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Review: Asetek's VapoChill XE-II

by Ryszard Sommefeldt on 9 February 2005, 00:00

Tags: Asetek

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I've reviewed Asetek's VapoChill three times now and each time I leave the experience thoroughly impressed. Impressed with how commercial phase-change has progressed since the early days, impressed with how easy they are to fit and very impressed with their cooling performance.

The VapoChill LightSpeed [AC] linked above is the most powerful commercial phase-change unit on the market today for cooling your PC's processor. Just the other night I used it to accelerate an Athlon FX-55 to well over 3.2GHz for a comparison to today's review sample. That's scary cooling prowess. There's a couple of things that stop the LS being truly popular, cost aside. The first is the need to modify your case to fit it and that it pretty much locks you in to using Lian-Li chassis. Secondly, it's a bit noisy.

Today's climate of hushed computing and the quest for silence precludes the powerful compressor and loud fans in the LS enclosure for being something you want to augment to your PC and run 24/7. I suffered the LS for a few months before giving up on it running all the time. I do miss running my old Socket 940 Athlon FX north of 3GHz, day in, day out. But I don't miss the whoosh of the fans and the buzz of the compressor. So now I use the LS for fun, such is a reviewer's privilege, but I long for usable 3GHz power again without the aural accompaniment.

Asetek do have other products in their sub-zero arsenal, though, which apply refrigeration properties to your PC without generating a whole heap of noise. Their XE product, something I reviewed over a year ago now, marries cooling performance to shame almost all others with fans that don't kick the ass of your ears.

The XE's combination of compressor and PFC refrigerant was enough for some 150W of cooling performance. Back when I looked it, twice infact, it took my XP3200+ to 2.8GHz (still impressive today) and the UK's only 3.2GHz Extreme Edition at the time to 4GHz with consumate ease. I was running 1066MHz bus with a 2MB Gallatin-2M processor over a year before Intel brought that to the table official, at 500MHz more than they give you today. That's the appeal of a VapoChill. You stay ahead of the curve.

Now VapoChills are expensive, there's no shying away from it. Its market is small, but the market is definitely there. I run a SuperPI league table on some online forums and the top 20 is dominated by people using phase-change. FX-55 and VapoChill LS takes some beating, huh? Mad props to Bulldog, using phase-change to extract a usable 5GHz from Pentium 4.

So with their last XE released nearly 18 months ago now and it not offering the performance Asetek's market are looking for these days, it's time for a revision. The XE-II is the obviously named successor to the XE and it seeks to marry a bit more cooling performance to the same XE chassis and those existing low-noise attributes.

I've been using the unit for over a month now - I'm never timely with reviews of cooling hardware! - and it has certainly left its mark. I've paired it with Prescott and Athlon FX to see just how it can handle against its bigger brother and I've paid close attention to the noise. Let's take a closer look to see if it was able to tempt me back into running phase-change 24/7.


What I won't do is cover how phase-change works in detail. I've covered it before and for the most part you don't really need to know it when running a VapoChill. It's designed to be as simple as installing and using a new air cooler. The basics of operation are easy to understand. You expand a compressed liquid PFC refrigerant at your cooling site (on your CPU) to cool the site and remove the CPU's heat, you pump the resulting gas round the system, compressing it again and exchanging the heat using a radiator, before pumping it back round to the cooling site.