For many years every computer you could buy was cooled by fans moving air over the critical components (such as CPU, RAM etc), and the only options you had for increasing your cooling ability was adding bigger heat sinks, having them made of material that were better at transferring heat, or adding more fans.
Recently this has changed with the introduction of water cooling. At first water cooling was the exclusive domain of the hard core PC enthusiasts who prided themselves on upgrading every part of their system.
Now water cooling is becoming mainstream, with ready to go systems from boutique builders having a complete water cooling system installed, and do it yourself water cooling kits available from many retailers.
This new advancement in cooling technology has some great benefits over air cooling, but also brings its own set of problems.
Air Cooling Pros and Cons
The main benefit of air cooling is its simplicity. One fan to direct air into the case, one fan to push the warm air out the back, and a fan with a heat sink setup to cool your processor is all you need for a basic computer.
When you build a more powerful computer, air cooling begins to show its drawbacks.
Sound is one of the most annoying. During everyday use such as internet browsing, an air cooling setup will not produce much sound.
When a user begins a task that is taxing on a computer such as hard core gaming, the noise from the fans will increase.
During hard use some air cooling setups sound like an airplane taking off.
Another drawback to air cooling is that it is not as efficient as water cooling.
For a processor that does not get very hot, it works fine. An overclocked processor will need the most efficient fan setups just to keep from overheating and possibly damaging itself.
It can be extremely depressing to overheat and destroy a five hundred dollar high end processor because you did not set up an appropriate cooling system.
Furthermore, the use of fans in your cooling setup draws dust into your computer, which requires regular cleaning to remove. With a water cooling setup, this problem is drastically reduced.
Water Cooling Pros and Cons
Water cooling has one main benefit over air cooling. It is far more efficient.
A water block on your processor with a good cooling loop will carry away far more heat, and allow you to overclock your processor further without damage. This is a preferred setup for high end gamers.
Another secondary benefit is that the sound of the water pumps is minuscule compared to the sound of several fans.
The two main drawbacks of water cooling are price and potential damage in the event of a malfunction.
A water cooling setup is not cheap. Just a basic closed loop for just the processor will run around a hundred dollars.
Anythings custom built to cool more components will be far more expensive. In comparison, a processor fan and air cooling heat sink can sell for around twenty dollars.
If a water cooling setup leaks, it can pour water inside of your computer, which has the very real risk of short circuiting something and damaging your system.
If an improperly installed or defective water cooling system leaks while your computer is plugged in, there is the safety risk of electrocution if you attempt a repair.
Final Words of Air Cooling Vs Water Cooling for PC
If you are just wanting a basic computer for internet and email, air cooling is still probably the best path for you.
If you are seeking a moderate to high end gaming build, water cooling can be a solution for your needs, but if you are not sure about your ability to install the parts yourself, it is best to buy an already built system or have a professional build it for you.
Moreover, using appropriate software to monitor the heat and performance of your CPU, GPU, RAM etc is also an essential step to have a healthy and functional computer system.
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