Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing
Typically, when we see a new AIO pop up, we sit back and think of where that industry has gone over the past few years, and sit here disappointed in the performance in most offerings available to us. While many companies offer fancy bits and bobs to help to soften the blow of the cost involved, and the big boys in the game have gone to software to try to sweeten the deal. However, no matter how good they look, when you get handily beat by a $50 air cooler, we feel it might be time to rethink your approach to what is needed in this market.
Out of virtually nowhere, ARCTIC steps in with hands waving, saying hey gang, look at us, we have something cool you will appreciate! Pun intended! IF you recall, ARCTIC was part of this game, years ago, with a mainstream manufactured AIO, and while plain visually, ARCTIC sent all of these AIOs with fans on both sides of the radiator to help bolster performance.
With the new version of an AIO, from ARCTIC, much of the everyday aesthetics are gone from the head unit, replaced today with something much more aggressive and somewhat funny-looking, going with fans on one side of the radiator this time, as well as adding more delicate touches here and there to the rest of the assembly.
The reason we say it is somewhat funny looking comes down to one of those, once seen, can never be unseen, moments in life. When showing our own Shannon Robb the head unit, it came with an offhanded comment that it looked like a one-eyed Darth Vader. With a bit more conversation and photoshop skills, borrowing an image from forevergeek.com, Shannon came up with a picture of where the conversation ended, something to do with one-eyed minions, then back to Vader, and a compromise between them was made. We are not sorry in the least for showing you this!
With that out of the way, while we had our laugh, ARCTIC is dead serious about this release. The Liquid Freezer II series, of which we have the 280mm version of it, is one of two or three AIOs featuring VRM cooling in some form, and while we do not feel they are needed, we are always up to be proved wrong. To be honest, before any of the testing information is presented, we do think that many might pass this on by, based solely on appearance, but rest assured, once you have all of the facts in hand, you will undoubtedly be looking at ARCTIC in a new light!
Within the chart borrowed from ARCTIC, we find that they want to discuss the pump and cold plate components, or what we will commonly refer to as the head unit. The small, transparent yet blue-tinted, nine blades and hub fan is only there to cool the VRM of the motherboard. This 40mm VRM fan is PWM controlled with its rated speed to be somewhere in the range of 1000 to 3000 RPM. However, it does not show up in any software for confirmation. The pump inside of the head unit is also PWM controlled, and the 800 to 2000 RPM range will show in monitoring software. Power consumption will be in the range of 1.0 W to 2.7 W, including all electrical bits, but varies based on motherboard control settings for the fan headers.
The Micro Skived Fin copper cold plate takes all of the heat from the CPU, and with the flow of the pump, it sends it to the radiator via 450mm of tube. The tube is 12.4mm outer diameter and 6mm diameter inside, as well as being sleeved in a gray braid with a white twist added. Dimensionally, the head unit, thinking of it installed on a motherboard, sits 98mm tall, 78mm wide, but stands just 53mm tall, not including the fittings.
The fans come next, where we are told that the pair of fans shipped with the Liquid Freezer II 280 are the ARCTIC P-14, 140mm fans. The speed of these fans range from 200 RPM at the lowest, and 1700 RPM at the fastest, yet are designed to use PWM for control of speed. At top speed, the fans will deliver 72.8 CFM of airflow and 2.4 mmH2O, each! Of course, they are 12V fans, and we see that they spin on a fluid dynamic bearing, but that 0.3 Sone noise level needs converting, which is roughly 23.5 dB(A). Since they are PWM fans, the 4-pin connector is obvious, but we also see that the fans are shown to be 27mm thick.
In a section marked general, we finally see the compatibility, four socket types for Intel, but only AM4 for AMD. There is a packet of included thermal paste, MX-4, with slightly less than a gram supplied. All told, the entire AIO weighs in at 1572 grams, and the last two things we read are about the radiator. The first part tells us the aluminum makeup of it, and the second thing is that the radiator is 317mm long, 138mm wide, but is 38mm thick!
To make things even more attractive, ARCTIC is not looking to price their units anywhere near what Corsair and NZXT get for their latest 280mm AIOs; in fact, they are reasonably priced, in our opinion. You can get a 120mm version for just $69.99, the 240mm version for $84.99, the 360mm version for $118.99, and the one we have is still less than $100. As we look now, at Amazon for the pricing with ARCTIC listed as the seller, we see a $94.99 price point for the Liquid Freezer II 280 from ARCTIC!
In ARCTIC blue, the Liquid Freezer II 280 is seen in the form of a rendering over a wavy design behind it. On the left, we see the ARCTIC name and logo, a mention of the two-year warranty, and a QR code for product information. At the right, we do see a notation to the included MX-4, for this Multi-Compatible All-In-One CPU Water Cooler.
We can see that the cooler had a rough ride to our doorstep, but back what we see on the right, side panel, of the packaging. In seven languages, ARCTIC provides features in list form. Covering things like compatibility, high-efficiency pump use, its high performance, VRM cooling, pressure optimized fans, sleeved tubes, integrated cable management, lack of need for maintenance, the secure hold of the hardware, and MX-4 thermal paste are all things to keep an eye out for. If you wish to see a manual for this cooler, you will need to use the QR code or the address in the lower-right corner.
On the back of the package, ARCTIC uses it to show renderings and images, along with many of the features, to help ensure their customers know what they are getting. The first image deals with the pump and impeller, the second covers the sealed nature and lack of need to open it, and the third one shows us the VRM fan. Across the bottom, they mention the wire management at the radiator end, to keep wires out of view, ARCTIC covers the new P-fan again, and is shown to be ready for extreme overclocking in almost complete silence!
If you would rather not take the time to use the QR code on the box for information, you can use the left end of the package. Everything is broke down as we saw in the specifications chart, but we also find a list of included parts that are to be found inside.
The inner packaging lacks the typical recycled cardboard we see that many use, traded out for folded sections of cardboard to keep the parts separated. The head unit is on top, held in a small box, with the hardware found in the white box next to it, kept in place by the tubing. At the bottom is the radiator, and we can see the cardboard laid down, which would cover this entire side inside of the box. We have no complaints, though. Even with the box taking damage, our Liquid Freezer II 280 is in terrific condition!
ARCTIC Liquid Freezer II 280 CPU Cooler
Even though this first image allows you to soak in all aspects of what ARCTIC has implemented into this AIO, which was not our intention. What we wanted to show is that fresh out of the box, the AIO is fully assembled and ready to be installed right out of the box! All one needs to do is install the hardware and clear out room in the chassis for the radiator!
The head unit design is unique, and there is no mistaking this product once you see it! The matte textured finish of the black surfaces plays well against the metallic accents, with everything leading your eyes to the VRM fan. Note, too, the use of compression fittings to dress things up, but that does not mean it is easily mod-able.
Both sides of the head unit feature the ARCTIC name and logo, which come in the form of white paint on the plastic. From this angle, we do see that the unit is low-profile, but without any swivel fittings, you will need to consider the fittings and the tube bend if wanting to use this in a low clearance chassis.
At the top of the head unit, or the edge of the head unit that sits nearest the VRM at the top of a motherboard, we see the channel removed from the cover to allow the 40mm fan to push air out of the head unit with near 180-degrees clearance. At this point, we are glad we have kept VRM temps all these years, so we can assess if this does anything worthwhile.
Under the black plastic of the head unit, we find out where the 4-pin PWM power cable enters the head unit, near the corner of the cold plate at the bottom of the image. The power comes back out of the head unit via a 3-pin cable, which powers the VRM fan, with no RPM monitoring wire. Power also comes out of the top of the head unit and is sent through the sleeve, along a tube, to control the fans.
The cold plate is concave in its shape, and with the protective sticker removed, we can see that the base looks textured like it was sandblasted, but if you look closely, you can see the semi-circular machining marks that ARCTIC has left as its mating surface.
As we leave the head unit, and pass the gray or silver sleeve, with the added dashed white twist for added style points, we find them to terminate in a pair of compression fittings, some seventeen inches from the head unit By quite a bit, this is the longest tube we have seen in an AIO personally.
The sides of the 38mm thick radiator are matte black, with an easy to spot applique on either side. With a chrome-like sticker, the ARCTIC name and logo will either blend into the chassis or reflect any sort of RGB lighting that is near it.
In this image, we can cover a few things. First, we can now see the compression fittings used on the radiator, but note that the wire comes out of it as we saw from the Fractal Design Celsius line, but this time, there is not fan hub, just direct connections to the fans, with no need to manage any wires, it is already done for you!
Not only did ARCTIC opt for a 38mm thick radiator over the standard 27mm options we see everywhere else, they feel that high FPI radiators are for the birds. In this model, we took a count and averaged 14 fins per inch in a few spots across the fins.
Accessories and Documentation
We did remove a fan to have a look at the sticker behind the ban hub, but instead, we found that the information molded into the frame. It is a P14 PWM fan with the moniker PST after it. We also see that with 12V applied to these fans; they draw only 0.12A to deliver near 80 CFM with decent pressure to back it up.
The large hunk of black steel in the middle is the Intel backplate, which is designed to be installed in one orientation and is not yet isolated from the motherboard. On either side of the backplate are the top mounting brackets, which are used with both AMD and Intel installations.
The bulk of the hardware is what we have for you in this picture. Across the top is the packet of MX-4, radiator screws, top mounting bracket screws for the head unit, and thumb nuts to secure the top brackets. The bottom row offers eight plastic washers to isolate the backplate, eight washers for the radiator screws, LGA2011/2066 standoffs, LGA115X standoffs, and four AMD socket screws.
When it comes to literature, ARCTIC takes the less is more approach. While there is a thank you card in the box, welcoming you to the ARCTIC family, when it comes time to install the Liquid Freezer II 280, you will need a phone to scan the code, which takes you to the support section, where you can see a PDF version of the manual.
Installation and Finished Product
The first thing we did was to grab the pair of top mounting brackets, and with a couple of provided screws, mounted them to the head unit. Be sure to keep the bends inward when doing so, send the screws in until they run out of threads, and as one piece, the head unit is ready to be installed.
Being sure to align the backplate with the socket, we dropped it into place, after applying four of the plastic washers to the backplate, around the threaded studs at the corners. At this point, you either hold onto the plate with one hand and slide the motherboard onto a table or grab the standoffs and install them while holding the plate and motherboard with the other hand.
When installing the standoffs for LGA115X, do not forget to install the other four plastic washers. They are adhesive on one side, which we stuck to the bottom of the installed standoffs, rather than gluing them to the motherboard. With other sockets, you will not need the plastic washers.
After applying the thermal paste, we went ahead and set the head unit onto the CPU, and tightened the thumb nuts. Be sure to do this in an X-pattern to ensure an even mount of the cold plate, and again, we sent them down until we ran out of threads.
Even though the head unit of the Liquid Freezer II 280 is ever so slightly visible, the height of this AIO is much higher. We do not just have to take the fittings into account; we also have to take into account a gentle bend of the tubes, which increases the overall height quite a bit, but not an issue if using a standard width chassis.
We skipped the other close-up images, as it is painfully evident that there is not a single clearance issue, even with the enlarged head unit containing the VRM fan. We also liked the length of the tubes, as it allowed us to use the top of the D-Frame, which is much taller than the average chassis, and we still have gentle bends in the tube, and slack in the lines.
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.
Even if you are not a fan of the style, there is nothing to argue about with a third-place finish overall. Considering the first two places are held by the same cooler in different modes, ARCTIC proves what I have said for years can still be done. A 52.5-degree result on the stock test is excellent, and only a degree behind the very aged Thermaltake Flow Ring 360mm solution!
The box did say you could get extreme cooling while being silent, and this test proves that one of those claims is true! The 68.5-degree result lands the Liquid Freezer II 280 into fourth place, 2.5-degrees out of the lead! Impressive, to say the least!
When we cover the fan numbers, it will help to put perspective on the efficiency, as there were only 1.5-degrees left in the tank while adding another 700 RPM to the fans as well as a bunch of noise. ARCTIC has the curve set near perfectly, in our opinion, leaving very little on the table.
Noise Level Results
During the stock test run, we saw the fans idling at 460 RPM, but with the load applied, they did increase to 680 RPM. At their highest, the fans were 24 dB. Other things to note, we had to use a wire to read the fan speed, as it is not designed to deliver that to software on its own. Under PWM control, the pump spun at 2820 RPM and was at 29dB for the majority of testing.
When the overclock was applied, the fans topped out at 950 RPM during the stress test. With only 27 dB coming from the fans, ARCTIC has now proved both claims on the box to be true. It is an extreme cooler, and it does it in near silence!
With all of the power sent through the fan header on the motherboard, our fans topped out at 1640 RPM, close enough to that 1700 RPM mark on the box. The noise does increase, to the tune of 38 dB, and with just 1.5-degrees to be gained doing so, it is not worth the effort, PWM control is excellent!
To be blunt, we are left with a massive smile on our face! Not only did ARCTIC come out swinging for the fences, but they also hit one into the crowd, for sure! The Liquid Freezer II 280 proves two things. Not only is it the best AIO in the game right now, but it has also proved us right, after all of the times we had to look at inferior AIOs. ARCTIC may not have delivered in the RGB/ARGB department, but to be blunt, we do not care.
When you can get to the top of our charts, that says much more than anything we can put into words. We have waited a long time for an AIO to get back to what they were intended to do in the first place. Lessening the strain on the motherboard, offering better than air cooling performance, if it does it silently, terrific, that is a huge bonus! Even better, is that this unit provides more than that. You have to consider the fact that it is fully assembled and ready to go out of the box.
The hardware is easy to use, there is a freaking VRM cooler, which isn't some gross addition, and something we may have poked fun at near the beginning of the review, but also reminds us of older HIS graphics card coolers. One thing we cannot take from ARCTIC is that they not only surprised us with this cooler, but the Liquid Freezer II 280 has also genuinely impressed us!
Some might argue that there are some misses along the way. Things like compression fittings do dress up the design, but many would prefer swivel fittings. Also, many will think that with compression fittings comes expandability, and with wires run through the fitting and under the sleeve, even if you wanted to void the warranty, the cards are stacked against you. We like the sleeve, it does add a bit of style nobody else is using, so there is some good in all of that aspect, it isn't all doom and gloom. Aesthetically, ARCTIC is aggressive, and that is a personal choice, but we love it due to its function, not so much its form.
Another concession to that last line is that even though there is an included VRM fan built-in, it gave us two or three degrees lowering of the VRM temperatures, which may be system-specific, but was not anything we got excited about when compared to all of the other AIO VRM temperatures we have been recording over the years.
The thing we still have yet to address, take us back to the positive side of things. First and foremost was the call by ARCTIC to choose a better radiator. While it is a mixed metal loop, we love the added thickness and lower FPI, which has helped tremendously to deliver some of the best thermal performance we have seen in any CPU cooler. Tied to the radiator are the pre-wired, pre-installed fans, which are perfect for the radiator. The airflow is impressive with the limited amount of noise produced, and the results of this combination under control of PWM proves the Liquid Freezer II 280 to be something you seriously need to consider!
With a third of the cost missing from comparable Corsair or NZXT solutions, ARCTIC just keeps piling it on the competition. Even though there is no software, we do not feel it is needed, the Liquid Freezer II 280 does not require a single adjustment to do what it is designed to do, and do much better than a massive stack of competitors in our charts! For just $94.99, how can you pass it up? Even if you are not a fan of the appearance, at this cost, with this level of performance, that will pass.
It has been a long time since we could recommend an AIO for its chart-topping performance, and we would like to thank ARCTIC for not only setting the AIO world on its head but delivering something that while missing LEDs of any form, still kicked ass and took names along the way. Blowing our mind, and likely impressing you to the point that you are now starting to appreciate that one-eyed Darth Minion look!
The Bottom Line
Color us thoroughly impressed! The Liquid Freezer II 280 has renewed our hopes that the AIO market is not dead! ARCTIC supplied us with the best temperatures we have seen in an AIO in years, doing so silently, and all without breaking the bank!