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Enermax Liqtech 120X AIO Liquid CPU Cooler

The Enermax Liqtech 120X utilizes dual fans, a chunky 120 mm radiator design, and a proper metal mounting system to challenge competing all-in-one liquid coolers.

September 10, 2014 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Enermax Liqtech 120X AIO Liquid CPU Cooler
Manufacturer
Enermax
Street Price
US$90

The current popularity of enclosed all-in-one water cooling units reminds us a lot of the early consumer SSD rush. The market for solid-state drives started out rather slow with only a handful of players in the mix. Then SandForce unveiled their first generation controller and offered them to OEMs to build their own drives. The resulting boom had almost every flash memory company pushing out an SSD of their own. A similar thing happened in water cooling with Asetek licensing their technology to many of the big names in PC cooling. That’s the one of the reasons for the current proliferation and why so many liquid coolers look alike.

The latest closed-loop liquid cooler to hit our labs is the Enermax Liqtech
120X. Though primarily known as a power supply manufacturer, Enermax has dipped
their toes in a bit of everything and that includes fans and other cooling products.
The 120X has a single 120 mm heat exchanger but its thicker than average, measuring
43 mm across. Complementing the extra dissipation area are two 120 mm fans,
allowing users to setup a dual fan push-pull configuration right out of the
box. Furthermore, the fans have APS (Adjustable Peak Speed), a 3-speed switch
directly on the fan hub that changes the fan’s maximum speed only. The minimum
speed is always 600 RPM while the top speed can be toggled between 1300, 2000,
and 2500 RPM.


The box.


Packaging.


Contents.

The 120X uses the same packaging as virtually every other liquid cooler on the market. Inside the box, the cooler is curled up in a paper carton with the accessories and fans separated. Included in the package are two 120 mm fans, a dual-headed fan connector, AMD mounting arms (the Intel set is pre-installed), a backplate and the rest of the assembly kit, a tube of thermal compound, and a brief set of installation instructions.

As for the cooler itself, the basic design is nothing new — it works exactly
the same way as other AIO liquid coolers. However, it does use the less common
square waterblock design similar to the SilverStone
Tundra TD03
. The boxy aluminum housing around the base isn’t as low-key
as the round plastic models but it’s much better built, opening up the possibility
of a mounting system that exerts more pressure.

Enermax Liqtech 120X: Specifications
(from the product
web page
)
Model ELCT-LT120X-HP
Weight (w/o fan) 955 g
Bracket compatibility Intel® LGA 775/1150/1155/1156/1366/2011,

AMD® AM2/AM2+/AM3/AM3+/FM1/FM2/FM2+

Warranty 2 years
Pump
Cold plate material
Copper
MTBF
50,000 hours
Bearing
Ceramic
Speed
2500 rpm
Voltage
12 V
Rated current
0.3 A
Radiator
Dimension
153 x 120 x 43 mm
Material
Aluminum
Tube
Length
310 mm
Material
Polyamide (PA) rubber
Fan
Dimension
120 x 120 x 25 mm
Bearing Twister
MTBF >= 160,000 hours
Speed 600 – 1300/2000/2500 rpm
Rated voltage 12 V
Rated current 0.13/0.27/0.45 A
Air flow 28.6 ~ 60.3/88.9/111.0 CFM
48.5 ~ 102.4/150.9/188.7 m3/h
Static pressure 0.8 ~ 1.7/4.7/7.4 mm-H2O
Noise level 15 ~ 21.5/27/30 dBA
Connector 4 pin PWM

 

PHYSICAL DETAILS

The 120X is composed of a thin copper plate underneath a square aluminum structure housing the pump and reservoir inside, thick rubbing tubing, and a large heat exchanger with thin heatpipes and aluminum fins. Heat is pulled off the base and pumped away via coolant to the radiator fins and expelled via a pair of 120 mm fans while the fluid travels back to the base to the complete the cycle. According to our measurements, the base’s dimensions are 6.4 x 5.5 x 3.8 cm while the radiator measures 15 x 11.9 x 4.3 cm.


There are two basic styles of radiators, one with wafer thin coils packed tightly together to maximize surface area, while the other uses heatsink-like fins. The Liqtech 120X belongs to the latter category.


The fins have a ridged structure, perhaps to break up fan turbulence. Thick red rubber pads are glued to each face to help decouple the fans and limit vibration.


The heat exchanger has 54 fins in total with an average thickness of 0.46 mm and an average separation of 1.76 mm. Enermax uses what they call a “seamless radiator” design that as far as we can tell means friction-fit fins that envelope the heatpipes, maximizing contact in the process.


The rubber tubing is thick, stiff, and wide (1.3 cm diameter). It seems like it would hold up better than the rigid ribbed plastic hoses on some other liquid coolers, but they still extert a considerable pull on the waterblock, making it difficult to hold in position. The base is boxy rather than round with a small heatsink-like structure on top. The robust mounting arms are screwed on along the sides just above the copper plate.


The copper baseplate measures 5.7 x 5.5 cm, giving it a much larger footprint than a CPU heatspreader. Unfortunately, upon closer examination, we found the surface slightly concave at the center. A flat or convex base typically generates much better results.


Like the LEPA LV12 heatsink, the 120X stock fan has a three speed switch built directly on the hub, but the rest of the design is more conventional. The blades are solid black rather than translucent and they have only one degree of curvature.

INSTALLATION

The most critical aspect of installation is that the cooler
be securely mounted as a firm mating results in good contact between the
base and the CPU heatspreader, generating more efficient heat conduction. Ideally it
should also be a simple procedure with the user having to handle as few pieces
of hardware as possible. Compared to most liquid coolers, the 120X’s mounting system looks quite upscale and is easy to install.


The 120X’s mounting gear. Thick mounting arms are attached to the base and are pinned down by two sets of bolts mating to one another with a metal backplate and plastic spacers in-between.


The radiator is installed first via screws to an 120 mm fan placement. Here we’ve set it up on a Puget Systems Test Bench. The must difficult part of the mounting process is fighting the tension from the tubing while holding the base in place.


Mounted and ready to go.


When the pump is plugged in, the Enermax flower lights up in a pleasant neon blue.


The base produced an uneven thermal compound footprint pattern. Areas of poor contact with the CPU heatspreader are indicated by larger globs of residual material.


Enermax sent us a second sample which had a more uniform surface but it’s clear the underlying problem remains.

TESTING

Before thermal testing, we took some basic physical measurements of the radiator for comparison.

Large Heatsink Comparison:
Average Fin Thickness & Spacing
Heatsink
Fin Thickness
Fin Spacing
SilverStone Heligon HE02
0.52 mm
3.30 mm
Thermalright HR-01 Plus
0.45 mm
3.15 mm
Thermalright HR-02 Macho
0.34 mm
3.12 mm
Thermalright HR-22
0.53 mm
2.74 mm
Scythe Ninja 3
0.39 mm
2.64 mm
Noctua NH-U12P
0.44 mm
2.63 mm
Noctua NH-C12P
0.47 mm
2.54 mm
LEPA LV12
0.51 mm
2.38 mm
Noctua NH-D14
0.43 mm
2.33 mm
Thermalright Archon SB-E
0.49 mm
2.33 mm
GELID Tranquillo Rev.2
0.40 mm
2.30 mm
Phanteks PH-TC12DX
0.39 mm
2.30 mm
GELID GX-7 Rev.2
0.31 mm
2.25 mm
Phanteks PH-TC14PE
0.40 mm
2.21 mm
be quiet! Dark Rock 2
0.38 mm
2.22 mm
Prolimatech Armageddon
0.51 mm
2.08 mm
Prolimatech Megahalems
0.50 mm
2.00 mm
Zalman CNPS10X Quiet
0.40 mm
2.00 mm
Scythe Ashura
0.43 mm
1.97 mm
Scythe Kabuto & Zipang 2
0.34 mm
1.94 mm
NZXT Havik 140
0.41 mm
1.91 mm
Scythe Mugen-2
0.31 mm
1.89 mm
SilverStone Tundra TD03 (radiator)
0.43 mm
1.86 mm
Swiftech Polaris 120
0.43 mm
1.85 mm
SilverStone Argon AR01
0.30 mm
1.85 mm
Thermalright Venomous X
0.53 mm
1.84 mm
Scythe Mugen 4
0.30 mm
1.82 mm
Noctua NH-D15
0.46 mm
1.79 mm
Noctua NH-C14
0.38 mm
1.79 mm
Enermax ETS-T40
0.40 mm
1.79 mm
Scythe Yasya
0.32 mm
1.78 mm
Enermax Liqtech 120X (radiator)
0.46 mm
1.76 mm
be quiet! Shadow Rock Slim
0.42 mm
1.73 mm
SilverStone Argon AR03
0.42 mm
1.72 mm
Noctua NH-U14S
0.42 mm
1.72 mm
Cogage TRUE Spirit 1366
0.40 mm
1.70 mm
Arctic Cooling Freezer Xtreme Rev.2
0.30 mm
1.70 mm
Scythe Kotetsu
0.35 mm
1.66 mm
Scythe Grand Kama Cross
0.38 mm
1.66 mm
Reeven Kelveros
0.47 mm
1.61 mm
Zalman CNPS9900 MAX
0.16 mm
1.59 mm
Thermalright Silver Arrow
0.32 mm
1.57 mm
Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus
0.43 mm
1.54 mm
Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme Rev.C
0.56 mm
1.52 mm
Zalman CNPS10X Extreme
0.42 mm
1.50 mm
NZXT Kraken X31/X41 (radiator)
0.15 mm
1.07 mm

Testing on larger heatsinks like this one is done on our
LGA1366 heatsink testing platform
, while smaller coolers are tested
on our LGA1155
heatsink testing platform
. A summary of the test system and procedure
follows.

Key Components in LGA1366 Heatsink Test Platform:

  • Intel Core i7-965 Extreme
    Nehalem core, LGA1366, 3.2GHz, 45nm, 130W TDP.
  • Asus
    P6X58D Premium
    ATX motherboard. X58 chipset.
  • Asus
    EAH3450 Silent
    graphics card.
  • Intel
    X25-M
    80GB 2.5″ solid-state drive. Chosen for silence.
  • 3GB QiMonda
    DDR3 memory. 3 x 1GB DDR3-1066 in triple channel.
  • Seasonic X-650 SS-650KM
    650W ATX power supply. This PSU is semi-passively cooled. At the power levels
    of our test platform, its fan does not spin.
  • Arctic Silver
    Lumière
    : Special fast-curing thermal interface material, designed
    specifically for test labs.
  • Noctua 140 mm fan (used when possible with heatsinks that fit 140x25mm
    fans)
  • Nexus 120 mm fan (used when possible with heatsinks that fit 120x25mm
    fans)
  • Nexus 92 mm fan (used when possible with heatsinks that fit 92x25mm
    fans)

Key Components in LGA1155 Heatsink Test Platform:

The systems are silent under the test conditions, except for the CPU cooling
fan(s).

Normally, our reference fans are used whenever possible, the measured details
of which are shown below.

Reference Noctua 140mm fan
Anechoic chamber measurements
Voltage
Speed
SPL@1m
12V
1250 RPM
28~29 dBA
9V
990 RPM
21 dBA
8V
880 RPM
18 dBA
7V
770 RPM
15~16 dBA
6V
660 RPM
13 dBA

 

Reference Nexus 120 mm fan
Anechoic chamber measurements
Voltage
Speed
SPL@1m
12V
1080 RPM
16 dBA
9V
880 RPM
13 dBA
7V
720 RPM
12 dBA

 

Reference Nexus 92 mm fan
Anechoic chamber measurements
Voltage
Speed
SPL@1m
12V
1470 RPM
17 dBA
9V
1280 RPM
14 dBA
7V
1010 RPM
12 dBA

Measurement and Analysis Tools

  • Extech 380803 AC power analyzer / data logger for measuring AC system
    power.
  • Custom-built, four-channel variable DC power supply, used to regulate
    the fan speed during the test.
  • PC-based spectrum analyzer:
    SpectraPlus with ACO Pacific mic and M-Audio digital
    audio interfaces.
  • Anechoic chamber
    with ambient level of 11 dBA or lower
  • Various other tools for testing fans, as documented in our
    standard fan testing methodology
    .
  • SpeedFan,
    used to monitor the on-chip thermal sensors. The sensors are not calibrated,
    so results are not universally applicable. The hottest core reading is used.
  • Prime95,
    used to stress the CPU heavily, generating more heat than most real applications.
    All instances are used to ensure full stress.
  • CPU-Z,used to monitor the CPU speed to determine when overheating occurs.
  • Thermometers to measure the air temperature around the test platform
    and near the intake of the heatsink fan.

Noise measurements are made with the fans powered from the lab’s variable DC
power supply while the rest of the system is off to ensure that system noise
do not skew the measurements.

Load testing was accomplished using Prime95 to stress the processor, and the
graph function in SpeedFan was used to ensure that the load temperature is stable
for at least ten minutes. The temperature recorded is the highest single core
reading. The stock fans were tested at various voltages to represent a good
cross-section of airflow and noise performance.

The ambient conditions during testing were 10~11 dBA and 21~23°C.

STOCK FAN MEASUREMENTS

Specifications: Enermax Liqtech 120X Stock Fan
Manufacturer Enermax Power Rating 1.56 / 3.24 / 5.4 W
Model Number ELC-LT120HP / ED122512S-PA Airflow Rating 28.6 ~ 60.3 / 88.9 / 111.0 CFM
Bearing Type Twister Speed Rating 600 ~ 1300 / 2000 / 2500 RPM
Frame Size 120 x 120 x 25 mm Noise Rating 15 ~ 21.5 / 27 / 30 dBA
Hub Size 47 mm Header Type 4-pin PWM
Blade Diameter 111 mm Starting Voltage < 4.0 V
Cable Length 50 cm Weight 150 g
Corner Type Open Retail Availability No

Additional notes:

The included stock fan isn’t available in retail but it appears to be a variant of Enermax’s TwisterPressure fan. It features the same design elements (save the translucent blades) and Smart APS (Adjustable Peak Speed) with three different peak speed settings, albeit with lower top speeds. The stock fan has a range of 600 ~ 2500 RPM while the TwisterPressure is capable of only 500 ~ 1800 RPM. The model is characterized by a large hub and blades with a sharp twist that presumably increases pressure, a key factor in liquid cooling systems.

Stock Fan Measurements (Single Fan, Medium Speed)
Voltage
Speed
SPL@1m
12V
1810 RPM
34~35 dBA
9V
1450 RPM
29 dBA
7V
1180 RPM
21~22 dBA
6V
1020 RPM
18 dBA
5V
840 RPM
15 dBA
Pump Measurements
12V
2500 RPM
14 dBA
9V
1900 RPM
12~13 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle from
the center of the heatsink.
Ambient noise level: 10~11 dBA.

Like the LEPA LV12, we opted to test the fan at the medium speed setting to a get broad variety of data points. Noise levels varied between a very quiet 15 dBA@1m at 5V and a horrendously loud 34~35 dBA@1m at 12V. By comparison, the pump was as quiet as a mouse, producing just 14 dBA@1m at full speed, making it the quietest pump we’ve had the pleasure of using. Undervolting the pump to 9V resulted in only a minor drop in SPL, but may be still be worthwhile depending on how it affects performance. Typically we see very little difference when the pump is slowed down.

At full speed, the stock fan had an acoustic profile similar to that of a typical sleeve bearing fan with a high degree of turbulence and a breezy sound. The drop to 9V actually made it sound worse as it developed a whiny, scratchy character. 7V gave the fan a much smoother sound but there was some underlying buzzing/rattling produced by the motor. At 5V, the buzzing turned into a dry clicking sound though this was only audible at close range. Throughout much of its quiet range, tonal peaks were observed at about 400 and 1200 Hz.

The stock fan at 5V and pump at full speed produced a similar noise level but the pump had better acoustics. It emitted an electric-like buzzing but the higher frequency was less annoying than the fan’s tones and it was quieter overall.

TEST RESULTS

The presence of a pump forces us to adjust our testing methodology somewhat. Tests were conducted by varying voltages for both the pump and fan. Some levels were not tested if the fan was obviously going to drown out the pump (or vice versa) by a big margin.

Test Results: Enermax Liqtech 120X
Pump Voltage
Fan Voltage
Thermal Rise
SPL@1m
Sample #1
Sample #2
12V
(14 dBA)
12V
40°C
34~35 dBA
9V
43°C
29 dBA
7V
46°C
45°C
21~22 dBA
6V
48°C
47°C
19 dBA
5V
50°C
48°C
16~17 dBA
9V
(12~13 dBA)
5V
51°C
49°C
16 dBA
Reference 120 mm Fan (Nexus)
12V
(14 dBA)
12V
46°C
44°C
20 dBA
9V
50°C
48°C
18 dBA
7V
51°C
50°C
14~15 dBA
9V
(12~13 dBA)
12V
46°C
44°C
20 dBA
9V
50°C
48°C
16 dBA
7V
51°C
50°C
13 dBA
Best results for each sample/fan configuration in bold.
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle from
the center of the heatsink.
Ambient noise level: 10~11 dBA.

Our first sample was characterized by poor performance, something we were expecting after inspecting the surface of the copper baseplate. Slowing down the pump resulted in a slight drop in cooling proficiency but it was accompanied by a minor noise reduction so the overall effectiveness was similar.

Switching to our reference fan generated similar results but in this case, undervolting the pump had absolutely no effect on performance, so the small acoustic improvement was essentially free.

Our second sample didn’t do much better, though at lower fan speeds, the CPU ran consistently cooler by 1~2°C.

Test Results: Enermax Liqtech 120X (Sample #2)
Fan Voltage
Single Fan
Dual Fans
SPL@1m
Thermal Rise
SPL@1m
12V
34~35 dBA
40°C
38°C
37 dBA
9V
29 dBA
43°C
40°C
31 dBA
7V
21~22 dBA
45°C
42°C
24 dBA
6V
19 dBA
47°C
44°C
21 dBA
5V
16~17 dBA
48°C
45°C
19 dBA
Reference 120 mm Fan (Nexus)
12V
20 dBA
44°C
41°C
21~22 dBA
9V
16 dBA
48°C
45°C
18 dBA
7V
14~15 dBA
50°C
47°C
16 dBA
Best results for each sample/fan configuration in bold.
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle from
the center of the heatsink.
Ambient noise level: 10~11 dBA.

A modest improvement was noted when we added the second fan, giving it a superior overall performance:noise ratio. A 3°C bump is typical for a CPU cooler of any type when doubling up the fans.

HEATSINK COMPARISON TABLE

°C Rise Comparison: CPU Coolers with Single Stock Fan (Any Size)
SPL (dBA@1m)
20
19
18
17
16
15
14
13
12
11
Scythe Kotetsu
  38
41
  42
Thermalright Archon SB-E
39
 
40
 
43
Thermalright HR-02 Macho
39
40
41
43
Scythe Mugen 4
40
42
45
Noctua NH-U14S
38
40
43
 
NZXT Kraken X41
38
be quiet! Shadow Rock Slim
40
 
41
42
Noctua NH-D15
39
41
44
Scythe Yasya
40
43
Cogage TRUE Spirit 1366
41
43
46
Zalman CNPS10X Quiet
40
42
47
Scythe Ashura
42
44
Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus
41
44
54
Silverstone Argon AR03
43
48
Scythe Ninja 3
44
46
SilverStone Argon AR01
44
50
Phanteks PH-TC12DX
44
47
Titan Fenrir
45
47
SilverStone Tundra TD03
44
46
Antec Kühler H20 620
44
47
LEPA LV12
45
48
52
Zalman CNPS9900 MAX
45
47
49
Enermax Liqtech 120X
(dual ref. fans)
45
47
NZXT Kraken X31
44
47
   
Enermax Liqtech 120X
(single ref. fan)
44
48
50
Enermax Liqtech 120X
(dual fans)
45
Enermax Liqtech 120X
(single fan)
47
48
GELID Tranquillo Rev.2
48
49
50
be quiet! Dark Rock 2
48
52
55
61
GELID GX-7 Rev.2
51
56
Core i7-980X Stock Cooler
53
62
Enermax ETS-T40
49
55
64
Core i7-920 Stock Cooler
70+
FAIL
SPL (dBA@1m)
20
19
18
17
16
15
14
13
12
11
Liquid coolers in yellow.

Despite using the results from the superior second sample, compared to most of the larger CPU heatsinks we’ve tested previously, the Liqtech 120X falls flat, landing in the bottom third of our performance chart. Even amongst liquid coolers, the 120X came in last, slightly behind the NZXT Kraken X31. The improvement from the dual fan configurations wasn’t enough to really change the grand scheme of things either.

MP3 SOUND RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high
resolution, lab quality, digital recording system
inside SPCR’s
own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber
, then converted to LAME 128kbps
encoded MP3s. We’ve listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation
from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of
what we heard during the review.

These recordings are intended to give you an idea of how the product sounds
in actual use — one meter is a reasonable typical distance between a computer
or computer component and your ear. The recording contains stretches of ambient
noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject. Be aware
that very quiet subjects may not be audible — if we couldn’t hear it from
one meter, chances are we couldn’t record it either!

The recording starts with 5 second segments of room ambiance, then the fan
at various levels. For the most realistic results, set the volume so that
the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then don’t change the volume
setting again.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Enermax Liqtech 120X is better built than most competing AIO liquid coolers
that are based on the round shape waterblock. These typically have plastic construction
both in the base and in the mounting system itself. By comparison, the 120X
is as solid as it gets, with its aluminum waterblock housing and a robust installation
scheme that involves a metal backplate, thick mounting arms, and bolts on both
sides. It impressed us as with with the similarly constructed SilverStone
Tundra TD03
. Unfortunately, the nice mounting system could not overcome
a fundamental flaw: A concave shaped base.

Closed-loop water coolers have generally failed to deliver for us, and the
120X is no different. Aside from the NZXT
Kraken X41
, all-in-one coolers have never produced great results for
noise/cooling on our testbeds. The extra noise produced by the pump is often
a contributing factor, but in this case, it was a complete non-issue. The 120X’s
pump is surprisingly quiet thanks to its modest 2500 RPM speed. With three different
peak speeds to choose from, the fan noise isn’t a problem either, though it
could definitely benefit from an upgrade in the acoustics department.

It’s the raw performance, or rather the lack thereof, that is ultimately the
120X’s downfall. As a water cooling unit, it was already at a disadvantage,
but the concave base profile dragged it down further. Both the initial and follow-up
samples had bases that did not make good contact with the center of the CPU
heatspreader. This aspect is vital in cooling, and the rest of the cooler, no
matter how large or how well designed, can’t make up for problems here. The
result is below average proficiency, making its US$90 price-tag prohibitively
high.

Our thanks to Enermax
for the Liqtech 120X AIO liquid CPU cooler sample.

* * *

SPCR Articles of Related Interest:

Sub-$20 CPU Coolers: A Reader’s Roundup
LEPA LV12 Direct-Touch Heatsink
NZXT Kraken X31 & X41 Liquid CPU Coolers
Noctua NH-D15: Update to an Icon
Scythe Kotetsu CPU Cooler: A Compact King
be quiet! Shadow Rock Slim CPU Cooler

* * *

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