Friday 22 May 2009

Zalman Reserator 2 (review ?)

Well, seems I can't keep my own schedules, but still it's time to start on the promised reviews.
The Zalman Reserator post will be in two parts, first about the product and then about all the issues I've been having with it. Yes, you've read this correctly - even Zalman sometimes makes mistakes. Having used their products for some years now, I thought that nearly impossible, but this particular product has quite a few shortcomings I will describe in the second article (hopefully also done today). For now I will focus on the good side since after all the modifications I made this product now does what it was intended to do, I just had to work a bit for it:

I've bought Zalman Reserator 2 last July. You see, I have my computer set up in a corner of my living room with the box under the desk and the rest of stuff on it. Since I like to squeeze every ounce of power from my computers, naturally that also means I have a 150W oven under my desk. So, off to the first online store I went and ordered me a nice watercooling setup. The general idea was of course to move the heat source from under my desk to above it.

Just a few days later, the postman rang with a nice little package:

Well, OK, not so little. The box itself was actually quite big :)

Trembling with excitement, I went ahead and opened it:
First thing inside was the radiator / reservoir unit itself. I must admit, I didn't expect to see such quality of workmanship. All corners are nicely rounded, so there's no chance of you cutting yourself. The transitions between various parts are smooth and any screws holding the whole thing together blend superbly into the design of the unit.
The paint finish is superb with silver and matte black adding a high quality touch to the overall unit impression.
Here's a snapshot the other parts in the package although I'm sure you've seen all of this in all the proper reviews around on the net. There's two stands, an expansion slot tube bracket, the CPU and VGA cooling blocks, a degassing tube, 4 meters of tubing and a flask of coolant liquid. Naturally, a manual too.
Following instructions in the manual, I could have the unit assembled in a few minutes, but I decided to enjoy the process and took a good hour to assemble the basic CPU loop, turning and marvelling at every component in the process. This was after all my most expensive needless computer component bought to date.

The degassing process didn't go as well as I expected. I spent a good half hour before I couldn't hear any bubbles any more. Today, almost a year later I know exactly what to do to degass the unit, but back then I was obviously too much of a n00b. In case you're wondering: you have to tilt the unit clockwize (observed from the front) until you hear the bubbles. Then tilt it some more and just wait until the bubbling stops. The entire procedure can be completed in a couple of minutes with a maximum of one reset necessary. My original problem was that I was tilting and shaking the unit to both sides, as was described in the manual...
Having degassed the unit, I plugged it into the simple CPU loop I made and let it run overnight to check for leaks. Naturally, there were no leaks whatsoever so I finished up and closed the computer. Here's how the original loop looked like inside my Antec P182 case:

The VGA block was of course useless for my 8800GTS so I immediately went online and ordered the appropriate block for that as well. What would be the point of buying a component to move the heat when I wouldn't even apply it to the hottest component in the computer?

A few days later I received a small box with my 8800GTS cooler:
Again, a high quality looking component, nicely presented in two brushed alluminum shades. Attached were instructions and all the required parts to assemble the beast onto my gfx card.

Having had to buy a new VGA cooler, I was left with the original block which now suddenly got the appeal of becoming a nice chipset block, even though it originally wasn't designed for that function. Oh well, if the designers only knew what folks do with the stuff they worked so hard to design }:-))

So, here's the snapshot of the final, three-block loop i assembled. The order of components is CPU - Chipset - VGA. I figured the temperature delta is the largest on the CPU so it seemed to be the best candidate for the cold water. VGA on the other hand can take temperatures higher than CPU so it doesn't matter it the water pouring into its water block is already at 70 degrees centigrade.... :D OK, OK, I admit, the order was suggested by gurus on the numerous forums I read before even going for the setup.
I did have to clip one of the mount holes on the "chipset" block in order to be able to fit it next to the CPU socket, but otherwise the installation went easy. You will also notice that I removed the heat sink from the power regulation modules on my Asus P5K-E WiFi. I figured since the top row didn't have any, the back ones also don't need it. For this reason I didn't want to cut the NB / modules heatpipe in case I'd ever need to go back to air cooling. Until today, almost a year later, there have been no adverse effects due to this decision although I must admit that initially I feared it a bit.

After completing the modifications, I went ahead and started testing the whole system. I must say I'm very impressed with the results:
The cpu (E8400 @ 3,44GHz) went from 40 / 65 (idle / load) to 40 / 55 degrees centigrade.
I never had any numbers for the NB, so I cant give any, but it works, so I guess it's cooled sufficiently.
The VGA, however, was the biggest jump: Initially it was 55 / 80 degrees. Now it's 50 / 55. No matter how much I work it out, the temperature difference won't go higher than that. And I'm running it overclocked to the max 650 (core) / 2000 (RAM).

You probably noticed the relatively high idle temperatures. Well, I can also explain that: I'm running this computer 24/7 and at this moment the room temperature is 29 degrees centigrade. Yes, we're having quite a hot week here in Slovenia and no, I have no air conditioning installed.

What I did notice was that the Reserator unit manages to cool all three components and even with the computer constantly running, the water will go no higher than 10 degrees above ambient, the CPU will have water temperature at idle and max +15 degrees when running prime over night. The graphics card always has water temperature +10 - 15 degrees, depending on load.

I even managed to push my E8400 to 4.6GHz, but that required some insane voltage - if I remember correctly, I had to use 1.65V or something like that. And it also got to 65 degrees after a good night of prime so that was a bit too high for my personal taste.
Now I just have it overclocked to 3.44GHz which is the highest it will go with the lowest voltage the MB suports (1.1V). In case you're wondering, my particular CPU overclocks a bit strangely - if I want to go even to 1.85GHz, I already need 1.35V so I just figured a measly 12% increase in performance isn't worth it.

Obviously, now I have the heat all placed above the desk with practically none of it coming from the box below. Which was my initial purpose for this little beast. And it worked :)
Also this setup is practically completely silent. The pump in the Reserator unit is practically inaudible and I only have two very low RPM fans left in the case to cool the other components. I guess the only quiter PC I ever had was my first 286 AT which had no hard drive and no fans. And even it lost the quietest status the moment I installed my first second-hand 10MB IBM double height MFM disk :)

Overall, an excellent product, unfortunately removed from market due to its many shortcomings. See the next post, I'm guessing I had to solve pretty much all of them to make the unit work properly.

Another snapshot of it installed in my corner of zen and peace :) :