The Bottom Line
Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing
As we all know, the AIO game is something more and more manufacturers are playing these days, and Asetek and CoolIt are not the only players any longer. There is now a third supplier of AIOs that we first saw with the Silverstone, and then with the Enermax submissions, and that supplier is Fractal Design. Now, Fractal Design has also gone to Apaltek for their AIO coolers. The thing is, Asetek, or "the Rambus of AIO coolers", has been knocking down anyone who tries to sell an AIO inside of the United States, which is why Fractal has made the decision right out of the gate to not release these coolers inside of the USA. Fractal even provided us with a statement pertaining to this, and here is what they have to say: "Due to the existing legal conflict and lawsuit surrounding water cooling, Fractal Design has decided not to make this product available for the North American market until the court has made the final decision."
While it is not hard to figure out why Fractal Design has made this decision, it is a bit of a downer for those who populate this side of the globe. Fractal has come forth with a really nice product, and in our opinion, has bettered the patent holder's design, offering up yet another finely polished product, and it is also expandable. Just like we saw from the previous two companies that also thought outside of the box, we get a much cleaner looking radiator, a head unit that is the latest generation of technology, and even things that are definitely crossed over from the full-on custom water cooling market. Such features elevate this latest cooler beyond what the typical offerings deliver.
The naming of this series, Kelvin, seems to fit very well since it is a measure of temperature, and you will find three versions currently in this series. Fractal offers a 360mm radiator version that comes along with a trio of fans, a 240mm radiator version that ships with a pair of fans, or you can opt for the 120mm version that we will be testing today. This Kelvin T12 AIO cooler features things like metal fittings, a copper radiator, and anti-kink coils covering the black tubing. But Fractal does not stop with the typical 27mm thick radiator. Like many of the dual fan cooled AIOs, this cooler's radiator is sandwiched between spacer plates to allow the fans to build pressure before running through this low-FPI radiator. This setup makes it more efficient than the standard design. While other Apaltek based systems were much classier than the standard offerings, everything Fractal Design has optioned for in their Kelvin series is stylistically and functionally a step above the rest, and you will see for yourself soon enough.
Fractal Design provides a ton of information on their coolers. In the general specifications, we find that the Kelvin T12 has a head unit that is 69mm square, and stands 40mm tall to stay clear of everything else on the motherboard. We see that the tubing is 11mm OD, and 8mm ID with anti-kin coils covering them to make sure there are no issues with installation. The 120mm radiator actually measures 46mm thick, 132mm wide, and 163mm tall with the extended headers on the radiator. All of the fittings on this unit are G1/4, metal, and those on the head unit swivel with ease, making this yet another expandable unit. There is pretty much full compatibility with any current processor, and even some support for EOL ones. We also get a pair of fans and a syringe of Fractal Design Zero paste, and the unit comes in any color you want, as long as you desire it in black. The last bits of the chart cover the overall weight of the unit, as well as the packaging dimensions and weight.
Getting back to the pair of supplied Fractal Design Silent Series HP 120 fans, we sense that these are silent of course, but the HP alludes to High Pressure as well. These fans can spin at speeds ranging from 800 to 1700 RPM via the four-pin PWM connection, and each fan is capable of delivering 62.4CFM. Most fans in this range would offer 1 to 1.5 mmH2O of pressure, but these fans are each rated to push 2.33 mmH2O of pressure, which is really good for silent fans. Speaking of noise, these fans will deliver up to 26.9 dB(A), and only require a maximum of 0.18A of power to get these specifications.
We can then move on to the head unit, or the pump specifications. Here we see the impeller is supported, and will spin up to 2400 RPM on a ceramic bearing. It can be voltage controlled via software or BIOS, but uses a three-pin connector for power. At that speed, this pump can move 72 liters of coolant per hour, with a head pressure of one meter. Fractal even goes as far as to give the head unit a noise rating, and here they show that it is slightly lower than the fans at 25 dB(A); all of this is accomplished with just 0.27A of power.
Inside of the USA, or any other country on the North American continent, it may be some time before we see these coolers on any shelf (it may never even show here depending on the outcome of the lawsuit), but we were given the MSRP. For the Kelvin T12 that we are currently looking at, Fractal has set an MSRP of $99.99. Over the pond, that equates to 74.99 GBP, or 89.99 Euros. We are also being told that these coolers will release in mid-February, but we have yet to see a hard date on the release. For those on this side of the pond, we apologize that we are about to make you drool, already knowing the cake is a lie, but even so, it is well worth a look. For those lucky ones not on this half of the globe, fully expect this cooler to be on shelves very soon.
Fractal chooses to go with a black box to start, adding light blue to it to attract your attention. On the front panel, we find a large image of the Kelvin T12 in the center with its naming above to the right. Off to the left, in white text, is the company name. In the stripe below, we see the Fractal Design logo, and at the other end is the web address to read up on the product prior to purchase.
Spinning the packaging to this smaller panel, we find an exploded diagram of the head unit. Not only can we see all of the components that make it up, but there are also text descriptions of the six major components.
Around on the back, we find two large images under the company and product naming, one of the head unit, and a close look at the radiator used in the Kelvin T12. We also see text above the images that covers all of the fine points that are included in this design, as well as solid reasoning as to why this should be your AIO of choice.
Since the other end showed us the head unit, it only makes sense that the opposing panel show us about the radiator. Along with the dimensional renderings in the middle, there is also a list of package contents. The contents include the cooler, fans, thermal paste, PWM splitter cable, and all of the hardware needed to get this installed.
Inside of the box, we find a thin layer of foam that covers the components currently resting in the cardboard inner tray. All components are separated, and all are contained inside of plastic to be sure they arrive in the same shape they left the factory. In this instance, our cooler happened to leave the warehouse in terrific shape, and arrived in the same condition.
Fractal Design Kelvin T12 AIO CPU Cooler
Now that the Kelvin T12 is out of the box, we see this isn't the usual suspect when it comes to an AIO. Of course, the majority of it looks similar to others, but metal fittings, thicker tubing with anti-kink coils, and a sleek look, all set this unit apart from the pack.
The side of the head unit of the Kelvin T12 is made of textured plastic, and to change it up, Fractal Design has applied a glossy top plate that sports the company name at the bottom.
To allow coolant to flow in and out of the pump, we find that the side of this head unit is a pair of metal swivel fittings. Not only do they swivel the easiest out of any fitting we have tested to date, but they are G1/4 threaded, and can be replaced, or the compression fittings can be removed to change tubing or add additional components to cool.
Even when it comes to powering the head unit, unlike where most just have raw wiring coming from a tiny hole in the side, here we see a grommet to keep the wiring safe, and the length of the wiring is covered with a black braided sleeve.
After flipping the head unit over to see the cold plate, we find a full-size copper plate under the Kelvin T12. The edges are lower than the center, but the majority of the contact area is flat with slight deviation as you get further from the center. The base is also left in a clean, but unpolished state.
On our way to the radiator portion of this cooler, we pulled out the tape and found slightly over thirteen inches of tubing and anti-kink coils. We also see that while the fittings are straight this time, the G1/4 compression fittings are screwed into the copper radiator.
Now we can see the entire radiator. The header at the top is more typical, but the extended ones at the bottom are a bit longer than the average AIO. We can also see that Fractal chose not to use the super dense FPI radiator that many others opt for in their 120mm AIO designs.
Pulling the tape out one more time to get a grasp on the FPI in this radiator, we see that this design sports the 7 FPI arrangement of fins to allow more air through the radiator, and taking better advantage of the static pressure supplied by the fans.
Since this unit is able to be opened up, the radiator offers a fill port at the top, as well as one on the side of the head unit. We took this image to show the naming on the side of the radiator, and that there is an offset on either side of the radiator that can easily be seen on the side where the three bits of metal come together, the center portion being the fin thickness.
We went ahead and grabbed the pair of fans and installed them so that you can see the whole unit with the black and white theme carried from the head unit into the fans. Of course, we still need to get the mounting hardware on, but that is for a later section of this review.
Accessories and Documentation
Along with the cooler, we also find quite the assortment of hardware. In a bag with a sticker denoting "Intel" on it, we find a universal backplate with tape on it to attach it to the motherboard. On either side, we see top plate components that lock together on the head unit, which provides a place to run the LGA2011 screws on the left, or the rest of the Intel socket set to the right.
Along with the Intel screws, and the AMD ones you are about to see, you need to slide on the spring and one of the washers, run the screws through the top plate, and then use the nut last, as it keeps the thumbscrews in place to make mounting much easier.
This is the AMD mounting kit. While you have to use your stock backplate, there are a pair of top plates that snap together just like the Intel gear, and it has many holes to accommodate various AMD sockets. We also find that there is a specific set of screws for AMD mounting.
There is also another bag with two groups of fan screws in it, and an Allen wrench to use with them. The smaller screws allow this to be mounted to a chassis, through the steel or aluminum of the case, and into the radiator. The longer set of screws can do the same for mounting, but are used to run through the fans.
We are also given a braided PWM Y-splitter cable to power both fans on the radiator from a single header. Additionally, we are given a syringe of Fractal Design Zero thermal paste, which contains enough for three or four mounts.
The last bits of hardware in the box are this pair of fans with seven white blades, and the hub, surrounded with black frames. Both fans use four-pin connectors for power, and we spun one to show that these are in fact the Silent Series HP 120mm fans that the specifications chart says we should have received.
There is also the literature that comes along for the ride. Here we have a well-written and illustrated manual that takes you through the installation process from beginning to end, and leaves no questions unanswered. There is also a terms and conditions insert covering the warranty information, and lastly, a red "do not return to store" notification sheet.
Installation and Finished Product
The first thing you have to do is pick the AMD or Intel top plate pieces. Once you have them, find the groove, and slide them together until the center bits lock into each other. The AMD bits go right together, but the Intel bits took some force to lock together.
Once the top plate is all set, it is time to install the thumbscrews. Grabbing the LGA2011 screw, we installed the spring and washer, then ran the nut up until there were no more threads. This is the same process for the other Intel screws, as well as the AMD screws. You can also see the head unit fill port off to the left.
After peeling the plastic cover from the tape, we aligned the notches in the backplate with the top two socket screws for LGA115X sockets. Then it just takes a slight adjustment to the captured nuts at the ends so it will align correctly to the motherboard holes.
You will have to adjust their alignment some when it comes to installing the head unit to the motherboard, but once all of them are right, moving in an X-pattern, we had no issues sending these screws home.
With bigger fittings on the side of the head unit, initial impressions were that it may cause some conflict to the memory. In this image, we can see it is really close to the slot, but we are pretty sure we can still squeeze a stick in that slot.
With the magic of zip ties, we installed the radiator at the top of the D-Frame, and those thirteen inches of tubing make it very easy to install the radiator well away from the CPU. While we do really like the simplicity and sleekness in this design, we do wish that the naming on the head unit was LED backlit.
Test System Setup, Thermal Tests and Noise Results
Test System Setup
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.
Starting things out without an overclock, we found the processor idling at 25.75 degrees, and is a pretty average result across the board. When we applied the testing, and the time had elapsed, we found the 4770K to have reached a maximum of 50.75 degrees.
Compared to others on the list, we expected this cooler to fall between the pair of Enermax AIOs, and it did exactly that.
With the overclock applied, our idle temperature went up a single degree. As we ran the rounds of testing in various orientations, we got an average result of 72.91 degrees across all cores.
While the results here are not horrible, even with the high pressure fans, the silence in the design is holding this cooler back in our opinion, as we did expect slightly better results.
Noise Level Results
With limited voltage allowed to the fans, and AIDA 64 showing us the RPM was right at 1200 RPM, we found that the fans were delivering 31 dB of noise at this time. Not exactly dead silent, but nothing to complain about here either.
Letting the Kelvin T12 do all that it could do with our 4770K, we allowed all of the voltage we could deliver, and found the fans turning at 1741 RPM. When we hear 52dB, we don't think of a silent fan, but this is what we found in our testing.
We think Fractal took the right step when it came to entering the AIO game. Why compete head-to-head like all the rest with the sealed AIOs out there on the market, when customers have been modding AIOs since they first came onto the scene? Rather than coming forth with a pretty looking AIO that is just the same old hat dressed in a new wig, Fractal decided to tear out a page of the Swiftech handbook when they went to the drawing board.
Essentially, most of the components are standard AIO gear, but there are significant changes to this design that place it into another category entirely. These changes include a copper radiator so there are no mixed metals in the loop, going with swivel fittings that truly work, and the compression fittings that allow expandability. These are all things that only one other manufacturer is currently doing, which puts Fractal design in a much less populated market.
While we loved the concept behind the Kelvin T12, we feel that this may not be the best solution to try to add a video card into the loop with. While you could also add a reservoir to keep more fluid in the loop, with a highly overclocked system, you may find yourself saturating the loop. Of course, you could swap out fans for something stronger, but you do want to stay with similar, if not more static pressure than what these Silent Series HP 120 fans offer. We also did try to take off a fitting; in all honesty, we tried all four, but found they were screwed down very tight - well beyond what you can remove with hand strength alone. So, to open this loop up, we would have to opt for a rag and pliers, and hope we don't damage the fittings in doing so.
We did really like that both the radiator and the head unit have fill ports. Not only does that give you options to fill the loop, but it also offers a bleeder valve at both ends to be sure you don't trap air anywhere in the loop.
As an AIO, the Kelvin T12 performs on average with other coolers in its league, both with the thermal results, and the audio results. The Kelvin T12 placed pretty close to where we expected this design to end up long before we got to testing it. It really is just too bad that for now, in North America, we will not be seeing any of these coolers, because the $99.99 entry price is some $30 cheaper than the similar Swiftech 240mm. While we would opt for a larger radiator before we would start adding in more components to the loop, as it sits, the Kelvin T12 is worth the asking price.
Even if you don't have plans to mod it, the Kelvin T12 is still the most professional looking AIO out of the bunch, in the sense of a sealed AIO. Keep in mind, we will also be bringing you the 360mm version of this cooler to show the full spectrum on what the Kelvin series is all about. So, even if the Kelvin T12 isn't exactly what you were looking for, don't completely write off Fractal Design AIOs just yet - they do have more to offer.
|Quality including Design and Build||98%|
|Bundle and Packaging||99%|
|Value for Money||94%|
The Bottom Line: While it may appear to be a sealed AIO, Fractal Design offers expandability with their new Kelvin T12. While not our choice of expandable models, it contends with other AIOs in its class, and looks and feels better than 99% of the competitors.
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