AIO vs Air Cooler – Which Is Best?

Should you get an AIO cooler or an air cooler to cool down your CPU? Here is the ultimate guide to help you decide which is best for you.

Choosing the correct type of cooling when putting together a PC is as important as everything else in your build.

Making the right decision here will allow you to “push” all of your components to the limit. For the majority of PC enthusiasts, this is the most important thing.

Making the wrong decision, however, will most likely lead to lower performance, a few “fried” components (worst-case), and a lot of frustration.

In the PC-building community, the question of whether to install an Air Cooler or an AIO is often amongst the top few ranks in terms of popularity on websites such as Reddit, Tom’s Hardware, and PCPartPicker.

CPU Coolers as forum discussion topic

This guide will help you learn about the pros and cons of both choices and hopefully help you make the right decision for your next build.

Related:The Best CPU Coolers (2021 Reviews)

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What Is An AIO?

AIO Rog Ryujin II 360

For those unfamiliar with the term, an “AIO” stands for an all-in-one closed-loop liquid cooling system. But, there’s no need to keep it that complicated, which is why we’ll keep calling it “AIO” through the rest of this guide.

An AIO functions very similarly to the cooling system featured in a car’s internal combustion engine.

A water pump cycles the liquid through a water block mounted on your CPU (Computer Processing Unit) and out to a heat exchanger, which in most cases is a radiator. The radiator is cooled by one or more fans.

AIO’s are also called “closed loops” because they’re meant to never be opened, which is different compared to “custom loops” that require maintenance and are much more prone to failures.

What Is An Air Cooler?

CPU air coolers – fans

Fans can be installed in many different slots on your case, depending on the model you have, and directly to the CPU.

An air cooler takes a lot less space compared to an AIO system, meaning you have higher chances of fitting it in your build. They also don’t cost much, so most beginners choose them over AIO’s for their first build, especially when on a budget.

But, having multiple of them installed at the same time can be quite noisy, and if you are a person who enjoys complete silence while working, this can be a bit problematic.

Now, whether you should purchase an AIO or air coolers for your build seems to be a personal preference, but you still need to consider the following things.

AIO vs Air Coolers – Pros And Cons

AIO vs Air Coolers

It’s not a secret that the PC-building community is split fifty-fifty when it comes to favoring one of these cooling solutions over the other.

Some say AIO’s are superior, while others believe the possible risks of leaks and pump malfunctions are simply not worth it.

Let’s take a look at this comparison to find out the things you should be the most concerned about when choosing between the two cooling solutions.

Pros And Cons of AIO’s

The advantages of AIO’s are:

  • Better looks, usually great RGB customization through manufacturer software.
  • Little to no maintenance upon installation.
  • Better cooling performance and less overall noise.

The disadvantages of AIO’s are:

  • Usually more expensive than air coolers due to the more complex design and function.
  • Slightly more difficult installation process compared to installing fans.
  • Risk of pump failure and leaks, albeit small chances for both.

Pros And Cons of Air Coolers

The advantages of Air Coolers are:

  • Tons of options regarding price, size, and manufacturers.
  • Less expensive and easier to fit in various builds.
  • Top-tier brands are still affordable, which isn’t the case with AIO’s.  

The disadvantages of Air Coolers are:

  • Cleaning the fan blades every once in a while is a must, which can be difficult if you have many fans installed.
  • More than two or three fans working simultaneously can get quite noisy.
  • If you favor aesthetics a bit more than the average user, you won’t like how your build looks with fans.  

Final Thoughts

Best CPU Coolers

The outcome of this “battle” seems pretty equal right now, doesn’t it? Well, that’s because the answer to this question has always been personal preference.

Those who like pushing their systems to the absolute limit will see a benefit from the improved cooling performance provided by AIO’s while the more “casual” users won’t even notice a difference between the two.

From a practical point of view, if you are building a PC with a regular case that’s not transparent, go for the cheaper solution, which is air coolers.

If you are chasing aesthetics, and every little detail matters a lot, AIO’s can help you achieve your dream build while providing better temperatures accompanied by less noise.

Also, both are “just” cooling systems at the end of the day, meaning the one that does a better job at preventing your PC from overheating is the winner. This is why we recommend starting from there.

If you have a “beast” of a CPU, such as the 11900K or the Ryzen 5900X, you need something to keep it cool at all times, especially while it’s under heavy load. Grab an AIO if this is your case.

But, if you are on a budget and you use your PC for “casual” tasks and some light work, save the extra money by cutting down costs and purchasing an air cooler.

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Bojan Veselinovikj
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Bojan Veselinovikj

Bojan is a video-game developer and a tech enthusiast. Combining these two passions allow him to keep you informed on everything that's new in this fast-paced digital world.