Intel and EKWB have announced a new Peltier cooler based on Intel’s Cryo Cooling technology, which the company describes as “a unique combination of hardware, software, and firmware designed to help unleash elite performance for gamers and overclockers.” In this case, a Peltier/TEC cooler is combined with an EKWB waterblock to create what is known as a water chiller — a water cooler with a below-ambient temperature. The EK-QuantumX Delta combines the two technologies to achieve its low temperatures.
I actually reviewed a Peltier for our sister site PCMag some years back — the V3 Voltair. It’s interesting to see this type of design receiving notice, especially with a watercooler attached to it. A thermo-electric cooler uses an electrical charge to create a great heal of heat on one side of a cooler plate, and a corresponding area of low temperature on the other. Water chillers have been known in enthusiast circles for years — I knew someone who ran one in the mid-2000s — and combining a water cooler with a TEC is certainly one way to build a chiller. Here’s where they fit on the typical enthusiast cooling stack, organized approximately by strength, with the acknowledgment that there is sometimes overlap between the categories:
- Forced air + heatpipes
- Closed-loop liquid cooler (CLLC)
- Water cooler with external reservoir
- Water chiller
- Single-stage freon (typically a converted refrigerator compressor)
- Dry ice
- Liquid nitrogen
- Liquid helium
External reservoir water coolers, CLLCs, and forced-air coolers all run at hotter-than-ambient temperatures, while chillers and single-stage coolers are the two options that operate a CPU below ambient temperature while remaining at least somewhat accessible to enthusiasts. You can run a CPU on a chiller or a single-stage unit for a prolonged period of time, though you have to be careful in both cases to have a plan for how to deal with condensation. In single-stage freon cooling, you have to seal your motherboard with a combination of closed-cell foam and possibly mastic tape to prevent condensation build-up. Water chillers may or may not depend on similar methods depending on cold the water is. A water cooler can run ~0C if they use an antifreeze solution rather than tap water or distilled water, and many cooling loops that run at ambient incorporate some type of antifreeze anyway as a biocide.
EKWB isn’t guaranteeing operating temperatures, but the specs on the cooler imply it can take a chip that low. I owned a single-stage freon unit that could drop a chip to -50C at ~130W continuous power draw. This solution is designed for CPUs that draw considerably more power than the single-stage unit I once owned, and while the power consumption between a compressor and a cold plate is not directly comparable, external reservoir water-cooling is formidable in its own right. The only reason to build a kit like this is if you’re planning to push water as low as it can go.
Intel and EKWB are claiming they have a baked-solution to the condensation problem. Intel’s Cryo Controller software is said to continuously monitor ambient and water block temperatures and adjusts cooling power to eliminate condensation risk.
Maximum cooling power provided by the cooler is 338W, while the plate itself can draw a maximum of 200W. That puts it on the upper tier of cooling solutions, in terms of how much raw heat it can handle. According to EKWB, the waterblock cold plate is built with an insulating shroud designed to “impede condensation.” This impedance, combined with Intel’s Cryo Cooling control module, which sits on top of the waterblock as shown in the image above, is what protects the motherboard.
One really interesting question this waterblock raises is how much performance such solutions can unlock for regular users. Intel’s Core i9-10900K has been pushed to the limits of its process already, with its 5.3GHz core clock, and while it’s absolutely possible to push the chip higher using LN2, CPUs aren’t operated at these frequencies for any length of time, and they aren’t expected to survive for very long, either. There was a time when cryo-cooled CPUs were capable of delivering significant performance advantages, but those margins have shrunk as manufacturers got better at using remaining on-chip headroom themselves. This is a niche product launch, but if running near-freezing unlocks a significant amount of performance, this might be one of the better high-end solutions on the market — one that remains just within the realm of what an individual enthusiast can practically achieve, without requiring the hassle of screwing with mastic tape or other motherboard sealants.
The kit is expected to ship in December and can be preordered for $359.99. I’m not going to opine on whether it’s worth it to spend this kind of cash — enthusiast overclocking isn’t very cost-effective these days — but I would definitely want to know if EKWB expects this module to be compatible with future Intel platforms and CPUs, such as Alder Lake. The economics of such a cooler improve markedly if you know in advance you can count on it lasting multiple generations. Intel’s LGA1200 remains backward compatible with previous coolers, but Alder Lake is expected to usher in another socket change and the jump from LGA1200 to LGA1700 is a pretty significant one, in terms of total number of pins. This might mean a cooler form factor shift as well. It’s something to be aware of when planning this kind of purchase.
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