Zalman Reserator 3 MAX Ultimate Liquid CPU Cooler Review

Continuing the history of dabbling in water cooling, Zalman has delivered the Reserator 3 MAX AIO CPU cooler as its latest venture into this field.

Published Nov 30, 2013 3:00 PM CST   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 7:00 PM CST
Manufacturer: Zalman
14 minute read time


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Back when I was first getting into building custom PCs, there weren't too many companies out there offering anything much for water cooling your components. Along with parts from companies like Danger Den whose sole purpose was to offer water cooling oriented products, I do remember Zalman being one of the few big name companies that were already making air cooling solutions to actually venture over to the water cooled segment of sales. They had CPU blocks, memory blocks, and even a large tower that would sit outside your PC, taking fluid through it, and passively releasing said heat through a round array of thick aluminum fins. This unit was called a Reserator, and even made it into a second revision, but it goes to show that Zalman was at one time way ahead of the game for mainstream manufacturers to accommodate to water cooled builds out there.

While everyone else on the planet either jumped on the Asetek or CoolIt trains, it is strange now to reflect on this: Zalman never made a move into this market sooner. I will say this though, even with the wait finally over, you aren't going to see the typical AIO you are accustomed to from all the other makers putting their sticker on other AIOs. In fact, this is more of an air cooling/water cooling hybrid cooler. Zalman had the idea to essentially take, say a CNPS9900, enlarge the heat pipes to accept water flow through it, and somehow were able to stick a smaller version of a radiator inside of a larger version, doubling the amount of fins that the water carrying pipes make contact with. In this design, the coolant is able to pass through this radiator four times before re-entering the head unit and removing heat from the transfer plate inside of it.

Usually as a new AIO comes out, the performance usually gets a boost, and each successive AIO is slightly better than the other AIO offerings released before it. With the old test system, those temperatures were making their way to almost equaling the results found in a full on custom loop. Eventually the law of diminishing returns has to apply to the AIO community at some point, doesn't it?

With that in mind, let us have a look at what we are getting in this new AIO design, and let the testing show us if Zalman is late to the game with a cooler that is already bested, or do they come a tad late to the party just to create a sense of drama at the event, where they are the best thing to hit the floor since man figured out how to make fire. I will let the Zalman Reserator 3 MAX do all the talking as we find out just what this design can bring to the table.

Specifications, Availability and Pricing

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Following the chart Zalman starts out with the fact that the radiator on this unit is completely copper, including the pipes, and then it gets plated in black Nickel plating. The entirety of the AIO weighs 870 grams and measure in at 120mm wide, 145mm tall (including the inlets), and is 79mm thick including the fan that is mounted to it. The head unit is made from plastic, but the transfer plate is solid copper and has fine fins on the back to allow the nanofluid coolant used to have more surface area to remove the heat from. It measures 70mm wide one way, and 85mm with the tubing included, and only stands 37mm in height. Also something to like about this cooler is the lack of mixed metals that almost all other AIOs are designed with. The last bit of information for the head unit on the technical end is that the included pump is capable of 90 liters of fluid passing through it per hour.

Zalman then goes into the fan specifications for the ZE1225BSM fan attached to the radiator. This fan is 120mm wide, it is 25mm thick, and in the center hub of this clear fan, there is a blue LED that illuminates when it receives power. It is designed to run from 1000 to 2200 RPM while delivering up to 36.7 dBA of noise level. It covers that this fan is powered with a 4-pin PWM connection and that it is suspended on a long life bearing, but makes no mention of the CFM or static pressure of this fan. One added feature of this cooler, is that even with the unusual shape and design to this radiator, it is more than capable of accepting a standard 120mm fan on the back of it as you mount it into a chassis.

Since we now have a pretty good sense of what is going on in this design and how it all comes together to operate, there are still two major points to hit on. First of those two points is: can you buy one now? The short answer is yes, but there is limited availability currently only by locations, not in quantity, since this cooler is still so new.

The second bit is the pricing, and just like any other dual radiator version of an AIO, I can see Zalman has also kept with everyone else's tactics, and they are releasing their Reserator 3 MAX at the same $129.99 U.S. dollars everyone else did. Hopefully Zalman really did their homework with this design, since there is already strong competition in this segment as we saw with the new Tundra coolers.


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Even though I don't think they consulted with Tony Stark, the front of the packaging has an Iron Man-ish look to it. At the top is the full name of this ultimate liquid CPU cooler, and at the bottom is the company name and slogan along with a CES1023 Innovations award.

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The right side of this package gives you a look at the complete system as it will be once it gets powered on. Under that image there is a compatibility list followed by a full list of specifications.

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The back offers features delivered to its customers in nine languages. This list covers the 400W TDP of this design, the dual radiator design, that each radiator is dual path, the high performance pump, and the high performance grease that is supplied. It also covers that this is the first cooler to use nanofluids, that it will take on a second fan, the black pearl color of the Nickel plating, and that the head unit and the fan has blue LED lighting.

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Our remaining panel shows us the Reserator 3 MAX much closer than any other image that has been presented this far. They also take the time to repeat the award they received from CES2013, and it is rightly something to be very proud of.

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Inside of the box you will find that the Reserator 3 MAX is completely packed in a thick plastic, snap together, inner packaging to protect the cooler in transit. As for the hardware and the paperwork, they are just resting on the inner packaging at the top of the box. While not the most secure packaging for all of the components that we have seen, it was good enough to deliver this halfway around the globe and still arrive in perfect condition.

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As you can tell, the inner plastic packaging that is designed to secure the cooler is well designed. It allows for the head unit and the radiator to stay in their own sections while leaving just enough room to pass the tubing and fan wiring next to them as they get packed into these two halves.

Zalman Reserator 3 MAX AIO CPU Cooler

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The head unit of this system is round, but isn't the typical black plastic top we are used to seeing. With the Zalman version, you get a brushed aluminum rig on the outside, a ring of black plastic that has been designed to allow the blue LED to shine through it, and in the middle is a mix of black plastic and more brushed aluminum to deliver the Zalman name and the ring that surrounds it.

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On the side of the head unit, most of what you find is flat and follows the round contour of the top. That is until you get to the tubing that has both ports being mounted to the head with just one screw, where many others screw in each side individually. The three pin power lead for the head unit also comes out just to the right to keep things cleaner when this is installed.

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The base of the head unit is surrounded by a thick black plastic ring that appears to need some screws in it. Inside of that you will find the copper transfer plate that is currently protected with a thick sticker to keep the milled surface of the base from being damaged.

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After removing the sticker you can see the milling marks are completely circular, and when you place a straight edge against this plate, there are high spots from the milling of course, but the center of this base is higher than the rest of the surface, helping to create a better mate with the CPU IHS.

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Unlike other solutions that offer ten, even twelve inches of tubing and power leads, with this Zalman version, things are reduced to nine inches between the head unit and the radiator. This will clean up odd kinks of tubing from other designs, but will also limit how far away from the CPU you can install the radiator.

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Speaking of the radiator, we now get to take our first look at it and get a better sense of what is going on. As this unit is shipped, a clear fan with nine blades is pre-installed to the center hub of the mounting frame, much like how any of their air coolers are treated.

Reserator 3 MAX AIO Continued

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As the plumbing comes from and goes to the head unit, Zalman takes a few bits of plastic and dresses up this union so that it looks cleaner, and keeps experimenting people from easily getting to the connections; thus voiding the product's warranty. This is also the only irregularity to the radiator that needs accommodating for when mounting it.

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The radiator, the fan, and the mounting hardware are all locked together back here. Inside of where you see the 4-pin fan lead the fan is attached with three screws. On the back, the wrap around plastic cage is mounted to the X-shaped mounting support, making it all one solid component when it is completed.

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Not that you should ever disassemble these units, but the Zalman name plate on this side is screwed into the cage. This is the part that toes a C-shaped cage into one full circle. This will need to be removed so I can get a little deeper into this design.

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Once the fan and the cage are removed, you can now see the larger radiator that goes around the outside, along with the smaller radiator that is fitted inside of it. The way the tubing is run, the coolant makes four passes through the pipes and has hundreds of chances to be absorbed by the individual fins.

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Removing one last cover shows you in detail how the loop is set up for flow. As you can see the liquid makes a pass through the outside, runs through a u-pipe to take a second pass, then hits another u-pipe for a third pass through the inner radiator, then for giggles they make it pass through for a fourth time before the coolant is allowed to get back to the head unit.

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The fan that is shipped attached to the Reserator 3 MAX is the ZE1225BSM fan you are looking at now. The clear blades and the clear hub will allow the built-in LEDs to glow through all of the fans components.

Accessories and Documentation

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In a large bag, you are given all of the hardware you will need to mount this cooler to almost any motherboard. There is the universal AMD and Intel back plate at the top left, and the AMD mounting plate that attaches to the head unit is to the right of it. At the bottom is the Intel mounting hardware for anything LGA775 and up.

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They also give you a socket LGA775 spacer, a Zalman case badge, a packet of Super Thermal Grease, and the sticker needed to apply the LGA775 spacer.

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You are also given four short fan screws to mount the radiator to the chassis and there are longer ones supplied if you are using a fan in that sandwich. You are given four clips to hold in the back plate nuts, eight top plate mounting screws, and three sets of four mounting screws for various applications. That leaves us with just the four nuts used in the back plate that are in the bottom center of this image.

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Usually these manuals start out with English, but this time that is not the case. The manual and its instruction start like you see here. On these pages you will see the hardware list with descriptions and it shows off issues for measurements of the radiator. It also reminds you to remove the protective sticker from the head unit prior to installation.

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Zalman then goes on to take its customers through the steps of installing both the head unit and the radiator into a chassis. If you want the English version of this, just turn the book a couple more pages and the instructions and information is easier for us on this side of the pond to understand.

Installation and Finished Product

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After sliding the nuts through the LGA1150/1155/1156 holes in the back plate, and then securing them with the black clips, you then just need to align the nuts to the motherboard and set the back plate into place.

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We also had to apply the top mounting bracket to the head unit of this cooler. Both the AMD and this Intel plate will use all eight screws to provide even pressure with the use of the four legs coming from these rings.

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With the back plate in place, you need to take the appropriate set of mounting screws for your specific application to mount the head unit to the motherboard. There are obviously no clearance issues, and when done correctly, there is still quite a bit of room to get the radiator mounted. One thing I don't like, and I also saw with the Tundra series of coolers, is that for some reason AIO makers are now twisting the tubing, and I have no explanation for this, and in my opinion it looks tacky.

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Once the system is powered on, both the head unit and the fan does take on the glow of blue LEDs. One thing you will find is that the LEDs on the head unit are much brighter than those built into the fan, but both will leave a fairly decent glow of blue inside of a chassis.

The Test System and Thermal Results

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I would first like to thank ASUS, InWin, Corsair, and Fractal Design for supplying products for me to test with. To see our testing methodology and to find out what goes into making our charts, please refer to our CPU Cooler Testing and Methodology article for that information.

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As you can see, at stock settings, the Reserator 3 MAX takes current top honors of the loaded temperature with a result of 49.5C, tying the Tundra TD02 that is a 240mm radiator based system. For this testing the pump was made to run at its maximum RPM of 1586 RPM, and at the hottest point of the testing, the fans reached 1644 RPM. As for the idle temperatures, the fans slowed to near 1100 RPM delivering an average of 27.5C.

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I know it is not done by leaps and bounds, but the Reserator 3 MAX also takes current top honors in the overclocked testing. At this point the pump was again spinning at near 1600 RPM, but this time the fans were spinning at 2300 RPM. Before this testing was started, we recorded the idle temperature to average at 26.75C with everything maxed out.

Noise Level Results

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With just the single included 120mm fan spinning at a base speed of very near 1100 RPM, the sound level reported from a foot away from the back of the radiator is 40 dB. While this isn't that loud compared to the stock solution, when compared to other AIOs it is right in the mix with them.

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With the fan spinning its heart out for us, we then took another measurement, and found that the Reserator 3 MAX comes in just under the other AIOs with a 57 dB rating. Under all testing conditions we left the head unit's pump running at full speed, and at no time was it ever more audible than the fans and it pretty much not even worth mentioning the slight hum you can hear if the fan is not running to cover it.

We also found that the side orientation of the test system is where the Reserator 3 MAX performed its best, and by a solid degree, but is likely due to the orientation of the radiator and nothing to do with the actual motherboard position.

Final Thoughts

While the law of diminishing returns has yet to be reached, the Zalman Reserator 3 MAX proves that is it better late than never for Zalman to jump in and take top honors of any AIO I have tested. Even if by the slimmest of margins, Zalman has proved that you don't need the typical high density radiator, in fact you can go from square to round, and actually get better results. This is based on many things, but the one major thing that allows this design to do so well is the fact that they not only use nanofluid coolant inside of the loop, but it is also passing through this radiator a total of four times to eliminate more heat that other AIOs with only dual pass radiators.

On top of great performance, and expected noise levels, you can still ponder the fact that the Tundra coolers were using two fans to do what they did, and the Zalman took top honors with only one fan. So not only do you get a very uniquely designed product where now the radiator and the head unit are just as nice to glorify and show off in your chassis, but you still have the option to bolt this onto a chassis fan and drop an additional degree or two from the results I have given you. I did like the blue LED mixed in with the brushed aluminum and black on the head unit, but I did think that the LEDs inside of the fan could use some more ambience, they are just too dim when compared to the level of LED lighting that the head unit provides.

Seriously, that is my only complaint, and it is about LED intensity. This system mounts easy enough, and is very secure, and since they provide all the screws needed to quickly mount the radiator with or without an additional fan, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure any of this bit of kit out, it just comes together in a peaceful harmony that delivers what are so far the best results to come from the new test system.

As with any AIO of this caliber, they all hit the shelves at $129.99 for dual radiator solutions. While the Reserator 3 MAX is in fact a dual radiator design, in the truest sense of that term, Zalman was able to do it in much less space needed inside of the chassis, more along the lines of a thick single radiator solution from other manufacturers. The nice thing about this is that you may be asked to pay top dollar currently for it, but you are given better performance out of the box than with the SilverStone solutions I was just raving about last month. While I still think the SilverStone solution is more sophisticated in its looks and overall design, I am all about performance, and hands down this Zalman is where it is at currently.

If you can't afford to spend $129.99 right now, don't worry, by the time you have it saved up, the price of this AIO should be cheaper if the standard pricing trend is anything to judge from. For the rest of you, I will simply say this: If you want the best performance an AIO has to offer, it is currently this solution. If you require something with a suit and tie that can sit around for brandy and cigars, then I suggest you then look to SilverStone. Either way, I will be advising these Zalman Reserator 3 MAX AIOs to anyone asking me what they should be buying.

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Chad joined the TweakTown team in 2009 and has since reviewed 100s of new techy items. After a year of gaming, Chad caught the OC bug. With overclocking comes the need for better cooling, and Chad has had many air and water setups. With a few years of abusing computer parts, he decided to take his chances and try to get a review job. As an avid overclocker, Chad is always looking for the next leg up in RAM and coolers.

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