Most normal people can buy a boxed computer and get along just fine never knowing the first thing about the vagaries of proper PC cooling. (Cue Grandma: There's a fan on my processor? Seriously? What's a processor?)
But some of us aren't quite so normal, are we? Some of us tweak and overclock like madmen, coaxing every last bit of speed from our systems, trying to turn a Camry into a Maserati—a fire-breathing, yet somehow whisper-silent Maserati.
Indeed, when we speak of "hot-rodding" our PCs, is there a more outwardly obvious way of doing it than adding an array of gleaming, liquid-filled pipes, or a full-blown radiator? You'd be forgiven for thinking you were in an auto-parts store—or maybe an art gallery—if you took but a quick glance at this collection of the most ridonkulous coolers known to man and modder alike. Form and function have never blended so beautifully.
One look at Thermaltake's stunning V1 CPU cooler, and you may conjure up images of a dainty Asian hand fan. Those "fans" aren't fans at all, however. (Well, the spinning cooling fan in the center notwithstanding.) They are, as you may have surmised, fins, which are attached to heat pipes, which are attached to a copper base honed to a mirror finish.
As it turned out, when the V1 debuted, it didn't push the performance envelope. It did, however, open a lot of minds to the crazy idea that the inside of a PC needn't be a grim mélange of circuitry ugliness. In fact, the Thermaltake V1's stunning eye candy earned it a Red Dot Design Award in 2008.
Prolimatech Megalahems Rev.C
In 1998, a small but merry band of Taiwanese tech-heads walloped PC geeks everywhere with a monstrous CPU cooler they ominously named Megalahems. Looking like a pair of modernistic, gleaming highrises, the Megalahems distinguished itself not only by its raw size but by its two-pronged approach. With one highrise on the left, a completely separate highrise on the right, and an air-pressure-enhancing channel in the middle, it broke new ground and propelled rookie manufacturer Prolimatech into the high-end cooler conversation.
Prolimatech has since released two more Megalahems, Rev.B and Rev.C. The latter, debuting just a few months ago, offers compatibility with a wider range of processors. Prolimatechoids everywhere, rejoice!
Colorful iGame GTX 680
Jaw-dropping cooling capabilities aren't limited to CPUs alone, though most graphics card manufacturers seem content to wage their battle against high temperatures simply by loading up their wares with a multitude of fans. What about those users who want to ride a graphics card harder than the Lone Ranger rode poor old Silver, only without the airplane-level decibels most high-end options pump out?
Chinese graphics card manufacturer Colorful may just have an answer. With the iGame GTX 680—a brute of a card that dwarfs virtually anything we've seen—Colorful promises not just to squash temps, but to squash noise too. The iGame is aggressively passive, you see, tossing the archaic fan concept out in favor of a pair of massive heat sinks, twenty heat pipes, and more fins than a school of sharks. (240, to be exact.)
In other words, it's not just quiet—it's absolutely silent.
Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and that pudding remains hermetically sealed in Colorful's lab. Seeing as how Colorful first released photos of the yet-to-be-released iGame GTX 680 more than half a year ago, we wouldn't be surprised if the company simply couldn't conquer the GTX 680's thermals with hunks of metal and decided to scrap the project altogether.
NOFAN CR-95C Copper
Those clever wordplay artists at NOFAN (Get it? No fan?) conjured up something quite diabolical in the CR-95C Copper. How? Well, just look at it. It resembles the air filter you pulled from your ATV, except it's plated in copper—shiny, beautiful copper. Moreover, because it has nofan—er, no fan—its cooling capabilities are 100 percent noiseless.
This copper-coated rose has a few thorns, however. Namely, it's so humongous at 7 by 6 inches and nearly a couple pounds, you may not be able to cram it into your case to enjoy its wonderfulness. And even if you can, the CR-95C Copper might just obscure the topmost PCI-E x16 slot on your motherboard. On the plus side, that gargantuan girth grants it the ability to keep even the beefiest of Ivy Bridge processors nice and chilled, with a 95W TDP rating. Just don't try your hand at overclocking with this passive behemoth installed.
When you name your business after the Grim Reaper's favorite utensil and dub your product Godhand, you're either criminally pretentious or crazily confident … and perhaps a wee bit obsessed with the afterlife.
Whatever the case, when Japanese cooler manufacturer Scythe announced the Godhand in early 2009, it justifiably attracted some attention. Obviously built on the philosophy that every centimeter of empty space inside a PC box needs to be filled, the Godhand sported a 250-by-250-millimeter fan and no fewer than ten thick copper heat pipes. It weighed a full kilogram and was about as large as a big tub of margarine.
Ultimately, the Godhand product never made it to market. The Godhand design, however, lived on, forming the basis of Scythe's similarly bombastic beastie, 2011's Susanoo.
Thermalright True Copper
Why did one media wag once describe Thermalright's True Copper as "the most insane air-cooled CPU cooler ever created"? Because it was beautiful. Because it performed beyond expectations. But mostly because it really was true copper—100 percent true copper, from the top of its 4.4-pound body to the bottom. Scarcity also added to its allure: Respected cooler maker Thermalright chose to limit the True Copper run to a mere 3000 units.
Cooler Express Phase-Change Coolers
If you ever feel the need to drop as much coin on a cooler as you did on your whole PC, that's the time to forget all this nonsense about wussy in-case cooling and take the whole thing external. In other words, get thyself a phase-change cooler.
Like a refrigerator, phase-change coolers convert liquid to gas to liquid to help keep things really cold. As in subzero cold. The base units, some the size of toasters, reside outside the computer case and attach to the PC via a tube or a series of tubes—kind of like the very blue Diva Plavalaguna in The Fifth Element.
There's much more to the story of course, but suffice to say phase-change coolers are very effective. They're also wildly expensive, often costing a "cool" grand or more.
Hardcore Computer Reactor
What if you dispensed with the fans and the fins, the pipes and the radiators, and instead submerged the entire computer—every blessed inch of it—in liquid?
Submerge. The entire PC. In liquid.
Crazy talk? Not at all. That's precisely what a company by the name of Hardcore Computer did in 2008 when it unveiled the Reactor—a PC filled with not just the typical parts, but also a whole lotta custom-made cooling oil. Though the newfangled (and pricey) Reactor eventually faded away, the company behind it did not, changing its name to LiquidCool Solutions in 2012 and selling products to the high-end business and server markets. Today, other options are out there for those needing a full-on submersion fix, and even Intel is toying around with the idea of dunking servers in mineral oil.