Corsair is one of the oldest and most reputable PC component manufacturers in the PC market. The company’s origins lie with memory-related products but, nearly two decades ago, the company slowly began diversifying into other segments of the market. While their initial attempts were reluctant, releasing but a couple of products each time, most of these attempts were highly successful and drove the company to grow massively into the entrepreneurial (and recently IPOed) giant that they are today.
These days, one of Corsair’s most successful product segments is that of all-in-one (AIO) liquid coolers – an ironic outcome considering that liquid coolers were the company’s first unsuccessful diversification attempt back in 2003. Corsair did not give up on liquid cooling though and several years later, when simple and maintenance-free AIO cooler designs appeared, Corsair successfully launched their own AIO coolers. Today, AIO coolers are one of Corsair’s most popular group of products, with the company retailing over a dozen different models at this point of time.
In this review we’re taking a look at our first cooler from Corsair’s new Elite Capellix series of AIO coolers, the H150i Elite Capellix. Like previous H150 AIO coolers, this is a 360mm (3x120mm) cooler, the largest that Corsair makes and ostensibly offering the best cooling performance thanks to its hefty radiator size. For cases that can fit the sizable cooler, the H150 series typically addresses both end of the performance spectrum, offering modest cooling at very low fan speeds (and thus noise levels), or top-tier cooling at more normal fan speeds.
For their new Elite Capellix generation of coolers, Corsair has given their product lineup another layer of polish. Along with incorporating the latest and greatest from Corsair in terms of MagLev fans and pump heads, Corsair has focused on making the Elite Capellix series “Smart” AIO coolers, adding an advanced Commander CORE module into the bundle. A combination fan and RGB lighting controller, the Commander CORE greatly enhances the programming flexibility of the cooler’s performance and lighting features, allowing it to control fans and lighting throughout an entire system.
We received the new H150i Elite Capellix in a long cardboard box, hinting the size of the cooler. Corsair is currently shipping most of their products in artistically similar black/yellow themed packaging and this cooler is no exception. A colorful picture of the H150i covers the relatively simple front of the packaging. Inside the box we found the cooler and its parts well protected by custom cardboard inserts.
As expected, Corsair includes all of the necessary mounting hardware into the box. The H150i Elite Capellix supports most of the current consumer CPU sockets, including sTR4/sTRX4 for AMD Threadripper CPUs, the mounting hardware for which are also included in the bundle. Corsair also includes an alternative main block cover for aesthetic purposes.
Corsair supplies a Commander CORE module alongside with the H150i Elite Capellix, which essentially is a version of the iCUE Commander Pro RGB controller that the company retails as a stand-alone product, simply tailored to control the RGB lighting of the liquid cooler instead. Nevertheless, it sports six fan power and RGB LED connectors, allowing users to install up to three additional compatible fans, enabling either push-pull configurations or the control of system fans.
The included three ML120 fans feature cutting edge magnetic levitation engines, with their specifications suggesting extraordinary longevity. Unlike all classic designs, these engines magnetically repel the fan’s rotor, greatly reducing friction. Lower friction should lead to significantly superior overall performance and longevity, as well as lower energy consumption, which explains the low current requirement for the rated speed of 2400 RPM. The fans have frosted blades and a black frame, with eight RGB LEDs each.
At first sight, Corsair’s latest liquid cooler looks deceptively simple. Its massive proportions certainly are inspiring but the simplistic appearance does not hint at how advanced this cooler is. At a high level, the design is based on the standard AIO configuration of a single radiator, two hoses, and a single block that combines the copper CPU contact plate with a mini liquid pump. Corsair went with thick-walled FEP (Fluorinated Ethylene Propylene) tubing with nylon sleeve braiding instead of the usual stiff corrugated tubing, which is more flexible and aesthetically superior.
The massive 400 mm long radiator requires a case designed to hold three 120 mm fans in the row, yet also with enough clearance to fit the extra mass of the radiator itself. It is 27 mm thick, requiring a clearance of 55 mm with the fans installed in order to fit inside a system. Size aside, the radiator is the typical dual-pass cross-flow design with tiny fins soldered on thin oblong tubes, as the vast majority of AIO cooler radiators are. Due to its thickness, the radiator’s airflow resistance is low and clearly designed to perform with very little air pressure.
The main block assembly of the H150i Elite Capellix initially appears unrefined – however, the octagonal body hides a record number of thirty-three fully programmable RGB LEDs and the top plate is removable, providing extra flexibility to users. Corsair includes two top plates in the bundle, one darker and one brighter, but the relatively simple shape of the top cover allows for very easy customization if someone has access to a 3D printer or CNC. The block is powered via the Commander CORE module and has a 3-pin motherboard connector that serves only as a tachometer for speed/health monitoring.
The octagonal copper contact plate is attached to the base of the block with eight screws. Although it is not machined to a perfect mirror finish, it is very smooth and perfectly flat, which is what matters for good thermal performance. Thermal material is pre-applied to it.
Once everything is properly connected and powered, the H150i Elite Capellix becomes a canvas full of colors. The LEDs are controlled by the Commander CORE interface and lighting effects are programmable via Corsair’s iCUE software. It is the presence of the Commander CORE module that makes the new H150i Elite Capellix so much more flexible than previous versions of the cooler – when combined with the now highly advanced iCUE software, the number of programming options are endless.
For example, users can stick with basic lighting effects that are purely aesthetic or program practical indicative lighting effects and/or reactions, such as temperature-dependent colors, alarms, and more. Additionally, the Commander CORE module paired with the iCUE software offers a complete synergy between all compatible Corsair devices, allowing inter-device manipulation and commands. For example, users could very well turn the Function row of a compatible keyboard into a lighting bar that indicates the RPM % of the cooler’s fans or change the cooler’s lighting colors based on which mouse profile is currently active.
Although the testing of a cooler appears to be a simple task, that could not be much further from the truth. Proper thermal testing cannot be performed with a cooler mounted on a single chip, for multiple reasons. Some of these reasons include the instability of the thermal load and the inability to fully control and or monitor it, as well as the inaccuracy of the chip-integrated sensors. It is also impossible to compare results taken on different chips, let alone entirely different systems, which is a great problem when testing computer coolers, as the hardware changes every several months. Finally, testing a cooler on a typical system prevents the tester from assessing the most vital characteristic of a cooler, its absolute thermal resistance.
The absolute thermal resistance defines the absolute performance of a heatsink by indicating the temperature rise per unit of power, in our case in degrees Celsius per Watt (°C/W). In layman’s terms, if the thermal resistance of a heatsink is known, the user can assess the highest possible temperature rise of a chip over ambient by simply multiplying the maximum thermal design power (TDP) rating of the chip with it. Extracting the absolute thermal resistance of a cooler however is no simple task, as the load has to be perfectly even, steady and variable, as the thermal resistance also varies depending on the magnitude of the thermal load. Therefore, even if it would be possible to assess the thermal resistance of a cooler while it is mounted on a working chip, it would not suffice, as a large change of the thermal load can yield much different results.
Appropriate thermal testing requires the creation of a proper testing station and the use of laboratory-grade equipment. Therefore, we created a thermal testing platform with a fully controllable thermal energy source that may be used to test any kind of cooler, regardless of its design and or compatibility. The thermal cartridge inside the core of our testing station can have its power adjusted between 60 W and 340 W, in 2 W increments (and it never throttles). Furthermore, monitoring and logging of the testing process via software minimizes the possibility of human errors during testing. A multifunction data acquisition module (DAQ) is responsible for the automatic or the manual control of the testing equipment, the acquisition of the ambient and the in-core temperatures via PT100 sensors, the logging of the test results and the mathematical extraction of performance figures.
Finally, as noise measurements are a bit tricky, their measurement is being performed manually. Fans can have significant variations in speed from their rated values, thus their actual speed during the thermal testing is being recorded via a laser tachometer. The fans (and pumps, when applicable) are being powered via an adjustable, fanless desktop DC power supply and noise measurements are being taken 1 meter away from the cooler, in a straight line ahead from its fan engine. At this point we should also note that the Decibel scale is logarithmic, which means that roughly every 3 dB(A) the sound pressure doubles. Therefore, the difference of sound pressure between 30 dB(A) and 60 dB(A) is not “twice as much” but nearly a thousand times greater. The table below should help you cross-reference our test results with real-life situations.
The noise floor of our recording equipment is 30.2-30.4 dB(A), which represents a medium-sized room without any active noise sources. All of our acoustic testing takes place during night hours, minimizing the possibility of external disruptions.
|35-38dB(A)||Very quiet (whisper-slight humming)|
|38-40dB(A)||Quiet (relatively comfortable – humming)|
|40-44dB(A)||Normal (humming noise, above comfortable for a large % of users)|
|44-47dB(A)*||Loud* (strong aerodynamic noise)|
|47-50dB(A)||Very loud (strong whining noise)|
|50-54dB(A)||Extremely loud (painfully distracting for the vast majority of users)|
|>54dB(A)||Intolerable for home/office use, special applications only.|
*noise levels above this are not suggested for daily use
As always, we’ll start things off by testing things at full speed/performance. Our maximum speed testing is performed with both the fans and the pump powered via a 12V DC source. This input voltage should have the pump and fans matching the speed ratings of the manufacturer. According to Corsair’s specifications, the MagLev fans included with the H150i Elite Capellix should have a rotational speed of 2400 RPM. Our tachometer indicated that the fans were rotating at an average speed of 2370 RPM, very close to their rated specifications.
|Core Temperature, Constant Thermal Load (Max Fan Speed)|
The Corsair H150i Elite Capellix seems to be getting the best thermal performance out of every similarly sized AIO cooler that we have tested to this date, outperforming NZXT’s X73 by a whisker. The performance seems to be fairly stable across most of the load range, offering predictable performance regarding of the load, with the exception of very low loads where the temperature difference is far too small for appropriate heat transfer between the mediums.
The average thermal resistance of 0.0704 °C/W is impressive but users need to keep in mind that this performance comes with the fans rotating at their maximum speed. With the powerful fans of the H150i Elite Capellix, this results to a sound pressure level of 43 dB(A), a relatively high figure for a CPU cooler.
Using a PWM voltage regulator, we reduced the speed of the fans manually down to half their rated speed. At this setting, the 120 mm MagLev fans of the H150i Elite Capellix rotate at 1220 RPM. Since the pump’s speed cannot be controlled directly, we had the Commander CORE module attached to a PC and set the pump to operate in its “Quiet” mode while testing.
|Core Temperature, Constant Thermal Load (Low Fan Speed)|
When it comes to thermal resistance, Corsair’s latest AIO cooler initially seems to be slightly outperforming all of the 360 mm coolers that we have tested to this date. The average thermal resistance of 0.0808 °C/W is almost identical to the figures we received from the recently released NZXT X73, with Corsair’s MagLev fans giving the H150i Elite Capellix a small advantage in terms of acoustics.
But if one looks at just the thermal performance charts, other implementations with significantly slower fans, including Corsair’s older H150i Pro RGB, initially seem to be performing slightly worse. A closer look reveals that the better thermal performance is due to the quick fans of the H150i Elite Capellix, resulting to significantly higher noise levels. Setting the fans to operate even slower is likely to neutralize any thermal performance advantage that the cooler has.
During our thermal resistance vs. sound pressure level test, we maintain a steady 100W thermal load and assess the overall performance of the coolers by taking multiple temperature and sound pressure level readings within the operating range of the stock cooling fans. The result is a graph that depicts the absolute thermal resistance of the cooler in comparison to the noise generated. For both the sound pressure level and absolute thermal resistance readings, lower figures are better.
This graph reveals interesting information regarding the overall performance of the H150i Elite Capellix. Although it does manage to get the best thermal performance out of every other similarly sized cooler, it can be seen that the older H150i Pro RGB actually outperforms it when taking the acoustics into account. This is because of the fast 2400 RPM fans that Corsair includes with the H150i Elite Capellix and our two-point testing methodology. Theoretically, the H150i Elite Capellix would perform identically or nearly identically with the H150i Pro RGB if both coolers were to share the same fans. It is also proof that the long and thin 360 mm radiator benefits very little from higher airflow, as its heat transfer surface is far too large to allow for significant temperature differences even if the airflow is low.
All-in-one CPU coolers first hit the market in force over a decade ago, which since then has allowed for more than enough time for developers to optimize their thermal performance, leaving little room for additional raw performance advancements. Nowadays, with many manufacturers retailing AIO cooler solutions, the market is pretty much saturated, a common outcome in the world of PC parts. Because of this, Corsair is always striving to maintain a competitive advantage by designing products with unique features, which is what made the release of the H150i Elite Capellix an anticipated move.
Where the H150i Elite Capellix has the lead over most of the competition is in terms of quality. Corsair ensured that their top AIO cooler is very well made, with excellent materials and a solid overall build quality. They also supply top-tier and fairly expensive MagLev cooling fans with the cooler, something that is often overlooked despite the fans being one of the most important parts of an AIO cooler.
The prime marketing feature of the H150i Elite Capellix is the included Commander CORE module and its compatibility with Corsair’s iCUE ecosystem. This opens up practically limitless user-programmable options, both aesthetic and practical. Except from the versatility that the iCUE software affords to the H150i Elite Capellix itself, it also enables greater control over other system fans and lights, allowing for system-wide lighting programming and sensory input. For example, it is easy to change the lighting of the cooler depending on which gaming profile is selected or for all compatible devices to share exactly the same lighting effect. The disadvantage of this feature is simple and obvious – this kind of total synergy only works with iCUE compatible devices, meaning that not even all of Corsair’s products are compatible with this feature.
However when it comes to performance, the H150i Elite Capellix barely any better than the H150i Pro RGB that the company released two years ago. We suspected as much from before we tested the cooler, as it is obvious that both coolers share the same radiator and tubing. The H150i Elite Capellix technically leads our thermal performance charts but the very powerful 2400 RPM fans are primarily responsible for this, which actually damage the cooler’s noise-to-performance ratio. Running the fans of the H150i Elite Capellix at the same speed as the fans of the H150i Pro RGB yields virtually the same performance, with but a tiny advantage for the H150i Elite Capellix – an advantage so small that can easily be a statistical error. Regardless, the quick fans provided with the H150i Elite Capellix offer greater versatility, as they can be programmed to stay quiet but also can be made loud if, for whatever reason, the user needs them to be.
Although the H150i Elite Capellix does not have a distinct performance advantage over the previous generation of cooler, its MSRP of $189 actually is reasonable and competitive. Despite the included Commander CORE, iCUE compatibility, and other minor upgrades, it’s the same MSRP as the older H150i Pro RGB, making for a pleasant surprise as it means Corsair hasn’t raised priced. In fact, it’s generally priced close to – or even lower than – most of its direct competition. So from a performance standpoint, although Corsair hasn’t managed to really move the needle on performance or pricing for their new cooler, the latest H150i is (still) just as competitive as the previous version.
Ultimately, this means that although we can’t recommend the H150i Elite Capellix as an upgrade over a previous-generation cooler, Corsair continues to deliver a solid AIO cooler as far as new builds are concerned. The small quality of life improvements that come with newest H150i will help ensure that Corsair keep its advantage with unique features, all the while offering a better value to users that are considering a large AIO cooler today.