Watercooling is a kind of hit-or-miss thing for us computer geeks. It's either something you look at as so awesome that you barely want to live without it, or you view it as just not worth the hassle.
However you look at it, there's one very sure thing – watercooling is tremendously effective at keeping your temperatures down. That is, if you build it right...and usually if you spend a lot of money...and the more you hook up, the more chance there is for a problem...and...and the list goes on.
Though many of us (myself included) wouldn't trade their watercooling setups for much at all in the computer world, there is a very large contingent of people who just see far too many "and..." statements. The risk, the cost, and the plain old pain are just too much. Couldn't there be something a little simpler?
It's this exact problem that the guys at CoolIT Systems have decided to tackle. If you were paying attention to our CES 2008 coverage, you may remember that name for some of the most memorable cooling products of the show – and all of them are self-contained setups that require nothing more to install than a screwdriver and some spare power connectors.
Today, we're going to look at the Freezone Elite, which is marketed at the person we described above – a true enthusiast that wants top-end cooling without the risk and hassle of a complex watercooling setup.
In the box
The first thing that I noticed when I received the Freezone Elite was the packaging – it's in a solid, attractively labelled box that I would quickly notice on a store shelf or the like. I find this noteworthy for two reasons: First, most "extreme" cooling products go for the white, unlabelled box approach; and second, I felt like the product was safe inside – no matter what UPS might have done to it.
Click to enlarge
Upon opening the box, I was greeted with a well-organised and indeed well-packaged setup containing the Freezone Unit itself, an MTEC control panel, a couple bags of various clips and screws, a rather mysterious cord bundle, and a bag with the setup manuals for both the unit and the MTEC control panel (which comes with a driver CD as well).
Cool...what is it?
The Freezone unit itself is rather big and heavy, weighing in at well over a kilogram. It is covered on one side (which should face out from the case) by a black aluminium shield, which glows with a bright blue CoolIT symbol (two arrows that illustrate heat exchange) when the unit is powered on. Though the description might seem a little tacky, it is actually rather nice and very professional looking.
At first glance, the shroud seems like a slightly cumbersome and incomplete after thought....but it isn't. Once the unit is installed, it covers most of the "goods" behind it quite well. Looking from the side of an open case, you'd be hard pressed to see much besides a shadow behind it, until the large and very thick 120mm fan on the back end. Despite being mostly concealed, the rest of the unit is equally attractive in its build quality – parts are all either black (with black screws) or blue with chrome accent, and hoses are all black neoprene with a black spiral wrap that adds to the feeling of top-notch quality.
The beauty of this main setup is actually a mixed blessing – it's almost an unfair standard for the rest of the unit. And indeed, the CPU block itself immediately leaves you with a feeling of "Oh...Ummm, did they forget to pretty that up?" It's a rather unfortunate cast top with a weird hold-down retention, a copper bottom (according to the guys at CoolIT - I initially mistook it as aluminum as it is chrome and not all that heavy), and that's it. It looks out of place when dangling from the two black neoprene hoses with their spiral wrap and small, attractive clamps.
All of the convoluted cords from the unit go directly to the MTEC Controller unit (included in the box), which could theoretically make cable routing into a dream come true. The MTEC unit itself is a simple little black box with a PCB inside, which connects to an internal USB header, a PCI-Express power connector, and up to two CoolIT chillers (for either two CPUs or a VGA unit, sold separately).
We'll discuss the whole installation process in a bit – for now, let's take a look at how the Freezone Elite does its thing.