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A gaming tower desktop with Kingston FURY Renegade DDR4 RGB and a liquid cooling system

Air cooling Vs. liquid cooling in PC builds

When it comes to a PC build, there are two main options to safely mitigate heat from your CPU: air cooling and liquid cooling. Both options have their benefits but choosing a cooling method depends on your PC’s needs. In this article, we will explain how both types of cooling methods work and help you to consider the benefits and drawbacks of each type of cooling.

What is air cooling, and how does it work?

Air cooling is a very simple method for dissipating heat but can be extremely effective and easy to install! An air cooler consists of two parts: a heat sink and a fan. The fan sits either on top or to the side of the heat sink and pushes the air away from your CPU in order to cool the components down.

Benefits:

A close shot of a gaming desktop with a 4-fan air cooling system
  1. Cost – Air cooling is much more affordable than liquid cooling due to its straightforward operation. If you’re on a budget, it could be worth opting for air cooling and using your excess budget to purchase more storage or faster DRAM.
  2. Installation – Air cooling systems are easier to install than liquid cooling and are therefore the better choice for beginner PC builders. You also won’t need to worry about water potentially leaking into your system!
  3. Maintenance – There is a lot less maintenance required with air cooling, as once you have set up your system you just need to clean dust out of your PC every few months.

Despite the low price and ease of use, there are some drawbacks to air cooling:

  1. Noise – The fans in an air-cooled system are generally noisier than in a liquid cooling system, this can be quite distracting when gaming.
  2. Performance – Air cooling is not as efficient as liquid cooling, but it is still a good option for cooling your PC build.
  3. Visuals – The heat sink from an air cooler is quite bulky, which can ruin the aesthetics of a build. There is also no option to change the visual look of an air cooler.

What is liquid cooling, and how does it work?

Liquid cooling or water cooling is one of the best ways to cool down a PC due to the high thermal conductivity of water.

A liquid cooling system consists of water blocks, a pump, a radiator, pipes and optionally a reservoir. The pump pushes the liquid coolant to and from a radiator through the water block, which is attached to the CPU. The heat is then transferred from the component to the cool liquid which is then continuously pumped throughout the system.

When it comes to water cooling, you have two main options: AIO (all in one) liquid cooling and custom loop. AIO coolers come as a single unit, and you don’t have put the parts together yourself. With custom loop cooling, you can customise every aspect of your cooling system to give the best performance and visual appearance. AIO and custom loop cooling have different benefits and drawbacks, so it is important to distinguish between the two.

A close shot of a gaming tower desktop with a liquid cooling system*

Benefits:

  1. Noise – Liquid cooling has a quieter operation, the fans in a liquid cooled system tend to rotate more slowly and quietly than those in an air-cooling system.
  2. Performance – PC users who plan to game at maximum settings should consider water cooling. Pushing your PC to its limit requires more power, and therefore will potentially heat up your system to a dangerous level. Water cooling can bring these temperatures down faster and more efficiently than air cooling.
  3. Visuals – Liquid cooling systems can be very visually impressive, as you can include RGB elements to enhance your machine’s visual appeal. Custom loop cooling can look very impressive as you can mix and match parts and have a completely unique system.

Although liquid cooling can be 2-10 times more effective than air cooling there are still some drawbacks:

  1. Cost – Custom liquid cooling will cost you a lot more than a standard air-cooling system. You are paying for the more complicated operation and the better performance. However, AIO cooling will have a price closer to air cooling.
  2. Installation – Custom liquid cooling can be laborious to set up, especially for beginner PC builders. An AIO (all-in-one) liquid cooler is easier to install and should take you around 30 minutes. However, either way it can also be quite unnerving to have water running through your system.
  3. Maintenance – Custom liquid cooling systems require more maintenance than air cooling, as you need to sustain proper fluid levels, and make sure the components are clean and functional. Also, if any of the parts of a custom cooling system fail it could be catastrophic for your computer. AIO requires less maintenance and as everything comes assembled, the risk of the system leaking is reduced.

Ultimately, the decision is up to you! Choosing between air cooling and liquid cooling is really up to your personal preference, your budget and what your system needs. Both are excellent solutions; they are just designed for different system requirements. But whichever type of cooling method you go for, the most important thing is that you’re keeping your PC as cool as possible so that it can stay at its best performance and avoid any throttling issues.

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