Final Score: 84 out 100
It really is no secret that with 280mm AIOs a good air-cooling solution will provide pretty much the same cooling potential without the added complexity a water-based solution brings to the table. It is also no great revelation that the best of the best air coolers can trade blows with most 360mm AIOs. It really is only when you hit that 420mm radiator size class that air can no longer keep up. People love easy answers and this is why a lot of people are quickly drawn to 420mm AIOs. Those people are in for a world full of headaches if that is all they get out of our charts.
The fact of the matter is we rather deal with the headaches that go along with dual 360mm radiator loops than handle the hassles a single 480 radiator loop brings to the table. Everything about the installation process is harder and / or takes longer with 480s. You will have to take into consideration a lot of factors that are non-issues with smaller radiators and tailor a lot of the other components of your build around these issues. Get any part choice “wrong” and you are going to have a bad, bad build day.
Needless to say, this means the 420mm AIOs can be considered the most difficult AIO class to work with and this the entire class of AIOs are not ones we would recommend to either first time AIO users or those who are not experienced system builders. It really is just not going to be an enjoyable experience for either. Honestly, for novices, it would be like teaching someone to swim by throwing them into the middle of a deep, glacier fed lake. A deep, cold lake infested with giant pissed off leeches.
With that said, case compatibility and increase installation hassle factor really are the only two nits worth picking. When you do take the time and effort to do your spec and build stages right few people will ever complain about the noise levels a 420 cooler brings to the table. Fewer still will complain about the cooling they offer… as that is what you buy these big boys in the first place for.
When you then include the excellent 6-year warranty with an extremely reasonable asking price (we have seen 280mm AIOs demand more) the answer pretty much boils down to a few things: How much extra effort are you willing to spend on picking parts? How much extra effort are you willing to expend on the installation process? Basically, are you willing to compromise in other areas in order to not make any major compromises in your CPU cooling choice? Answer those questions and you will have your answer on when big turns into too big… and when you really should start thinking seriously about custom water loops and not All In One models.
Our personal opinion (which should not color your opinion one whit) is that if you want the best cooling and best noise solution you can get this side of custom loops, the Artic Freezer II 420mm is pretty much in the running for being ‘The One’. If by some strange quirk of circumstance, it still does not do it for you… you need to step up to dual radiator solutions – as even custom single rad loops will probably not be enough. So, think long and hard before you pull the trigger on the 420 variant over the 360 or 280 variant; but if you do think the downsides are outweighed by the upsides you will simply love what it can do. This really is one hardcore mamma jamma. One that we are willing to offer up a less favored body part for a ThreadRipper sized block version to be released. Just understand you may feel differently than we do and there is no right answer to this age-old problem of size vs. ease of use.
Arctic Liquid Freezer II 420
Our personal opinion (which should not color your opinion one whit) is that if you want the best cooling and best noise solution you can get this side of custom loops, the Artic Freezer II 420mm is pretty much in the running for being ‘The One’. If by some strange quirk of circumstance, it still does not do it for you… you need to step up to dual radiator solutions – as even custom single rad loops will probably not be enough.