Liquid/ Water Cooling Vs Air Cooling, Which One Is Better; Finding the Best Cooling System for a PC
CPUs and GPUs have continued to grow in power and expand overclocking features; Although this is great, this also means that processors are also getting hotter. Using a liquid cooling kit can be a good way to keep temperatures nice and low, but is it always better than air cooling? This guide will set water cooling vs air cooling, it’ll explain the benefits for both and which one you should use; It’ll also attempt to find the best liquid CPU cooler and the best air cooler. Lastly, we’ll help you find the best liquid cooled gaming PC if you’re not comfortable building a system yourself.
Water Cooling VS Air Cooling, Arguments for Both
The truth is that both of these are completely reasonable cooling options for your PC and a lot of people end up using a combination of the two; For example, a water-cooled CPU with every other component being cooled by fan(s). However, both cooling methods have their strengths and specific uses. So let’s get into the water cooling vs air cooling debate a little more and see why this is the case.
Situations Where You Should Use Water Cooling
Liquid cooling kits are much more powerful and have greater efficiency than their air cooling counter-parts; Woah wait a second, does that mean that liquid cooling automatically wins the water cooling vs air cooling debate, just like that? No, it isn’t that simple. Water/liquid cooling is undeniably more powerful than air cooling, but it’s much harder to set up correctly and it costs significantly more. There’s also the fact that liquid cooling isn’t necessary if you don’t plan on overclocking processors far beyond default speeds, as air cooling will be more than adequate in situations like that.
When to Consider Air Cooling Over Liquid Cooling
Air cooling lacks the efficiency and power that liquid/water cooling has, but they are significantly easier to install and you’ll get much more bang for your buck; Most PC cases will even come with pre-built air cooling, saving you time and money. If you plan to overclock your PC though, liquid cooling is the way to go as air cooling won’t keep your processor(s) cool enough; You could also risk damage to expensive hardware if you attempt to significantly overclock a processor without appropriate cooling and this damage would cost much more than investing in a liquid cooler.
Other Factors to Consider and a Final Word on the Water Cooling VS Air Cooling Debate
There are definitely other factors you should consider when choosing a cooling method for your PC. One of these is the sound each cooling method will generate and liquid/water coolers definitely win in this regard because fans can get really noisy. Another question you might be asking is, “Do I really need to use liquid cooling if I want to overclock my CPU?” The truth is that minor overclocking won’t need the raw cooling power of liquid cooling, but you will likely need it if you’re going to do some serious overclocking. Overall, liquid cooling is significantly powerful and very efficient, but air cooling provides better value and more convenience.
Finding the Best Liquid Cooling Kit
This water cooling kit from Thermaltake includes everything you need to build a water cooling system. It also includes RGB lighting that will truly make your PC unique.
- Decent entry point for liquid cooling
- Has just about everything you need to get started
- Tons of LED lighting that can be fully-customized
- Most customers haven’t had any leaks or other critical issues
- It’s a custom kit, meaning you’re free to expand it
- The RGB lighting can break easily and the remote can be faulty
- Although it does come with the products you’ll need to set-up liquid cooling, it doesn’t come with a pipe-cutter or filler bottle
- Thermaltake doesn’t tell people the kit is aluminum, making the kit fully incompatible with copper parts
- The included software for controlling the RGB lighting is a little unreliable
The P360 water cooling kit is an excellent cooling kit with convenience in mind. It comes with all the different parts you’ll need to assemble your liquid cooling system.
- It comes with a very detailed guide on everything from assembly to expanding the kit to cool a GPU
- Universal water block for CPUs
- Respected YouTube tech-reviewers like Linus Tech Tips and JayzTwoCents swear by it
- Incredibly reliable cooling, even under high loads
- Has everything you need to get started
- The kit has expansion in mind as you can easily add GPU cooling and other functions
- It’s much larger than you think, you might have to buy a new case or modify your current case
- Incompatible with aluminum parts
Thermaltake’s W108 CPU cooler boasts a convenient set-up, maintenance-free operation and, most importantly, comes with everything you’ll need to set-up liquid cooling for your CPU.
- You can choose between normal fans and RGB fans
- It’s available in three different sizes, so it should be able to fit any system
- Comes with a three year warranty
- It’s really easy to install it; Almost as easy as installing normal fans
- It isn’t a custom kit and it would be hard to expand its functionality
- LED lighting is iffy
- Some customers feel that it provides weaker cooling than competitors
- Radiator is very thin
Thermaltake’s premium edition of their Floe CPU cooler is one of their newest CPU coolers. One of its key features is that it’s the first CPU cooler to offer 16.8 million different colors in its RGB lighting system. Now, RGB lighting is really cool, but performance is king, so lets investigate it a little more thoroughly.
- Has some of the best RGB lighting on the market
- Fan-monitoring and RGB-controlling software included; They even have an app for it
- CPU block can fit any CPU with universal sockets
- It is the best CPU cooler from Thermaltake yet
- Customers have seen consistent reductions in temperature even under heavy loads
- Pre-filled coolant makes it easy-to-install
- Pretty good bang for your buck
- Software has issues correctly reporting CPU temperatures
- Doesn’t really have room for expansion and is incompatible with custom parts and kits
- Some customers received defective fans and/or radiators
If you’ve heard of Corsair or use their high-quality products, you won’t be surprised to hear that many people consider the HYDRO to be the best liquid CPU cooler in the industry. Corsair’s HYDRO CPU cooler also has a ton of specific features that competitors simply don’t have. So, let’s look at the strengths and drawbacks of it.
- The fans are powered by magnetic levitation; This makes them produce much less noise than traditional fans
- Fans automatically turn off when they aren’t needed; This cooling system is one of the quietest out there.
- Corsair’s iCUE software lets you specifically control pump speed, fan speed, lighting and more with ease; It also works with other Corsair products you may own
- Easy installation
- Promotes very low temperatures irregardless of CPU load
- Made with high-quality materials
- The waterblock isn’t universal and it doesn’t come with the brackets/adapters needed for specific CPUS
- A few customers have had issues with Corsair’s customer support
The Quest for The Best Air Cooler
If you don’t care about fancy LEDs and just want something simple to keep your CPU cool, the NH-L12S is perfect for you. It’s all about keeping a low-profile, as it’s quiet and inconspicuous. Its performance isn’t anything to sneeze at though, as its design has that in mind as well.
- Successor to the NH-L12, which has won multiple awards
- Incredibly compact and fits great in smaller builds
- Six year warranty
- Has a lot of flexibility with its installation, can be installed in low-profile or high-clearance modes
- It’s really easy to mount and it’s compatible with most CPUs
- One of the quietest fans on the market
- Although it is quiet, it can produce an odd noise
- It’s somewhat easy to over-torque
- Some customers prefer other Noctua fans
- Only suitable for CPUS with a TDP of 95W or more; It’s designed for small cases and home-theater PCs
DEEPCOOL’s GT BK air cooler is built with performance and style in mind. It isn’t as small as the previous air cooler you looked at, but it more than makes up for that with its stunning performance.
- Uses two push/pull fans and four heat pipes to deliver amazing performance
- Excellent value
- Very easy to install
- Might have trouble fitting in odd or small PC cases
- Some customers feel that the cooling fins are flimsy
- Lacks compatibility with some motherboards and a few AMD CPUs
Cooler Master is one of the most recognizable cooling brands and there’s good reason for it. They’re constantly developing new technology to reduce noise, increase efficiency and keep CPUs cool.
- Includes Cooler Master’s new 3D Vapor cooling technolgy that protects your CPU
- Fully-customizable, you can change the fans inside and change the top cover
- Incredibly performance while remaining quiet
- Beautiful overall style, it’s just nice to look at
- It’s really pricey for a CPU air cooler
- Doesn’t fit some hardware
- Some customers think Cooler Master has poor customer support
The V8 GTS is the latest addition to the now famous V-series from Cooler Master. Its aesthetics are stunning, as it’s designed to look like a car engine; It doesn’t skimp out on performance though either, as it has eight heat pipes, a triple tower heat sink and a dual push/pull PWM fan system.
- Interesting and eye-catching design, perfect for stylized builds
- Design spreads air evenly, it keeps the CPU cool
- Excellent idling and max-load temps for an air cooler
- A push/pull system is much quieter than a traditional one fan air cooler
- Most customers have a really hard time installing it
- It’s massive and it probably won’t fit in smaller builds
- Its lighting is only available in red
MSI is another major player in the CPU air cooling industry. The Core Frozr, one of their newest CPU coolers, features their patented TORX fans that are typically used on high-end GPUs, four heat pipes and support for another fan.
- Dual-fan support makes expanding it easy
- Isn’t as expensive as other coolers with similar features; It has excellent value
- Some customers have CPU temperatures that rival water cooling
- Features some basic LEDs to add style and the overall design looks great
- Fits most modern CPUs without any issues
- Lots of customers have had trouble installing it and they feel the instructions don’t adequately explain the installation process
- It’s a bit large and it’ll have trouble fitting in a smaller and/or budget build
Don’t Feel Comfortable Building a Liquid Cooling System Yourself? Consider a Pre-Built Liquid Cooled Gaming PC
iBUYPOWER is one of the best pre-built manufacturers in the market right now. They consistently deliver high-end PCs with the quality of a custom build. Their aesthetics are also breath-taking, as each build is packed to the brim with beautiful RGB lighting and a glass side-panel to admire it all.
- Almost identical pricing to a custom built PC with the same parts
- Ready to go as soon as you receive it
- Tons of room for expansion
- Jaw-dropping design
- iBUYPOWER doesn’t skimp out on the parts, all of them are high-quality pieces that customer builders use
- Doesn’t come with some standard features like a CD drive and it has few USB slots
- Doesn’t come with a warranty
- Some customers have received defective parts on arrival
- Intel i7 8700k
- GeForce RTX 2070
- 16 GB of DDR4 Ram
- 240 GB SSD and 1 TB HDD
- Comes with Windows 10 64-bit
- Z370 Motherboard
SkyTech is a company focusing on delivering pre-built PCs with the latest and greatest gaming technology. It comes to no surprise that they’ve become a popular choice for gamers everywhere. How does it stack up compared to the competition though? Let’s find out!
- One of the best pre-builts on the market right now; Some customers even consider it “overkill”
- Excellent performance with tons of extra features like extra USB ports
- Ready out of the box
- It isn’t the best budget choice
- Peripherals have a low build-quality
- Somewhat low storage space compared to other PCs of the same value
- Z390 motherboard
- Intel i7-9700k
- Nvidia GeForce 6 GB RTX 2060
- 16 GB of DDR4 RAM
- 500 GB SSD
iBUYPOWER’s Element liquid-cooled desktop has some of the strongest hardware in the industry. It is finely tuned to handle modern high-demanding games like PUBG, Fortnite and GTA; It handles all of them at 60 FPS or higher with a 4K Resolution.
- Has some of the strongest hardware available
- Recommended by LinusTechTips
- Tons of room for adding components
- Handles every modern game at ultra settings
- Some customers received faulty hardware
- Included WiFi adapter is known for dropping connections
- A bit expensive for the hardware inside
- They don’t specify what motherboard is being used in this PC
- Intel i7-8700k CPU
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 8 GB
- 16GB of DDR4 RAM
- 480GB SSD
- Windows 10 64-bit included
CyberpowerPC’s Gamer Xtreme is a serious powerhouse with some of the best hardware on the market. It can easily run modern games at the highest settings and is completely open to overclocking potential.
- Winner of PCMAG’s best overall desktop reader’s choice award
- PC of choice for many professional e-sports players
- Comes with Black Ops 4
- Quiet fans and tons of room for expansion
- It has some seriously powerful hardware
- Some customers have had issues with CyberpowerPC’s customer support
- Customers have received faulty hardware in some cases
- Not a great choice for gamers on a budget
- Intel i7-8700K CPU
- Nvidia GeForce 8GB or 11GB RTX 2080 TI
- 16GB DDR 4 ram
- 1TB HDD and 240GB SSD
- Windows 10 64-bit pre-installed
- Intel Z370 Motherboard
Skytech’s Omega PC is the Omega S’s powerful big brother. It has stronger hardware, a fancier design and a few other nifty features; It can easily run modern games on ultra settings with at least 100 FPS for each one.
Customers have been very satisfied with SkyTech’s customer support
It easily runs modern games with some of the best hardawre in the industry right now
Many customers argue that it rivals a custom build’s quality
CPU can handle overclocking
Customers are satisfied with the overall quality of the case and hardware used
Some customers received faulty CPUs or GPUs, but customer support resolved it quickly
It’s serious overkill, you don’t need it unless if you want a future-proof PC
- 2TB HDD and 250GB SSD
- Intel i7-8700K
- Z370 motherboard
- 16GB of DDR4 RAM with a heat spreader
- Nvidia GTX 1070 TI 8GB