The Bottom Line
Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing
Many people inside of the US may have missed it, but Fractal Design already had one go with AIO coolers in their not so distant past. From what we recall, the Kelvin series of cooler did well, but Fractal made one mistake when they designed it, they did not go to Asetek to build it. We all know how this story ends; with Fractal Design not being able to sell these coolers inside of the US, due to patent infringement. However, Fractal Design must have made sales in other countries, enough, in fact, to bring them back to the table with a whole new look at what an AIO can and should be from this day forward.
The main idea behind this new AIO, and we call it that rather than a CLC, because their newest AIO is adaptive, in that it can be torn apart to allow other devices to be added into it. This time, it does appear that they went to Asetek, as much of this design are things we see all of the time, but there are a few changed afoot as well. Things like a fan hub attached to the radiator, use of compression filters, use of some of the thickest sleeve material found on AIOs, and it even comes with multiple modes of controlling this AIO. While Fractal Design may have jumped on the bandwagon to get their piece of the American sales pie, they have most certainly done it to a level as to leave the majority of other Asetek built AIOs in the dust.
It is highly likely that you have not heard a peep about the fact that Fractal Design is bringing back AIOs, and that is due to a strict NDA which has just released. Differentiating this new cooler from those of the past, Fractal Design has moved away from the Kelvin name, this time, in favor of the name Celsius. There are two versions of the Celsius cooler, the S24, which is a 240mm radiator based cooler, and the S36, a 360mm radiator based cooler, the latter of which we are about to show you. For many, this may be the first AIO you have seen from Fractal Design, and from what we have seen, the wait may have been worth it, as they went above and beyond with the Celsius S36 CPU Liquid Cooling system.
We did create this chart from ones offered to us in the reviewer's guide, but they could not be used as there was a huge "CONFIDENTIAL" written across them. We will say, however, this is the most in-depth specifications charts we have seen of any AIO built by Asetek. This is a fifth-generation product with a copper cold plate, and around the pump is measures of sound dampening integrated into the head unit. As they all do, this AIO comes with pre-applied TIM and a hard-plastic cover to protect it. Anything after LGA775 is supported with the hardware for Intel, and anything since Socket 939 for AMD, including this, being the first AIO to ship with AM4 hardware too. The tubes of this cooler are made of low-permeability rubber, they are 400mm long, and are sleeved to dress it up. We do think they have the fittings information backward. The head unit sports a pair of compression fittings using G ¼" threads, and are removable to add in other water cooling components. On the radiator end, we find similar fittings, but only one of them can be removed, as the other has a sticker noting you will void the warranty if it is removed. The head unit also offers fan control via a dial which is the outside edge of it, where you can select PWM or auto control of the fans and pump. One other nice feature about the Celsius S24 and S36 is that they both come with a five-year warranty.
The radiator of the Celsius S36 is 403mm long, it is 123mm wide, and is 30mm thick without the 25mm thick fans attached. The radiator is made of aluminum for the rails and headers, and even the fins transferring the heat are made from aluminum. The pair of ports on the radiator are both G ¼" threaded, but the fan screws used are UNC 6-32 threads. The fans used to cool the radiator in the S36 is a trio of Dynamic X2 GP-12 PWM fans, which are 120mm by 25mm fans. The fans will spin at up to 2000 RPM, delivering a maximum of 87.8 CFM, 2.30mm H2O of pressure, and 32.2 dB(A) of noise. The fans can last for over 100,000 hours, but down the chart, we see that the pump is rated to 50,000 hours. Speaking of the pump, it spins on a ceramic bearing, it turns at up to 3150 RPM, moves 40 liters an hour of fluid at 1.45 PSI, and all told, the Celsius S36 draws 9W of power at full speed.
At this time, we are not certain as to how the e-tailers and box stores are going to price these units, but we were given the MSRP of both the Celsius S24 and the Celsius S36. Fractal Design has set the MSRP for the 240mm based version to cost only $109.99, and as to the 360mm based one we have for you today, it is to be listed at just $119.99. Considering everything we saw in the specifications, and some of the features like it being an open loop system, it is dressed up to the nines. It has a built-in fan hub to keep wire management simple, the list goes on and on, while the price is equal to many less equipped options out there. So far, on paper and with what we have seen of the Celsius S36 Pre-Filled CPU Water Cooling System, Fractal design is coming out of the corner swinging.
The front of the packaging delivers the Fractal Design name, Ryzen compatibility, notations to its liquid cooling nature and extreme performance, and this is all off to the left side. There is a large image of the product right in the middle of the panel, and off to the right we see it is called the Celsius S36, it comes with Dynamic X2 PWM fans, it is covered with a five-year warranty, and even the site address is present at the bottom.
On this smaller end of the box, the bright blue continues around, and this time presents the company name. We also get our first look at the FD-WCU-CELSIUS-S36-BK model number. We see that this cooler is designed in Sweden but made in China, and we also find the serial number along with the EAN, UPC, and JAN codes.
The back panel explains the differences between the dual modes of fan control, where Auto takes care of everything for you, and PWM allows for motherboard control. Off to the right of center, there is a view of the head unit, where Fractal Design points out the sleeved tubing and hidden cable, use of durable metal fittings, sound dampening material, and uses the latest generation of a pump and cold plate technology.
The second smaller end of the box is used to offer dimensional renderings. The top rendering explains the 403mm length and 123mm width, while the second rendering shows the 30mm thickness. Below the drawings, there are listings of socket compatibility, bit no mention of AM4 support.
The top of the box is also flush with information. Outside of the company and product names, there is a list of seven features found in this cooler, but all delivered in languages which cover other markets than the US.
Fractal Design also uses the bottom of the box to provide more information. Here we see descriptive explanations of the Dynamic X2 GP12 PWM fans, the integrated fan hub, and the expandability of this loop.
Inside of the box, we slid out the inner container which separated and protects each part of the Celsius S36. The recycled cardboard inner packaging keeps the radiator away from the head unit, which is away from the fans, and all of the hardware is in a bag, slid in by the tubing as it runs across the front edge. This packaging has proven itself time and time again, and even now, our Celsius S36 is in pristine condition to have a look at and use.
Fractal Design Celsius S36 CPU Cooler
Fresh out of the box, and after removing a plastic bag from it, we see the Celsius S36 head unit in all its glory. There is a bit of the Fractal Design logo in the shiny top plate, which is surrounded by a rubberized ring around it. We can also see that the tubing it attached to the top of the head unit, where many will have fittings on the side.
To the right of the fittings, there are options for the pump and fan control of this unit. By turning the rubberized outer cover, you can select AUTO, which uses a built-in algorithm to adjust speeds according to heat. There is also the option to set it to PWM, which means BIOS settings of fan speeds will apply.
The metal compressions fittings are a nice choice, and we like that they have the Fractal Design logo on them. We also find that the single 4-pin connection that is to be made to the motherboard stems from the bottom of the head unit.
We removed the hard plastic cover which protects the base and is also there to keep debris out of the pre-applied TIM. In this instance, the TIM is evenly applied, and there are no signs of disturbance or bits of gunk in the TIM.
Since we use the same TIM on every cooler we test, we removed the pre-applied stuff, so that we could view the bottom of the cold plate. The machining marks are fine, in a circular pattern, and the base is higher in the center as it deflects away towards the outer edge.
The sleeve on the tubing serves two purposes. First is that it dresses up the tubing and looks good, but it also enables Fractal Design to hide a three strand wire that goes to the radiator. The tubing is nearly sixteen inches in length, but the 4-pin connection from the head unit is only ten inches long.
Not only does Fractal Design hide a wire in the sleeve, but they also had to come up with a special compression fitting for it. There is a chunk of the metal removed to allow the wire to control the PWM fan hub, but we also see there is a sticker noting that if this fitting is removed, you void any warranty you have.
That wire continues out of the fitting, does an about face, and returns to connect to the fan hub. This was done to make it so that the fans on the radiator can all be connected here, keeping everything hidden, and easing connectivity by other means inside of the chassis typically needed, or from the head unit via another cable.
Stepping back a bit further, we see the 360mm radiator in full view. The fins are dense, 22 to 24 FPI depending on where we counted, and after it was painted, eleven of the twelve fan screw holes were cleaned out to ensure the fans attach easily.
At the opposite end of the radiator than where the tubes attach, we find the product sticker. This displays the model and serial number, and shows us a 10W maximum draw rather than the 9W shown to us in the specifications.
Jumping ahead slightly, we wanted to show the radiator with the fans attached to it. Connecting the first two fans closest to the hub is easy as can be, but it does put tension on the third fans cable to get it attached. Notice though, that the fan wires stayed out of site and tucked into the sides of the fans.
Accessories and Documentation
The head unit ships to you with the Intel top mounting bracket attached to it, but for those who wish to use this on an AMD CPU, you will need to swap out that bracket for the one seen to the left here. On the right, we have the same Intel universal backplate Asetek coolers have used for a few years now.
The standard set of mounting hardware is also found in this kit. Along with the four nuts which hold the head unit to the standoffs, we also see the AMD standoffs, those for LGA 2011 and LGA 2011-v3, and another set of standoffs for all other Intel socket motherboards.
This set of standoffs is a bit different, and are sent to keep Ryzen users happy, without the wait, as this is the first AIO we have seen come to market with supporting hardware for AM4 right in the box. As for the black bits in front of them, they are wire clips, which are to be used on the fan leads to keep them tidy, and are backed with 3M adhesive pads.
To mount the three 120mm fans, we need twelve long screws, which we can see at the top. If you need to screw the radiator directly to the chassis, there is another set of twelve screws provided, but this time they are much shorter. There is also a set of twelve washers, which are intended to be used with the longer fan screws.
Each of the 120mm Dynamic X2 GP12 PWM fans has a 4-pin PWM connection on it to power them. The frames are black, with rubber inserts at the corners, and the seven blades are white and notched to improve airflow while reducing the noise from each blade chopping through the air.
The literature which ships with the Celsius series of coolers is a three-piece set. The red card is to tell customers that if you did receive a faulty product, contact Fractal Design directly, do not go back to the retail outlet for help. The user guide shows all the parts, it has step-by-step instructions, and even if you have never used an AIO before, case willing, this guide with getting it installed in no time at all. There is also a third inset specific to Ryzen CPUs, where it explains what hardware is needed for that task.
Installation and Finished Product
To get started mounting the Celsius S36 to our motherboard, the first thing we did was to drop in the universal backplate. There are only two directions this plate can be installed, and dependent on socket size, you will need to adjust the threads in each corner, so they drop through the holes in the motherboard.
After flipping the motherboard over, it is now time to pick the appropriate standoffs. The ones we needed are threaded the same on both ends, and we screwed each of the four into the backplate until we ran out of threads; finger tight.
To get here we applied our thermal paste, but out of the box for most users, the pre-applied TIM is sufficient. We then placed the head unit onto the standoffs, and screwed the nuts down above the bracket in an X-pattern, again, until we ran out of threads. We then took the 4-pin lead from the head unit and made sure to plug it into the CPU FAN header on the motherboard. With this design, there are no compatibility issues anywhere around the socket.
The head unit of this Celsius S36 is thin. So much so that we cannot see it behind the memory. Compared to the latest Kraken coolers, the fittings of the S36 are at the height of the X62 head unit.
The view from the top of the motherboard shows us that there is plenty of room to swap out the RAM, and getting the EPS 8-pin connected to the motherboard is a non-issue as well. Even when it comes to the wire connecting the head unit to the fan header, the run is clean, and does not have a lot of excess to need to hide or bunch together.
For testing, this is how we chose to mount the Celsius S36. Many coolers will not reach the top of this chassis due to the shortness of the rubber hoses, but Fractal Design made it possible to get the radiator to the top of this, and more than likely, the front of many cases out there today. We would also like to mention the lack of LED lighting. For some, this may be a bit of a letdown, but for use, we are near the stage of having enough of this RGB craze.
Test System Setup, Thermal Tests, and Noise Results
Chad's CPU Cooler Test System Specifications
- Motherboard: ASUS ROG Maximus VIII HERO (Intel Z170) - Buy from Amazon / Read our review
- CPU: Intel Core i7 6700K - Buy from Amazon / Read our review
- Memory: Patriot Viper 4 3000MHz 4X4GB - Buy from Amazon / Read our review
- Graphics Card: MSI GeForce GTX 1060 6GB OC - Buy from Amazon / Read our review
- Storage: Corsair Neutron XTi 480GB - Buy from Amazon / Read our review
- Case: INWIN D-Frame - Read our review
- Power Supply: Thermaltake Toughpower DPS 1050W - Buy from Amazon / Read our review
- OS: Microsoft Windows 10 Home 64-bit - Buy from Amazon
- Software: RealTemp 3.70, AIDA64 Engineer 5.75.3900, and CPU-z 1.77.0 x64
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 (October 2016) for more information.
Just slightly less than four degrees out of the lead, the Celsius S36 is still twenty-four degrees cooler than the stock cooling solution. At this time the Celsius S36 performs better than most other AIOs, in silent mode, but the X62 does prove to be a degree more efficient with the stock settings of this processor.
At this time, we have the processor overclocked, but we are still allowing the PWM circuitry to control the fans and pump. We found the Celsius S36 to outpace all other AIOs in the chart, as they use silent mode, but performance mode usage put the S36 in a solid fifth place overall, using AIOs without the ear bleeding fans at maximum.
Setting the fans and the pump to full speed, we were able to squeeze out another two degrees worth of performance from the S36. This says a lot for the PWM curve which is used, as it does not leave much on the table, and considering the noise level to achieve this, we are more than happy using the PWM functionality.
We also ran all tests in the AUTO position on the head unit. We found that across the board, the pump is sped up, and the fans are slowed, which keeps noise at bay, but also raised our results two to two and a half degrees across the three levels of testing.
Noise Level Results
In our stock run of testing, with PWM controlling the fans, when the processor heated up, the fans were delivering 32 dB of noise into the room. This does not appear to be that good looking at the chart, but this isn't as annoying as what was to come. At the time we took this reading, we saw the fans to be spinning at 900 RPM, while the pump was at 2000 RPM.
The noise does start to present itself more when we applied the overclock to the processor. At this time we saw the fans spinning at 1258 RPM, while the pump topped out at 2556 RPM. At this time, we still could not hear the head unit, but the 40 dB of noise the fans were making was noticeable for sure.
Allowing both the fans and the pump to run at full speed, we still could not pick up on the head unit, and that is mainly because the fans are droning along at 65 dB at this time. The fans topped out at 1940 RPM as seen in AIDA64, and the pump speed went up to 2950 RPM.
The Celsius Series of AIOs from Fractal Design is a huge advancement in just about every aspect of its design. This Celsius S36 comes with many features we find ourselves enjoying a lot. The fan hub and its placement are one of those features, which allows the user to connect all of the fans and keep the wires out of view before the radiator is ever mounted. The use of compressions fittings is not just an addition for looks. While the fittings are sexy to see, the idea is to allow three of them to be removed to allow users to add in more radiators, a reservoir, or even a GPU block or two.
We like the sleeved cables and the tricky way they deliver power to the fan hub without the need for gaudy wire coming from the head unit to do so. We also like the compact height of the head unit, the rubberized side section on it, the embossed logo, the shiny top plate, and the ability to either control the pump and fan speeds via BIOS, or allow the AUTO setting to take control. Where one can just plug it in and go, without any hassle.
We found no issues with the design and features which the Celsius S36 delivered, but when it comes to performance, we feel a bit let down. 280mm radiator based AIOs are strong competition for this 360mm radiator, and in our charts, we found that even the smaller ones were able to keep up in temperatures, even if they were using performance mode to do so. The fact is, that in every stage the Celsius S36 was outdone by other AIOs in our charts, and the competition did it with less noise involved from the fans. There is no sweet talking the fact that in every stage of usage, as we tested it, the S36 is audible at the very least, and is downright deafening when running at full speed.
However, at the same time, none of the other liquid cooling offerings in the chart can come apart and still be covered under warranty. This being an expandable AIO, and one that comes much more affordable than some of the ones in our charts, you do have a bit of money left over to try out a different set of fans, and reap all of the benefits the Celsius S36 offers, without all the noise.
We do feel that Fractal Design has stepped up their game with the release of this modular, expandable AIO. They could have just followed all of the others into the Asetek camp and said give me what he is having, and been done with it. However, Fractal Design did not take the easy way out and put a lot of time into making sure that the Celsius S36 is one of the simplest to use and cleanest looking AIOs on the market.
On top of everything that this CPU cooler can do, you do not have to dig as deep as we would have expected into your pot of gold. At just $119.99 to get the Fractal Design Celsius S36 to your door, we feel there is terrific value in this product, and it should not be overlooked.
The Bottom Line: There may be quieter or slightly more efficient options out there, but none of them have the class nor the modularity that the Celsius S36 delivers! The first with AM4 support in the box, you can add bits into this loop, and Fractal Design is not gauging with the price.
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