The Final Tally
While we typically don't assign multiple scores to products we review, we realized during our testing that there were so many criteria by which we could judge these coolers that we just had to break it down by more than just performance. So here we go, with each cooler being ranked from 1 (worst) to 5 (best) in five different categories:
The Performance Winner: This one's easy. By virtue of its massive 38mm-thick radiator, quad-fan array, and ultra-high-speed pump, the Arctic Freezer Liquid 240 blew away the competition in terms of performance. Given that it's also among the cheapest 240mm coolers available, it's also the clear price/performance king. But it's definitely not our favorite of this bunch...
The Value Winner: This one was a bit harder, as three coolers ended up around the same price: the air-based Noctua NH-D15 SE-AM4, the CoolerMaster MasterLiquid 240, and the aforementioned Arctic Freezer Liquid 240. But at press time, one was indeed a few dollars less expensive, and it was also a really well-balanced cooler, especially for people new to liquid cooling. Our "Value Winner" is none other than CoolerMaster's MasterLiquid 240! It's super-easy to install, reasonably quiet, and can sometimes be found for under $80, which makes it an exceptional deal. And yet, it's not the cooler we'd choose for own system...
All-Around Winner and Conclusion
There was one cooler that stood out as the best overall package of the bunch, and that was the Naia 240 from Reeven. Being the very first liquid cooler ever released by the company, there was plenty of potential for failure, but clearly a lot of opportunity to think out of the box as well, and that's what Reeven did. It truly impressed us with an amazing balance of performance and noise levels, along with straightforward installation and excellent compatibility that neither of the higher-performing coolers could match. Plus, with its unique transparent, refillable cooling block and dye packs, you can really come up with something that will stand out in a crowd. As shown here, we filled our sample filled with a mix of red and blue dye to come up with the purple color that went well with our RGB lighting scheme. With the four white LEDs shining through from behind the cover, it just looked stellar. Sure, RGB lighting is all the rage, but there's something so "real" about seeing that liquid lit up and tinted your favorite color of the rainbow.
Now, an honorable mention goes to Thermaltake and its powerful Water 3.0 Riing RGB 280. If your case has room for a 280mm cooler (most do not), and your wallet can handle the $150 asking price, we'd actually go as far as to call this the "best" cooler in this roundup. It certainly had the best-sounding and best-looking fans, but it was let down by a dated Asetek-derived cooling block design that lacked any lighting whatsoever. Had we tested Thermaltake's brand-new Floe Dual Riing RGB 280 instead, which features an RGB-lit cooling block for just a few dollars more, perhaps it would have been the winner.
And one last shoutout to Noctua for its impressive NH-D15. While it's clearly pushing the boundaries of what can be done with air cooling, for anyone who just isn't comfortable running a liquid-based cooler in their system, the Noctua serves up very decent thermals and low noise levels. Alas, for just $20 more, the Reeven Naia 240 is superior in every way, and that's why the D15 isn't going to get a full recommendation here.
We hope you've learned a thing or two about coolers in this article - we certainly did! Liquid coolers have really come a long way in the past few years, and we're just glad so many manufacturers agreed to take part in this test. We think the variety of offerings painted a very complete picture of what's available on the market today. In short, there are a lot of great options, as long as you go with a new model, and we'll be recommending them in more of our DIY PC Buyer's Guides going forward.
To see all our latest CPU Cooler recommendations at every price point and in every form factor, check out our CPU Cooler Buyer's Guide, updated quarterly, or just go for the cooler that we picked for our own high-end system, the amazing new Reeven Naia 240, currently listed for $112 shipped from Amazon!