CORSAIR Hydro X Series Review: Streamlining Custom Liquid Cooling

Manufacturer: CORSAIR CORSAIR Hydro X Series Review: Streamlining Custom Liquid Cooling

CORSAIR’s Hydro X Series is a complete line of RGB-infused custom liquid cooling components including CPU and GPU blocks, radiators, pump/reservoir combo, tubing (hard or flexible), fittings, a controller for lighting and fans, and all of the needed accessories.

For the uninitiated a custom loop can be a daunting undertaking, though knowing exactly what you’ll need to get started is quite simple as CORSAIR provides an online Custom Cooling Configurator tool to make sure you pick the right parts.

Product Specifications

CPU Water Blocks (XC7 RGB, XC9 RGB)

  • Cold Plate Material: Nickel-Plated Copper
  • Fluid Chamber Material: Nylon
  • Port Thread: G1/4″ BSPP
  • Thermal Paste: Pre-applied thermal paste
  • Operating Temperature: 60°C coolant temperature
  • Lighting: RGB
  • Compatibility – Material: Only mix with other copper / brass products
  • iCUE Compatibility: CORSAIR Commander PRO / Lighting Node PRO
  • Cold Plate Fins:
    • XC7 RGB: 60+
    • XC9 RGB: 70+
  • CPU Socket Compatibility:
    • XC7 RGB: Intel 115x, AMD AM4
    • XC9 RGB: Intel LGA 2011/2066, AMD sTR4
  • Warranty: 3 years

GPU Water Block (XG7 RGB for RTX 2080 Ti FE)

  • Cold Plate Material: Nickel-Plated Copper
  • Fluid Chamber Material: PMMA
  • Port Thread: G1/4″ BSPP
  • Thermal Paste: Pre-applied thermal paste and pads
  • Operating Temperature: 60°C coolant temperature
  • Lighting: RGB
  • Compatibility – Material: Only mix with other copper / brass products
  • iCUE Compatibility: CORSAIR Commander PRO / Lighting Node PRO
  • Cold Plate Fins: 50+
  • GPU Compatibility: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti with reference layout
  • Warranty: 3 years

Pump / Reservoir Combo (XD5 RGB)

  • Pump Type: Xylem D5 PWM
  • Fluid Chamber Material: Nylon
  • Liquid Capacity: 330ml
  • Flow Rate: 800L/h at 2.1m pressure head
  • Speed: 4800RPM
  • PWM: 20-100%
  • Port Thread: G1/4″ BSPP
  • Operating Temperature: 60°C coolant temperatureLighting: RGB
  • Compatibility – Material: Only mix with other copper / brass products
  • iCUE Compatibility: CORSAIR Commander PRO / Lighting Node PRO
  • Voltage: 12V
  • Power draw: 30W
  • Cable Type: 4-pin Molex (AMP Mate-N-Lok) – 45cm cable length
  • Connectivity: 4-pin fan header (KK254) – 45cm cable length
  • Warranty: 3 years
Pricing
  • CORSAIR Hydro X Series XC7 RGB CPU Water Block (115X/AM4): $74.99
  • CORSAIR Hydro X Series XG7 RTX 20-Series GPU Water Block (2080 Ti FE): $149.99
  • CORSAIR Hydro X Series XD5 RGB Pump/Reservoir Combo: $154.99
  • CORSAIR Hydro X Series XR5 360mm Water Cooling Radiator: $69.99
  • CORSAIR iCUE Commander PRO Smart RGB Lighting and Fan Speed Controller: $74.99
  • CORSAIR ML120 PRO RGB LED 120MM PWM Fans (3 Pack w/ Lighting Node PRO): $129.99
Manufacturer Description
“The best PCs deserve the best cooling. CORSAIR has developed an entire family of products to bring the refined aesthetics and low temperatures of custom cooling to your PC – with all the measuring and testing done for you.”

Getting Started

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The full compliment of Hydro X Series components sent for our review

Confession time: I have never set up a custom loop. 20 years as a self-proclaimed “enthusiast” and zero water cooling experience?! Ok, maybe it’s not so odd, after all. There has always been a significant barrier to entry associated with custom cooling, not the least of which was knowing where to begin. Cost, of course, has always played a major role as well – and not knowing exactly what you’ll need can make it more expensive than it needs to be due to the inevitable trial-and-error involved.

When first introduced, “all-in-one” liquid CPU coolers brought down the complexity and expense associated with custom liquid cooling, though over time it has become clear that some of the larger air coolers can do just as well at cooling even an overclocked CPU if you have decent airflow. I’ve used my share of closed-loop coolers, but custom liquid cooling was something I had only admired from afar, though I assumed that it offered seemingly limitless potential for cooling performance – and of course performance far beyond closed-loop coolers.

Returning to the present, it was with a mixture of excitement and fear that I accepted the offer to review a new custom cooling product line from CORSAIR. The Hydro X Series certainly doesn’t look or feel like a first effort. The lineup is highly polished, and the experience of the team involved (former EK engineers, it turns out) is evident throughout. And it’s not just a series of nice looking parts with solid specs, as CORSAIR is trying to make this into more of an ecosystem wherein all of your needs can be met in once place, and it all starts with their online “configurator” tool.

It’s simply a matter of selecting the components you have – case, motherboard and processor, graphics card(s), and then choosing what level of cooling performance you’re after. You’ll be guided through the selection of fans for your radiator(s) – with quite a few difference choices ranging from budget-conscious to premium addressable RGB models.

One of the things I appreciated about the experience was the fact that if your chosen case already provides the right kind of fans for a custom loop (I selected the Crystal Series 680X), it will let you know, and won’t add them to your order. A nice touch.

Two common components for all configurations is the XD5 pump/reservoir combo and CORSAIR’s iCUE Commander PRO, the latter being a control module that serves as the hub for the whole system – and which allows for full software control of both performance and lighting.

Assembling the Loop

While installing radiators and fans is mostly a matter of finding a suitable home within your case, and even CPU block installation is about as straightforward as with any cooler, the GPU block install does require some potentially intimidating prep work. I made this my first task, carefully removing the stock cooler from an NVIDIA Founders Edition RTX 2080 Ti.

Once the stock cooler had been removed (and residue removed from components on the graphics card’s PCB) the next step was very easy: CORSAIR has pre-applied thermal paste and pads where they are needed on the GPU block, and once this block is in place – and the included backplate secured with the screws provided – you have yourself a custom GPU.

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While different versions of CORSAIR’s GPU blocks are available for an assortment of specific GPU models, there are just two CPU block; one for current AMD/Intel desktop systems (AM4 and LGA115x) and one for high-end AMD/Intel desktop (AMD sTR4 and LGA 2011/2066). Each CPU block provides the required mounting hardware for your CPU, and just as with the GPU block there is pre-applied TIM.

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The pump/reservoir combo unit and radiators are the next big part of the loop, and while CORSAIR only offers one pump/res for all configurations there are a number of radiators to choose from. The Hydro X Series XR5 has a 30 mm thickness and ranges from 120 mm all the way up to 420 mm, while the Hydro X Series XR7 is 54 mm thick and ranges from 240 – 480 mm.

For this first attempt I decided to go with an open test platform since everything would be accessible from all angles. Since the assembly is all done without any liquid there isn’t any danger of damaging anything as you go, and it is of course vital to ensure that everything is hand-tightened securely before adding any coolant.

Since this loop was made with flexible tubing I was using compression fittings to connect tubes to each block, radiator, and pump/res. These compression fittings include a barb and locking ring that compresses the tubing to create a secure seal.

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After all of the connections had been checked (and double-checked) it was time to fill the loop. This is actually quite easy as the pump will end up doing the work for you. It is vital that the only thing connected to the PSU at this point is the pump, To make this part of the process easier the pump/res includes a jumper adapter for your 24-pin PSU cable, allowing you to easily power up the pump (again, independently of the system) without resorting to the classic paper clip jumper trick.

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The process is as easy as pouring coolant into the reservoir and then powering up the pump long enough to push this liquid through the loop, repeating the process until the loop is full.

Completed Loop (for now…)

With this basic loop assembled and filled I left the pump running for a few hours, periodically checking for leaks. I needn’t have worried, as my system was bone dry throughout this test phase. Feeling confident in my progress to this point I connected the PSU to the system and watched as my system…successfully POSTed and booted to Windows. Success!

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Sure, this is a very simple loop made with flexible tubing, and yes you can see micro bubbles in the res that take some time to work out, but to me this still looks amazing. Even if custom cooling didn’t mean better performance an RGB-infused setup like this would still be the ultimate accessory to show off a build.

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And while I could spend the next month taking photos at various angles, there is that functional aspect of the Hydro X Series to consider. But before getting in to thermal performance we need to look at the controllers that make this loop come to life. At the heart of the system is CORSAIR’s Commander PRO module, which provides the interface between the loop and your PC.

The CORSAIR iCUE Commander PRO unlocks your custom cooling system’s full potential: control fan speed and RGB lighting, monitor coolant temperature, and fully automate fan and pump speeds based on your system’s performance.
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Controlling things with the Commander PRO is as simple as using CORSAIR’s iCUE software, with RGB lighting, fan speeds, etc. customizable in the usual way if you’re familiar with any of CORSAIR’s iCUE devices. And even if you aren’t this is dead simple to use.

Before customizing lighting you need to tell the software how you chained your Hydro X Series devices together. In my case it was pump/res -> GPU block -> CPU block on channel 1, with the ML RGB fans (and their hub) connected to channel 2. These can all be adjusted and synchronized, with some options even scrolling lights around in the direction you choose.

Performance control is even easier, with various presets available as well as the ability to create your own. Basically, the software control does a nice job of making the completed system as easy to use as – dare I say – a closed-loop cooler.

Cooling Performance

For my testing I used the “extreme” preset, which pushes things to 100% – though 1500 RPM from these fans is still not very noticeable. The pump is also very quiet, and the entire system went from nearly inaudible at the lower settings to barely noticable over ambient noise even at this highest setting. And the best part? No graphics card fan noise! Yes, regardless of how hard you push a GPU this system will only be as loud as your fans.

This build included an ASUS ROG Crosshair VIII Hero WiFi motherboard, AMD Ryzen 9 3900X processor, some very shiny G.Skill Royal memory from our AMD Ryzen reviewer’s kit, and a NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition graphics card. For a baseline I tested the system using my original build, with AMD’s Wraith Prism cooler installed on the 3900X. And no, this is by no means a comparison of a stock cooler to a custom loop (unless you want it to be…).

Before installing the Hydro X Series loop I recorded CPU load temps of 89C with the stock cooler on our 3900X, while GPU temps from the RTX 2080 Ti FE hit 74C (ambient temp ~26C for all testing). Re-testing after Hydro X Series installation resulted in CPU load temps of 74C and GPU loads of only 48C. I feel that the CPU numbers would drop even further if I added a second radiator to this loop and dedicated one each to the CPU and GPU.

Conclusion

The Hydro X Series might be new, but after going hands on for the last few days these components look and feel like they are part of a mature product line. The process of configuring your system online to find all of the parts you’ll need takes the guesswork out of the process if you’re new at custom cooling like me.

What about the competition? A major player is of course EKWB, and they also have an online configurator. I went through the process with EK, and while less polished than CORSAIR’s tool I was able to configure a loop…that would have offered significantly less RGB lighting (plain fans, no lighting from the GPU block, etc.) and still had a higher price tag.

Pricing, even if CORSAIR is very competitive with the Hydro X Series, will remain the biggest barrier to entry for a custom loop. Using a Crystal Series 680X as my chassis of choice (the eventual home of this custom loop) I arrived at a total of $616.90 using the configurator before making any changes. The 680X case already has fans to use with the loop (“your case contains CORSAIR fans suitable for a custom cooling system”), so starting completely from scratch will cost more.

There are different stages of cooling performance to choose from, and my build would be considered “Stage 1” since I was using just one radiator. Moving things up to Stage 2 with a second rad brought the total to $786.85. And ignoring my case’s LL RGB PWM fans and going all-out for the ML PRO RGB that I built my loop with took things up to $736.87 for Stage 1, and $906.82 for a Stage 2 build.

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$600+ takes this out of the running for budget gamers, but as a high-end option (which custom loops have always been) it is quite fairly priced. That EK loop I priced out would have been between $710 and $780 – and that was with minimal RGB lighting compared to the Hydro X Series. Still, those with the budget for a cooling system that costs as much as an RTX 2080 are a very small percentage of the market. I may find CORSAIR’s pricing to be fair compared to other options I’ve looked at, but I’m sure most people look at this as a luxury – and to be honest, so do I. But, like luxury sports car, this system looks amazing and offers outstanding performance. If you can afford it.

Bottom line: CORSAIR’s Hydro X Series offers high component quality, great performance, and more addressable RGB goodness than you can shake a stick at. The process is streamlined thanks to CORSAIR’s polished configuration tool, and assembling the loop and getting going is easy when you have all the right parts. No, custom cooling is still not for everyone, but if you’ve ever wanted to create a custom loop this is a much more accessible experience than you might think.

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About The Author

Sebastian Peak

Editor-in-Chief at PC Perspective. Writer of computer stuff, vintage PC nerd, and full-time dad. Still in search of the perfect smartphone. In his nonexistent spare time Sebastian's hobbies include hi-fi audio, guitars, and road bikes. Currently investigating time travel.

1 Comment

  1. BigTed

    Man, as a company I have to give Corsair credit. They’ve come a long way since their memory days.

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