Closer Look: SilverStone TD03
Water-cooling CPUs isn’t a new thing, but until recently it was the realm of extreme-enthusiasts and hobbyists. With the introduction of “no maintenance” liquid coolers from manufacturers such as Asetek, the aftermarket industry grew to include models from Corsair, Cooler Master, NZXT, Thermaltake, Antec and Zalman, most of which followed one or two basic designs from manufacturers like Asetek, Inc. and CoolIT Systems, Inc.
You may notice the “TD01” designation is absent from the lineup – that actually belongs to another liquid cooler in the Tundra series, an external radiator/reservoir used on the LGA 775 and AM2 sockets. While a unique product in its time, the TD02 and TD03 are entering an entirely new generation of cooling products.
It may be a 45mm thick 120mm radiator that uses a push/pull arrangement, but the similarities between the TD03 and other coolers essentially end there. The water block is, as far as I can tell, custom designed by SilverStone. The uninterrupted copper base is soldered to the rest of the nickel plated aluminum block, which uses stiff aluminum brackets to mount to the motherboard. The radiator fins themselves run across each water channel instead of zig-zagging between two “pipes,” which SilverStone claims is good for a 40% increase in cooling efficiency.
The hoses don’t follow the current trend of using soft flexible rubber, instead opting for a hard rigid plastic material. While this decision makes installing the cooler a little trickier, it also creates a line that should be free from kinks – when you consider some of SilverStone’s smaller enclosures (and that AIO coolers are typically ideal for mini-ITX form factors), this actually makes some sense. It won’t make installation any easier in those small spaces, but it should keep the water lines open once you do get it installed.
Another benefit of using harder plastic is it is usually less permeable than softer rubber hoses – for a system that you cannot refill, this becomes a factor. Still, it seems users prefer the bigger and softer rubber/vinyl hoses from other systems – personally, I feel SilverStone missed an opportunity to ratchet it up a notch and just go for some stainless steel braided lines.
The universal back-plate makes it pretty obvious which side to use when installing, although the hard plastic offsets and loading block may not be enough to prevent portions of the backplate from contacting motherboard components on smaller form factors. It’ll clear some, but each board is different. ATX and Micro-ATX motherboards shouldn’t have any clearance issues, but this is a common problem for almost every product on Mini-ITX boards simply because space is at a premium on those boards. Honestly, ITX users are probably accustomed to this, so it won’t be an issue for most of those users anyway – and Intel/AMD make those standards for “socket area,” not SilverStone, so you can’t really fault them for using this area.
The water block itself is all aluminum, except for the integrated copper contact plate. You’ll probably notice there aren’t any screws that mount the copper to the rest of the water block/pump assembly, as it is soldered directly to the rest of the block. The finish is sufficiently smooth, although it isn’t a mirror polish.
Some of you that are familiar with properties of different metals might be wondering how good of an idea it is too attach a copper plate to an aluminum block. Since each metal has a different electrical potential, if they come in contact either physically or through an electrolyte ions from one will “migrate” to the other, resulting in eventual corrosion of the metal acting as the anode. I asked SilverStone how they mitigated this problem, and they were more than willing to explain how.
To prevent corrosion, SilverStone didn’t just coat the exterior of the block in nickel, but the inside as well which has the effect of “neutralizing” the charge between the metals and therefore inhibiting the process of galvanic corrosion (it brings the anodic difference from .40V down to .05V). The copper base has been coated with an anti-oxidation coating, and to further minimize the contact the nickel-plated aluminum has with the copper base the water block uses a plastic shroud and rubber bushings to direct the water through the fine copper fins in the base-plate. Since the TD03 is sealed from the factory, they were able to pH balance the liquid and add the right amount of corrosion inhibitor to the fluid used in the system – so don’t try to open it! SilverStone backs the TD02 and TD03 AIO liquid coolers with a five-year warranty, which should tell you they understand this issue and are confident enough to stand behind their product. Of course, any time you put a metal in water, you’ll experience some corrosion eventually, but you shouldn’t run into any problems with the TD02/03 for as long as most people use a CPU.
Installation is pretty straightforward, although you may still want a helping hand if you’ve never installed anything similar before. Since the screws to tighten down the water block are spring-loaded, you’ll find yourself needing to press on the back-plate a bit as well to get the first bit of the screw threaded. This was the only part of the installation I felt could use a little improvement. The back-plate and through-motherboard mounting screws are actually held in place by plastic spacers (on the AMD and LGA1155/50 sockets) that serve to retain the plate in position, but in practice the spacers didn’t quite grip hard enough to hold the screws in place trying to get the threads to bite.
If you look closely, you’ll see some blue pinpoints of light behind the SilverStone badge on the water block – I myself prefer LEDs, especially on pumps so you know there’s at least power there; the implementation here is pretty tasteful and shouldn’t change anyone’s opinion even if they don’t like LEDs. I thought this was a pretty nice touch.