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.
The MasterAir Pros each come with two sets of mounting systems: a rather complicated X-brace-and-bracket system for all recent AMD and Intel sockets, and a screw-on push-pin system for Intel LGA 115x and LGA 775 sockets. That push-pin system should work fine for the 390-gram (0.8-lb) MasterAir Pro 3, but I’d be wary of asking it to hold the 472-gram (one-pound) mass of the MasterAir Pro 4. Builders will probably want to install this cooler with its X-brace system instead.
That X-brace appears identical to the notoriously complex one used to secure the Hyper 212 Evo. I have to wonder why Cooler Master didn’t take this opportunity to standardize the mounting system used among its various coolers. The Hyper D92 and MasterAir Maker 8 both include a superb, easy-to-use mounting system that’s a snap to install. I’d have loved to see that system come to a Hyper 212 Evo-class cooler, but CM didn’t seem to feel that move was justified in this generation of products.
Despite my long run of building PCs, I’ve never actually had the pleasure of installing a Hyper 212 Evo. After using the MasterAir Pro 4, however, I can see why those instructional videos exist. The foundation of the system comprises four bolts that drop through the motherboard from front to back. The threaded ends of those bolts pass through ears on a universal bracket, and four nuts secure the bolts to the bracket from the rear of the motherboard.
This system practically requires the motherboard to be held vertically in order to get everything on properly. Flip the board over to put the bracket on, and the bolts fall out. Keep the motherboard socket-side up, and the bracket just falls off the bolts. When the board is held vertically, the bolts stay in place just well enough that it’s possible to slip on the bracket and install the bolts on the back of the board.
Builders will want to be careful of the way they drop these bolts into position—one side of the bolt has a flat on it that corresponds to the flat side of the ear on the accompanying bracket. Mess up this alignment, and the bolt may not drop into position fully. I made this error on the initial installation of the Pro 4, and it negatively affected cooling performance. After installing the bolts in the proper position and performing a thorough re-tightening of the nuts on the base of the cooler, I observed improved performance from the Pro 4.
Did you put your motherboard in your case to hold it vertically while you put on this bracket? Well, get ready to take it out again—or at least, turn the system on its side—because the X-brace isn’t secured to the cooling tower in any way. I found it impossible to hold both the X-brace and the tower in place while also screwing in any of the brace’s four mounting bolts with the system in a vertical orientation. Builders also need to be careful that an alignment cut-out on the X-brace and a pin on the top of the Pro 4’s base are mated properly before performing the final tightening of the four screws on the brace. Mess up this step, and it’ll be immediately obvious—the brace will be quite crooked.
The Hyper 212 Evo has a reputation for needing a third hand during installation, and the MasterAir Pro 4 doesn’t do anything to dispel that perception. With my PC on its side, I was able to get the brace screwed down easily enough. I’m still scratching my head as to why Cooler Master didn’t just engineer this cooler with one of its more recent mounting systems, though.
The MasterAir Pro 3, in contrast, goes on with a literal snap. Once the four Intel-stock-cooler-style push pins are screwed onto its base, installation is as simple as pushing down until one hears the click. Effortless.
The MasterAir Pro 4’s non-offset fin stack means it’ll interfere with the first DIMM slot on many Z170 motherboards. The fan’s clip-on system means it can be moved upward to avoid interfering with memory in that first slot, at least.
The Pro 4 doesn’t encroach on the airspace of the first PCIe slot of our test motherboard, and it shouldn’t cause problems for boards with PCIe x16 slots in the first slot position, either.
Thanks to its offset design, the Pro 3 doesn’t interfere with any of the memory slots on our Z170 testing board. Builders looking to fill all of the memory slots on their boards shouldn’t run into any issues with this cooler.
To nobody’s surprise, the Pro 3 doesn’t interfere with the first PCIe slot, either. As stock cooler replacements go, the Pro 3 doesn’t require builders to make any tradeoffs for its increased size and cooling capacity versus a boxed Intel heatsink.
Now that we’ve thoroughly kicked the tires of these coolers, let’s see how they perform with a CPU underneath.
Our testing methods
Our cooling test rig for this review used the following components:
|Processor||Intel Core i5-6600K|
|Motherboard||ASRock Z170 Extreme7+|
|Memory||16GB G.Skill Trident Z DDR4-3000 (2x8GB)|
|Storage||Kingston HyperX 480GB SSD|
|Power supply||SeaSonic SS-660XP2|
|CPU cooler||Cooler Master MasterAir Pro 3
Cooler Master MasterAir Pro 4
|OS||Windows 10 Pro|
Our thanks to ASRock and G.Skill for their contributions to our test system, and to Cooler Master for providing its heatsinks for testing.
We conduct our heatsink tests on an open test bench. We put each heatsink through the following testing phases:
- 10 minutes idling at the Windows 10 desktop
- 20 minutes of the Prime95 Small FFTs CPU torture test
- 10 minutes idling at the Windows 10 desktop
We used the following software in our tests:
- Prime95 v28.7
- AIDA64 Engineer v5.80.4000
The ambient temperature in our testing environment was about 70° F (21.1° C).
Here are the results of our cooling test, plotted over time:
And here are the minimum and maximum temperatures reached during each testing phase:
At idle, neither of these coolers break a sweat with our Core i5-6600K underneath (nor should they). The MasterAir Pro 4 distinguishes itself under load, however. The larger cooler keeps our stock-clocked CPU running at just 54° C, and it brings the chip most of the way back to its minimum idle temperature after we removed our Prime95 load. While the MasterAir Pro 3 does let the CPU underneath get a bit hotter, its 60° C maximum result under load isn’t reason for concern at all. If your goal is to keep a stock-clocked chip cool, both of these heatsinks are up to the job. Budget and size concerns will be the primary reason to choose one over the other.
Even though Intel doesn’t include a boxed cooler with its K-series Skylake CPUs, the solid aluminum heatsink from a Pentium G4400 still does a fine enough job of cooling a stock-clocked quad-core CPU. Whether it does that work quietly is another question. Let’s take a look at the noise levels these coolers produce under our stock-clocked load.
Here are the idle and load noise numbers we observed with our processor set to its stock speeds. We measured noise levels using the Faber Acoustical SoundMeter application running on an iPhone 6S Plus placed 18″ (45.7 cm) from our test system on an open bench. The CPU cooler was the only source of noise from our system.
With a stock-clocked CPU underneath, the MasterAir Pro 4 will appeal to builders looking for a quiet cooler at a fair price. Its 29.8-dBA result at idle will be practically inaudible inside any decent case, and it only produces 31 dBA under load. Those are both excellent results, and I could barely hear the cooler’s fan running at idle, much less discern any particular character from it. The Pro 4’s 120-mm fan does have a slight baritone quality under load, but it’s not annoying.
The MasterAir Pro 3’s 92-mm fan has a more complex noise signature. Even at its impressive 29-dBA idle SPL, the Pro 3 has a growly, ticky character that can’t be easily ignored. Under load, sound pressure levels increase only a hair to 30.3 dBA, but the fan produces a middle-pitched tonal whir when it speeds up, and the tickiness I could hear at idle also becomes more prominent. Even so, the Pro 3 is a major improvement over today’s Intel stock coolers.
Let’s take a look at how this duo handles an overclocked CPU now.
Seasoned overclockers will already know that the extra performance one can extract from a given chip is a confluence of several variables, most prominent among them the luck of the draw in the silicon lottery. Fancy motherboards and CPU coolers can help to increase the headroom available to a given chip, but they can’t increase the overclocking potential baked into a CPU at the foundry. Still, builders should seek to minimize obstacles to overclocking success, and an effective CPU cooler shouldn’t stand in the way of reaching the limits of a particular chip.
The MasterAir Pro 4 proved plenty capable of taking our particular Core i5-6600K to its limits. After several rounds of multiplier and voltage increases, we found that our chip was happy at about 1.28V and 4.5 GHz, but no amount of extra voltage made it stable under our Prime95 Small FFTs load at 4.6 GHz. With our final settings in place and its fan running all-out, the MasterAir Pro 4 held our i5-6600K to 76° C, a solid result for the artificial Prime95 torture test.
The Pro 4 produces a respectable 37.2 dBA under that load, as well. That figure may seem impressive on its face, but the MasterFan Pro Air Balance 120-mm spinner on the Pro 4 produces a prominent baritone hum at speed, rather than the broad-spectrum sound quality we’d like from an ideal fan. Thanks to that character, the MasterAir Pro 4 will make itself known in spaces where it’s running all-out, even if its absolute sound pressure level isn’t that high. If you plan to overclock with this cooler, be OK with sacrificing stealthy operation for performance.
I must admit that I came into our overclocking tests expecting very little from the MasterAir Pro 3. Shows what I know. This tiny terror held our Core i5-6600K to 79° C using the same 4.5 GHz overclock we achieved on the Pro 4. The 92-mm fan on the Pro 3 isn’t nearly as nice-sounding at speed as the Pro 4’s, though. At full tilt, the 92-mm MasterFan Pro Air Balance sounds like a tiny leaf blower. Its complex noise signature has some tickiness and growliness to it, as well. For overclockers who want to spend as little as possible on their CPU cooler, it seems the Pro 3 is certainly up to the task of some mild to moderate tweaking, but don’t expect quiet operation or polite manners at all if you push the chip underneath to its limits.
Cooler Master’s MasterAir Pro CPU heatsinks hit most of the marks that good air coolers should these days. The MasterAir Pro 3 offers a much wider PWM range than the Intel stock cooler for quiet running at idle, and the noise character of its 92-mm fan under load is better than the stock heatsink’s, as well. Even better, builders who already know how to install an Intel stock heatsink will have no trouble putting the Pro 3 on a motherboard. Most surprisingly, the Pro 3 is a competent cooler for overclocking, as well—at least when paired with a relatively modest CPU like our Core i5-6600K.
The MasterAir Pro 4 continues the bang-for-the-buck legacy of the iconic Hyper 212 Evo, and it brings some nicer cosmetics and a more modern fan to the table. With the right motherboard fan curve, the Pro 4 is practically silent at idle, and it remains quiet under load (although its noise character is a bit more tonal than I would prefer). The MasterAir Pro 4 is a good way to take advantage of the unlocked multipliers of the Core i5-6600K without spending too much cash or adding too much noise to a system’s total output, as well.
Cooler Master MasterAir Pro 4
I have just one major complaint about the MasterAir Pro 4, and it’s that Cooler Master didn’t take this opportunity to move to a more user-friendly mounting system. While the X-brace system included with the Pro 4 certainly works once it’s all in place, other Cooler Master heatsinks offer better-thought-out mounting systems. The Pro 4 does include Intel-style push-pin mounts for those looking for a shortcut, but I’d be wary of using those plastic push-pins with such a large, heavy tower.
Ultimately, builders really can’t go wrong with either of these heatsinks. Considering that the $40 MasterAir Pro 3 sells for just $5 less than the $45 MasterAir Pro 4, however, I would imagine most PC DIYers will want the Pro 4 for its quieter fan and extra cooling capacity. Only the most space-constrained microATX or Mini-ITX builders will want to sacrifice those characteristics in favor of the Pro 3’s compact size and rougher noise characteristics. Still, both of these coolers are competent within their design constraints, and I’m happy to send them both home with TR Recommended awards.