Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing
We are now in round three, the last of the Cooler Master coolers to have been sent over. This time we step away from air coolers and venture back into liquid cooling via a CLC AIO. The cooler we are about to see is part of the MasterLiquid series of coolers, but after hunting the product down through the website, we soon realized that this is not part of their top of the line kits.
Rather than being part of the vanilla ML series, or part of the ML Pro lineup, possibly even the ML Maker series, but no, this is a member of the MasterLiquid Lite series. Knowing this does not have us expecting much, as one would have to assume the Lite series is missing something the others possess, and we sure hope that missing piece is not performance.
In what we have seen with the air coolers which were delivered with two main features, silence, and RGB LEDs, we would also have to assume the AIO that was shipped at the same time is also part of that same move.
Sadly, we have not been pleased with what we have seen from the air coolers, but there is always the chance that being the new product is a liquid cooler, maybe Cooler Master had something up their sleeve the whole time, and are about to astonish us with a cooler that performs. Ponder that a moment, I mean the last thing one would expect to see is an AIO that can't even compete with 120mm tower coolers. Right?
The cooler we are here to test today is the Cooler Master MasterLiquid ML120L RGB AIO. This is a sealed loop system with no way to add coolant or incorporate other bits into the loop. The loop is cooled with a single fan, which is only half of the RGB lighting added to this loop. Like a few other Cooler Master AIOs, the head unit has a logo on it, which is also RGB controllable.
If the trend we have seen as of late from Cooler Master samples is anything to go off of, we do not see the ML120L RGB being a showstopper product. Maybe it can keep up with similar AIOs and a few decent air coolers, and we are just getting ahead of ourselves here.
Also known as the MLW-D12M-A20PC-R1, the MasterLiquid ML120L RGB is capable of mounting to any currently supported Intel and AMD sockets, even a few from days gone by. The sealed loop cooler consists of a radiator, which is 157mm tall, 119.6mm wide, it is 27mm thick, and it is made of aluminum before being painted black. There is the tubing, which is a foot long.
The tubing is black low-evaporation tubing, which has been dressed up with plastic braid applied to it, and heat shrink tube used to keep the sleeve in place. On the other end of the tubing is the head unit. It has a copper cold plate and contains the pump too. The pump is shown to run for 70,000 hours, it is shown to be quiet, and takes its power from a 3-pin fan connection.
The fan which cools the radiator is named the same as the fans found on the MA410P and the MA610P, so we already know that airflow is not a priority. The 120mm fans are said to deliver 66.7 CFM with 2.34 mmH20 of pressure.
The DF1202512RFMN fan is PWM controlled with a 4-pin fan connection, it is said to last more than twice as long as the pump, and has four RGB LEDs in it. It does need to be said though, with all of these fans, with various specifications to each of them, if there are plans to add another, life got complicated by this.
While our outlook was not so hot at the beginning of this review, when it came time to check on the pricing, we were pleasantly surprised to see what we did. Whether looking to Newegg or Amazon for this cooler, what you will find is that it is priced at a super low $59.99.
The price being what it is, right between the MA410P and the MA610P, maybe Cooler Master has a bigger plan that we just don't see. However, we always try to wait until after testing is complete before we pass judgment, and who knows, maybe the ML120L RGB cooler is a wolf in sheep's clothing.
On the front of the box, we find the logo and mentions of support, the inclusion of an RGB splitter, and controller above the image of the product found inside. Across the bottom, we see the name of the CPU cooler and also icons of various motherboard sync apps it is compatible with, beyond what the controller will do.
Spinning the box to see the right side of it, we have little to cover. There is the name of the cooler, there are the company name and logo, and there is an image of the cooler. That is it.
Around back, eight languages are pointing out the Exclusive Tech, the dual-chamber pump, its RGB fan and water block, as well as its silence and ease of installation. Once past the features, we see six renderings along the bottom, which show all of the measurements that may concern a potential customer.
What is found at the top of both side panels is the same, but this time, rather than an image of the cooler, we are shown the specifications chart. We have gone over this, and nothing is shown here that wasn't in the first chart.
There is recycled cardboard used to separate and protect the components of this AIO. The radiator and the fan are held together at the back, the head unit is snugly kept in its own compartment, and the hardware is slid in the box under the tubing nearest the front. This has worked for many a cooler in the past, and this sample has also arrived in excellent condition.
Cooler Master MASTERLIQUID ML120L RGB CPU Cooler
The head unit of the ML120L RGB is round and tall and at the top of it is where the Cooler Master logo is, which is RGB backlit. To mount hardware to the head unit, this design has tabs on two sides, which accept steel brackets.
On the right side of the head unit is where the tubing connects to it through angled, adjustable, fittings, and we can see they are dressed up with sleeve and shrink tube to secure it. At the top of the block, near the tubing is where the pump power and RGB connections come out of it.
At the other end of those leads, we see that there is a 4-pin RGB connection with an arrow to align the 12V pins, and to the right is a 3-pin fan connection to power the pump with.
The cold plate of the head unit is shipped with a plastic sticker on it, but with it removed we can see the marks left behind when it was machined. The bulk of the plate is flat, but nearer the edges we did see light under the straight edge we put against it. For some reason, we see two flat head screws too, and that is abnormal, as almost always all of the screws are the same.
From the angled fittings to where the tubing connects to the radiator, Cooler Master offers twelve inches in length. The 3-pin fan cable is also just as long, but the 4-pin RGB cable is an inch shorter.
The radiator used with this loop is typical to what we are used to seeing. High FPI design, which needs a seriously powerful fan to be efficient, and it is made to accept a fan on either side of it.
Many choose cover plates or even embossed stickers to add to the side of the radiator. Here, however, Cooler Master stamps their logo on the side of it with paint.
Accessories and Documentation
The main bits of hardware to get the ML120L mounted to the CPU is what we see here. Intel users will want to install the brackets on the left to the bottom of the head unit.
They will also be using the Intel-specific backplate. AMD users will want to opt for the brackets on the right, which lock the head unit to the factory socket mounting hardware found on the motherboard.
The clips on the left lock the studs on the right in top the backplate. LGA2011/2066 users will opt for the standoffs below the clips, all of the brackets use the small Philips screws to mount to the head unit, and on the right are the nuts to secure the brackets to the standoffs or studs.
To mount the fan, Cooler Master sends screws with large heads on them, and either set does not require a screwdriver to secure. Between the eight fan screws are a set of four screws to secure the open side of the radiator to the chassis. We are also given a tube of MasterGel, with enough inside to make a few attempts at mounting the cooler.
What you see here is for RGB control. The splitter cable on the left has one lead for the input of RGB, whether from the controller on the right or from the motherboard. The other end of the splitter has three connections so that you could power two fans as well as the head unit. In the middle is the Molex to 2-pin power cable for the controller, and a set of four 4-pin adapted for the RGB connections.
By part number, this is the same fan we saw on both the MA410P and the MA610P, but this is a 2000 RPM variation. The fan has rubber pads in the corners to isolate it from the chassis and radiator, the blades and hub are clear, and with two sleeved leads, it obtains power and RGB LED control.
Cooler Master has no issues presenting a manual which is simple to follow and get the cooler mounted in just a few simple steps. With the ML120L manual, we find the same thing. On the right is the warranty guide, and looking at the chart at the bottom, we see that liquid coolers are covered for two years.
Installation and Finished Product
What we did first was to install the Intel brackets on the head unit. Notice that the steel brackets sit on the top of the plastic tabs, and the screws in each corner secure them to the tabs.
We also have to prepare the backplate. You first alight the studs to fit the groove on the other side and then lock them into place with the plastic clips. You then slide the tabs to align with 1366/2011/2066 mounts, 115X mounting in the middle, and 775 closest to the center.
The next step is to take the assembled backplate and install it. Again, like the other Cooler Master coolers as of late, the orientation of the backplate does not matter.
To secure the head unit to the motherboard, all you do is add some thermal paste, set the head unit on the processor, and screw down the four nuts. We took them down until we ran out of threads, and while the straight slot works, we would appreciate Phillips heads on the nuts.
The only thing we had left to do was to mount the radiator. We chose the top of the D-Frame as it shows just how much room there is to take the radiator to the front, top, or back of just about any chassis.
Test System Setup, Thermal Tests, and Noise Results
Chad's CPU Cooler Test System Specifications
- Motherboard: ASUS ROG Maximus VIII HERO (Intel Z170) - Buy from Amazon / Read our review
- CPU: Intel Core i7 6700K - Buy from Amazon / Read our review
- Memory: Patriot Viper 4 3000MHz 4X4GB - Buy from Amazon / Read our review
- Graphics Card: MSI GeForce GTX 1060 6GB OC - Buy from Amazon / Read our review
- Storage: Corsair Neutron XTi 480GB - Buy from Amazon / Read our review
- Case: INWIN D-Frame - Read our review
- Power Supply: Thermaltake Toughpower DPS 1050W - Buy from Amazon / Read our review
- OS: Microsoft Windows 10 Home 64-bit - Buy from Amazon
- Software: RealTemp 3.70, AIDA64 Engineer 5.75.3900, and CPU-z 1.77.0 x64
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 (October 2016) for more information.
While 60.5 degrees is not all that bad, as it runs right with a Kraken X52 in silent mode, we have a hard time looking past the fact that the MA410P and the MA610P both do better. We are nowhere near throttling the CPU, but we did expect more from the ML120L RGB.
Again, the ML120L RGB is neck and neck with the X52, but that cooler is crippled with silent mode. 78.75 degrees to us a bit much for this test, especially when the Masterair coolers three or more degrees more efficient.
Adding in all of the fan speed we could get from it, increasing the noise levels to a point where it can be annoying, we were able to get the ML120L RGB to do a little bit better. At 76.5 degrees, the chart does not bode well though. Even the Icekimo did better, and the mounting for that cooler blows.
Noise Level Results
While the fan was turning at 1150 RPM, we found the fan to deliver only 28 dB of noise into the room. However, we had to disconnect the pump for a second to get that reading, as the pump is a solid 30 dB at all times.
Applying the overclock, the fan topped out in this run at 1425 RPM. Still, low compared to the maximum RPM, but the curve is set to favor silence and is why we heard only 32 dB of noise from it.
Letting the fan lose on the ML120L RGB radiator, we did see speeds of 2000 RPM, which is where the fan should go. However, to gain a measly couple of degrees performance, the noise jumped to 45 dB, which is considerably more noise for such little gains.
It is almost as if Cooler Master has bad luck with their coolers. IF this is the way they intended things to play out, we are uncertain of why they would send them to us. Cooler Master has to have some in-house results, and they also know that we won't guild the lily for them. It was bad enough that we got a pair of air coolers which we felt were sub-par for the cost, size, and while our expectations may have been more than the coolers were willing to provide, we don't see them selling well if the shopper compares them to other offerings.
Sadly, we feel the same way about this MasterLiquid ML120L RGB cooler. No amount of cost savings or fancy RGB LED lights are going to make customers choose this over so many other, better performing, AIO coolers, with the same or slightly higher noise levels.
What also is slightly disappointing is that nowhere on the box does it mention to a potential customer that this is part of the Lite series. A few might assume something from the last L in the product name, but we had no idea until we visited the product page.
There comes the point of diminishing returns for any product. If you screw around with the three-part formula, something always has to give. Cooler Master got the price right, they surely updated the looks and appeal with RGB lighting, but it appears nobody cared about overall performance, which took a hit right in the jewels.
There is some good to see in all of this, but the points we are going to make change nothing for the charts. We like the hardware, as it easy to use, and in just a few minutes, you are up and running.
We liked the RGB offering, and even if you do not have a compatible motherboard, Cooler Master ensures a form of options control, even if it is a bit odd to use. We like that they dressed up the tubing, and offer enough length to install the radiator where you want it to go, but in the end, these things will not sway our decision.
Granted, the $59.99 price will draw users in like flies to a pile of poop, but we can also see many users unhappy with the decision to pull the trigger on this cooler. Yes, the RGB LEDs will look good, yes, the fan is quiet when PWM controlled, and the ML120L RGB is compact and easier to fit in more cases. We would hope that buyers are smart, and compare reviews before buying, but we feel that Cooler Master seems to be overlooking the real point many users go to liquid cooling in the first place.
They aren't the only company which thinks silence is most important to users, but there is a point to where you go so far to achieve one goal that the concept is no longer valid. We hate to be so harsh, especially to the same company, with three coolers in a row, but we hope they take these reviews to heart. A name can carry a company, but only so far. If something doesn't change, we feel the fans they had may look on to greener pastures, even if more expensive, and without the bling factor of RGB.
The Bottom Line: At first glance, the MasterLiquid ML120L RGB cooler may seem like the perfect idea. However, after putting it through its paces, and seeing the lackluster abilities, we would suggest looking at something else if pondering a sealed liquid cooler.
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