The Bottom Line
Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing
When it comes to Fractal and their sealed loop CPU coolers, they have been one of those companies that bucks the trend and decides not to go with Asetek as their supplier. That being said, there are a couple of ways you can go about things. We have seen pumps inline, between the radiator and the head unit, we have witnessed pumps on the headers of a radiator before, and even some units with the pump as part of the fin array of the radiator.
From the rumors we hear and what we see, this unit has an Apaltek feel about it. While we would rather not get into the politics of it all, we know that the Lian Li Galahad 360 we tested not long ago was also not Asetek built, and it currently stands in third place, second to a couple of Corsair solutions. Maybe the same luck has rubbed off on Fractal, and they know something we don't. Either way, we are eager to find out.
The concept of the cooler we have for you comes from what feels like a long checklist of things it needed to have. Where many companies have tended to grab some off-the-shelf kit from Asetek, slapped some new bells and whistles on them, add ever more annoying software suites, charge people $200, and move on to the following product. This is not the tact that Fractal took. In this design, it feels all-new from the ground up. We have seen similar ideas, but never together in one package, and at the same time, Fractal can pull off some cool tricks to launch this new cooler into a place where it should be seen, admired, and desired by users worldwide.
We do not want to give away too much upfront, as we would instead let it all unfold in front of you so that you may enjoy it as we did. What we will say is that Fractal has a product that not only will grab the attention of anyone wanting a new liquid cooling solution for their CPU, but is something that will make many other companies wonder what they have been doing the last few years, as what you are about to see is impressive on so many levels. With this new Lumen S36 RGB we have in hand now for testing, we feel that Fractal is breaking the norm for an AIO and is doing so in a way that will skyrocket Fractal into the realm of "big player" in the AIO world.
Compatibility tops the chart we cobbled together from the reviewer's guide, and it shows that anything Intel post-LGA775 is covered, and AMD has all sockets post-939 covered as well.
Things immediately move to the head unit, where we see that its cold plate is made of copper that ships with thermal paste pre-applied to its contact area. The overall height of the block is 43mm, but the block measures 79mm from left to right (including fittings) and 67mm front to back of this 67mm diameter block.
The pump comes next, and we should note that it is located in the radiator but will spin at around 4000 RPM while spinning on a ceramic bearing. Powering the pump is done via a 3-pin fan connection, which does not offer PWM control, just constant 12V operation. The pump is said to deliver 22 dB(A) but will likely be covered by fan noise, and while sipping 0.34A and 4W, it can deliver 1.8 mH20 pressure and 51.1 l/h of flow. While the lifespan is rated at 50,000 hours, we also see that it comes with a 775mm long power cable, and there is a 500mm long ARGB cable included for the head unit.
When it comes to the tubing, we are told that it is 400mm long, around sixteen inches, some of the longest in the industry. The second part of that is that the tubes are made of low-permeability rubber, covered in a black nylon braided sleeve.
Fittings, well, it depends on which end of the tubes as to which type you will find. At the block, the fittings are articulating ninety-degree elbows that allow for movement and flexibility in the installation process. At the radiator, we see straight barbs and "clamping" the hoses to the barbs are rings that are stretched to fit and released to compress and seal the attachments.
The radiator follows where we see that it is 227mm from end to end. It is 120mm wide and is 27mm thick overall. The housing that covers the radiator, and where Fractal stealth-fully places their name, is made of aluminum, just as the fins, tubes, and headers are inside the housing. The last bit here has to do with fan mounting, where we are told that the screws are 6-32 thread, even though many of them are.
Fans take up most of the rest of the chart, but we will go over the best parts, and if you need more information, feel free to consult the chart above. The fans chosen are Aspect 12 RGB PWM fans, sold individually, should you desire more than the three in the box. These are, of course, 120mm fans with white blades in black frames, spinning on rifle bearings. They all come with addressable RGB LEDs in the hub, and they can turn in a range of 500 to 2000 RPM. At top speed, they can deliver 56 CFM of airflow and 2.05 mmH2O of pressure, are said to last 90,000 hours, and come with two 500mm leads, one for power and one for lighting control.
The last bit in the chart covers the warrantied timeframe, and we are pleased to see we get five years of coverage and worry-free use.
The last thing to deal with has to do with money. From what we have seen, we would have assumed this cooler to have been released for much more money than what we were told the MSRP is, and that is a massive blow to the big names in the game and relief to potential customers. With everything you will see of the Lumen S36 RGB from Fractal in this review, it is likely that you too will be amazed at the fact that you can have all of this for the price of just $129.99.
Fractal opts for black as the backdrop to the illuminated image of the Lumen S36 RGB image that fills the majority of the front panel. Along with the cooler, we can see its full name before running into icons showing the various RGB Sync systems supported with this cooler.
The right side panel of the box sticks with the black, but Fractal has decided to show only their new logo and name in white.
One of the longer side panels of the packaging Fractal says six ARGB LEDs are controlled via your motherboard or controller. There is a pre-applied thermal paste, it supports the most common sockets, and there are rubber tubes with sleeving on them. While all of that was found on the left half, to the right are dimensional renderings of the radiator where below we can see the part and serial numbers within and around the four barcode stickers.
On the opposing side of the box, we find that Fractal offers the company and product naming again on the longer side. We skipped the second smaller side panel, as it displays this, but in a smaller font to fit the panel.
The back panel delivers an EK feel to the packaging, but Fractal offers some quality information here. On the left, we see the duality design, ARGB LEDs, removable top, pre-applied paste, socket support, use of Aspect fans, and use of low-permeability tubes as features. To the right of that list is a rendering of the cooler in full-form, with a gold circle around a five, denoting the length of the warranty. In the black stripe across the bottom, Fractal repeats the compatible sync methods once again.
As we start to open the box, after untucking some tabs and lifting the panel, we see that Fractal leaves a little note here as well, where they mention color-coordinated cooling to send the use of ARGB home one more time before seeing the cooler in hand.
As many AIO makers do, Fractal has sent the Lumen S36 RGB to us in a thick cardboard box, which contains compartmentalized, recycled cardboard, inner packaging, which ensures that all components stay clear of one another in transit, and wrapping all of the parts in plastic helps keep the dust at bay. In this instance, all components are safe and free of any damage, ready and waiting for the following images.
Fractal Lumen S36 RGB Liquid CPU Cooler
With a name like Lumen, one would expect to see much more ARGB added to the top of this smooth, rounded-over, bronze-colored cap than the small logo surrounded in black near the tubing. You would be correct in that expectation, and Fractal found a way in which it can look this brilliant without power, but when lit, it is still able to glow right through this coloration. Stunning!
Getting down to its level and looking around, we noticed a small 3-pin header tucked into the side of the head unit. Keep in mind; there is no pump in this head unit, which makes this set of pins needed for ARGB control of the lighting within.
On the right side of the circular head unit, we find a pair of ninety-degree swivel fittings used to connect the tubing to the head unit. The tubes are made of rubber and have a nylon sleeve applied, and both are held tight to the fitting with a ring of material that is stretched over the area and allowed to resume its standard size, compressing that area.
The head unit ships with the Intel mounting hardware slid onto the base, protected with the clear plastic cover we saw in previous images. The cover protects the copper surface and the pre-applied thermal paste, which showed up in good form and free of debris.
The mating surface of the cold plate is convex in design to help increase mounting pressure, and when we cleaned the thermal paste off of it, we noticed two machining patterns. We saw lines running vertically, as you see it now, as well as another set of semicircular marks, neither of which are very deep, leaving an overall "smooth" surface to mate to the CPU IHS.
Moving away from the head unit, we followed the sixteen inches of tubing to the radiator, where we found a 30.5 inch long, 3-pin power cable for the pump, which is housed within the fins and tubes of the radiator. We see the same compression sleeves used to connect the tubing, and these could be the longest tubes in the game currently.
The long wire we mentioned in the last image is passed through a notch cut into the frame of the radiator so that it will not get in the way when mounting it to a chassis or putting fans on this side of the radiator. The cable terminates under a textured black cover. This does block some airflow, but keep in mind, it is placed behind the fan hub, so we are not losing all that much real estate with this implementation.
As we step back to admire the size of the 360mm radiator in this system, we can also better understand the placement of the pump and how it will all come together. Picking a random spot on the radiator to count, we came up with 23 FPI in this model.
While not as bold as a chrome sticker, or bright white letters, Fractal still wanted to put their name on both halves of the AIO so that no matter where you look, you at least see the stylized "F" logo. Opting for the matte finish on the radiator made it easy to add in a stealth maker's mark; just by using a shinier black, they can sneak their name onto the sides of the radiator.
The Lumen S36 RGB uses a 27mm thick radiator, but the tubes and fins are thinner, as seen by the ring around the headers we are looking at. This end of the Lumen S36 RGB is made of aluminum, and the sticker on the header reflects the serial number we found on the packaging.
Accessories and Documentation
When it came to hardware, we found just two metal chunks used for mounting this to any compatible motherboards. Keep in mind that the Intel top bracket is already installed on the head unit, but outside of that is the Intel mainstream backplate and a C-style part, bent and cut to be used with all compatible AMD systems.
In a couple of smaller bags, we found what we have set out in this picture. Across the top, we have five washers used to isolate the Intel backplate from the motherboard, a pair of AMD mounting standoffs, and a set of thumbscrews used for all mounting in some form. At the bottom are the spacers used for mainstream Intel systems, the Intel mounting standoffs, and a set of standoffs for HEDT Intel systems.
Fan and chassis mounting is handled with hardware shipped in yet another bag. Inside it, we found twelve 6-32 screws long enough to go through the fan and secure them to the radiator. There are also twelve short 6-32 screws, which are then used to secure the radiator to the chassis. Below all of the screws is an ARGB cable. If you recall looking at the side of the head unit, this is the cable that connects there and is then connected to the rest of the wiring for ARGB support.
The fans that Fractal supplies with our Lumen S36 RGB are the Aspect 12 RGB PWM fans. Each fan has seven white blades to help carry the LED lighting out to the black rounded frames from the hubs. Each corner of the fans, front and back, has a rubber pad applied to keep vibrations at bay, and they come with un-sleeved cables.
From each fan come two wires, both of which are nearly twenty inches in length, and as mentioned, are left with the ribbon exposed and no sleeved. At the top, we see male and female 3-pin 5V ARGB connectors, which allow all devices to be daisy-chained from one source. The lower cable powers the fans via a 4-pin PWM connection, which also offers male and female ends to simplify the wiring.
The literature that accompanies this cooler is well written, has brilliant images with color highlighting the steps that need to be taken, and leaves little to the imagination. Things start with the contents, so you are sure you have all you need to get underway. Things then move into installation, where mainstream Intel goes first, Intel HEDT second, and AMD third, over six pages. The radiator and fans come next, and we flipped the page to find wiring next for the fans and the ARGB control, and then run into the bit on turning the cover on the head unit. The specifications, product measurements, pump specifications, radiator placement tips, support information, and troubleshooting guide. The red insert states that if you should receive a faulty product, contact the store or Fractal before returning, as it is likely solved through their support system.
Installation and Finished Product
To get to this point, we left the factory mounting hardware in place, swapped out the head unit bracket for the AMD one, made sure to plug the ARGB cable into the head unit first, as instructed, applied some thermal paste, and then securely mounted the head unit into place. Doing so shows that Fractal stayed within the boundaries and causes no issues with anything surrounding the socket. While close to the RAM, there is a couple of millimeters of air between the fittings and the RAM. We do wish that Fractal did not opt for a black and white cable; it should have been black, all black.
Zooming out a bit allows us to now see the entire AIO at once, and we are in no way mad with this cooler as it sits visually. If there were no lights, we would be pleased to have this in any of our systems. However, Fractal has other ideas and wants to drive that aesthetic appeal even further.
As we move back even further, we see that the AIO fits well in the test bench with the radiator mounted at the top. The tubing has plenty of length to make gentle bends to the head unit without causing stress to the fittings, and again, we dig how it blends into the theme of this build.
Once powered, things drastically improve visually. With everything now controlled by the motherboard, where the rear IO cover shifts light from the top right corner to start, as it passes the head unit, the spiral motion of the default lighting mode spins the lighting so that the bottom LED of the head unit follows the flow of the motherboard. The fans then mimic whatever the head unit is doing as far as the light display. Seeing many forms of lighting on an AIO, this has to be the most trick solution with a balanced glow of illumination without being "blingy" or too bright.
Even though we have seen what the lighting is capable of, we wanted to conclude things with a much closer image of the Lumen S36 RGB so that you can soak in all of that goodness before we drop the hammer and toss this into the testing cycle.
Test System Setup, Thermal Tests, and Noise Results
Chad's CPU Cooler Test System Specifications
- Motherboard: ASUS ROG Crosshair VIII HERO [Wi-Fi] (AMD X570) - Buy from Amazon
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3600X - Buy from Amazon
- Memory: Corsair Vengeance LPX 4000MHz 4X8GB
- Graphics Card: ASUS GeForce RTX 2060 6GB OC - Buy from Amazon
- Storage: Galax HOF Pro M.2 1TB SSD
- Case: Hydra Bench Standard
- Power Supply: ASUS ROG Thor 850W - Buy from Amazon
- OS: Microsoft Windows 10 Home 64-bit - Buy from Amazon
- Software: AMD Ryzen Master, AIDA64 Engineer 6.25.5400, and CPU-z 1.92.0 x64
To see our testing methodology and to find out what goes into making our charts, please refer to our 2020 CPU Cooler Testing and Methodology article for more information.
Fourth place in our charts is not something to scoff at, and being within 0.4Â°C of the best in the chart makes it that much sweeter. The H150i Elite Cappellix and the Galahad 360 RGB outpace the Lumen S36 RGB slightly and are backed with more CFM, and static pressure than Fractal opted for. We are overly impressed thus far.
When we overclocked the system, still allowing the PWM curve to work its magic, the Lumen S36 RGB moves up one spot, this time outpacing the H170i Elite Capellix. At 61.1-degrees, we are still at that 0.4-degree deficit from the lead. Again, going by what we saw on paper, we had no idea things would end up as well as they have.
With the overclock still applied, but this time forcing the fans to run at full speed, we found that the lowest we could get with the Lumen S36 RGB is 60.5-degrees. Looking back to the last chart to compare, it means that Fractal tuned this product so well that with a little more than half the full fan speed, they leave just 0.6-degrees in the tank. Looking back, this is the slightest difference we have ever seen in a cooler and shows just how much attention to detail went into this design to do what they have accomplished here.
Noise Level Results
Even though Fractal landed so far down the sound chart, during stock testing with PWM control of the fans, the 33 dB we heard from them at 1032 RPM is fine for most users unless dead silence is needed. For those wondering, these fans idled at around 800 RPM with 28 dB of noise delivered to the surrounding area.
When overclocked, the fans idled back to 800 RPM before we kicked off the testing, and when fully loaded, the fans topped out at 1216 RPM of these 2000 RPM fans. While that 39 DB we see is much more audible to a user within a foot or two of a PC, the chassis will deaden much of that, especially when the GPU fans spool in many cases.
When we ran for the best the cooler could provide thermally, we allowed these fans to do their worst and found them to top out at 1886 RPM, within spec, but short of the 2000 RPM figure. That bit behind us, we took a massive increase in noise to 64 dB at this time, which is a tremendous amount of mind-numbing noise for that 0.6-degree difference we saw testing this way.
When we saw initial images when asked to look at this product, we do not recall unlit images, and when we saw the box, it confirmed what we thought. However, our hearts dropped a little when opening the box and seeing that bronze-colored cap on the head unit. We assumed we had not been made aware of a change, but in the back of our heads, we were like Fractal couldn't have screwed things up this bad, could they. Even so, we honestly do love the unpowered appeal of this AIO, just on an aesthetic level.
We do not recall anyone using bronze for a color on a head unit yet. We seldom see rounded covers, and the high contrast between the majority of the Lumen S36 RGB and its white-bladed fans is a look we can appreciate. However, using a light coat of paint hides all of the magic, and when powered, everything we thought we knew was true, along with a few other things we had no idea were even part of the whole concept.
Fractal has done almost everything right, and the results speak for themselves if the unit's aesthetics had not swayed you already. Beyond the brilliant lighting and the removable and turn-able cap allows the Lumen series to be a stunning addition to any system, no matter the orientation of the head unit. We feel that how the tubing is connected does cause odd twisting in the tubing, but it is not enough to distort or kink the tube, just enough to make it challenging to place the head unit on the motherboard, the twist applies itself. We could also pick on them for a few other things.
We didn't much care for the bright white in the ARGB cable for the head unit, we feel the daisy-chain portion of the wiring could have been a bit longer, and sadly, if you missed it, if you do not have an ARGB capable motherboard or system already in place, you will need to make arrangements to do so to take full advantage of what the Lumen S36 is capable of. However, how long does the market wait for late adopters, and how much more would the cost have been had sleeve been applied to all of the wires and a controller added into the mix? We feel that with the price as it is, being one of the lowest release prices of any 360mm-based AIOs we have tested in recent years, some minor niggles can be overlooked to an extent.
However, there is still a cherry to put on top of this sundae. Beyond the looks, how simplistic the installation process is, beyond our points, and even if the cost was not mentioned, performance is where many coolers win or lose right out of the gate. Fractal comes out strong and shows that you do not have to be the most significant player in the game to take on the top of the charts. While Fractal may not have topped any chart, the company they keep and the comparisons in cost say a lot about the accomplishment that Fractal has pulled off here. With less CFM, less static pressure, and less cost involved, Fractal pulled up to within half a degree of the best of the best.
Nothing we can say can take that away from them, and we applaud them for stepping up and producing a cooler where thermals matter. It is not just about showing off, although they are doing that, and well, I might add. The only downside to all of this is that there is a slight bit more noise than many of the coolers today produce, but then again, many of them aren't in the top four of any of our thermal charts. Going one step further, we also love that the PWM curve is so finely tuned that you already get damn near all there is, without the need to take noise to a level nobody wants to deal with.
At just $129.99, it is nearly impossible not to appreciate what Fractal did here. They took on the big guys in the market, came close enough to see the whites in their eyes as they nearly tied at the finish line. However, what Fractal offers in the Lumen S36 RGB is an original-looking head unit that nobody has done before this, lighting that hides, but when lit, is a near-perfect balance of brightness with that milky smoothness we can all appreciate.
Even if we remove points for the minor things we noted, the Lumen S36 RGB would pass with flying colors and still get thoroughly recommended by us. You will find no other just like it, you will be hard-pressed to find one more affordable, and that is well before you even consider how well it performs. Fractal took their time with this one, and the Lumen S36 RGGB is a product that other makers should buy, sort out what Fractal did, improve on it, and try your luck with it. It is that good!
The Fractal Lumen S36 RGB is a game changer to the AIO market. Fractal has proved that you do not need to pay large sums of money to get some of the best performance available, stunning visual appeal in all conditions, nor does it need to be complicated with software to be amazing!