Rising to the challenge: MSI MEG CoreLiquid S280 review, featuring i5-12600k overclocking results

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Article Updated 5/2/2022 : Corrected labels on graphs for i5-12600k results

Today we’re looking another MSI CoreLiquid AIO – the S280, which is $20-30 cheaper than the S360 model. I wanted to take a look at the S280, given my curious results from my previous reviews of the K360 & S360. Given MSI’s previous statement that my S360 was performing below expectations, I went into this review hoping the S280 would perform better than the S360 unit I tested. Did this turn out to be the case? Read on…

CoolerMSI MEG CoreLiquid S280 Liquid Cooler (sent by MSI)
PriceMSRP $249 USD
Comparison CoolerDeepCool Castle 360EX A-RGB – Previous Review Here
BeQuiet Pure Loop 280 – Previous Review Here
MSI MEG Coreliquid S360 – Previous Review Here
MSI MEG CoreLiquid K360 – Previous Review Here
Noctua NH-D15
Noctua NH-U12A chromax.black – Previous Review Here
DeepCool AK620 – Previous Review Here
BeQuiet! Shadow Rock Slim 2 – Previous Review Here
Enermax Aquafusion 360 – Previous Review Here
CPUIntel i9-12900K – Previous Review Here
Intel i5-12600k – Previous Review Here
MotherboardMSI z690 A-PRO DDR4
Computer CaseBeQuiet! Silent Base 802 Window – Previous Review Here
DeepCool CK560WH – Previous Review Here
PSUDeepCool PQ1000M

With previous generation Intel CPUs such as the i9-11900k or i9-10900k, a good cooler could handle up to 300w loads – but due to the increased thermal density of the 10nm++ Intel 7 manufacturing process (in comparison to the 14nm process), Alder Lake is much more difficult to cool in the highest wattage loads. For example, I haven’t found a cooler capable of keeping the i9-12900k under TJMax while running the OCCT small set stress test.

Prior to this review, most coolers I’ve tested have also failed to keep the 12900k under TJMax in Cinebench when power limits are removed. Out of all the coolers I’ve tested, only two coolers from MSI have been able to keep the 12900k comfortably under TJMax in workloads like Cinebench.

MSI Coreliquid S280, a 280mm AIO Liquid Cooler

The CoreLiquid S280 arrived in a large box, with molded cardboard and foam for protection.

Included with the unit are the following:

  • 2x 140mm Silent Gale P14 fans
  • Mounts for all modern CPU sockets, including LGA 1700 & AM4
  • 280mm Radiator, CPU Pump, and 2.4″ IPS Display
  • User Guide
  • Thermal Paste (Pre-Applied)

Cooler Installation

The installation of this cooler on LGA 1700 is the same as the previously reviewed s360. As before, I will note that when installing the standoffs the unit felt insecure until fully assembled. This initially caused some anxiety as I worried that contact was not ideal – but those fears were unfounded as MSI’s CoreLiquid CPU Coolers have been the best performing coolers I have tested thus far with Intel’s i9-12900k.

excerpt from manual of cooler showing installation of CPU block pump

Cooler Specifications

CoolerMSI MEG CoreLiquid S280
PumpAsetek 7th Gen Pump
Pump Speed2800 +/-300 RPM
Pump Dimensions95 x 95 x 54mm/3.74x 3.74x 2.13″
Pump Noise21.2 dBA
Radiator MaterialAluminum
Radiator Dimensions (W x D x H)314 x 140 x 27.5mm / 12.39 x 5.51 x 1.06″
Cold Plate MaterialCopper
Warranty3 years
Pump Life Expectancy50,000 Hours

What’s different from other coolers

  • 60mm Water Block Fan

Most liquid coolers have fans only on their radiators. The addition of a fan on the CPU block helps dissipate additional heat, and cools the surrounding components.

  • 0RPM Support

Both of the radiator fans and the water block fan support 0RPM mode for complete silence when temperatures are low

  • 2.4″ Display

As with the previously reviewed S360, the first thing that sets the S280 apart from other coolers is the integration of a miniature display. The S360 supports all of the same options as the S360 for display customization.

Panel Size2.4”
Panel TypeIPS
Panel Resolution320 x 240
Panel Color bit16 bits
Panel Brightness
500 nits

Using the MSI Center software, one can set this monitor to a variety of settings – you can use it to control the direction of the display and to show things like framerate, CPU temperature, videos, images, the time, or even the weather!

  • Silent Gale P14 Fans

There’s more to a cooler than just it’s heat sink. The fans included have a huge impact on cooling performance and noise levels.

Fan2x 140mm Silent Gale P14 fans
Size140x140x25
Max Fan Speed1800 RPM
Air Flow82.27CFM
Noise24.9 dBA
Static Pressure2.2 mm H20
RGB SupportNo

Testing Methodology

To test the limits of thermal capabilities, I have tested Cinebench with 3 TDP settings: no power limits, 200w, and 140w. OCCT small set results include only 200w and 140w results for the i9, because no cooler I have tested can keep the 12900k under TJMax if power limits are removed in this workload. I’ve also tested Cyberpunk 2077 and Assassin’s Creed : Odyssey results, as these are the most thermally demanding games I own.

For the i9-12900k results, I’ve used the same setup I have for past Alder Lake cooler tests using BeQuiet’s Silent Base 802 case and a RTX 2070 installed. For the i5-12600k, I tested using DeepCool’s new CK560WH computer case with a RTX 3060TI installed and I tested the CPU at both stock speeds and with a 4.9ghz overclock.

For each cooler included in my results I used the thermal paste provided by the manufacturer when possible. The i5-12600k test results with the S280 used Noctua NT-H2 thermal paste, as the S280 cooler did not come with extra thermal paste.

i5-12600k Thermal Results

I haven’t previously included testing for the i5-12600k because most coolers should be able to handle it without issue at stock settings – this review includes both stock and overclocked results.

For testing overclocking stability, I prefer to use OCCT’s small set stress test. This is a torture test, and results do not reflect real life performance. I settled on a 4.9ghz overclock at 1.28v, as this was the fastest the i5-12600k could sustain in OCCT’s small set stability test while remaining under TJMax. I was able to test the 12600k at 5.1ghz and pass OCCT’s stress tests with medium and large data sets, but for validating an overclock I prefer to use the small data set.

OCCT Small Set Stress test with i5-12600k
Cinebench testing with i5-12600k overclocked to 4.9ghz

i9-12900k Thermal Results

I was particularly interested in testing the S280 with the i9-12900k, as when I had tested the S360 model I was told that it was likely defective after sharing results with MSI.

Since most previously tested coolers have failed to prevent the i9-12900k from reaching TJMax while running Cinebench with power limits removed, that was the first thing I tested.

The S280’s results in this test were the 2nd best we’ve seen, falling just behind the K360. These results were better than those observed with the S360, which confirmed that the S360 was not working properly.

OCCT’s small set stability test is very stressful, and with power limits removed will pull 270w before nearly instantly hitting TJmax and throttling. No cooler I have tested is able to keep the 12900k under TJMax in this test – and as such our results are with TDP-limits set to 200w & 140w. The S280 performed very well here, performing just 3c warmer than the K360 – and 7c cooler than Enermax’ Aquafusion 360.

Now some folks might scratch their heads when seeing gaming thermal results, but at stock settings the i9-12900k will use up to 123w of power consumption in Cyberpunk 2077- making it a realistic “real life” example of a medium intensity heatload.

The S280 also did well in these tests, performing equally to the K360.

Acoustics

I don’t feel the equipment I currently have is sufficient to perform a proper loudness test, but I can give a quick overview.

In most loads the fans will operate at a fraction of their potential speed, and as such the noise levels are generally low. If the cooler is not under significant thermal load it will turn off the fans when they are not needed.

In intensive scenarios which push the cooler to it’s limits the fans are audible – but not especially loud. Those who want to enforce silent operation can adjust the fan speeds manually in MSI’s Dragon Center.

Conclusion

MSI’s CoreLiquid S280’s is a slightly smaller version of the S360, and it provides almost the same performance as MSI’s larger 360mm products. This is one of the only coolers I would recommend for users looking to overclock Intel’s 12th generation CPUs. Alder Lake can be harder to cool than previous 14nm CPUs, but MSI’s MEG CoreLiquid S280 rises to the challenge.

The Good Stuff

  • This MSI Cooler is the 2nd best performing cooler I have ever tested thus far
  • The 2.4″ IPS display gives a nice flair, I find the temperature monitor particularly useful
  • The CPU block fan helps keep the CPU, VRMs, and RAM cool
  • In light loads this cooler is very quiet, turning off fans when not needed.
  • 280mm size means this cooler will fit in smaller cases where a 360mm would be too large

Neutral

  • No RGB lighting for the fans
  • Only one application of thermal paste included

Cons

  • $249 is a lot of money to spend on a CPU cooler
MSI CoreLiquid S280 AIO Liquid Cooler

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