Liquid versus air CPU cooling. Things to know

Liquid-air CPU cooling
All computers generate heat, whether they are personal setups or high-performance gaming PCs. To keep your machine cool and happy, you need to invest in a suitable CPU cooler. This article answers your liquid cooling versus air cooling dilemma by looking at how each function works.

What are CPU coolers?

CPU coolers are the rescue of your overheated PC and come in two predominant forms: air coolers and custom or water coolers. Water coolers are also known as liquid coolers. While both can provide effective cooling performance, each has its ups and downs. For example, water cooling solutions are often best for overclocked systems, but can be difficult to set up – especially for beginners.

Here is everything you need to know about liquid cooling and air cooling.

How air cooling works

An air cooler uses thermal paste to transfer heat from the CPU to a conductive copper or aluminum base plate. The heat then travels from the baseplate to the attached heat pipes, which further conduct this heat to a raised heat sink.

The heat sink is lifted off the motherboard to make room for the other components. The heat from the tubes reaches the thin metal fins of the heat sink, which are designed to be exposed to the maximum amount of cooler air – which can absorb the heat from the fins. A fan completes the setup. it pushes the warm air away from the heat sink. Air coolers come in different models and designs to suit different users.

Advantages and disadvantages

First things first: air cooling is pretty cheap. Even if you opt for an aftermarket CPU or GPU cooler, you pay far less than you would for a comparable liquid cooling setup. Case fans for air coolers are cheaper too, which means you can use the money you save on the actual cooler to create fancy fans – bigger and better, more efficient and quieter, or glowing! Upgrading an air cooling system will also go easy on your pocket if you so choose.

The ease of setup also makes air coolers more cost effective when your health is at stake. You don’t want to pull your hair out while setting it up – it’s a lot easier to attach a fan to your system with four screws than to create your own liquid-cooling setup.

Air cooling also has some disadvantages. The fans themselves are not as efficient as the liquid cooling, which can be a problem with heavily overclocked processors or in heavy systems with multiple graphics cards. In addition, the heat sinks on powerful CPU air coolers can be very large and the fans can get loud.

How liquid cooling works

There are two types of liquid cooler. There are all-in-one or AIO coolers and custom cooling circuits. AIO coolers are more common and are explained below. However, the custom coolers work more or less the same way – the only difference is in the setup.

The process begins in the same way as air cooling – the heat is transferred to a base plate using thermal paste. This base plate has a metal surface that connects to the water block that is filled with the coolant.

The coolant absorbs the heat from the baseplate by moving through the water block, and then moves to one of two radiator tubes that expose the liquid to the air and cool it, and attached fans help. The cooled liquid re-enters the system through the second pipe and the cycle begins again.

Advantages and disadvantages

The biggest advantage of a liquid cooling setup is that you can cool certain system components much more than if you were using fans. However, this is not what you would need for a typical stock processor. For overclocked processors, this is definitely worth a look.

Also, the liquid cooling is much quieter than the air cooling because you don’t have to fill your case with fans. A liquid cooling setup takes up much less space than an air cooling setup with a large heat sink. A case full of colorful, liquid-filled tubes looks better too!

However, liquid coolers are not cheap. Even if the cost of traditional upper-end CPU coolers is at least somewhat affordable, building your own liquid cooling setup can cost a lot more. And quality is very important here – you don’t want to risk dipping your expensive PC components in colorful coolant, right? You can’t save money by going for cheaper parts.

Plus, there’s a lot more homework to do with liquid chillers. If you can’t get your hands on a prepackaged kit, making a parts list alone is a bit of planning. Then there is the installation itself, which can be tricky for most people – even those who have experience installing typical aftermarket fan-based CPU coolers.


You now know that both air and liquid coolers can provide better cooling than a standard CPU cooler. However, the cooling solution used in your PC is based on a few additional factors, and if you want to choose between the two, you have to look at things like Price and Compatible.

And yes, while liquid cooling outperforms air cooling in certain scenarios, you decide what you actually need. If your PC isn’t overclocked, you may not have a reason to use liquid cooling. If you’re not playing, you might not need an aftermarket air cooler. Remember that every PC is tailored to the needs of its users and buying components is no different for them.

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