Updated 3/5/23 : Added links to previous reviews of BeQuiet & Fractal coolers, fixed minor spelling errors
EK Water Blocks (EKWB), named after it’s founder Edvard König, was founded in 2003 in Slovenia and is considered by many to be the gold standard for liquid cooling. They’re best known for their full custom liquid cooling equipment and their GPU water blocks, but they also offer AIO kits, fans, and thermal pastes. Today we’ll be looking at the EK AIO Elite 280 D-RGB, a 280mm AIO Liquid cooler with a push-pull configuration.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been exploring different levels of cooling with AMD’s Ryzen 7 7700X CPU. Last I tested BeQuiet’s Pure Rock LP SFF cooler, which was able to cool ~66W during the course of testing. On the opposite end, I tested Fractal’s Celsius+ S28 Prisma. I had assumed that Fractal’s cooler would be the best result in my testing for some time based on previous testing using Intel’s platform – but when it hit 95C in Cinebench testing I thought that no cooler capable of fitting my DeepCool CK560WH computer case would be able to keep the CPU under TJMax (95C) in intensive workloads.
In the past I’ve mentioned how my past testing of coolers had focused on Intel CPUs because they were the most challenging to cool and also consumed the most power. When Alder Lake was released, I noticed that the thermal difficulty of cooling the 12900K was more difficult compared to prior generation products – only a few coolers were able to keep it under TJMax.
Intel’s i9-13900K and AMD’s Ryzen 7 7700X CPUs can be even more difficult to cool in heat intensive workloads – and it’s unlikely that will change anytime soon. As CPUs continue to shrink, and thermal density rises, cooling will grow ever more difficult. Indeed, it is no longer worrying to run a desktop CPU at it’s peak temperature – it’s to be expected in intense workloads without power restrictions or undervolting. As the manufacturing processes of CPUs continue to shrink their thermal density will also continue to rise – meaning that the difficulty of cooling processors in heavy workloads will only become harder in the future.
I have been interested to see how different levels of cooling performance effect both AMD and Intel platforms for some time. Thanks to our partner ASRock this is now possible – they sent a sample of their B650E Taichi for testing purposes. I will be taking a closer look at this motherboard in the future – but in the meantime check out reviews of this pristine motherboard on Funkykit & Tom’s Hardware.
Introducing EKWB’s EK AIO Elite 280 D-RGB
Packaging and Included Contents
EKWB’s AIO arrives in a box that looks like any other from the outside. The inner contents, however, have premium packaging to insure the inner contents are not damaged during shipping. Specifically, molded foam and plastic coverings for the protection of the inner contents.
Included in the package are
AIO Cooler CPU Block & 27mm thick 280mm Radiator
Pre-Applied Thermal Paste
Small tube of additional thermal paste
4x 140mm EK-Vardar S 140ER D-RGB fans
Hardware PWM & RGB Hub aka “EK-Hub”
Mounting for AMD AM4 & AM5 platforms
Mounting for Intel LGA 115x, 1200, and 20xx
LGA 1700 Adapter is available separately from EKWB
AM4 and AM5 Installation
For the most part, the installation of EK’s AIO was fairly straightforward. However, it will be a tight fit in most cases due to the large profile of it’s cooler in push-pull configuration.
Step One: Remove the default AM5 retention socket
Step Two : Attach mounting screws
Step Three: Secure the mounting brackets to the CPU block
Step Four: secure the CPU block to the motherboard
Step Five: Mount the radiator and fans. In most cases, this will be a tight fit!
Step Six: Connect the EK-Hub, fans, and RGB, and then power on your computer.
Features of EKWB’s EK-AIO Elite 280 D-RGB
All heights supported
313 x 140 x 27mm
88 x 70 x 63 mm
1000 – 3300 RPM +- 10% (PWM Range: 25 – 100%)
Intel LGA 115x, 1200, and 20xx (LGA 1700 adapter available) AMD AM4 and AM5
Stylish Silver-Grey CPU Block with RGB Accent
The CPU block is silver, grey, and black with vents on the sides. It has a small RGB accent illuminating the etched EK symbol.
Full Copper CPU plate with pre-applied thermal paste and an extra tube of EK-TIM Ectotherm
Most cooling manufacturers either include pre-applied thermal paste or include a separate tube of thermal paste. EKWB does both – it includes pre-applied thermal paste AND includes a small tube of EK-TIM Ectotherm thermal paste.
EK-HUB – A PWM & RGB Hardware Hub
Included with the cooler is the EK-HUB, a PWM and RGB hardware hub capable of controlling up to 6 devices.
27mm thick radiator
The included radiator is 27mm, which is about average thickness. In push only-configuration, this should fit most cases without issue.
If you intend to run the cooler as it’s designed – in push pull configuration – you’ll want to make sure you have room to spare. I was barely able to fit it in DeepCool’s CK560WH case paired with an AsRock B650E Taichi motherboard.
4x 140mm EK-Vardar S 140ER D-RGB fans
There’s more to a cooler than just it’s heat sink, the fans paired with a cooler have a huge impact both total cooling potential and noise levels – included with the Elite 280 D-RGB are not two, but four 140mm EK-Vardar S 140ER D-RGB fans allowing for a push-pull configuration for maximum cooling performance.
EKWB advertises the following features with these fans:
High-static pressure / low noise profile – unlike other general-purpose computer cooling fans, the EK-Vardar family of fans is built specifically for computer liquid cooling systems, namely radiator cooling. The 7 fan blade design is optimized for high-pressure operation while maintaining the low noise profile throughout the whole operation range of the fan. Vardar’s design and construction are also very suitable for high-performance air coolers or as case fans for restrictive cases with dust filters.
High-quality motor and bearing assembly – New electrical design, actively cooled motor windings and the Dual-Ball bearing with 50.000 hours of lifespan (MTBF) ensures uninterrupted operation for years to come. Precise Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) for fan speed adjustment allows performance on demand.
Sealed-edge fan casing – The classic, yet the effective square shape of the fan casing provides optimal performance in either pull- (suction) or push (pressure) regime without hydraulic losses thus ensuring the optimal cooling capacity of your liquid cooling radiators. The classic shape of the fan frame also allows easy cable routing while grouping more fans on one radiator.
0db regime – EK-Vardar EVO features a unique Start-Stop function which ensures the user a true 0db noise environment. When fan curve is set with the minimum threshold point below 25-30% PWM duty cycle (depending on the motherboard model), the motor and the electronics will turn off and the fan will simply stop spinning. EK-Vardar EVO restarts operation automatically as fan control ramps up its operational duty cycle past threshold start-stop point. This feature is very useful for preventing radiator dust buildup in idling PCs and to prolong the lifecycle of the fan itself.
Timeless design– the EK-Vardar EVO fan fits subtly into any liquid cooling computer without drawing too much attention. Delivered in all white color scheme it blends perfectly with a sleek and minimalist looking EK-CoolStream liquid cooling radiator.
As I’ve only had time to complete testing of four coolers on this platform, there will be limited comparison data. This will grow as I continue to test coolers. For thermal results, I’ve tested the CPU in three configurations
At the default power limits
With a 95W PPT enforced
With a 75W PPT enforced.
Noise Normalized Results
Performance only scales by a limited amount with improved cooling capacity with Ryzen 7000. This also means that there is less of a benefit to running fans at higher performance levels. As such, it can be useful to see how coolers compared when noise normalized for quiet operation.
EK’s AIO Elite outperforms the Fractal Celsius+ S28 in this noise normalized scenario, likely a result of the push-pull configuration of the EKWB cooler.
Default Power Limits
At the default PPT of 105W, the most intensive loads can be difficult to cool and result in the CPU running at TJMax. As such, we’ll be looking at two metrics in this situation: Noise levels and watts cooled. After all, it’s expected for Ryzen 7700X to hit TJMax during rendering workloads…. right?
Well, that’s what I would show you if the CPU hit TJMax (95c) – but EKWB’s Elite AIO 280 achieved a feat I didn’t think possible – it ran under TJMax and instead was power limited, peaking at ~134W power consumption.
Now this sort of performance doesn’t come cheap – EK’s AIO Elite is one of the loudest units I have tested when run at full fan speeds.
Some of y’all might notice that the graph starts at 36 instead of zero – this is because my sound meter cannot measure noise levels lower than 36 dBA, effectively making it the noise floor for our testing purposes.
Imposing even a minor power consumption limit on AMD’s Ryzen 7700X reduces cooling difficulty dramatically resulting in the ability to easily to cool the CPU under TJMax (95c), as such in these situations the total noise levels are more important. It’s also important to test in these TDP restricted situations, because most “real life” workloads will not push the CPU to it’s limits.
While EK’s Elite AIO continues to deliver top of the chart thermal results in this scenario, it is one of the louder units while run at the default fan curve of AsRock’s b650E Taichi motherboard because it uses four fans instead of two.
The push-pull configuration of this unit means that it will produce more noise at the same fan curves (in comparison to coolers with only one or two fans). It will be important to set a fan curve on this unit if you prioritize quiet operation.
Lowering the PPT to 75W further reduces the cooling difficulty, bringing CPU temperatures down to 39C over a 23C ambient temperature. The EK AIO Elite leads thermal performance in this situation over Fractal’s S28 by 2C.
In this scenario where the fan speeds are tied to the motherboard’s default fan curve, EK’s model again performs louder than the competitors. Normally, this would be considered a negative – but in this case it’s simply a reflection of using four fans instead of two. For users who prioritize noise levels, it will be important to set a custom fan curve while using this cooler.
EK Water Block’s EIO Elite 280 D-RGB has serious cooling capacity whether it’s set to a silent noise profile or running unrestricted. It’s the first cooler I’ve tested that has managed to keep AMD’s Ryzen 7 7700X under TJMax during rendering workloads, a feat I previously had considered impossible. For this impressive, chart-topping cooling capacity I am awarding the EK AIO Elite 280 D-RGB our Gold Award.
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