For builders looking to cool a hot-clocked CPU like Intel’s Core i7-6700K, tower-style coolers and closed-loop liquid coolers come with tradeoffs. Go with the tower-style air cooler, and you might need a 170-mm tall monster with multiple 140-mm fans to keep your system cool and quiet. Choose a liquid cooler, and you have to find a place for a huge radiator stack to exhaust its waste heat or hope that your case’s airflow is otherwise good enough to move that hot air out. Liquid coolers often leave CPU voltage-regulation circuitry at the mercy of fans around the CPU socket, too, and their pump noise can be an annoyance to those with sensitive ears.
Those tradeoffs are hard enough to make in a roomy ATX mid-tower, but builders of high-end systems in compact microATX or Mini-ITX cases might have an especially hard time finding a powerful enough cooler to make their dreams a reality. Often, it’s not even possible to fit a big enough air cooler for high-performance builds inside cases like the Corsair Carbide Series Air 240 or the Graphite Series 380T—it’s liquid or nothing.
Cooler Master is trying to help those small-form-factor builders out by bringing the best of air and liquid coolers together in one heatsink: the MasterLiquid Maker 92. The concept behind this $100 cooler is so unusual that it doesn’t really have its own category yet, so let me explain. The Maker 92 sandwiches a self-contained pump and radiator between a pair of push-pull 95-mm fans. That cooling stack rests atop a bracket that allows the sandwich to rest in a vertical position, like a tower cooler, or in a horizontal one, like a blow-down air cooler. Where the base and heatpipes of a traditional tower-style cooler might go, Cooler Master snaked a pair of coolant hoses down to a low-profile water block with a hefty copper cold plate.
This entire self-contained apparatus sits right on top of the CPU socket, just like a tower-style cooler would. It’s compact, as well. In its horizontal position, the Maker 92 is just 4.7″ (118.8 mm) tall, and its relatively compact footprint shouldn’t cause clearance issues with tall memory heatsinks or motherboards with a PCIe x16 slot close to the CPU socket. Flip the cooling stack upright, and the Maker 92 measures in at 6.6″ tall (167.5 mm), about the same as the iconic Hyper 212 Evo or the MasterAir Pro 4 we just reviewed.
Cooler Master’s unique design requires some tradeoffs of its own. The MasterAir Maker 92 only works with Intel LGA 115x and LGA 2011 sockets—builders with AMD CPUs are left entirely out in the cold. On the off chance you still own an Intel LGA 775 or LGA 1366 motherboard, you also won’t find mounting hardware in the Maker 92’s box. If you’ve been building from our recent System Guides, those constraints shouldn’t be cause for concern, but they do mean the Maker 92’s appeal may not be as wide as it could have been.
Builders likely won’t be able to swap out the Maker 92’s fans, either—their unique 95-mm dimensions aside, these fans are designed specifically to let the Maker 92 do its swivelly thing. If I had to pick a pair of fans to be stuck with, however, the Maker 92’s could share far worse lineage than Cooler Master’s own Silencio 120 FPs. These fans use five broadly-swept blades in a design that’s optimized for static pressure—important for moving air through densely-packed radiator fins.
The MasterLiquid Maker 92 draws power from a combination SATA-and-PWM cable that can be gently split in two for more routing freedom. That’s handy, since most builders probably won’t want to route a dedicated chain of SATA power connectors into the main chambers of their cases just to power the Maker 92.
One interesting thing about the Maker 92 is that its fans can shut off entirely when the CPU underneath is at idle. By default, the internal circuitry of the Maker 92 cuts off the fans when the PWM duty cycle from the motherboard falls below 50%. That means the only sound from the cooler at idle will be its pump—a potentially appealing characteristic in noise-sensitive environments. Folks who would prefer airflow at idle will need to set the PWM duty cycle on their CPU fan headers to a level above 50%.
Cooler Master made life easy when it designed the MasterLiquid Maker 92’s mounting system. It’s quite simple: four bolts run through a bracket that sits behind the motherboard, and four nuts go on top of them to clamp down the cooler. Clipping the bolts onto the bracket using the four included plastic clips is the only fiddly thing about the entire process.
I found it easiest to install the MasterLiquid Maker 92 in its vertical position with the front fan off. With that fan in place, the coolant hoses make it hard to get a screwdriver or hand in to tighten down the requisite nuts. Once the cooler is in place, flipping it between its vertical and horizontal positions is a tool-free process, although I had to keep the coolant hoses out of the way by hand.
In its vertical position, the MasterLiquid Maker 92 just barely clears the first memory slot on the Z170 motherboard we’re using as an example.
In its horizontal position, the Maker 92 overhangs the first memory slot on our test system, but it doesn’t interfere with the heat spreaders on the taller-than-average G.Skill Trident Z DIMMs we’re using in our rig.
The Maker 92 also doesn’t interfere with the first PCI Express slot on our test motherboard, although the lower coolant hose might touch the backplates of graphics cards installed on motherboards with PCIe x16 slots in the first position.
All told, the MasterLiquid Maker 92 is one of the simplest coolers to install that I’ve used. Let’s see how it performs.
Our testing methods
Here are the specifications of our test system:
|Processor||Intel Core i7-6700K|
|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 MasterLiquid Maker 92
Cooler Master MasterAir Pro 4
|OS||Windows 10 Pro|
Our thanks to ASRock and G.Skill for their contributions to our testing system, and to Cooler Master for providing the heatsinks we used in this review. We’ll be using Cooler Master’s recently-released MasterAir Pro 4 heatsink as a point of comparison for the MasterLiquid Maker 92.
Our heatsink testing cycle comprises the following phases:
- 10 minutes idling at the Windows 10 desktop
- 20 minutes running the Prime95 Small FFTs CPU torture test
- 10 minutes idling at the Windows 10 desktop
We used the following software in our tests:
Here are the results of our thermal tests, plotted over time:
And here are the minimum and maximum temperatures reached during each testing phase:
Surprisingly, the Maker 92 doesn’t beat out the $40 MasterAir Pro 4—or even the $35 MasterAir Pro 3—in absolute cooling performance. The Pro 4 keeps peak temperatures about five to six degrees C lower than Cooler Master’s compact liquid unit. It’s still impressive that this heatsink performs as well as it does given its 4.7″ (119 mm) height in its horizontal position, though. The 6.3″-tall (159 mm) Pro 4 won’t be able to fit into nearly as many cases as the Maker 92. For powerful yet space-constrained Mini-ITX builds where cooling performance is paramount, the Maker 92 could be the perfect fit.
Here are the noise levels we recorded for each of the coolers we tested at idle and under load. We took measurements 18″ from each cooler using the Faber Acoustical SoundMeter app running on an iPhone 6S Plus.
At idle, the MasterLiquid Maker 92 produces remarkably low dBA levels. The only sound from the unit is a slight high-frequency whine or buzz from its pump that’s more obvious than the 29-dBA figure we measured might suggest. That character might be less obvious in a case. At full load, the Maker 92 produces 41 dBA—not thunderous, but not silent, either. The largely pleasant sound of the twin 95-mm fans is tempered somewhat by a prominent high-midrange tonal quality that won’t easily fade into the background.
By comparison, the large 120-mm fan on the MasterAir Pro 4 has a more broad-spectrum noise character whose tonality falls into the more-easily-ignored baritone end of the frequency range, despite its similar dBA readings to the MasterLiquid Maker 92 when cooling a Core i7-6700K at full tilt. The MasterAir Pro 3’s gravelly-sounding fan brings up the rear for noise character from this trio.
Given the MasterLiquid Maker 92’s performance atop a stock-clocked Core i7-6700K, we didn’t expect a lot of headroom for overclocking from this cooler. We still gave it a shot.
With the Core i7-6700K’s already-high 4.2GHz Turbo speed, there’s not a lot of OC headroom to be had from the chip to begin with. Still, we pushed our sample to 4.4 GHz at 1.28V using the MasterLiquid Maker 92. Since the cooler was already running all-out under a stock load, the only parameter that rose in our tests was the CPU temperature. We observed peak numbers of 90° C under our overclocked load. We tried taking the chip all the way to 4.6 GHz at 1.312V, but CPU temperatures spiked to over 97° C using those settings. We wouldn’t expect to push a powerful CPU like this one to its absolute limits under the Maker 92.
In contrast, the MasterAir Pro 4 held that same 4.6-GHz overclock to 90° C with its fan running all-out. At those speeds, the Pro 4 produced 43.4 dBA, but its lower-pitched noise character didn’t make the increased noise levels unpleasant. We wouldn’t choose the Pro 4 to keep an overclocked Core i7-6700K both cool and silent under load, but it certainly seems up to the task of keeping our chip cool and quiet, at least.
If our tests have shown us anything, it’s that Cooler Master’s MasterLiquid Maker 92 isn’t a heatsink for everybody. If a builder has enough vertical space in their case for a 6.6″-tall heatsink, the $45 MasterAir Pro 4 offers better performance than the Maker 92 for about half as much money. Even the inexpensive MasterAir Pro 3 edges out the Maker 92 with a stock-clocked Core i7-6700K. Folks willing and able to use a traditional closed-loop liquid cooler can probably enjoy better performance than the MasterLiquid Maker 92 for the same price, as well.
While it’s nifty that Cooler Master lets us flip the Maker 92 between horizontal and vertical orientations, that feature isn’t really where the value of this heatsink lies. In its horizontal position, the Maker 92 is just 4.7″ (119 mm) tall, and that compact height might let it go where other, less capable coolers can’t. Despite being even shorter than the already-tiny MasterAir Pro 3, the Maker 92 is still capable of keeping Intel’s demanding Core i7-6700K CPU in check. In tiny cases that might not even have a radiator mount available, this heatsink is a real problem-solver for cooling powerful CPUs. It even allows for some modest overclocking in those space-constrained cases, as well.
In the end, whether the MasterLiquid Maker 92 is worth its $100 price tag will depend on whether it solves a set of narrowly-defined problems for a particular builder. Not every microATX or Mini-ITX case has a radiator mount or room for a big air cooler, and folks looking to keep a high-performance system as compact and self-contained as possible might not want to mess with a closed-loop liquid cooler and its remote radiator. The Maker 92 also moves plenty of air over motherboard VRMs and memory, and that could be reassuring in cases with limited airflow.
Assuming it solves all of those particular problems for a given builder, the MasterLiquid Maker 92 is a uniquely appealing product. It offers a novel design, solid performance, an easy-to-use mounting system, and reasonably quiet operation for its size. Relax any of the constraints above, however, and cheaper coolers can perform just as well for less money.