Subject: Cases and Cooling | June 13, 2018 - 07:39 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: thermoelectric, TEC, liquid cooling, cooler master, computex 2018, computex, AIO
In addition to cases and massive amounts of RGB Cooler Master had a prototype closed loop cooler on display at Computex that combines an all in one liquid cooling loop with a TEC element that cools the water to sub-ambient temperatures.
TechPowerUp snapped photos from the show floor.
Thermoelectric coolers aren't anything new (and this isn't Cooler Master's first foray with TECs), but the hybrid approach is an interesting one. The AIO loop appears to work like a water chiller cooler would with the TEC not having direct contact with the processor but rather it is used to give the single 120mm liquid loop radiator a boost by pulling lots of heat out of the water before hitting the radiator. According to Computex attendees the loop order flows from the CPU block to the TEC element where water is passed across one side of the side and the other hot side is cooled by a large heatsink which uses four heatpipes and dual fin stacks along with two fans in a package about the size of a 240mm radiator. From there, the chilled water passes through a traditional water cooling radiator and then the cool water goes to the CPU block.
The thermoelectric cooler uses the Peltier effect where electricity (DC) is passed between an array of thermocouples that sit between two layers (usually ceramics) creating an effect where heat is drawn from one side to the other with the cool side able to be cooled below ambient temperatures while the hot side needs to be cooled by a heatsink to prevent it from overheating and reducing efficiency and/or damaging the materials.
According to PC World, Cooler Master has stated that their prototype TEC will be rated at 300W TDP which is quite a bit higher than the approximately 180W of a 240mm traditional AIO. Gordon Mah Ung was able to perform some cursory testing with a FLIR camera attached to his smartphone where he saw the cooler demonstrate its ability to cool the water used in the loop 10 to 15-degrees below ambient where it was around 80°F (~26.7°C) in the packed Computex show floor and 64 to 70°F for the water as measured by the FLIR when pointing at the radiator and tubing. Further, Cooler Master had a temperature probe at the CPU block where it measured 20°C (likely no heat load as no processor was hooked up heh). This boosted cooling performance does come with a tradeoff, however. The TEC's hot side will need to be cooled (noise) and the TEC itself will draw as much as 150W of power (it will use standard connectors that a PC PSU can drive) in order to work its cooling magic (so higher electricity usage/cost).
My first thought was that the hybrid cooler could prove useful in a SFF system by offering cooling potential that would just otherwise not be possible in the form factor with the thinking that the cooler would not need to cool to crazy low temperatures, but just enough to match the performance of a much larger water cooling loop. Gordon Mah Ung from PC World also posits that the cooler would be useful in situations where ambient temperatures are very high (say, summer months in the south with no or underpowered AC) as the TEC would be able to keep processor temperatures in check (allowing enthusiasts to maintain their overclock or at least keep stock clocks and Turbo Boost without thermal throttling) where air cooling or water cooling cannot as the best they can do is cool to ambient.
Apparently, the hybrid cooler will also be able to push things if you do want to go for higher overclocks for benchmarking runs or improved gaming performance.
One concern with thermoelectric and other sub-ambient cooling methods is condensation which can build up on the outside of cool parts like the tubing and blocks and can potentially cause instability or damage to PC components. Traditionally, the tubing and area around the CPU socket would need to be insulated to protect from this. Cooler Master's design, I don't think, is immune to this but by moving the TEC away from the processor and using it to cool the water (so no direct contact), it is allegedly much less of an issue and if the TEC is just used to provide a bit of a boost to the water loop rather than going for as low temperatures as possible the risk should be minimal.
There is no word on specific pricing or release dates, but several sites are reporting that it will be available later this year with "competitive pricing". I would guess this cooler is going to be at the high end of water cooling AIOs and expandable kits at minimum which is to say probably around $300+. (Looking on Amazon, EKWB kit with 360mm radiator is $370, you can find kits with 240mm radiators for between two-to-three hundred dollars, and a used custom loop starts around there if you find a forum deal.)
What do you think about this cooler? I am interested in seeing the reviews on this and whether it is able to combine the best of both water and TEC cooling worlds.
- CoolIt Systems Freezone Peltier CPU Cooler Review (2006) by Lee Garbutt @ PC Perspective
- Phononic's New Hex 2.0 TEC Is CPU Cooling Alternative For SFF Systems
- It's been a long time since we've seen a Peltier cooler
Introduction: A Hybrid Approach
The Hex 2.0 from Phononic is not your typical CPU cooler. It functions as both a thermoelectric cooler (TEC) - which you may also know as a Peltier cooler - and as a standard heatsink/fan, depending on CPU load. It offers a small footprint for placement in all but the lowest-profile systems, yet it boasts cooling potential beyond other coolers of its size. Yes, it is expensive, but this is a far more complex device than a standard air or even all-in-one liquid cooler - and obviously much smaller than even the most compact AiO liquid coolers.
“The HEX 2.0 combines a proprietary state-of-the-art high performance thermoelectric module with an innovative heat exchanger. The small form factor CPU cooler pioneers a new category of cooling technology. The compact design comfortably fits in small chassis, including mini-ITX cases, while delivering cooling capacity beyond that of much larger coolers.”
Even though it does not always need to function as such, the Hex 2.0 is a thermoelectric cooling device, and that alone makes it interesting from a PC hardware enthusiast point of view (at least mine, anyway). The 'active-passive' approach taken by Phononic with the Hex 2.0 allows for greater performance potential that would otherwise be possible from a smaller TEC device, though our testing will of course reveal how effective it is in actual use.
HEX 2.0 features an Active-Passive design (Credit: Phononic)
The goal for the HEX 2.0 CPU cooler was to provide similar cooling performance to all-in-one (AIO) liquid coolers or the very largest fan-heat sinks in a package that could fit into the smallest PC form factors (like miniITX). The active-passive design is what makes this possible. By splitting the CPU heat into two paths, as shown in Figure 1 (Ed. the above image), the thermoelectric device can be sized at an optimal point where it can provide the most benefit for lowering CPU temperature without having to be large enough to pump the entire CPU thermal load. We also designed electronic controls to turn off the thermoelectric heat pump at times of low CPU load, making for an energy efficient cooler that provides adequate cooling with zero power draw at low CPU loads. However, when the CPU is stressed and the CPU heat load increases, the electronic controls energize the thermoelectric heat pump, lowering the temperature of the passive base plate and the CPU itself. The active-passive design has one further benefit – when used in conjunction with the electronic controls, this design virtually eliminates the risk of condensation for the HEX 2.0.
Subject: Cases and Cooling | July 9, 2016 - 05:57 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: thermoelectric, SFF, air cooling, TEC, mini ITX, phononic
An interesting cooling option for small form factor systems popped up in my email recently that is a new twist on an old technology. A company called Phononic has developed the Hex 2.0 which is a compact heatsink that pairs a tower air cooler with a TEC baseplate. At 810 grams and measuring 125 mm tall, the Hex 2.0 is Mini ITX friendly and is claimed to be competitive with closed loop water coolers with up to 240mm radiators (more on that below).
Hex 2.0 uses many of the same high quality components and design choices of traditional tower air coolers. A shrouded 92mm fan is sandwiched between two aluminum heatsinks with 40 fins each. There are eight 6mm heatpipes that pull heat from the hot side of the thermoelectric (TEC) cooler and dissipate the heat. The TEC (which has a copper baseplate) uses an electric current and two dissimilar conductors and the principle of electron transport to pull heat from the “cold side” of the cooler to the “hot side” of the cooler. That hot side then needs to be cooled, and Phononic has chosen to use a tower air cooler for the job (people in the past have also paired TECs with water loops). The TEC is the notable bit about the Hex 2.0, and is what allows the small heatsink to offer as much cooling performance as it does in such a small package.
Hex 2.0 has connections for a 4-pin CPU_Fan connector, Mini USB for software monitoring and control, and a 6-pin PCI-E power connector. The four pin controls the 92mm fan which typically idles at 1000 RPM but can max out at 2,650 RPM, 33 dBA, and 44 CFM. The Mini USB connects to the motherboard and users can use a dashboard application to monitor the cooler, choose a cooling mode (to balance noise and performance), and control the LEDs on the cooler. The 6-pin connector powers the TEC cooler which appears to be capable of drawing up to 35W of power. The fan is able to spin down to zero RPM when the processor is not under load as the TEC and heatsink is able to pull and dissipate enough heat without the fan though the exact point where it would need to turn on will depend on your case and its own airflow.
Interestingly, this product is already available and reviews have already been posted around the net. According to TweakTown, the Hex 2.0 does indeed compete with 120mm liquid coolers such as the Silverstone Tundra TD03 (which is a decent cooler that I’ve used before) and Antec Kuhler H20 1250 (I’ve not tested that one but Morry did a full review of it). When placed in “insane mode” and the fan is allowed to spin up to maximum RPMs, the Hex 2.0 thermoelectric cooler actually beats the 240mm Corsair H100i GTX in quiet mode. While it will be louder, that is pretty impressive to see a 92mm fan HSF up there in cooling performance with a much larger water cooler!
This cooler is nicely packaged in a silver aluminum and black nickel plated aesthetic. Cooling performance seems to make it a possible alternative cooling option for SFF builds that can give you similar cooling performance in a case where a pump and radiator would be difficult or impossible for fit. That’s the upside. The downside to this cooler is the price. At $149.99, this is going to be a tough sell though it is not entirely unexpected considering the niche nature of it. The 1 year warranty leaves a lot be desired as well, I would have liked to see something a bit longer especially at that premium price.
What are your thoughts on this pint sized TEC(h)?