it is. This aluminium radiator is 140mm wide and 170mm tall. This is why the fact that a chassis with a 140mm exhaust fan was discussed on the packaging.
Just picking a random spot on the radiator to sample the FPI at, I found that once I increased the image a bit to be certain, I counted 26 aluminium fins between the micro channels. With this many fins over such an area, it definitely increases the surface area, but makes for a tough job for the fan.
This 140mm radiator is only 27mm thick from the steel plates for the fans on both sides. With the included fan this is 51mm thick when ready to install, but keep in mind, the fins in the radiator are much closer to only 20mm deep.
Skipping ahead, I added the supplied fan to the radiator to give you an idea of what it can look like. Since this is it for images, I added the fan on the front. As per the instructions, this should be on the back drawing air into the radiator.
This last image is just to show the entire Hydro Series H90 before we got to the hardware and installation of the unit. It also gives you a bit of an idea of the amount of room you have to use this radiator maybe in the top of a case, and of course being able to reach the rear exhaust in a case.
Accessories and Documentation
Part of the hardware found in the same bag is what I have spread out here. On the left is the Intel back plate and top mounting plate. In the middle is the top plate locking ring, and off to the right are the AMD components for installation.
In smaller bags you will find four thumbscrews for most AMD and Intel sockets, and to the right is a set for LGA2011. The bottom row offers four long fan screws and washers to mount both the fan and radiator to the chassis. The bag at the right has the back plate inserts, top mounting clips for the thumbscrews, and has foam pads to space the back plate properly for greater mounting pressure.
The instruction manual is no longer accompanied by the large red insert. This time you get the manual with good detailed installation steps to allow the novice user to get it mounted properly. The insert this time contains warranty information. I assume they know we all should contact them if we did have an issue and not the retailers by now.
The included 140mm fan consists of nine black blades spinning inside of a black frame. Beside the draw of this fan at 12V, the only other thing I can tell you here is that is powered via 4-pin PWM fan connection.
Installation and Finished Product
First off I went ahead and grabbed the Intel bracket that goes on the head unit, the one with all the bent teeth on the inner ring. These teeth set into the locks around the head unit, but there is one more step to this.
Once the ring and mounting legs are where you want them to be on the top side, flip over the head unit, and then clip in the locking ring with the four tabs found around the sides of it. Now these two pieces should be locked solid, and you are ready to continue.
I took the four bottom and four top plastic components, and installed them with the lettering of 1155/1156 facing out on the bottom. Flipped around they work the AMD mounting as well as other Intel sockets. The top piece can only go in one way once the bottom part is right. Once together you slide in the thumbscrew, and the head unit is prepped for installation.
Since I test with an Intel motherboard, I grabbed the Intel back plate and went ahead and stuck the two foam spacers in the cutouts that are made for them.
Since all four corners have three holes, you need to look closely to see they are labeled 775, 1155 or 1366, and you need to slide in the metal inserts for the appropriate socket.
With the inserts in place, and the foam now against the motherboard, all I have to do is flip this over on the table, add some paste, and screw the head unit to the back plate. Because the corners support multiple sockets, the plate will sit askew from the socket, or crooked.
I went ahead and mounted the H90 to my GIGABYTE motherboard with the fittings on the same side as the memory slots. As you can see, even trying to make things complicated, the H90 stays well clear of all four memory slots. Pretty much anything goes here for choice of sticks to populate these with.
Even as we step back a bit to take it all in, you can see there is no interference around the socket with the heat sinks either, and since the radiator is behind the rear I/O panel of the motherboard, it will have no issues mounting to the rear of the chassis for normal use. Now I just need to strap this all to my X-Frame and see what the H90 has in store for us.
The Test System and Thermal Results
Testing for the CPU coolers is done with the use of RealTemp to ascertain temperatures, Intel Burn Test to deliver the load to the CPU and CPU-Z to verify the CPU speed and the voltage being used in Windows. All of the testing is done with an ambient temperature of 24.5-25°C and humidity is maintained to 35% sometimes less.
For the "stock" runs, it's more of a plug and play setup where the PWM of the motherboard is in control of the fans speeds for both the idle and load results. Speed Step is active and the processor idles at 1600 MHz and loads at 3500 MHz for the stock settings. I also set the memory to run at 1600 MHz for stock. As for the overclocked runs, I load the CPU at 4.5 GHz and idle results are obtained with 7.5V to the fans while the load run is set to deliver 12V to the fans. This allows me to gauge the lowest and highest fan ratings for my charts.
You will also see that the charts have been slightly adjusted. From now on I will mention the idle temperatures if there is something worth noting other than an average of twenty-five to twenty-seven degrees as the PWM controls and SpeedStep allow for almost ambient results in most instances. What you are now getting is a stock speed loaded temperature chart and an overclocked loaded temperature chart. To clean up the audio results, I also removed all of the fans that aren't on the thermal charts. If you want to compare those results to new coolers, the old chart is still available in the older reviews.
With the larger radiator, I actually expected a little better from the H90. It gets beat slightly by the Tt Water2.0 Performer and even by the earlier H60 (2013). This is with the motherboard still in control of the fan speeds, and they topped out 1021 RPM for this test, and that speed does help to explain a bit of the thermal increase in lieu of noise levels making your ears bleed like other units do.
The Hydro Series H90 does an admirable job, but again is slightly bested by the Performer and H60. While I don't know what I was really expecting out of this unit, I would have liked to have seen a 140mm solution capable of beating out a 120mm solution similar in design to it. At this time I was also watching the fan speed to be sure we were in spec, and the fan was turning at 1480 RPM. For both tests, the head unit was powered with 12V and the pump was spinning at 1474 RPM the whole time.
Noise Level Results
As you can see, with the increase in fan size and lowering the fans speed, you can get an AIO that performs well and isn't that much of a distraction at idle. It is one of the two quietest solutions for anything in the AIO family, tying with the H220 kit.
Even at load, the noise levels are very acceptable. While 50 dB is definitely audible, even at a bit of a distance, while gaming and the surround turned up, there was much less of it to hear in the room. Again this is the quietest sealed AIO solution on the market, but that does come with a degree or two penalty in the thermal results because of this.
I know why Corsair made this move, it was to answer coolers like the NZXT Kraken coolers, but was the effort really worth it in the end? It depends on what sort of plans you have for this unit in my eyes. If you are just getting it to replace the stock cooling solution, or maybe apply a mild overclock, and are looking for silence, this is the perfect solution, as it is the most silent sealed AIO on the market currently. Since I like to push my hardware a bit more than the average guy, I would have taken some more fan noise for better performance out of this cooler. I mean the Performer beat it, and it's essentially the same head unit with a different radiator, and with this H90, I do believe all of the complaints of loud fans have won over in this round.
Ever since this AIOs with the round head units went to the locking plates for the top bits of hardware, mounting has become very simple - not like the old days of twisting things one handed and trying to screw it in at the same time. These days, the installation is so simple that you really have to not be paying attention to screw things up. Even if the images aren't as descriptive as you would like them to be, the way the parts are all labeled, again making things fairly fool proof. On the other end of the unit, it isn't that tough to remove a chassis fan and install the radiator, as long as you take your time, install all the screws a little first before tightening any of them - even here you should have no issues. At this point the H90 has a lot going for it, it is the quietest of the bunch, it's simple to install, beats the pants off of the stock coolers, and removes a ton of weight from the socket versus an equal performing tower cooler. There are just some things that are holding it back.
Once we look at things from a price versus performance aspect, the glitz and glamour of the larger and quieter 140mm solution starts to fade as you realize you could get better performance for much cheaper. In fact, while the H90 is selling for $99.99, or even the $89.99 pricing with the Newegg code at the time of writing, the Tt unit is selling for $79.99 and if you like rebates, it can be had for around $65. Saying that this unit comes with a high static pressure fan, and seeing that this fan was capable of 94 CFM, I had higher hopes for this cooler, but in this case silence wins out over performance with the Hydro Series H90.
My real issue at this point is how to award it, as it does well, but not well enough. Cost is also a bit much for the thermal results in my opinion, and it is stripped of any cool features like the LINK or extra fan headers, or anything really to demand this sort of a price tag. If I were you, I would wait a bit and see if prices drop, or wait and see if the H110 I also received is any better for your needs.