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NZXT Kraken X61 280mm AIO CPU Cooler Review

NZXT Kraken X61 280mm AIO CPU Cooler Review

NZXT released the hounds in pursuit of the top of the charts. Let's see if its newest 280mm AIO CPU cooler, the Kraken X61, is capable getting there.

@chad_sebring
Chad Sebring
Published Thu, Nov 6 2014 4:04 PM CST   |   Updated Thu, Jul 30 2020 4:20 PM CDT
Rating: 98%Manufacturer: NZXT

Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing

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VIEW GALLERY - 48 IMAGES

It really does seem like forever and a lifetime ago since we last took a look at an AIO from NZXT, and looking back to their product line, it has been over two years now. Even back then, NZXT was slightly ahead of the game. While just about everyone was jumping into the AIO game, NZXT came right out with software controllability in all of their offerings, albeit then some very simple software; it was this, go to Antec, or opt to go with Corsair, and pay out for the Link to do the same job. So really, your choices then were down to just Antec and NZXT if you wanted any sort of control within that initial purchase price.

Well, NZXT is finally back at it, introducing a trio of AIOs to fit anyone's needs and budget. We will be covering these coolers in reverse order this time in our trilogy of reviews of the new Kraken coolers, but as far as offerings go, you have the option for a standard 120mm version to start it off. Moving up in the series, you can also move into a single 140mm AIO that offers a slightly thicker radiator, as well as head unit illumination. The top-tier of this series is the 280mm radiator based AIO that also offers head unit illumination. So, whether you are in the market for the latest generation, basic AIO, or if you plan to really work the snot out of the cooler in benching and testing, or even just long hours of gaming, with three levels of this series to choose from, NZXT covers everyone from system builders to enthusiasts.

Since we are starting off with the best offering in this new series, we really need to introduce you to the NZXT flagship AIO, the Kraken X61. As we have stated, it is based on a 280mm radiator, and with the latest generation of head units, we expect to see pump speeds of near 3600 RPM, delivering less heat into the head unit than previous generations. As far as we can tell, this is the same generation as the Water 3.0 Ultimate we tested not too long ago, just to give you some perspective on what generation we are dealing with.

With the basics of the AIO capable of very nice results, with the addition of the CAM software that takes control and information to a whole new level, outside of the H220 and H220X, you will be hard pressed to find this package of features elsewhere at this time. If this doesn't generate the least bit of excitement for you, maybe you should check for a pulse, because by the time we are done showing off this Kraken X61 from NZXT, we are sure you will have to be feeling it. This sealed AIO is just that cool.

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Unlike a lot of other AIO manufacturers, NZXT is not afraid to display all of the information at hand on their product. At a quick glance, we can see that the specifications listed are sort of all over the place, so let's see if we can't group them up, and make a bit more sense out of this.

The RL-KRX61-01 offers an aluminum radiator that measures in at 280mm long, 140mm wide, and 27mm in thickness - so they say, but in reality, the dimensions are slightly larger. Getting coolant from the radiator to the head unit is carried out with the use of black rubber hose held to the barbs with plastic rings. As you reach the plastic head unit that contains the pump and copper base plate, you will find the unit has a pair of swivel fittings, just like all the rest.

As for the fans that cool this radiator, we are given a pair of FX V2 140mm PWM Performance fans. These fans have rubber isolators in the corners of the black frames, and sport nine, white blades on each. These are capable of delivering up to 101.6 CFM of airflow each, while pushing 1.97 mmH2O of pressure at nearly 2000 RPM. These 140mm fans use four-pin plugs to power them via 12V, and the head unit also offers a four fan power lead that also uses a SATA connection to supplement the power. Getting back to that pump in the head unit, here we should see speeds of 3600 RPM, and this time the pump only draws 325 mA of power, so there is much less heat dumped into the coolant from the pump in this generation.

At the bottom, we find mention of what are likely the three of the best features of the Kraken X61, outside of performance. We see the head unit is illuminated, and offers full RGB scale color options, along with modes to make this look outstanding in any build. They also offer that new CAM software that offers more information and control than most will know what to do with. The last bit is that when you buy the Kraken X61, you are covered against defects and failures for a full six years from the date of purchase.

As we look around to find this product in the wild, we had no issues doing so, as most of the major locations have stock currently. Direct from the Armory, we find the Kraken X61 costs $139.99, and also requires $9.99 to ship it. Just like with the Grid+ fan hub, when looking elsewhere for a better deal, they can be had without shipping cost at the same base price, so you may as well look around and save yourself the extra $10. Keeping in mind that this is an average price for a sealed AIO with this size radiator, on the flip side, there are some things that will set this apart. The implied warranty here will definitely not cover opening the loop and modifying it, but our angle here will be if you leave the H220X as-is, how do they all stack up? Stick with us, as we have a lot to show, and where the Kraken X61 from NZXT places in performance may be a bit of a surprise.

PRICING: You can find the NZXT Kraken X61 for sale below. The prices listed are valid at the time of writing, but can change at any time. Click the link to see the very latest pricing for the best deal.

United States: The Kraken X61 retails for $139.99 at Amazon.

Canada: The Kraken X61 retails for CDN$149.99 at Amazon Canada.

Packaging

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On the front of the box, things are kept very simple. There is just a black and white background with a large image of the cooler taking up all of the room, and the illumination is on in the head unit. Outside of the notation informing us this is the world's first variable speed AIO, it also has the white six in the corner to denote the warranty.

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To the right we find this smaller side panel offers a compatibility list at the top, so you can be sure it will fit. That is followed by a depiction of the difference in surface area of a 280mm radiator to a 240mm one, and concludes with a comparison chart of this cooler against other, standard versions.

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To the left are icons denoting five key features. There is another notation regarding the 36% more area, and an indication of the Kraken X61 being variable speed, with another image of the X61 to the right. Below, we see an image of the CAM software, with more features and inclusions listed to the right.

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Our second end panel displays a specifications chart that is much easier to read and understand than what we are given online. Here, everything is broken into the appropriate section, making each component's specifications much easier to absorb.

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While we cannot actually read much of anything on this panel, it does show that these coolers should be worldwide any time now, considering they took the time to list the included bits and features in so many languages.

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As with any Asetek OEM AIO, we see it is shipped in a compartmentalized cardboard inner packaging. This keeps all the bits from rubbing together or damaging each other in transit, and allowed our sample of the Kraken X61 to arrive in fantastic shape.

NZXT Kraken X61 CPU Cooler

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At the receiving end of the Kraken X61, the head unit is what takes the heat from the CPU. In this kit, we see that there is the NZXT name and partial circles that are opaque, and are ready to be backlit with LEDs. We also see that the Intel mounting hardware is pre-installed to the head unit.

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To the right of the NZXT naming, on the side of the head unit, you will run into the pair of ninety degree swivel fittings that allow the coolant to pass through and remove heat. Just to the right of those, we also see three leads that are sleeved with black braid.

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Flipping the head unit upward so we can look at the base, we find a plastic cover snapped over the mounting hardware that not only protects the base from scratches, but also allowed the pre-applied paste on it to arrive unmolested, clean of debris, and ready to mount.

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The paste is applied in a textured pattern, and is round in its application. It covers the contact area, plus some, and will cover any current processor on the market.

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To keep all coolers fair with each other, we remove the stock paste, and use the same paste for everyone. With it removed, you can see the circular milling marks get smaller and smaller until they reach a point in the center. The base is higher in the middle than at the edge, and is not flat, or very level.

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Before we leave the head unit, we also wanted to spread out the wiring to see what is needed to connect. The three-pin pump power lead is nine inches long, the fan lead is ten and a half inches long, with a similar length to the SATA plug that comes from it. To gain control of the AIO, you also need to run the twenty-four inches of USB 2.0 cable, and connect it to the motherboard.

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The specifications claimed there is sixteen inches of tubing from the radiator to the head unit, but with ours, we see fifteen and a half inches. This is still longer than any other, and close enough in our book.

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As for the 280mm radiator, it is made from black painted aluminium, and as you can see, the dimensions are closer to 300mm in length, and near 145mm in width.

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Looking at the header, we find a 30mm thick radiator, but the fin arrangement is only 27mm thick. We also see that to the right end of the sticker, the Kraken X61 draws 15W in total to cool your processor.

Accessories and Documentation

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With the Intel gear already on the head unit, if you are an AMD user, you will need to remove the locking ring and Intel top bracket, and replace it with the top ring at the top of this image. It comes with specific standoffs just for AMD use. To the right, we have the Intel backplate with adjustable ends to fit all of the sockets. For AMD users, you will need to use the stock plate.

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On both sides, and screwed to a couple of standoffs, we have the nuts that lock the head unit to the motherboard on final installation. In the middle, we have the LGA2011 standoffs, and to the right are the other Intel standoffs that work for various other sockets.

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To make sure you won't need any extra hardware, even when planning to use two more fans for a push/pull setup, NZXT supplies enough hardware to see you through. There are sixteen long fan screws, and just as many flat washers to go with them. They also supply us with eight shorter screws that will allow the radiator to mount directly to a chassis.

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We were also shipped this pair of FX V2 140mm PWM fans, both of which are powered via a four-pin connection at the end of a braided cable. White blades in a black frame seems to be what everyone likes these days, and with built-in isolation at the corners, there should not be any noticeable vibrations.

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As for the paperwork that comes with the Kraken X61, this is it. There is only one sheet that unfolds and shows the basic steps to installation, and once that is done, it states you need to download the CAM software to obtain full control of this AIO. The reverse has some information on parts, basic troubleshooting, and terms of the warranty.

Installation and Finished Product

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First thing to do is to be sure the nuts in the ends of the backplate are all in the right position of the three available for Intel. Once those are set, you simply drop in the backplate, and hold it there as you flip the motherboard over to continue.

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With the board flipped over, you then install the four standoffs supplied in the kit. There is no need for washers to isolate the motherboard; since the standoffs don't actually screw down and compress the motherboard, this assembly should be slightly loose when the standoffs are out of threads.

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At this point we went ahead and mounted the fans to the radiator in the inside, as it works best for our test system. We also have the cover off the head unit, and paste on the CPU, so we just need to get things mounted.

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Set the head unit on the CPU, after applying paste, and in an X-pattern, screw down the four large nuts. Just as the head unit starts to get some pressure, the entire assembly will lock solidly to the motherboard.

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To get here, there are some things to remember. Make sure the pump power lead is plugged in, and if you plan to use the fan power lead, also make sure to plug in the SATA connection, specifically if you plan to populate all four plugs. The last bit to take into consideration is running that USB cable. There is enough to run along the outside, and even enough to go up and over the board, running down behind it.

NZXT CAM Software Tutorial

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When you first get the CAM Software installed, this tiny window pops up on the screen. This allows you to create a cloud account so you can log in via other devices and PCs. After creating the account, you can log in securely, or just bypass that bit by pushing the "Skip" button.

You are then given a ten step tutorial as to how the software is laid out, and what sort of options and functionality you have control over inside of it. All of the following images are parts of the tutorial:

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NZXT CAM Software Usability

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Once through with the tutorial, you can then play in the software. Notice we collapsed the right side where the usage graphs were, and we can do the same to the left side too. In the main window, we still have options to change the profile used, adjust the fan speed with the plus and minus icons, and you can click on the LED box too.

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The custom tab is much like the manual setting in reality, except that custom has a predefined fan curve already, and manual is flat lined. In manual mode, you just raise speed as a whole without a curve, but in custom, you can add set point and drag them around like we did at the left.

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In performance mode, we see a very aggressive fan curve off to the left side, but keep in mind that this setting is the only way to get the full pump speed on this setup. We were unable to find another way to make it happen, and even here the RPM still fluctuated quite a bit in the range of 1000 RPM unless the CPU is loaded.

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When you click on the LED box on the main page, it opens this much smaller window. This is where you can set standard lit mode, breathing, or blinking, and at the bottom is an option to just roll through the colors in rainbow mode. At the bottom, you can even set a warning color that is different than the normal color, along with a temperature at which the color change should occur.

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As for the color options, NZXT offers six preset colors to choose from at the top. While you cannot input RGB color codes in the lower section, you can adjust the sliders and still come up with tons of other color options. The speed indicator at the bottom increases the breathing or blinking modes, and will also adjust the rate in which colors change in rainbow mode.

Test System Setup, Thermal Tests and Noise Results

Test System Setup

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I would first like to thank ASUS, InWin, Corsair, and Fractal Design for supplying products for me to test with.

To see our testing methodology, and to find out what goes into making our charts, please refer to our CPU Cooler Testing and Methodology article for that information.

Thermal Results

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We expected good things with the stock level of power being delivered to the Kraken X61, and we are a bit surprised with the results. Overtaking all other dual radiator AIO designs, and even passing up a few custom loops with the 47.75 degree result, the Kraken X61 manages to reach third place overall.

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Slipping ever so slightly to fourth overall when the overclock is applied is still great for an AIO. Only the 360mm Thermaltake solution beats it in AIOs, and the Phobya and EK kits are only slightly better.

Noise Level Results

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Starting things off with our low-end of testing, the 29 dB we heard at this point is very tolerable, and in most chassis environments, it is likely that the Kraken will be very tough to hear while under normal usage.

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Seeing specifications like more than 100 CFM, and almost 2mmH2O of pressure from these 140mm fans, we had a suspicion that things may in fact get loud when let lose at their maximum levels. The 59 dB rating here proves our suspicion, but keep in mind: we forced this result as a worst case scenario. With software control, it is likely you will never get to this level of noise unless you are going all out and need that extra power for benching.

Final Thoughts

To be blunt, our first impressions of this AIO when we unboxed it and saw all of the wiring made us nervous. We thought back to previous designs where software either had difficulties recognizing the product, or was just complicated to use. However, after some time with this Kraken X61, all of our worries were put to rest.

Starting with the mounting system, it is the same kit we have seen from Thermaltake in the past, and has proved itself time and time again as a good way to mount these head units with a fair amount of socket pressure. Then we look at the head unit itself. The design is nice to look at, but once you power up and get to play with the LED backlighting, it looks so much better. Black tubing is nothing new, and will blend into any build, as will all of the black braided cabling from the head unit. When it comes to the radiator, the increased surface area definitely helps, and putting on the pair of FX V2 140mm fans really helped to push this cooler to the top end of our charts.

Downfalls for the Kraken X61 are non-existent really. Mounting the fans, the radiator, and the head unit can't get much easier or more straight forward. It looks good, and nothing was beat up or had paint missing. NZXT sends plenty of parts along with it, and with the SATA powered four-fan lead coming from the head unit, having full control over a push/pull setup on this cooler is all ready to go, you even get the screws needed. If we really had to pick on this cooler for anything at all, the only thing that sticks out in our minds is the noise levels, and here it is only in the worst case scenario that we have that complaint.

The CAM software is where a good cooler jumps into the ranks of a great cooling solution. Of course, there are others who have done something similar, but not in the depth, and ease that NZXT has brought forth in the latest release of the Kraken. The only complaint we have in the software is that compared to any other monitoring software, the CPU temperature was always three to five degrees less than the rest, but within a respectable range to have a good idea of what is going on inside the PC. With all of the other information, notices, and options available via the CAM software, it is hard not to really like what NZXT is doing these days.

The $139.99 asking price is not unreasonable, especially when you consider other options on the list of coolers that this cooler contends with. Of course, the H220X has certain abilities that NZXT cannot offer, but Swiftech does not have the super simple software to help users get finite control, and the Kraken X61 has much more lighting customizations than the four offered in the H220X. If we look at it from the aspect of performance, it is a bit louder than the Swiftech, but it is able to overstep Swiftech in performance as well.

If you have the room for a dual 140mm radiator in your chassis, NZXT proves that increased surface area paired with fans that take no prisoners can, will, and does make a huge improvement to the cooling capabilities. In the end, the cost is right, the feature set is rich, and you can be the first of your buddies to have the coolest sealed AIO currently offered, and the world's first variable speed version at that.

PRICING: You can find the NZXT Kraken X61 for sale below. The prices listed are valid at the time of writing, but can change at any time. Click the link to see the very latest pricing for the best deal.

United States: The Kraken X61 retails for $139.99 at Amazon.

Canada: The Kraken X61 retails for CDN$149.99 at Amazon Canada.

TweakTown award
Performance98%
Quality including Design and Build96%
General Features100%
Bundle and Packaging97%
Value for Money99%
Overall98%

The Bottom Line: Not only the world's first variable speed AIO, NZXT delivers the most customizable, most controllable, and best dual radiator sealed AIO performance to date! Features, performance, everything you will ever need including a six year warranty puts the NZXT Kraken X61 at the top of our recommended coolers list.

PRICING: You can find products similar to this one for sale below.

USUnited States: Find other tech and computer products like this over at Amazon.com

UKUnited Kingdom: Find other tech and computer products like this over at Amazon.co.uk

AUAustralia: Find other tech and computer products like this over at Amazon.com.au

CACanada: Find other tech and computer products like this over at Amazon.ca

DEDeutschland: Finde andere Technik- und Computerprodukte wie dieses auf Amazon.de

After a year of gaming, Chad caught the OC bug. With overclocking comes the need for better cooling, and Chad has had many air and water setups. With a few years of abusing computer parts, he decided to take his chances and try to get a review job. As an avid overclocker, Chad is always looking for the next leg up in RAM, cooling, as well as peripherals.

We openly invite the companies who provide us with review samples / who are mentioned or discussed to express their opinion. If any company representative wishes to respond, we will publish the response here. Please contact us if you wish to respond.

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