Liquid vs Air CPU Cooler – Which Should I Choose?

by Lisa Hayden
Liquid vs Air CPU Cooler

Today we find out the main differences between a Liquid vs Air CPU Cooler, and help you choose the right option for you...

Is your CPU overheating? If it is, then you will need hardware that will either distribute the heat or let it cool so that it can be used in different things. When looking for a CPU cooler, you will always be asked if you’re getting a liquid or an air CPU model. The question is, which should you get? 

What Causes a CPU to Heat Up?

Before delving into whether you should get a liquid or an air cooler, do you know why your CPU heats up in the first place? If you don’t here are a few things you should know. 

First, when your computer processor works with data, it generates heat. In fact, it’s normal for a CPU to heat up especially when it’s doing a lot of intensive processes all at once. You’ve probably noticed that if you were running so many applications and doing so many things at the same time. 

Another reason for an overheating CPU is that there’s no path for the heat to go through or transfer. This means that the heat gets stuck inside causing it to overheat. If this is the case, you will need a CPU cooler. 

Liquid CPU Cooler

Liquid CPU Cooler

What, water in the CPU? Yes, the liquid cooler uses water to keep the CPU cool. Don’t worry, this is perfectly safe for your hardware just as long as it is installed properly and the product is not defective. 

A liquid CPU cooler starts by transferring the heat from the Integrated Heat Spreader (IHS). The IHS is the metal lid of the CPU that aids in conducting heat from the CPU to another. For the liquid CPU, the heat from the IHS goes straight to the baseplate right above it. From the baseplate, the heat travels through the water block where it mixes with water. From here, the heated water travels through a tube connected to the water block and goes toward the radiator. 

The cooling process starts when the heated water is in the radiator and air from a fan exposes the water. The air cools the liquid itself until it’s cool enough to flow to the water block. The cycle begins again when there’s heat that travels to the now-cooled water in the water block.

Air CPU Cooler

Air CPU Cooler

In reality, the air CPU cooler works just like a liquid CPU cooler. Of course, there’s no water involved here.

The process starts with the heat being absorbed by a conductive base plate. This baseplate is connected to the IHS with the help of a thermal paste that increases the efficiency of heat transferred from one material to another. When the heat is absorbed by the base plate, it goes directly to the heat pipes. The heat pipes are connected to the baseplate. 

From the heat pipes, the heat will be conducted to a heatsink which has an attached fan. The fan then pushes the hot air away from the CPU and other computer hardware. Take note, though, that the speed that the hot air gets cooled by the fan depends on the power and size of the fan. 

Liquid vs Air - Which One is Better?

Now that you know the differences between a liquid CPU cooler and an air CPU cooler, which of the two should you get? Which one is better at keeping your CPU cool? 

When deciding between the two, there are several factors that you have to consider. Here are four of those factors.

  1. Size

If you have limited space, it’s only right to pick a smaller CPU cooler. Fortunately, an air cooler comes in various sizes depending on the size of the fan. Sure, the fan is still bulky but at least you only have to look for a relatively large space to place it on. On the other hand, a liquid cooler has more components that have to pass through several components. The tubes and radiators alone already take up a lot of space, so this is probably not your best choice. 

  1. Price
liquid vs air cooling cost

Another factor to consider is price. Just like different computer products, the price ranges from cheap to expensive depending on the brand, size, and material. If the material is made from aluminum, it’s definitely cheaper, but of course, it’s not as good a conductor as metal (which is more expensive). 

Among the two, the air CPU coolers are usually more affordable because you don’t need a radiator, a water block, and a pair of tubes. There are fewer parts which makes it a lot cheaper than a liquid cooler. 

  1. Noise

For obvious reasons, the air CPU cooler is a lot louder than the liquid CPU cooler simply because the fan in the former does most of the job for cooling the processor. The bigger and more powerful the fan is, the louder it can be. Nonetheless, there are already fans that are designed to produce as little sound as possible. If your fan has a noise reduction feature, then it can be as good as a liquid CPU cooler.

  1. Efficiency

Of course, you want to know which one is more efficient when it comes to cooling your CPU. Between the two, liquid cooling is much more efficient because it can cool your CPU faster even when you’re doing intensive tasks. The way that heat moves and gets transferred from the IHS to the radiator is more efficient making sure that all heat is cooled before it goes back to the water block. 

However, this doesn’t mean that an air CPU cooler is not efficient at all. In fact, an air CPU cooler also works; it’s just that the heat that it takes away from the IHS still remains in the whole CPU box, increasing the overall temperature of the system. 


So what should you get? The obvious choice here is a liquid CPU cooler, but since it’s more expensive and complex to set up, you might prefer an air CPU cooler. That’s okay, too since both of these two coolers are proven to work. 

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