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NZXT Kraken Z73 AIO CPU Cooler Review: Low Temps, Good Looks, High Price

By Christopher Coke on January 29, 2020 | Hardware Reviews | 0

Are you in the market for a new CPU cooler? Just looking for a way to make your system pop? Today we’re looking at the brand new Kraken Z-3 series from NZXT. Featuring redesigned cooling and a new LCD screen built right into the cooler, it promises better temps and better looks. But for $249 for the 240mm and $279 for the 360mm, is it worth the price of entry? Join us as we find out.

Specifications

  • Current Price: $279 (360mm, tested), $249 (240mm)
  • Water Block
    • Dimensions(LxWxH): 80 x 80 x 52 mm
    • Material: Block: Copper, Housing: Plastic
    • Pump: Motor Speed & Power: 800 – 2,800 + 300 RPM, 12V DC, 0.3A
  • Radiator
    • Dimensions: 121 x 394 x 27mm
    • Material: Aluminum
  • Tube
    • Length: 400mm
    • Material: Ultra-low Evaporation Rubber with Nylon Braided Sleeve
  • Cap
    • Display Orientation: Software adjustable 90° increments
    • Display Panel Active Area: 2.36” (60mm) diameter
    • Display Color: 24-bit true color LCD
    • Display Resolution: 320 x 320 px
    • Display Brightness: 650 cd/m²
  • Fans
    • Aer P120 x 3
    • Dimension: 120 x 120 x 26mm
    • Speed: 500-2,000 + 300 RPM
    • Air Flow: 18.28 - 73.11 CFM
    • Air Pressure: 0.18 - 2.93mm - H2O
    • Noise: 21-36dBA
    • Bearing: Fluid Dynamic Bearing
    • Power Consumption: 12V DC, 0.32A, 3.84W
    • Connector: 4-pin PWM
  • Compatible Socket & CPU
    • Intel Socket LGA 1151, 1150, 1155, 1156, 1366, 2011, 2011-3, 2066
    • Intel Core i9 / Core i7 / Core i5 / Core i3 / Pentium / Celeron
    • AMD Socket AM4, TR4(bracket not included)
    • AMD Ryzen 7 / Ryzen 5 / Ryzen 3 / Ryzen 9 / Threadripper
  • Retail Unit Weight: 2.23kg
  • Life: 60,000 hours / 6 Years
  • Warranty: 6 Years

Editor’s Note: In this review, you’ll notice that we broke from our usual format of using custom photography. We always like to include our own pictures for authenticity but, unfortunately, we ran into a problem and were unable to load pictures of our own sample in time for publication. As a result, I’ve decided to use the opportunity to promote some of my favorite YouTubers whose work inspires me on a daily basis. Please take the time to visit their channels after you read this review and we’ll be back to normal in our next one.

If you’ve looked into all-in-one coolers even a little bit, then you already know about the Kraken series from NXZT. Their line of AIOs has been a mainstay of PC building for years and have made their way into virtually every round-up of “best all-in-one CPU coolers” in recent memory. This week, the company is pushing into the next generation of their coolers with the brand new Z-series.

Upgrading to the Z-Series

The Z-series, consisting of the Z73 and Z63 at the moment, brings with it a number of improvements over last generation’s X-series. The pump is Asetek and incorporates their new 7th-gen design which promises better flow and long-term reliability. Remarkably little is out there on this new gen of Asetek pump, which speaks to how quickly NZXT reacted to the new technology. As you’ll see in our testing, it proves to be a modest but noticeable upgrade from the X line-up.  At the time of this writing, NZXT is the only company to feature a Gen 7 pump in their coolers.

The other major upgrade is the brand new LCD display built right into the pump head. A full, 2.36 inch 24-bit screen now takes center stage in your build, allowing you to display temps, system information, pretty colors, or even custom gifs to really make your system unique. I admit to not being entirely sold on the idea when I first heard about it. It’s cool in concept, but there’s a big difference between a light strip and an LCD screen. After seeing it for myself, my tune has definitely changed. The size and resolution allow for enough detail and smoothness to animations that really looks stellar. Well done, NZXT.

The real killer feature here, at least in my case, is with the ability to load those custom GIFs. There’s huge potential for fun here, whether that’s loading up your favorite meme or coming up with your own flowing color animation. In my case, I’m big on synchronizing the colors and flow of my setup, and with a little work in Adobe Photoshop, I was able to create a custom color wave that matched my case lighting.

The display can be customized using NZXT’s CAM software. It’s undergone some major improvements over the last six months, so if you haven’t checked it out in a while, it’s definitely worth doing so. Customizing the screen is easy, so you don’t need to use outside software unless you’re planning on creating your own GIFs. Unfortunately, you can’t create a GIF inside CAM yet, so you’ll still need to use something like GIPHY or download files to upload to the pump.

Impressions and Installation

Having ran the X72 since my review in 2018, I had a good idea what to expect here but the Z73 still managed to impress. It’s a solid package that feels very well-made. The pump head is 80x80x52mm and features a copper cold plate with pre-applied thermal paste (I swapped for MX4 for thermal tests). This is enough for the majority of processors on the market today, though if you plan to mount it on a Threadripper, you’ll need to purchase a TR4 bracket separately.

The overall fit and finish of the Z73 is top-notch. The tubing is nicely braided and flexible. The fittings also rotate so you can route them in a way that works to showcase your components. Because of the LED screen, you don’t have to worry about orienting the logo either since it’s all controlled via software. That makes it easier to install since you can just focus on the best routing for the hoses. The radiator is, well, a radiator, not much new there. The Z73 ships with three Aer P120 static pressure fans for high airflow and minimal noise.

NZXT is simply one of the best when it comes to ease of installation. Attaching the proper bracket is simple thanks to the twist-lock system and the bracket is equally easy to seat and tighten down. I do wish there was a more elegant solution for the wires attached to the pump head, the same way I’ve wished that on every RGB AIO. As expected, you’ll need to connect both a USB and a power header which then need to be routed and hid from view. If you’ve installed other all-in-one coolers, though, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect here. The entire process took about 15 minutes.

Performance Testing

Test system: i7-8700k at 3.7GHz (4.7GHz Turbo), ASUS X370 Maximus X Hero Motherboard, ADATA XPG Spectrix D41 DRAM 32GB 3200MHz, GTX-1080Ti (SLI), 1TB Samsung 970 PRO, 1TB WD Black, 12TB HDD Mass Storage, Corsair HX-1050 1050-watt PSU, Fractal Define R6 TG case.

Our cooler testing takes a close look at comparative idle temperatures and load temperatures in an environment with a controlled ambient temperature of 22 degrees celsius. Coolers are set on their highest performance mode. Load temperatures are gathered after running Prime95 for twenty minutes, giving the liquid the chance to warm up. Our temperatures are also normalized to show the temperature increase over ambient to remove that as a factor.

Performance Testing and Conclusions

I have to say, I’m very impressed. The improvements with the Gen 7 Asetek cooler really show through. It even managed to edge out the Corsair H115i RGB Platinum which made use of the CoolIT pump and stood out from the pack because of it. It’s good to see this new generation from Asetek (and NZXT’s implementation) deliver impressive improvements.

As described above, these results were derived after 20 minutes of testing with Prime95. In truth, I don’t much like these tests because I find that they make the CPU warmer than it would typically get under a normal gaming workload (video rendering is another story). While gaming, I was surprised to see that I never broke 63C (11 degrees over ambient), even after a good 2-3 hours of Battlefield V.

When it came noise levels, I found the Balanced profile to be the best. It delivered a nice middle-ground between effective cooling and noise levels. Performance mode did tend to push temps down by another 2-3C or so, but the trade-off in noise just wasn’t worth it when Balanced so easily kept things in check.

Well done, NZXT. The Z73 is the new performance champ.

That said, I’m left all the more curious about the X73 which retails for $100 less. The tech appears to be the same (I’ll update here if that’s incorrect. Update 1/29/20: NZXT has confirmed that the two models are identical except for the LCD screen on the Z73) with the key difference being the LCD display on the pump. Is a customizable screen worth $100?

That’s the rub. The screen is very cool and pushes the Z-series into a class of its own in my opinion, but it is just a cosmetic upgrade. It’s an interesting proposition because if you’re the kind of gamer that really loves decking out their system and turning it into a showcase, the extra investment probably isn’t that big of a deal. Let’s face it, you’re used to the RGB tax already. If you’re not looking for that added level of detail, the X73 still offers improved performance and brighter RGB lighting than the original. At $249 and $279, these are niche products but the performance and looks are definitely there.

The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purpose of review.

9.0Amazing
Pros
  • Best performance we’ve seen so far
  • Supremely customizable
  • Runs quiet - I didn’t find Performance mode necessary
  • Easy installation
Cons
  • Very expensive


GameByNight

Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight