PC enthusiasts sometimes need to push their machine to its limit, which heralds the appearance of an enemy: heat.
As electricity flows through your components, heat is generated as a form of energy loss. Have too much of it, and you will not only shorten your system’s lifespan considerably but won’t be able to push your PC to its peak performance.
There are two main options to efficiently rid your components of heat: liquid cooling and air cooling. We’ll delve into each further below, so you can choose whichever suits you best.
An efficient and modern option, liquid cooling offers tremendous performance and an unmatched visual appeal. In these systems, liquid silently conducts heat away from the components, where computer cases with liquid cooling usually tend to do a better job than air cooling, but they do come with caveats.
Liquid Cooling Pros
- Less noise: Liquid coolers have no noisy fans that may bother you during high-intensity tasks. Their fans don’t have to work as hard as those on air coolers because the liquid —typically water— does all the work.
- Aesthetics: The visual appeal provided by liquid-cooled systems is incredible. Water blocks may feature RGB elements or LED screens that sync with other components to improve your machine’s look.
- More efficient: Water —or any liquid coolant— has better thermal conductivity than air, significantly improving heat dissipation. As such, liquid cooling is exceptional in overclocked systems where you need to push your computer to its maximum performance.
Liquid Cooling Cons
- Expensive: Liquid cooling is considerably costly to set up. Its components can be expensive to acquire and not as easy to find as fans. Even the most basic liquid cooling systems are generally more costly than their air cooling counterparts.
- High maintenance: A poorly maintained system may result in leaks, which could be catastrophic for your components. In addition, these systems require a bit more regular cleaning than air coolers, where you usually only need to wipe the radiators and fans clean.
- Complex installation: Setting up a liquid cooling system is a daunting task, especially if you are implementing a custom one. Install it incorrectly, and you risk frying your components.
The classic, simpler option, air cooling, is easy to install, manage and maintain while usually providing more than enough performance for the average user. Though it has its limitations, air-cooled systems use fans to simply push the heat away from your components.
Air Cooling Pros
- Easy installation: There is no need for filling liquids or hoses in these systems, as all it takes to install air coolers is attaching the actual fans to your rig. You only need to secure the screws and plug the cables properly.
- Cost-efficient: Air cooling is tremendously cheap, as the supply for this market has been high for decades. Also, keep in mind that you may spend all the money you saved by installing air coolers on better components.
- Low maintenance: Fans don’t need to be regularly wiped clean. In fact, should you keep your case out of the floor and your room clean, you can go months without doing so.
Air Cooling Cons
- Bulky: Air coolers take a significant amount of space within your case, which could make cleaning or installing new components a hassle. After a few years, an especially big fan might even damage other parts by bending and breaking them under its weight.
- Noisy: Fans are naturally loud, and the more stress your computer is under, the louder they will be. This may be particularly bothersome when immersing yourself in a videogame or work.
- Not enough for peak performance: Air is simply a worse heat dissipator than liquid. As a result, air coolers might not be enough to cool your components. Overheating will limit your PC’s potential and may even cause some parts to fail.
Air cooling is, in most cases, more than enough for the average user’s needs. Even in high-intensity tasks, you shouldn’t have issues. Plus, you’ll be spending the money you saved on better components —this might provide even better performance than a liquid-cooled PC with worse hardware.
Liquid cooling is an excellent option as well, though mainly favored by enthusiasts who know how to install and maintain such a system properly. You may spend more money by choosing this option, but you’ll have a quieter, more efficient, better-looking cooling method.
Both options have clear advantages and disadvantages, and we believe your final decision should depend on the use you intend to give to your computer and your budget.