Cooling has always been a rather hot subject, since most currently sold processors and GPU cores produce a lot of heat, especially when overclocked. Air and water cooling have been the favorite solutions for many different manufacturers, with a variety of products ranging in cost and corresponding performance. Today, we will examine an advanced water cooling product from a well known and established manufacturer. The SwifTech Apex Ultra H20-220, has all the components to make your system run as cool as the air that flows around the room. With a price tag of US$250, we have high expectations, so let's get started by taking a look at the product features.
- SwifTech Apex Ultra H20-220
The SwifTech Apex Ultra model, consists of several, different components that offer maximum performance with a minimum of noise, all in the same package. The Apex "Ultra" model is an upgrade from the Apex initial release, differentiating itself through the use of the new Apogee GT water-block. According to SwifTech, the new Apogee GT water-block, lowers by up to 4° C the overall heat produced by the processor, compared with the previous water block. More-over, the combination of the MCR220-QP dual 120mm radiator and the MCP655 pump, promises to satisfy both extremes of the enthusiast market spectrum: overclockers in search of the lowest CPU temperatures and silent computing users in search of the lowest possible operating noise.
The MCR220 dual 120mm radiator, will not fit in most PC's without extensive modifications, as SwifTech suggests and were confirmed from our efforts. However, due to the mounting mechanism, you can avoid a lot of the hassle, with no modifications other than a couple of holes.
In the retail box is included the MCB120 "Radbox" Revision2, with fan guards to protect the radiator's delicate fins.
There is another, more complete product with VGA and chipset water block, the "H20-220-Apex Ultra+". The two blocks increase the overall retail price up to US$380.
Capturing the heat
- The extreme performance Apogee GT Universal water-block is responsible for absorbing the heat generated by today's hottest CPU's with incredible efficiency.
- Adjustable fan speed: the kit is delivered with 12V to 7V and 12V to 5V fan adapters, enabling users to reduce the fan speed -and noise, to whisper quiet operations (~25 dBA).
Moving the Heat around
- The Extreme performance MCP655™ 12 Volts DC industrial pump pushes the coolant throughout the circuit at high velocity.
- Larger 7/16" ID (5/8" OD) tubing is used to maximize the coolant flow rate inside the system.
- Adjustable Pump speed: the pump speed can be adjusted to virtually silent operation.
Dissipating the heat into the atmosphere
Minimum toll on performance in "silent" mode
- The new MCR-220 copper and brass radiator doubles the surface area available for heat convection into the air compared to a single 120mm radiator, and uses two 72 CFM 120mm fans, at a reasonable* sound noise level of 37 dBA.
- The MCB120 "Radbox" Revision 2 optimizes cooling by using fresh air from outside the computer, without adding any thermal load to other components.
- The MCR-220 radiator fin density has been optimized to reduce air noise and operate at high efficiency with low-flow fans
- At the lowest fan speed settings, the H20-APEX kit still delivers superb performance while allowing substantial overclocking. For example, at 100 Watts, the CPU temperature is only 3c higher than at the highest fan settings
Convenience and reliability features
- Kit noise/performance ratio can be fine-tuned at the user leisure.
- 12 Volt DC MCP655 pump plugs directly into computer power supply.
- High-reliability, no-maintenance industrial pump is rated at 50,000 hour MTBF(Mean Time Between Failure) equivalent to 5 year lifetime.
- MCRES-Micro reservoir fits in any small space available in the system without sacrificing a CD-drive bay
- MCRES-Micro reservoir provides approximately 18 month of continuous operations without refills.
- Universal Apogee GT water-block is compatible with all current desktop processors, and ships with all the different mounting systems.
- The Patent pending MCR-220 radiator is completely self-bleeding in upright position, or when installed on it's side.
- SmartCoils 625 are included with the kit, to completely eliminate tube kinking for a safe and reliable installation.
- The 7/16" ID tubing features the same or better flexibility than 3/8" ID tubing, no distinguishable difference in terms of system flow rate compared to 1/2" ID tubing, but significantly reduces the bulk associated with 1/2" ID thick wall tubing.
- The MCB-120 "Radbox" Revision 2 provides a bolt-on mechanism to "hang" the radiator at the back of the case with minimum case modifications.
2. Retail package - Page 1
As we mentioned in our introduction, the SwifTech Apex Ultra 220 costs around US$222~259.95, depending on the online store and local VAT. The retail box is mid-sized and includes all that you will need to get started.
Opening the box... the printed manual/instructions are rather complicated, you need to read them extensively...
So what's included in the retail box? The following picture shows most of the contents:
As you can understand, this retail kit has everything included. We don't believe that you need something else, other than patience and enough free time to get everything assembled.
The swiftech MCP655™ 12 Volts DC pump is a high pressure industrial pump, featuring 50,000 hours MTBF (5 year lifetime). Such reliability is afforded by the unique design of this pump, which contains only one moving part: the magnetically driven spherical impeller spins on a single ceramic bearing, thus extending the life of this pump beyond existing standards.
The pump is completely plug-and-play, and connects directly to the computer power-supply with a standard 4 pin power connectors.
is a small form factor reservoir designed to operate quietly and reliably with high flow pumps such as Swiftech's MCP350 and MCP655 models (3/8" and 1/2" lines). The patent pending design features an angled baffle forcing the turbulent flow at the bottom of the reservoir. This allows it to function without air entrainment at low fluid levels and affords extended usage without refills for approximately 2 years.
3. Retail Package - Page 2
The MCR220-QP (Quiet Power) series radiators are extreme-duty liquid-to-air heat exchangers designed to be used with two 120mm fans and specifically engineered for high-end liquid cooled Personal Computers. The MCR220-QP heat exchangers have been engineered to meet today's PC industry highest thermal loads, quality standards, and low noise requirements at competitive prices. With the MCR220-QP there is attached the MCB120 revision 2 "Radbox" that can be used to mount the MCR220-QP at a case. According to SwifTech, it retains all the functionalities of the original but is now made of injection molded plastic, and receives several cosmetic enhancements:
- A silky black paint finish,
- The edge of the housing now overlaps the base plate for a cleaner, more pleasing look,
- The silver Swiftech logo is applied on the side highly contrasting with the black background for a rich finishing touch
Mechanically, the product is very sturdy, thanks to the base plate, featuring numerous reinforcement ribs, and it fulfils its function to perfection. The MCB120 Rev2 "Radbox" can support single, dual or triple 120mm radiators. There is included a PCI pass-thru bracket is now simplified, eliminating the nipple connections used in the previous kit. The tube passes straight thru the bracket which improves flow rate, eliminates four connections, and therefore the possibility for leaks.
The Apogee GT water block is included in the retail package, and according to SwifTech, takes the cooling performance to"...yet another level...". The GT's primary difference with the Apogee, is an optimized internal structure. The improvement in thermal performance scales from a minimum of 1°C and up to 3°C (at 100W) depending on the CPU, with Intel's latest QX6700 quad core processors benefiting the most from the revised structure.
The retail package includes all the needed components in order for installation with the following sockets:
- Socket 478 (Intel® Pentium® 4),
- Socket 775 (Pentium® 4, Core Duo, Core 2 Duo ),
- Socket 603/604 (Intel® Xeon™ - 400 and 533 FSB)
- Socket 771 (Intel® Xeon™) - Optional AP-NC604 hardware pack is required.
- Socket 462 (AMD® Athlon®, Duron®, MP, XP)
- Socket 754, 939, 940 (AMD® 64 bit processors)
- Socket AM2 (AMD® 64 bit processors)
- Socket F (AMD®)
Three sets of Nylon hose barbs are included with the device: 1/4" (6mm), 3/8" (10mm) and 1/2" (12mm).
The mounting mechanism for Socket 775 is very simple. It includes a back plate and the required screws to get everything secured.
The exploded view gives a better understanding of the waterblock:
The full copper base is large enough to cover the entire CPU area and has great finish.
In order to get everything installed, you need... time. Yes, this is not a starter kit that can be assembled. in several minutes. After un-packing all the contents, you need to see what each part's use is for and understand where you should use it. This means you are forced to read the entire printed manual.
In short though, you have to mount the MCR220 radiator somewhere around the case, inside or outside. Due to its length, placing the MCR220 inside is not recommended, unless you have a really big case. So, most likely you'll have to place it outside. For this reason, Swiftech has included the MCB120 RadBox that will help you mount the MCR220 radiator on the back, under the power supply. While in theory this could work, in our test case, the ThermalTake Soprano, couldn't accommodate this since the top 1/4" NPSM threaded hubs were at the power supply level, we couldn't drill a proper hole in the case.
So next idea was to place the MCR220 radiator on the side panel, but due to the weight, this was not feasible. The next best idea was to simply place the MCR220 radiator on the top of the case, with the "fear" of it falling off if someone bumped the case. This could also be the worst case scenario, since the water has to travel uphill, the maximum distance before entering the radiator to get cooled.
To pass the tubes through, you need to drill 7/8 sized holes just below or above the power supply. For this, you need a drill and a stable hand. With the included mounting screws, you secure the MCB-120 R2 Radbox plate so you can mount the MCR220 Radiator.
The next step is to mount the CPU water block. First, you need to attach the back plate and mount the CPU water block.
What you need to take care with, is the orientation. As Swiftech suggests, the inlet and outlet should be placed in vertical orientation and not horizontal.
Here is how your system would look, after finishing the installation process of the water block.
What we noticed, is that the angled shaping at the left-most outer area, attaches and slightly bends the motherboard copper heatpipes. While in our case, this wasn't a major problem, with other motherboards, this may be and issue.
The next step is to secure the motherboard in the case and start connecting the various components. You need to measure the required lengths for the tubes you will use. You must put the tube clamps through the tubing before attaching the hose to the barbs. If you try to install the tube pieces to the barbs without any kind of lubrication, it's going to make things very difficult for you.
Move the clamps down the barb and with a good squeeze, everything is secured. Make sure all tubes are secured correctly, we don't want any kind of leakage occurring in our system. Fill up the water tank with the included UV react fluid and press the power button. You will need to continue filling the water tank until all tubes are filled with the appropriate amount of fluid. This will take only a few minutes, but leave the system running for some time to get any air bubbles out of the system, before closing the side panel. Everything should be running smoothly by now. Below is how the system should look.
5. Test Configuration
In order to test the SwifTech Apex Ultra H20-220 water cooling system, we used the following system setup:
- CPU: Intel E6750 Retail
- Case: ThermalTake Soprano
- Motherboard: Asus Blitz Extreme Bios 0904
- Memory: 2x1GB SuperTalent DDR3-1600CL7
- PSU: Corsair HX620W, OCZ 720W
- HDD: WD 80JB
- Operating system Windows XP with all the latest updates installed
- Software: Intel Thermal Analysis Tool (TAT) & CoreTemp 0.95.4
- Thermal Paste: Arctic Cooling TX-2
- Idle time: ~30min
- Load time: ~30min
- Case fan rpm: 1250 rpm (full speed)
To to produce the most possible heat, we used Intel's Thermal Analysis Tool (TAT) that offers much higher heat, compared with Prime95 (3~4° C more). This has been mentioned at several online forums and it was also confirmed in our tests.
We left both cores running at full load for almost 30 minutes. All temperatures were logged with CoreTemp 0.95.4. On the Asus Blitz Extreme, we set the same voltages in order to have the same conditions for all coolers:
- PLL Voltage: 1.60V
- DDR3 Voltage: 1.90V
- Vcore: 1.3375V (normal)
- Vcore: 1.4500V (overclock)
We measured the produced noise from all CPU coolers with Precision Gold N09AQ Environment Meter. We decided to measure the noise with and without the two system 120mm fans (by Thermaltake) and of course the noise that the power supply produces. All measurements were made just outside the case, mostly on the side panel and at the front, so we had an overall picture of the produced noise. To better understand the overall performance, we also used the included adapters from 12V-7V and from 12V-5V and recorded the corresponding temperatures.
For all CPU coolers, we used the same thermal paste from Arctic Cooling TX-2. We tried to apply the same amount of thermal paste and in an identical way. All in all, we tried to provide exactly the same environmental conditions for all tested CPU coolers. It's possible, due to Vdroop (Vcore variations), to have 1~2° C differences in performance from system to system. Lastly, all tests were performed with the front panel closed, which should give the worst case in terms of internal air flow.
6. Test Results
After so many pages, it's time to take a look and see how the SwifTech Apex Ultra H20-220 water cooling package performed. For obvious reasons, we tested the Swiftech Apex Ultra H20-220 package under overclocking, since we don't assume a user will spend around $300 to have the CPU stuck at stock voltages. After pumping up the FSB to 450MHz and CPU voltage to 1.45V, we measured the following temperatures under idle mode. As you will see, we have a variety of conditions we thought would be interesting for you. First, we have the full speed mode, for the radiator and case fans. In this mode, the system produces the highest possible noise and probably the best performance. Then, we disabled the case fans to reduce noise, and after that, we used the included adapters to further drop the noise levels. But enough with the explanations, let's show some numbers.
The best air cooler we have tested in our labs comes from Titan, with the Amanda Tech model. Despite the fact that we had similar environmental temperatures, the Titan Amanda Tech performed better than the SwifTech Apex Ultra H20-220 water cooler. Now let's see how our water cooling product performed under full load.
The test results are very interesting. At full load, the Swiftech Apex Ultra H20-220 delivers 46.5° C for the Intel E6750 processor, while the Titan Amanda Tech around 53° C ! That's around 6.5° C less. Using the supplied 12V-7V adapter, we had a small increase in processor temperature, by 2° C. For the lowest possible noise level, the Swiftech Apex Ultra H20-220 produced somewhat worse than the Titan Amanda Tech, with 54° C.
Proceeding to the overall case noise, we have to say that the Swiftech Apex Ultra 220 is very noisy, especially at full speed, either from the radiator or the case. Don't forget that the radiator is attached to the case so all vibrations and noise pass through the case. Again, the sweet point is to use the 12V-7V adapter and have almost 5 dB less noise than the Titan Amanda Tech, and also much less noise from the radiator.
The Swiftech Apex Ultra H20-220 is an impressive water cooling product. While the retail package doesn't include any fancy boxing, all contents are of top quality and the test results proved that. So, what can you expect from the Swiftech Apex Ultra H20-220 package?
First of all, don't expect an easy installation, especially if you are an inexperienced user. While the package includes all required screws, adapters and instructions, the overall process does take a lot of time, especially to understand what must be connected to what and in which order. The printed instructions don't have enough pictures or diagrams to show this, and Swiftech could update their instructions to also reach the not so experienced user market.
Putting this to the side, we were happy to see that with the Swiftech Apex Ultra H20-220, we managed to get up to 6.5° C lower temperatures for the CPU and up to 7 db less noise in the case, at least compared with the best air cooler we have tested in our labs, the Titan Amanda Tech. The performance does depend on the environmental temperature, since the radiator is placed outside the box, so we can say it's safe to disable to case fans, especially if you place water cooling blocks on the graphics card and motherboard chipset. The Swiftech Apex Ultra H20-220 doesn't include these, but you can buy them separately and upgrade your system configuration.
Is there anything else to mention? Yes, the price. According to a quick look over the online shops, you can buy the package at a range of US$229.95 up to $259.95, depending on your region and VAT. The Titan Amanda Tech costs around half the price, at $110. So that leaves us with the question, is the Swiftech Apex Ultra H20-220 considered a good buy? We would say yes, if you plan to water cool your entire system. However, we don't believe spending double the money just to get a 6.5° C reduction in CPU temperature, is in itself worth it. However, that is purely our opinion...
Concluding, we have to say that the Swiftech Apex Ultra H20-220 is a good combination of quality components and retail package. Everything is included to get things started and after a little effort, your system would be water cooled. If you case is large enough to handle the big radiator, your will see a significant drop in processor temperatures, especially when overclocking. Overall a good product, aimed for hardcore overclockers and enthusiasts, but with a corresponding price tag.