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Liquid VS Air CPU Coolers – A Comparative Guide

Like every machine, the computer also generates heat. It doesn’t matter that you are using a personal setup for routine use or a hardcore gaming PC. They generate heat from low to higher levels, from light to heavy use. Heat needs to be dissipated from the CPU to maintain its performance and keeping it cool. Traditional PC comes with a built-in cooling mechanism that usually included a pair of fans. But for more latest and advanced CPU, aiming for gaming and graphics, the story is different.

Air cooling and liquid cooling are two mechanisms for maintaining the CPU temperature for a gaming PC. Both are efficient methods and have specific pros and cons. Some users like liquid cooling, while others prefer air cooling. Let’s discuss two of these cooling mechanisms in detail and decide the right choice for your build.

What are CPU Coolers?

CPU coolers are the air or liquid cooler that provides PC with temperature control and keeps the performance. Air cooling works with the integrated fans to expel out the heat. Liquid coolers are water-based cooler. They work with the installation of water pipes in a particular order to minimize the heat. Both of the methods have pros and cons. Like air, coolers are easy to setup. Water coolers are an excellent choice for overclocked PC, but they are tricky to install for beginners.

Want to Overclock your GPU while gaming? Here is a comprehensive practical guide to overclock GPU.

Factors to consider when making your choice.

We are listing some significant factors which affect while selecting between air cooling and liquid cooling. These factors cover all the information from their pricing to the level of their effectiveness.

1. Price

Air and liquid cooler come in a different range of pricing depending upon the number of features. In general, air coolers are usually less costly as compared to liquid coolers. Air coolers cost less due to easy installation and straightforward operation. On the other hand, the liquid can cost more because its layout is somewhat complicated. Design and installation make it challenging to install a liquid cooling system as the wrong installation can be disastrous for the whole operating system due to water in the cooling pipes.

Aesthetics and extra functions also play an important role in pricing. The entry-level version of both the cooling system is less costly. Premium air cooler is more expensive as it contains a larger heatsink, better aesthetics, and better fans. A premium liquid cooler also costs more owing to the larger radiator and more aesthetics—extra features like controlling fan speed and lights from a software-based controller increase the prices.

2. Ease of Installation

Intel Cooler Interface

Air coolers are straightforward to install, while liquid coolers are sometimes complex to install in the PC. Liquid coolers are further divided into the custom liquid cooler and All-in-One (AIO) liquid cooler. A custom liquid cooler is difficult to install and requires more knowledge of building custom PCs. It has pros and cons but requires a decent understanding of custom builds. Custom liquid cooler installation is time-consuming. But on the other hand, it gives a lot of freedom while installing it into the PC. The custom layout is easy to set around desired parts like CPU and can dissipate maximum heat. It is easy to install inside all shapes and sizes of builds.

All-in-One (AIO) liquid cooler is easy to install as compared to a custom loop. It consists of a water block, radiator, and two hoses that circles the coolant. A pump, coolant, and radiator are placed in one apparatus; it does not require special maintenance after the installation.

3. Size

Space is always a deciding factor when purchasing anything for a custom build. Air cooler and water cooler selection also depend on available space. Some air coolers are bulky, larger, and require more space. Similarly, liquid coolers need space for fans, radiators, and proper orientation for water blocks and coolant pipes.

When working on a big build where space is no issue, both the coolers are favorable. But in cases where the area is an issue, low profile air cooler and liquid cooler with smaller radiators are suitable. All-in-One (AIO) liquid cooler with a smaller radiator is ideal for smaller cases. Therefore it is always advised to purchase a larger case for a custom build, so upgrading it becomes easy.

4. Noise

Air cooling has somewhat more sound than liquid cooling systems. But some air cooler is unique and have significantly less noise. There are air coolers that have settings to minimize fan noise by controlling the fan speed. Liquid cooling is a quitter and has better noise reduction than air cooling. The radiator in liquid cooling has lower revolutions per minute (RPM) than the fans of air coolers.

5. Temperature Regulation

Liquid cooling is the best choice with an overclocked CPU and GPU. It is more efficient and dissipates heat effectively when doing heavy tasks like rendering a video, doing video streaming, and playing a graphics-intensive video game. Air cooling is effective at regulating the temperature away from the CPU body. But it throws the air right into the PC case. This continuous accumulation inside the PC case raises the case’s temperature when directed to prolonged heavy use.

So in comparison to air cooling, liquid cooling is the best for reducing the heat. It effectively regulates the heat away from the PC with reduced fan speeds. Overall it makes liquid cooling better option with the advantage of less noise.

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How Air Cooling Works?

Air cooling works in combination with heatsink and thermal conductivity. The heat from the CPU is transferred to the conductive metal baseplate. This heat is transmitted with the help of thermal paste applied to the CPU. The baseplate is made up of copper or aluminum, which allows the passage of thermal energy to the heat pipes.

how cpu air cooler works

The function of heat pipes is to conduct the heat away from one location to another. These heat pipes move the heat away from the motherboard and CPU into the free space inside the PC case. The elevated design of heat pipes frees up extra space for other parts on the motherboard. Heat pipes divert the heat to the heatsink that is made up of thin metal fins. Thin metal fins are specially designed to get the maximum amount of cold air that absorbs the metal’s heats. At the outer end of the heatsink, there is a fan attached to its body. This fan transmits heat away from the heatsink and keeps it cool.

Pros and Cons

The first advantage of air cooling is the low price, making it the default cooling system for most users. It comes into an aftermarket CPU and GPU cooler and costs less than the same specs’ rival liquid cooling system. Although the buying process can be tricky as the quality and material of heatsink also play a role in pricing. Copper is more conductive than aluminum, so heatsinks made of copper are costly and vice versa. Similarly, it’s easy to upgrade an air cooling system than a liquid cooling system. Less cost needs to upgrade an air cooling system, and it gives more room for the choice to choose between different air coolers.

Another advantage of air cooling is it’s easy to set up the unit. It required a few steps to install or upgrade an air cooling system. Heatsink replacement is done after the application of thermal paste. Next, four screws are put in place to attach the heatsink to the CPU. In the end, the fan is attached to the outer edge of the unit. That’s it; no other information is required to install or upgrade air coolers.

When discussing the disadvantages of air coolers, they are less efficient than a liquid cooling system. Heat transmission is solely dependent on heat dissipation using a fan. Liquid cooling is much effective for seriously overclocked CPUs. Fan noise is also a significant disadvantage of air cooling and affects the user experience.

How Liquid Cooling Works?

The liquid cooling process operates as the same method in the start as of air cooling. Heat transmission is facilitated using a thermal paste to the baseplate. There is a water block that attaches to this baseplate and is filled with the coolant material. This coolant is specially designed to absorb heat from the baseplate. Liquid moves through the water blocks and enter the radiator tube. This radiator tube exposes the liquid to outer air to let it cool with the aid of fans. After it circulates the cold liquid inside using another radiator tube, this cycle continuously keeps the liquid cool.

How CPU liquid cooling works

Above mentioned process is of All-in-One (AIO) liquid coolers. The custom cooler works almost the same, but setting up phase is difficult. In other words, we can say that setting up a custom cooler needs basic and somewhat moderate knowledge of custom PC builds.

Pros and Cons

The primary benefit of liquid cooling is flexibility in its setup. The installation of the cooling system is not limited only to the CPU. The liquid cooler is known for its custom settings and targeting specific system components to remain cool. The typical stock processor doesn’t usually need a custom setup, but the overclocked processor needs it. Maintaining the temperature of parts other than the CPU requires much larger fans in air coolers, not liquid cooling.

Another plus point of liquid cooling is quiet operation. Air cooler fan is much noisy as compared to the liquid coolers. Liquid cooler needs less space as compared to the air coolers as it doesn’t require multiple fans. Also, the fluid cooler has transparent pipes for water transmission. The coolant is available in different colors that increase the aesthetics of the system.

One drawback of liquid coolers is their cost. Their cost is more than an air cooling system. Further liquid cooling system installation requires custom PC build knowledge. Defective or faulty installation results in less efficient liquid cooling and can spill the system components with color coolant.

So, AIO Vs Air Cooler, Which Is Best?

CPU cooling is essential if you are facing throttling issues or overclock the CPU to its limit. The stock cooler is not suitable for handling the cooling job in case of an overclocked CPU. In this case, there is a need to upgrade the cooling system of the PC.

In my opinion, where air cooling is inefficient and can no longer keep up with cooling, liquid cooling is a better option. However, it costs more than air cooling, though it has potential for CPU cooling and providing aesthetics to the system.

In case of a tighter budget, air cooling is the right choice for you. It has some drawbacks to more noise and bigger cooling units, but it compensates in price. The fan noise is usually less when not working in hardcore settings. Sometimes cases have been observed where air coolers work well as compared to the liquid units.

Like other PC building areas, selecting a cooling system is more likely a personal preference. Let us know about your queries in the comment section. Any feedback regarding this article is appreciated.

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