PCs become awkward roommates in the summer. The heat wave doesn’t help, which is why it seems like a good idea to take a look at two very popular cooling solutions: air cooling and liquid cooling AIO solutions. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and the objective is the same: to keep the temperature of the PC’s components at bay.
What are liquid cooling AIO solutions. The acronym AIO responds to the term “All In One” (“All in One”), and refers to the fact that in these cases the AIO liquid cooling kits are simpler than custom liquid cooling solutions (‘custom loops’ ), more advanced but also more expensive —there are numerous examples—, cumbersome to assemble and maintain.
Components of an AIO kit. The basic principle is the same as the original solutions: there is a radiator that is supposed to be fixed to the front of our PC case, fans that must dissipate heat from that radiator, a copper or metal block installed in the top of the CPU socket and of course the coolant flowing through the cooler aided by a pump.
But they are simpler than ‘custom loops’. However, here the solution is simplified. There is no reservoir for the coolant and there is no need to plan how to get the tubes through the box because these devices have flexible, factory sealed, pre-filled coolant tubes that run from the radiator to the CPU block and back. This means that it is not necessary for us to introduce our own coolant, and that there is also no risk of leakage of that liquid unless there is specific physical damage to that cooling circuit.
But what about air cooling. Well, it is also an excellent alternative, especially if we invest in a decent solution. There are quite cheap sets of heatsinks/fans, but if we are going to dedicate the PC to video games, for example, it is better to bet on more ambitious air cooling kits such as the famous and popular Noctua NH-D15. The investment is considerable – around 100 euros – but its performance is comparable to that of more expensive liquid cooling AIO kits in terms of performance.
Which refrigerates more? That, of course, is the big question. The answer is that it depends, but air-cooled solutions like the one above typically offer performance on par with liquid-cooled AIO solutions priced similarly or slightly higher. Various analyzes from experts such as Gamers Nexus reveal that in the end there is no clear winner: at the same price, liquid cooling may be slightly better in terms of performance (2-4 ºC more temperature reduction), but here are other considerations that can tip the balance depending on the type of user that you are.
Liquid cooling is nice. If one pays attention to the section on how great a ‘battlestation’ can be with these solutions, there is no discussion: liquid cooling solutions are much more successful. In many cases RGB lighting is offered, but also AIO kits take up less space. Air-cooling heatsink + fan assemblies can become especially large and cumbersome, and can even end up getting in the way of connecting memory modules or PCIe cards.
installation. The good thing about liquid cooling AIO solutions is that they are, as we said, simpler than custom solutions with that technology. Its installation is relatively simple, and can often be more so than some air-cooled solutions, although here the differences are not particularly significant. Things get complicated if one wants to go for custom liquid cooling solutions.
Maintenance . Liquid cooling solutions have a certain reputation for being much more demanding in terms of maintenance. With a heatsink + fan you forget: it can be working for years, and in fact changing the fan, for example, is very simple and cheap. With custom liquid cooling solutions, there is more or less regular maintenance work, but in AIO kits precisely this type of task is avoided.
failure rates. The failure rate of liquid cooling solutions is perhaps somewhat higher than that of air cooling solutions, but it is logical: there are more elements that can fail. Even so, there is not as much danger as it usually seems, and we would recommend not giving too much importance to those videos of coolant leaks that appear from time to time: like everything else, the quality of the device and the materials is key. It is true that in liquid cooling there is a life cycle of about 5-6 years after which it is likely that it will be necessary to change tubes or coolant. In air ventilation solutions this does not happen, and they are much more reliable in this regard.
Noise. Liquid cooling has a reputation for being silent, but the truth is that the noise level is in many cases similar if we “normalize” the comparison: at the same noise levels, a liquid solution cools the same (or perhaps a little less) than an air solution equivalent in price. Here, of course, what we invest in these solutions influences, and it is also true that there are components such as the pump of the liquid cooling kits that can also add noise in certain cases.
Refrigerating (well) is an art. The truth is that cooling the PC properly has become almost an art and there are various analyzes that, for example, help to understand how to place the fans in the optimal way so that the airflow is perfect in the PCs. They even show the result putting smoke in the box so that you can visually appreciate how the fans work.
The truth is that users have plenty of options to cool their PCs and do it effectively and without (too much) noise in many situations. Liquid-cooled AIO solutions have their pros and cons, just like air-cooled ones, but if you invest a decent amount in any of those alternatives, the performance is going to be pretty similar. That’s where the other considerations come in: case interior design, maintenance, or failure rates, which can determine one or the other choice.