Computex 2018: Cooler Master Shows Off Prototype Thermoelectric (TEC) AIO Cooler

Subject: Cases and Cooling | June 13, 2018 - 07:39 PM |
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.

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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.

Also read: 

Source: PC World

June 13, 2018 | 09:13 PM - Posted by ipkh

I like it, but the De8auer subambient closed loop is the better approach IMHO.

June 14, 2018 | 01:53 AM - Posted by Photonboy

Isn't the De8auer solution aimed at a lower wattage of dissipation?

It's a pumpless design but that also limits the wattage to, AFAIK, closer to what a good AIO can manage but no more.

Thermoelectrics on the other hand have serious drawbacks including condensation and extra power draw but then that's needed for where other methods are insufficient to cool CPU's like Threadripper and high-core Intel (like the "5GHz" 28-core CPU though that's probably closer to 1000W not 300W).

June 14, 2018 | 03:30 AM - Posted by Interestee (not verified)

The Der8auer cooling prototype was neither a loop, nor was it subambient.
K|NGP|N had a subambient loop on show at Computex, but that was a liquid nitrogen setup that's never going to be a consumer product.

June 13, 2018 | 09:27 PM - Posted by djotter

If the loop runs CPU -> TEC -> Rad, and gets to sub-ambient temperature, then the Rad would have to be warming the coolant?

Also, I really hope it wasn't 75C on the show floor!

June 13, 2018 | 10:34 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

LOL D'oh, he said it felt around 80-degrees and that'd be Fahrenheit :P. Not sure what I was thinking typoing that! If it was 75C they'd each need their own TECs cooling their bodies just to stay alive ;-)

June 14, 2018 | 02:05 AM - Posted by Photonboy

Does the RAD warm the coolant?

That's not really the way to look at it. First off, sure if there's idle CPU usage then apparently the fluid can be chilled to sub-ambient temperatures so the rad should be warmer than the fluid instead of the converse which is normally true.

Normally the fluid is above ambient, heats up the radiator, then the fans push the heated air next to the rad away.

However, remember that once the CPU is used more heavily the fluid will get warmer so it will go above ambient thus the transfer will more resemble a traditional AIO.

Not sure if it said anywhere but I thought the idea was to leave the thermoelectric part off until needed as otherwise you waste power and create additional, unneeded, condensation.

*So I don't see why the rad should realistically EVER be warmer than the fluid since again I don't think this feature should be used until the fluid is already HOT to the point you need to dissipate the extra heat via an alternative method.

June 14, 2018 | 12:01 AM - Posted by James

Odd. Why wouldn't you just put the TEC directly on the cpu? This might avoid problems with going sub-ambient, but it doesn't seem to efficient.

June 14, 2018 | 02:59 AM - Posted by Interestee (not verified)

Probably to reuse pump-waterblock designs.
Developing the Peltier cooler into a separate block allows them to sell that as a part for custom loops too.

June 14, 2018 | 10:10 AM - Posted by Prodeous

Reason for not doing that is that if the TEC fails, CPU is dead. In this case, if TEC fails (or being disconnected) the loop will give a small breathing room.

At least so I think

June 14, 2018 | 12:06 PM - Posted by tts (not verified)

That is probably a big part of it.

Its also easier to make a block specific to the TEC and reuse existing CPU water block designs that do a whole new one that allows for TEC usage.

From what I recall about TEC/peltier cooling is that in order to keep the power usage reasonable you want to use a bunch of them in parallel at about half to 2/3's the peak rated voltage. They run most efficiently like that. IIRC you can get reasonably close to a 1:1 watts used to watts cooled ratio like that.

Otherwise you end up blowing quite a bit more power than the CPU uses in order to keep in reasonably cool if you go the monolithic massive peltier and try to run it near max rated specs. I remember people were using 500w dedicated PSU's to run those old huge 400w capable TEC's and they were almost as power hungry to run as a decent single stage phase change cooler.

To control condensation you have to keep the temp above the dew point which is variable throughout the day and depending on where you live. So hopefully this comes with a controller of some sort. Otherwise you do your best to estimate the peak dew point temp throughout the day and add a few degrees. Also make sure to put dielectric grease all over in and around the CPU socket as added insurance.

Near ambient cooling tends to give you at least a few hundred more Mhz OC and if done right can be run 24/7/365 so it can be worth it to some enthusiasts.

June 18, 2018 | 12:52 PM - Posted by Rocky123 (not verified)

You are correct if the TEC fails your CPU is gonna be done for in a short time frame. I had a custom TEC cooler that I made years ago and it worked great but the heat that came off of it was pretty high as the heat sink I had on top of it was very very large with a 120mm fan and even then the heat sink got fairly warm. The CPU on the other hand was pretty chill (Intel S370 Celeron 333@667Mhz 133.35MHz bus). Yep it was a real speed for sure well at the time mainly because it had the 128KB L2 Cache.

Would I use a custom or pre built TEC on die CPU chiller again probably not even though I had no problems with it.Like you said if it fails a modern CPU will toast itself very quickly. Would I use something like this cooler in the post not sure I would have to see how it fairs in the reviews first and how much it actually helps with an OC.

June 14, 2018 | 02:53 AM - Posted by Interestee (not verified)

I don't see how a cooler design which adds 150W to the power draw and dissipation of a system is a good fit for SFF builds.

June 14, 2018 | 09:29 AM - Posted by Spunjji

Agreed, especially with the extra space required by the additional components.

June 14, 2018 | 12:08 PM - Posted by tts (not verified)

Yeah this won't fit in well in a SFF case and the heat dissipation would be a big problem in a case that small.

This sort of cooler is enthusiast OC'ers who want better than watercooling but either can't afford phase change or just don't want to deal with the risks of condensation.

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