Liquid cooling or water cooling is an alternative to traditional air cooling. It involves circulating coolants across specific components of the personal computer to remove excess heat. Note that every computer generates heat, but certain circumstances such as unfavorable external environment or using too much processor resources is one of the causes of overheating. The effects of too much heat can damage or render computers and other consumer electronic device inoperable, and this is why a cooling system is a fundamental component.
Computers from established manufacturers such as HP and Lenovo are well-equipped with air cooling system specifically built for their particular hardware specifications. But tweaking an existing cooling system or installing a new one is an essential part of building a customized PC. Furthermore, some manufacturers have opted for liquid cooling to maintain the portability of their designs. This is where the choice between liquid cooling and air cooling comes into play.
Advantages: Liquid Cooling Versus Air Cooling
1. Less clutter and more space
Traditional air cooling uses fans. A typical air-cooled PC has several fans installed inside the PC case. These include fans for drawing air inside and outside the case, specific fans for the graphic card, and other specific fans for the CPU or processor.
More fans are needed for a customized PC with multiple GPU systems and/or an overclocked CPU to improve heat removal. This means consuming more real estate inside the PC case resulting in a messy and bulky PC setup.
One of the advantages of a liquid cooling system is that it does not take too much space because of its smaller real estate profile. This allows building a computer with a slimmer profile. More hardware components can also be installed in place of fans, thus doubling computer power in the same real estate.
2. Noise-free operation
Fans generate noise that becomes more audible when the device is overworked. It becomes noisier with too much fans. Another one of the advantages of a liquid cooling system over an air cooling system is that it does not generate the same noise. It is actually relatively silent.
Take note that liquid cooling uses a motor to circulate the liquid coolant around or across specified PC hardware components. The system also includes a very low-powered fan, and some hybrid systems integrate small fans to improve ventilation inside the case. Nonetheless, both the motor and low-powered fans do not generate discernible noise.
3. Better overclocking potential
Overclocking a CPU or raising the frequency of the processor chip beyond the stock frequency is popular among computer hobbyists and builders. However, the drawbacks of doing so are too much power consumption and excessive heat generation.
Another advantage of liquid cooling is that it is more efficient in removing excess heat. This advantage comes from the fact that water or any liquid coolant has higher heat capacity, density, and thermal conductivity than air. This allows the system to transfer more heat over greater distances.
4. Cooling specific components
A higher degree of cooling specification is another one of the benefits of liquid cooling. This means cooling specific components of the computer to a greater degree than in traditional air cooling that uses cooling fans.
Remember that air cooling units are bulky, and most setup focuses on placing the fans on the GPU and CPU. Users can cool specific computer components by placing fans near them. But these would make the entire device messier and bulkier.
Liquid cooling allows heat removal not only from these critical spots. Users can choose to cool specific components prone to heating, such as hard drives, voltage regulator modules, and power supplies. Remember that a liquid cooling system is more compact and consumes smaller real estate than an air cooling system.
Disadvantages: Liquid Cooling Versus Air Cooling
1. More costly or expensive
One notable disadvantage of liquid cooling over air cooling is that it is considerably costly to set up. Cooling fans are prevalent in the market, and this overabundance of supply means they are cheap.
The components of a liquid cooling system can be expensive. Parts obtained from cars and aquariums, among others, are the basis of earlier liquid cooling systems. Several companies nowadays are selling specific liquid cooling components for personal computers.
Expenses for building a liquid cooling system from scratch can range from USD 300 to USD 500. It is worth mentioning that a complete air or fan-based cooling system can cost around USD 100 to USD 200.
However, there is an option for buying self-contained liquid coolers. The price of these starts at USD 60. This system is similar to an air cooling system, but there is a limit to the degree of modification compared to a full-blown liquid cooling system.
2. Complex to install
Setting up a liquid cooling system from scratch can be tricky because it requires a certain degree of understanding in the fields of electronics and thermodynamics. This is another considerable disadvantage, especially for newbies. Take note that a good liquid cooling system should remove excess heat effectively and immediately.
Installing the components of a liquid cooling system also requires more involvement than installing a typical aftermarket air or fan cooler. Remember that a fan only needs to sit atop a GPU or CPU or alongside a PC case. The components of liquid cooling require connecting tubes and wires, understanding the placement of loops and radiators or fan.
Safety is also a primary and critical consideration. One must ensure that the entire system is resistant to any possible leaks by testing it outside the PC or other device before implementing it inside. Drops from water or any liquid will certainly damage electronic components, and manufacturers do not entertain warranty claims based on water-based incidents.
3. Susceptibility to leaks
A poorly implemented liquid cooling system is likely to result in leaks. Note that water or liquid coolant can accelerate the corrosion of metal parts and damage electronic components. The pressure inside tubes can also build up due to too much heat absorbed by the liquid resulting in leaks.
The aforementioned means that another disadvantage of water cooling is that it is not suitable for newbies or those who have little to no experience in building a customized PC. One must ensure that fittings and the entire assembly are free from error. There should also be some form of contingency in terms of a leak. Even a single drop of liquid can ruin an electronic component.
Susceptibility to leaks thereby makes liquid cooling unfavorable. Installing this system might actually be comparable to solving a problem that does not exist. A poorly implemented system runs the risk of frying expensive hardware components.
Conclusion: Which is Better? Liquid Cooling or Air Cooling?
Setting up a liquid cooling system might be one of the hallmarks of building a customized personal computer. Those who are serious about their custom-built PC should carefully consider what cooling system works best for them.
Choosing between liquid cooling and air cooling boils down to requirements or usage needs. For example, a standard air or fan-based cooling system is undoubtedly a practical and effective solution for PC users with average PC usage requirements. The same is true for individuals who have limited financial resources.
A cooling system based on the use of fluids or coolants is ideal for powerful personal computers built to carry heavy processing tasks such as gaming and audio and video processing, or for an overall computer setup that features an overclocked CPU or multiple GPU systems. Furthermore, it is also ideal for portable devices such as laptops and smartphones.
Remember that preventing a computer from overheating by removing excess internal heat is an essential maintenance consideration. CPUs and GPUs can literally burn. Effective cooling can also extend the lifespan of other computer components such as voltage regulatory components and memory.
As a side note, liquid cooling works well than air cooling because it allows the relocation of heat from source to a more efficient location for cooling. The liquid acts more of a heat carrier, and liquid cooling is designed to remove heat from areas where air and ventilation are hard to introduce.
A Note on Heat Pipe and Vapor Chamber Systems
There are also two sub-types of liquid cooling system. One is based on heat pipes and the other is based on vapor chambers. A heat pipe is specifically a heat-transfer device that works based on the principles of thermal conductivity and phase transition to transfer heat from a source to another solid interface. Specifically, it works by by moving heat away from the heat source through a fluid that converts into gas when heated, travels along the pipes to the cold surface, and condenses back into its liquid form as it cools.
On the other hand, vapor chamber cooling use a different design approach. Instead of separate pipes, they use their entire body to cool the heat source. It is important to take note of the fact that heat pipes move heat while vapor chambers spread it. The general rule is that heat pipes should be used when moving heat away from the source and vapor chambers when spreading it. Both have their respective advantages or benefits, as well disadvantages and limitations.