Air vs. Liquid CPU Cooling: Which is Proper for Me?

Air cooling versus liquid cooling is a debate as outdated as time. Certainly, even the dinosaurs tens of tens of millions of years in the past usually argued deep within the forests of Pangaea whether or not air or liquid is the superior type of CPU cooling. With their strategies of record-keeping misplaced to time, sadly we could by no means know the conclusions they reached…

However we can offer you a reasonably good concept of which cooling technique fits your wants the very best right here in 2022.

The Fundamentals of CPU Cooling


Let’s start by first inspecting the fundamental components of coolers which can be fixed throughout all strategies of chilling that tiny spicy chip on the coronary heart of your construct. All coolers have the next pair of concepts in widespread:

Warmth is faraway from the CPU by way of conduction, which is the direct switch of warmth between two supplies involved with one another. Each air and liquid coolers use this mechanism, which is often a copper plate that whisks warmth away to steel fins or one other conducting plate, both of which may be the positioning of the next warmth alternate:

The warmth drawn away from the CPU is then exchanged at an interface by way of convection, which is the switch of warmth by way of the continual movement of a fuel or fluid. In air and liquid coolers the media are, as you in all probability guessed, air and liquid respectively. The warmth from this heat medium is then dumped into the air outdoors of the system by way of the PC’s exhaust followers.

So, as you possibly can see, the elemental technique is identical in both sort of cooler; it’s solely precisely how the warmth will get from the CPU to a fluid contained in the case to the air outdoors the case that differs.

Air Cooling

Build Your Own PC: be quiet! Dark Rock 4 CPU Cooler | Den of Geek

A easy, well-liked instance of an air cooler

Air coolers use a ‘block’ of skinny steel fins known as a warmth sink to alternate warmth with the cool air arriving out of your consumption followers. Warmth radiates from the CPU by way of the copper plate and out into the fins, which have a big floor space to alternate numerous warmth. Like two slices of bread in a scrumptious sandwich, a pair of followers usually sit on each vertical sides of the warmth sink, ideally consistent with your case followers. Some higher-end air coolers could embody a number of warmth sinks in collection to extend their cooling potential, whereas less complicated and cheaper ones could solely embody one warmth sink and one fan.

The fundamental mechanism by which air coolers take away warmth from the CPU

Inventory air coolers, just like the one which got here along with your processor and by no means left the field, have a handful of makes use of: they’re greater than sufficient for primary workplace computer systems, and most of them are low-profile choices which may be nice for ‘small type issue’ builds. However for these pushing their methods in any means, inventory coolers are often solely helpful to carry a system over till r/buildapcsales presents a greater cooling answer. They’ll work, however most will ultimately need a quieter or cooler choice. Fortunately, yow will discover a superb air cooler for as little as $40, and I’ll go into a number of suggestions beneath. Air cooling could be a quiet, highly effective, and environment friendly technique to cool your CPU.

Liquid Cooling CORSAIR Hydro Series H100i v2 AIO Liquid CPU Cooler, 240mm Radiator, Dual 120mm PWM Fans, Advanced RGB Lighting and Fan Software Control : Everything Else

An instance of an all-in-one liquid cooler

Liquid cooling operates with two distinct benefits over air cooling: liquids can take up extra warmth than air, and the radiator may be positioned away from the CPU’s cooling plate. Whereas that first benefit is the extra apparent one, it’s solely together with the second benefit that liquid cooling turns into a really highly effective alternative. In spite of everything, if the liquid was simply sitting in a radiator on prime of the CPU and getting blasted with followers there, the entire thing can be extremely much like an air cooler by way of total perform.

As a result of the followers are put in on a radiator that sits flush with the within of a case wall, nonetheless, the warmth is contained and allotted instantly from the cooler itself to the outside of the case, serving to to stop heated air from staying inside the system. Furthermore, with the radiator positioned away from the CPU, area is freed up and a cleaner look is created across the heart of your motherboard.

Liquid coolers obtain this by putting a pump on prime of the CPU that always retains liquid flowing. After gathering warmth from the processor, the liquid will get despatched by way of a tube to the radiator the place it’s cooled off, then flows again to the pump in separate tube to gather warmth once more. The liquid used is commonly abnormal water, however some loops can function ionized water, glycol options, or different electrically inert liquids.

The fundamental mechanism by which liquid coolers take away warmth from the CPU

Client liquid cooling exists in two main types: all-in-one (AIO) options and customized loops. Each function on the identical precept: utilizing fluid to comb warmth away out of your CPU to the radiator, the place the liquid flows by way of slim channels with excessive floor space to alternate warmth to the air, which is in flip cycled by followers.

AIO coolers are prebuilt water cooling circuits that embody all the pieces you want proper out of the field, with a design adaptable sufficient to slot in most trendy computer systems. Customized loops, however, aren’t “options” a lot as “voluntary challenges”. You’re tasked with designing and constructing a whole water-cooling circuit that’s hand-crafted on your PC. And it truly must perform afterwards! (With out leaking, after all.) The first profit—past bragging rights, after all—is which you could embody your GPU within the circuit as properly, offering highly effective liquid cooling to the most well liked part in your PC. Very cool!

For 99% of PC builders that go for a liquid cooler, you’re going to need AIO cooling. As such, these would be the solely liquid coolers I like to recommend beneath. It’s less expensive, safer, and simpler than making an attempt to construct a customized loop with out prolonged expertise or a decade of mentorship beneath a plumber. A customized loop is extra like a murals than a strict mechanical necessity; it’s the peak of hand-crafted laptop constructing. Customized loops carry unmatched efficiency, however carry an amazing price ticket and require distinctive persistence and care to create.

Most liquid coolers, customized loop or not, will cool extra successfully than an air cooler, however it can value extra money-per-degree-reduced. That is true for AIOs, and is a large understatement for customized loops, to say the least.

Customized liquid cooling seems to be (And is!) very fascinating, however is awfully tough for a novice builder. (Picture supply: ekwb)

Liquid cooling may also be arrange in a number of methods, supplying you with some alternative in the place you mount the radiator. It’s usually really helpful that you simply place your radiator both in entrance of or behind your case’s consumption followers. This implies the liquid in your radiator receives the chilly consumption air versus exhaust air that’s already been warmed by different elements in case you have been to mount the radiator to exhaust followers.

There’s some debate as as to whether mounting the radiator particularly in entrance of or behind the case followers is best, however you’ll discover equal efficiency in both scenario. The tradeoff, after all, is that air heated by the CPU Cooler’s radiator will now be contained in the case and liable to warmth different elements earlier than being exhausted; CPUs, nonetheless, are extra probably than different components to see a noticeable discount in efficiency as a result of warmth, so it’s nonetheless my really helpful configuration.

DO: mount your consumption followers in your radiator! DON’T: mount your exhaust followers in your radiator!

“Which is true for me? Air cooling or liquid cooling?”


This hinges on a number of components, relying on which of the next is most necessary to you.


For sure, air cooling is the best way to go in case you’re budget-conscious. A $50 air cooler from Noctua or be quiet! will compete extraordinarily intently to the most affordable doable liquid coolers, which might simply value $70+. The most cost effective respected liquid coolers function radiators which can be solely 120mm broad, which means they will solely help a single fan. These compact liquid coolers sacrifice a large quantity of cooling potential to grow to be as low-cost as doable, making their elevated value relative to an excellent air cooler tougher to justify.


For a vastly elevated worth, liquid cooling can probably maintain your CPU cooler as a result of improved thermodynamics in comparison with air coolers. Highly effective liquid coolers actually shine when paired with beefy overclocked CPUs, which collectively can crank out unbelievable efficiency at wonderful temperatures. As well as, liquid cooling’s elevated effectivity signifies that followers don’t must run as quick to maintain your laptop equally cool, so in addition they consequence at decreased noise ranges.


This one is completely subjective, however it’s nonetheless value noting since most laptop instances now function massive clear facet panels so that you can admire your machine’s innards. Many trendy air coolers incorporate a design that matches in higher with present laptop components, however some nonetheless sport massive, cheap-looking aluminum blocks that may look dated amongst blacked-out, leading edge elements. As famous earlier than, liquid coolers lend themselves to raised seems to be—whether or not by merely getting out of the best way with an AIO, or by changing into the primary attraction with a customized loop.

“Okay, I believe I do know which technique I favor… Now which cooler ought to I purchase?”


The next solutions are broad suggestions that can probably fulfill most customers at numerous costs. However don’t neglect to discover related fashions which will fit your wants higher!

And, as at all times, verify compatibility of those components along with your particular elements (particularly your CPU, motherboard, and case) earlier than buying! Some coolers, just like the ARCTIC Liquid Freezer II, function very massive pump items that may intervene with adjoining elements relying on the structure of your motherboard. As at all times, verify before you purchase! Caveat emptor isn’t only a saying; it’s a lifestyle.


Really helpful Air Coolers

Hyper 212 EVO V2 ($48)

The second iteration of what has lengthy been thought of one of many best price range air coolers of all time. A superb, easy unit from Cooler Grasp at an unbeatably nice worth. Single fan means rather less efficiency, however decreased sound ranges in comparison with different choices. There’s a wide range of designs, together with all-black and RGB choices at numerous costs. Any variant will do the job!

be quiet! Shadow Rock 3 ($54)

be quiet!, because the identify would recommend, make exceptionally quiet air cooling items. The Shadow Rock 3 is a good, budget-oriented cooler that doesn’t sacrifice efficiency. Excessive fin density and a single-fan design retains your CPU cool and quiet whilst you recreation or browse in peace.

be quiet! Darkish Rock Professional 4 ($90)

This twin-fan, twin-heat-sink unit from be quiet! checks nearly each field for an air cooler. Quiet, high-performance, near-budget pricing (for a big unit), and an understated look make this inconspicuous mannequin a powerhouse of cooling potential. Exhausting to not advocate!

Noctua NH-U12A ($110)

An especially highly effective twin-fan air cooler from Noctua, that can compete with a wide range of liquid cooling choices. For those who aren’t acquainted with Noctua, they make fantastically highly effective and dependable followers, which suggests this cooler will pack a punch and final a lifetime. If beige and polished aluminum are too 70s for you, you possibly can spend $10 extra for the all-black “Chromax” version for a extra up to date look.


Really helpful Liquid Coolers

Cooler Grasp ML240L RGB V2 ($80)

The most cost effective really helpful 240mm liquid cooling unit. Cooler Grasp makes good merchandise at wonderful costs, and this ML240L liquid cooler has gone by way of a number of iterations over time to have most of the QA quirks ironed out. Many high-end air coolers will nonetheless cool higher than the ML240L, however for the value you get fairly a powerful unit that options customizable RGB lighting and the perks inherent to liquid cooling options. Not a foul alternative!

ARCTIC Liquid Freezer II 240 RGB ($112)

ARCTIC Liquid Freezer II 240 RGB - Multi-Compatible All-in-one CPU AIO Water Cooler with RGB Compatible with Intel & AMD efficient PWM-Controlled Pump Fan Speed: 200-1800 RPM - Black -

A stunningly highly effective 240mm liquid cooler from a producer that tends to fly beneath the radar. ARCTIC produce liquid coolers with efficiency that blows away the competitors. This up to date mannequin options RGB lighting within the followers, and a novel pump design that appears like one thing the predator would use to combat a terminator. However it’s value highlighting that the pump unit, in addition to the thicker radiator which provides this cooler it’s attribute efficiency, could create compatibility points you probably have a compact case or motherboard. All the time double-check compatibility earlier than shopping for!

Corsair h100i Elite Capellix ($150)

Corsair’s liquid coolers are a number of the greatest and hottest choices available on the market, and the h100i has lengthy been the usual in really helpful 240mm liquid coolers. Extremely highly effective cooling with practically all of the bells and whistles you can ask for, at an affordable worth. Twin high-RPM magnetic levitation followers present nice airflow by way of the radiator, and the extremely customizable lighting results by way of iCue allow you to make this cooler completely your personal.

be quiet! Pure Loop 360mm ($130)

Glorious liquid cooler from be quiet! that gives unimaginable cooling as a result of it’s additional lengthy 360mm radiator. This design makes use of three followers to do extra liquid cooling than different liquid coolers when it cools liquid… however accordingly it requires three adjoining fan slots to be put in. Technically, it has been succeeded by the Pure Loop 2, however that unit is $100 extra. Save the Benjamins and go for the unique mannequin, if it’s nonetheless obtainable!


We’ve gone over plenty of data! We explored how numerous CPU coolers work, the variations between liquid and air cooling, and the benefits and downsides of every. No matter your resolution, any of the really helpful cooling choices within the earlier part ought to maintain you and your processor completely happy in virtually any exercise, from slaying enemies to engaged on excel recordsdata.

Didn’t see a cooler you want on our record? Have a query? Simply wish to inform me my hair seems to be good at the moment? Go away us a remark and inform us what you suppose! (Optimistic suggestions just for the hair, please). Thanks for studying!

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

Enable registration in settings - general
Compare items
  • Total (0)
Shopping cart