With modern CPUs running at extremely fast processing speeds to deliver the best performance, they also reach extreme levels of temperatures. Therefore, adequate cooling methods are required in order for those temperatures to be kept under control. In this regard, the AIO cooling method seems to be the most efficient one as it’s a complete package that can fulfill the cooling requirements of a high-end CPU. Nonetheless, there are many different sizes of AIO CPU coolers under different brand names that are out there to help you cool your CPU.  

When talking about 280mm vs 360mm AIO, picking the best-sized cooler for keeping your CPU chilled can be a bit tricky. Upon entering the realm of finding the best AIO coolers, you’ll realize how hard it is to find one that fits right into your PC Chassis and fulfills the cooling requirements of your CPU. For this comparison, in particular, we’ll be exploring two very specific sizes of AIO coolers; 360mm AIO vs 280mm AIO.  

For the 280mm AIOs, you’ll mostly get a dual-fan design fitted with 140mm fans. On the other hand, the triple-fan design of the 360mm AIOs is normally available with two 120mm fans. How do the 120mm fans compare with the 140mm? What advantage does the higher fan count have for the 360mm? We’ll answer all those questions and more in this comparison. 

Differences Between 280mm vs 360mm AIO Coolers 

Some of the most important key differences between any differing AIO sizes are the fans and radiator height. Depending on the size of the AIO, the radiator and fan dimensions will be different from another size. And so, the same is the case here; the 280mm size AIOs are fitted with smaller-sized fans and radiators compared to their 360mm counterparts. 

First of all, a 360mm AIO may regularly have 3 fans compared to the normalized dual-fan designs of 280mm. Having two 140mm fans is pretty much the standard for 280mm AIOs whereas it’s hard to find a 360mm AIO with less than three 120mm fans. From this, we find that the 280mm AIOs may support the larger 140mm fans compared to the 360mm covering more surface area and providing better airflow. On the other hand, the 360mm AIOs have an extra fan attached to them. These are mostly the reasons for the comparison. 

There are, however, exceptional AIOs such as the EK-AIO Elite 280 D-RGB, which is a 280mm AIO that contains 4x 140mm PWM fans. In the same vein, there’s also the EKWB EK AIO Elite D-RGB 360mm which comes with 6x 120mm fans. The purpose of bringing them up was to counter the previous statement about all AIOs having a standard number of fans. But with that in mind, it should be noted that both of these AIOs have very unusual designs that are extremely rare to find in the market.  

Lastly, the key difference between 360mm vs 280mm AIO is with the radiator dimensions. Mainly, the radiator height of 360mm is often greater than 280mm. As a result, this allows the 360mm AIO to cover a large surface area and make room for an extra fan. Generally, the bigger the radiator is, the better cooling it provides in an AIO. Provided the PC Chassis supports this giant size, the 360mm is the best when it comes to liquid cooling.  

Testing Equipment 

  • System 
  • CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 3900X  
  • Motherboard: Asus X470 Crosshair XI Hero  
  • RAM: Corsair 2x8GB Vengeance RGB Pro DDR4-3200   
  • Case: be quiet! Pure Base 500DX  

For this comparison, the 280mm and 360mm variants of the Deepcool Castle EX series were used. Both coolers have the same pump design, same radiator design, and fan design according to Deepcool.  

Deepcool Castle 280EX Specifications 

Net Weight  1600 g 
Radiator Dimensions  322×138×27 mm 
Radiator Material  Aluminum 
Tube length  380 mm 
Pump Dimensions  86 ×75×71 mm 
Pump Speed  2550 RPM±10% 
Pump Noise  17.8 dB(A) 
Pump Connector  3-pin 
Pump Rated Voltage  12 VDC 
Pump Rated Current  0.2 A 
Pump Power Consumption  2.4 W 
Fan Dimensions  140×140×25 mm 
Fan Speed  400~1600 RPM±10% 
Fan Airflow  97.03 CFM 
Fan Air Pressure  2.00 mmAq 
Fan Noise  ≤39.8 dB(A) 
Fan Connector  4-pin PWM 
Bearing Type  Hydro Bearing 
Fan Rated Voltage  12 VDC 
Fan Rated Current  0.3 A 
Fan Power Consumption  3.6 W 
LED Type  Addressable RGB LED 
LED Connector  3-pin(+5V-D-G) 
LED Rated Voltage  5 VDC 
LED Power Consumption  2.25 W(PUMP) 
EAN  6933412727033 
P/N  DP-GS-H14AR-CSL280EX 

 

Deepcool Castle 360EX Specifications 

Net Weight  1665 g 
Radiator Dimensions  402×120×27 mm 
Radiator Material  Aluminum 
Tube length  465 mm 
Pump Dimensions  86 ×75×71 mm 
Pump Speed  2550 RPM±10% 
Pump Noise  17.8 dB(A) 
Pump Connector  3-pin 
Pump Rated Voltage  12 VDC 
Pump Rated Current  0.2 A 
Pump Power Consumption  2.4 W 
Fan Dimensions  120×120×25 mm 
Fan Speed  500~1800 RPM±10% 
Fan Airflow  69.34 CFM 
Fan Air Pressure  2.42 mmAq 
Fan Noise  ≤30 dB(A) 
Fan Connector  4-pin PWM 
Bearing Type  Hydro Bearing 
Fan Rated Voltage  12 VDC 
Fan Rated Current  0.17 A 
Fan Power Consumption  2.04 W 
LED Type  Addressable RGB LED 
LED Connector  3-pin(+5V-D-G) 
LED Rated Voltage  5 VDC 
LED Power Consumption  2.25 W(PUMP) 
EAN  6933412727293 
P/N  DP-GS-H12W-CSL360EX-AR 

 

Differences in Specifications 

To begin with, the only major differences between the 360mm and 280mm coolers are the number of fans and the overall dimensions of both the radiator and the fans. Of course, the FPIs of both sizes of fans are also quite different. 

Firstly, the 360mm has an overall 10% larger radiator which puts it at advantage over  the 280mm. With a larger radiator, you have a better heatsink and liquid flowing area which is helpful with cooling. That said, the 280mm is at a disadvantage in the liquid cooling department because of its smaller radiator. 

In addition, the 360mm AIO also comes with three 120mm fans compared with the 280mm AIO, which has two 140mm fans. This means that individually, the 280mm’s fans have an advantage over the 360mm in terms of the total surface area covered.  

With those key differences in mind, there rises a question: How do the 240mm’s two larger 140mm fans compare to the smaller but greater number of fans of the 360mm? Let’s get into the 280mm vs 360mm AIO benchmarks by Tech Guru to find out. 

280mm vs 360mm AIO – Benchmarks 

Idle Benchmarks

280mm vs 360mm AIO Idle Benchmarks
Idle Temps

From the idle benchmark, we can observe very similar results from both 280mm vs 360mm. First of all, both 280mm and 360mm reach the same temperature mark.  Even though they’re running at widely different RPMs, the fans of both coolers altogether provide the same temperatures at idle at 39°C.  Noise curves also dictate that the fans’ speed should be altered for it to not produce a lot of noise since there’s a very small difference in performance. This is also true for noise levels where both CPUs are reaching the same 35dbA noise output despite differing in the size of the fans and fan count. 

CPU-Z Benchmark

280mm vs 360mm AIO CPU-Z Benchmarks
40dbA/50dbA and Max RPM Noise result on CPU-Z Benchmark

Next up, the CPU-Z benchmark tool was used for comparing 280mm vs 360mm AIO as it provides the most accurate results for gaming. It’s good for testing heavy loads but not extremely powerful loads just like any game engine would. If a chilled CPU while gaming is your requirement, then this comparison will be where you should pay the most attention. Here, the CPUs are experiencing a load of 123W to see how the coolers react. 

For the CPU-Z benchmarks, we have the noise results capped at 40 dbA and 50 dbA along with the max RPM results. Interestingly, all of the benchmarks show very similar results which is kind of a trend in this comparison. 

Firstly, the temperatures are very close in the 40 dbA noise normalized test with the 280mm AIO being slightly ahead. The 140mm fans of the 280mm are spinning at 900 RPM while the 360mm’s 120mm fans have an average rotation speed of 971 RPM. As can be observed, even with a greater RPM, the 360mm is just a tad bit warmer than the 280mm. It’s interesting to note how the size and RPM of the fans are both equally important factors when it comes to cooling. Also, even though the 360mm has an overall larger radiator, the 280mm AIO is still better for overall cooling efficiency. Overall, the results of the 40dbA test are almost the exact same for both AIOs in terms of cooling performance. Honestly, the difference is so small that we feel it shouldn’t even matter for gaming in general. 

Moving on, the 50 dbA noise normalized test also shows very close results just like the 40 dbA test. Here, however, the 360mm AIO is cooler than the 280mm by just a hair. With a 1530 RPM, the fans of the 360mm provide slightly better cooling than the 1268 RPM 280mm AIO. This time, the greater RPM of the 360mm beats the bigger sized 280mm AIO. Another factor affecting the temperatures is the liquid cooling of the 360mm being better than 280mm thanks to the bigger radiator size. All in all, the 50 dbA test shows pretty similar results to the 40 dbA test in that they’re both very close. 50 dbA is the last actually tolerable sound coming from the fans. We feel it really gets annoying once it’s above that mark.  

 Yet again, with the maximum RPM graph, we can observe a very close match-up from the 360mm vs 280mm AIOs. Although the 360mm’s fans are spinning at a faster 1795 RPM, the 280mm still wins with its 1695 RPM speed for fans. However, the results are very close with the 280mm being just a minute percent chiller than the 360mm. With that said, the noise output from the 280mm is 3 dbA higher than its 360mm rival with the 280mm being at 58 dbA and 360mm at 55 dbA. Both of these sounds are very loud, to begin with, and 58 dbA is just deafening even if you’re covering your ears with a headset. In conclusion, the maximum RPM test shows very similar results to previous tests with the 40 dbA and 50 dbA normalized results.  

All of this boils down to the fact that there’s very little, almost unnoticeable difference between the 280mm vs 360mm AIO. The main takeaway here is that you should cap your AIO to 50 dbA or less considering the noise levels are much quieter and the overall performance is almost the same in both maximum RPM results, and the 50/40 dbA noise capped result.  

Cinebench R20 Benchmark

280mm vs 360mm AIO Cinebench R20 Benchmarks
40dbA/50dbA and Max RPM Noise result on Cinebench R20 Benchmark

The last test was done with CPU-Z but now the Cinebench R20 test will put the most extreme loads on the two AIOs. This time, the Cinebench R20 is pulling up 154W of load from the CPU as compared to the CPU-Z test which pulled 123W. There’s a difference of 31W between the two benchmarking tools. Alongside that, compared to the GPU-Z test, we’re seeing 4 degrees higher average CPU temperatures on the Cinebench R20 test. Furthermore, the stress test from the Cinebench R20 test beats even the loads of other strong benchmarking tools for testing CPUs on extreme loads. , Cinebench R20 is putting 154W of load on the CPU which is a really large amount making the clock speed really fast. With a power draw like that, the Cinebench R20 really puts the 280mm vs 360mm AIO into overdrive to keep the temperatures low. 

Also, like the CPU-Z benchmark, the noise levels will be capped at 40 dbA and 50 dbA while we will also observing the noise levels at max RPMs from both AIOs.  

Coming up first, we have the 40 dbA noise normalized graph like last time. Once again, we’re getting very similar results from the comparison. Both the AIOs are evenly matched on the 40 dbA test with an average rotation speed of 900 RPM for the two 140mm fans and 971 RPM for the three 120mm fans. Both are reaching temperatures of 72 degrees on these RPMs. The quality cooling of both products is the exact same for the 40 dbA capped result. 

For the 50 dbA noise capped result, we are again seeing the same kinds of results. In this one, the 280mm is slightly behind by a degree compared to the 360mm. Spinning at 1530 RPM, the 360mm AIO is reaching an average of 70°C on this test. Compare this with the 69°C average temperature of the 280mm AIO with fans that are spinning at 1268 RPM.  

Lastly, the maximum RPM test continues the trend of similar results with the 280mm being a fraction cooler than the 360mm. We’re seeing a 3 dbA difference in the noise levels between the two AIOs. Firstly, the 280mm AIO is spinning at an average of 1695 RPM with temperatures marked at 68°C, which is lower than the 360mm whose fans are spinning at 1795 RPM. Although, the interesting part about this test is the noise levels. We’re seeing 280mm at 58 dbA and 360mm at 55 dbA which are both very loud sounds.  

With the end of that one, we can finally bring this benchmarks comparison to an end. Between the 280mm vs 360mm, the difference is very little in terms of overall cooling performance. From these tests, the main advice we can give here is that you should cap your noise levels at 50 dbA for the best noise and performance ratio. We’re seeing 58 dbA and 55 dbA of sounds produced which is a very loud sound considering we’re only getting just a little more performance compared with the 50 dbA capped result if we take them up on that offer.   

360mm vs 280mm AIO: Compatibility 

As you may know, PC chassis come in a variety of different sizes that are compatible with various different dimensions of coolers. That raises a question: can your PC case really support either the 280mm or the 360mm AIO? Hence, it’s important to check which AIO size your PC chassis supports. You can do this in two ways: Either look up the maximum cooler size that is installable in the specifications of the PC case or measure your PC chassis with a ruler or a measuring tape. 

After you’ve done that, things get a little more complicated. Sometimes you’ll find that your CPU chassis supports the cooler (whichever size it may be), but you might not be able to get the type of mounting you want. For example, if you prefer top mounting over front mounting, you’ll find that the CPU case might not support that and only has room for the latter. Similarly, you’ll find some PC cases supporting 280mm or 360mm sizes of AIO coolers written on their specs but once you actually get to the installation part, the whole build gets a bit congested.   

For this build in particular, the PC Chassis we had didn’t support top mounting for the 360mm AIO. We could install the 280mm on top though but the comparison results would have been affected with different types of mounting. Top mounting is becoming less popular with newer PC cases which is a bit disappointing since top mounts provide better cooling for the overall case rather than just the CPU. 

Verdict

All in all, the benchmarks prove that both AIOs have little to no difference in performance and overall cooling efficiency. Yes, the 280mm AIO has a slight edge over the 360mm in terms of cooling and it does have lower temperatures but that’s at the cost of loud sound production. Although the 360mm is 3 dbA quieter on the max RPM test still a whopping 55 dbA and the 280mm is even worse at 58 dbA. These are both really loud sounds that can really hinder your gaming. It’s interesting to note that the 140mm fans are widely superior to 120mm in terms of performance since they do provide better cooling even with lower RPMs.  

Also Read: Best 120mm AIO

All things aside, the maximum RPM test tells us an important fact about the coolers which is that the maximum RPM is really not that great. Consequently, you will only get a fraction of more performance compared to 50 dbA noise normalized settings but with a lot more noise so it’s recommended that you tweak the fans to get the best noise to performance ratio. With that said, the 280mm AIO really wins with the price point since it’s cheaper than the average 360mm AIO. To clarify, this is because the 360mm AIO has a larger radiator and an extra 120mm fan that’s why it’s a bit pricier.

On the other hand, if you prefer the looks or RGBs of the 360mm and prefer 3 fans, you can always buy the 360mm. If you do, make sure to check whether your PC Chassis has the support for it. 

In the end, it comes down to your personal preference as the stats basically show no difference. Honestly, you should go with whichever AIO is best compatible with your PC Chassis and is also low on your budget. In our experience, more often than not 280mm fits that criteria over 360mm. 

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Abdemanaf has been a creative writer since 2011. He first dwelled in the tech world in early 2015 and has since compared many product offerings by different companies. Abdemanaf started working for Tech4Gamers in February 2022 as a blog and comparison writer.