V3 Voltair V3TEC120-FC01 CPU TEC Cooler Review

V3 Components claims it can deliver innovative technologies to rival the performance of liquid cooling. We test these claims on an overclocked Haswell-E.

Introduction

What if you could apply the principle of your USB-powered desktop beverage cooler on a grand scale to keep your CPU cooler? V3 Components is the latest company to embrace a concept so often left to hardcore enthusiasts, explaining that its Thermoelectric Cooler can be even safer than the liquid systems it hopes to outperform. But what are the benefits and risk? If TEC can make things colder than ambient temperature (something liquid can’t do on its own), why isn’t everyone using it?

A quick look back at its predecessor explains that a special type of semiconductor draws heat from one surface and displaces it to another. That same 2007 article shows a cooler that was designed with a very larger TEC capable of producing sub-ambient temperatures in fairly-hot hardware, along with a thermal control designed to prevent that from happening. Condensation is not friendly to unprotected electronics, but thermal modulation on that unit caused it to hum as power was rapidly cycled on and off. The Voltair doesn’t have that problem.

Technical Specifications

Here’s how the V3 Voltair V3TEC120-FC01 compares to our most-powerful air-only CPU cooler:

MORE: All Cooling Content
MORE: How To Build A PC: From Component Selection To Installation

That $74 price certainly looks competitive to Noctua’s big cooler, though V3 Voltair’s fans are smaller. Those smaller fans allow a narrower installation width for additional clearence of fans or cards, depending on how close to the top of the board your socket is. And speaking of sockets, the Voltair fits the full range of Intel square-pattern LGA’s as well as replacing rectangular-hole-pattern AMD mounting brackets.

Building With The V3 Voltair

Understanding that the top side of the TEC element is hot, and the bottom cold, a quick look underneath shows that the Voltair has two separate heatsinks, an inner sink to cool the hot side and an outer sink to warm cold side. This might seem a little counter-intuitive, but it does appear to be an effective way to reduce the condensation problem. The cold side should never be more than slightly cooler than the air inside the case. And, just to make sure that those outer heat pipes make good contact with the CPU, they’re flattened, machined, and polished.

Beyond basic condensation, the two-part sink also addresses a second potential hazard of TEC coolers. Element failure can open or short the circuit, causing it to either quit transferring heat or worse, get hot on both sides. In the past, liquid cooling gurus would sometimes place a TEC element between a water block and CPU and assume the risk of a burned processor if the TEC failed. By placing a second set of heat pipes between the TEC element and CPU heat spreader, V3 Component has reduced the amount of heat that would get from a shorted-out TEC to the CPU. In other words, if the cooler ever fails, a normally functioning PC should have enough time to detect the heat problem and shut down. The system could potentially remain running off the outer sink alone in the more-likely event of an open circuit, though the reduced cooling capacity could cause an overclocked system to crash.

Two sets of base brackets allow the Voltair TEC CPU cooler to fit Intel’s square LGA and AMD’s rectangular socket mounting patterns. We installed the Intel version.

Two sets of standoffs are threaded to fit either LGA 2011 (v3) brackets or the V3-supplied support plate. Those who need the support plate must add it to the back of the board, behind the socket.

The cooler then threads onto the standoffs. V3 Components makes this a little easier by screwing the vans onto the black heat sink shroud, where the black things that looked like caps in previous photos were actually thumb screws.

The TEC uses two power pins from an old drive power connector, while the fans are both spliced together to occupy a single 3-pin-fan header.

A potentiometer controls fan speed via voltage, within a range of around 940 to 1750 RPM. It replaces any of the case’s empty expansion slot brackets.

The fan shroud can now be slipped over the heat sink and secured with thumb screws, and its fans plugged into the fan controller.

Alternatively, builders who prefer thermally-referenced firmware fan control could plug the fans into the motherboard instead. The important thing to note here is that 3-pin fans require voltage-based speed control, rather than relying on the PWM signal. Some motherboards support voltage-based control, others don’t, and many support this older method on some headers but not others.

How We Tested

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 And Drivers

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 1/4 m, corrected to 1 m (-12 db), dB(A) weighting

Comparison Coolers

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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.

Test Results

The premise of V3’s Voltair is that it could potentially provide liquid-cooling performance levels without the risk of leaks, but it doesn’t quite catch up to the two 2x120mm liquid coolers we’ve recently tested. Perhaps a single-width radiator would be more appropriate? For perspective, Noctua’s NH-D15 big air cooler is larger than both of the liquid coolers and has two oversized (150mm) fans.

The Voltair doesn’t have a secondary RPM reading, but its single reading is close to that of the NH-D15. We’re looking forward to a little quiet.

The Voltair is noticeably noisier than the NH-D15, falling between the quiet-liquid H220-X and inexpensive-liquid Captain 240.

Mid-pack noise pairs poorly with a slight temperature increase to give the Voltair a third-place cooling-to-noise ratio. That’s important, since we believe this to be the true measure of overall performance.

Conclusion

V3 Components has but one component, the Voltair cooler, that it hopes will provide the cooling power of a liquid cooler without the associated risk from leaks. That kind of comparison ignores that we’re using liquid when we can to reduce the alternative risk of a cooler breaking the motherboard. Experience tells us that the odds of a big air cooler either breaking a board or coming loose during shipping are far greater than that of a closed-loop-liquid cooler causing damage from leaks. Even the worst of our closed-loop systems leaked so slowly that its coolant dried before it even touched another component, but perhaps V3 Gaming was thinking of vented open-loops?

Three ounces heavier than Noctua’s NH-D15, the D15 is Voltair’s most significant competitor in today’s test. Both coolers have the same associated risk of weight, and neither have any coolant to leak. The Voltair has the potential benefit of a TEC element, while the NH-D15 has the proven benefit of larger fans.

The V3 Voltair also has the benefit of a huge price drop over the past few months that make it cheaper to buy than the NH-D15. That reduced price gives it the value win in spite of its mid-pack performance, and its narrower width (compared to the NH-D15) could help it fit into more systems.

On the other hand, its TEC element didn’t appear very effective at reducing our CPU temperatures. It ran hotter than the NH-D15 and made more noise. Yet there’s always the chance that an overclocked Haswell-E processor wasn’t what V3 had in mind, and the TEC it chose might simply be too small. We did a quick unplug/replug test and found that the Voltair’s TEC alone requires 68 to 74 watts, for what that’s worth. That’s a fairly low load by extreme cooling standards, but with a fairly high impact on system efficiency. If deciding between big air with or without TEC, we’d rather pay the extra $15 for the NH-D15 and make it up in savings on our electric bills.

MORE: All Cooling Content
MORE: How To Build A PC: From Component Selection To Installation

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

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45 comments
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  • ingtar33
    surprise surprise, an undersized air tower can't cool the Peltier (TEC) unit they attached it to.

    I think the only thing surprising is it even managed to keep up at all with those "real" cpu coolers. The problem with using Peltier based cooling is typically if you want to cool 80W of power you need to be able to disperse around 160W-240W of heat energy; it's clear they went with an under powered peltier to avoid condensation, but of course that defeats the whole purpose to one as well; because then you end up with a cooler not strong enough to cool on one side and too hot to cool on the other (with the undersized heatsink)

    really the only sensible use for a peltier in a computer would be through some sort of heat exchange method, like paired with a large custom water loop, and lots of radiator space, while at the same time, insulating the connection point and BACK OF THE MOTHERBOARD to prevent condensation damage to your system.

    throw in the fact that Peltier or TEC cooling wears out over time, and this just looks like a terrible product. too little radiator space, too little voltage going into the Peltier, too much noise generated by the undersized fans, not enough cooling ability... just a mediocre product
  • PaulBags
    Several times now I've read in a tom's review references to past experience with big coolers coming loose and/or damaging boards. Would you mind linking us to those examples?
  • atheus
    Quote:
    Several times now I've read in a tom's review references to past experience with big coolers coming loose and/or damaging boards. Would you mind linking us to those examples?

    I know this is not what you're asking for, but after building a computer for a friend and shipping it across the country I'm fairly convinced that at least when designing a computer that you intend to ship it's probably best to use a closed loop liquid cooler. I just had a Hyper 212 EVO mounted on an ASUS Z97 GRYPHON, and evidently the USPS dropped it from a substantial height, causing the heat sink to break free and damage the CPU, plus the graphics card tore the PCIE slot in half. I think from now on any time I ship a computer that has a big air cooler, I'll remove the cooler (and graphics cards, if any) and pack them separately. For someone who doesn't have the skills to mount a CPU cooler, I'll just have to stick to closed loop water.

    USPS eventually paid for the damaged computer ($1300), but it took over a month to get the check, and there were tons of hoops she had to jump through. For a while it was even starting to look like they weren't going to pay up. Not worth the headache. From now on I'll make sure any computer I ship is ready to be dropped from an airplane at 500 MPH without a chute, as much as possible.
  • Crashman
    1935669 said:
    Several times now I've read in a tom's review references to past experience with big coolers coming loose and/or damaging boards. Would you mind linking us to those examples?
    Linking you? You do know that there's a real world out there, where photos of damaged systems that we packed could be evidence in a lawsuit. And I don't go after the suppliers of prebuilt systems when theirs arrive damaged either, because that feels like adding insult to financial injury. The only ONLINE proof that any of this has happened is in restricted-access servers, though I can't stop anyone from hacking my email ;)

    Most things in this world don't happen online. I think it's nice that someone can tell me "this part got wrecked in shipping" and I can say "send it to me, I'll evaluate it before I replace it". I realize that its unbelievable to some that this still happens in the age of snapchat...

    As for the less spectacular (warped board) failures, they're mentioned in an SBM article where the motherboard was a Z77 Extreme4.
  • OcelotRex
    8708 said:
    1935669 said:
    Several times now I've read in a tom's review references to past experience with big coolers coming loose and/or damaging boards. Would you mind linking us to those examples?
    Linking you? You do know that there's a real world out there, where photos of damaged systems that we packed could be evidence in a lawsuit. And I don't go after the suppliers of prebuilt systems when theirs arrive damaged either, because that feels like adding insult to financial injury. The only ONLINE proof that any of this has happened is in restricted-access servers, though I can't stop anyone from hacking my email ;) Most things in this world don't happen online. I think it's nice that someone can tell me "this part got wrecked in shipping" and I can say "send it to me, I'll evaluate it before I replace it". I realize that its unbelievable to some that this still happens in the age of snapchat... As for the less spectacular (warped board) failures, they're mentioned in an SBM article where the motherboard was a Z77 Extreme4.


    I am not very sure you sufficiently answered his concerns with hypothetical situations that you cannot prove/disprove. I think that the OP was looking for something concrete since an occurrence has been referenced (in their experience) a few times on the same site.

    I had the same concern when purchasing a larger air cooler - I had settled on the Cooler master 212 on a non-overclocked build to keep it cool/quiet but had been building with smaller, older Zalman fans. To alleiviate those concerns I when with a Silverstone case that inverted the motherboard and added an adjustable stand for the heatsink to take the vertical strain off the MB:



    But to your point shipping a PC is a whole other issue as you cannot control the orientation or handling of the item throughout the process so I can see how bending/warping/snapping could happen. for such large coolers the safest bet would be to disassemble the heavy parts prior to shipping.
  • atheus
    1935669 said:
    Several times now I've read in a tom's review references to past experience with big coolers coming loose and/or damaging boards. Would you mind linking us to those examples?

    Here you go. If it's computer snuff you want:

    Yeah, that CPU fan is spinning.
  • ubercake
    At the beginning of the article I was excited about the technology.

    At the end of the article, I was sad that it couldn't really compete (but I did feel well informed!).
  • Blueberries
    Even when they made these twice the size it wasn't enough. Vapor chambers are the future of heat-sink design, not this.
  • Crashman
    1118540 said:
    I am not very sure you sufficiently answered his concerns with hypothetical situations that you cannot prove/disprove.
    I'm not trying to prove or disprove a hypothetical situation. I'm testifying to real-world occurrences. Does anyone really need the testimony of Chris and Don to prove that things he or she knows can happen, did happen?

    This one shouldn't be all that controversial. It's like if I told you about that time I went to Florida and my wife fed squirrels at the park from her hand, and rather than argue about the behavior of the squirrels you began arguing about whether I'd ever been to Florida.

    If I said it rained yesterday you'd probably believe it. On the other hand, if I said it didn't rain you'd probably believe that. Both solutions are equally possible, one solution is actual and the other potentially "hypothetical" (IF it hadn't rained...). The reason you'd have believed either one is that neither option is particularly controversial, and I don't have anything to gain by lying.
  • kristi_metal
    I have only one problem with this cooler: the "space" between the heatpipes that form the base of the radiator. The heat is only absorbed by the heatpipes, but the aluminium strips just keep the heat there, it is not that efficient in removing heat from the CPU.
  • quilciri
    Oh well. There's still the Sandia cooler to look forward to, though I'm sad Coolermaster didn't have something close to a production model to show off at E3.
  • Bossyfins
    Isn't any version of Prime95 over 26.6 is bad for the CPU?
  • rwinches
    The question I would like answered is how did the cooler with 8 thick heatpipes perform with just the fans no TEC?

    It seems that it should out perform a CM 212 EVO with 4 thinner heatpipes.

    Would better quality fans make a difference?

    I know this is not in the scope of the review, but I would hope the designers would start with a great air cooler design and then improve it with the TEC. They don't have to exceed WCs but at least match them otherwise why bother?

    They did succeed in avoiding condensation which is good. I wonder how these would work in a warm room with no air conditioning that many readers have described in their help queries?
  • Crashman
    68963 said:
    The question I would like answered is how did the cooler with 8 thick heatpipes perform with just the fans no TEC? It seems that it should out perform a CM 212 EVO with 4 thinner heatpipes. Would better quality fans make a difference? I know this is not in the scope of the review, but I would hope the designers would start with a great air cooler design and then improve it with the TEC. They don't have to exceed WCs but at least match them otherwise why bother? They did succeed in avoiding condensation which is good. I wonder how these would work in a warm room with no air conditioning that many readers have described in their help queries?
    Testing that configuration would require us to replace the TEC with a custom-fitted copper plate.
  • Ning3n
    This is just nit-picking, but....

    "The TEC uses two power pins from an old drive power connector"

    You mean a Molex connector.
  • atheus
    1318826 said:
    This is just nit-picking, but.... "The TEC uses two power pins from an old drive power connector" You mean a Molex connector.


    I actually tripped over that weird choice of words too. I wound up blowing up the photo just to confirm that's what he was actually talking about, rather than some other weird connector I didn't know about that wasn't Molex.
  • Crashman
    1318826 said:
    This is just nit-picking, but.... "The TEC uses two power pins from an old drive power connector" You mean a Molex connector.


    Here's the first photo from the Molex website:


    I mean an ATA-style drive power connector. Molex makes all kinds of connectors. Watch me get three to five thumbs down for being specific :D
  • Blueberries
    Everybody and their mom refers to those as Molex connectors.
  • Crashman
    1833643 said:
    Everybody and their mom refers to those as Molex connectors.
    And when I'm in Georgia and I ask for a Coke they ask me if I was root beer. I prefer to be specific :)

    This is actually a question of intellectual honesty for me. Do I say something that's intellectually dishonest to be better-understood, or do I take a chance by being more-specific. I used to do a lot more of the former, before the whole Shuttle Form Factor problem popped up 9 years ago.
  • knowom
    Something else interesting is they could make similar devices also to use a TEC in reverse basically as a thermoelectric generator to power the CPU fan itself from the heat it generates to save a little bit of power.

    Another thing I'd love to see is a passive cooling mineral oil PC with submerged heat pipe cooled components. I would think the mineral oil would work as a lot of surface area oil covered for the heat pipes to wick away heat out into the air. They could probably even make a heat pipe box filled with mineral oil which other heat pipe components connect and mount to. Something even like a PC frame that can be filled with mineral oil in the inside of it that heat pipes connect to. Just not enough ingenuity being shown compared to what is possible.

    I really like the idea of heat pipes and mineral oil though combining surface area and natural convection it's a subject that needs exploring it has potential. Passive radiant mineral oil cooling connected via flexible copper tubing to a heat pipe radiator would be sweet.
  • RedJaron
    8708 said:
    This one shouldn't be all that controversial. It's like if I told you about that time I went to Florida and my wife fed squirrels at the park from her hand
    Been there, done that. Squirrels on the UF campus aren't phased at all by humans. Saw one sitting on the edge of a trashcan that was so still I thought it was a decorative statue. Once I walked past, it twisted it's head to follow me, probably wondering why I didn't feed the adorable thing.

    1858088 said:
    Isn't any version of Prime95 over 26.6 is bad for the CPU?
    No, I'm not sure where you heard that from. Starting at v27.1, the FFTs were optimized for 32-bit AVX istructions ( v27.3 introduced 64-bit AVX. ) AVX support allows the threads to run much faster for people doing actual Mersenne research. However, it also taxes the CPU a lot more, meaning it runs hotter. When Thomas and I test mboards, this is the difference in the heat chart between "normal" P95 and P95 AVX.

    So no, later versions of P95 aren't bad for your CPU, they'll just tax it more. So if you OC your CPU, it might be able to handle moderate loads, but throwing P95 AVX at it will show it it's really stable or not.

    8708 said:
    1833643 said:
    Everybody and their mom refers to those as Molex connectors.
    And when I'm in Georgia and I ask for a Coke they ask me if I was root beer. I prefer to be specific :)
    Been there, done that too. Weirdest thing when someone asked me what kind of Coke I wanted, and they didn't mean cherry vs vanilla vs lemon.

    I don't mind being specific. "Soda" in the east means any number of carbonated beverages, but in the midwest many people think you're talking about sodium bicarbonate ( or unflavored carbonated water ). Call it a "pop" in Utah and people know what you're talking about, but say the same thing on the east coast and they might think you're asking for a sucker / lollipop. When in doubt, call the thing what it actually is, not the colloquial term.
  • Blueberries
    8708 said:
    1833643 said:
    Everybody and their mom refers to those as Molex connectors.
    And when I'm in Georgia and I ask for a Coke they ask me if I was root beer. I prefer to be specific :)


    See, we say soda here; and where I'm from "old drive power connector" isn't specific.
  • Crashman
    1833643 said:
    8708 said:
    1833643 said:
    Everybody and their mom refers to those as Molex connectors.
    And when I'm in Georgia and I ask for a Coke they ask me if I was root beer. I prefer to be specific :)
    See, we say soda here; and where I'm from "old drive power connector" isn't specific.
    Soda is wrong though. Sodas are a specific type of metallic compound. There are no sodas in soft drinks. The bubbles do, however, "pop" :-)

    Soda for things that have no sodas and Molex for a connector made by anyone but Molex, I'm starting to see a pattern :-p
  • Simon Anderson
    Has anyone tried building a sealed housing around a CPU, and sucking all the air out? Mount a Peltier with cold side inside vacuum... hot side outside vacuum... Would that solve the condensation problem? I guess condensation would just form on outside of housing... hmm *ponder*