Air vs Water Cooling – What’s the Difference?

Whether you’re a first-time builder or a veteran enthusiast who is debating upgrading your PC, choosing the right type of cooling is crucial.  

Air vs Water Cooling – What’s the Difference?

Air Cooling:

be quiet! Dark Rock 4 CPU Cooler

Air cooling consists of several fans and a heatsink. Whilst the heatsink draws the heat away from the vital components, the fans help dissipate the heat and create a constant flow of air that circulates throughout your PC.  

On some air coolers, especially OEM models, the fan is integrated and can’t be changed. However, with the majority of coolers, the fans, whilst included as standard, can be replaced. This means you can configure your cooler to perfectly suit your needs and PC. What type of fan you choose, is up to you. This can be either PWM or DC.  

With PWM fans you can control the speed with the on/off cycles. Whereas, DC fans have a fixed voltage and will only perform at the maximum speed/RPM.  If you want an in-depth look at PWM and DC fans, we’ve created a dedicated article with everything you need to know! 

If you want an in-depth look at PWM and DC fans, we’ve created a dedicated article with everything you need to know! 

Pros and Cons of Air Cooling:

Advantages:

  • Cheaper  
  • Easier to install 
  • No risk of leaking liquid  

Disadvantages:

  • Not as powerful: air cooling alone isn’t suited for high-end or powerhouse gaming PCs. 
  • Can be noisy 

Our Top Air Cooling Hardware:

be quiet! Pure Rock 2x FX Black aRGB 120mm CPU Cooler:

  • CPU air cooler
  • 120mm PWM fan
  • Maximum 150 TDP power capacity
  • Integrated RGB lighting
  • Compatible with both Intel and AMD CPU sockets

Alphenfohn Brocken ECO CPU Cooler:  

  • CPU air cooler
  • 120mm fan
  • Maximum 170W TDP power capacity
  • Compatible with both Intel and AMD CPU sockets

Lian-Li UNI SL120 aRGB Triple Pack 120mm Fans:

  • Triple pack of 120mm fans
  • Integrated RGB lighting
  • Max RPM of 1900 at 31 dB (A)

Water Cooling:

Raijintek SCYLLA Pro Water Cooling Kit

Gaming PCs with water cooling will have a liquid coolant to draw any excess heat away from your important components. 

Water cooling consists of several different components: 

  • The pump: helps to circulate the liquid through the loop. 
  • Reservoir: stores the coolant ensuring there is always a steady flow of coolant in the pump. 
  • Water block: a type of heatsink which transfers heat away from the component. A water block will usually have two pipes connected, one with brings in cold water and one that removes any hot water. 
  • Radiator: helps to dissipate any heat created by the fluid. 
  • Fittings: responsible for connecting the tubing to all of the various components in the loop. 
  • Soft/Hard tubing: connected to your chosen components and cooling tech which the liquid coolant runs through. There is a plethora of different coloured coolants you can choose from to perfectly suit your aesthetic.  

In addition to all of this, water cooling still utilises a selection of fans to effectively keep all of your vital hardware cool and performing at optimum temperature. 

Pros and Cons of Water Cooling:

Advantages:

  • Powerful  
  • More effective due to the large surface area 
  • Lots of customisation options 

Disadvantages:

  • Can be more expensive  
  • Challenging to install 
  • Chance of the liquid coolant leaking on your other hardware 

If you don’t want to install a full water cooling loop, why not opt for a dedicated AiO cooler instead?

AiOs:

Corsair Hydro Series iCUE H150

AiO stands for ‘All in One’. AiO coolers feature all of the same components of a custom water-cooling system, but with minimal risk of leaking and much simpler installation. These coolers consist of a radiator, pump, cooling unit, fans, and tubing.  

Pros and Cons of AiOs:

Advantages:

  • Powerful cooling  
  • Easier to install 
  • Pre-built meaning you don’t need to build your own custom loop 
  • Cheaper than a full custom water cooling loop 

Disadvantages:

  • Limited customisation options compared to a custom water cooling loop  

Our Top Water Cooling Hardware:

EK Water Blocks EK-AiO 240mm dRGB CPU Water Cooler:

  • AiO CPU cooler
  • 240mm
  • 2 x 120mm integrated fans
  • dRGB lighting
  • Compatible with both Intel and AMD CPU sockets

Corsair Hydro X Series iCUE XH305i RGB Pro Custom Water Cooling Kit:

  • Custom water cooling kit
  • Includes a XC7 water block, XD5 pump/reservoir combo, XR5 radiator, 3 x QL120 fans, XT hard tubing tube bending tools, fittings
  • iCUE RGB controller also included
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