Liquid cooling vs Air cooling – The best cooling solution for Gaming PC

Liquid cooling vs Air cooling

So you’re looking to build a new gaming PC. You have done your research and select all the components you want to have on the PC. One thing we don’t look much and think is that which type of CPU cooling you might need, liquid cooling vs air cooling.

Keep your CPU cool is a very crucial thing. You might not want to burn out your CPU when you are gaming or doing overclocking or any other CPU intensive task. Because that time when your CPU feels the load itself and generate the maximum heat. So choosing the right solution is very important.

Liquid cooling vs Air cooling

There are 4 ways you can cool your CPU.

  1. Stock cooler
  2. After market Air cooler
  3. Liquid cooler (AIO)
  4. Custom liquid cooling

The stock cooler which comes with your CPU provided a very basic cooling. And I really do not recommend using those unless you are doing very basic stuff on your computer.

On the other side of the spectrum, the cost and complexity of a custom water cooling are almost as overwhelming as building a computer itself. You’d rather not get too ahead of yourself

So in this comparison, we compare the Liquid cooler vs Air cooler. These two options are not as complex as a custom liquid cooler and not worst as a stock cooler.

5 Quick list of comparison factor between liquid cooling vs air cooling

  1. Price
  2. Compatibility
  3. Noise level or acoustics
  4. Reliability
  5. Performance

Liquid cooling vs Air cooling​: price factor

Now, this is an important consideration for most budget builders. As money saved on the CPU cooler could equate to more spending power toward other PC components in the build.

In most cases, air coolers are typically cheaper than an AIO or liquid cooler. For a budget gaming PC built choosing a competitively priced air cooler can save some money which you can spend on a better graphics card for example.

In most cases, air coolers are typically cheaper than an AIO or liquid cooler. For a budget gaming PC built choosing a competitively priced air cooler can save some money which you can spend on a better graphics card for example.

Although you can find some of the high-end Air coolers that cost more than an entry-level AIO or liquid cooler. Air cooling is generally considered as a budget-friendly option and so for this round Air cooler takes the point.

Liquid cooling vs Air cooling: compatibility

Compatibility is another factor that needs to be considered before purchasing a CPU cooler. After all, there’s really no point in having the best CPU cooler, if it doesn’t fit inside your computer. Whether its size is small enough to fit inside the cabinet or the CPU cooler sockets.

Fortunately both types of cooler support nearly all of today’s popular CPU sockets. Whether you’re using an AMD processor or Intel processor.

Problems with air cooler compatibility in liquid cooling vs air cooling

So if the cooler passes its compatibility on the socket. Still there a limitation, in fact, The biggest limitation when it comes to compatibility is largely dependent on your case.

Air cooler
Image source: tweaktown.com

The most common types of cases you’ll see the first-time builders use, either mid-tower or full-tower cases. Both mid-tower and full-tower support both air and liquid coolers. Even some of the largest air coolers can fit in most mid towers cases. Though the heat sinks too tall for the case side panel.

Another thing that needs to look out for air coolers is that wider heat sinks can sometimes interfere with your RAM. Especially if your RAM has tall heat spreaders. So it’s best to check the clearance specs early on.

Problems with AIO or liquid cooler compatibility in liquid cooling vs air cooling

As I said before there are tons of mid-tower and full-tower cases available to choose for the AIO or liquid cooler. But do keep in mind as your cooler size increases your list of compatible cases gets shorter. For example, don’t expect to see nearly as several case options when going from a cooler with a 240-millimeter to a 280-millimeter radiator.

Liquid cooling
Image source: www.topflightpc.com

Although the water block on your AIO won’t give you any RAM clearance issues. But the radiator and fans might interfere with your heat spreaders or even the components near the top of your motherboard.

This depends on several factors including your case layout, the height of your heat spreaders, the width of your radiator.

The best advice I can really give you is to do your research and make sure that your liquid cooler fits nicely with the rest of your components.

Liquid cooling vs Air cooling: acoustics or the noise level

For both air cooling vs liquid cooling, acoustics or noise level is equally important as performance when in use.

So for example, the cooler master could have easily squeezed more performance out of their top-selling hyper 212 Evo if they bundled it with two 3,000 rpm fans. But then the cooler might have sounded like a jet engine and probably not have sold as much as it did.

Now air coolers usually come with one fan with beefier models adding one more fan or even three fans can have on an air cooler. But apart from the fans themselves that are basically the only sound source you have to worry about.

Liquid cooling vs Air cooling: AIO or liquid cooler noise level

Liquid coolers on the other hand come equipped with anywhere from one to three fans with the option to expand up to six fans for extreme setups but unlike air coolers, the fans aren’t the only sound source on an AIO’s.

Other components in an AIO or liquid cooler, like the pump or even the liquid inside the tube itself, can create some noise depending on the cooler.

Now with that being said the liquid cooler does have a few tricks to make it as quiet as an air cooler. Such as using third-party software like MSI afterburner or any graphic card utility software, to create custom a fan curve.

MSI afterburner fan curve

Now a fan curve gives you full control over your fan speed. By tuning a fan curve you can easily increase or decrease the fan RPM of your radiator based on the temperature of the CPU.

Or you can set maximum RPM parameters to ensure that your fan speed never increases beyond a specific target.

If your software and cooler allow, you can even tune the pump speed curve which works exactly the same way as the fan curve does but with the built-in pump in your water block.

Overall the liquid coolers may require a bit more maintenance to sustain the same level of noise compared to an air cooler.

But advances in software control and pump design in recent years, I feel both coolers are now capable to make more or less silent operations.

Liquid cooling vs Air cooling: Reliability

For both liquid cooling vs air cooling, reliability is a very important point in terms of how long the cooler could potentially perform.

The liquid coolers might have a slight drawback when it comes to acoustics. They do have the potential to take on even more serious implications in terms of reliability.

Problems with liquid cooler in terms of reliability

Pumps can break or fail, which makes the entire unit useless or the liquid inside your cooler can evaporate over time. As a result, the cooler may decrease its performance over time. Though it’s become more of an uncommon occurrence these days.

AIO coolers are still prone to leaks. It’s typically happened where the tubes meet the water block or the radiator.

And in an absolute worst-case scenario, the liquid can leak on to other components in your system potentially causing permanent damage.

Now I know everything I just said makes liquid coolers out to be like the absolute Reaper of PC hardware or something. But that’s not at all the case I just want to clarify that these are just some of the things that could possibly happen to your cooler, not things that will probably happen to your cooler.

Air cooler in term of reliability

So in terms of reliability air coolers are the clear Victor here. The failure chances for air coolers are very very low. Unless the heat pipe or the fan gets physically damaged.

In an air cooler, the fan is really the only thing that can be failed and the absence of any liquid offers up a dry solution with zero risks of water leakage or liquid damage

Liquid cooling vs Air cooling: Performance

The fifth and final comparison for liquid cooling vs air cooling is performance. Performance is the overall aspect people will look for most when purchasing for a CPU cooler.

Now getting right into the point I want to clarify the obnoxious long time misconception that liquid coolers outperform traditional heat sinks. It is not always true, when it comes to peer cooling many of the best air coolers on the market, easily beats some entry-level AIOs.

But it doesn’t mean liquid cooling shell not be your first choice. In fact, the best AIO liquid cooler available on the market probably beats out the best air cooler by a significant margin when it comes to raw overclocking performance.

But also keep in mind that you’d probably be spending a lot more for AIO liquid cooler than you would be for the air cooler. As the price to performance ratio should always be a consideration factor.

And for this comparison liquid cooling is the winner.

Some extra word about Liquid cooling vs Air cooling

If I’m speaking personally I think air and liquid coolers both have the same capacity to look really good or really bad. I personally like the modern clean look that a pump and water cooling tubes can bring to a build.

On the other hand, sometimes there’s nothing more badass to me than a big fat air cooler with some fans. Naturally, a lot of this also depends on how the cooler complements the rest of the PC components in the build.

At the end of the day, it really does all boil down to user preference and what you think looks good. It is your personal computer after all.

Conclusion of Liquid cooling vs Air cooling

So where does all this leave you as a first time PC builder? The way I see it is that unless you absolutely need that extra little bit of overclocking headroom, you might as well save some money and stick with a reliable air cooler.

I mean you can still achieve great thermals with an air cooler without sacrificing acoustics and you can do it all with little to no maintenance which makes it a no-brainer for first-time builders. Less complexity means fewer things to worry about.

Having that extra bit of Headroom for overclocking can really make things fun. As it allows you to further squeeze more performance out of your CPU.

Also If your case has a side panel tempered window, having a little water Block in there can really bring the aesthetic and cleanness on the overall build. I also tend to find the installation process of AIO to be a bit easier without having to work around on a heatsink.

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