Skip to Content

Liquid Cooling vs Air Cooling?

Liquid Cooling vs Air Cooling?

Effective and efficient cooling is critical when trying to get the most performance out of your PC.

Keeping your computer cool helps the components last longer, particularly your CPU. You may be wondering whether liquid cooling or air cooling is better; well, here’s what you should know.

Difference Between Liquid Cooling And Air Cooling In A PC?

The primary difference between liquid cooling and air cooling in a PC is that one uses a liquid coolant to cool the processor, and the other uses air. Liquid coolers are more efficient and quieter, as they use a radiator to quickly dissipate the heat generated by your CPU.

In essence, both types of coolers absorb heat from the CPU and move it away from the hardware. 

If you take a look at your motherboard, you will see that the back of your CPU is a flat, metal surface. This surface is called an Integral Heat Spreader (IHS), and it transmits heat generated from your CPU to your cooler.

Both air coolers and liquid coolers have a flat, metal surface called a baseplate that is designed to make flat, direct contact with the IHS on the back of your CPU.

Usually, before attaching the baseplate of your cooler to the IHS of your CPU, you also apply a layer of thermal paste to the IHS, which further facilitates the flow of heat between the two components.

Here is where the difference comes in.

Air coolers dissipate the heat flowing through the baseplate using a powerful fan that circulates air at a constant pressure around the baseplate, rapidly removing hot air from the baseplate and cooling the CPU.

This fan sits directly over the baseplate, and it needs to be very powerful in order to maintain high pressure airflow behind the baseplate.

Liquid coolers, on the other hand, do not have a fan that sits directly on the baseplate. Instead, they have a small cooling block, which is filled with water or coolant, that sits on the baseplate.

This cooling block stays very cool by constantly circulating the liquid out of the cooling block and into a radiator at the back, top, or bottom of your PC via plastic tubing.

At the radiator, the liquid is dispersed through the metal radiator, increasing the surface area of the liquid and helping it cool very rapidly.

Typically, the radiator will have 1-3 fans that circulate air around the radiator, helping it remain cool so that it can efficiently cool off the circulating liquid.

From the radiator, the cool liquid circulates back into the cooling block and the entire cycle repeats itself. Since the liquid always stays cool, it can continue to suck heat out of your CPU through the cooling block.

Now that we understand the functional differences between the two cooling systems, let’s look at the pros and cons of each.

Pros Of Liquid Cooling?

The pros of liquid cooling are that it is incredibly efficient, quiet, and visually impressive. Liquid cooling also keeps your CPU cooler than fans, allowing you to maximize your computer’s potential through overclocking without overheating.

Liquid coolers have become incredibly popular for high-end gaming PC builds for their looks and efficiency.

Some liquid coolers even have LCD screens on the back of the cooling block. You can customize the LCD screen to play a GIF on a loop, which makes for a cool visual effect for the inside of your PC.

Cons Of Liquid Cooling?

The cons of liquid cooling are the system’s high initial cost, the additional room required in your PC case, and the possibility that the system could leak and damage the rest of your computer’s components. Some liquid cooling systems can also create an annoying trickling noise.

Despite their superior performance, there’s just more that could go wrong with a liquid cooler.

I’ve built gaming PCs with both air, as well as liquid, CPU coolers. Air coolers are simple, but they’re also tried and true. It’s easy to install an air cooler, and there aren’t many components that could break.

On the other hand, I’ve dealt with liquid coolers with faulty cooling blocks, dead LCD screens, tubing that wouldn’t fit in my case, and more.

In addition, liquid cooling is rather expensive at the moment. You could easily spend over $200 on a fancy liquid cooler, which is more than a lot of CPUs, and definitely more money than an air cooler.

So, while liquid cooling is more efficient and looks great, it may not be as reliable or affordable as good old-fashioned air cooling.

Pros Of Air Cooling?

The pros of air cooling are that it is inexpensive, easy to repair and replace, and suitable for people who do not overclock their processors. Fans are versatile and fit in cases of most form factors, and are straightforward to install.

I’ve found that air coolers are super easy to work with. In fact, many CPUs will come with an included air cooler in the box, which means less hassle for you.

When I built my first gaming PC, I bought a Ryzen 7 processor and it came with an air cooler in the box. It even had the thermal paste already applied to the baseplate of the cooler.

All I had to do was install the single-fan cooler right on top of my processor and plug it into my motherboard. It gets a little loud at times, but the cooler is still working great years later.

Cons Of Air Cooling?

The cons of air cooling are the fans’ loudness, decreased efficiency compared to liquid coolers, and unattractive appearance. Fans cannot entirely eradicate the heat from your computer case, which is unsuitable for those who wish to test their computer’s processing limits.

Even though air coolers work great and typically cost less than liquid coolers, they aren’t nearly as capable or efficient.

Air coolers need to move air extremely quickly in order to cool the CPU. That means they are much louder than liquid coolers, and less efficient.

They also don’t look as cool as liquid coolers. Some air coolers have RGB fans, but they don’t have fancy LCD screens like the latest liquid coolers.

Which Is Better at Cooling A PC: Liquid Cooling or Air Cooling?

Liquid cooling is better at cooling a PC. While both liquid and air coolers are suitable for regular PC users, liquid coolers are a better choice for intensive computing and CPU overclocking. Due to their design, liquid coolers are better at dissipating the heat generated by your CPU, while using less energy and making less noise.

Liquid cooling makes the most difference when using modern or next-generation graphics cards or processors because these components require more capable cooling systems.

If you are considering overclocking your PC for its full benefits, go for the best liquid cooler you can find. It will keep your CPU cool throughout and ensure that the components perform their best for a long time.

On the other hand, if the thought of a liquid leaking all over your CPU makes your head turn, and if you don’t often run heavy or demanding programs on your computer, air cooling will suffice.

Air coolers are more commonly used because they are cheaper, easier to install, and more versatile.

Which Is Better For Gaming: Liquid Cooling Or Air Cooling?

Liquid cooling is better for gaming. Most high end processors today generate a considerable amount of heat, especially when overclocking or gaming on max settings. Using a liquid cooling system will allow you to overclock without risking damaging your computer’s parts. 

Most people advise sticking to air coolers if you are not overclocking the CPU, and this is sound advice in many cases.

Air cooling is 100% sufficient in most computers, and you can’t overlook the fact that it’s cheap, easy to install, and requires zero maintenance.

That said, there are three instances where I recommend liquid cooling, and gaming is one of them.

The other two situations are when you use high-end design software or use CPU encoding to stream on Twitch or YouTube.

These three situations will almost always overwork the PC, causing it to emit more heat even if you are not overclocking your processor.

Which Is Cheaper: Liquid Cooling Or Air Cooling?

Air cooling is cheaper than liquid cooling. Even basic liquid coolers cost at least $100, while popular air coolers cost $30 to $50. You can get a premium air cooler for $100, but you don’t have to.

The purchasing price is not the only difference, though. An air cooler has fewer moving parts, so it’s less likely to break down or need maintenance.

In the rare event that this does happen, you can easily replace the fans individually and move along.

However, you cannot say the same for liquid cooling systems since they include so many parts, increasing the chances of things going wrong.

If a pump or anything in the radiator malfunctions, you have to replace the entire unit, and that’s not cheap. While rare, liquid coolers can potentially leak, which has the potential to damage your PC.

Best Liquid Cooling Systems

The best liquid cooling systems are the Corsair iCUE H100i RGB Pro XT, Cooler Master MasterLiquid ML360R, and NZXT Kraken X63 280mm. These liquid cooling systems offer all of the benefits of liquid cooling, including reliable heat-wicking properties, near-silence, and an impressive appearance. 

When it comes to liquid cooling systems, you can choose an all-in-one solution or an out-of-the-box liquid closing loop kit that you can set up yourself.

The former is a plug-and-play kind of system which makes it easy to install and requires zero maintenance. These plig-and-play liquid coolers are becoming increasingly popular, and I’ve given my favorites below.

Best Liquid CPU Cooler: Corsair iCUE H100i RGB Pro XT

Features:

  • It works with all AMD processors and the newest Intel LGA1700
  • It includes two 120mm fans that can run from 400 to 2400 RPM 
  • It’s almost silent

This CPU cooler is the best for several reasons. 

One, it offers an almost-silent sound and optimum CPU cooling, thanks to the 240mm radiator and two Corsair ML120 PWM fans. 

Two, you can control the fan and pump speeds from your PC or any connected device within Corsairs ICUE software.

This simple controller makes managing the cooler simple, and you can keep an eye on the settings to ensure you are getting optimum performance.

The third thing I love about this cooler is the visual flair it allows you with the 16 RGB LEDs, and you can also control each light from the software.

The cooler’s cost is not too shabby either because you are getting a premium system at a great value. 

Best Liquid CPU Cooler For Gaming: Cooler Master MasterLiquid ML360R

Features:

  • It has an aesthetically pleasing, sleek design
  • It features a dual-chamber pump for extra cooling power
  • It has a large surface area

The ML360R is a significant improvement from its predecessor, starting from the dual-chamber pump, which improves heat transfer significantly.

According to the company, this adds 33% more radiator surface area and cooling power, which means its capabilities are out of this world.

Gamers, system builders, and overclockers should take note as this is the cooler to watch out for.

As if that much cooling power wasn’t enough, the cooler comes with MasterFan Air Balance fans which work together with the dual-chamber to make this cooler and as quiet as a library.

Because liquid coolers are all about aesthetics, it also has RGB LEDs on the fans that you can customize as you like using the provided controller.

I love this cooling system’s smooth and sleek look, though it’s a bit more expensive than the Corsair iCUE H100i. It’s also straightforward to screw in the PC and enjoy quiet cooling for a long time without maintenance.

Best 280mm Liquid CPU Cooler: NZXT Kraken X63 280mm

Features:

  • It has a neat rotating infinity mirror design with RGBs for a unique appearance
  • Incredible cooling performance
  • Near silent
  • Compatible with almost any socket and CPU
  • Includes a controller for customization and increased performance

If you are looking for an excellent all-arounder, this 280mm liquid cooler from NZXT is a great choice. You will fall in love with the completely silent fans, credit to the fluid-dynamic bearings which make them last longer. 

You will appreciate the customizable RGB lighting on the extensive, bright pump cover if flashy looks are important to you.

In addition, the refreshed look featuring a larger infinity mirror ring LED and redesigned cap makes the system look fantastic, and you will be proud to show it off.

Like the Corsair iCUE H100i RGB Pro XT, you can manage and fine-tune settings with the CAMs software interface to ensure optimal performance. 

Best Air Cooling Systems?

The best air cooling systems are the Noctua NH-D15S Chromax Black, Be Quiet! BK030 Pure Rock Slim 2, and DEEP COOL Assassin III CPU Cooler. These systems are cool, efficient, aesthetically pleasing, and pretty quiet, considering that they include fans. 

Best Air CPU Cooler: Noctua NH-D15S Chromax Black

Features:

  • Excellent cooling performance
  • High quality, solid build
  • All black and large

The Noctua NH-D15S Chromax Black has amassed over 150 awards from international platforms and is a well-respected product. 

The asymmetrical, single fan design with dual-tower performance is why the cooler is so popular. The 160mm height comfortably fits most tower cases while leaving RAM clearance.

As for performance, only the 360mm AIO coolers can outperform this baby. It is a powerful cooler that can handle any consumer CPU on the market and doesn’t even make much noise.

The all-black body is sleek and blends into your case better than the unsightly beige and maroon systems.

The only thing I have against it is the price tag, which is comparable to some of the best AIO liquid coolers.

However, for the value it provides plus all the benefits of air coolers, the price may be worth it to you.

Most Quiet Air CPU Cooler: Be Quiet! BK030 Pure Rock Slim 2

Features:

  • High cooling efficiency
  • It has three copper heat pipes with aluminum caps
  • It is best for AMD CPUs
  • The small size fits nicely on the motherboard

If the name didn’t give it away already, this Rock 2 cooling system is quiet. It’s a single tower system fitted with a Pure Wings 2 PWM fan with a tiny 26.8 dB noise rating.

The cooler feels solid too, which means it’s of good quality despite its low price.

One thing I noted about this cooler is that it’s small, making it the perfect choice for PC cases with little space. Nonetheless, it does allow the entire configuration of RAM banks.

In addition, I found it very easy to install, thanks to the optimized mounting bracket for AMD.

Performance-wise, the cooler provides an astonishingly high cooling capacity, and this is thanks to the three heat pipes the brand included.

It is not as quiet as a liquid cooling system, but you barely notice the sound of the fans.

Best Big Air CPU Cooler: DEEP COOL Assassin III CPU Cooler

Features:

  • Includes seven heat pipes and two 140mm fans
  • Plenty of RAM clearance
  • It’s large in all the right places

Between the twin cooling towers, seven heat pipes, and two fans, it’s not hard to see why the DEEP COOL Assassin III gives the best thermal performance.

This cooler gave me the lowest temperature reading from an air cooler. Combine this thermal performance with the extremely low noise it makes, and you have a winner.

Another surprising thing about the Assassin III is that it looks fantastic for an air cooler.

I appreciate the minimalistic look and how easy it is to install. Unfortunately, the instructions it comes with are a bit vague, so I recommend you refer to the online manual instead.

👋 Hey There, I'm Eric!

Since 2018, I've been making streams come true.

I like gaming, streaming and watching other people stream. I created this website to help streamers, viewers, and gamers answer questions they have regarding live streaming, gaming, and PCs. I am a Twitch affiliate and currently stream on Twitch 3 days a week. I also have a Youtube channel where I make videos about streaming. I hope you find my content helpful. Feel free to stop by one of my streams to say hi.