Liquid cooling, by definition, is the reduction of heat in mechanical and electronic devices by exploiting the properties of liquids. It’s a cooling method that’s well established in many technologies, such as computers. The components of a PC, type of liquid cooling system implemented, as well as the coolant used, determines how effectively cooled that PC will be. However, the question of is liquid cooling worth it over tradition cooling methods than arises.
With liquid cooling, you usually have a closed system of tubes that carry the coolant from one component that’s being cooled to another. The system is known as a loop and usually consists of tubes, as well as pumps, water blocks, and radiators.
There are two main types of liquid cooling, prebuilt cooling systems such as AiO coolers, and custom liquid cooling loops. AiO or All-in-One systems are closed systems that are usually used for processors, and in some situations, graphics cards. They’re simple to install and don’t require too much assembly – just install the water block on the component you’re cooling, attach the radiator to the case, and you’re good to go. With custom solutions, however, you have an entire system that you need to house in your case and plan and assemble yourself.
How does Liquid Cooling work?
As we mentioned, liquid cooling makes use of the properties of liquids to keep your system cool. There is a pump which pushes the coolant liquid through the loop, making sure all components are cooled. There is also a radiator with fans that keeps the coolant at low temperatures, and the cool liquid then goes to all the components it needs to cool. It’s a completely closed system, and it’s surprisingly effective.
Liquid cooling vs. Air cooling
The problem with liquid cooling is that not all systems are made equal. The statement that any AiO is better than an air cooler is simply wrong. Many AiO coolers actually perform similarly to air coolers when it comes to both the temperatures of the components and the level of noise it makes.
In fact, you will find premium air coolers, such as Noctua’s NH-D15, or Cryorig’s H7, actually, perform much better than some entry level AiO coolers. They’ll even go head to head with premium liquid coolers, and still keep temperatures and noise lower. When you consider that the air coolers we mentioned are often much cheaper than an AiO, you have a very valid argument that AiOs aren’t all that good.
Custom liquid cooling loops
However, where Liquid cooling is indeed worth it is when its implemented using a custom liquid cooling system rather than an AIO liquid cooler. With a properly implemented custom liquid cooling system you will see considerably improved cooling when compared to AIOs and air coolers.
The problem is that with a custom loop, you need to source all of the components yourself, plan the loop, build it, and have it housed properly and safely inside your case. You’ll need tubing, a pump, a radiator, fittings, water blocks, and quite a bit of knowledge. However, if you do decide to go the custom cooling loop route, chances are you’ll get a very cool and very quiet system.
Things to Consider When Installing a Custom Liquid Cooling System
Making an effective loop can be a very difficult task if you don’t know what you’re doing. First, you’ll need to see how much space you have in your case, and whether you’ll be able to fit all the components you need inside it. Once that is done, you’ll need to plan the loop. Where does the pump go? Where will you put the radiator? How much tubing will you need? If you decide to go with soft tubes, you will need to measure the length and cut them. If you go the hard tubing route, you will also need to bend them, and planning such a loop is much more difficult.
To add to that, when you’ve assembled the loop, you’ll want to be sure that it doesn’t leak anywhere. Even the tiniest amount of liquid on your motherboard or other components can damage, or potentially destroy your entire system. If, however, you decide to go for a custom loop, and you get things right, you’ll get a system that’s cooler and quieter than an air cooled one.
What are the advantages of a liquid cooled system?
The first advantage, which is the most important and notable one, is the reduction in temperatures. This applies much more for a custom loop than an AiO, but with a liquid cooling system, the temperatures on the components you’re cooling will be drastically lower. To add to that, the entire system will be much quieter as well. The fans on the radiator only need to keep the coolant cool, and you don’t have fans on the CPU and GPU furiously spinning to keep low temperatures. Both of these advantages are even more important if you’re overclocking your components. Doing so with air cooling isn’t only difficult, but can damage your components as well. With liquid cooling, however, you can easily get a bit more out of your CPU or GPU, or both.
Then, you have the host of features. Most liquid cooling systems will allow you to accurately monitor the current CPU temperature, which is a nice addition, especially if you’re overclocking. The lack of a massive air cooler in the middle of your case also helps with aesthetics, and you have a much cleaner looking PC. You also don’t have that massive cooler hanging from the motherboard, so there’s less stress on it. Airflow will also be improved because the air cooler doesn’t get in the way, and you’ll get an overall cooler system, not just the CPU and GPU. Last but not least, some AiO coolers, as well as custom loops, can be had with RGB lights to further make the aesthetics even better.
Are there any disadvantages?
Liquid cooling isn’t perfect, and yes, there are a few disadvantages. The first one is price – a good custom cooling loop can cost as much as an entry level gaming PC. AiOs are cheaper, but they’re still significantly more expensive than an air cooler.
Then, you have the maintenance for a custom loop. You’ll need to clean the loop, change the coolant every once in a while, and constantly check whether everything is working properly. This can be a tedious task to say the least and only adds to the maintenance costs of your system.
And the potentially biggest disadvantage if you go the custom route, is the potential of a leak damaging your components. Your entire build could get destroyed if you aren’t careful.
Is liquid cooling safe?
If you do decide to get an AiO, there’s usually nothing to go wrong. But with a custom loop, a bad fitting or a damaged tube can spell disaster for your entire build. If you do go custom, make sure you have someone who knows what they’re doing build the loop for you. Or do ample research if you plan to build it yourself to ensure the safety of your PC’s components.
So, is liquid cooling worth it?
At the end of the day, whether you go the liquid cooling route, or get a high-end air cooler for more or less the same price as an AiO is completely up to you. It is certainly an interesting proposition and does come with notable advantages, but it isn’t for everyone.
If you have a very high-end system, though, one that you’d like to overclock and still keep cool, getting a custom cooling loop is indeed worth it and would be a good investment. And that’s just from a performance standpoint, the aesthetic improvement is also a plus.