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Cooler Master's MasterAir Pro 3 and MasterAir Pro 4 CPU coolers reviewed

Don't mess with success

If you've bought an unlocked Intel CPU recently, chances are you've placed one of Cooler Master's Hyper 212 Evo heatsinks in your shopping cart to go with it. That classic cooler has been around in some form or another for the better part of a decade, and its great price-to-performance ratio has made it a perennial best-seller on Newegg. (I challenge you to find any other product with nearly 5000 reviews and a five-egg rating there.)

MasterAir Pro 4 on the left, MasterAir Pro 3 on the right

Sometimes, even the best things in life have to change. Cooler Master is in the midst of a top-to-bottom reimagining of its product lineup, and its heatsinks have been going under the knife for some time now. The company launched its MasterAir lineup earlier this year with the MasterAir Maker 8, and it's expanding that lineup today with the MasterAir Pro 4 and MasterAir Pro 3 heatsinks. The MasterAir Pro 4 adds a couple new ideas to the winning formula blazed by the Hyper 212 Evo, while the MasterAir Pro 3 is a fresh take on a 92-mm mini-tower.

These coolers arrive at a good time. We generally recommend sticking with Intel's stock coolers for CPUs like the Core i3-6100 and the Core i5-6500 in our System Guides, but after working with some of those boxed heatsinks recently, we've come to re-evaluate that recommendation. I'm not sure what's changed between the Haswell and Skylake stock coolers, but the most recent round of Intel boxed heatsinks has a narrow PWM range that makes for a rather noisy system at idle. Some folks might be able to live with that situation, but even the most basic 92-mm cooler is likely to be an improvement over the boxed heatsink.

Enter the $40 MasterAir Pro 3. This mini-tower offers three copper heat pipes running through an aluminum base plate. The base uses Cooler Master's fancy "continuous direct contact" design, meaning the heatpipes sit side-by-side for better heat transfer potential. Lesser heatsinks might use three pipes with less-complicated bends that run parallel to one another through an aluminum base. Even better, Cooler Master offsets the Pro 3's fin stack to improve memory clearance.

The MasterAir Pro 3's 140-mm-tall stack o' fins is cooled by a 92-mm MasterFan Pro Air Balance fan. These fans use what Cooler Master calls POM bearings, a type of polymer sleeve bearing. As their name might suggest, these fans are meant to strike a balance between static pressure and air flow. That's probably the ideal choice for pushing air through the Pro 3's fin stack. The MasterFans have rubber corners to reduce sympathetic vibration, and the built-in clips on the included fan make for easy installation. Another set of rubber pads on these mounting clips might reduce noise, vibration, and harshness even further. 

The $45 MasterAir Pro 4 takes the successful feature set established by the Hyper 212 Evo and makes only a couple of tweaks. This cooler still uses four copper heat pipes with Cooler Master's "continuous direct contact" design, but its base now has a new set of mounting holes that I'll discuss momentarily. The bare aluminum top plate on the Hyper 212 Evo has been replaced with a stealthy black-anodized one, and Cooler Master has switched out the Evo's fan for a MasterFan Pro Air Balance 120-mm unit. The MasterAir Pro 4's fins (and the MasterAir 3's) have a variety of perforations around the heatpipes and a V-shaped array of holes in the center of each layer in the stack that are purported to improve airflow and heat transfer.