Recent CPU releases have seen the AMD Ryzen 9 3900X and 3950X sweep the board for productivity performance, whilst Intels new Comet Lake CPUs the i5-10600K, i7-10700K and i9-10900K all give outstanding performance in gaming. This performance comes at a cost though: Intels chips, in particular, run hot and can dissipate over 200W of heat when running at full speed. Meanwhile, if you want the best performance from AMD’s CPU’s in long rendering sessions then you have to be able to remove heat from the CPU. The performance benefits are the same in both instances: lower CPU temperatures allow the CPU’s to maintain high clock speeds. When they detect overheating they will throttle back and this costs you performance, but if they detect ‘thermal headroom’ they are able to lift clock speeds to improve performance still further. Choosing the right cooling solution is therefore paramount in extracting maximum performance from your CPU.
An all-in-one (AIO) cooler combines a pump, water circuit, and radiator in one package. Supplied complete and ready to fit these systems take the headache and risk out of a water cooling system. They’re a popular choice with gamers and professional productivity PCs. Most Pc cases will fit a 280mm radiators with ease. Compared to a 240mm AIO there’s nearly 40% more surface area in the radiator maximising the area across which heat can be dissipated. This makes them an excellent choice for a high-performance CPU like the Intel i7-10700K or AMD Ryzen 3950X.
In this article, we’ll recommend the best 280mm AIO’s on the market today. Whether you want a great value cooler or an aesthetically pleasing AIO to add visual flair to your build, here are the products to look out for:
Best 280mm AIO Liquid CPU Coolers – Our Recommendations
Best Value 280mm AIO – Arctic liquid Freezer II 280mm
This high-quality cooler, the Arctic Liquid Freezer II 280mm, is available for under $100, and is the only cooler on our list to come under that price point. Arctic have opted to develop their pump in-house, and uses pulse-width modulation (PWM) technology for more precise control and better reliability. The CPU cold plate includes a small 40mm fan which is designed to push air over the VRM circuitry next to the CPU. This neat feature helps lower VRM temperatures enabling more stable overclocks. The cold plate is copper, the best material to conduct heat away from the CPU heat spreader.
Testing shows this cooler to be up there with the very best in terms of cooling capacity: as with most AIO’s, it’s a question of balancing the temperatures you want with noise levels you find acceptable. Overall this 280mm AIO offers excellent performance and features at a very attractive price. The only area it lacks is in looks but this is understandable as Arctic have clearly focussed on performance and function over form with this product. If you’re a keen overclocker on a budget or just want the best 280mm AIO for your money, the Arctic Liquid Freezer II 280mm is the cooler for you.
Best Looking 280mm AIO Cooler: NZXT Kraken Z63
NZXT refreshed their Z series AIO’s in 2020 and the Z63 is their 280mm cooler offering. The primary feature of this cooler is the versatile circular LCD display on the pump head. You can use this to display diagnostic temperatures, logos and even small gifs via NZXT’s CAM software. This screen along with the clean anodised aesthetic of the cooler makes this the focal point of your PC. NZXT supply their premium Aer ‘P’ series fans with hydrodynamic bearings and PWM speed control from 500-1800rpm. This gives quiet operation and great cooling ability. If you’re looking for the slickest looks along with great performance then this cooler may be one you’re looking for.
Quietest 280mm AIO – Corsair H115i Pro 37DBA w/ low speed ML fans
The Corsair H115i is Corsairs top of the range 280mm AIO. It was refreshed late last year to include an updated pump and pump head design and now includes a pair of Corsairs SP140L fans. Testing shows this AIO to be amongst the quietest on offer. The fans are PWM controlled so you can precisely define a fan curve that suits your preferences. The RGB is controlled via Corsairs iCue software which also provides temperature monitoring and a multitude of customisation options – for example, you can link the cooler RGB colour to CPU or water temperatures. This is a discreet and high-quality AIO that will integrate into any build with other Corsair components, or simply keep noise to a minimum if that is your goal.
Best Enthusiast 280mm AIO: Alphacool Eisbaer 280mm
Alphacool have refreshed the AIO market with their range of no-nonsense CPU coolers, offering extreme performance at competitive prices with the new Alphacool Eisbaer. The most interesting feature of the Eisbaer is the quick release coupling: you can expand this system with additional parts from Alphacool. It’s a fantastic way to get into water cooling without diving in at the deep end. You could buy this cooler now and then add their GPU cooling block to the loop later. Similarly, the fittings on the radiator and CPU pump are standardised fittings that allow you to separate and reuse these components in a more complex water cooling set up in future. Aside from that, the out-of-the-box performance of this cooler is excellent. Alphacool utilises ‘Bequiets’ pure wings 2 140mm fans to push air through this radiator without excessive noise. The blocky pump head incorporates a copper cold plate for optimum heat transfer into the liquid. Overall the Eisbaer is a compelling cooler for enthusiasts offering expandability and performance in an affordable package.
Best all-rounder 280mm AIO: EVGA CLC 280
EVGA use the ‘CLC’ moniker to refer to their ‘closed loop coolers’. The CLC 280 couples an Asetek water pump with EVGA’s 280mm radiator and a pair of 140mm fans to offer a complete all round package that balances noise, performance and looks. The pump head uses a copper cold plate and sports a discreet EVGA logo, which has RGB illumination. Monitoring and tuning is possible via EVGA’s flow control software, giving you insight and control over coolant and CPU temperatures and pump and fan speeds. This cooler is backed by a 5 year warranty and is available at around $115 making it a sound choice for an all rounder you can rely on.
Conclusion: 280mm AIO’s for any situation
We’d recommend that if you are looking for an AIO you aim for a 280mm system. They offer considerably more cooling capacity than a 240mm radiator but without the hassle of fitting a larger 360mm AIO into your build. As we’ve shown here there are options to suit any budget or priority, so be sure to consider these for your next ‘premium build’.