If I judge everything on the “as purchased” configuration, and look solely at the temperatures the Zalman Reserator 3 Max comes out on top. The Cooler Master Sedion 120m and Zalman LQ315 in the middle. With the Scythe Apsalus II 120 dead last 3 degress behind the first place Zalman Reserator 3 Max. Throw in a couple more qualifiers like noise level and price, that changes the line up a bit.
If you plan on changing the fans then the out of the box results don’t really matter as the fan plays a crucial role on these coolers. All of these coolers appear to be using a very similar design, so it doesn’t come as a big surprise that when we placed the Scythe fan on all of the coolers that the idle temperature was within a single degree of one another. The performance of the Zalman Reserator 3 Max greatly decreased with the slower spinning Scythe fan in use, so if you are going for silence, that cooler design might not be right for you.
The best of the bunch falls to the Scythe Apsalus II 120 and Zalman LQ315. I put the Scythe Apsalus II slightly ahead due to its low price tag, and it very quiet operation out of the box due to the fan. If it wasn’t for the motherboard LEDs on the system you would be hard pressed to tell it was running when you walk up to it. Right on its heels is the Zalman LQ315. I gave it second basically due to the packaged fan and its louder operating noise level, so you would have the extra cost of getting the Scythe fan for the quiet operation. The sound from the stock Zalman fan was was noticeably running when standing 5 feet from the system. The two coolers are pretty much the same as they are both made by Asetek, which are the folks that make the new Corsair Hydro Series H90 and H110, and others over the years.
In the middle of the pack we have the Cooler Master Seidon 120M. Overall it seems to be a Cooler Master design that took styling cues from both Aesetek and CoolIT Systems designs. The cooling block is like Asetek in shape, with some flair for looks that fit with their CM Storm line. The radiator shroud and corrugated tubing like coolers from CoolIT Systems. The unit cooled similar to that of the Scythe and Zalman LQ315 when paired with the Scythe fan, but its stock fan was a fair bit louder.
Then we have the Zalman Reserator 3 Max. The rather high price tag of $129.99 for the performance is a little hard for me to swallow. It’s twice the price of the Cooler Master Seidon 120M and has only a small increase in performance. When paired with the quiet Scythe fan the performance dropped almost 7 degrees. This is most likely due to the radiator design than the cooling block. I will give the Reserator 3 Max one thing, it’s the flashiest all-in-one cooler I have tested, and it does look good. It will be up to you the end user to decide if the price is worth it.
Legit Bottom Line: Our first look at liquid coolers from Zalman, Scythe and Cooler Master showed that there are a good number of water coolers on the market, but the performance of them are all very similar.