Fractal Design Kelvin T12 CPU Cooler Review
Here we have something a little different from a company that are probably more well known for their cool and quiet cases like the Arc and Define series, Fractal Design. They do of course produce other cases, as well as an extensive range of power supplies and fans, but up until now, no CPU Coolers of any kind. So it was with quite some surprise when Fractal announced a range of AIO (All-In-One) water cooling systems at last years CES. What was even more of a surprise was when they also announced the new Kelvin series were to be expandable! The new Fractal range is currently available in three flavours, the big Kelvin S36 which features a 360mm radiator, the S24 which uses a 240mm radiator, then we have the smaller Fractal Design Kelvin T12 featuring a 120mm radiator which we are reviewing today.
So what really sets the Kelvin series apart from the rest of the AIO crowd? Well as mentioned already, the new Fractal AIO’s are all expandable. So straight out of the box you have a CPU Cooler, radiator and fans, then if you choose to do so at a later date, you can add extra radiators and perhaps more importantly Graphics Card waterblocks! Sounds ideal eh? Well if that isn’t enough the Fractal have chosen to use the ever popular G1/4″ fittings to widen the selection of compatible components.
We best take a closer look!
The Fractal Design Kelvin T12 arrived at pcG within a box that immediately reminded me of the Logitech G Series, using a satin black background and bright blue highlighting around the model name and Fractal Design logo and web address. In the top left corner we have the company name and a large image of the T12 placed in the centre, beneath which are three descriptive words on the AIO Cooler hidden inside; ‘Powerful. Quiet. Expandable.’
Over on the back and following a similar stlying, we have a brief description of the Kelvin T12, an image of the 120mm radiator, as well as one of the Alphacool DC-LT based waterblock, pump and reservoir combination.
On the left we have an exploded technical diagram of the pump unit, giving us information on each of the components within as follows:
- Piano black top cover – Metal sheet providing a stylish, mirror-like surface finish.
- Alphacool DC-LT ceramic bearing pump – A powerful, time-proven and highly reliable pump, which supports considerable expansion.
- Vibration and noise insulation – For reduced noise, the pump is both covered by a dense insulation sheet and surrounded by custom-molded silicone.
- Standard G1/4″ fittings – Built largely with traditional stand-alone water cooling components, this system is the perfect base for a more extensive water cooling setup.
- Custom jetplate – Specifically developed for optimizing the performance together with the integrated pump.
- Solid copper baseplate – Pure copper base with CNC-milled micropins for optimal heat conduction
While over on the right we have two technical drawings of the 120mm radiator and giving us its dimensions. Beneath which lies a list of the box contents.
Lifting the box lid shows us the Fractal Design Kelvin T12 to be well packaged and safely wedged within a moulded cardboard tray, whilst the AIO, fans, fittings and user guide are also individually bagged.
courtesy of Fractal Design
Fantastic cooling performance.
- The strong pump and the full-copper construction places the Kelvin Series water cooling system ahead of the pack in cooling performance.
Expandable system. Just open it up to get the full benefits of custom water cooling, with the ability to add any components you want to the loop, such as a graphics card cooler.
- High pressure pump allows strong water flow rates even when an additional CPU or GPU water block or an additional radiator has been added to the loop.
- All parts have fully standard G 1/4″ thread fittings for compatibility with the vast majority of enthusiast water cooling products.
- The tubes are fastened with two-part brass fittings, providing a secure seal while being easy to open and re-seal with a standard wrench.
- Easy refilling with dedicated fill port
Made with enthusiast-grade components developed in cooperation with Alphacool.
- Highly reliable ceramic bearing pump, with custom tuned maximum RPM for the optimal balance between performance and noise level
- made with a revolutionary copper/nylon radiators
- Full copper CPU Water block design featuring strategic jet plate improvements
Long lifetime. The performance of most pre-filled water cooling systems degrade quite significantly over time, because of galvanic corrosion and water loss.
- Galvanic corrosion occurs over time when two metals with different galvanic potential (such as aluminium and copper) are in contact. It can be slowed with anti-corrosion additives in the water, but the best way to maintain performance over time is to use metals with similar galvanic potential. The Kelvin Series water cooling system is constructed with pure copper in both the radiator and the water block, along with brass fittings.
- To avoid the common issue of most pre-filled water cooling units (that tend to lose performance over time due to water loss in the tubes), Fractal Design equipped the Kelvin series with a fill dedicated port.
- Block/pump assembly measurements: 69*69*40 mm
- Tubing Measurements: 320mm long, 11mm outer and 8mm inner diameter
- Fitted with anti-kink coils for worry-free installation
- Kelvin T12 Radiator Measurements: 46*132*163 mm
- Thread class for fill port and all tube fittings: G 1/4″
- Supported sockets: Intel: 775,1150,1155,1156,1366,2011; AMD: AM2,AM2+,AM3,AM3+,FM1,FM2,FM2+
- Fans included: 2 pcs
- Fractal Design Zero™ Thermal Paste ; 1 g syringe, sufficient for multiple mountings
- Colours Available: Black
- Net weight – Base unit only, not including mounting or fans: 1.1 kg
- Net weight – SS-HP fan, per fan: 165 g
- Net weight – Total excluding packaging and manual. Includes fans, mounting kit for all platforms, cooling paste (including packaging for the cooling paste) and adapter cable: 1.7 kg
- Package dimensions – W x H x D: 350*250*151 mm
- Package weight: 2.4 kg
- Fractal Design Silent Series HP 120 mm
- 800 – 1700 RPM
- PWM control
- Max air flow: 62.4 CFM
- Max pressure: 2.33 mm H2O
- Acoustical noise: 26.9 dB(A)
- DC 12V, 0.18A
- Ceramic bearing
- 2400 RPM
- Voltage control
- Maximum water flow: 72 l/h
- Maximum pressure: 1.0 m H2O
- Acoustical noise: 25.0 dB(A)
- DC 12V, 0.27A
- Fractal Design Kelvin T12 pre-assembled Water Cooling Unit
- 2 Fractal Design Silent Series HP PWM controlled fans
- Intel 775,1150,1155,1156,1366 mounting hardware (including back plate)
- Intel 2011 mounting hardware
- AMD AM2,AM2+,AM3,AM3+,FM1,FM2,FM2+ mounting hardware
- PWM splitter cable
- Fractal Design Zero™ Thermal Paste, 1g Syringe
- Long and short radiator mounting screws
- User manual
- Product Number: Kelvin T12 FD-WCU-KELVIN-T12-BK
- EAN code: 7350041082552
- UPC Code: 817301012553
It’s been some time since I last looked at an All-In-One CPU Cooler here at pcG and only the second 120mm I’ve taken a close look at, as personally I’ve always been of the ‘bigger is better’ train of thought, choosing to use 240mm, 280mm or 360mm instead. Yet with the increased popularity of MITX motherboard based SFF (Small Form Factor) cases, it certainly makes sense for us to look at and find out which of the smaller AIO CPU Coolers is best for you (and us of course! 😉 ).
The Fractal Design Kelvin T12 as mentioned before, relies on the use of a 120mm radiator to help dissipate the heat produced from your chosen CPU. The radiator itself looks very similar to that of the Alphacool NexXxoS XT45 120mm, but where the XT45 measures 157mm(L) x 124mm(W) x 46mm(H) and possesses six G1/4″ connections, the Kelvin T12 radiator features three G1/4″ connections (the third one situated at the end of the radiator is capped with a hex screw and will be better suited as a drainage outlet or fillport) and measures 163mm(L) x 132mm(W) x 46mm(D). The slightly larger size isn’t just for show of course, because the Kelvin T12 doesn’t rely on a traditional tube or bay reservoir as used in most custom water cooling loops, so the T12 radiator allows for a slightly higher coolant capacity to make up for this. Aesthetically the radiator itself does benefit from the Fractal Design flair for subtle, but elegant looks, by way of a simple piano black sticker with the company name attached to the radiator shroud either side. As you can see from the fittings, the Kelvin T12 uses the current industry standard G1/4″ compression fitting, of which two straight fittings are pre-attached to the radiator. It looks good, but for some reason I feel a little unfinished?!
The Kelvin T12 pump assembly is surprisingly small measuring in at 69mm(L) x 69mm(W) x 40mm(D). From above we can see just like the radiator, the T12 pump features a piano black fascia with the Fractal Design name in white, just to give it a little lift aesthetically. The pump itself relies on a ceramic bearing and will run at a maximum speed of 2400RPM (this can be adjusted to suit your needs within the UEFI as the pump is voltage controlled), when at its maximum setting it will produce a maximum pressure of 1.0m H2O, a flow rate of 72 litres per hour, with a surprisingly low 25dB of noise produced. Connection-wise, the T12 pump features three G1/4″. One of which is blanked by a hex screw cap and whilst not in the system would be ideal for filling and draining, the other two feature pre-fitted and rotatable right angled G1/4″ compression fittings. Personally I rather like the look of the pump assembly as it looks sleek, but subtle. It would have been quite nice if it also featured some LED illumination though…
The Kelvin T12 pump features a copper cold-plate measuring 56mm(L) x 56mm(W) affixed by four copper screws. The base itself will be of ample surface size for any CPU you’ll be likely to use. It is also protected from potential scratches by a thin clear plastic sticker, please heed the warning and remove before installation (unlike I did…)
Fractal Design have included two of their Silent Series HP 120mm fans with the Kelvin T12. These will run at speeds from 800-1700RPM, creating a maximum air flow of 62.4CFM, maximum pressure of 2.3mm H2O, while producing a maximum 26.9dB. Both of the fans are PWM controlled, but it will be interesting to see how they perform given their relatively low speed when compared to other AIO CPU Cooler fans. The fan cables are feature flat nylon braiding as does the pump assembly, which should help minimise any potential damage or wear and tear on the cables whilst installing the T12, while looking good at the same time. Looking at the tubing shows that the T12 features two 320mm lengths of flexible tubing, with an outer diameter of 11mm and 8mm on the inner. You can also see both of these feature anti-kink coils, of which I’m personally not a fan of, but they are a necessary evil and the black on black colouring is subtle enough to not be too intrusive.
Overall the Fractal Design Kelvin T12 looks pretty good and it is probably the most elegant and subtly styled AIO CPU Cooler I’ve ever seen. Made all the more surprising as the Kelvin is Fractal Designs first foray into the world of CPU Coolers. Let’s get it in the Test Rig to find out more!
|Case||Cooler Master HAF XB||Power Supply||Corsair Professional Series AX 760i|
|Motherboard||ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer||CPU||Intel Core i5-4690K|
|CPU Cooler||Fractal Design Kelvin T12||RAM||HyperX Savage 2400MHz 8GB Kit|
|Graphics Card||XFX AMD Radeon R9 290X DD Black Edition||SSD||HyperX FURY 120GB|
Installation of the Fractal Design Kelvin T12 is a nice and simple task, bar one minor issue (a very annoying one though) that I’ll get around to in a moment…
Seeing as we’re using an Intel Core i5-4690K and Z97 based motherboard with an 1150 socket, our job is made slightly easier by just picking up the relevant fittings bags, handily labelled with an ‘Intel’ sticker. Once selected and removed from the bag, we take away the four upright bolts away for LGA 2011 sockets to help avoid any confusion, then start piecing the mounting assembly together. If following the instructions, Fractal Design recommend installing the Intel mounting bracket to the pump first, but I found it easier put the mounting screws with their springs and retaining nuts together first. All that you need to do is pop a spring over one of the mounting screws, then a washer, insert it through the mounting plate and affix the retaining nut to hold it in place. Repeat this a further three times, the clip the mounting plate around the T12 pump to which it’ll lock itself into place (make sure the bolts are facing the right way of course 😉 ), that’s the pump assembly fitting taken care of. Next up is the backplate, which is of a lightweight plastic design and features two self adhesive strips to help keep it in place. Line up the adjustable mounts with the motherboard CPU holes and the adhesive strips keep them pretty much in place. For the next stage we have the radiator assembly, using the included hex key, we first attach the front fan, then line up the radiator second fan with the relevant fan mount, pop through the hex screws, line up the radiator and attach. Leaving just the final part of the installation.
Which is also where the slight issue is (or at least nearly)… To affix the pump you must first add a little of the included thermal paste to the CPU, line-up the adjustable mounting screws by sliding them into the necessary areas, then slowly screw them down one corner at a time. All very nice and easy yes? Or so it would be if the adjustable sliders on the backplate fitted more firmly. You see because the mounting screws are now sprung at this stage of the assembly, you need to put a little bit of pressure on them when screwing down so that they bite firm onto the backplate. Apply a little too much pressure (and I do mean little) and the backplate sliders will pop off… This means you need to apply pressure from both sides of the T12 assembly to fix it firmly. Leaving the Fractal Design Kelvin T12 a rather simple assembly, which is then let down somewhat by the final hurdle. Finally leaving the fans needing to be plugged into the fan splitter and in turn to CPU_FAN1 fan header and the pump into PWR_FAN1 (or any other) header.
|For CPU Cooler testing, we here at pcGameware run Prime95 for a 15 minute period. During this period the temperature is monitored with CoreTemp and the cooling performance recorded (the max recorded is the average for all cores). Between each stress test we allow a 15 minute cool-down to allow for more accurate results. To adjust the fan speed we simply use the UEFI. A close eye is also kept on the ambient temperature, with the maximum being recorded for each run, this allows us to calculate the Delta temperature (Core – Ambient = Delta). Each run was performed with the Intel Core i5-4690K CPU at the following frequencies: 3.5GHz (Stock) and 4.0GHz (using the ASROCK OC Tweaker, shown in the picture below), all results have been recorded with CPU-Z.|
* Please note: To ascertain the maximum and minimum noise levels produced by our CPU test coolers. The dB is recorded at a distance of 1 metre from the cooler, with all case fans unplugged to isolate the sound in question.
Processor speed is set using the OC Tweaker tab of the UEFI, “Disabled” for stock speeds (3.5GHz) and “Turbo 4.0GHz” for the minor overclock tests. It should be noted that changing the OC settings resets the Fan Speeds, so these are checked on the next reboot and reset to “Full Speed” (see below).
All the fans installed in the system are set to 100% speed using the displayed settings, this is simple with the ASROCK UEFI with the option of “Full Speed” being available for all system fans (bar the Power Fan header).
As stated above, to make our performance tests easier to follow and to get the most accurate recordings, all of the following tests have been carried out with case fans set at 100% and the Kelvin T12 fans also set at 100%.
- Intel Core i5-4690K – 3.5GHz (stock)
|CPU Cooler||Fan Speed||Ambient Temperature||Max CPU Temperature (core average)||Delta Temperature||Noise Level|
|Fractal Design Kelvin T12||100%||25.00||46.00||21.00||40dB|
|Scythe Mugen Max||100%||22.00||47.00||25.00||36dB|
|Raijintek Themis Evo||100%||21.50||47.50||26.00||37dB|
|SilverStone Argon AR06||100%||23.50||79.50||56.00||28dB|
As mentioned previously, the Kelvin T12 is the first AIO CPU Cooler I have looked at for a while and it also happens to be the first I’ve tested on the revised pcG Test Rig. If I’m honest I was expecting it be pretty reasonable, but nothing phenomenal. Initially after installation the thermals were horribly high, but that was down to some pretty daft user error (yep, I’d forgotten to remove the warning label affixed to the T12 cold-plate…), then the thermals were still nearly 10.00C higher than expected due to the orientation of the 120mm radiator with the tubes situated on the side… Re-orientating the radiator so that the tubes were situated at bottom produced entirely different results and very impressive ones at that! With a maximum average core temperature of 46.00C (21.00C Delta), it not only beats the bigger and more expensive Corsair H105 with its 240mm radiator by 0.75C (2.75C Delta), but it isn’t too far behind the monster that is the Noctua NH-D15 either. Perhaps more impressively is it does so slightly more quietly too. I wonder how it’ll fare with a slightly overclocked CPU?!
- Intel Core i5-4690K – 4.0GHz (OC Tweaker)
|CPU Cooler||Fan Speed||Ambient Temperature||Max CPU Temperature (core average)||Delta Temperature||Noise Level|
|Fractal Design Kelvin T12||100%||26.50||53.75||27.25||40dB|
|Scythe Mugen Max||100%||22.00||55.75||33.75||36dB|
|Raijintek Themis Evo||100%||21.50||58.00||36.50||37dB|
|SilverStone Argon AR06||100%||23.50||92.50||69.00||28dB|
With the i5-4690K receiving a moderate overclock at being set at 4.0GHz, the quad core CPU gains power by an increased voltage which in turn means more heat produced. Yet the Fractal Design Kelvin T12 takes it all in its stride! With a maximum average core temperature of 53.75C, it may be a little warmer than the 53.50C dissipated by the Corsair H105 and 2.00C warmer than the phenomenal Reeven Okeanos air Cooler, but take a look at those Deltas! Not only is the T12 cooler than the H105 by 3.25C Delta, but it tops our thermal chart by beating the Okeanos by a full 1.00C on the Delta too! All from a 120mm radiator based AIO, makes you wonder how well the 240mm and 360mm versions will perform?!
Rather surprisingly the Kelvin T12 and its dual Fractal Design Silent Series HP 120mm fans, when running at 100% do not cause your ears to bleed! Instead the 1700RPM fans produce a nice and tolerable 40dB when set at 100%, but when reduced to their lowest speed can’t be heard at all. This isn’t entirely good news though, the fans can’t be heard because despite the pump not being especially loud at 29dB when on full (26dB at minimum), it is one of those sounds that you become acutely aware of and irritated by. This won’t be a problem if your case posses any kind of sound dampening or you have something louder to hide it in the background (what better excuse for a bit of Gaming? 😉 ).
The Fractal Design Kelvin T12 is the companies first foray into the highly competitive and rather abundant All-In-One CPU Cooler market, but is it really any good?
The Fractal Design Kelvin T12 found its way to pcG within a simple, but stylish predominately satin black box, with neon blue highlighting the model name and type. While not being too heavy on all of the specifications and details, the packaging gave us enough imagery and information for the AIO CPU Cooler hidden within. Once opened we find concealed beneath a soft protective layer of foam, a shaped cardboard tray in which safely wedged and protected inside individual plastic bags, is the Kelvin T12, 120mm Silent HP PWM fans, instructions and fittings (the latter I’m greatly appreciative of, being lazy and all 😉 ). Outside of the box, the pre-assembled Fractal Design Kelvin T12 looks pretty good. The perfectly square pump with its piano black cap and white Fractal Design font, looks subtle yet stylish. While the 120mm radiator has a slight Fractal flair with similar stickers attached either side of the radiator shroud. Once the AIO is assembled it looks rather striking especially with the two white and black Silent HP PWM fans installed. Leaving the build quality… Surprisingly for a first time effort, Fractal Design have done a great job and most certainly benefited working with the hugely experienced Alphacool in the design and development of the Kelvin series. My only personal gripes so far are the lack of LED illumination on the pump (we all like shiny LED’s don’t we?), the anti-kink coils (Something I’ve never liked, but without some heavy duty tubing is often a necessary evil), then the slightly unfinished look of the radiator shroud and the lack of any liquid level indication for when you eventually add to the loop. All are very minor points of course.
Installation of the Fractal Design Kelvin T12 was at large very easy, with a nice and sensible mounting assembly which potentially could be pieced together and installed within your Gaming rig within twenty minutes, but the pump backplate needs a rethink I’m afraid. As soon as a little too much pressure is applied to the pump mounting screws, the adjustable mounts on the backplate tend to pop out. This can of course be easily remedied by applying pressure using your finger tip to the back of the mounting point while screwing the pump to it. This could prove a potentially big problem for anyone installing into a large case which will could mean needing an extra hand to hold the pump in place during installation.
If you’ve been keeping up with the Kelvin T12 review so far, you’ll be fully aware that this particular Kelvin uses a single 120mm radiator to help cool your chosen CPU. From a personal point of view, this size radiator is something I’ve always avoided (bigger is better right?!). Well I think I can safely say I’ve been proven wrong… When compared to the Corsair H105 and its bigger 240mm radiator, the smaller T12 not only surprises, but performs exceptionally well. With the i5-4690K at stock (3.5GHz), we recorded a maximum average core temperature of 46.00C (21.00C Delta) and found it to be ever so slightly cooler by 0.75C (2.75C Delta). By upping the ante and the CPU set at 4.0GHz, the maximum average core temperature was raised to 53.75C (27.25C Delta) Vs maximum average core temperature of 53.50C (30.50C Delta) as was recorded with the Corsair H105, which means the Fractal AIO leaps above the Corsair and to the top of the table. You might think that this is down to some sort of aircraft grade, high powered, ultra fast, turbo fans (if I could think of another description it would be here), but the Fractal Design chose to package the Kelvin T12 with two Silent Series HP PWM controlled fans, which have a maximum speed of 1700RPM and when set at 100% produce a maximum 40dB of noise, then at their lowest setting they can’t be heard above the pump. Which itself is not especially loud producing 29dB at full (26dB on minimum), but it does posses one of those sounds that tends to annoy after a while.
The Kelvin T12 is certainly something of a surprise to me. I was expecting an AIO CPU Cooler of reasonable performance and quality, but how wrong could I have been?! It is very good indeed and should shoot to the top of your list when considering your next AIO. Not only does it look good and perform well, but it joins a handful of other available AIO’s by giving you the choice of expanding your loop with an extra radiator or two, but more importantly by allowing you to add a waterblock to your Graphics Card/s. While it is slightly more expensive than other 120mm AIO CPU Coolers, at approximately £75.00 I think its money well spent.
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Many thanks to Fractal Design for providing this sample for review