Nowadays, CPUs are running at high speeds and have many cores, which is the reason for their high power consumption. Let’s consider the i9-12900K as an example. When performing a task that utilizes multiple threads on this CPU with 16 cores and 24 threads, the power usage reaches a maximum of 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 it truly precise? If you’re inquisitive about ways to effectively cool a CPU, such as the supremacy of AIOs or custom water loops over air coolers, or the overall worth of water cooling, this guide is precisely what you need.
In this guide, we’ll give you all the needed details to determine if your system requires CPU water cooling.
Let’s get right to it!
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Is Water Cooling Better Than Air Cooling?
AIO vs. air coolers is a frequent topic amongst PC enthusiasts, and there is never a definitive answer. Which cooling method is superior for your system depends on several factors.
We will explore a few reasons/benefits of each type of cooling, and you can determine which satisfies your requirements more.
Reasons To Consider Water Cooling
This is why individuals value water-cooled constructions.
- 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 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.
Many people often discuss the dangers of constructing a water-cooled system, but in reality, AIOs are quite secure. Many AIO manufacturers utilize distilled water and glycol, both having low conductivity. Therefore, even if an AIO were to leak, it would not harm your devices.
Of course, water damage is always possible, but the chances that it might happen are still low.
Custom water cooling systems could be more perilous because the excellence of the setup depends on the person who installs it. Nonetheless, a properly installed bespoke cooling system should never leak. It is recommended to examine and secure tubes and fittings every one or two years to ensure the safety of your setup.
Since water cooling isn’t too expensive and has a low risk, it’s a good investment. Furthermore, when taking appearance into account, water cooling becomes more attractive.
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 personalization, but you can choose between different distinct AIO models. For instance, Corsair’s Elite LCD series comes with an LCD screen (on the pump) which you can use to showcase anything from gifs to system metrics.
And that’s just one example. NZXT, Arctic, Deepcool, and the rest of the labels have their own distinctive visual characteristics.
Thermals And Acoustics
Lastly, we have the thermal efficiency and noise levels of fluid cooling.
Water cooling is nearly 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 colder than a Noctua NH-D15, one of the finest 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 certainly has its drawbacks, but the benefits absolutely overshadow them. So, is liquid cooling worth it? Most certainly, if it fits your needs and budget.