As CPU technology continues to push boundaries, the need for effective cooling solutions has become the primary objective.
Liquid cooling, with its promise of enhanced thermal management, has gained popularity among individuals and professionals. However, air cooling remains a tried and true method, offering simplicity and reliability.
In this article, I’ll describe the advantages and drawbacks of water and air cooling systems, exploring their effectiveness, cost, and overall performance in the pursuit of optimal processor temperatures.
Liquid Cooling: Definition, Working Principle, Pros and Cons
Unlike any other cooling system, liquid cooling effortlessly combines cutting-edge functionality with visually pleasing aesthetics, making it the top choice for users. These systems dissipate heat from your components by utilizing liquid, typically water.
Liquid coolers come in various forms, but the most common configuration is the All-In-One (AIO) system.
AIOs provide a hassle-free solution by bounding all the necessary components together, allowing you to easily attach them to your machine. This affordable and user-friendly option is perfect for most users looking to enhance their cooling capabilities.
For those seeking cooling perfection, custom liquid cooling loops are here. However, it’s important to note that implementing and maintaining custom loops can be significantly more complicated.
How Does Liquid Cooling Work?
Like a radiator in your car or home circulating liquid through water blocks, the liquid cooler within the water block effectively absorbs the heat from the processor, providing efficient cooling.
Enhanced heat transfer properties, thermal paste, and a baseplate facilitate the heat exchange between the water block and CPU.
The heated fluid is then pumped to the radiator, where fans expose it to cold air. The re-cooled fluid returns to the water block, ready to repeat the cycle and maintain optimal temperatures.
To know more, check out our detailed guide on liquid cooling.
Advantages of Liquid Cooling
- Whisper-quiet operation: Liquid cooling offers low-noise operations, with radiator fans rotating at slower speeds compared to those attached to air coolers. It makes liquid cooling ideal for users who prioritize a peaceful computing environment.
- Superior heat regulation: Water cooling allows you to push your hardware to the absolute limit, making it the ultimate choice for users wanting to overclock their CPUs.
- Aesthetically captivating: Elevate your machine’s visual appeal with water blocks that feature mesmerizing LED screens or RGB elements. These stunning additions sync with radiator fans and other PC components, transforming your rig into a work of art.
Drawbacks of Liquid Cooling
- High cost: Due to their intricate design and advanced features, even entry-level AIO liquid cooling systems are pricier than air-cooling systems.
- Complex installation: Integrating liquid cooling into your PC can be daunting, mainly when dealing with custom systems. Delicate connections between multiple components require careful handling during installation.
- Maintenance and potential issues: Water coolers are more intricate than air cooling alternatives, introducing more potential failure points. Leaks can have catastrophic consequences, and neglecting proper maintenance may damage your valuable components.
Liquid cooling revolutionizes your temperature management, unleashes your PC’s true potential, and creates a visual masterpiece that others cannot but admire.
Air Cooling: Definition, Working Principle, Pros and Cons
Although not as cutting-edge as liquid cooling systems, air cooling remains a viable and widely used option in PC cooling. In fact, it is the most common cooling method employed by PC enthusiasts today.
Air cooling systems offer consistent performance, cost-efficiency, and hassle-free installation, making them a popular choice. If you’re seeking a quick and affordable way to cool your PC while ensuring safety and minimal maintenance, air cooling is the solution for you.
When considering an air cooler, remember that it generally occupies more space within the PC case. Before making a purchase, it’s crucial to verify the dimensions of the system and measure the available space for installation.
While some air cooling systems like fans or accents have RGB, most exhibit an industrial aesthetic, featuring large heat sinks.
How Does Air Cooling Work?
Like liquid cooling, air cooling involves attaching a plate to the CPU with thermal paste as the intermediary.
Heat is then transferred from the plate to a piece of metal, known as a heat sink. Thanks to its unique structure, the heat sink facilitates upward heat dissipation through the metal.
A fan connected to the heat sink blows the warm air away from the CPU. In situations that require increased cooling, the fan automatically spins faster.
For more information on air coolers and how they work, check out our article explaining what air cooling is and the operation of each part of the cooler.
Advantages of Air Cooling
- Cost-effectiveness: Air cooling is the most budget-friendly method for cooling your processor. You can allocate the saved funds to other components by getting air cooling, enhancing your overall PC build.
- Sufficient for most users: Air cooling meets the cooling needs of most users. Unless you’re pushing your PC to its limits with activities like 4K gaming or resource-intensive rendering, high temperatures are unlikely to pose a significant issue for air-cooled machines.
- Easy installation: Installing an air cooler involves nothing more than securely fastening screws and plugging in a cable. Unlike liquid cooling, there’s no need to deal with liquid filling or hose arrangements, saving you valuable time during the build process.
Drawbacks of Air Cooling
- Space consumption: Air coolers usually occupy a considerable amount of space within the center of the PC case, potentially making access to other components, such as RAM, a cumbersome and tedious struggle.
- Noisy operation: During demanding situations, air coolers ramp up their fan speed to effectively cool the CPU. As a result, the volume can noticeably increase compared to the quieter operation of water cooling.
- Low peak performance: When engaging in HD gaming or handling performance-intensive workloads, air cooling may fall short of effectively cooling your components. Overheating can hamper your PC’s potential and even lead to component failures.
Air cooling systems offer a dependable and cost-efficient solution for keeping your processor at optimal temperatures. With easy installation and the ability to meet the demands of most users, air cooling ensures your PC remains cool and functional.
Should You Buy a Liquid Cooler or Air Cooler?
When selecting an air or liquid cooling system, several key factors should be taken into account: performance, size, aesthetics, safety, and budget. Evaluating these aspects will help you make an informed decision regarding the most suitable cooling solution for your needs.
Below I’ve explained the factors to consider when buying a new CPU cooling system:
If I ask you which is better, the water cooler or the air cooler, most people will say water cooler. But in reality, that’s not the case. If you take a top-of-the-line air cooler and liquid cooler and compare them side-by-side, you’ll see the results are pretty complex.
To answer which CPU cooler is better, I’ll compare a flagship air cooler to a 360mm liquid cooler. So you can clear all your doubts regarding which cooler you should get.
I’ve used the CoolerMaster MasterAir MA624 Stealth for the air cooler, and the liquid cooler was Fractal Design Lumen S36 RGB. Let’s see which cooler was more effective.
In Idle mode, my Ryzen 9 5950x was 32°C when the air cooler was connected. The CPU became 1°C less when the liquid cooler was used.
To check the temperature under full load, I ran a 100% stress test on the CPU for 20 minutes on each cooler to get the maximum heat, and the results will shock you. Because with the air cooler, the max temp was only 60°C, and with the liquid cooler, there was no difference in the temperature.
As you can see, when comparing a flagship-level air cooler with a high-end AIO, you won’t see much difference in the temperature.
If you check out the latest flagship air coolers, you’ll see they are beefy for better cooling. Due to their bigger size, you cannot fit every air cooler in every PC case.
So you see, there’s a bit of a compatibility issue when it comes to high-end air cooling. Meanwhile, this doesn’t usually happen to liquid coolers.
Even if you buy an old or low-budget PC case, it’ll at least support a 240mm water cooler. Thus you won’t get any compatibility issues when using a liquid cooling system.
If you care about RGB, go with AIO coolers. Although air coolers also come with RGB, liquid coolers provide a cleaner look as you’ll get more room clearance in the case. Thus look-wise, most people prefer liquid coolers over air coolers.
The most significant positive point for the air cooler is safety. If you are concerned about safety, an air cooler is the better option. Because sometimes, with a liquid cooler, the pump causes a leak, and water can damage the motherboard components.
Although the possibility of a water cooler leaking is very low, it can happen nonetheless.
Also, with liquid coolers, you cannot tell whether the pump is running. If, for some reason, the pump is not working correctly due to a wrong connection or something else, there is no way to verify that.
Everything seems to be working correctly, but the CPU keeps getting hotter in the background, especially when gaming, reducing lifespan.
But air coolers don’t have issues like this. The fan is the only part that can be defective in an air cooler. You can verify if the fan is not running from the outside and simply replace it.
So, regarding safety, air coolers are always better than water coolers.
If you use or are going to use a processor that will generate a lot of heat, you don’t have a high budget for a cooler, and don’t care much about RGBs, get an air cooler. Don’t worry; you won’t have to compromise any cooling efficiency.
With an air cooler, you’ll have to check for compatibility and face some temporary problems, but you can save a good amount of money while getting effective cooling.
However, if money isn’t an issue and you want a unique cooling system with unique looks, go with liquid cooling systems.
In case you are confused about which cooling system to go with for your PC, follow our complete guide on how to choose the right CPU cooler for your computer.
Why is air cooling better?
Air cooling, consisting of heat sinks and fans, is most suitable for individuals with tight budgets. It offers a higher performance-to-cost ratio since it is less expensive. However, air cooling also has its limitations. It cannot support extremely high overclock speeds.
How long does liquid cooling last?
Without regular maintenance, liquid cooling typically lasts 1 to 3 years. However, with proper care, including regular cleaning and flashing, even a custom liquid cooling setup can match or surpass the performance of an AIO cooler
Is liquid cooling expensive?
Liquid cooling costs more than air cooling, primarily due to the need to purchase additional components and accessories.
Water and air coolers possess distinct merits and demerits unique to their designs. The decision between the two relies on your requirements and preferences.
If your main focus is achieving the highest cooling performance and you are open to investing in a top-notch liquid cooler, it is more suitable. Conversely, if you prefer a budget-friendly and simple solution, an air cooler will meet the needs of most users.
Comment below if you have further questions, and we’ll get back to you.