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Sunday, 10 January 2016

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Corsair Hydro H5 SF Low-Profile Liquid CPU Cooler Review

Corsair H5 SF

Late last year Corsair launched their first ever liquid cooling solution for powerful CPU working in the closed environment of a Mini-ITX cabinet, the Corsair H5 SF Low Profile CPU Liquid Cooler.
This cooler initially debuted with the Bulldog PC from Corsair at Computex 2015 but by December 2015 Corsair launched it as a stand alone product not only extending their already impressive catalog of the Hydro series CPU Coolers but also added an edge of versatility that they desperately needed.
It is a blower style cooler that is aimed at keeping even the most powerful of mini PC cool and quiet under full load or overclocking sessions which is near impossible on any of the today's air coolers meant for m-ITX form factor.
So without further a doe  lets take a sneak peak into the spec sheet of the Corsair H5 SF CPU Liquid Cooler and see what all is in store.

  •     Radiator dimensions: 167mm x 40mm x 57mm
  •     Total cooler height: 84mm
  •     Fan dimensions: 120mm x 32mm
  •     Fan speed: 1000 – 1800 RPM
  •     Fan airflow: 12 – 24 CFM
  •     Fan pressure: 2.5 – 8.3 mmH2O
  •     Fan noise level: 36 – 42 dB(A)
  •     Compatibility -- Intel: LGA 1151, 1150, 1155, 1156, 2011  AMD: AM2, AM3, FM1, FM2

Some might find the dimensions of the unit a bit daunting since they are almost equal to that of a mITX motherboard meaning that you'll have a cooler that covers your motherboard and everything on it entirely under itself , sounds creepy right!

Packing and Contents

Corsair H5 SF

The Corsair H5 SF comes in a big but slim box unlike what we are used to seeing in a liquid cooler which tend to be big and bulky. The styling is entirely different this time since Corsair has parted ways from the traditional black and red color scheme for its Hydro Series Coolers and taken up the new & vibrant black-yellow combo. The picture of the product along with its name occupy most of the front fascia which is good and vital details such as the 120mm blower fan and 5 years warranty are clearly laid out in one corner for you to notice.
Corsair H5 SF

At the back we see an illustrative picture of how the cooler will look when installed on a mITX motherboard and key features of the product such as the high pressure blower fan, copper plate and low profile design for maximum compatibility are all clearly printed on the left side.
Corsair H5 SF

Open the box and you'll be greeted by a detailed installation manual & warranty leaflet kept over a layer of thin styrofoam that protects everything under it properly. The entire content is securely resting in a tough molded cardboard frame which is good enough to hold everything in one piece during transit.
Corsair H5 SF

Finally we have everything laid out properly for you to see, the contents include--
1. Corsair H5 SF cooling unit
2. Intel backplate
3. Intel and AMD mounting brackets
4. Stand Offs with installation screws
5. L-Shaped brace to attach the radiator to the motherboard.

A thing worth mentioning is that someone out there, in this case Corsair, has finally listened to what every enthusiast including me were saying for years -- Since AMD motherboards have metal backplates there is no need to provide one with every cooler and increase the cost & installation hassle unnecessarily!
Corsair H5 SF

The mounting brackets are chrome plated and the backplate is polished in gun metal finish making them look premium which is a very good move on Corsair's part since most of the mITX system builders look at elegant & beautiful machines and these plates would surely please them.
Also the backplate has sliding groves to ease the installation process so bye bye to all the permutation and combinations work to find the correct notch!
Corsair H5 SF

Same story goes for the stand off for the L-shaped brace, chrome plated and over sized thumb screws, two retention keys for AMD only and stand offs for the motherboard backplate. All are alike, made of solid metal and compliment each other.
Summing up in short the overall design is superb, excelling in simplicity, contributing to the ease of install and longevity as the number of parts is reduced.

Closer Look

Corsair H5 SF

The Corsair H5 SF is build out of matte black plastic so its a finger print magnet! The top side is clean and simple with the Corsair logo placed between a set of lines and will be visible from top when the unit is in place. No LED or bling of any sort is there. The two thick intakes for the pipes can be seen in the front to which we'll come later on.
Corsair H5 SF

The entire mystery of the unit is unveiled once you look at the bottom side of the unit. The 120mm blower fan intake can be clearly seen in the middle. This fan has primarily two functions, firstly to suck in air and cool the coolant which in turn will keep the CPU cool and secondly it will suck in all the heat from the components under it like the VRM expelling it out from the rear of the chassis.
Corsair H5 SF

The  water block or cold-plate as many like to call it is an Asetek just like other Hydro series coolers. Its rectangular and comes with a pre-applied thermal paste which will get you going straight out of the box. The pump is as usual built in and the tubes are somewhat hard with high tensile strength and low flexibility. The only good reason that I can find for this design is that it'll provide some support to the big radiator on top taking off some load away from the frame that'll be resting on the motherboard's precipice.
Corsair H5 SF

Looking at the fins of the radiator we notice that its a unit measuring 167mm x 40mm x 57mm with high fin density indicating that it can surely handle the task of cooling a high end quad core processor atleast at stock settings. Corsair claims that it can even cool down processors rated at 150W which might be more like a marketing gimmick since it way off the practical mark!
A foam pad covers the entire outlet to provide a separation & cushioning to the unit from the hard body of the chassis. A needed step since in close installations such as in case of an mITX build pressure can be exerted on parts unknowingly.

Corsair H5 SF

Pop the plastic shroud open and you can see the blower resting between two foam pads which not only prevent vibrations delivering a silent performance but also act as dust filter for the inner casing.
The blower is 120mm x 32mm in dimensions which is quite beefy for a blower's standard.
Corsair H5 SF

The manufacturer is Sunon with the motor rated at 12V DC at 3.39W power consumption through a 4-pin PWM connector. This is somewhat high for a 120mm unit since we are still to include the power consumption of the pump on the water block. Listed at 12-24CFM this blower will have an RPM of 1800 when maxed out with a noise level of 36-42dB which is loud but justifiable since its a blower with peddles and not a fan with fins.

Installation and Benchmark 

Since the Corsair H5 SF is solely aimed at mITX cases and boards it requires you to get the combination for proper testing and installation, unfortunately I don't have them right now with me and the ASUS Z97 Maximus VII Impact that I have is not compatible with the cooler due to its odd power card alignment.
Corsair H5 SF

So I took the next best thing available and hooked the H5 SF with an Intel i7 6700K processor and Gigabyte Z170X SOC Force motherboard all crammed inside a small Corsair Carbide 100R! The full configuration is as follows --

CPU: Intel i7 6700K quad core 4Ghz LGA 1151
Motherboard: Gigabyte Z170X SOC Force
RAM: G.Skill Trident Z 16GB (8x2) 3400Mhz DDR4
Graphics Card: Gigabyte GTX 950 2GB DDR5 OC Edition
Cooler: Corsair H5 SF Low Profile Liquid CPU Cooler
Storage: Corsair Neutron GTX 480GB SSD
PSU: Corsair AX860i 860W 80+ Platinum
Cabinet: Corsair Carbide 100R
OS: Windows 8.1 Pro 64-Bit

This is certainly not the right configuration for this cooler and I will update this review later on once I get the proper board and case but the point to prove over here is simple if this cooler works well on a processor this powerful then it will surely work on most of the processors out there.
The installation was fairly simple and the backplate matched all the holes of the LGA 1151 socket, the stand offs went in and the over sized thumb screws tightened flawlessly putting the cooler in perfect position standing at 84mm tall. Corsair Link is not available on this cooler but that's not required also since it doesn't come with any LED etc and also this way you can save some of those precious USB ports on your tiny motherboard.
Corsair H5 SF

To keep the test stressful enough the ambient temperature was kept at 21°C with all fans turned off but one front intake fan in the front. Temperatures were measured at stock frequency but seeing the results I got really greedy and over clocked the i7 6700K to 4.5Ghz to stretch the cooler to its limits.
The blower fan and water pump were set to default to run all the tests which afterwards was set to full speed via the BIOS followed by a re-run of the entire test suite to obtain the below readings using Real Temp 3.70. After each test the system was allowed to rest for 10 minutes for proper cool down.

Temperature Readings at Idle State

Corsair H5 SF

The Corsair H5 SF seems to be holding good and above average in this case for a 120mm fan size.

AIDA64 Stability Test

AIDA64 Extreme Edition can be used to stress CPU, GPU and even the RAM for stability test of the system which is obtained by loading the selected component with a pre-defined algorithm of calculations & emulations to recreate real world load scenarios. We ran the test for a good 15 minutes before taking the final readings
Corsair H5 SF

The results are way over my expectations and near unbelievable to be true.

MSI Kombuster v3.30

Just like the previous test MSI Kombuster is a great stress test for GPUs though it works equally well for CPU and test their stability aswell as gives you the option to select how many threads you want to run the test upon, so we ran the test for 15 minutes on all 8 threads.
Corsair H5 SF

Yet again the cooler delivers as promised and we can see that the small tube length is playing an important role in quick circulation of coolant since the pump is of the same power as that we find on any other Hydro series cooler!

Intel XTU

A suite designed by Intel for Intel CPUs best used for tuning and tweaking the CPU but also a great way to benchmark the processor and in due process heating it up which can easily result in thermal throttling if the cooler is not up to the mark.
Corsair H5 SF

This reading not only impressed us but also a few of our friends since Intel XTU benchmark is one of the most punishing. My close guess is that the blower fan is not to be judged like a normal 120mm fan in terms of cooling potential since its way more effective indeed.

Fan Noise Levels

The noise level was recorded from a distance of 4 feet since that's generally the distance at which most people sit from their system.

The Corsair H5 SF hits the mark just right as the spec sheet and is well to put it mildly, loud! But I can live with that for the performance that it has to offer. But it might not be suitable if you want to put your PC in your living room since it can be annoying to your guests including the dog sitting in a corner *wink*

My Verdict

I've never come across a Corsair cooler so far that has disappointed me in any way and the same goes for the tiny but competitive H5 SF Low Profile Liquid CPU Cooler! Corsair had a lot to risk when they launched the H5 SF since it carried the legendary Hydro series logo and we can clearly see the hardwork and dexterous tweaking that they've put in the product so that it lands right on the mark.
Corsair H5 SF
By paying close attention to packing and accessories Corsair has managed to spend the resources wisely on the H5 SF spending everything right where its supposed to be spent, high performance and solid build quality! Though a few compatibility issues may arise but that's not due to the cooler but due to board manufacturers since nothing like the H5 SF existed when many boards were designed, so no one can be blamed in that. Priced at just $80 or Rs 5999 in India the Corsair H5 SF is the pathway for your mITX system to deliver low-noise, 4K living room gaming or multimedia experience without compromising on CPU choice.
The cooler is competent, does exactly what it promises and has opened gates for a whole new breed of cooler while at the same time setting benchmarks for the existing ones.
I give it 9.5/10

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