Cooler Master MasterLiquid Pro 280 Cooler Review

Test Methods, Results & Conclusion

We’re comparing the MasterLiquid Pro 280 to the similarly-sized NZXT Kraken X61, the quad-fan Arctic Liquid Freezer 240, and the surprisingly powerful Id-Cooling Frostflow 240L, using the hardware configuration from previous big cooler reviews, at both 100% and 50% fan settings via motherboard firmware, to maintain result consistency.

Comparison Products

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Test Results

The MasterLiquid Pro 280 hangs tough with the Kraken X61 and Liquid Freezer 240, but the smaller and cheaper Frostflow 240L is nipping at the heels of higher-priced rivals.

The MasterLiquid Pro 280 has the fastest fans, and appears to have the fastest pump at over 9,000 RPM. Nobody heard any screaming noises from the pump, so the “Tach 2” speed shown assumes that the pump sends a tach signal four times per cycle.

The MasterLiquid Pro 280 is noisy, but then again so are two of its competitors. The Liquid Freezer 240 is by no means quiet, but its four slower fans produce fewer decibels of sound pressure on an A-weighted scale.

It looks like those seeking the best cooling-to-noise ratio should start stacking mid-speed fans, based on the Freezer 240 results. Many cases don’t have room to create a radiator sandwich however, and for those that do the ultimate acoustic efficiency would likely result from spending more money to add more fans to the larger radiators (and turning down the speeds).

The smaller 2x 120mm radiators typically cost less, with a price difference that exceeds the performance difference (in percentage terms). We aren’t using temporary discounts in this chart.

For deal seekers, the “killer value” could come from those temporary discounts we didn’t include. The MasterLiquid Pro 280 has recently been selling for as little as $100, and the Kraken X61 for as little as $120. The steeper MasterLiquid Pro 280 discount could make it the perfect part for a case that has a 2x140mm fan mount, but doesn’t have space for a stack of fans such as the Liquid Freezer 240 used to hit its performance marks. Of course, anyone who has room for both the wider radiator and two layers of fans is welcome to try both . . . on their own.

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  • 10tacle
    I would have liked to see the $130 Corsair H115i EP thrown in the mix for comparison but overall an excellent review. We can't have too many CPU cooler reviews!
  • munizj1
    The absence of a comparison to any Corsair AIO's or even NZXT's current X62 is...strange.
  • Crashman
    2370296 said:
    The absence of a comparison to any Corsair AIO's or even NZXT's current X62 is...strange.
    It would also be strange to include any coolers we haven't reviewed :)
  • the nerd 389
    2370296 said:
    The absence of a comparison to any Corsair AIO's or even NZXT's current X62 is...strange.


    The x61 is essentially identical to the x62 except for the LEDs.
  • JackNaylorPE
    Review covers the basics but ... did I miss it or was there any mention of radiator material ? Not commenting on what's there but what isn't. Methinks a cooler review needs to go beyond what can be found in the press release and a few comparisons with a couple of clone like designs. I read reviews to find out the things that the manufacturer intentionally leaves out. As for comparisons, the things I look for in a AIO cooler review are:

    a) Can it come close to the noise / thermal performance of the better / cheaper air coolers ?
    b) Can it come close to competing w/ OLC type AIOs w/ copper rads and moderate speed fans ?
    c) All materials.
    d) And tho checking things like pump flow would be illuminating, it is recognized that you'd have to destroy the CLC to get this info ... but would be nice to know if manufacturer was forthcoming with this type of data.

    Also would like to know more about the window that lets you see the coolant ...not seeing a value if you don't like what you see, you can't you do anything about it. Wish this was fleshed out some.
  • the nerd 389
    35894 said:
    Review covers the basics but ... did I miss it or was there any mention of radiator material ? Not commenting on what's there but what isn't. Methinks a cooler review needs to go beyond what can be found in the press release and a few comparisons with a couple of clone like designs. I read reviews to find out the things that the manufacturer intentionally leaves out. As for comparisons, the things I look for in a AIO cooler review are: a) Can it come close to the noise / thermal performance of the better / cheaper air coolers ? b) Can it come close to competing w/ OLC type AIOs w/ copper rads and moderate speed fans ? c) All materials. d) And tho checking things like pump flow would be illuminating, it is recognized that you'd have to destroy the CLC to get this info ... but would be nice to know if manufacturer was forthcoming with this type of data. Also would like to know more about the window that lets you see the coolant ...not seeing a value if you don't like what you see, you can't you do anything about it. Wish this was fleshed out some.


    For an AIO, the radiator material isn't as much of an issue. The loop is much more tightly controlled than open-loop designs. Any engineer worth their salt would ensure that if they use an aluminum rad, the rest of the components will either also be aluminum or galvanically isolated. That's nearly impossible to do in an open loop.

    Regarding OLC coolers, the reviews are a few clicks away. The summary is basically that the Celsius S24 handily beats this cooler, and this cooler handily beats the other OLC options.

    Lastly, it's fairly easy to check coolant flow without opening the loop. All you have to do is use the CPU power and instantaneous coolant temperature change to derive the heat capacity per minute. That translates directly into flow via mass per second and the heat capacity of water. That's easy if the coolant sensor is before the radiator, but requires removing the fans and wrapping the radiator if the sensor comes after the radiator. It's worth noting that above about 0.2 GPM, coolant flow doesn't really come into play until you push a lot of heat into the loop, and then double up on the fans and run them at full speed.
  • brucewithatemper
    The $130 Corsair H115i EP would've been a great comparison for the review. But overall, great review! Keep em coming brother!
  • dstarr3
    According to this, the Arctic Liquid Freezer 240 is the cheapest, the coolest, and the quietest. Sooooo... why buy anything else?
  • 10tacle
    1612573 said:
    According to this, the Arctic Liquid Freezer 240 is the cheapest, the coolest, and the quietest. Sooooo... why buy anything else?


    Many people take more into consideration than just raw performance and noise. Warranty being one example. Both the Arctic Cooling and Cooler Master coolers only have a 2-year warranty compared to Corsair's 5-year warranty with their H115i EP (all Corsair closed loop coolers come with a 5-year warranty).

    I for one would gladly spend $30 more on a cooler with a 5-year warranty...especially if it outperforms both the $90-$100 coolers (which it does). As well as I'd rather spend the same $100 on an H100i with a 5-year warranty even if it's behind the other coolers by a few C in performance.
  • the nerd 389
    202972 said:
    1612573 said:
    According to this, the Arctic Liquid Freezer 240 is the cheapest, the coolest, and the quietest. Sooooo... why buy anything else?
    Many people take more into consideration than just raw performance and noise. Warranty being one example. Both the Arctic Cooling and Cooler Master coolers only have a 2-year warranty compared to Corsair's 5-year warranty with their H115i EP (all Corsair closed loop coolers come with a 5-year warranty). I for one would gladly spend $30 more on a cooler with a 5-year warranty...especially if it outperforms both the $90-$100 coolers (which it does). As well as I'd rather spend the same $100 on an H100i with a 5-year warranty even if it's behind the other coolers by a few C in performance.


    Fractal Design also offers a 5-year warranty. What's even better is that you don't void the warranty if you open the loop and expand it. It still covers the original components of the cooler.
  • mapesdhs
    8708 said:
    It would also be strange to include any coolers we haven't reviewed :)


    In that case include the H110i GTX, as toms reviewed it in Oct 2015. ;) (or maybe it doesn't count as it was a forum review by rubix_1011?)

    Still, not including anything from Corsair is a bit weird, and if you've never reviewed any then get cracking. :D
  • 10tacle
    983009 said:
    Fractal Design also offers a 5-year warranty. What's even better is that you don't void the warranty if you open the loop and expand it. It still covers the original components of the cooler.


    Good to know. I rarely see any Fractal Design reviews except on PC cooler specific review sites like Frosty Tech. I know how it works - the cooler makers send tech review sites the hardware to review. Tom's doesn't just go out and buy all their own hardware to test.

    The closed loop cooler market is becoming very competitive and one would think the vendors would start sending more of them out there for reviews - unless they weren't confident in their product among the competition.

    117741 said:
    Still, not including anything from Corsair is a bit weird, and if you've never reviewed any then get cracking. :D


    Corsair needs to get off their duff and send Tom's more coolers to test. I hope a marketing rep for them is reading these comments. Glad I'm not the only one missing a Corsair in the mix.
  • JackNaylorPE
    983009 said:
    For an AIO, the radiator material isn't as much of an issue. The loop is much more tightly controlled than open-loop designs. Any engineer worth their salt would ensure that if they use an aluminum rad, the rest of the components will either also be aluminum or galvanically isolated. That's nearly impossible to do in an open loop. Regarding OLC coolers, the reviews are a few clicks away. The summary is basically that the Celsius S24 handily beats this cooler, and this cooler handily beats the other OLC options. Lastly, it's fairly easy to check coolant flow without opening the loop. All you have to do is use the CPU power and instantaneous coolant temperature change to derive the heat capacity per minute. That translates directly into flow via mass per second and the heat capacity of water. That's easy if the coolant sensor is before the radiator, but requires removing the fans and wrapping the radiator if the sensor comes after the radiator. It's worth noting that above about 0.2 GPM, coolant flow doesn't really come into play until you push a lot of heat into the loop, and then double up on the fans and run them at full speed.



    1. It does matter as copper has better heat transfer capability than aluminum does. Thatz why AIOs w/ copper rads always outperform aluminum ones. See test results below

    2. The context here is Open Loop AIOs ... and in this context, your assertion about one being "more tightly controlled" escapes me. How does an AIO from Swiftech (or EK) which comes in a box, pre-assembled from the factory with a copper rad and copper block any more or less "tightly controlled" then ones with aluminum from Corsair or CM ? Why do these copper units crush the aluminum ones at same fan speeds / noise levels ? The have capable pumps and copper rads.

    3. Every CLC type AIO does exactly what you say any engineer worth his salt wouldn't do. Every CLC that I have ever seen has these ... er... "features" in common.

    a) Aluminum radiator with poor heat transfer compared to copper
    b) Aluminum rad and copper block does create a galvanic corrosion cell which is inhibited, for a time, by corrosion inhibitors in the coolant
    c) No way to augment those corrosion inhibitors which are effective up to 18-24 months. Can't open the loop to add more.
    d) CLCs have grossly inadequate pump flow ... which is why they don't disclose it.

    4. There are way too many variables to do the calculation as described.... using that calculation, more flow would always be better which does not prove out in testing so it's obviously flawed. More flow above a certain point adds large increases in head and little increase in flow making the pump itself a significant source of heat. My pump(s) consume about 5 watts (1.25 gpm) under load testing, if I push them to max (2.75 gpm), it's greater than 30... or roughly an increase of 20-25% of CPU load. That 1.25 is more than 10 times the H100i.

    From martinsliquidlab ...as you can see they don't even bother testing below 0.5 ... and look how steep it is from 1.0 to 0.5 ... imagine what 0.1 looks like.




    5. If ya read a decent water cooling guide or test from a reputable site, you will quickly see a statement to the effect that flow doesn't matter to much ... once you get above 1.0 gpm. Many sites recommend 1.5 but they seem to be in older guides with rads of higher fpi than we see today. Our test bed includes 2 pumps, 5 x 140mm of rad, 10 rad fans, 6 thermal sensors (one in and out for each rad water temp + ambient / case air) with 6 channel digital display both accurate to 0.1 C and two flow meters. By measuring the water temp in and out of each rad, we can graph Delta T by fan rpm and flow ... over 1.25 gpm its getting pretty flat ... temps improve substantially w/ increased flow up to 1.0 gpm and show a more moderate increase from 1.00 to 1.25....after 1.5, it is a straight line. The Corsair H100i, when opened and tested, produced a wholly inadequate 0.11 gpm.

    6. The "few clicks away" comment makes no sense as if that's the reasoning, why compare anything ? When choosing a cooler, the things folks should be able to walk away with an understanding of ...

    - Is this going to be cooler / quieter than a comparably priced air cooler (no)
    - Does it have mixed metals ? (yes)
    - Does it have adequate flow rate ? (no)

    Look here (25:14) and we see the Swiftech H240-Xcooler w/ copper rad at idle speeds compared with everything else at Kraken X61, H100i) at max speed ...With the copper rad, the Swiftech manages the same CPU temp as the X61 all out bawlz to the wall The Kraken has to be maxed out and be 5 times louder to keep up w/ the Swiftech at idle ... you yes, material matters.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYKdKVxbnp8

    Back up to 23;15 and we see that with all units going all out, the H220-X and the Noctua air cooler keep the CPUs substantially cooler ... and for the H100i to lose by 3C to a cheaper air cooler, it has to be 11.3 times as loud as the Noctua. The H220-X is twice as loud in this graph making the H100i more than 5 times as loud as the H100i.
  • the nerd 389
    35894 said:
    1. It does matter as copper has better heat transfer capability than aluminum does. Thatz why AIOs w/ copper rads always outperform aluminum ones. See test results below
    This Tom's Hardware review clearly presents the cooler's thermal and acoustic performance. That should be sufficient to judge the performance capabilities of this sealed AIO cooler.

    35894 said:
    2. The context here is Open Loop AIOs ... and in this context, your assertion about one being "more tightly controlled" escapes me. How does [...]
    This is a sealed cooler, not an open loop AIO. My point stands. Regarding crushing performance differences, those would bear themselves out in the performance metrics in a more meaningful way than discussing the theoretical differences between materials.

    35894 said:
    3. Every CLC type AIO does exactly what you say any engineer worth his salt wouldn't do. Every CLC that I have ever seen has these ... er... "features" in common. [...]
    Such a design is perfectly acceptable if you galvanically isolate the components. Galvanic corrosion does not occur in the absence of an electrical connection between the components other than the electrolyte (I.E. a metal case, a wire, etc.). This is fairly easy to do, and often cheaper than using more expensive materials.

    35894 said:
    4. There are way too many variables to do the calculation as described.... using that calculation, more flow would always be better which does not prove out in testing so it's obviously flawed. [...]
    It's worth mentioning that the method I'm describing is simply a variation of the calorimeter. That instrument has been successfully employed for hundreds of years to make accurate measurements. The only difference here is that you're using a known energy input to determine the effective volume of fluid rather than vice-versa.

    Also, I believe you've misread what I wrote. I didn't say anything regarding whether more flow is better in that measurement method. I simply described a way to measure flow without opening the loop. It tells you flow rate, nothing more, nothing less. It most certainly does not indicate what you seem to have interpreted it to mean.

    35894 said:
    5. If ya read a decent water cooling guide or test from a reputable site, you will quickly see a statement to the effect that flow doesn't matter to much ... once you get above 1.0 gpm. Many sites recommend 1.5 but [...]
    You are correct in that open loop designs tend to aim for 1 GPM or greater. The coolers being discussed here, however, are not open loop, and any performance differences will bear themselves out in the performance metrics in a more meaningful way than discussing theoretical differences. The origin of my assertion is in the fact that many of the better AIOs achieve very good performance with ~0.2 GPM flow rates. AIOs employing greater flow do not generally have demonstrably better or worse performance. The x61, for instance, manages solid thermal performance with much lower flow rates than commonly found in open loop systems.

    35894 said:
    6. The "few clicks away" comment makes no sense as if that's the reasoning, why compare anything ? When choosing a cooler, the things folks should be able to walk away with an understanding of [...]
    Aside limited space, there's also the issue of what this cooler competes with. The coolers presented in this review represent the more common options that consumers might be deciding between if they're looking for this class of cooler. You're trying to compare coolers in different classes. It makes sense to have them separated from each other.

    Regarding acoustic efficiency, it's worth waiting for the updated metric. The short version of the story is that this cooler does outperform every air cooler tested by Tom's Hardware on this platform. Only one air cooler comes close, and it's in a lower class than this cooler. The second point is only an issue if the engineers were negligent in the design and the cooler isn't galvanically isolated. The last point is moot in a sealed AIO cooler. This isn't the cooler to get if you want to expand it. It wasn't designed for that. Any differences performance-wise will bear themselves out in the performance metrics.

    Regarding the videos, all I can say is that they need (much) more rigorously controlled tests to be taken seriously. They do not appear to disclose ambient temperatures, methodology, or measurement equipment. They could be dealing with +/- 10 C uncertainties for all I can tell. I'll refrain from commenting on the other videos from them for the sake of brevity. This post has already gone on far too long.
  • Ditt44
    So, in essence, @Jacknaylorpe... there is still no point, for the general to upper-mid user to implement anything beyond a solid air cooler. That's always been my perception. Before the latest "LED-everything" craze, was the "liquid cooled-eveything" craze...wait... aren't we still amid that one? :) Somewhat rhetorical and facetious comments. But under most technical (not all) circumstances, I see no need for non-air. But too each his own.

    And..... Tom's.... STOP THE FREAKING "CHASE ME" VIDEOS!!!! If I want to see the d*mned thing, I'll watch it in it's already blocked video box. Stop chasing me with crap! Jeez.
  • bentremblay
    Top of mind: "I really appreciate the hard-core reviewing best of the best but c'mon now ... I use ArmA3 as benchmark ... you gotta realize" and at that point I shut up to check the article.

    :-)

    I noticed the $5.5K game build. Will //sooooo// happily spread-sheet those values to see what's what.
    Meanwhile ...

    --ben

    p.s. I think R3E is another game to use as benchmark.
  • TbsToy
    Whoop di do. another AIO cooler review. How about some more power supplies or some more substandard SSDs to waste our time reading. You guys used to be a great tech site. What happenrd?
    W. P.
  • TbsToy
    You guys used to be a really great informative tech site. Why have you turned into a pure marketing thing? Money, right?
    W.P.
  • TbsToy
    O.K. Never again will I ever visit your all nonsense site.
    At least I have the courage to sign my name!
    Walt Prill
  • Crashman
    2102203 said:
    O.K. Never again will I ever visit your all nonsense site. At least I have the courage to sign my name! Walt Prill
    Well, that progressed quickly.

    So, we get a lot of coolers handed to us. And to avoid controversy with readers, we found an easy way to measure cooling performance. Now, for the extreme stuff, send me some hardware you'd love to see burn and I'll see how far it goes before it pops :)
  • 10tacle
    8708 said:
    Well, that progressed quickly. So, we get a lot of coolers handed to us. And to avoid controversy with readers, we found an easy way to measure cooling performance. Now, for the extreme stuff, send me some hardware you'd love to see burn and I'll see how far it goes before it pops :)


    LOL. Well it's always easier to criticize the work of others than make attempts to do better yourself. That's why we've had critics since the Stone Age (as Mel Brook's History Of The World started out with in cave art).