Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing
Most of our experience from ASUS comes from motherboards as far back as we can remember, and when we got to the point that we could afford them, we moved into top-tier video cards from them as well. We are fully aware that ASUS was expanding, like when they started releasing cases, but at that time, we were super busy and did manage to reach out in time to get one. The same can be said for their CPU coolers. We were fully aware that they existed, but it wasn't until recently that they came upon offer, and we jumped at the chance to have a look at what they have going on in that department!
When we made the request to ASUS for help with our CPU cooler test rig, AUS came back asking if we were interested in looking at what they had going on with their AIO coolers. Not overthinking it, we said sure, send them over, only later to realize that they now offer five variations, with similar, yet different naming schemes. Since we have so many to look at, we figured we would start with the smallest of the bunch and work our way through them. That being said, be prepared to see an uptick in the conventional AIO design, as ASUS has done things differently than what we see from many Asetek systems.
Where many manufacturers have moved beyond offering a 120mm radiator based AIO, ASUS has one for us. At this time, the model we have is the ASUS ROG STRIC LC 120 RGB and is pretty much the entry point to any of the AIOs that ASUS is offering. In the early days of AIOs, many manufacturers made do with just a single 120mm radiator. We assumed that those still offering them, in pursuit of silence, relegated those offerings to SFF chassis builds of HTPC usage. However, with what we know of the ROG STRIX LC 120 RGB, prepare to be impressed, but you may want to bring some earplugs.
As we typically do, we again borrowed this chart from the product page of the ROG STRIX LC 120 RGB. Since the chart is segmented, it makes things easy to absorb and understand, and the first section is about the water block or the head unit. The dimensions of which are 80mm in diameter, not including the fittings, and 45mm in height. The majority of the head unit is made of black plastic, but the cold plate is made of copper. The compatibility supports Intel LGA 115x, 1366, 2011, 2011-V3, 2066, and AM4and TR4 users can also install this AIO.
Next comes the radiator, where we are told of its 150mm height, 121mm width, 27mm thickness, and that it is made entirely of aluminum. Included with the radiator section, we are also told about the sleeved rubber tube used between it and the head unit, and that it is 380mm in length.
The fan specifications take up the bulk of this chart and start with the ROG RYOU Fan Model 12 naming. We see that this is a 120mm fan with a range of speed from 800 to 2500 RPM, with an astounding 5.0 mmH2O static pressure rating! This PWM fan can also deliver 80.95 CFM through the radiator but at 37.6 dBA!
There are two modes of control of the ROG STRIX LC 120 RGB. One of them is to use Aura Sync software for those who are using an ASUS motherboard. For those that do not have that option, you will want to obtain Armory Crate software, which offers pretty much the same feature set.
A list of package contents is also shown in the chart, and we can see that inside comes the cooler, an accessory package, a fan, a USB cable to control lighting, pre-applied thermal paste, and a quick start guide.
The last thing to note is that the ROG STRIX LC 120 RGB is backed with a five-year warranty!
After reading through that list, we know what we have in hand, we know it is going to be loud, but how well will it perform? To find out, one would have to obtain this cooler, and if not for guys like us, you would have to spend a pretty penny to see what this cooler has in store. Looking around to obtain a price, we have to say, we were shocked! We get that it says ASUS on it, and we understand that it is kind of cool-looking, but we have to keep in mind that this is a 120mm based cooler.
The fact that it is listed on Amazon for $116.35 is bad enough, and likely a third higher than what it should sell at, but the fact that it sells on Newegg for $149.44 makes me question if anyone in the wild is crazy enough to pay that sort of price for this cooler! With this level of cost, the ROG STRIX LC 120 RGB will have to top the charts, but it may also have to cook dinner, clean house, or something on the side!
ASUS packs the ROG STRIX LC 120 RGB liquid CPU cooler in a box similar to our last motherboard and video card. It is highly decorated with a busy backdrop, sporting an image of the cooler to the panel's right. The ROG log flies at the top-left, the ASUS name is seen at the bottom-left, and there is also a mention of ASUS AURA Sync.
On this bring red panel on the side of the box, we see that ASUS delivered two points of interest in ten languages. We are told that this cooler will brighten up your build and that the ROG designed fan maximizes your cooling performance. To the right is the company sticker with the model and serial numbers, along with some bar codes.
Both of the smaller end s of the box shows the same things, so, we will show it just this once. Between the red bars is an expanse of flat black, used to make the ROG STRIX LC 120, and its colorful metallic print pop.
The second of the longer sides plays along with what we saw on the opposing side, but rather than displaying any information, we get the ROG logo as the only thing to see.
On the back of the box, we run into a list of special features. They mention the addressable RGB lighting, AURA Sync compatibility, the ROG fan, and the sleek pump cover. The lower portion is used to display specifications. Across the bottom edge is the legal and company info, a pair of QR-codes to access ROG and their Facebook page, with a tiny blue sticker about the five-year warranty.
As you would see in a ROG or STRIX motherboard or video card, the box to our AIO opens to "present" the cooler in a unique way. The top lifts off, connected to an inner flap that displays the ROG logo and name in red foil lettering, and on the edge of the box, we see that this is the choice of champions. The cooler is shipped inside of recycled cardboard, which keeps all of the components separated and in excellent condition for us to look at and take pictures of.
ASUS ROG STRIX LC 120 RGB CPU Cooler
The head unit is like most at first glance, with its round shape, average height, and the reflective cap on top. However, with closer inspection, we see a few aesthetic choices we have not seen before. There are "tabs" around the top of the head unit, where the ROG logo is ghosted, which allows another point of light. We also see angled stripes on the side, offering another avenue of lighting, and even around the USB cable connection glows with backlighting.
The large square opening for the USB cable, where just behind the black plastic is translucent plastic, is angled to help guide the connector. To the right of it are the 90° swivel fittings with a single cable coming out of the head unit. Also, notice that there is not just one stripe on the head unit; they go around on all sides.
Not only do these translucent inserts allow for RGB lighting to pass through it, but ASUS even takes the time to print REPUBLIC OF GAMERS above each one, in gold paint. You may also notice that the area just above the mounting bracket is different. This unit has tabs around the edge, which allows the ring to be slotted in, and kept in place, where earlier versions were left unattended and were a hassle at times to deal with.
We removed the plastic cap that protects the base and pre-applied thermal paste as it locks onto the Intel mounting bracket. Under it is paste clean of junk or any disruptions in the pattern, with a round application to match the cold plate shape.
Removing the paste exposed the roughly machined copper base. The pattern left looks like it was brushed rather than machined, but grooves are minimal in the rough looking, convex, base.
Moving away from the head unit, we stopped to make sure we measured things out. In this image, you can see that the 4-pin PWM fan power cable is nearly thirteen inches in length, where the tubing is fifteen and a half inches in length, with standard round plastic capture rings on both sets of fittings.
The size of the rounded part of this header is the same as the thickness of the fins inside, roughly 22mm thick. Overall the radiator is 27mm thick, and should you throw away the box but need help after, this end of the radiator is where you will find the serial number.
As usual, with many sealed loop systems, they opt for a high fin count for a radiator. In the couple of areas we checked, one got us to 23 FPI, and the next was 22 FPI. Radiators like this need CFM and static pressure to perform at their best and judging by what the specs say of the included fan, this should not be an issue.
Accessories and Documentation
As many of these styles of coolers do, they will utilize a plastic backplate with the studs allowed to slide to fit various Intel sockets. The bit on the right is what we need to use, swapping it out for the Intel bracket that ships on the head unit. To remove the bracket, push it towards the top of the head unit, turn it, and the keys align for it to come off the bottom. Reverse the process to install it.
Packed in individual bags, keeping with that familiar motherboard or video card packaging, we find the USB cable at the top, inside of a bag with an ASUS part number attached to it. The Intel standoffs for both style sockets, along with the knurled nuts to secure the head unit to them is in the first bag. The second bag contains the AM4 standoffs that screw into the stock backplate, while the third bag contains four short screws, four long screws, and eight washers.
The fan, designed by ASUS, is the ROG RYOU Fan Model 12, which draws 0.58 A at full power! This 120mm PWM fan has no LEDs in it, but it does sport a chunky frame, where you can see REPUBLIC OF GAMERS carved into it at the top right corner. The frame and the blades are black; even the ROG sticker is black, leaving us feeling that this is a sleeper of sorts. Everything looks calm, and BAM, you power it up!
The guide you will find at the top of the packaging, inside the box, is well written. It starts with a parts list with full descriptions and uses explained. Things quickly move to the various installation methods, all with good renderings and short explanations of what to do. After that, we then see a wiring diagram explaining how the head unit and fan should be connected and ends with a reminder to get software for lighting control.
Installation and Finished Product
For AM4 users, you are asked to leave the AMD backplate in place to install this ASUS AIO.
Above the motherboard, you grab the set of AM4 standoffs and screw them into the backplate, with the more significant bits at the bottom. These should be installed by screwing them in until threads stop you.
To get here, we did a few things real quick before snapping this picture. We applied thermal paste, set the head unit onto the CPU mindful of aligning the bracket onto the standoffs. At this point, you can take the knurled nuts and secure the head unit to the motherboard. The last step was plugging in the USB cable to sync the lighting between the ROG STRIX LC 120 RGB and our motherboard.
Peeking over the RAM, there is little of the head unit to see. We can see that each side gets a translucent stripe of light, to help flood the area around the head unit, not just to shine through the top.
Whether you want the ROG STRIX LC 120 RGB to go in the front, the back, or the top of the case, we see that there is plenty of length to the tube to make that happen! While everything about the cooler blends into the build currently, we want to point out the design ASUS put into the fan's sides. It is an excellent match to the bit of the THOR PSU peeking through the motherboard tray!
Botting once before this image, we opened AURA Sync software and made sure to link the cooler with the motherboard and video card. Powering the system headless, the head unit is currently in time with the HERO logo on the motherboard, but without a monitor, the GPU LEDs stay red. We will admit, the theming is top-notch, and while containing all of the lighting in the head unit, they let a lot of it out!
Looking straight at the head unit does not show it in the best light if you will. To help to show what sort of lighting happens from the ROG STRIX LC 120 RGB, we made sure to get a better angle, so that now you can see the logo, the four "tabs" around it, as well as the stripes on the side.
Test System Setup, Thermal Tests, and Noise Results
Chad's CPU Cooler Test System Specifications
- Motherboard: ASUS ROG Crosshair VIII HERO [Wi-Fi] (AMD X570) - Buy from Amazon
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3600X - Buy from Amazon
- Memory: Corsair Vengeance LPX 4000MHz 4X8GB
- Graphics Card: ASUS GeForce RTX 2060 6GB OC - Buy from Amazon
- Storage: Galax HOF Pro M.2 1TB SSD
- Case: Hydra Bench Standard
- Power Supply: ASUS ROG Thor 850W - Buy from Amazon
- OS: Microsoft Windows 10 Home 64-bit - Buy from Amazon
- Software: AMD Ryzen Master, AIDA64 Engineer 6.25.5400, and CPU-z 1.92.0 x64
To see our testing methodology and to find out what goes into making our charts, please refer to our 2020 CPU Cooler Testing and Methodology article for more information.
To be blunt, the 57.9 -degree result for this run shocked us a bit. We figured with such a powerful fan it would be decent, but not less than a degree behind a 280mm radiator based unit! We did see spiked to 61-degrees, but it is better than many of the air coolers we thought may have competed against the ROG STRIX LC 120 RGB.
After seeing the results from the stock run, finding the ASUS ROG STRIX LC 120 RGB able to sustain third place overall makes sense. 64.7-degrees is impressive for such a small AIO, and we are fine with the occasional spikes to 69-degrees at peak.
Keeping third place is cool and all, but we are here to see if the ROG STRIX LC 120 RGB should be pushed for more performance. The 63.5-degrees we saw with the fan allowed to spin freely is only a 1.2-degree advantage, and as usual, not worth the extra noise.
Noise Level Results
The specifications were no joke, and this fan is a loud beast! During the stock testing, the fan averaged a speed of 1515 RPM, but at that time, it delivers 38 dB of noise, which is well into the audible range for most people.
Noise levels keep rising as the fan spins faster! The average speed of the fan moved slightly to 1675 RPM, but we took a hit to the tune of 10 dB, delivering the 48dB we have in this chart!
Pushing a constant 12V to the fan, we found its maximum speed of 2436 RPM during our last OC testing, and all we can say is wow! Taking us back to the early days of 120mm based AIOs, the RYOU fan sends an ear numbing 64 dB out of the chassis!
A lot is swimming through our head at this time. From the onset, even if just another version of the same elemental AIO, the presentation from first seeing the box, to the unique way it opens to present the ROG STRIX LC 120 RGB to you is better than anything else we have seen. The question is, how much is that feeling worth in the end? Stylistically, we like the direction ASUS took. If not able to deliver RGB lighting through the fan, offering it through the sides of the head unit is a reliable fix to the situation.
To say the performance is impressive is an understatement! On the one hand, you will deal with a ton of noise, but we are old school, and not afraid of noise for results like this. Keeping up with much larger AIOS and handily beating any air cooler on the chart is more than we expected, even knowing what the fan had in store, we never thought thermals would be this good!
During the installation process, it is like any other mainstream AIO installation with no unexpected hiccups. From the box to a running state, you might spend all of ten minutes to get things fitted, and you are on your way. We like the ability to theme a build like this though, That ASUS ROG logo is right at home in our test system, and we love the way the fan matches the THOR PSU! It is a lot of little touches that add up along the way to making the customer feel like they are getting more than they otherwise would buying an AIO from someone else. Again, we come back to the same question though, what is that worth to you?
From our perspective, knowing the market pretty well, if we were to price this cooler competitively, we would have set it somewhere in the range of $79.99, possibly even $89.99 because of the "cool factor" that ASUS delivers. Still, much more than that, and you price yourself out of the market. On the low-end, you will need to dig deep and shell out $119.99, at minimum, to obtain this cooler. While the charts may say since it can beat a $100 air cooler, it is also beat by an $80 AIO. You can see how this plays out.
While a premium price is almost expected with everything we get, unless you are unwilling to settle on a theme build, we feel many will select something else. If the price were not so high, we would be delivering an Editor's Choice Award; the ROG STRIX LC 120 RGB is that good!
The Bottom Line
ASUS took an AIO that we never thought would be amazing and blew our minds with the ROG STRIX LC 120 RGB. There is a massive amount of performance, but there is also a serious amount of noise to deal with. Then there is that price, but at the same time, we can't help but admire this cooler!