Liquid Cooling vs. Air Cooling: Which One Should You Choose?

Jacob King By Jacob King - February 12th, 2024
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PCs have a tendency to heat up—a lot. CPUs, in particular, can generate a fair amount of heat when running intensive applications and games. Thankfully, CPU coolers help to keep them running at a safe operating temperature so it’s not a critical issue. So then comes the question: when building or upgrading a PC, should you opt for liquid cooling or air cooling? Both serve the primary function of dissipating heat from the processor to ensure it operates efficiently, but they do so using different mechanisms. Here’s a breakdown of the different cooling types to help you make a decision. 

Air Cooling: The Traditional Champion

Air cooling is the most common method used in PCs and has been around for decades. Within this tried-and-true system, the CPU air cooler hinges on high-tech fans to manage heat. Thermal paste facilitates the transfer of heat from the CPU to the cooler’s conductive baseplate. This energy is then transferred upward through heat pipes to a heat sink. Attached to this heatsink are one or more fans which push cool air across the fins, dissipating heat away from the processor. 

Air Cooler Pros

  • Affordability: Air coolers are generally less expensive than liquid coolers. 
  • Simplicity: Air coolers are straightforward to install and maintain.
  • Reliability: With fewer moving parts, there is a lesser risk of failure. 
  • Lifespan: Less risk of failure and repairability can also mean a longer lifespan.

Air Cooler Cons

  • Size: High-end air coolers can be bulky and may not fit in smaller cases or could interfere with RAM clearance. 
  • Performance ceiling: While they are efficient, air coolers might struggle to keep up with the extreme heat generated by overclocked or high-end CPUs. 

What Air Cooler Should You Buy?

When it comes to selecting an air cooler, it's crucial to consider factors such as the size and layout of your PC case, the TDP (Thermal Design Power) of your CPU, and whether you intend to overclock. For standard builds, coolers from reputable brands like Cooler Master, Noctua, and DeepCool come strongly recommended due to their proven performance and build quality. These offer a range of options, from low-profile heatsinks for small form-factor cases to large dual-fan models designed to handle intensive workloads. 

Liquid Cooling: High-Performance Solution

Liquid cooling, specifically the AIO (all-in-one) systems, has become increasingly popular. It begins the process the same, using thermal paste and a conductive baseplate to transfer heat. The liquid cooler then employs a closed-loop filled with a coolant that absorbs heat from the CPU via a water block. The heated coolant then moves to a radiator where it releases heat into the air, usually aided by one or more fans. After being cooled, the liquid cycles back to the water block to start the process over again.

Liquid Cooler Pros

  • Improved cooling: Liquid coolers can deliver more efficient cooling, which is vital for overclocking or high-performance tasks. 
  • Aesthetics: They often come with sleek designs and RGB lighting, adding a visually pleasing element to PC builds. 
  • Reduced noise: Because liquid transfers heat more efficiently than air, the fans in liquid cooling systems can run at lower speeds, resulting in quieter operation. 

Liquid Cooler Cons

  • Cost: Liquid cooling setups typically come at a higher price point. 
  • Complexity: Installation can be more complex, and maintenance might require monitoring for leaks or coolant evaporation. 
  • Potentially higher risk: While rare, leaks can occur and potentially damage components. 

What Liquid Cooler Should You Buy?

When selecting a liquid cooler, consider the size of the radiator that your case can accommodate—240mm, 280mm, or 360mm sizes are typical. For extreme performance, expandable and custom loop options are available, although they are more complex and costly. An AIO with a larger radiator will generally provide better cooling, but make sure it can be mounted in your case before purchasing. Cooler Master's MasterLiquid series is highly regarded, and the CoolerMaster MasterLiquid 360 Atmos is the latest addition to the range.

This next-gen liquid cooling masterpiece provides enhanced cooling efficiency while accommodating for vibrant, customisable lighting with Addressable RGB. You can expect exceptionally quiet performance provided by the SickleFlow Edge fans (pre-installed). CoolerMaster's latest patended dual chamber design has also been refined for enhanced cooling synergy, build quality has been improved, and features such as the streamlined MasterCTRL software brings an overhauled and smoother user experience. Learn more about the MasterLiquid 360 Atmos here

Making the Choice

Both air cooling and liquid cooling are capable options for keeping a CPU in check. Traditional air cooling continues to serve as a reliable and cost-effective choice for most users. At the same time, liquid cooling offers superior performance and a touch of style for those pushing their systems further or seeking to build their PC into a centerpiece. Your computing needs, budget, and comfort with installation and upkeep will play a big part in which is best for you. This is what we suggest.

  • Choose air cooling if: You are on a budget, prefer a straightforward setup and maintenance process, or don’t plan on pushing your CPU to its limits.
  • Choose liquid cooling if: You are building a high-end PC, plan to overclock your CPU, or prioritize aesthetics and a quieter operation.

We hope this article has helped you figure out which type of cooling system is best for you! Check out our entire range of CPU cooling here.

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Jacob King

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