Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing
While NZXT may not have been the first company to bring AIOs to the masses on a considerable scale, the Kraken series of coolers have made quite a name for itself. That can be good and bad. Some love the Kraken series for how NZXT differentiates their style from others like Corsair, and there is the other camp that feels the software needs some love and tends to shy away from the brand.
For us, we are huge fans of what NZXT has done over the years, not only in the performance of the earlier units, but the infinity mirror in the head unit is also something we appreciated aesthetically. Rather than going stale, and rehashing existing models to obtain the latest Gen 7 Asetek builds, what else is there to do with an AIO at this point?
Features are an interesting thing in the land of AIOs as of late! Many companies have kept to the original ideals set forth with the introduction of these types of coolers, but across the board, companies are trying new things. In this instance, NZXT has done three things that are blatantly obvious once you have the cooler in your hands. First, they increased the size of the display on the head unit by ten percent, as we all know, bigger is better. The next thing was even more apparent, as we noticed the NZXT name in the head unit was not in the proper orientation. The odd alignment leads us to the fact that the top of the head unit now turns 360-degrees!
The last thing they added, while removing fan control and power connectivity, was the addition of a HUE-style RGB header to the head unit that allows users to connect fans and RGB strips directly to this new AIO. On the face of things, this all seems very impressive, and gives users more options when it comes to illuminating a chassis or building in confined spaces!
Part of the release of five new AIOs to the market is the Kraken X53 240mm liquid cooler with RGB. We do also have the 360mm version for testing in a later review. However, NZXT is also offering the Z-3 series, which provides a customizable screen in the head unit and a hefty price increase. Getting back to what we have in hand, there are many things to check out with the new NZXT AIOs, and we will see where we stand with everything as a whole as we take you through this review.
In the chart we created from information in the PR we were sent, we start at the head unit. The water block, as NZXT calls it, is 80mm in diameter, which is the same as earlier models, as is the 55mm height. The cold plate is made of copper, and the lower portion of the housing is made of plastic. When 12V is applied, the pump will spin in the range of 800 to 2800 RPM, controlled by either the motherboard or CAM software. Skipping down a bit to the "cap" section, we also see that the top is made of brass, but the window covering the NZXT logo and infinity mirror is plastic.
Also, all part of this same assembly is the inclusion of nine LEDs into the head unit and its ability to spin 360-degrees. The last bits about the head unit fall into the RGB output. The power supplied is 5V, and we are shown we can connect four 10-LED strips, five Aer fans, or six in total, somehow, mixing fans and strips.
The next part of the X53 discussed is the radiator. As many are, the X53 uses an aluminum radiator with a high FPI count. Overall the radiator is 123mm wide, it is 275mm long, and it is 30mm in thickness. The radiator does sport the NZXT name on both sides, and as expected, it is painted black.
The tubing that connects the head unit to the radiator is comprised of a pair of 400mm long hoses. The tubing is an ultra-low evaporation rubber, and from end to end, are covered in nylon braided sleeving.
Next come the fans, which in this instance is a pair of Aer P120 fans. These are 120mm by 26mm solutions, which range in speed from 500 to 2000 RPM, driving up to 73.11 CFM per fan! Static pressure is also relatively high at 2.93 mmH2O, and the noise levels are shown not to exceed 36 dBA. These fans spin on a fluid dynamic bearing, sipping power through the 4-pin PWM connections. The fans are said to last for 60,000 hours, which is nearly seven years of life, overextending the six-year warranty!
Compatibility is straight forward with these new units. On the Intel side of the fence, anything from the LGA 115X, 1366, 2011-V3, and 2066. With AMD, out of the box, it shows support for only AM4, with a mention of TR4, but the bracket is not in the box. There is no mention of how to obtain it, and we assume you would hit up support with proof of purchase to receive it.
The last thing you need to know about the Kraken X53 has to do with the cost. In the guide, we are shown the MSRP, which is set at this time at $129.99 on this side of the pond. For a new 240mm AIO, we do not feel that the cost is out of line, and with the latest features added, it may be a better deal than we are seeing it as, at the moment. We still have to go through this cooler with a fine-toothed comb before we make any definitive statements, but upfront, things appear to be good so far.
The packaging is bold yet simple, using an image of the cooler to take up most of the space, illuminated to show the logo and infinity mirror. Other than that, on the while backdrop, is the Kraken X53 name in bold black letters, with muted gray text explaining what it is.
Spinning the box to the left shows us the right side of the box. On the blueish-purple colored side, we see the specifications we discussed earlier, delivered in three languages.
The back of the box is where NZXT takes the time to drop information on its features. First mentioned is the high-performance cooling and stunning RGB. We then see there is better control with CAM for HUE components via a lead controlled by the pump.
They go as far as to say incredible performance due to the seventh-gen Asetek unit, and that it is bigger and brighter with a ten percent increase in size to the LED ring in the rotatable top. After repeating all of that two more times, we also see a small view into the CAM software, while the right of the panel shows how the X53 looks inside of a chassis.
In multiple languages, NZXT uses this last panel spelling out some of the features. Mentions of pump orientation no longer mattering as you turn the logo to match now. We hit on the HUE @ connector, which essentially turns the head unit into an RGB hub. NZXT mention improved synchronization of lighting modes, CAM controlled pump and LED control and easier installation due to the use of 400mm tubes.
What we found inside of the box is what we find most AIOs packed in, recycled cardboard, which compartmentalizes all of the individual parts. All of the bits are protected again with cardboard over the radiator and plastic around everything else. Aside from the amount of static from all of the plastic, and the dust that sticks to it from that, our X53 got to us in perfect shape!
NZXT Kraken X53 CPU Cooler
After removing all of the components from the box, including eliminating many of the protective layers, we ran into this warning sticker. It states that you need to connect all of the cables before turning this on. By that, we assume they mean the multi-function and USB cables, or on the other side, do not try to hot-plug devices into the X53 either.
With the sticker removed, we can get into the head unit. We know that the size of the plastic center inside of the brass ring is ten percent bigger, but the entire head unit appears more substantial as well, visually. If you look closely, you can almost make out the NZXT logo on the center of the window.
On what is, traditionally, nearest the top of the motherboard, molded into the plastic lower section cover, is a pair of ports. The one on the left is the multi-functions 10-pin cable connecting point, and to the right of it is a Micro-USB port, which allows for USB port control over the X53 for CAM.
The fittings of the head unit are on the side that typically faces the RAM. We can see that the ninety-degree fittings swivel at the head unit, before making the bend. The hose is placed over the barb, sleeved, and then the tight collar is placed over them to lock them into the loop.
We removed the plastic cap that protects the base and thermal paste, and we see that there are no signs of debris in the paste, and the copper is clean and free of staining. Also, the X53 comes shipped with the Intel mounting bracket, which can easily be twisted and removed so that it can be swapped with the AM4 bracket.
As we do, the paste is removed to look at the surface of the cold plate. It is convex, its highest point being the center. The machine marks are still visible and leave a slick-looking circular pattern, as well as increased surface area ever so slightly versus a finely polished mating surface.
Not that we do not trust NZXT, we measure all of the AIOs tubing. Converting the 400mm claim to inches is just shy of fifteen and three-quarters inches, which the tape measure shows we are close, and we are measuring from the far end of each collar holding the tubes in place.
On both sides of the radiator, NZXT ensures that even with the unit powered off, anyone can see who makes it. While the indented name being black on black is tough to see in a chassis at first, a discerning eye will pick it up quickly.
The thickness of the radiator is 27mm from the top edge to the bottom, and the fins are a bit thinner than that. However, while we are here, we see the RL-KX53-01 model number, and also the ip-mark.com address which tells us for sure this is an Astetek unit, again, not that we did not believe the text on the box, just an additional way to distinguish them from the rest.
Looking through the 240mm radiator, we see that Asetek still sticks with the 21-22 FPI density of their radiators. Good thing the fans are said to be decent! It takes a fair bit of airflow and pressure to cool a CPU to "high-performance" or "incredible performance" levels, as NZXT states, this unit is!
Accessories and Documentation
There is quite a bit of hardware that comes with the Kraken X53, but we will break it down to make it easier to absorb. As we typically see, we find the plastic backplate with adjustable studs, used for only Intel systems. On the right is the AM4 mounting bracket, which also has holes for AM3 users as well. As said on the box, if you plan to use this with a TR4 system, you will need to procure the bracket for that.
In this image, we have the sets of standoffs spread out at the top. On the left are the AMD standoffs, with the LGA2011/2066 set in the middle, and the universal Intel set at the right. At the bottom are the four knurled nuts that can be installed by hand, but we do recommend the use of a screwdriver to secure them.
At some point, you will need to add the fans and mount the radiator, and here is the hardware to get that done. At the left, eight short screws can be used with or without washers and install the radiator next to the chassis. There are sixteen total washers so that they can be used on both sides of the radiator, and there were sixteen screws, one dropped on the floor, and was not discovered until after everything was ready to go.
Sorry about the fact that the pretty standard USB cable in the back is a bit fuzzy, but there is not that much to say. It is black, and it has a USB 2.0 9-pin connector on one end and the Micro-USB connector on the other. What is new is the multi-function cable! The tine 10-pin connection plugs into the head unit, and the 3-pin fan gets connected to the motherboard for pump RPM.
The SATA connector powers everything, but hiding behind it is the 4-pin male HUE RGB lead, that allows the X53 to control the RGB lighting of LEDs and fans, bypassing the motherboard, and demoting fan power leads to motherboard control now too!
The fans used are plain looking for an AIO with so much emphasis on RGB lighting! NZXT uses a pair of RF-AP120-FP fans, whose specifications can be found at the beginning of the review. A rubber sleeve isolates them in the fan screw holes, each fan has seven blades, and they are 4-pin PWM powered.
The manual that ships with the X53 are all-inclusive. There is a parts list, how to get CAM, where to go if you have an issue, along with step-by-step instructions for AMD and both styles of Intel installations. They also make sure to cover the wiring in detail, where they state that you may also want to buy a fan controller to connect the fans. Insert sad face emoji!
Installation and Finished Product
First things first, and as per the instructions, we made sure to shift the studs inward for LGA115X installation, line the studs up with the holes, and press the backplate into place. At this point, you hold the bracket in one hand while you flip over the motherboard and slide it onto the table for the next step.
Of course, each installation may require slightly different parts, but the next step is to add the standoffs and lock the backplate to the motherboard with them. There isn't a need for washers as the standoffs do allow for a bit of play, and once fully installed, they do not touch the motherboard.
To get here, we applied thermal paste, set the head unit into place, and tightened the four nuts around the head unit. Of course, be sure to tighten them in an X-pattern to get an even application of pressure to the CPU.
As we peek over the RAM to see the head unit, there isn't that much to see! Most of the head unit is below the sticks, and we see a bit of the fittings and the entire rotatable top portion of the head unit.
At this point, we ran into a slight issue! As anyone would likely try to install the X53, we found that the head unit is indeed larger, even though the specifications show the same diameter, they did not account for the collar of the fittings! In our system, the colors are pressing up against the RAM, changing its angle, but not enough to cause us any issues when testing the system. We would have thought this was a no-no to infringe on the RAM like that, but NZXT says to just change the orientation and rotate the top, which is one answer, albeit a messy one.
When installed as expected, the cables are at the top of the motherboard, which makes things super easy and keeps wires hidden and not running over the motherboard too much. When reorienting this cooler, if we want it not to touch the RAM at all, there are only two of the four possible orientations viable for the average user of this product! On the flip side, if you are OK with the RAM issue, clearance is otherwise sufficient, but again, that can change.
Even with a vast gap from the top of the motherboard to where we hung the radiator in the D-Frame, we have more than enough tubing, as our fittings are still pointing downwards, not stress on any of the connections.
Once powered, the head unit comes to life with the infinity mirror ring around the outside, and an NZXT logo in the center. Both can be changed via software to anything RGB, individual of each other, and anything connected to the HUE 2 lead from the head unit will match the X53. There are various preset mode options, a vast array of colors to pick from, and while in CAM, you can also look at the pump speed curve.
Just in case the review somehow left any doubt as to the rotatable top portion, compare this to the previous image. All things are identical, but we have rotated the cap ninety-degrees, so you can see that no matter the orientation of head unit installation, you have twelve segmented stops around the dial. Still, it will also sit at any angle, and it just isn't "locked" by the segmentations.
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.
For the standard run, the results look bad for the X53 at 56.75-degrees, but it is only 5.25-degrees out of the lead. However, out of the thirty or so listed above it, there are a half dozen or so that do a better job for much less invested in cooling the CPU.
Eight and a half degrees out of the lead with the OC applied is not boding well for NZXT. At 74.5 degrees, the use of PWM and the pursuit of silence in operation has left this AIO in a place where it is tough to justify the expense.
We always like to see what the best is that we can get with the kit out of the box, no changes other than topping out the fan speed. Even with a ton of noise, and all of that high praise in the features and charts, we have a hard time wrapping our head around the fact we only got another degree or so out of this cooler.
Noise Level Results
28 dB is a good start - nothing stellar, but still under the radar for many users. We expected a bit better than this, but we are not going to split hairs about how quiet something is, it is still quiet none the less. At the time we recorded this level, the fans hit 1100 RPM.
Just when we thought this cooler had silence in mind, we see this! 36 dB is reasonable for many, as this is under heavy load with an overclock, similar to gaming loads, but a bit more intense. We saw the fans turning at 1430 RPM as their cap under PWM control.
With the fans let loose to spin with 12V powering them, we saw speeds at 2100 RPM, with a ton of noise involved! We do not suggest you do this, as 57dB is quite loud, and to get a bit more than a degree for the intrusion is not worth it at all!
Additional notes to consider: All testing was done with the pump set to fixed mode at 100% resulting in a reported speed of 2777 RPM. Also, relying on my motherboard to do precisely what NZXT intended the fans to do may not coexist. Although, our last test put any of that to rest.
We applaud NZXT for their drive to get better and for their outlook into ways to distinguish their Kraken series from all of the various competitors! We can see where there are times the RGB environments do not play well with each other, and companies certainly benefit from creating an exclusive environment to control it. It makes sense. We have no issues with any of this, and it is the way it works in the real-world.
The addition of the HUE 2 outgoing lead is the next evolution. We loved the rotatable top, as there have been instances where we have dealt with inverted logos and the like. Installation is simple, and once you have all the connections made, CAM does offer quite a bit to play with, in the RGB lighting department, and you will need it to control the speed of the pump.
However, with the good, comes quite a bit of what we will call oversight, and confusion between the marketing department and the product! The Kraken X53 is in no way what we would call a "high-performance" or associate with "incredible performance" as the box plainly states. At default levels, it fairs OK, but that's it, just OK! Once we overclocked the CPU, the X53 failed to keep up with the performance, and pushing nearly 700 RPM more airflow into the radiator delivers such a small amount of performance it isn't worth the effort of changing fan settings in your BIOS.
That's right; I said in the BIOS because NZXT thought it was a great idea to illuminate fan control.....on a CPU cooler.....a central part of the heart of the system, and NZXT is like nobody wants software control of them anymore. When asked, I was told, there are plenty of headers on the ATX motherboards, use those, or buy a FAN hub from them, so you can get back what was thought to be a standard feature these days. NZXT left our hands tied. When you put RGB ahead of everything else, this is what you get, a novel and innovative product that flounders at doing its primary job, cooling the CPU!
Even without the previous complaints, we still haven't looked into the encroachment on the memory! Again, we feel like NZXT just glossed right over this. In a typical orientation, the cooler hits the memory, which is a deal-breaker as to the rules of what you do with a cooler! Asking why leads to more frustration! We are told to change the orientation, leaving only two options, as the USB cable also causes issues with the memory! For those with all of the memory slots filled, you have two choices of orientation, and you just get to deal with the wiring and make it work and look decent.
In my opinion, this is one instance where they needed fewer hands-on this design, or maybe they needed just one more to point out the obvious. We find there are just too many problems and a couple of them compound as you try to find a solution to what should work out of the box, and it seems the Kraken X53 cannot do what everyone else, including their previous solutions, did and still do! Sometimes change for the sake of change is not the way to go!
If you are the brand loyal type, or those who just want to try out the latest generation of products, we get it, you are likely going to pick one of these up anyways. For the masses, when it comes to what Intel has out now, and how warm they tend to run, even with our old 6700K, well short of these 5GHz options out today, we do not see a bright side to this cooler as an option. Getting your cooler handed back defeated by a five-year-old (maybe more) $50 NiC C5 says it all!
At $129.99, we suggest buying something more affordable with better results, and throw that extra $70 at the PSU or the storage! We wish that AIO makers would what it takes to reclaim the top of the charts with impressive results, and deliver me a cooler that is worth the two to three times the investment needed!
The Bottom Line
Innovative as it may be, NZXT lost the purpose of a CPU cooler in their pursuit to make the Kraken X53 the next hot thing! Even though there are aspects to appreciate, the lack of performance and issues are what they are, and are reflected in the score.