Choosing an AIO Liquid CPU Cooler: 280mm vs. 360mm
Here at TBG, we have a thing for coolers. In fact, at this point, we’ve tested more coolers than any other PC component, with over 60 under our belt. That means we have a very good sense of what the best models are, and what makes for a great cooler. But one question we’ve had for a while, and that our readers and viewers have often asked us, is whether 280mm or 360mm AIO liquid CPU coolers are superior. On paper, the 360mm models have a 10% advantage in terms of radiator surface area and three fans working in their favor, but 280mm models have the advantage of two larger 140mm fans, which we’ve shown to be superior when tested against the best 120mm models. The only way to truly settle this score was to do a test between two nearly identical coolers, differing only in radiator and fan size. Luckily, Deepcool was able to help us out by providing its excellent Castle EX-series coolers in both sizes. So without further ado, let’s move on to the test!
Here’s what’s compared in the review:
And here’s the system setup:
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 3900X
- MB: Asus X470 Crosshair XI Hero
- RAM: Corsair 2x8GB Vengeance RGB Pro DDR4-3200
- Case: be quiet! Pure Base 500DX
As with all of our reviews at this point and going forward, this review appears exclusively on YouTube, which you can see below. Not only do we show you what comes in the box and share some impressive benchmarks, but we give you a good look at each cooler as well!
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Well, in the end, we’ll have to call this one a draw! But that’s a good thing, because it means you can just go with whichever cooler fits better in your case. We vastly prefer to have our radiators mounted up top, not only because they provide better overall system cooling (the CPU is a little hotter, while everything else is much cooler!), but also because front-mounting a radiator leads to unsightly tubing stretched across your case, and with the newest oversized video cards, you may not even be able to mount rads in front, particularly 360mm models. By the way, we suggest you take the advice of many experts and position tubes downwards when front-mounting, which makes this all the more problematic. So, ultimately, if we were to give everyone one piece of advice, it would be to top mount whichever cooler fits in your case, and that may mean you’ll need to go down a size to a 240mm if you have a compact model. Is that a compromise? Sure, but we think it’s a good one!
As always, check out our CPU Cooler Buyer’s Guide, updated quarterly, for all our latest recommendations.