Liquid Cooling Vs Air Cooling – Which One is Best!

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One of the most crucial pieces of the modern computer happens to be its CPU cooling method. Irrespective of whether you have the best PC you can find in the market, the temperature needs to be kept down throughout, particularly if you like overclocking. If your CPU is running at idle, there is no need to invest much in a cooler. However, if your PC is running under heavy load, the CPU can become extensively hot and may require you to invest in the best cooler to prevent potential damage. Failure to pair your CPU with an efficient cooling system can put your computer at a higher risk of clashing, which can lead to huge losses.

A good number of CPUs have a stock air cooling system that can cause air exhaustion on the CPU. Although air cooling is satisfactory for most casual PC users, it is a great idea to upgrade if you are a gamer with aftermarket air coolers which offer higher cooling efficiency.

There are some builders who opt to upgrade because aftermarket air coolers looks attractive which makes their PCs unique.

Types of CPU Coolers

There are three different categories of CPU coolers which include:

  • Air cooler
  • Custom water cooler
  • Closed loop (all in one)

The three are designed to provide cooling solutions in order to ensure that the temperatures are at the best for an overclocked system. Although custom water cooler offers the best cooling solutions, they are tricky to set up for beginners and it can be scary to have water running in your newly bought personal computer.

In this article, we are going to discuss these cooling solutions hoping that you will be in a better position to find out the one that is worth your cash. We will also look at the important things you have to consider before choosing the best cooler for your PC.

Important Things to Consider Before Buying CPU Coolers

Before you invest in an old CPU cooler, there are certain things you should consider. Their costs vary a lot, and not all will be able to handle the overclock you are planning to run on your PC. Whether you are looking for a specific style or size, it is a good idea to consider the following things before you invest your money.

  • Price

The much you want to spend on a cooler will greatly be influenced by your budget. If money is not a problem and you happen to be in possession of the best components, the biggest-all-in-one liquid cooler can be a great choice, especially if you want to run you PC with a high overclock. But if you are on a limited budget, you can go for the cheaper air cooling solutions which will provide nearly similar results to their liquid equivalents.

In simpler words, there is no need of under-spending on your cooler only to end up buying something that won’t have the ability to cool your CPU. On the other hand, there is no need to waste your money that could have been used to upgrade other components in your system.

  • Overclocking

If you are going to overclock your CPU, it’s recommendable to go for the liquid cooling solutions rather than their air counterparts. This is because overclocking requires more power, which will inevitably cause more heating up to a dangerous level that can cause damage to your computer.

In simpler words, all-in-one cooling solutions and custom cooling setups will provide the best results when higher overclocking comes in. However, there are a few air coolers that can offer similar cooling effects.

  • Case size

There are some large coolers that come with huge heat sinks that can extend and interfere with other components like RAM. These huge coolers can as well hang over the edges and scrap against the door of your case. They can even prevent your case door from closing normally.

The space in your case will help you to determine the size of the cooler you should buy. If you haven’t bought a case and you are in the process of buying one, it’s worth going for the mid-tower cases or larger ones. This will provide greater flexibility when it comes to the size of coolers that can fit. If you want a small compact build, you may only have to go for a low profile CPU cooler due to the limited space.

  • Design

If you are not overly concerned about the aesthetic value of a CPU cooler, you can probably go for the air cooling solutions. Any builder out there who opts for coolers that are elegant in shape and style will probably turn to tempered glass or RGB components.

It is your personal opinion to go for the cooler that are either classy or not. However, there certain things about AIO closed coolers that make a PC look stylish, particularly those specks of RGB. This doesn’t imply that you can’t find good-looking air coolers. It’s only that AIO coolers tend to look more outstanding.

It is important to consider the key factors we have outlined above before purchasing your CPU cooling solutions. We will now move on to find out how these coolers work in order to identify the ones that work best for those high temperatures.

  • CPU Socket

Most CPU cooler manufacturers make coolers that can fit with most CPU sockets. Nevertheless, you can get some coolers that are only fit for specified CPU sockets. To avoid compatibility issues, always ensure that you clearly understand your motherboard/processor features before you place an order for a cooler. You can easily get this information on either your motherboard or CPU cooler specific sheet.

  • Noise Levels

Most builders out there emphasize the need to build quiet of a PC as possible. CPU cooler happens to be one of the loudest components in a CPU mainly because the fans they are associated with.

CPU coolers that are normally suited with bigger fans tend to be quieter than those with smaller fans. This is because larger fans don’t spin very fast like smaller fans to provide the same level of cooling.

This means that coolers with 140mm fans will be quieter than coolers with 120mm fans. Another key feature is that coolers that have multiple fans tend to spin at lower speeds because they work hand in hand to keep your CPU cool.

  • TDP Rating

Thermal design power rating (TDP) refers to maximum amount of heat which a computer component or chip is capable of generating in relation to what the cooling system can withstand under any workload. Both CPU cooler and a processor come with a TDP rating. If you go for a CPU cooler which TDP rating is lesser than the one of your processor, chances are that it won’t be helpful for your system unit.

To ensure that you have the right cooler for your system, it is always advisable to purchase a cooler with a TDP rating that is higher than what your processor can hold. And this should always be the case if you are planning to overclock your computer.

  • Convenience

Unless you are computer hardware professional, you will find it rather risky and difficult to install and maintain a liquid cooling setup. A mess during installation or maintenance can cause huge loss or additional expenses in having your computer repaired.

On the other hand, you can conveniently and easily install an air cooler. It also doesn’t require a lot of maintenance. In fact, all that is required is to take it out once in while and blow out the dust. It will look as good as new.

Liquid Cooling Vs Air Cooling

Now that you are aware of the factors worth considering before making the final decision, let’s find the benefits of each cooler type and the shortcomings that each may come with.

Air Cooler

There are two main components in an air cooler, which include:

  • Heat sink
  • Fan

The heat sink comes as a large thermo-conductive metal which is placed on top of the CPU to help in the transfer of heat to the large metal fins. Heat sinks are mostly made from copper or aluminum although some combine the two metals.

In order for the heat sink to work more efficiently, the heat requires to be dispersed out of the case. This is where the fan is involved. The fan is normally attached to the motherboard and should be placed either on top or to the side of the heat sink. This will help to push air through for the metal fins to cool down.

Air Cooler Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to install
  • Don’t require a lot of maintenance
  • They don’t leak

Air Cooler Cons

  • Sometimes very loud under load
  • Mostly bulky
  • Cooling is limited
  • Not quite attractive

Liquid Cooler

Most all-in-one coolers come as a single piece but mainly comprise of four different parts. These include:

  • Heat sink
  • Fan
  • Pump
  • Interconnecting pipes

The heat sink fastened to a liquid cooler is normally referred to as a radiator. It works in the same way just like an air cooler. Heat from the CPU is channeled into the water loop which circulates throughout the enclosed system.

When it comes to the liquid coolers, you should ensure that the CPU case supports your radiator size. The required coolers are normally attached on top, front or back of the case instead of resting in the middle like the air coolers.

Liquid Cooler Pros

  • Offer highly effective cooling solutions
  • Small in size they don’t occupy a lot of space
  • Look more attractive in style and design

Liquid Cooler Cons

  • Quite expensive in comparison to their air cooler counterparts
  • Installation can be tricky
  • Require a lot of maintenance
  • Subject to leak which can cause further damages

Choosing The Best Cooling Solution

Irrespective of whether you want to overclock your CPU or you are experiencing throttling issues, it is always a good idea to go for the best cooling solution for your PC. If you don’t plan to overclock and you have a CPU that’s normally idle, you should probably opt for the air stock cooler which will have the job effectively done.

In some cases, the air may not be sufficient enough to have the job done in an effective way. This demands liquid cooling if you want your PC to continue working competently. Although you will have to dig deeper into your pockets with a liquid cooling solution, it is the most effective option that also happens to add some aesthetic value to your computer.

What about if you are on tight budget and probably don’t want to go for the CPU cooler with a bulky heat sink? An air cooler can be a great idea in this scenario. In some cases, air coolers can outperform liquid coolers unless when they are pushed to the extreme limits. In addition, they are quieter when they are not being overworked.

Although liquid cooling outperforms air cooling in various scenarios, your decision should be based on what you exactly want. You don’t have to go for liquid cooling if your CPU doesn’t become hot and there is no need to buy an aftermarket air cooler when you don’t like gaming. The crucial thing is to figure out the kind of hardware you need based on the PC type you are using or intend to use.

Just like there is no “best” way to build a PC, there is no “best” way to cool a CPU. All the PCs are unique to their builders’ needs and the CPU cooler happens to be one of the many choices a builder can have the power to control. So, the best way to cool a CPU is upon your decision.

How to Install CPU Cooler

You don’t have to be an electrical engineer to install a CPU cooler into your personal computer. However, installations of many computer components involve specific procedures that that can impact the performance of your PC.

You can simply latch a CPU cooler without doing additional work and make it a perfect, working system. However, performing some additional tasks like cleaning the integrated heat spreader and heat sink by priming their surfaces can further lower your CPU’s temperature. This can make it more stable and overclockable.

  1. Make sure that your CPU is properly seated in its circuit. Ensure there are no obstructions and that the CPU is positioned in the right way.
  2. Gently prime the heat sink and CPU surfaces using a thermal paste.
  3. Smear the thermal interface material if you have one although it is not a major requirement.
  4. Mount your CPU cooler and latch the clips to the mounting bracket located around the CPU socket.
  5. Firmly secure the heat sink with the available locking mechanism on the cooler. This mostly involves a lever with a cam or some screws.
  6. Finally, ensure the cooling fans connector are connected to the CPU fan on the the motherboard.

How to Know if Your CPU Cooler is Faulty

The main purpose of a CPU cooler is to draw heat away from the CPU in order to prevent overheating of its tiny and delicate circuits. Overtime, the heat sink may become clogged with dust and debris. This can cause your CPU to overheat because of the lowered cooling power. It’s thus crucial to regularly clean the heat sink to prevent it from clogging. There are some ways to tell if your CPU cooler is faulty:

  • Fan Noise: a loud, continuously, running, overworked CPU fan
  • Temperature: Overheating as a result of a clogged heat sink. This may not be detectable unless you install a utility like SpeedFan, HWMonitor, or Core Temp
  • System Instability: When computer overheats, the system prevents further damage by restarting or shutting down.
  • Booting problems: Your PC can develop booting problems if the CPU has some issues or if it is not properly installed. Note that clogging in the CPU can cause a booting problem.

Final Word

Cooling is very crucial when working with a computer. There are plenty of factors to consider before choosing the best CPU cooler based on your needs. These include your budget, PC type, casing, CPU socket, and much more. The good news is that there are various options to choose from based on a number of factors and your personal preferences. And that both air cooling and liquid cooling solutions are ideal options for most computers.

Just like in most other areas of the PC building, your personal preferences are very important, but most importantly, the needs of your system.

It is our hope that the information we have provided above will be helpful in choosing the right CPU cooler for your computer.

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