Is your PC rig struggling with overheating? After the intensive work of building a custom PC, the worst feeling is booting up a game and finding your PC overheating and suffering with its performance. Thankfully, there are a variety of ways to cool your PC more permanently than using an excessive amount of thermal paste.
We’ll be covering what water cooling is, how it differs from air cooling, and what the positives and negatives are. There are a few factors to discuss, but by the end of this article you’ll know “is water cooling worth it”?
Let’s not leave your motherboard burning for much longer and dive right in!
What is Water Cooling?
Let’s quickly define what water cooling, sometimes referred to as liquid cooling, is. Water cooling is one of the more hardcore ways of cooling your CPU, and sometimes even your GPU. Rather than the more typical air cooling, water cooling creates a cooling loop through your PC to retain a regulated temperature for your system.
Water cooling is praised since it can conduct heat 30 times quicker than air cooling, making it not only a better conductor but a quieter way of cooling your PC motherboard. Water-cooled systems are comprised of a variety of pipes that run through your PC which may require a bit of set-up but is an excellent addition to any high-intensity gaming rig.
How Water Cooling Works
Now that you have a better idea of what water cooling is, let’s dissect how they work exactly. A water cooling loop is comprised of a water block, radiator fans, various pumps and pipes, and in some cases a reservoir.
The cooling loop starts at the water block, where the water is stored when it’s not being used. The loop is laced through your PC build, and the water is brought through the build with pumps to your GPU and CPU. As it passes by, your heated CPU and GPU disperse heat into the water which travels to the radiator.
At the radiator, the radiator fans continually cool the water and ensure that they will cool the GPU and CPU as they move through the loop. You may also include a reservoir in your water-cooled build to have more water capacity and increase the thermal performance of your PC build.
Open or Closed Loop?
There are two different types of water-cooled loops that you can incorporate into the PC build of your choice. An open liquid cooling loop is a DIY project where you have to create on your own, you simply get the parts necessary to build it and can fit it to your build as you like.
There are usually less expensive than closed-loop liquid cooling, but the customizability of the liquid cooling is best if you have a PC build that is not a standard size. As you can likely infer, the closed loop water cooling comes all built together so there’s not any hassle in setting things up.
What is best for you is dependent on how you’ve built your set-up, as an open loop will be more favorable to those who are using a custom rig.
Pros of Water Cooling
If you’re still undecided about whether or not a water-cooled PC is right for you, then don’t worry. We’ve listed a few of the most positive elements of owning a liquid cooler.
As opposed to air cooling, a water or liquid cooler is a lot quieter. You don’t have to worry about loud fans revving up when you open an intense application or start playing a game. This is especially useful if you’re frequently communicating with friends or work colleagues as you don’t have to stress about your PC humming and lowering your audio quality.
Higher Cooling Capacity
Not only is water cooling typically more silent than air cooling, but it also cools your motherboard much better than a typical air cooling system. You’ll find that if you’re running a very powerful system, having an air-cooling solution won’t be able to keep up with fully cooling your workstation – a water cooler is certainly much better.
Some cooling systems replace their water cooling with other liquids for better thermal performance like engineering oils – but water should be fine for 90% of rigs.
Although this isn’t as prized for everybody, the aesthetics that you gain by including liquid cooling systems into your PC rig are unrivaled. There are great ways to make your custom cooling loops rigged with lights and enhance the atmosphere of any setup.
One of the many reasons why you may want to install liquid cooling is to give your rig a better look or to be able to see your motherboard as you use it.
Cons of Water Cooling
Unfortunately, there are a few cons of water-cooled systems that we have to mention – it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. If you are still sold on purchasing a liquid cooling system after reading our cons, then we’re certain that installing liquid cooling is right for you.
Higher Initial Cost
As you can imagine, air coolers are considerably cheaper than a custom cooling loop since they usually come with rigs and PCs. There are a variety of brands and price points that these cooling systems come in, but an open loop will likely run at least $100, with prices only increasing from there for the more efficient and convection surface area you’re looking for.
Increasing your workload, the introduction of a custom loop or cooling options needs a close eye and steady scheduled maintenance to keep up. Ensuring that proper maintenance is kept with your cooling loops will ensure peak performance but likely introduce more costs over time to replace pipes and water sinks.
Wear & Tear
Over time, due to higher temperatures and friction, the cooling performance of your system may suffer. You may experience that the piping that your water is looping through be torn or broken over time, potentially causing water damage to your PC – a very dangerous endeavor.
Should You Water Cool Your PC?
This question is truly dependent on the type of PC that you own. If you’ve invested quite heavily into your device, and it has specs that are generally considered to be on the high end then you like will benefit from having cooled pcs.
Not only will a water-cooled PC serve you better than the integrated heat sink that your PC has already, but it will also function more efficiently than if you had invested in more air cooler functionality. Another way to circumnavigate purchasing a cold liquid cooler is to reduce the ambient temperature of the room you work in with an air conditioner or air cooler.
If you own a PC that doesn’t have a very powerful CPU or GPU, and you often find that it doesn’t get very hot when you run everyday applications for work or school then it’s unlikely that you would need to invest to make liquid cooling worth it.
Frequently Asked Questions
That’s the main article done! But we often see some frequently asked questions pop up, again and again, that need to be answered. We’ve included some of the top questions that pop up, and you may find that they’ve been needed in your brain as well while you’ve read this.
hot air absorbs heat hot liquid water block thermal performance
Is Water Cooling Overkill?
In most cases, it is overkill. Only if you have a high-end PC that has bad thermal performance when you run intensive applications will you need to invest in a way to reduce any excess heat.
If you notice that your PC is hot to the touch often, is venting out warm air consistently, and is having trouble absorbing the heat that it produces will you need to possibly think about implementing a water-cooled PC?
Is Water Cooling Hard to Maintain?
Not necessarily. Water-cooled PCs certainly need a bit more love when it comes to ensuring that they are working at their peak performance but once you get a hang of the more common maintenance checks it should fall into any other routine PC rig check-up.
Wear and tear is common with the pipes that channel the water through the system, and if the pipes burst then it could impact the motherboard. Thankfully, regularly keeping track and maintaining a consistent schedule of checkups will avoid this.
And there you have it! We’ve covered the basics of liquid cooling, and hopefully, you’ve decided whether or not your gaming would benefit from a water-cooled system. We have plenty of more articles for you to take a look at so if you have any other tech-related questions there’s an article for it!
Writer Graham Grieve brings two decades of technical communications experience to The Holy Tech coverage. Isaac contributes articles on laptops, tablets and PCs, alongside various software and hardware guides. Isaac is a former newspaper journalist who also worked in tech communications for some of the country’s biggest corporations. He also counsels and creates material for other technology publications and hosts a podcast.
Isaac’s in-depth reporting and knowledge of hardware and software issues helps The Holy Tech’s readers learn how to choose the right products, or solve tricky problems.