Cooler Master Aquagate
Innovation has been part of Cooler Master’s long history in the PC industry. We’ve seen this company come up with very innovative and cool products day after day. So when they decided to delve into the art of watercooling, something as you know is very close to our hearts, I must say we were very excited to get hold of the product.
As watercooling is fast becoming mainstream nowadays, I guess Cooler Master doesn’t want to be left out in the race. A lot of companies have already come up with their watercooling offering, so why not them? For it to make a difference, they have to come up with something that is new and unique.
Today we will be taking a look at Cooler Master’s very first foray in the world of watercooling. With a very promising offering, expectations are high in terms of performance, functionality and of course the cool factor. Introducing, Cooler Master’s Aquagate Liquid Cooling System.
Cooler Master Aquagate ALC-U01
As expected, companies like Cooler Master manufacture products that are catered to the mainstream but would still appeal to the enthusiast market. Their products are created so that even the average joe can figure out how to work it properly. They are also designed in a way that most enthusiasts would find it hard to resist buying their products. And with such extensive experience in PC cooling solutions, Cooler Master promises to deliver a watercooling thermal solution that would fit our requirements.
Cooler Master describes the Aquagate Liquid Cooling system as a revolutionary form of heat management for desktop computing platforms. It relies on a special liquid coolant to draw heat away from the CPU in order to keep it as cool as possible. It is designed to be extremely flexible, allowing you to install on an Intel Pentium 4, AMD K7 (Duron, Athlon, AthlonMP, AthlonXP), or AMD K8 (Opteron, Athlon64), the three most popular processors on the market today. Enclosed in a durable aluminum case, the Aquagate Liquid Cooling System can be installed either inside your computer in a pair of spare drive bays, or outside it in the event your computer chassis is already too crowded to accommodate it.
Cooler Master Aquagate Packaging
The Aquagate Liquid Cooling system comes packaged in a large carry box. A well designed packaging was used to assure that the Aquagate would be safely delivered to the hands of its owners. The carry box complete with handle has all the simple and clear specifications, details and pictures that will allow you to know all about the Aquagate at a glance. Inside this box, you’ll find another two boxes. One houses the Aquagate Liquid Cooling Unit (LCU), the LCD Mounting Bracket together with the substitute block and the Thermal Conductivity Fluid while the other box houses all the other accessories needed to get the unit up and running.
Manuals and Documentation
Inside the box, you will find a well written comprehensive installation manual to guide you through the setting up process. The manual is easy to understand and explains in detail, complete with pictures, the step by step procedure for incorporating the Aquagate into your system. Everything you need to know regarding its installation and use can be found here. Note that this manual is available in 8 different languages. Always check for a newer updated version of the manual/ installation guide here. Aside from the Liquid Cooling Unit (LCU), the Cooler Master Aquagate comes with different accessories to complete the actual setup. In the accessories box you will find a bunch of various parts.
The Aquagate was designed to be versatile, compact and highly efficient. It can be installed internally or externally. This is the only watercooling unit that can do such a thing. You can place on top of your PC, through the 5 ¼ drive bays or via a 2nd PSU mount. Because it is chassis independent, it can be used to suit almost any computer irregardless of the case’s size. The actual unit is very light, about 2 kg, and is housed in an aluminum case that adds to its overall appeal. Especially nice if you own a silver case.
Opening the Aquagate’s chassis, we can see that everything is laid out properly. All components are mounted securely to the chassis. No twisted cables, wires or tubings inside. As you would expect from a company like Cooler Master. Despite the compact size of the unit, there is still adequate airflow for the radiator to breathe.
The front panel is where all controls are located. It can be divided into 2 parts. To the left is the LCD panel and to the right is a mesh screening an adjustable 80mm fan that cools the radiator inside. The LCD panel is where all the information and temperature readings can be monitored. It also has the control buttons for adjusting the fan speed. Note that this LCD panel is also removable. In the vent that you choose to install the Aquagate unit in the 2nd PSU mount inside your case, you can remove the panel and mate it to the included 5.25″ bay mounting bracket.
The waterblock is the core of any watercooling system. Aquagate’s uniquely designed waterblock is compatible with almost all types of processor including AMD K7, K8, Intel 478 and other various specifications. Note that the latest Intel LGA775 is not supported. However, I am sure that future models of Aquagate will include retaining mechanisms for use on such CPUs.
The block itself is made of copper and acrylic. The acrylic top does a good job of making the block look very nice aesthetics wise. Here you can find the 3/8″ outlet and inlet fittings. It uses a screw on type fitting that makes it super easy to attach and remove the tubings. Inside, this block has a finned area in the center that enables efficient heat transfer to the liquid flowing through it. The base is about 71mm x 50mm x 4mm thick. The base feels flat, smooth and free of any machining marks. It also has a mirror finish.
The heater core style radiator is rather small but is probably the biggest you can fit in the Aquagate anyway. It is made up of aluminum and measures about 80mm high x 118mm wide. It is cooled by an 80x80x25 mm fan that is rated up to 4600rpm. As the fan is speed adjustable, you can set the fan to run into 3 settings. Speed 1 is set at 2000rpm (23dBA), Speed 2 at 3100rpm (34 dBA) and Speed 3 at 4600rpm (46dBA). As to the amount of air (CFM) it delivers at various settings, there is no mention anywhere in the spec sheet or manual of what it is. Both radiator and fan is situated on the front part of the unit.
The Aquagate uses a small 220v centrifugal pump. It is directly attached to the aluminum reservoir via a thicker ½” diameter tubing. It then pushes water out via a smaller 3/8” tubing. An aluminum reservoir is fitted as part of the radiator. A sensor is fitted inside one of the reservoir’s ports to alert the user if the fluid level is low and therefore signal you to add more into the reservoir’s fill port. Another sensor measures the actual temperature of the fluid inside. The information on each sensor is then fed into the unit’s monitoring system and displayed on the Front LCD panel.
The relay card is the brain of the Aquagate Liquid Cooling Unit. The PC card plugs through one of any available PCI slots. Note that it doesn’t really use the PCI slot but just the mounting purposes. It controls all the monitoring and alarm function built into the unit. A 15 pin D-sub control cable connects this card to the back of the Aquagate unit. The cable can be connected either outside or inside the case depending on the type of the installation you have.
This card controls the start-up and shutdown of the Aquagate unit via a supplied power control patch cable. A supplied 110v/220v piggy back cord connects to the PSu at the back so when the PC powers up and shuts down, the Aquagate does the same as well. The temp probe is attached to this relay card as well so that when the block temp goes over your set maximum limit, the unit will turn the entire PC and the Aquagate off. The relay card also has headers for the LCD extension cable necessary when doing an internal PSU mount installation. It is also here that you thread the tubing from the block to the unit as in the case of an external installation.
The Removable LCD Bay Cover and Secondary PSU Mount
In internal installation where the Aquagate is mounted in a secondary PSU mount, this piece of accessory lets you mount the LCD in a free 5 1/4 drive bay. You can remove the LCD from the Aquagate, replace it with a substitute block, and have the LCD mounted in one of the drive bays using the supplied LCD Mounting bracket. How’s that for versatility?
Cooler Master Aquagate Compatibility
Because the Aquagate uses a universal block design, it is compatible with any Intel P4 socket 478 system or any AMD K7/K8 system. I heard that Cooler Master will soon make available retention brackets for the new LGA775 processor as an upgrade for current user and as a standard for future users. But as of writing, I have no confirmation whatsoever so treat it as speculation.
There is no warranty card or any mention of warranty issues anywhere on the unit or in the manual/ installation guide. So I presume that it comes with standard Cooler Master warranty. However without a written definition of what the warranty covers, it is quite hard to ascertain if a claim can be considered within the terms of the warranty. We strongly recommend that a warranty card detailing the coverage included in the manual or documentation. Especially for something like a liquid cooling system on a PC system.
Cooler Master Aquagate Installation
The installation process is very easy no matter what type of installation you decide to use. Of course among the 3 types, the external installation is the easiest as you don’t have to fit the unit inside the case anymore. The internal option is not so bad either since it’s as easy as installing a CD/DVD ROM into one of the drive bays. The Secondary PSU Mounting option is perhaps the longest and hardest among the 3 in terms of installation time as you still need to install the PSU mount, remove the LCD and mount it on the 5 ¼ drive bay.
The only drawback for those using an Intel P4 or AMD K8 setup, is that you will need to remove the board to install one of the supplied backplates that supports the waterblock. This is no hassle if you are building a new system or using a K7 system, but if not, then the extra time removing the motherboard and everything else might be a big turn off to some. However, if you don’t mind removing the board in exchange for a better and quieter cooling system then this is a non issue.
Setting up the LCD Control Panel was also a breeze. The only gripe I have is having to adjust the alarm threshold settings in increments of 0.1°C. It would have been better if they made it in increments of 1°C or at least 0.5°C. It will save the user heaps of time pressing the buttons. Aside from that, everything was straightforward with reagrds to this.
I am very impressed with the installation manual as it is very detailed and isn’t hard to follow. The pictures clearly illustrate the step by step installation of the unit into your system and the configuration of the front LCD panel. If you just follow the manual, you won’t go wrong in getting the Aquagate up and running.
Testing and Results
The results show that even at its lowest fan setting, the Aquagate can still deliver very good cooling. Its performance at that setting is at par with the entry level watercooling kit we used in the test which is not too shabby. When compared to another excellent all in one unit like the Corsair Hydrocool200, the Aquagate at medium and high settings manage to deliver similar performance. An aircooler like the stock Intel HSF just couldn’t keep up with any of the watercooler in our test.
Noise is one of the most important deciding factor most think about when going to watercooling. Performance is of course another thing but a lot probably want a bit of both when choosing the right liquid cooling system. Cooler Master knows that and with the Aquagate they gave the control to the user by having an adjustable fan speed option. With this feature, you can set the Aquagate to a certain noise/performance ratio that would suit your needs.
We didn’t use any sound measuring equipment to test how much noise the Aquagate unit makes at different fan settings but we can tell you that at Speed 1 (low), the unit is very quiet. It is unnoticeable really on top of the case fans in my rig. Speed 2 (medium) is slightly a bit noisier. At this speed, you can now notice the Aquagate running on top of your case fans. A slight whine can be heard as well. But at this level, the noise is very bearable considering you get a decent cooling performance increase when running at this speed. Finally, at Speed 3 (high), the Aquagate suddenly becomes very noisy. You can hear the loud whining reminiscent of the Delta fans. Definitely not for those who want a quiet system. However, running at this speed certainly has a huge gain performance-wise. So if you can live with the noise, then this setting will give you the best cooling performance out of the Aquagate.
Safety Alarm and Emergency Shutdown Feature
As I’ve said so many times, every watercooling system should have a safety alarm and emergency shutdown feature. This I think is vital in ensuring that the use of such cooling systems will always be safe. It should be a standard feature fitted to all watercooling kits. Luckily, the Aquagate is equipped with such features.
When cpu and coolant temps exceed your set maximum temperature limit, the relay card will shut down the Aquagate together with the entire PC. Whether the cause of the increased temperature is due to a fan or pump failure, it doesn’t matter as the emergency shutdown is triggered by the temperature going over the set limits. This is a hardware shutdown so it is independent of the operating system or any other software. With this feature you’ll have the peace of mind needed when mixing water with your electronics. The unit also alerts you if the reservoir needs topping up by sounding an alarm when the level goes below the accepted norms. Therefore there is no need of checking the reservoir for its level everytime.
The Cooler Master Aquagate Liquid Cooling System is indeed one of the most innovative watercooling unit at the moment. There is no other all-in-one watercooling unit like it in terms of versatility, flexibility and looks. Its ease of installation will be a main attraction to those thinking of watercooling but just couldn’t be bothered with DIY kits. No matter what type of case you have, the Aquagate will always have a place in your system, internally or externally.
In terms of performance, the Aquagate showed very good performance without compromising overall noise. The adjustable fan feature will give the user total control over the performance and noise the unit delivers. So if you want more out of your Aquagate, it is doable with just a push of a button. Note that in any fan setting, we were able to take our 2.4GHz processor to overlock to its limit of 3.38GHz. That almost a GHz overclock.
Aesthetics wise, well, what else can I say but it is a very well designed and great looking unit especially for those who have an aluminum or silver case. It would have been nice though if there was a “black” version as well to cater to those with black cases. In terms of features, the Aquagate has all you ever wanted in a watercooling system. It’s got safety and alarm features that is fool proof and can easily be adjusted to your preferences. You get a fancy LCD readout that tells you everything that’s happening in your watercooling system in real-time.
Pricewise, the Cooler Master Aquagate currently retails at US$195. At this price, it is certainly cheaper than most high performance watercooling kits. Does it perform like one? Of course not, but the Aquagate wasn’t made to compete with these kits anyway. It was designed to make watercooling easy to install, flexible and highly compatible to almost all types of system. It was also made to provide very good cooling performance without compromising noise. All of which it accomplished with flying colors. Best of all it looks sexy too.