Watercooling, eh? What’s all that about? When it all started out the immense geeks at the heart of it probably never expected it’d take off in such a way as it has. Obviously it’s not replaced conventional computer cooling, or even gotten close, but, as is evident from the growing number of manufacturers and suppliers, it’s big. It’s main advantages (over conventional air cooling) remain the same as they have always been – reduced noise for equal or better cooling ability.
The evolution of waterblock design has been to eek as much cooling performance from systems as possible without introducing brute force methods like bigger radiators or faster, louder, cooling fans. A while back I took a look at the Alphacool NexXxoS Pro HP block which, back then, became a pretty popular arse kicker. Here we’ll have a look at a new block with a big ambition: to beat the HP and its peers.
The “Masterfreezer 1″ (or “M-I”, roman numberal fans) is probably not a block you’ve heard of. At first I found it hard enough to figure out who the thing’s made by, and I’ve GOT one. Manufacturer LICS (“Liquid Ice CubeS”) is based in Germany, as are so many of the mainstays in this particular industry, and don’t sell a lot of their waterblocks in England (yet). As with many of the German brands (we’re talking Alphacool, Aqua-Computer, Innovatek et al) a lot of their product range looks very similar to that of their competitors (see this for example). The Master Freezer doesn’t directly resemble any of the other blocks out at the moment however so I was rather interested to have a look at it.
Available in all the usual flavours (sktA, 478, 775, 754, 939, 940 and 603, 604 variants of the clip exist) the block is of a fairly traditional design. Full flow inlets and outlets, no silly spray nozzles here, force the maximum amount of water possible through parallel channels cut into the copper base. A tried and tested method, and leaving out the [gimmicky?] jet nozzles takes this particular block back to basics. The thin copper base, with the neatly cut grooves, is topped by a big brass lump into which the tapped holes for the barbs have been drilled. The block itself is a neat compact square, meaning clearance problems should be non-existant for most boards as the larger clamping assembly sits a good half inch away from the motherboard. The clip has holes cut to correspond with the mounting holes in the boards for all of the above cpu sockets – pretty clever stuff. A ZIF hold-down is also available. Let’s get going.
Dimensions: 50 x 50 mm top, 18 mm height
Weight: approx 540g
Connector threads: 1/8″ inlet and outlet
Compatibility: AMD Athlon Socket 462 (A), Intel Pentium 4 Socket 478, 775, AMD Athlon 64 / Opteron 754, 939, 940, Intel XEON Socket 603, 604
Material: Copper base, brass top
At 500-odd grams this M-I is a heavy beast even by heatsink standards. That’ll be the brass then. With the good strong hold-down and the small size of the block I wouldn’t worry about transportation issues as is often made a big-deal of with heavy traditional heatsinks.
The brass top is beautifully crafted and polished, almost as impressive as the super-shiny copper base which certainly wouldn’t require any lapping after purchase. A lovely smooth base means better contact with the cpu core which means better thermal conductivity. Manufacturers are increasingly machining the bases of heatsinks and blocks to amazing smoothness so the practice of DIY lapping is fairly obsolete now.
The hold-down mechanism takes the form of a machined metal plate and 4 long bolts – using the motherboard as support rather than the now-often ignored traditional socket clips. As mentioned above the plate has holes to mount on pretty much any type of recent motherboard you care to name. The plate stands off away from the block and only makes contact via 4 pins that are screwed down through the plate and push against the capscrew heads on the block. I’m not overly sure why this design was chosen… the plate fits flush against the block nicely and this would be totally sufficient… putting all the force through these four pressure points might result in a better seating on the core, but if any are unevenly tightened (which would seem very easy to do without any intent) then the pressure would be biased to one side or corner. And then again perhaps it’s purely aesthetic. Anyhow it works well, and the springs on the bolts allow for a good, tight, secure fit onto the cpu.
As allured to above, this is a simple one-in-one-out design block with a groove-cut copper base firmly sealed onto a thick brass lid. The groove design on the base is interesting, wavey lines and sharp diagonal turns are cut to create the turbulence in the water. It looks nice – not a clear sign of performance obviously, but it does instill some confidence. The two channels at either end of the grooves form small pools for the water to collect in and spread out (or reconverge at the out-end). The cuts are very accurate and clean. The depth of the milling is around about half the total depth of the block, meaning the water is very close to the heat source (the cpu die).
The base is 4mm deep, the lid 12mm without the raised section around the barbs and 15mm inclusive.
4 socket cap screws hold down the 4 corners, with a rubber o-ring to seal the water channels.
The in/out ports are 1/8″ standard threads and so can take the majority of barbs you might want, although anything more than 10mm (3/8″) internal tubing would be slightly daft – this block isn’t overly suitable for 1/2″ tubing systems as it could cause a bottleneck to the flow (unless you do some clever split loop with a graphics block).
The M-I looks fantastic in a setup – it really looks the business. But how does it perform? Well, compared to the NexXxoS HP Pro – a previous top ranker and a block I reviewed some time back – it fares pretty well, consistently performing around 5 degrees below when under load. I tested both blocks in my system, which consists of an XP 2500+ housed in a PC60 case (I prefer to test within a case rather than on a less real-world open testbed) with a single 120mm radiator cooled by a low speed fan. I took readings from MBM5 at startup, idle and prime95-loaded (1 hour of maximum heat output testing) at standard voltage and over-volted. The results are shown in the graph below.
Performance is good then, and all in the all the block impresses. The multi-purpose is a stroke of genius and the sheen on the block is a beautiful sight to behold.
Build quality and design are top notch, and the manufacturers attention to aesthetic detail is clearly apparent. The small bore ports and low volume internals make the block unsuitable to high flow (1/2″) systems but since I’m from the 10/8 stable that doesn’t bother me one bit. One thing I might mention is that I’d probably recommend the use of a shim if you’re of a faint heart… whilst installing the block for the first time I found it a little tricky to get the block into place whilst positioning the clip correctly. The second time I had no issues whatsoever but by then it was too late – I managed to chip the core of my Athlon but, luckily, it still works fine.
I’d say LICS have done a fine job with the M-I. It lives up to the strong reputation of fine German engineering. It also looks peachy in a windowed case (which, let’s face it, most people with watercooling are going to have). The price, at around €40 from com-tra in Germany, is pretty darn affordable too.
For anyone looking for a nice narrow bore water cooling system, who have a local stockist of LICS water cooling products, the M-I would be a great starting point. It’s got the rare combination of form and function.
Versatile mounting system
Small bore systems only
Mounting system can be a little fiddly at first