Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing
Since we have already had a look at the Kelvin T12 expandable AIO from Fractal Design, we have a very good idea of what to expect with their largest of three offerings, the Kelvin S36. This model keeps the same head unit design, along with the thicker tubing, anti-kink coils, and brass compression fittings. However, this time around, we have a 360mm radiator based AIO, and that means we have three fans this time around.
The biggest kicker for these systems is that they are modular and expandable. Based on what we typically see in any standard AIO as far as all of the basic components go, Fractal Design has raised the bar, and offered thicker tubing to prevent the flow rate of the pump from diminishing. With the use of G1/4 threaded fittings and compression nuts, it allows for users to take what is typically sealed, and provides the option for a video card or motherboard water block to be added into the loop as well. While our testing of the T12 didn't exactly inspire us to connect any additional components to it, the Kelvin S36 and its triple radiator is a candidate that is much more suited for the task.
As we get up close and personal with the largest of the expandable AIOs in the Fractal Design Kelvin series, we know it will do much better than our previous submission. Keep in mind, we do still have the Thermaltake Water 3.0 Ultimate as our top performer in the AIOs we have tested to date. After a few images, and getting the cooler installed, we shall fire up the furnace and see just how well this triple radiator design handles our system. Hopefully it can take on the Thermaltake with a CPU only, so we know it is fully capable of taking on additional heat loads from other components as well.
In the provided chart, we find that the Kelvin S36 keeps the same 69mm square shape and 40mm height as the T12. Also like the T12, this model offers 320mm of 11mm OD, and 8mm ID black tubing with color matching anti-kink coils wrapped around them from end to end. The copper radiator in the Kelvin S36 measures in at 30mm in thickness, 124mm in width, and 397mm in length. As for the brass fittings that adorn the radiator and the head unit, they are all G1/4" threaded, and the two on the head unit are ninety degree swivel fittings, all of which use compression nuts to simplify any modifications. The Kelvin series has very solid compatibility. We find three fans this time, and another syringe of Fractal Design Zero thermal paste. All told, this black AIO with hardware and fans weighs in at a hefty 2.2 kg, but keep in mind, the majority of that weight is in the radiator, and is not supported by the motherboard.
The trio of fans that come along with the Kelvin S36 are identical to those found on the T12; they are the Fractal Design Silent Series HP 120mm fans. These fans can spin in a range from 800 to 1700 RPM, are PWM controlled, and can deliver 62.4 CFM each. They do offer decent static pressure with the 2.33 mmH2O rating, and we assume they are silent because of the naming, and the 26.9 dB(A) rating shown.
As for the pump inside of the head unit, as we saw on the T12, it is suspended on a ceramic bearing, and allows the impeller to spin at speeds up to 2400 RPM. It shows voltage control, but that needs to be done with the BIOS, some form of software control, or a fan controller. The pump is capable of pushing 72 liters of coolant per hour - up to one meter higher than the pump. After that, flow and pressure will drop, resulting in less than optimal performance. The last bits covered here are the 25 dB(A) noise rating of the head unit while in operation, and the minimal draw of 0.27A to accomplish this.
Just like when we brought forth the Kelvin T12, this Kelvin S36 will not, I repeat, will not be available in North America due to the pending lawsuit over who can and who cannot produce an AIO as we know it. However, Fractal left us with the MSRP for this cooler in USD (so they must have high hopes and plans for a good outcome with the lawsuit), and that was set to $139.99. This is right along the lines of what the H220X costs, and on par with the Water 3.0 Ultimate. So, the fact that Fractal Design offers their expandable 360mm radiator based solution right in the mix is good planning on their part. For those of you on the other side of this big blue ball we all spin around on, expect pricing to be 99.99 GBP or 119,99 Euros, depending on the markets.
The front of the packaging offers up the company name at the top left, with the Kelvin S36 naming to the right. Along with the large image of the S36 in the middle, Fractal shows us that we should expect this AIO to be powerful, quiet, and expandable.
Along with an exploded diagram of the head unit on this side of the box, Fractal also points out the shiny metal top plate, the Alphacool pump, insulation, standard fittings, custom jet plate, and the solid copper base plate.
Around the back of the box, we see the naming again at the top, but under that, we find what Fractal Design has to say about their Kelvin series coolers with a close up image of the head unit, and a better look at the radiator.
On the last panel, we find the dimensional renderings of the radiator in the S36, and below that is the listing of what is included inside of the box.
After opening the box and sliding the thin layer of foam out of the way, we can see that all of the parts inside that are resting inside of the cardboard tray are also wrapped in plastic. So, not only are the parts prevented from touching each other, but there is also no way that the cardboard will rub against the painted surfaces. This thoughtful packaging allowed us to receive our Kelvin S36 in great condition.
Fractal Design Kelvin S36 AIO CPU Cooler
Fresh out of the box, we have the second 360mm based AIO design to hit the labs. Unlike the plainer looking Thermaltake unit, here we have the company name on both the radiator and the head unit, and the attractive black tubing and anti-kink coils.
The head unit is primarily composed of a plastic shell that is black and textured. The top of the head unit offers the shiny metal plate with the company name painted on it, and a couple of the corners are angled for a bit of style.
The top edge of the head unit offers a fan lead grommet as it comes out of the plastic housing, and after nine inches of braided cable, we find it terminates with a three-pin power connection. Fractal also attached a warning sticker to be sure this lead is properly powered, otherwise it may damage the device.
The bottom of the head unit offers this solid copper plate to remove the heat from the CPU. It is convex in shape, and it was left in a rough state when milled and finished.
This time, we found the tubing to be just a touch longer, measuring in at 13.5". This will make it much easier to install this larger AIO into cases of various sizes.
Unlike the much thicker radiator we saw on the T12, this time Fractal Design opted for the 30mm version. It also has the large dual headers at this end, and is appointed with compression fittings to simplify any modifications that you may have planned.
At first glance, the fin arrangement seemed a bit tighter than what we found in the T12. With the S36 radiator behind the tape, we find it sports a nine FPI layout.
Accessories and Documentation
From the large bag of hardware, we pulled out a smaller bag with an Intel sticker on it. Inside of the smaller bag, we found the universal backplate with tape to adhere it to the motherboard. Along with that, we also found the Intel mounting bracket components and universal screws on the left, and LGA2011 specific screws on the right.
The next bag we pulled out was labelled "AMD," and we found this inside. There are two brackets for the head unit, and a set of four AMD specific screws. This kit does not supply a backplate for AMD; you must use the stock solution the motherboard came with.
No matter which screws are used, you are given springs and washers to run up the thumbscrew before running it through the mounting brackets. Fractal also supplies nuts to lock the screws into the mounting bracket.
To mount the fans, Fractal Design supplies us with twelve long screws that require the use of the Allen wrench. There is also a set of much shorter screws to allow the radiator to be mounted in the chassis.
To simplify the wiring, and since each fan only draws 0.18A of power, they have supplied the three lead splitter cable to keep all of the fans in sync when powered. They also include a syringe of Zero thermal paste with enough paste for a few tries at the perfect mount.
We are given three Silent Series HP 120mm fans in this kit. All have black frames with white blades and hubs, and all have four-pin connections at the end of braided cables.
As for the paper work, we found the "do not return to store" insert, and information on the warranty. We are also given a user guide that is essentially a step-by-step guide through installation. Fractal Design does a very good job here with the instructions, and the instructions should leave nobody hanging with questions.
Installation and Finished Product
To kill two birds with one stone, we went ahead and locked the pair of Intel mounting brackets into the groove in the head unit, and we also went ahead and set the thumbscrews, springs, washers, and nuts into each corner to get ready for installation.
The next thing we did to help simplify the installation was to go ahead and install the fans to the underside of the radiator, as we plan to hang this in the top of our chassis. At this point, we just need to prep the motherboard, and we are good to go.
You will need to slide the nuts at the end to fit whatever Intel spacing you are in need of, but once the covers are peeled off, the tape helps to hold the backplate to the metal socket plate.
All you have left to do then is to apply some paste, and screw down the thumbscrews in an X-pattern until you run out of threads. There should be no movement, and the mount should be very solid when installed correctly.
On the T12, we had some visible daylight between the fittings and the dust cover that sits in the nearest memory slot. However, once we had the S36 installed, we found the fittings are much closer to the memory, and would definitely cause pressure against a stick placed in that slot.
With the Kelvin S36 now installed and ready for our abuse, we found no issues with getting the larger radiator to fit in a case that was definitely not designed to house it where we placed it. With all of the tubing and the ease in which the swivel fittings move, getting it all into place was a breeze.
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.
With the stock clocks applied, we found the processor idling at 25.5 degrees, and once the load was applied, we found the Kelvin S36 reporting a maximum of 49 degrees. A couple of degrees behind the Water 3.0 Ultimate, but still a very respectable performance.
With the overclock applied, we saw two degrees more at idle, and once the testing was set to do its thing, we saw a maximum temperature of 69.66 averaged from all of our test cycles. It does fall slightly further down the list, but is still a strong competitor amongst high-end air coolers, custom loops, and many other AIOs.
Noise Level Results
The meter reported a level of 36 dB with the voltage limited, which isn't exactly what we would call silent. Of course, there are three fans on a tighter radiator this time, so we did expect some increase over the T12.
Allowing the fans to run at full speed, reported at 1741 RPM, we again set up the meter and took a reading of 57 dB of noise. While it does perform, and is expandable, we feel putting "quiet" on the box is a bit of a stretch.
There are a lot of great things to reflect upon with the Kelvin S36. It is huge, the largest offering of AIOs that we have been sent with a 360mm radiator like the Water 3.0 kit had. The system is attractive with its shiny black top plate on the head unit that matches the shine of the tubing and the coils around it. Even when we get to the radiator, it isn't painted with the typical dull black paint; all of it is sleek, yet simple, and the company name on the radiator and the head unit really shows the branding well in a chassis. On top of just being the typical AIO, there is still the option of expandability, and with the Kelvin S36, there is not a better solution to try from Fractal Design. In our opinion, if you are going to try adding extra blocks and other bits into this system, the Kelvin S36 is definitely the unit to start with.
However, there are a few downsides. When we look at the charts, we find that the general performance is slightly lacking. While we would typically say that they gave up performance for silence, with the readings we got from our fans, we would rather take the extra 9dB that the Thermaltake unit delivered if we could match its thermal results as well. Also, while it is easy enough to top off the system through one of the two fill ports, we felt the large amount of air in this system was a bit much, and we have never had a unit with such an audible gurgle when the air shifted. The last bit is both a pro and a con in the compression fittings. While it is great that we have the option to break this apart and mod it to suit our specific needs, they are tighter than Siamese twins, and are nearly impossible to get off by hand. Unfortunately, using tools to separate them takes you into the realm of potential damage to the finish.
Overall, we really dig what Fractal Design is doing when it comes to the AIO game. Whether you want the basic unit and have no desire to open it up, or you have plans of grandeur, Fractal Design brings out the big guns to slay the competition. Anyone can go to Asetek and find the usual suspect, slap some fans and branding on it, and beg for money from potential AIO customers, but Fractal Design is smarter than that. Fractal sourced a superior product, and even while the choice of fans is not something we would have went with, the overall design is stellar. Offering us a modular AIO along the lines of the original H220 really took advantage of the market trends, and provided a product that many will absolutely have to have in their system.
Sad news for those of us on this side of the globe, the northern half at least, is that we will not see these coolers for a while, if at all. However, they will definitely be out in the wild. Considering that this cooler costs the same as the Thermaltake and Swiftech coolers cost when released, we have no bones to pick with the pricing. The Kelvin S36 is a good mix of both devices, and with a change in fans or a push/pull setup, you could really have all the cooling needed to sustain a CPU and GPU, and maybe even two cards if they aren't power hungry monsters. If you find this cooler out there in the wild, it is definitely worth picking up.
|Quality including Design and Build||93%|
|Bundle and Packaging||97%|
|Value for Money||94%|
The Bottom Line: While not the coldest 360mm radiator AIO to hit the labs for testing, the Kelvin S36 with its size, efficiency and modularity make it hard to pass up at this price if you have even the slightest inclination to take the next step from a sealed AIO.
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