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Cooler Master MasterLiquid Pro 280 Review

Price: $104.99

Cooler Master MasterLiquid Pro 280 Introduction:

Several years ago, water cooling was limited to high-end custom builds that enthusiasts with deep pockets would show off at all the tech shows. Remember the first time you saw a water cooling system on a computer? Talk about the "wow!" factor. I remember when I first saw one, and I remember thinking that one day I would have one whether I needed one or not. Since the beginning of the PC, air coolers dominated the PC market for the average Joe, but eventually CPUs became more powerful and generated more heat. Overclockers pushed CPUs even further, and a few system builders began to experiment with their own custom water cooling. Manufacturers caught on to the trend and took advantage of this new type of cooling method and developed the compact and afforable AIO or All-in-One systems. This took the guess work out of water cooling and allowed the average builder to enjoy the benefits (and bragging rights) of water cooling. Cost has come down and pretty much stabilized, and reliability has improved over the years. I think it is safe to say that liquid cooling is here to stay.

Cooler Master's wide range of cases, power supplies, fans, and gaming peripherals have been at the top of the short list for anyone looking for stylish, robust, affordable hardware. Cooler Master jumped into the water cooling ring a few years ago with the release of the Seidon and followed it up with the Eisberg series. These coolers set the stage for later releases, and the MasterLiquid series is the latest entry into the AIO (All-in-One) world of watercooling solutions.

The MasterLiquid coolers use Cooler Master's FlowOp Technology, a combination of features including (per Cooler Master): "an exclusive pump and dual chamber design with ultra fine microchannels, Braided Sleeve tubing, square fin radiator design and MasterFanAir Balance fans." The cooler we will review today is the MasterLiquid Pro 280, so we will get to see how all of these FlowOp features work.

Cooler Master MasterLiquid Pro 280 Closer Look:

The box has a black background with a nice graphic of the cooler front and center. The prominent 140mm fans cover the large radiator, but make no mistake - there is a beast behind those fans. All 280mm of it. and of course, there is the pump shown with the clear face cover with the Cooler Master logo illuminated with a blue glow. This is from the blue LED that only lights up when the pump has power. On the back of the box are the features listed in eight languages, as well as a view of the radiator and an exploded view of the pump. Toward the lower right are the illustrations showing the general dimensions of the radiator and pump.



On one end of the box is a list of the general dimensional and performace specifications.The white text against the black background makes it easy to read. On the opposite side there is another picture of the entire assembly, but this time the pump is flipped around so you can see the large copper base.



The packaging is robust and it looks like it would take quite a jolt to do any damage. The pump is secured in its own separate section, which is lined on the side with soft foam padding, and the pump and radiator are wrapped in clear plastic bags. There is even a little desicant pack to help keep moisture under control. The radiator is below the pump in its own compartment and is well protected from any impacts that could bend or damage the delilcate cooling fins. The little white desicant bag absorbs any excess moisture in the box.



The first thing I notice is the weight of the assembly. The pump is large and heavy - well, heavy compared to most of the other AIO systems I have reviewed. The large side tanks and stiff side frames really make the radiator feel heavy and rock solid. Many radiators can easily flex without much force. Not this one. This thing is built like a tank.



The large side tanks really stand out and add some serious stability to the overall radiator. The thick side frames have the mounting holes for either 120mm fans or 140mm fans. Those new braided lines add a touch of class, too.



Here is a little comparison between older radiator technology and the direction Cooler Master is going with the MasterLiquid Pro 280. On the left is a picture of the MasterLiquid Pro 280 - at first glance you may think it looks like any other radiator. But actually it is a bit different, and that brings us to the next picture on the right. Here I have the two radiators side by side. On the left is an old style 240mm radiator with fins that have a distinct radius at the contact point of each horizontal tube. Also, notice how small the tank is. On the right is the MasterLiquid Pro 280 radiator and right away the larger tank size is very noticable. And the fin profile - it has more of a square bottom, forming more of a rectangular opening between each fin. The contact patch where the fin is brazed to the tube is much larger, which allows for more efficient heat transfer.



And this slide explains the idea behind the square fin shape in a little more detail. A lot of engineering goes into squeezing out any bit of efficiency that can be gained, and this effort is certainly welcome. So this proves that while they may look similar at first glance, not all radiators are equal.


Besides the overall obvious size and weight of the pump, what stands out are the new braided coolant lines. Cooler Master listened to feedback and incorporated this feature into the MasterLiquid Pro 280. This is definitely a plus. Another thing that stands out is the way that the inlet and outlet lines come in from opposite sides. And these lines do, of course, swivel to accomodate your installation needs. The power feed for the pump is a 4-pin plug and it is also has a braided sheath. The top of the pump is covered by a clear plastic top with the Cooler Master logo prominently displayed. The hollow chamber below the clear cover is illuminated by an eye-pleasing blue LED when there is power to the pump.

The solid copper base plate has a square contact patch that is machined to protrude out, and there are two flanges that stick out on the sides of the pump. Each flange has two threaded inserts to secure the appropriate AMD or Intel mounting bracket to the pump. On the back side of the copper base are ultrafine microchannels that are designed to maximize the heat transfer from the base (cold plate) to the coolant. Don't forget to peel the protective sticker off of the base plate when you apply the thermal paste.



And speaking of the pump - here is a little more information about the pump technology and design. The slides below make it easier to understand rather than me trying to explain it. You know what they say - a picture is worth a thousand words, right?



There are two key components in any liquid cooled system - the pump and the fans. Here are the new Cooler Master MasterFan Pro 140 Air Balance fans, two of which are included with this cooler. These large fans according to Cooler Master are a "perfect balance of flow and pressure to exhaust air through square fins." The fans have rubber bushings at each corner to isolate any vibrations and keep them from being transferred to the case. There is also the large rubber gasket that goes between the fans and the radiator to help control any stray vibrations. These 12 volt PWM fans have a small three-postion switch that gives you a spread on the top range of the RPM limit. The positions are listed at P, Q, and S for Performance, Quiet, and Silent. These max out respectively at 1500, 2200, and 2800 RPMs. Definitely an interesting feature. Testing today will be at the default setting of Q (Quiet). I like the braided sheathing on the fan power leads, too.



The hardware kit is neatly packed in its own box, and among the items are the large fan gasket (to help isolate any vibrations), the mounting brackets for Intel and AMD systems, the manual, and a really nice plastic tray with each installation fastener / component organized and clearly visible. There is even a little pocket in the tray for the thermal paste. I really like the way you can see if anything is missing. I don't usually get too excited about hardware kits, but this one deserves a thumbs up!



The installation of the pump to the motherboard went smoothly. The instructions are clear and easy to follow, so I had no issues with any part of the installation. The large pump looks right at home atop the 4770K CPU. With the power off, there is no blue LED glow below the pump face, but on the right you can see the blue glow when the pump is powered up. It looks even nicer when you turn out the lights.



Now it is time for some video fun. Take a look at the OCC video review of the MasterLiquid Pro 280 All-in-One cooling solution. Then come back and check out more information on the Specifications, Features, and Testing page.

  1. Cooler Master MasterLiquid Pro 280: Introduction & Closer Look
  2. Cooler Master MasterLiquid Pro 280: Specifications, Features, & Testing
  3. Cooler Master MasterLiquid Pro 280: Conclusion
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