The Cougar Helor 240-360 CPU Liquid Cooler Review: A Top Tier Start In CPU Cooling

While far from a new player in the computer peripherals market, Cougar is a brand that is now, almost a decade later, only finally rising to broad prominence within the PC industry. Founded in 2008 as a subsidiary of HEC/Compucase, one of the oldest and most experienced players in the OEM PC market, the company’s mission was to develop advanced PC-related products for gamers and enthusiasts. Specifically, HEC created Cougar to build off of their experience in the OEM market and apply it to retail products for enthusiasts, with Cougar branching out into more and more products over time.

Cougar started off subtly, releasing just a couple of products back in 2008 and staying almost completely focused on PC cases for the first couple of years. Their entrepreneurial endeavor proved highly successful and the company quickly began diversifying into other segments of the market, ranging from chairs to mechanical keyboards. Today, the company’s product portfolio consists of several dozens of products, and Cougar is still adding to it.

Jumping to the present, as one of their most recent expansions Cougar has entered the competitive-but-lucrative cooling market. So for today’s review we are taking a look at Cougar’s new Helor CPU coolers, which are the company’s not-so-subtle attempt to dive into the liquid all-in-one CPU cooler market. Where most manufacturers would start with a simple, practical product when diversifying into a fresh segment of the market, Cougar developed two extravagant liquid coolers with RGB lighting. The two coolers are virtually identical, with the only vital difference being the size of the radiator (240 mm and 360 mm). We are taking a close look at both coolers in this review, examining their unique features and checking where they stand in terms of thermal and acoustic performance.

Cougar supplies the Helor coolers inside large, sturdy cardboard boxes. Although the core aesthetic design of the box retains the black/orange color theme of the company, the pictures of the products themselves make the box a parade of colors, with the designer showing off the RGB lighting capabilities of the coolers. Inside the box we found the coolers and their parts  well protected by custom cardboard inserts.

 

Inside the box we found a rather rich bundle for a CPU cooler. Cougar supplies a stand-alone RGB controller and a remote control, the necessary cables for powering the fans and the controller, a dose of thermal compound, a bottle with coolant, and the hardware necessary for the mounting of the cooler onto the CPU socket (with the exception of TR4 processors – the Helor is not compatible with them).

Depending on the version of the Helor cooler, you will receive two or three 120 mm fans for their radiator. Cougar supplies the Vortex Omega 120 fan that sports both a unique frame design and an advanced hydraulic bearing engine. We are unsure who the original manufacturer of the fan is. Its part number is DF1202512SELN, identical to a very popular fan that has been around for over a decade, but that is where their similarities end. The Vortex Omega fans sport ten RGB LEDs and a semi-transparent blade assembly that is designed to softly diffuse the lighting of the LEDs.

Aside from the obvious difference of the larger radiator, the Cougar Helor all-in-one (AIO) liquid coolers are practically identical. The core design of the coolers is the typical AIO configuration of a single radiator, two hoses, and a block that combines the CPU contact plate and a miniature liquid pump. Cougar is using high density rubber tubing that should minimize evaporation losses, with external nylon sleeve braiding for additional mechanical protection.

The radiators of the Helor AIO coolers are typical dual pass cross-flow designs, with tiny fins soldered on thin oblong tubes. This is by far the most dominant radiator design for AIO systems and rightfully so, as it offers the best efficiency within limited proportions and for the temperature differences that AIO coolers have to deal with. The hose fixings on the radiator side are immovable, making them a bit less flexible during installation. In an effort to maximize compatibility, Cougar made the radiators slightly less than 29 mm thick. Still, including the stock fans, the AIO system requires a total clearance of at least 55 mm, effectively requiring a case designed with AIO cooling systems in mind.

Cougar focused their design efforts on the main block assembly. With the exception of the contact plate, the rest of the assembly is made of plastic and acrylic. This includes the impeller of the mini pump. The mini pump is secured inside a compartment surrounded by dampening material to reduce its noise output. Users should not confuse the flow indicator visible inside the clear acrylic top with the pump – the pump lies further down inside the assembly. The 90° hose fixings can turn sideways, adding some installation flexibility.

One of the most distinctive features of the Helor coolers is that they are not really sealed AIO systems. A refill port is present on the main block assembly and Cougar includes a bottle of proper coolant in the bundle. A brand-new cooler does not require any topping up but it is good to know that Cougar’s engineers took into account the fact that evaporation could lead to significant coolant losses over the years, a nice gesture for users who like to keep parts for more than just a couple of years. If the original coolant is lost or somehow runs out, proper closed loop system coolant is easy to acquire. Note that under no circumstances water, even if distilled, should be used in such a system without additives.

Turning the main block assembly upside down reveals the octagonal metallic contact plate. It is made of copper but is nickel plated for protection against corrosion. It has been machined to a nearly perfect mirror finish and is held onto the rest of the assembly via eight screws. No thermal compound is pre-applied to it. The contact plate is not large enough for the massive surface of the Ryzen Threadripper processors and that is why Cougar does not supply a TR4 socket kit with the Helor.

Cougar strongly focused on the application of RGB lighting and the result is inspiring. The lighting is strong and yet smooth, perfectly diffused by the fan’s semi-transparent blades and on the acrylic top of the main block. If connected to a compatible motherboard, it will copy the programmed lighting theme of the system. For those who do not own a compatible motherboard or just do not want to have lighting synergy between different parts, Cougar’s controller offers a very broad range of options and the remote controller is very convenient.

 

Although the testing of a cooler appears to be a simple task, that could not be much further from the truth. Proper thermal testing cannot be performed with a cooler mounted on a single chip, for multiple reasons. Some of these reasons include the instability of the thermal load and the inability to fully control and or monitor it, as well as the inaccuracy of the chip-integrated sensors. It is also impossible to compare results taken on different chips, let alone entirely different systems, which is a great problem when testing computer coolers, as the hardware changes every several months. Finally, testing a cooler on a typical system prevents the tester from assessing the most vital characteristic of a cooler, its absolute thermal resistance.

The absolute thermal resistance defines the absolute performance of a heatsink by indicating the temperature rise per unit of power, in our case in degrees Celsius per Watt (°C/W). In layman’s terms, if the thermal resistance of a heatsink is known, the user can assess the highest possible temperature rise of a chip over ambient by simply multiplying the maximum thermal design power (TDP) rating of the chip with it. Extracting the absolute thermal resistance of a cooler however is no simple task, as the load has to be perfectly even, steady and variable, as the thermal resistance also varies depending on the magnitude of the thermal load. Therefore, even if it would be possible to assess the thermal resistance of a cooler while it is mounted on a working chip, it would not suffice, as a large change of the thermal load can yield much different results.

Appropriate thermal testing requires the creation of a proper testing station and the use of laboratory-grade equipment. Therefore, we created a thermal testing platform with a fully controllable thermal energy source that may be used to test any kind of cooler, regardless of its design and or compatibility. The thermal cartridge inside the core of our testing station can have its power adjusted between 60 W and 340 W, in 2 W increments (and it never throttles). Furthermore, monitoring and logging of the testing process via software minimizes the possibility of human errors during testing. A multifunction data acquisition module (DAQ) is responsible for the automatic or the manual control of the testing equipment, the acquisition of the ambient and the in-core temperatures via PT100 sensors, the logging of the test results and the mathematical extraction of performance figures.

Finally, as noise measurements are a bit tricky, their measurement is being performed manually. Fans can have significant variations in speed from their rated values, thus their actual speed during the thermal testing is being recorded via a laser tachometer. The fans (and pumps, when applicable) are being powered via an adjustable, fanless desktop DC power supply and noise measurements are being taken 1 meter away from the cooler, in a straight line ahead from its fan engine. At this point we should also note that the Decibel scale is logarithmic, which means that roughly every 3 dB(A) the sound pressure doubles. Therefore, the difference of sound pressure between 30 dB(A) and 60 dB(A) is not “twice as much” but nearly a thousand times greater. The table below should help you cross-reference our test results with real-life situations.

The noise floor of our recording equipment is 30.2-30.4 dB(A), which represents a medium-sized room without any active noise sources. All of our acoustic testing takes place during night hours, minimizing the possibility of external disruptions.

<35dB(A) Virtually inaudible
35-38dB(A) Very quiet (whisper-slight humming)
38-40dB(A) Quiet (relatively comfortable – humming)
40-44dB(A) Normal (humming noise, above comfortable for a large % of users)
44-47dB(A)* Loud* (strong aerodynamic noise)
47-50dB(A) Very loud (strong whining noise)
50-54dB(A) Extremely loud (painfully distracting for the vast majority of users)
>54dB(A) Intolerable for home/office use, special applications only.

*noise levels above this are not suggested for daily use

Our maximum speed testing is performed with both the fans and the pump of the kit powered via a 12V DC source. This input voltage should have the pump and fans matching the speed ratings of the manufacturer. As per Cougar’s specifications, the Vortex Omega fans have a rotational speed of 1800±200 RPM. According to our tachometer, the fans were all rotating at 1850 RPM, a figure well within the manufacturer’s specifications. Furthermore, the speed difference between the five fans we tested was negligible, indicating great manufacturing quality and minimal variation.

Average Thermal Resistance

Core Temperature, Constant Thermal Load (Max Fan Speed)

A quick look at the average thermal performance charts reveals that the Helor 240 is a competitive product, proving a strong adversary for most similarly sized products with an average thermal resistance of 0.0773 °C/W with a relatively low sound pressure level of 41.8 dB(A). Other similarly-sized offerings, such as the EKWB EK-XLC Predator 240 and the Corsair H100i GTX, do outperform the Helor 240 in terms of thermal performance but their acoustic performance is inferior. Only Alphacool’s liquid cooling kit retains its massive performance gap compared to standard AIO coolers, with an average thermal resistance of 0.0532 °C/W.

Fan Speed (12 Volts)

Thermally, the Helor 360 clearly performs better than the Helor 240, with an average thermal resistance of 0.0722 °C/W. It also slightly outperforms the similarly sized Corsair H150i Pro RGB that has an average thermal resistance of 0.0731 °C/W, managing better performance when the thermal load is very high. In terms of acoustics, the Helor 360 is expectedly louder than the Helor 240 due to the extra fan, which brings the sound pressure level up to 43.2 dB(A). The figure is not too high but is higher than what the primary competition of the Helor 360 currently offers.

Noise level

Using a PWM voltage regulator, we reduced the speed of the fans manually down to half their rated speed, which is 900 RPM. The pump was also connected on the same power source, functioning properly at this low speed setting.

Average Thermal Resistance

Core Temperature, Constant Thermal Load (Low Fan Speed)

The Helor 240 does very well in this test, with an average thermal resistance of 0.0997 °C/W, a fine figure for a 240 mm AIO liquid cooler. It produces 35.2 dB(A) of noise under these working conditions, making it practically inaudible when installed inside a typical PC case. It does not outpace all of the equally sized AIO coolers that we have tested but those that do perform better also are noticeably louder.

Fan Speed (7 Volts)

The larger size of the Helor 360 does improve its thermal performance, but the inclusion of a third fan does increase the noise level of the device, even if only slightly. It has an average thermal resistance is 0.0867 °C/W, one of the best performance figures that we have ever recorded. Nevertheless, it is being outpaced by its primary competitor, even if only slightly.

Noise level

During our thermal resistance vs. sound pressure level test, we maintain a steady 100W thermal load and assess the overall performance of the coolers by taking multiple temperature and sound pressure level readings within the operating range of the stock cooling fans. The result is a graph that depicts the absolute thermal resistance of the cooler in comparison to the noise generated. For both the sound pressure level and absolute thermal resistance readings, lower figures are better.

In this graph, we can see how Cougar’s Helor 240 and 360 AIO liquid coolers fare against some of their direct competition. Both Helor coolers perform very well overall, with the 240 mm version outpacing even simpler 360 mm sized solutions when looking at the lower end of the dB(A) axis, while the 360 mm version of the Helor reaches very low thermal resistance values. The catch here is that although the Helor 360 does reach the thermal performance figures of the Corsair H150i Pro RGB, one of the most prominent products in its league, it does so at significantly higher noise levels. The very low slope of the graph suggests that the Helor 360, much like several other competitive products, benefits rather little from high airflow, with the noise figures increasing disproportionally to the lowering thermal resistance.

The Helor coolers lie at the top segment of the AIO market, pitting them against the best offerings of the competition. Cougar made a very bold move in attempting to confront the best products from established and experienced AIO cooler designers and manufacturers, and it clearly was a valiant effort.

Overall, the performance of the Helor 240 and 360 coolers is very good. Both coolers offer excellent thermal performance in relation to their size and in comparison with what the competition has to offer. The 240 mm version of the Helor seems to be outperforming nearly all of the AIO kits using equally sized radiators; it’s only surpassed by coolers that are significantly louder. Which is an important distinction, because the Helor 240 is going for a balanced approach, offering great thermal performance at relatively low noise levels.

Meanwhile, where the Helor 360 stands is a little fuzzy – the cooler does perform better than the 240 mm version both thermally and acoustically (when evaluating the thermal performance at the same sound pressure level as its smaller counterpart), however the performance gain from its larger size is quite limited, and it cannot really compete against custom liquid cooling kits. On the other hand, the two coolers are very close together in price, so I suspect consumers are going to gravitate towards the 360 mm version anyhow – assuming that they have a case that can fit the huge cooler.

Performance aside, Cougar placed a lot of effort into making the Helor AIO coolers aesthetically pleasing (if not arguably superior). Their application of RGB lighting is exemplary, with almost perfect light delivery and diffusion, vibrant colors, and excellent spectrum stability. Instead of relying on software alone, Cougar made their controller compatible with the RGB lighting controllers of several prominent motherboard manufacturers, yet also provides manual control via a physical remote control for users that prefer direct control over any form of software.

Cougar may not be a very experienced player in the cooling market but they definitely did very well with the Helor. The coolers offer great overall performance, are look great for windowed cases, and are competitively priced – the Helor 240 currently retails for around $130, while the larger Helor 360 can be found for $150. Although the segment of the market they are targeted to is relatively small, we find them to be worthy competitors and wouldn’t be surprised if they eventually seize a significant portion of the market for large closed loop coolers.

 
 

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