Photos and Features
The packaging for the Castle 280Ex is in a grey and green theme which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. It’s a nice change from everything having a black background that’s is for sure and the green is unique enough to stand out. The front of the box has a picture of the cooler on it with the pump lit up in RGB as well. Being able to see what you are getting right on the front is huge and this covers a few of the key features like the boxed ends on the radiator, the RGB on the pump including the ring on the outside, and the black non-RGB fans. They use the Gamer Storm branding in the top left and have the model name in the bottom right but the model name could be a little larger. You can tell the main focus is to show off the Anti-Leak tech which is the biggest font and up in the top right. Around on the back, I love that they have line drawings and dimensions of each of the components as well as a specification listing. There is a short feature list that is repeated over and over on the rest of the back as well. Then when you open things up you have a sheet of foam up on top and then under it, everything is placed in foam with cutouts to keep everything safe and not moving. I would say the packaging is good, the foam is more protective than what the normal cardboard that most AIOs get but I did receive our first 280EX and the radiator was bent badly so damage is still possible if the shipper trys hard enough.
Inside there is a white box where they have packed all of the hardware and the instructions are tucked nearby as well. The instructions are black and white with line drawings covering installation on all of the different sockets. Inside of the box, Deepcool has everything bagged up in small baggies with labels letting you know what is for Intel and what is for AMD and to set things like the screw for 2011 apart which helps a lot. There is also a bag of cables that give you a cable for hooking into motherboard RGB lighting or a SATA powered controller with buttons that let you flip through its lighting effects. There is also a metal case badge and a piece of double-sided sticky tape for installation.
So the 280EX is a dual 140mm fan AIO and it is interesting that with this being an RGB AIO they didn’t end up including RGB fans as well. What the 280EX comes with are Gamer Storm TF140S fans. They are all black with 9 blades. They do have an interesting accent added to the flat black finish on the end of each blade with a gloss black design. They also have the Gamer Storm mask logo on the middle of each of the fans. The TF140S’s have rubber pads on each of the corners on the back to help with vibration. The side profile is also unique with more of the triangular design, only with depth this time in the ring around the fan along with Gamer Storm branding on the bottom edge as well.
The main part of an AIO cooler like the Castle 280EX is the pump design. Radiators do have their own innovations (and the 280EX has one I’m going to talk about) but what sets an AIO apart from most custom water cooling kits is the pump that is combined with the water block and of course everything shipping altogether. The Castle 280EX’s pump block does things a little differently than most, partially because they don’t stick with the main OEMs that everyone else does with to avoid litigation. So the housing is round with a mid-silver finish and up on top a tinted mirror finish. The top of the pump is removable, taking it off shows off the white translucent casing where the addressable RGB LEDs are tucked under. The translucent design helps defuse the lighting out to a wider area and the cap on top lets you look in and see the lighting. They have a quarter-sized cap inside with the Gamer Storm logo on it, but a blank cap was also included. When the lighting is on this shows the logo but with the extra one you can go with no logo or if you can cut a sticker you could add your own logo. The RGB lighting also slips out around the outside edge as well, just under where the cap goes on. The two hoses attach near the bottom of the pump and they are turntable to let you adjust where you want the water lines to run.
The bottom of the pump comes with thermal paste pre-applied in a square which makes installation a little easier. But if you need to remove the AIO later you will have to provide your own paste. The contact surface isn’t a mirror finish, it has more of a matte finish.
I like the look of the radiator that Gamer Storm went with. It is an aluminum radiator, like other AIOs which means mixed metals with the waterblock. But they didn’t stick with the standard OEM radiator that has the bubbled ends. I like the boxed ends on this radiator design, it looks more like the newer custom radiators designs were the other AIOs use a radiator that is closer to the older custom loop radiators. The fin spacing has four folds in a centimeter which is relatively open and doesn’t require a high static pressure fan to blow through. Everything is blacked out including the radiator fins. Both of the water lines are down on one end. Next to them, there is also a fill port that is sealed up. That same end has a plastic cap on the top, this is part of the “Anti-leak” system, that the Castel 280EX has. They have an air-filled diaphragm inside. The idea is that when things heat up the water expands and pressure goes up. The diaphragm can absorb some of that pressure, regulating it, keeping the pressure off of the lines which with AIOs tend to lose small amounts of water over time. This is the main cause for AIOs to fail, not to mention it also causes bigger leaks to pop up sometimes as well which can cause significant damage to the rest of your system. It is very hard to say how this configuration will hold up long term, but it is an interesting design that at least on paper makes sense. I will say that our other Castle 280EX that was damaged in shipping didn’t leak, even with its significant damage. But like I said beyond that, only time will tell.
The two lines are made of a mix of IIR or a mostly synthetic rubber and regular rubber and then it is covered in a tight sleeving that gives it additional strength. This avoids using the harder coatings on the inside that can cause the tubes to be stiff, so they are very flexible.
The Castle 280EX kit comes with eight long black screws for attaching the two 140mm fans to the radiator and another set of short black screws to attach the radiator to your case. With the fans attached and without the pump being powered up to show off the RGB lighting the kit is clean looking with everything except the pump being blacked out and the small glossy accents on the fans. The pump then has that semi mirror finish and in the right lighting, you can see the Gamer Storm logo peeking through.
Now to install the kit to your CPU socket there are different instructions for each CPU socket. For our testing I needed AM4 and this meant using the AMD bracket which is designed to work with both AM3 and AM4. The brackets install from the bottom of the pump with two screws. I was surprised with the attention to detail by using black screws to attach the fans and the radiator to the case that they ended up using nickel-plated brackets. Black would look much better. Then for AM4 once you have the brackets on you have to screw the included standoffs into the stock AM4 backplate. This design works well, but because the backplate sticks up through the motherboard holes it will be loose. Lots of companies use this design and it works, but always seems weird. You then install the pump in the orientation that you prefer and use the top thumbnuts to tighten things down. The bracket on the pump can be flipped both horizontal or vertical to orientate it wherever you want the lines. The logo inside can also be flipped to make sure it is correct after so don’t worry about it as much.
You have to hook up the two fans and the pump fan header that lets your motherboard know the pumps RPM and powers the pump. Then for the lighting, you can use the motherboard adapter to tie everything into your motherboard software and this is what I would recommend if you have other lighting already, but keep in mind you need to have an addressable LED header, not just the older four-pin RGB header. You can also use the included controller which needs a SATA power plugged in. For testing, I used that so I could check out the lighting effects. It has three buttons, the top and bottom let you flip through the lighting effects and the middle button controls the effect speed. Holding the middle button for three seconds also lets you turn the lighting on or off.
So you get five different effects in total. There is Dynamic, Statis, Breathing, Comet, and Fashion Collision. When flipping through, it also gives you multiple color options. So for static, breathing, and comet, those are single color options, you get Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Light Blue, Dark Blue, Pink/Purple, and White. Statis is a solid color, breathing goes from dark to on slowly, and comet has a light that spins around the circle fast with a trail that is slower to go away. Fashion Collision is where you get the full RGB spectrum spinning in a circle for one, then they paired up matching colors together and did a comet-like effect with one with a background color. Then the Dynamic effect is basically the breathing, but it switches from color to color each time it breaths.