Before we get into the installation of each cooler, we thought we'd give you a chance to view our "Unboxed" Video, which provides more detail on our testing platform of choice, and also highlights the dimensions and some of the unique features of each of our contenders.
To further assist readers who'd like to use any of the other coolers we tested, we're providing a installation notes for each model, and even a complete installation video for one model, the Cryorig H7 Quad Lumi, which we start off with here.
Cryorig H7 Quad Lumi
The H7 Quad Lumi weighed in at a very light 712 grams on our scale, and measured a 150mm tall (officially, it's 145mm, but we found it was a bit taller than that, obviously). Even so, that makes it the most compact tower in this roundup. It's important to keep in mind that the original Cryorig H7 won our previous 120mm cooler roundup, in part based on its incredible ease-of-use. Alas, it took us about 10 minutes to install this cooler, and another 5 minutes to get the RGB software up and running. We're guessing that the added RGB lighting at the bottom of the cooler required a redesign of the mounting bracket, and that unfortunately has added a number of steps to the installation process, steps that do not mesh well with the use of a custom motherboard backplate. In the end, we found this cooler quite "fiddly," practically requiring three hands at times.
And while it's the only cooler in this round up with any lighting, the implementation is a bit odd: the fan has a standard white LED, while the top logo has multiple RGB lights that enable some cool marquee effects. Most puzzling was the bottom-mounted RGB panel, which is probably intended to provide ambient RGB lighting, but in a packed gaming PC, gets lost in the shuffle. You really can't see it if you're running multiple other RGB sources, as we were in our Ryzen system. Also note that the H7 Quad Lumi requires the use of a third-party software suite, specifically NZXT's CAM software. NZXT is a competitor of Cryorig's, and while CAM is pretty cool, we just don't think this is a good long-term solution for Cryorig. It should really get on board with the industry standard 4-pin RGB connector that many new motherboards are equipped with. It's long past the time where proprietary RGB controller standard made any sense.
Arctic Liquid Freezer 33 eSports Edition
The Freezer 33 eSports Edition weighed in at 803 grams on our scale, and measured 154mm tall. It's based on the earlier Freezer i32, which we tested in our previous roundup, and it uses an identical mounting system. As far as we can tell, the Freezer 33 is in fact the same cooler as the Freezer i32, with two updates: the color scheme (which is awesome!), and the new Bionix fans, which are also awesome. The heatsink itself is the same from an engineering design perspective. This time, of course, we're on AM4 (our last roundup used Intel's socket 1151), and that changes things somewhat in terms of installation. You use the standard AMD backplate, which should come with any modern AMD motherboard. Unlike Intel, AMD does not include push-pin coolers with any of its CPUs, only more robust clamp-on coolers. That means the backplate is sure to fit (note that only the Cryorig above uses a custom backplate, and honestly, that's not a good thing in this case).
While the AMD backplate is a good start, everything else about the Freezer 33's installation is pretty mediocre. It forces you to hold the backplate on from behind while screwing in the mounting bracket at the same time, it comes with a tiny packet of MX-4 thermal grease, which is much harder to use than a tube, and the fans are just a pain to install. They come attached out of the box, but you actually have to take them off to mount the cooler, and the antiquated fan clips are fixed on the cooler, meaning that unlike every other model in this roundup, the fan position cannot be adjusted up or down to account for clearance issues. To make matters worse, they're really tricky to get locked properly into the fan mounting holes. Furthermore, while Arctic wisely included rubber bumpers to provide some distance between the fans and the heatsink to eliminate resonance, these bumpers came unglued immediately, falling into the box, the case, and on the floor as we worked with the cooler. Arctic really needs to find a better solution, and should probably consider a complete redesign of its fan clip system in its next cooler. Overall, it took us 14 minutes to mount this cooler, the longest in this roundup, and it was not all that pleasant an experience. And one last thing: Arctic has chosen to go with a digital-only manual (accessible by smartphone QR code), and we feel this will cause some concern among first-time builders who really need to have their manuals set out in front of them to feel at ease with the process.
The Noctua NH-L12S weighed in at an ultra-light 555g on our scale, and stood 70mm high according to our tape measure, just as Noctua's specs said it would. Right off the bat, you can probably tell that the NH-L12S from Noctua is a whole lot different from every other cooler in this roundup, and you may be wondering why it's even in this roundup. Well, there are a few reasons, actually. First, it does in fact have a 120mm fan, just like every other cooler in this test, plus it includes an AM4 bracket right in the box. It's Noctua's only cooler to include both Intel and AM4 brackets, actually, in part because this is in fact Noctua's first brand-new cooler since the Noctua NH-D15S, which we reviewed upon its release in August 2015. Given how much Noctua has contributed to the air cooling industry, we figured that the L12S might just be a wolf in sheep's clothing when it comes to performance per gram.
In keeping with Noctua's reputation, this cooler was very easy to install. It took us 10 minutes, and the hardest part was getting a screwdriver throught he fan blades and heatsink to affix the screws. You kind of have to go blind here, unlike with most of the tower coolers in this roundup, where you can have a direct line-of-sight to the mounting bracket while you're affixing it. On the plus side, you get a big tube of Noctua's famed NT-H1 thermal paste, which should be good for multiple installations, as well as a low-noise adapter, should you want to manually reduce voltage to the fan. The one issue we have with this cooler is that it has only 35mm of clearance underneath its custom-designed 15mm-thick fan, so high-profile RAM heatsinks are out of the question. It fully covered the first slot on our motherboard, and actually touched the tall RAM module mounted in the second slot of our test system. The truth is that if you're choosing this cooler, you probably have a compact PC, and you should therefore be running low-profile RAM to match, so we're not going to hold this against the L12S in this roundup. We can confirm that Corsair's excellent Vengeance LPX modules will indeed fit under this cooler, and since they are likely the best-selling kits in the world, so getting RAM that fits shouldn't be a problem for most people.
On the next page, we'll provide detail on the remaining four coolers in our roundup.