Introduction

When it comes to liquid cooling, the first name that comes to one’s mind is EK Water Blocks. EK® Water Blocks, the premium liquid cooling manufacturer, bears the name of its founder Edvard König. It all started with the enthusiasm of one man and his ventures with liquid cooling back in 1999. Ever since its inception, the EK Water Blocks has become the premium brand in liquid cooling solutions and this brand is highly popular among modders, PC Builders, and water cooling enthusiasts alike. Today, the products of EK® are available in more than 30 countries worldwide and the company holds several partnerships with some of the most recognized brands. Not only their products are of high quality but their customer support is up to the bar as well and this is what really matters.

Back when I reviewed EK-AIO 240 D-RGB, I mentioned that this EK-AIO D-RGB series coolers are available in three sizes, 120mm, 240mm, and 360mm. EK has released the 280mm version as well in this lineup. The EK-AIO 280 D-RGB is a 280mm CLC that comes with 2x EK-Vardar S 140ER D-RGB High-Performance Fans and a universally compatible CPU water block with a tool-less mounting mechanism for easy installation. This product is compatible with popular RGB sync technologies from all major motherboard manufacturers. The EK-AIO 280 D-RGB is compatible with – Intel Sockets LGA: 1150, 1151, 1155, 1156, 1200, 2011, 2011-3, 2066, and AMD Socket: AM4.

Item:                                EK-AIO 280

Manufacturer:                  EK Water Blocks

Price:                               $134.99 [At the time of Review]

 

Specifications

Packaging and Unboxing

The cooler is shipped inside a white color cardboard packing box with the same presentation and style which we have seen on their other EK-AIO products.

There is a picture of the cooler with digital lighting on the fans and the block. The socket compatibility information is printed on the bottom. This cooler is compatible with leading sockets from Intel and AMD excluding TR4/xTR4.

EK Water Blocks has highlighted three key components of the cooler here; a powerful pump, fierce fans, and the robust radiator. There are diagrams showing the dimension of the unit.

Features of the cooler include:

  • Maintenance-free
  • Silent Operation
  • Addressable D-RGB
  • Easy Installation
  • Top Class Performance

Specifications of the cooler are printed in 8 languages. The socket compatibility information is printed on the bottom

Opening the box will show the nicely packed contents in the egged carton. There is a white color Styrofoam pad on the top and a multilingual comprehensive user guide.

Accessories

Let’s take a look at what EK Water Blocks has provided in the accessory box.

EK Water Blocks has provided a comprehensive user guide on the installation and maintenance of the liquid cooler. The guide is multilingual.

The mounting hardware is included in a transparent container which is labeled for ease of identification.

We have:

  • 1x Metallic Backplate
  • 2x Intel Mounting Brackets
  • 2x AMD Mounting Brackets

We have:

  • 4x Thumb caps/nuts
  • 4x Springs
  • 4x Intel LGA20xx standoffs
  • 4x Other sockets standoffs
  • 5x screws for the mounting brackets

We have:

  • 8x Philips Head Screw UNC 6-32 x30mm (5mm Thread length)
  • 8x Philips Head Screw UNC 6-32 x6mm
  • 8x Philips Head Screw UNC 6-32 x34mm

EK Water Blocks has provided a Y cable which allows the user to connect both fans to a single fan header on the motherboard. 1x Ectotherm thermal paste is also included.

Closer Look

It is time to take a closer look at the components. Before that here is what EK Water Blocks is saying about the cooler. “Designed with our industry-leading expertise, the EK-AIO offers all key benefits of liquid cooling in one compact and easy-to-use solution. Made of high-quality materials with our precision engineering for class-leading AIO cooling performance. Built around our custom-designed monoblock, it delivers coolant with a custom-loop grade pump, alongside powerful Vardar S fans to ensure high airflow.”

The cooler is compatible with Intel LGA20xx/1366/1200/115x sockets and AMD AM4.

RADIATOR

The EK Water Blocks EK-AIO 280 is a 280mm CLC cooling solution. It has a 280mm radiator with 2x EK-Vardar S 140ER D-RGB fans.

The dimension of the radiator is 313 x 140 x 27mm. The thickness of the radiator is 27mm. With 25mm fans, the overall thickness would be 53mm with the heads of the screws. The radiator has 18 fins per inch one (FPI). There is a gap of 105mm between any two fan mounting holes on the radiator. We have a black color housing of the radiator and the overall build quality and finishing are good. The radiator is made of aluminum hence it is lightweight. This is EK Water Blocks own design. The blocks on both ends of the radiator are rectangular. Fin stack is dense and taking into account the left and right side channels, it has a total of 12 channels for water flow.

EKWB has done a neat and clean job with the radiator.

There is no protective plating under the mounting holes on the radiator assembly much like what we have seen on the majority of AIO solutions in the market with a few exceptions.

The radiator assembly has a nice clean finish all around. There is no EKWB branding on the side of the assembly.

The far head has a rectangular design and a neat finishing.

The build quality of the cooler is top notch all around. EK Water Blocks is using straight fittings on the radiator with large size aluminum couplings/covers in matte black color finishing. This large size could increase the overall thickness of the assembled cooler. There is a sticker pasted on the far head showing the part no or serial no of the cooler.

There is what seems to be a refill port on the radiator. It is reserved only the factory use. Don’t attempt to open the port as you may lose the atmospheric pressure of the loop.

The EK AIO comes pre-installed with reinforced and sleeved rubber tubing, each fitted with an aluminum cover to ensure they’re ultra-durable. The tubing has a nylon braided sleeve on it and runs to an approximate 400mm length.

PUMP/BLOCK

Let’s take a look at the monoblock of the cooler.

The EK AIO comes with a universally compatible CPU water-block, fitting all the latest Intel & AMD CPU sockets as well as featuring a tool-less mounting mechanism for easy installation along with a pre-filled pump-res combo design. The EK AIO CPU monoblock features a full acrylic cover, acting as a light diffuser with its frosted finish, for a dynamic lighting display. There are 9 addressable RGB LEDs under the acrylic cover which illuminate the entire cover making one heck of an AURA show coming off the block.

The block has a dimension of 88x70x53mm and is made of ABS plastic housing, copper cold plate and steel mounted pump. There is a blue color cover on the EK Water Blocks brand logo. Don’t forget to peel it off after the installation to have that feeling of association with the brand.

The above picture shows the sub-components of the complete block assembly. Following are the specifications of the pump:

Speed 850 ~ 2600 RPM ± 10%
PWM Range 20 ~ 100%
Connector 4-pin PWM
D-RGB Connector 3-pin addressable connector

 

Looking at the left side of the block, there is no branding here. We have a thick acrylic cover running on the entire length and sides of the block. The lower section has a matte black color finish. There are two cables coming out from the mid-section of the housing. Both cables are flat.

We have a 4-pin PWM connector cable powering the pump. It has an approximate length of 465mm. The other cable is for digital lighting. It has a pinout format of 5V, D, Empty, Ground. The D-RGB cable has an approximate length of 495+60mm. There is a VDG labeled connector as well which is for the older GIGABYTE motherboards.

Taking a look at the rear of the block, we have diamond-cut rotary fittings on the block. There are aluminum covers on the fitment giving a nice and clean look. There are two screws. You can remove them to take out the RGB strip on the block and replace it with your own. Its diamond-cut rotary fittings allow for easy installation and adjustment of the rubber tubing, featuring a full range of movement to make the EK AIO suitable for installation in even the tightest spaces.

One thing to observe the angle of the fitment of the tubes on the block. Unlike the majority of the AIO cooling solutions in the market, these tubes are not in 90° fitment as they sit on the same side of the block. By design, the EK-AIO sports the top-mounted approach.

We have a copper base measuring 58x55mm. Thermal paste is pre-applied. Look at the fine finish on the ABS housing. There are two holes on each side of the housing. This is where the mounting brackets are installed.

FAN

EK Water Blocks has provided 2x EK-Vardar S 140ER D-RGB fans. Each fan is packed inside a transparent container with an EKWB seal.

Each Vardar S 140ER fan has 7 frosted blades optimized for high pressure and low noise operation. They are industrial-grade high-static pressure radiator fans primarily created for the highest-performance liquid cooling systems. The frame of the fans is in black color finish. There are no anti-vibration pads on the mounting corners. We have a large diameter center on the fans housing the addressable RGB LEDs. There is an EKWB branded sticker in the center.

There is EK Water Blocks branding on the side of the frame

The backside of the fan shows the 4-arms assembly on the mainframe with one arm having a wider area. The cables are routed on this wider arm towards the exterior of the fan. EK-AIO Vardar S is printed on the sticker. The fans are designed in Slovenia and manufactured in China.

There are two flat cables coming out of the fan. One is the 4-pin PWM fan connector having an approximate length of 490mm and the other is a dual header (male+female) cable for ARGB lighting measuring an approximate length of 395+100mm.

The specification of the fans are:

Dimension 140x140x25mm
Type 4-pin PWM Connector
Speed 500-2000 RPM ± 10%
Airflow 116 CFM
Air Pressure 1.9 mmH₂O
Noise 36.4 dB(A)
ARGB Connector 5V,3pin ARGB dual Header

 

D-RGB Lighting

There is no dedicated controller provided with the cooler. You would need to have a D-RGB lighting header (5V) on the motherboard or a compatible controller to make the DRGB lighting work on the cooler. In my opinion there should have been a dedicated controller in this price tag. The EK-AIO 280 features a monoblock with top acrylic acting like a complete diffuser. This creates one heck of a beautiful light show which is also on the bundled Vardar S 140ER D-RGB fans. Here are some pictures.

Installation

We have recently upgraded our Intel test bed and are now on the Intel LGA1200 socket. Installation is as follow:

Place the backplate on the backside of the motherboard on the socket area by aligning the holes on the socket with the backplate holes.

Use the Intel LGA 115x/1200 pillars or standoffs to secure the backplate with the motherboard.

Install the fans on the radiator. You can do this step after installing the radiator in the chassis as well.

Install the Intel mounting brackets on the block.

Place the block on the CPU by passing the mounting bracket’s holes on the threaded portion of the pillars/stands. Place the springs on the pillars/standoffs.

Use the provided thumb nuts to secure the block on the CPU.

Install the radiator in the chassis. You can use the Y cable to connect both fans to the single fan header on the motherboard. Another fan header would be needed for the 4-pin PWM cable coming from the block to power the pump. This would complete the installation.

There is no clearance issue with respect to the DIMM slots and first PCIe slot. Make sure your chassis has clearance for 280mm radiator.

Testing

We have upgraded our Intel testbed recently. A few coolers have been tested on this setup. More will be added after the testing in the coming time.

Following test benches have been used: –

  • Intel i7 10700k
  • MSI MAG Z490 TOMAHAWK
  • T-Force NightHawk RGB 16GB @ 3200MHz
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 FE
  • addlink S70 256GB NVMe SSD
  • bequiet! Straight Power 11 850W Platinum PSU
  • Open-air test bench

Here is the settings table for testing:

Clock (MHz) 3800 All Cores
Voltage (V) 1.025
Clock (MHz) 4700 All Cores
Voltage (V) 1.255
Clock (MHz) 5100 All Cores
Voltage (V) 1.345
Turbo Boost Disabled
C-States Disabled
Speed Step Disabled
Thermal Paste Noctua NT-H1
Thermal Paste Application Dot Method in the center.
Test Run Time 30 minutes
Idling Time 10 minutes
Fan Speed 100% PWM Duty Cycle and Auto PWM
Pump Speed Connected to the AIO Pump header to run at 100% speed
Header CPU_Fan header for the fans and Pump_Header for the pump
Software AIDA64 6.3 Extreme [FPU]

 

We are using Noctua NT-H1 thermal paste for coolers testing. Using a same thermal paste for all coolers would ensure the standardization. Delta temperatures are reported on the graphs. The testing is done on an open air bench system. Once inside the chassis, the temperatures are expected to rise and would largely depend upon the optimal airflow inside the chassis.

Not every run of the stress test may yield the same result. This could well be due to many factors like mounting pressure, thermal paste application, varying ambient temperature. Not to mention the silicon differences even among the same category of the chips. Hence, it is pertinent to mention the testing methodology along with the specifics.

The coolers are also tested using Auto PWM function. MSI is using Smart Fan mode in the UEFI/BIOS which is not pure Auto PWM but it is what is available to us. The above picture shows the MSI default fan curve for the Smart Fan mode. Since all the coolers will be tested using the same configuration and settings, the same margin of error applies to all.

Let’s take a look at the results.

3.8GHz All Cores

3.8GHz is not a tough challenge for any cooler and resultantly all coolers are in the same range.

4.7GHz All Cores

Surprisingly, the EK-AIO 280 D-RGB is behind the 240mm AIOs on the graph.

4.7GHz All Cores [Auto PWM]

The EK-AIO 280 D-RGB is offering a better performance on Auto PWM.

Fans’ Speed on Auto PWM

The above graph shows the maximum speed attained by the fans on the Auto PWM. For comparison, we have included the rated speed of the fans to have a reference in determining the Auto PWM range. The fans were operating at 78% PWM cycle.

5.1GHz All Cores

Now coming to the ultimate challenge of handling the CPU with all cores set to run at 5.1GHz using 1.345V, the EK-AIO 280 D-RGB offers the similar performance we saw on 4.7GHz all core under load.

Noise

The EK-AIO 280 D-RGB was doing 59 dBA at an ambient of 33 dBA sound level. The fans make quite some noise. I would suggest running them on Auto PWM or defining a custom fan curve for an optimal balance between the performance and the noise.

Conclusion

EK Water Blocks sent us their new EK-AIO 280 D-RGB cooler for review. The cooler features a full acrylic cover on the universal compatible monoblock, acting like a diffuser for killer lighting effects. This is an in-house design from EK Water Blocks and features 2x EK-Vardar S 140ER D-RGB high-performance fans. The EK-AIO 240 D-RGB is compatible with – Intel Sockets LGA: 1150, 1151, 1155, 1156, 1200, 2011, 2011-3, 2066, and AMD Socket: AM4.

The unit has an aluminum radiator measuring 313 x 140 x 27mm. The thickness of the radiator is 27mm. The overall thickness would be 53mm after installing the fans. The radiator has 18 FPI. The radiator has a black color housing. The EK Water Blocks is using low evaporating rubber tubes with nylon braided sleeves running to approximately 400mm in length. The tubes are installed on straight fittings on the radiator with aluminum clamps which are in matte black finish.

The cooler features a universal compatible monoblock with a dimension of 88x70x53mm. The block is made of ABS material with a copper cold plate and steel mounting pump. The top of the block has an acrylic cover with 9 ARGB LEDs underneath. The whole acrylic cover acts as a diffuser for some vivid and even light transitions and effects. There is an EKWB brand logo in silver on the corner of the block. The tubes are installed on the block using diamond-cut rotary fittings with similar aluminum clamps. The overall build quality is top-notch and speaks of what we can expect from EKWB. The cooler features a PWM pump which is rated for 500 ~ 2600 RPM ± 10%. There is no power consumption information provided in the specification. The PWM range of the pump is 20~100%. The block has copper base with cold plate. The surface of the base is flat and we have roughly 58x55mm dimension of the base. The base comes with the pre-applied thermal paste. On top of that, EKWB has also bundled their Ectotherm thermal paste.

The EK-AIO 280 D-RGB comes with two EK-Vardar S 140ER D-RGB fans. These are high-performance fans designed for liquid cooling solutions. These fans are rated for up to 2000 RPM ±10
% speed with a maximum airflow rating of 116 CFM at air pressure rating of 1.9 mmH₂O. These fans feature frosted 7 blades to ensure high pressure with low noise operations. Both fans have ARGB LEDs housed inside the center. There is no dedicated controller provided in the accessory. The installation is an easy task and the comprehensive user guide is provided to help the users in installation.

The EK Water Blocks EK-AIO 280 D-RGB is listed at $134.99 at the time of the review. EK Water Blocks is offering 5 years warranty. We have a premium price tag though I would love a dedicated lighting controller in this price range to be provided! The EK Water Block EK-AIO 280 D-RGB has performed well on our test bench though the fans are louder at full speed. I would suggest defining a custom fan curve or using the Auto PWM function for a better balance between the noise and the thermal performance.

Check Out Our Other EK AIO Reviews

EK-AIO Elite 360 D-RGB Review
EK-AIO Basic 360 Cooler Review
EK-AIO Basic 240 Cooler Review
EK-AIO 360 D-RGB Cooler Review