Table of Contents
MSI’s MEG series represents the company’s highest tier, enthusiast-grade products, with the Coreliquid S280 sitting as the most feature-rich 280 mm All-In-One CPU cooler MSI has to offer. At its heart is an Asetek pump with a 2.4″ customizable IPS display and two MEG Silent Gale P14 140 mm fans paired with the 30 mm thick 280 mm radiator. First, let’s look at the many features that set this cooler apart from the average All-In-One cooler.
Features and Specifications
As mentioned in the introduction, the Coreliquid S280 is built around a PWM-controlled Asetek pump. A customizable 2.4″ IPS display mounts above the pump body, providing system feedback or a custom image, video, or .gif. A 60 mm fan is positioned between the pump and display to provide cooling to the pump and surrounding motherboard components. Two 140 mm MEG Silent Gale P14 fans are included and have a rated maximum RPM of 1800. They provide up to 2.2 mmH2O of pressure while only producing 24.9 decibels. The Fans and display are controlled via MSI Center Software, a comprehensive and intuitive program for customizing your entire MSI rig.
Below are the specifications from MSI.
|MSI MEG Coreliquid S280 Specifications|
|Product Name||MSI MEG Coreliquid S280|
|CPU Socket||Intel: LGA 1150/1151/1155/1156/1200/1700/2011/2011-3/2066|
|Dimensions (WxDxH)||314.8 x 140 x 27 mm / 12.38 x 5.51 x 1.06 inches|
|Water Cooling Pipe Length||400 mm / 15.75 inches|
|Number of Fans||2|
|Fan Dimensions (WxDxH)||140 x 140 x 27.5 mm / 5.51 x 5.51 x 1.08 inches|
|Fan Speed||0~1800 RPM|
|Fan Air Flow||82.27 CFM|
|Fan Air Pressure||2.2 mmH2O|
|Fan Life Expectancy||50,000 Hours|
|Fan Noise Level||24.9 dBA|
|Fan Bearing Type||Hydro-Dynamic Bearing (HDB)|
|Fan Connector||4-Pin (PWM)|
|Fan Rated Current||0.5 A|
|Fan Power Consumption||6 W|
|Pump / Block|
|Block Dimensions (WxDxH)||95 x 95 x 54 mm / 3.74 x 3.74 x 2.13 inches|
|Pump Life Expectancy||50,000 Hours|
|Pump Noise Level||21.2 dBA|
|Pump Load Current||0.33 A|
|Pump Power Consumption||4 W|
|Pump Speed||PWM Controlled; 100% Duty Cycle w/ 2800+/- 300 RPM|
Below are the core features from MSI.
The packaging for the Coreliquid S280 is simple and effective. The black cardboard box displays an image of the cooler on the front while the back illustrates several key features and a specifications chart printed on the side. Inside is a brown cardboard insert that is very much like a drink holder you might get from a fast-food restaurant. The radiator, fans, and pump are wrapped individually in plastic, with the radiator that receives an additional layer of thin cardboard for protection. Overall, the packaging does a fine job of protecting the contents while providing the end-user with the necessary information about the product.
The MEG Coreliquid S280 comes with several included mounting configurations. The various mounting plates effectively allow the S280 to be compatible with most AMD and Intel CPUs over the last 16 years. Each bag is identified as AMD or Intel, while the bags without a label contain hardware that is common to both brands. The installation manual is easy to follow and clearly explains the multitude of mounting configurations.
Meet The MSI MEG Coreliquid S280
The marketing slogan for the Coreliquid S280 is “Can’t hear it coming.” MSI has built the Coreliquid series coolers with three main focuses, performance, silence, and flare. In the next few segments, we cover how MSI was able to create exceptional performance, beauty, and a relatively silent cooler.
When it comes to All-In-One coolers, the key to performance and longevity has to start with the pump. MSI knows this and partnered with Asetek to implement its 7th generation pump. There is little information available about this latest version, but what we do know is it draws up to four Watts of power, is PWM controlled, and has a life expectancy of 50,000 hours. That’s over 5.5 years of continuous, non-stop use. One common issue with All-In-One coolers is a lack of airflow over the motherboard’s power delivery section, memory, and M.2 SSDs. MSI has come up with a unique solution to this problem and keeps the pump cool simultaneously. They placed a 60 mm fan over the pump and provided a removable shroud. This directs the airflow over the pump and motherboard components that need it the most. Looking at the bottom of the assembly, we see the pre-installed thermal paste and circular bare copper cold plate.
The radiator is constructed of aluminum, measures 30 mm thick, and has 22 fins per inch. It looks like most others, painted in black with a satin finish, so MSI stamped its MEG logo to each side. This provides just a little character without drawing too much attention. The 1/4″ tubing is fully enclosed in a black nylon braid that provides a beautiful aesthetic and protects the hose from accidental damage. Overall, the tubes measure 400 mm long, ensuring enough length for larger cases, but not so long as to be a burden in a smaller one. The tubes are permanently attached to the radiator and pump housing, making this cooler non-expandable.
MSI’s fans go underappreciated in the PC community. The two included with this cooler are the Silent Gale P14 series 140 mm fans. Powered by PWM, they are rated for 2.2 mmH2O with 82 CFM. Not only are they powerful, but at under 25 dBA, they are fairly quiet too. These are impressive specs that rival even the venerable Noctua NF-A14S. Let that sink in for a moment. We aren’t making any grandiose claims that these are better, just that they spec out similarly. MSI can achieve these lofty goals by using Hydro-Dynamic Bearings (HDB) with a 1/2 Amp motor and a nine-blade turbine design. The Hydro-Dynamic Bearings are also a pivotal contributor to noise reduction. Additionally, MSI installed large rubber pads at the corners of the frame. What you end up with is a very powerful, silent fan that can last for the life of your build and then some. The only negative we can say about the P14 is they did not reach the 1800 RPM rating and maxed out around 1650 RPM. We initially thought it might be an issue with the MSI Center software, but the results we verified with both HWInfo64 and the motherboard BIOS. Regardless, they performed very well and were barely audible at full speed. In case you couldn’t tell, these fans are also bereft of any RGB lighting.
The Coreliquid S280, by default, has the Intel mounting plate pre-installed at the factory. If you are installing on an AMD-compatible motherboard, like this one, you will need to swap out the mounting plate. Pushing up on the plate and giving it a quarter turn allows it to slip off the bottom of the cold plate. Installing the new mounting plate is as simple as reversing the process. With the correct mounting plate installed, we need to screw in the four appropriate mounting posts to the motherboard. These are clearly marked on the bags and in the installation manual. Remove the shroud from the cooler and place the cooler on the mounting posts. The four mounting nuts need to be tightened in a cross pattern until they bottom out for even pressure. Replace the shroud on top of the cooler and install the radiator and fans in your case. MSI has made mounting the S280 incredibly easy. Tools are not essential, though I prefer to give the mounting nuts a gentle snug with a screwdriver.
The software used to control the 2.4″ IPS display, radiator fans, water pump, and pump fan is called MSI Center. It is a free download from the MSI website and can control nearly all of your MSI devices. For this review, we will briefly discuss only the features related to the Coreliquid S280.
With the Coreliquid tab selected at the very top, there are two sub-tabs we are interested in, LCD Display and Fan Settings. Also located at the top is the button to turn the display on or off, a brightness setting, and a button to toggle the display’s orientation. The LCD Display tab is broken up into five additional groups, each pertaining to a different function that can be displayed. The first is Hardware Monitor. With this, selected users can display one or all of the following: CPU frequency, CPU temperature, GPU memory frequency, GPU temperature, radiator fan speed, water block fan speed, pump speed, liquid temperature, and frames per second. You can also choose between four pre-loaded background wallpapers. The second function displays one of the seven videos and images pre-installed and the option to add custom files. The supported file types are .bmp, .jpg, .gif, and .mp4. The third option allows for a scrolling banner in the following file types: .bmp, .jpg, and .gif. Next, the system clock can be selected. There are five clock formats available, but sadly there is no option to customize or add clock types. The fifth function under the LCD Display tab can display live weather. Naturally, you will need to allow MSI Center and Windows some access to your location for this feature to work.
With the Fan Settings tab selected, there are three pre-programmed modes and one customizable option. For the radiator fans to be controlled through MSI Center, they must connect to the pump via the attached fan connector. The first tab is Silent mode and when selected the radiator fans and water block fan will remain off until the minimum temperatures are reached, at which time the fans will ramp up to a predetermined speed. The Balanced mode setting is next and runs the fans and pump at low speeds but offers a slightly more aggressive curve while still remaining quiet during idle operations. Game Mode is the most aggressive setting out of the box, and this is also the default setting. The radiator fans, pump fans, and water pump ramp up relatively quickly once an appreciable load is applied, raising the CPU temperature. Even with these aggressive curves, the radiator fans do not reach full speed until the CPU is 70° C. Finally, the Customize mode allows the user to define curves suited to their specific needs. All CPUs have different temperature thresholds, and all users have different noise tolerances. With this option, you can fine-tune what is acceptable to you and your system.
Below are a few images of what the display looks like. Please ignore the ghosting image in the first two pictures. The camera picked up a reflection on the shroud glass of the actual display. It does not look like that in real life. The Overclockers custom image below was created from a boot logo generated by an unknown member years ago. Please comment on the forums post if anyone is interested in the boot logo file, .gif, or .jpg image, and we will gladly share.
Our testing procedure consists of measuring peak CPU temperature while at idle, under a full load, and with four different fan speeds, maximum, 1200 RPM, stock, and minimum. We also test with the CPU in its stock UEFI settings and again with the CPU overclocked. The overclock will be as high as possible based on the cooler’s ability to maintain stability. For both stock clocks and while overclocked, the cooler’s fans are set to their maximum speed to determine the highest possible cooling, 1200 RPM to set a baseline than any cooler can compare to, stock speed (if available) as an “out of the box” option, and finally the minimum speed setting to represent those who want the quietest possible configuration. All testing of the S280 was performed with the original factory thermal paste.
For idle testing, we allow the system to run for 15 minutes, and the load tests are run for 30-45 minutes as some tests were able to reach thermal equilibrium faster than others. The predetermined temperature to end the testing is 83° C, well enough below the throttle point to prevent CPU degradation but high enough to determine when additional cooling is required. After each test, the system is allowed to cool down to within a few degrees of ambient before the next test is run. To evaluate the Coreliquid S280’s cooling performance, we also included testing for a large tower air cooler, the be quiet! Dark Rock 4, and AMD’s stock cooler, the Wraith Prism. All results are then normalized to an average ambient temperature of 21° Celcius. In total, over 70 hours of testing took place during this review. This is not a direct comparison to every cooler on the market; however, this does provide an approximation if you are looking to upgrade from a stock cooler or a similar large tower cooler.
|MSI MEG Coreliquid S280 Testing System|
|Case||Open Air Test Bench|
|Motherboard||ASRock X570 Phantom Gaming X|
|CPU||AMD Ryzen 9 3900X (UEFI Default 3.8 GHz Auto Volts)|
|Memory||G.Skill Trident Z RGB 2x8GB 3200 MHz CL16|
|GPU||Gigabyte RTX 2070 Gaming OC 8 GB|
|Storage||MSI Spatium M470 1 TB|
|Power Supply||be quiet! Pure Power 11 500W|
|Operating System||Windows 10 64 bit|
|Monitoring Software||HWInfo64 v.7.16|
|Testing Software||AIDA64 Engineer v.6.60.5900 (CPU, FPU, & Cache w/o AVX)|
|Temperature Probe||Amprobe TMD-52|
|Ambient Temp||Normalized to 21° C|
|MSI MEG Coreliquid S280 Overclock and Fan Settings|
|CPU Overclock||4.4 GHz @ 1.30 V|
|Fans Full Speed||1650 RPM (100% PWM Power)|
|Fan 1200 RPM Setting||64% PWM Power|
|Fans Stock Speed||Fan Curve Dependant (Gaming Mode)|
|Minimum Speed||0 RPM (Fans Off- 0 % PWM Power)|
|be quiet! Dark Rock 4 Overclock and Fan Settings|
|CPU Overclock||4.2 GHz @ 1.25 V|
|Fans Full Speed||1400 RPM (100% PWM Power)|
|Fan 1200 RPM Setting||87% PWM Power|
|Fans Stock Speed||N/A|
|Minimum Speed||170 RPM (14% PWM Power)|
|AMD Wraith Prism Overclock and Fan Settings|
|CPU Overclock||4.2 GHz @ 1.25 V|
|Fans Full Speed||3775 RPM (100% PWM Power) Switch on High Setting|
|Fan 1200 RPM Setting||30% PWM Power Switch on High Setting|
|Fans Stock Speed||N/A|
|Minimum Speed||405 RPM (15% PWM Power) Switch on High Setting|
To begin our testing, we loaded the default UEFI settings in the BIOS. This set the stock CPU frequency for our AMD Ryzen 9 3900X to 3.8 GHz and allowed the CPU to boost as available. We left the VCore and SOC voltages on auto, representing a plug-and-play configuration. Below are the idle temperatures for the three coolers with the fans set at four different speeds. We see the MSI Coreliquid remains approximately 10-20 degrees cooler across the board. The Wraith Prism was the only cooler unable to complete the minimum speed test at stock clocks. The Coreliquid S280 outperformed the Wraith Prism and tower cooler even with the fans off.
Next, we load AIDA64 Engineer and run the stability test with CPU, FPU, and Cache selected for a simulated full system load. To maintain a level playing field, AVX was disabled as the Wraith Prism would not be able to run even with the fans at full speed. Naturally, none of the coolers could complete this stress test with the fans at their lowest fan settings, and it would be unreasonable to expect them to. Once again the MSI Coreliquid S280 performed very well with an average temperature of 70° Celcius at all speeds except with the fans off. During this test, it remained approximately 7-10° cooler than the tower cooler. The poor Wraith Prism could only finish the full-speed testing under this benchmark.
For the overclocked portion of this review, we set the highest overclock each cooler was able to establish. The MSI Coreliquid S280 maintained 4.4 GHz with the VCore fixed at 1.30 Volts and SOC set to 1.20 Volts. The two air coolers were only able to achieve 4.2 GHz with the voltage set to 1.25 Volts and SOC on 1.20 Volts. If we wanted to be fair, we could have run all of the coolers with the same 4.2 GHz settings, but this is Overclockers, and we aim to push these coolers as much as we can.
Looking at the idle test results, we see an improvement over the UEFI default settings. This is due to the fixed voltages. In the UEFI configuration, it was not uncommon for the VCore voltages to spike up to 1.48 Volts. All the coolers did well at idle, though I would not recommend the minimum settings for the Wraith Prism under any condition. In all the other settings, though, each cooler performed well, with the S280 maintaining in the low 40’s while the fans were running. Oddly, both the AIO and tower cooler experienced a slight bump in temperature at full speed, but these are idle temps and are known to be somewhat quirky at times.
Finally, we get to the overclocked load test. This is the most telling of all the testing as it is most representative of a typical overclocker’s rig. With the S280 having a 200 MHz increase in clocks and a slight bump in Voltage, it performed exceptionally well at all fan settings. The tower cooler performed surprisingly well, though at a slightly lower overclock. Once again, the stock cooler was only able to complete the full speed testing, it’s just not up to the task of heavy load cooling like a good aftermarket cooler is. Again, we should reiterate this is not intended as a direct comparison between coolers. However, these results are indicative of what one can expect from the MSI Coreliquid S280.
Thermal Interface Material
With the thermal testing complete, we wanted to provide feedback on the factory thermal paste. Many Overclockers.com members ask if a manufacturer’s factory thermal paste should be replaced right away. Sadly, not enough reviewers make a comparison for us to answer this question accurately. So, here we attempt to answer that question for the MSI Coreliquid S280.
The pre-applied thermal paste for the S280 is applied in a circular pattern and is gray. It is more of a paste than grease and is relatively tacky but not overly sticky. After completing all the thermal testing, the CPU and Cold Plate were properly cleaned with 91% Isopropyl Alcohol. A fresh dab of Arctic MX-4 (2019 Edition) was applied to the CPU for a quick comparison to the original paste. With the same 4.4 GHz overclock, we repeated the idle and AIDA64 tests with the fans set to full speed. The temperature difference was lower by exactly 1° C at idle and 1.1° C under load. From this, we can conclude that the T.I.M. used by MSI is a quality product and the application out of the box is adequate but not perfect. You can see from the image below the circular pattern of paste did not spread out entirely to the corners of the CPU. AMD’s processors are only 37.5 mm x 37.5mm, and a CPU with a much larger IHS, like Intel’s current 45 mm x 37.5 sizes, the results would likely be far worse. If you are planning an AMD build, the stock paste should be fine for most users. However, if you are contemplating using Intel or are searching for every degree of cooling, you should consider replacing it.
MSI’s slogan for the Coreliquid S280 is “Can’t hear it coming.” With the ability to completely customize the fans and pump speeds, you can keep this cooler completely silent. With the fans at full speed, there is a fair amount of noise generated, but the cooling provided will be worth it for many users. Naturally, customizing your fan curves to your liking is a boon to your comfort level. While AMD’s Ryzen 9 3900X isn’t the hottest CPU on the market, it can generate a good amount of heat. The MSI Coreliquid S280 performed very well with a substantial overclock and under a heavy stress test. Cooling-wise, it will handle nearly any CPU on the market that it is compatible with. Let’s not forget MSI also offers the S360 360 mm version if additional cooling is required. For performance, the MSI Coreliquid S280 hit all the marks with its Asetek pump and MSI Silent Gale P14 fans.
The vivid display on the 2.4″ IPS screen is breathtaking. The customizable feedback is a great touch that many manufacturers are now implementing. The ability to add fun images, GIFs and videos brings enjoyment that reminds us that we are all still kids at heart, even if many of us have children of our own…that are adults…with kids (just stop John). Back to the conclusion, the option to display the time and weather is another nice feature. Hopefully, other information could be displayed like email notifications, current news, etcetera.
The final focal point MSI wanted to make was silence. The Silent Gale P14 fans a truly underrated. They can compete with some of the top aftermarket fans. The static pressure these generate at high speeds is respectable and the ability to shut them completely off at idle without sacrificing cooling performance is simply a no-brainer. These fans are a perfect complement to this cooler set-up. We were a little disappointed they didn’t reach the advertised 1800 RPM, but looking at the results, we can cut them a little slack. The pump fan can get a bit noisy when it ramps up. We simply didn’t have the time to adjust its fan curves and genuinely believe most of this noise can be improved on if not altogether eliminated.
The MSI MEG Coreliquid S280 retails for $249.99 at Amazon and Newegg and has popped up on sale a couple of times while writing this review. We won’t sugar coat it, this is a lot of money for an AIO cooler. There are cheaper AIOs on the market, including several from MSI. But this is not a budget cooler. As we mentioned in the introduction, this represents MSI’s top tier. When comparing it to other top-tier coolers like NZXT’s Kraken Z series Z63, Corsair’s iCUE H100 ELITE, or the Cooler Master Master Liquid Pro it is priced accordingly. In the end, if you are looking for a budget cooler, this is not the one for you. If you want a high-performance cooler with an epic customizable IPS display and the ability to make your rig whisper quiet, the MSI MEG Coreliquid S280 could be what you are looking for.