Air vs. Water: Which Processor Cooling Method Is the Best?

Air vs. Water
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There’s a good reason why processors are considered the “heart” of your computer. They’re in charge of receiving input and providing output from and to different components of your computer. The modern central processing unit can do trillions of calculations every second. They are in charge of handling every click and flick on your mouse and keystroke on your keyboard and showing them on your screen, complete requests to open applications, make changes to different files, and hundreds of other processes on your computer. These saltine-sized chips do all these tasks simultaneously at fast speeds. They’re also made of millions of tiny transistors that turn on and off multiple times to process these each input and create outputs, which creates heat. Modern CPUs may reach temperatures above 100 degrees Celsius, which may cause damage to both itself and other components. This is why they often come installed with a cooling system composed of a heatsink and fans to help keep your processor at a stable temperature. When it comes to coolers, customers often have two options: air and water. Here’s what you need to know about them and which is best for your PC.

Air Cooling

An air cooler consists of a heatsink with heat pipes, a copper base, and aluminum fins. It sits on top of the CPU’s heat plate. There is also thermal paste applied in between the heat plate and the heatsink. When the processor creates heat, it’s transferred to the heat plate. It then distributes that heat through the thermal paste and base. The heat sink’s pipes and fins help dissipate the heat from the copper base into the air. Heavy-duty fans that consistently spin are often attached to the heatsink’s fins to introduce new and cool air.

Water Cooling

Water cooling works similar to its air-powered counterpart. Instead of a heat sink, it uses a water block connected to a radiator through a series of pipes. These pipes are filled with liquid coolant. The heat from the CPU is transferred to the water block, which is submerged in coolant. The liquid coolant then circulates through the pipes to the radiator. This component works like an air cooler’s fins, as it dissipates heat into the surrounding air. The radiator, with its fans, also introduce cool air into the water, which circulates back into the copper block. Water cooling systems often come in two types: all-in-one and custom. The former, also known as AIO coolers, are readily-made water cooling systems for CPUs. All you need to do is bolt them to your case and processor, plug them into the computer power supply, and they’ll work immediately. Custom loops, on the other hand, allow you to cool other parts of your gaming PC tower, like the motherboard and graphics card with water, but its pipes need to be bent and attached according to your computer’s size and clearances.

Which is Best for Your PC?

If you want to make the most out of your CPU by overclocking it for process-heavy tasks like 3D rendering, water cooling is your best choice. Water, combined with anti-freeze can dissipate heat much more effectively than traditional air cooling heat pipes. The downside is that they’re more expensive than air coolers. And even though they’re built to be airtight, there’s still a small chance for some items to fail and leak liquid onto your other components, which can corrode and outright destroy them. Some high-grade air coolers are enough to keep powerful processors stable. However, don’t expect to get great results when pushing your processor beyond its stock speeds. At the end of the day, it’s all a matter of budget and workload. If you’re building an affordable PC, air cooling with your CPU’s stock cooler is definitely enough. But if money is no object and you have processor-heavy workloads, you might as well go all out with a water cooler.

Kelly Passarelly
My name is Blake Gowing, a writer. I have written for various publications including The Daily Life and their needs.

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