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Cooler Master's MasterLiquid Pro 240 and Pro 280 CPU coolers reviewed

Chill out

Cooler Master's Nepton 240M closed-loop liquid cooler was a staple of our System Guides until it fell victim to a patent lawsuit a little over a year ago. The company didn't let that setback end its quest to keep CPUs chilly, though. Its revised MasterLiquid Pro CPU coolers, introduced earlier this year, incorporate a distinctive two-chamber pump design that "sprays" coolant on the center of the fin array atop the CPU cold plate. The MasterLiquid radiators also use a rectangular fin design that purports to offer better heat transfer than the V-shaped fins on more traditional radiators. 

Today, we're looking at two CPU coolers that incorporate these design innovations: the MasterLiquid Pro 240 and the MasterLiquid Pro 280. Although these coolers use the same pump to move coolant through their closed loops, they offer distinctly different approaches to transferring heat once the coolant leaves the pump housing.

The MasterLiquid Pro 240 uses a one-inch-thick (2.5 cm), 240-mm radiator connected to its pump with Cooler Master's trademark ribbed tubing. Our example isn't entirely representative of the MasterLiquid Pro 240s buyers will get. Newer versions of this cooler will use smooth tubing with a webbed-nylon exterior.

To move air through the Pro 240's rectangular-finned radiator, Cooler Master uses a pair of its latest 120-mm MasterFan Pro Air Balance spinners. We recently examined these fans in our review of the MasterAir Pro 4, but in brief, they're sleeve-bearing units powered by the same type of "silent driver" Cooler Master says is under the blue-backlit window of the MasterLiquid Pro series' pumps. In their radiator-ready form, they offer four noise-dampening rubber corners joined to the fan frame by four beefy Allen-head screws. I'm a real fan of the way these fans look—they're subtle and classy.

The MasterLiquid 280 uses the same one-inch-thick radiator design as the MasterLiquid Pro 240, but it's scaled up to accept a pair of 140-mm MasterFan Pro 140 Air Pressure spinners. These fans trade the "balanced" design of the Air Balance series for five broadly-swept fan blades. That design should help push more air through the tightly-packed fins of the Pro 280's radiator.

Both MasterFan spinners offer three speed settings—"silent," "quiet," and "performance"—that can be selected using a switch on the back of the fan hub. The switch basically caps the PWM range of each fan.

For the MasterFan Pro 120 AB, the PWM range starts at 650 RPM and extends up to 1300 RPM in silent mode, 2000 RPM in quiet mode, and 2500 RPM in performance mode. The MasterFan Pro 140 AP fans start at the same 650 RPM base speed and spin up to 1550 RPM in silent mode, 2200 RPM in quiet mode, and 2800 RPM in performance mode. Cooler Master ships each fan in its silent mode by default, and that's the setting we'll be using in today's testing. Builders who can tolerate more noise in trade for better airflow will be happy to have the option with these coolers, though.

While we can't take apart the pump on these coolers to see what's inside, the MasterLiquid Pro pump head does strike a distinctive profile, perhaps as a consequence of its dual-chamber design. Compared to the Nepton series before them, the MasterLiquids' pump moves the inlet and outlet hose fittings to opposing sides of the housing, and it offers a fancy blue-LED-backlit window and ring around the base of the unit. Builders will need to be OK with that blue hue, however, as the MasterLiquid series is sitting out the RGB LED craze for now.

One thing Cooler Master didn't change is the hefty hunk of copper that's responsible for transferring heat from the CPU to the loop. Beyond the visceral joy that a big hunk of highly heat-conductive metal offers, the MasterLiquids both have an extremely finely-brushed finish on their bases that's a far cry from the coarsely-brushed copper on the Nepton series. We expect most builders won't be spending a lot of time admiring the base of their CPU heatsink, but Cooler Master's work here gets full marks.