CPUs nowadays are clocked high and packed with dozen cores or more which is why they use so much power. Take the i9-12900K as an example. While running a multi-threaded task with this 16-core and 24-thread CPU, power draw peaks at 250W.
Since its power draw is so high, the heat output is also pretty inflated, needing a beefy cooler. Because of that, most people go with water cooling, believing it is better than any air cooler.
However, is that really true? If you are wondering how to water cool a CPU, whether AIOs or custom water loops are better than air coolers, or if water cooling is even worth it, this is the guide you’re looking for.
In this guide, we’ll provide you with all the necessary information to figure out whether you need CPU water cooling in your system.
Let’s get right to it!
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Is Water Cooling Better Than Air Cooling?
AIO vs. air coolers is a common topic amongst PC enthusiasts, and there is never a universal answer. Which cooling method is better for your system depends on several things.
We will have a look through some of the reasons/benefits of both types of cooling, and you can determine which fits your needs better
Reasons To Consider Water Cooling
Here is why people appreciate water-cooled builds:
- Aesthetics – custom water loops and AIOs offer more customization and look objectively better than a block of aluminum (heatsink).
- Best thermal performance – custom water cooling loops have always maintained better cooling performance than air coolers. These days, AIOs are also better than most air coolers.
- Quieter (sometimes) – AIOs and custom water loops are usually quieter than air coolers. However, water cooling can get loud, depending on the water pump.
- Better clearance (for RAM) – some of the best air coolers have a huge heatsink which may introduce RAM clearance issues which is not a problem with water cooling loops and AIOs.
- Cleaner build– we already mentioned aesthetics, but when looking at the bigger picture, AIOs definitely help create a cleaner look for builds.
Reasons To Consider Air Cooling
Now, let’s have a look at the benefits of air cooling.
- Cheaper – certain AIOs, like NZXT’s Z73, can cost up to $300, while high-end air coolers cost no more than $100. However, custom water loops can go well above $300, and finding the right parts can be difficult.
- Easier to install – air coolers can be installed in a matter of seconds. while AIOs have a more complicated installation process. Custom water loops are considerably more complex, and one mistake during the installation can lead to a leak.
- No risks/Fewer failure points – an air cooler is pretty simple. It is just a heatsink with a fan to dissipate heat with almost no failure points. On the other hand, water cooling systems have multiple failure points and a leak risk.
- Good thermal performance – while water cooling is objectively better in terms of thermal performance, the temperature difference can be negligible at times.
Is Water Cooling Worth It?
So, why should anyone buy an AIO or build an entire custom loop if air coolers are cheaper and do not pose any risk to your PC?
Well, water cooling does not necessarily have to be expensive. Some of the best AIOs like the Cooler Master MasterLiquid ML240L v2 and Arctic Liquid Freezer II offer high-end performance for around $100.
In addition, the Arctic Liquid Freezer II is a favorite amongst enthusiasts because of its excellent thermal performance.
Custom water loops are definitely more expensive, starting at around $400. However, these water loops can last for years, and replacing parts in the future won’t be as expensive. It’s a long-term investment.
There are always talks about the risks when building a water-cooled system, but the reality is that AIOs are pretty safe nowadays. Most AIO brands use distilled water and glycol, which have low conductivity, so even in the unlikely situation when an AIO leaks, it won’t damage your components.
Of course, water damage is always possible, but the chances that it might happen are still low.
Custom water cooling loops might be riskier since the quality of the loop depends on who installs it. However, a properly installed custom cooling loop shouldn’t ever leak. Although it is good to check/tighten tubes and fittings every year or two to ensure the safety of your system.
Considering that water cooling can be affordable and the risks are low, it is definitely worth it. In addition, once you consider aesthetics, water cooling becomes a lot more appealing.
If you’re going for a custom loop, there are so many things you can customize, like the type of tubing, the color of tubing and liquid, pump, fittings, and more.
AIOs don’t offer much customization, but you can choose between various unique AIO models. For example, Corsair’s Elite LCD series comes with an LCD screen (on the pump) which you can use to display anything from gifs to system metrics.
And that’s just one example. NZXT, Arctic, Deepcool, and the rest of the brands have their own unique visual traits.
Thermals And Acoustics
Last but definitely not least is the thermal performance and acoustics of liquid cooling.
Water cooling is almost always superior in heat dissipation compared to air. Some AIOs, like the EK Elite 360 and Lian Li Galahad 360/240 are 10 degrees Celsius cooler than a Noctua NH-D15, one of the best air coolers.
Custom water loops are usually cooler than these AIOs and produce less noise, so another huge reason why liquid cooling can be worth it.
Water cooling definitely has its disadvantages, but the advantages absolutely overshadow them. So, is liquid cooling worth it? Most definitely, if it fits your needs and budget.