So you have managed to get the right CPU for your PC and now you must be asking yourself, what's next? The CPU is the most important part of your computer, you can also call it the “heart” of your computer. And to make sure your CPU runs without any troubles, you need to make sure it doesn’t overheat and become an oven.
To make sure that your CPU doesn’t overheat, you will need a proper cooling system to keep it operating at an appropriate temperature. Picking the best CPU cooler for your gaming rig is important if you're planning to keep things quiet or overclock your system.
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What is a CPU cooler?
CPU coolers are exactly what the name suggests, they are used to cool down your CPU when you are using your PC. Choosing the right CPU cooler is as important as choosing any other core component of your PC. A CPU cooler’s objective is to draw heat away from the CPU, which generates heat as a result of its relatively high frequency and the electrical current coursing through it.
There are two types of coolers:
1) Air coolers
2) Liquid coolers
Air coolers are perfect for casual or general users, they are relatively cheap and have sufficient cooling power. Then you can also replace stock air coolers with an aftermarket air cooler. While air coolers aren’t as flashy and not as popular as liquid coolers, they are still more widely used than their water-based counterparts. This is mostly because of how many more air cooler options there are and how much more affordable they are.
Air cooling pros
Better bang for your buck
For around $50 you can get a really good air cooler that would be a pretty decent upgrade over any stock coolers. So, as a general rule of thumb, if you don’t have over $90-$100 to spend on a cooler, you’ll likely get a better price-to-performance ratio out of an air cooler.
Very little maintenance required
Air coolers are not that complex, they are relatively simple components: all they really are is a heatsink and a small fan. And just like in consoles the cooling fans can last a really long time: they require very little maintenance. All you have to do is wipe the dust off from the propellers and around the fan preferably using a dry thick absorbent cloth like a towel.
Less chance of an accident
With liquid cooling if there’s a leakage there’s potential that your PC might immediately die if some of the liquid floods onto the motherboard. It will immediately kill your computer and it will stay useless until you get all components replaced. With air cooling even if the cooling system fails there are only two possible points of failure: the fan and the thermal paste. Your PC won’t die on you immediately. It will give you several hints like being extremely noisy from time to time or overheating itself. These days CPUs have built in safety features such as shutting down when they overheat to prevent damages, so also keep an eye out for that.
Ease of installation
When purchasing a cooler you might consider that, you need to install it yourself, unless you pay a professional. Installing an air cooler usually is simple and straightforward. All you need to do is attach the brackets around the motherboard and apply the thermal paste. After you have done that you will have to align the heatsink with the CPU and finally add the fans to the heatsink and connect cables to the motherboard, voila your PC now has a cooling system.
Air cooling cons
Struggle with hardcore setups
If you are looking to hit extreme overclocks with your PC then I’m afraid you won’t get the desired results and you can potentially cook your computer. A liquid cooler will work the best for you in this scenario, we’ll cover the pros and cons of liquid cooling later on in this article.
Not the most eye pleasing aesthetically
Now, this is fully based on your taste and you can say that this point is opinion based, but in my personal opinion liquid coolers look better than air coolers. They are much more eye pleasing and can work really well with dark setup themes with red or blue liquid, but again that’s just a personal opinion.
In some situations when you’re putting a large load on your CPU, the cooler will increase the fan’s speed to cool the PC down. This significantly increases the overall volume of the machine as compared to when it has its liquid counter-part installed which is much quieter under stressful conditions as well.
Takes up a lot of space
The larger the fans the heavier the container that has to contain them. There’s no surprise that a lot of high end air coolers require a lot of space, some air coolers can even ruin your other components after a few years as they are so big and heavy that everything else can bend and break under their weight.
Liquid coolers have skyrocketed in popularity over the last decade, thanks to the manufacturers making liquid coolers easier to install and use. Although it wasn’t always like this because before the only options for liquid cooling were custom loops which took a lot of time and money to set up properly, but now there are many options making liquid cooling way easier and cheaper to install.
Liquid cooling pros
- More efficiency
Although the idea of placing any form of liquid in your pc might sound like an absolutely terrible idea, liquid cooling will provide more efficient performance compared to air cooling.
Liquid cooling will pass heat more effectively because of its high thermal conductivity which means the water works to eliminate the heat from various components in your computer.
- Way Quieter
On average liquid cooling tends to be less noisy compared to air cooling mainly due to the fact that the radiator fans run at lower revolutions per minute in liquid cooling, as well as the small pump is usually enclosed really well. Obviously there are air coolers with fans designed specifically to be less noisy, and the settings or selection can impact the noise. Overall liquid cooling will do a better job at silencing up the noise so you don’t get distracted.
- Less room needed
Let’s be honest, fans will take up way more space than some small tubes of water liquid. On average in an air cooling kit, more fans are required if you are aiming for a powerful gaming PC, which makes for a bigger PC case, but with liquid cooling you do not need to worry about that.
- Way better for warmer/hotter climates.
If you are from a place where the climate and weather is warm, adding a hardware-heavy gaming PC into the mix can be a recipe for overheating and loud fans because in warmer climates you are just pushing around warm/hot air over the top of something you want to cool down.
Liquid cooling cons
- More maintenance
This is because water-cooled systems are typically more complicated and advanced. They also have more parts to help them perform. So, they usually need more maintenance and care and they usually have a shorter lifespan. So if this is a concern to you, you might want to stick to air coolers.
- Risk of leaking
Liquid coolers have a reputation of a unique issue though, they can leak and most certainly you don’t want your computer components to drown. Although nowadays it is way harder than you think for a big manufacturer’s liquid cooler to leak, and as long as you set up a custom loop together correctly, there will not be a high risk for your liquid cooler to leak. Although it should be noted that there will always be that risk that the liquid cooler could leak and potentially kill your computer completely and manufacturers do not allow warranty claims based on water-based incidents.
- Harder to install
Installing and setting up a liquid cooling system can be a bit complicated and tricky because it requires somewhat of a degree of understanding of electronics and thermodynamics. This is a big con especially for beginners because it will become a headache to set up properly if you do not know how to do it properly. The main reason liquid cooling is complex to install is mainly due to the components of liquid cooling requiring connecting tubes and wires, you need to understand the placement of loops and radiators or fans well.
- More expensive
Although most traditional upper-end CPU coolers are priced at somewhere between $50 to $100 on average, building a liquid cooling system will cost way more. For example, Corsair Hydro X iCUE XH303i RGB is a custom compact cooling kit which comes in at $479.99, that’s a heavy chunk of the budget gone for half of the people trying to build a PC.
Aftermarket Air coolers
Aftermarket air coolers are your buffed air coolers that work twice as hard as your regular stock air coolers that come with your PC to cool it down when you’re gaming. The whole custom behind installing aftermarket air coolers is extra cooling.
In terms of capability, aftermarket air coolers perform better than your standard air coolers but liquid coolers have a superiority when it comes to overall cooling and dealing with overclocking, plus liquid coolers are dead silent as compared to the aftermarket air coolers, but again they are more expensive. So if you’re looking to overclock your CPU you should try picking up a liquid cooler but if that’s not feasible go with an aftermarket air cooler as they can offer a performance middle ground between standard air coolers and liquid coolers.
So are they worth it?
As discussed above it really depends on your needs, it’s worth it if you’re looking into making your CPU quieter as aftermarket coolers are much quieter than your general stock coolers, you absolutely need an aftermarket cooler if you are planning to overclock your CPU.
But if you are just looking to play your favorite games just for a laugh and don’t really care about high end graphics you don’t need an aftermarket cooler.
To get an increased performance out of your GPU, you turn up the settings which means overclocking and what this does is it draws more power which heats up the CPU even further, stock fans aren’t designed to cope with overclocking.
If you don’t get an aftermarket cooler and try overclocking your GPU this can lead to what’s called ‘throttling’. Basically when your CPU gets too hot it will be slowed down automatically causing your computer to run a lot slower until it eventually cools down. There is also a thing called the thermal cutoff, this is a safety feature where the computer will shut itself down automatically when it gets extremely hot. This is also installed in your modern day consoles to protect the machinery from being damaged due to overheating.
Conclusion: What’s best for me?
As mentioned above it depends on what you want out of your computer. If you're planning on overclocking it and don’t want those loud fans blasting in your ears then liquid coolers are your best friends. Keep in mind they won’t come at a cheap price though you’ll have to pay a premium. On the other hand if you are just looking to casually game and don’t really care for the sound or aesthetics you should then definitely go for the air cooler as not only will it save you from the hassle that setting up the liquid cooler is but it will be cheaper and will work just as fine.
If you’re aiming for longevity, air coolers are the better option for you, they can last a long time especially if your PC will receive less attention and maintenance. Compared to complicated water cooling systems, air cooled systems are far more versatile and reliable in the long run, it will easily last you a lifetime.
Hence, we personally recommend getting Air Coolers!
If you have any questions feel free to contact me, you can use the comments section below or a contact form.
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