Swiftech H220-X Liquid CPU Cooler Review

Swiftech’s H220-X combines the easy installation of closed loop with the expandability of open-loop, but how does it compete in performance and value?

Opening Up Closed Loop Cooling

While ease-of-installation tops the list of why closed loop builders out-sell open loops, reduced maintenance is also a big factor for most buyers. Only the most die hard liquid cooling enthusiast could enjoy constantly checking coolant levels, topping them up, and flushing out algae growth when their coolant isn’t “toxic enough”. Regular users, including part-time enthusiasts, are better off with a system that doesn’t have evaporation holes or air exposure.

On the other hand, there’s not much a person can actually do with a closed loop cooler other than attach it to a single component. OK, we’ve seen a few closed loop GPU/CPU combo coolers, but those were all factory-connected to a graphics card. If you wanted the option of configuring your own CPU and GPU cooling combo, you formerly needed to build an open loop system. Swiftech hopes to change all that with a closed-loop cooler that builders can open.

Technical Specifications

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The H220-X' thickness numbers are a little less straightforward than competing products, since both the pump and flow inductor hang below the radiator. Because these protruding parts are also offset towards the radiator’s outside edge, most builders will only need around 2.2” of mounting room above the motherboard. Component clearance between these parts and the radiator’s inner edge ranges from 1.7 to 2.5 inches, which should be more than enough for tall RAM.

Getting To Know The H220-X

The H220-X is either a closed loop cooler with replaceable G¼ fittings and a fillport, or an open loop cooler that’s factory sealed to provide low maintenance. The big difference compared to typical open loop coolers is that it doesn’t have a big reservoir, but instead appears to rely on the stretchiness of its hoses to allow a small amount of expansion as the system warms. With far less air exposure than open loop systems, Swiftech is even comfortable filling it with a non-toxic anti-freeze mixture.

The H220-X includes a comprehensive mounting kit, fan hub, three replacement color filters for the LED-lit water block and a tube of Swiftech TIM-Mate 2 carbon micro-particle thermal compound. The system arrives already filled from the factory, and all the hoses are secured with aluminum clamps which are custom-sized to the application in order to prevent over-tightening.

The included fan hub breaks out the motherboard’s PWM-based fan controller to eight fans. This allows the motherboard to control all attached fans via firmware, rather than software, and spares the builder from using any USB headers.

Based on Swiftech’s pricey new Apogee XL water block ($65), the $140 H220-X is factory-configured to fit every Intel desktop LGA from 775 to 1150 (including 1366). A second set of brackets fits AMD motherboards that have a threaded 4-hole support plate (after removing AMD’s top bracket). Fitting LGA 2011 and 2011-V3 requires a screw change, which is far more difficult than changing brackets. The clip used to secure these just won’t let go!

Swiftech polishes the base of its Apogee XL water block to a mirror finish. It’s very close to being flat, but we can still see ripples in its reflection.

After replacing the pins, LGA-2011 (v3) users are able to screw the Apogee XL water block directly to the motherboard. The pump and fan header are each powered by SATA-style connectors, and the system is running within minutes. Users of other Intel platforms must reach around the back of their motherboard to install the support plate, and AMD users must remove the clip bracket from the top of their motherboard before screwing the cooler into the motherboard’s support plate.

How We Test

We’re using our 2015 Reference PC minus its open test bed (and obviously the reference cooler) to test the H220-X in a closed system. The CPU frequency is up to 4.2GHz in today’s test.

Test System Components









Software

GraphicsNvidia GeForce 347.52
ChipsetIntel INF 9.4.0.1017

Benchmark Suite

Prime95v27.9, AVX FFT length 8K, continuous for at least 2 hours
RealTemp 3.70Maximum Temperature, All Cores Averaged
Galaxy CM-140 SPL MeterTested at ¼m, corrected to 1m (-12db), dB(A) weighting

Comparison Coolers

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Benchmark Results

Since we’re not testing the capacity of a case, but instead testing the capacity of a CPU cooler inside a high-airflow case, the graphics card will be allowed to idle throughout today’s test.

We were a little surprised to see Swiftech’s H220-X under-perform the NZXT Kraken X61. Thinking this might be due to increased case air pressure from its intake-oriented fans, we opened the case and found that the difference hovered between 0 and 1 °C. Upon further consideration, we realized that the Kraken X61's larger radiator and fans are its most likely performance advantage, and would like to encourage our most enthusiastic builders to seek out cases that support a 12.3"-long radiator.

Perhaps slower fans also contributed to the performance difference? Tachometer readings point in that direction, but what about noise levels?

Ah yes, the H220-X is far quieter than the Kraken X61, at least at max fan speed. This is the first closed-loop cooler we’ve seen in this build to compete directly for low-noise honors against big-air.

A comparison of cooling-to-noise shows us that focusing on max fan temperatures and noise really isn’t the best way to rate these coolers. The Kraken X61 has a killer cooling-to-noise ratio at low fans, and if we slide back up to the top chart we can see that it also achieves sufficiently cool temperatures at its reduced fan speed. On the other hand, Swiftech's H220-X fits more cases and is also re-configurable.

Conclusion

Air cooling has an inevitable price advantage over liquid, but it just so happens that the NH-D15 is also large enough to provide similar temperatures to most mid-sized liquid cooling systems. NZXT’s Kraken X61 had noticeably lower temperatures at full fan speed but also had far greater noise levels, climbing to second place in the performance-to-value score only at reduced fan speed. Today’s test subject, the H220-X is significantly quieter and fits far more cases than the Kraken X61, but is still slightly noisier than the air cooler. Supposing your case is capable of supporting any of these three coolers, the H220-X achieves third place in value.

That’s not to say we recommend big air to everyone who has room for it. We’ve wrecked a couple complete systems just moving them around with heavy CPU coolers, we’ve received damaged machines from boutique builders for the same reason even after those builders filled the inside of their systems with removable foam bracing. We’ve also been forced to disassemble our own System Builder Marathon machines before shipping them to SBM giveaway winners after seeing damage from mid-sized air coolers breaking free.

That means we see a couple options here for those who must move their systems around, the re-configurable H220-X and the fixed-configuration Kraken X61. Had they provided similar performance, expandability would have given Swiftech the easy win. Had they been the same size, the Kraken X61 would instead get a broader recommendation. We’re instead left questioning whether the H220-X has enough capacity to add something as power-hungry as a high-end graphics card, or whether it might need more-powerful fans to get there.

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Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware, covering Cases, Cooling, Memory and Motherboards. Follow him on Twitter.

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