CPU or Central Processing Unit is one of the powerful pieces of PC hardware that produces heat when it’s used. Therefore, in order to get the best performance, it is important to cool it properly. So, when it comes to talking about a PC build, two main options help to mitigate heat safely from the CPU — air cooling & liquid cooling. Let us discuss more in this blog post “CPU Cooler: Liquid Cooling Vs. Air Cooling”
Each option has its individual advantages. So, what cooling method you should choose depends on the needs of the PC. When you go through the article, you will get to learn how both of these cooling methods work & several factors, based on which you can decide which one to choose.
How Does A CPU Cooler Work?
Both types of coolers— Air & liquid ones operate on a similar principle. Also, these are following the same thing. First, they absorb heat from the CPU. Then, the heat is spread away from the hardware. You need to know that the heat that the processor itself produces is distributed to the CPU’s metal lid, we call it IHS or Integrated Heat Spreader. After that, heat is transferred to the CPU cooler’s baseplate. Then, liquid or a heat pipe distributes the heat to a fan. Now, the fan blows away the heat from the cooler and away from the PC. Both of these work on similar principles. However, these two methods achieve the heat redistribution in different ways.
What is Air Cooling?
This one is a simple process used to dissipate heat. While it is simple to install, it can be effective. Keep in mind that an air cooler is made of two parts, including a heat sink and a fan. Hence, the position of the fan is on top or to the head sink’s side. As the major purpose of it is to cool down components, the fan pushes the air away from the CPU.
Working Process Of Air Cooling:
If you use an air cooler, you should know that the heat is conducted at first onto the contact place of the cooler. Hence, the plate is called a cold plate. Then, the heat is transferred again into the heat pipes. These pipes are metal tubes that are extended from the cold plate up to the radiator’s top. In order to facilitate the heat transfer to the attached radiator fins, such pipes contain a fluid that evaporates. You may know that the cooler still has liquid in it. Or it does, at least before becoming a gas quickly.
When the fins heat up & begin to warm the air around them, the “air” part will be paramount. Later, an attached fan pushes it away. Then, an exhaust fan helps to vent out of the Case. Thereafter, the evaporated fluid is condensed after it reaches the top of every heat pipe. Then, it trickles back down to allow the process to repeat.
Benefits Of Air Cooling:
- Cost: This process is simple to operate. That’s why it is much more budget-friendly than the liquid cooling process. People who are looking for an affordable option should use an air cooler. Thus, it helps to save money and allows you to use the excess money to purchase additional storage or faster DRAM.
- Installation: Compared to the liquid systems, the air cooling systems can be installed more easily. That’s why these are better for newbie PC builders. There is no need to worry about water leaking into the system.
- Maintenance: When it comes to air cooling, remember that you need a huge amount of maintenance. As soon as you have set up your system, you have to clean out dust from the PC every few months.
Drawbacks Of Air Cooling:
- Noise: In Air Cooled systems, the fans create more sound compared to in a liquid cooling system. When you play games, the noise can interrupt you. So, it is one of the drawbacks of air cooling systems.
- Performance: This process isn’t efficient like liquid cooling. However, this one is a perfect option to cool your PC build.
- Visuals: The heat sink is bulky. It is able to ruin the aesthetics of a PC build. Besides, no option is there to change the air cooler’s visual appearance.
What is Liquid Cooling?
Liquid cooling or water cooling is a great way to cool down a PC due to the high thermal conductivity of water. The components of a liquid cooling system are water blocks, a pump, a radiator, pipes, and, optionally, a reservoir. Hence, the function of the pump is to push the liquid coolant to & from a radiator through the water block. This block is attached to the processor. Later, the heat is transferred to the cool liquid from the component. Then, it is pumped continuously throughout the system.
Working Process Of Liquid Cooling:
The function of these types of coolers is to affix their contact plates to a small pump. It is capable of controlling the coolant flow to & from a radiator through two tubes, which are both flexible and long. Once the coolant absorbs the heat, it is pumped to a water tank on the radiator that transfers the heat to them. Hence, the heat disperses from the radiator across one-half of the radiator fins. As soon as it comes off the fins, the attached fans blow away the heat.
The liquid then turns around at the radiator’s opposite end to the tubes. Later, it flows back across the other half of the fins. Then, it reaches another tank, from where it goes back to the pump. First, heat is transferred to the fins on the initial pass. Then, the fans cool the heat on the return pass. Between these two steps, the liquid becomes cold again, allowing it to pick up heat from the processor. Thus, the cycle continues.
Regarding water cooling, there are two major options, including- AIO (all-in-one) liquid cooling & custom loop. These coolers are available as single units. There is no need to put the parts together yourself.
Custom loop cooling allows you to customize each aspect of your cooling system with the purpose of delivering the maximum performance & visual appearance. Keep in mind that the custom loop & AIO cooling come with various advantages & drawbacks. Therefore, you have to distinguish between the two.
Benefits Of Liquid Cooling:
Higher Level Of Efficiency:
The idea of placing liquid near your computer or PC may not sound good to you. However, the water cooling process is very effective compared to the air cooling process. We know that water has a high thermal conductivity. That’s why it can transfer heat more effectively. It indicates that water diffuses the heat from the components in your gaming PC build. Hence, the comparison is mainly between a central air system and a box fan. Going the liquid route indicates that the computer or PC will be able to operate at a cool temperature repeatedly. On the flip side, a fan kicks into gear only when your computer is getting overheated.
When a water cooling kit will be used, there is no need to use more than one fan in the PC Case. Water’s self-contained loop is able to cool quietly. So, you do not have to worry about the loud fans that interrupt you while gaming. In most cases, the liquid-cooled units add a fan to the build. The liquid system takes on a lot of work. Whereas, the fan is used to circulate the air. As a result, the fan operates at a lower RPM. Therefore, you could not even realize the existence of it.
Sustains Cool Temperatures:
Every electronic device, like laptops, smartphones, etc., gets hot when used over time. You can experience the sensation of a burning lap when you just check emails on your laptop or do something else. In order to omit the hot air out of the computer system, an air-cooled PC uses its ambient air around this. Its function is to cool things down even when the computer is not performing. Once the heat is increased, fans will respond. Therefore, when you play games, the fans will blow away excess heat to step in with the aim of cooling the parts. On the flip side, liquid cooling lets your PC run at a lower temperature all the time.
Consumes Less Space Than Fans:
Regarding real estate, water wins for sure. In the average liquid cooling kit, fans take up more space than the thin water tubes. A traditional air-cooled system depends on a series of fans that cool several components inside the gaming PC case. If you use a high-powered PC, it might need extra fans.
Remember that space consumed by liquid units is less than that of fans. But, the construction is a bit complex. It is made of these parts:
Cools Off High-performance GPUs:
A top-quality modern GPU is able to produce heat 2-3 times the amount of heat of a CPU. If you are in the midst of an extended gaming session, you can see that fan noise has increased. For example, it is increased when you play Fortnite on the PC. The water cooling system comes with a very attractive solution that is able to reduce noise. Also, it helps to cool things down easily.
Good For Warmer Climates:
Do you live in a place with high ambient temperatures? Then, if you add a hardware-heavy gaming PC into the mix, it can be a reason behind loud fans & overheating. As the water system works on an ongoing basis, those who work in Warmer spaces naturally do not need to compromise on the quality of performance.
Cooling Specific Components:
This system can cool specific components more easily than a fan can. If you install a custom cooling system, you will be able to cool specific components that tend to get hot. Hard drives, the CPU, the GPU, & power supplies are some of these options.
These cooling systems come in a compact design. Therefore, if you add many units to your system, it will not take up all the space in your PC Case. The alternative job you can do is to purchase many fans and place them near the GPU. But keep in mind that the setup may get bulky quickly.
Not Just For Gamers:
Gaming may take the attention when it comes to talking about cooling for performance. But, if you are working with electronics, you will benefit from the water cooling’s power. It helps to keep your gear protected. So, when you use this kind of cooling system, even if you perform more strenuous tasks, you do not need to think about overheating the computer & you will remain assured that your gear is protected. Even some popular video editing programs can be hard on the PC. Therefore, to run smoothly, you need a powerful rig to run things smoothly, and a liquid cooling system can help you to reduce the heat.
Water cooling is perfect for those who are planning to play games at maximum settings. You need more power to push your computer or PC to its limit. It can increase the heat in your system to a dangerous level. Water cooling can deliver the best service to cool down the temperature. It can deliver better performance than air cooling.
In order to enhance your device’s visual appeal, adding RGB elements is possible. That’s why the liquid cooling systems are visually impressive. When it comes to the custom loop cooling, you are capable of mixing & matching parts.
Enables overclocking headroom:
The task of reasonable clock rates sustaining can be done almost indefinitely by properly cooling CPU & GPU processors. On the other side, more aggressive cooling can equate to more headroom for overclocking. Because of overclocking, the base clock rate frequency can be increased. As a result, CPU processing gets faster. Also, it delivers higher performance in software that are CPU dependent, including Adobe Premiere Pro and CS:GO video gaming. If you overclock GPU, you will experience the increased performance of GPU-bound applications like multiple modern video games. Adequate cooling of the components may stop CPU or GPU throttling. Throttling happens when the clock speed of a processor is reduced in order to decrease the level of generated heat.
For professionals, it can impede productivity. Whereas for players, it affects the gaming experience negatively. So, you need proper cooling on your computer or PC for playing games and doing office work or other things.
Water Cooling Looks Cool:
These cooling units let you choose colorful coolants, which can offer excess flair to your gaming rig. Also, these are often customizable. We can say that water cooling provides a few distinct benefits over the noisy air-based alternatives.
Enthusiasts & gamers make these liquid cooling AIOs the centerpiece of their systems. The reason is that these are more attractive than air-coolers. These types of coolers provide gamers & enthusiasts a premium look to go & premium thermal performance because of their upgraded aesthetics, custom cap branding, and braided sleeves.
Drawbacks Of Liquid Cooling:
This cooling process is two to ten times more effective than air cooling. But still, it comes with a few disadvantages.
Compared to the air cooling system, the cost of these systems is a lot more. Hence, you will pay for the more complicated operation & improved performance. However, the price of AIO cooling is closer to that of air cooling.
If you are a beginner in PC build, keep in mind that the cooling can be rugged to set up. An AIO liquid cooler is simpler-to-install, and the time it will take is around half an hour.
Compared to air cooling, custom liquid cooling systems need more maintenance. The reason is that sustaining proper fluid levels is required. In addition, ensure that the components are clean & functional. Sometimes, any part of this cooling system can fail. If it happens, it could be catastrophic for your computer or PC. Remember that you don’t need to maintain AIO so much & everything in this system is already assembled. So, the risk of system leaking will be decreased.
CPU Cooler: Liquid Cooling Vs. Air Cooling — Which One Is Right for You?
If you can implement them properly, both of them can provide effective performance, but these excel in different circumstances. When you plan to pick any between these two, these are some factors you need to consider.
Liquid Cooling Vs. Air Cooling— Price:
This factor will vary, as it depends on the features which you want to have. For air coolers, the cost is less because of the simple operation. It comes with entry-level and premium versions. If you use its premium version, you can enjoy a larger heatsink and better fans. Also it is able to offer several aesthetic options. Whereas, if you choose a top-quality All-in-One liquid cooler, it will come with a larger radiator. In addition, this cooler provides a combination of aesthetic & functional customization, like software in order to control lighting and fan speeds. Based on the features you want, you need to decide for which one you should go for.
Liquid Cooling Vs. Air Cooling — Style:
Building a PC is personal for several people. Customizing the look of a machine can give you the feel of “yours.”
When it comes to liquid cooling, you can get unlimited ways to stylize your build. You can customize your computer using small displays and colored fluid. Remember that customizations may cost too much. Also, these will require more maintenance. Sometimes, it may happen that a full custom cooling system cannot suit your budget. In such cases, you are capable of using several AIO liquid cooling systems, with flashy RGB or LED elements.
Regarding Air coolers, the design is less flashy. The reason is that these are primarily a plastic fan & a large heat sink. In order to make these coolers more visually appealing, mild RGB accents are very helpful. However, these are rarely seen.
Liquid Cooling Vs. Air Cooling — Installation:
Compared to an air cooler, installing an AIO liquid cooler is often more complex. But it is still simple to do. Mostly, these consist of only the waterblock, the radiator, and two hoses that are used to cycle the coolant. As an extra step, you need to attach the waterblock. The process is similar to the installation of an air cooler. After that, you need to attach the radiator & fans in a way that allows the extra heat to exit the computer.
Remember that the radiator, pump, & coolant are self-contained in the apparatus, “All-in-One (AIO). That’s why after you install this, you don’t need to maintain this too much.
On the flip side, you need more education and effort on the part of the builder to install a custom loop. Keep in mind that the initial installation process may take more time. Also, you get the option that allows you to add other other parts like GPU into the loop. The custom loops are more complex and are able to support builds of different shapes & sizes when you implement them.
Liquid Cooling Vs. Air Cooling —— Size:
Although air coolers are bulky, they have a limitation to one area rather than being spread across your system. On the flip side, space is needed for the radiator with an AIO. Also, you have to keep in mind a few things like the alignment of the water block, coolant tubes, and proper orientation. People who are working in a smaller build should not go for a bulky air cooler. In such cases, they can choose a low-profile air cooler or an AIO containing a small radiator. If you are choosing your case or planning your upgrade, it is important to confirm that you have enough space for your preferred cooling solution. Also, you need to make sure that the case is compatible with your selected hardware.
Liquid Cooling Vs. Air Cooling —— Sound:
If you use a liquid cooling system, it will create less noise than the fan on a CPU heatsink. However, several air coolers come with fans that are mainly designed to reduce noise. Remember that fan settings or fan selection are able to impact the amount of noise produced. Above all, it can be stated that the liquid cooling process can produce less sound because the small pump is properly insulated. In addition, radiator fans are capable of running at lower RPM than those on the CPU heatsink.
Liquid Cooling Vs. Air Cooling —— Temperature Regulation:
Liquid cooling is the best option for those who want to undertake CPU-intensive tasks, like rendering video or streaming. Also, it is perfect for those who are serious about overclocking. This cooling process distributes the generated heat over more convection surface area compared to pure conduction. It allows reduced fan speed or higher total power. In simple words, it is quieter and more efficient. Do you want the lowest possible temperatures? Are you interested in a solution that produces less noise? Then, the best option is to go with liquid cooling.
On the other hand, air coolers are beneficial when it comes to talking about relocating heat away from the CPU. But you need to remember that heat is dispersed into the case. It helps to increase the system’s ambient temperature. With the help of the liquid coolers, you are capable of relocating the heat outside of the system through the fans on the radiator.
Make Your Choice:
Let’s decide which one to choose — Liquid cooling vs air cooling. Do you want to know which one will be better for you? Then, you should know that it depends on the usage of your computer, the performance, and the work pressure you may need to face.
Do you need a silent operation and do not mind investing a bit more? Then, you have to go with liquid cooling. But if you want a solution with more entry-level pricing, then you should go with air cooling.
When you make your choice, you need to determine how you use your computer and how you will use it in the future. Although both of these are awesome solutions, these are mainly designed for slightly different use cases. It depends on you which one you will choose for yourself. So, for which one you need to go for depends on your requirements & how you use the computer.
Can You Try Passive Cooling Instead?
It is not recommended to use on a gaming PC. Several fanless coolers rely on the dissipation power of the gigantic radiators with the aim of keeping the chip cool. They are able to spread heat effectively enough for low-end chips & mid-range CPUs, but only at significantly higher temperatures compared to a simple active air cooler is able to manage. However, these are costly.
The Bottom Line:
Now you know all the benefits and drawbacks of both air and liquid cooling. When it comes to lower-end & more midrange builds, air cooling is mostly appealing. On the other hand, liquid cooling is perfect for the top-quality PCs. While air cooling is usually cheaper, the other one is more expensive. If you are planning to build a mini-ITX PC, you should go with air cooling. On the other hand, you can use liquid cooling when you are willing to add something unique & interesting to your desktop.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is liquid cooling better than air cooling servers?
Liquid coolers are able to cool down far more than air coolers.
Are liquid CPU coolers safe?
There are several risks, like leaking that you can experience when the liquid will run through a bunch of electronics.
Are liquid-cooled Engines better than air-cooled ones?
Liquid-cooled engines are quieter, because the cooling components are able to produce more insulation around the motor, Therefore, these models are more environmentally friendly than air-cooled ones.