CPU Liquid Cooling vs Air Cooling

Air vs Water Cooling

The Central Processing Unit (CPU) serves as the brain of your computer system, and handles the majority of system processing and in 2019 this now includes gaming. For this reason, many gaming PC’s come with water cooling or high performance fan coolers which are design to allow for additional cooling to dissipate the additional heat that gaming and overclocking cause and keep your CPU cool.

If you’re building or upgrading your machine then check out our best AIO CPU water cooler guide where we rank AIO water & air coolers. But if you’re still on the fence and can’t decide which option to choose, lets dive in and look at liquid vs air CPU coolers before you spend your hard earned money. Read on to understand how each works, along with their pros and cons…

Air CPU Coolers

A heat sink and fan option comes with the following parts:

  • Base
  • Heat sink
  • Heat pipes
  • Heat plate
  • Thermal paste

Air cooling is a straightforward process. The heat pipe has a hollow center, solid shell, and porous inside that contains a gas. As your gaming CPU generates more heat, the base, usually made of highly conductive materials such as aluminum and copper, transfers this heat through the heat pipes to the heat sink. The heat sink then pulls the heat, which the fan blows away from the CPU. On the heat sink, large fins that allow heat to spread out thinly are present. The thermal paste in between the cooler and the CPU fills any gap that may exist and ensures that thermal transfer is optimal.


On average, a decent air cooler will keep your processor much cooler than your stock heat sink & fan and allow for some overclocking. Air coolers are also a bit cheaper than AIO liquid coolers. If you are planning to build and depend on a budget-friendly gaming CPU, consider going for air coolers, which also provide mid-to-moderate overclocks. Regarding durability, a large air-cooling setup is more likely to break down easily, especially if the system is not designed to move around.


One of the major shortcomings of air CPU coolers is their inability to hit extreme overclocks. Due to thermal restrictions an air cooler is limited when it comes to pushing new ground with overclocking. Another factor is size, high performance air coolers are directly over your CPU, and may block access to cable connectors and memory slots.

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Liquid CPU Coolers

Although more complex than air coolers, liquid CPU coolers have four major parts, including:

  • The fan
  • Pump (Water Pump)
  • Hoses
  • Cylinder Water Jacket (Radiator)

A liquid CPU cooler system works like a car radiator. As your gaming CPU operates and generates heat, the pump pushed cold air through the CPU water block,pumping it to a metal radiator (made from aluminium or copper). As the water passes through the radiator it is cooled by the air temperature and the radiator fans. The fans push cooler air through the radiator cooling the inner liquid. The process repeats constantly to keep your CPU cool as you enjoy your gaming. When under load the system will automatically increase the fan speeds using software like corsair link.


Liquid coolers provide optimal cooling performance and reliability with a low fan noise. High-end AIO coolers are reliable and offer great performance, beaten only by custom-loop liquid-cooling setups. However, custom loop setups are not worth it for most people and really they only LOOK BETTER, your not going to get much in the way of a performance increase. Our advice is to stick with a closed loop AIO high-end cooler and spend your time gaming instead.


Liquid CPU coolers are more expensive than air CPU coolers, but offer better performance. It should be noted that they are not MUCH more expensive any more.

Things to Consider…

Before purchasing a cooler here are some of the things to consider include cost, efficiency, and overclocking.

Liquid CPU Cooler VS Air Cooler Overview:

  • Cost – As stated earlier, liquid coolers will cost a bit more.
  • Efficiency – Liquid coolers win here, they are both quieter and have better cooling performance! 
  • Overclocking – Liquid coolers win again, offering optimal overclocking performance.

The Bottom Line

If you you’re going to overclock then grab an AIO closed loop cooler, it will offer better cooling performance, reliability and it’s not going make as much noise. If you can’t afford a water cooler, grab an air cooler, which will allow for a little bit of overclocking and a significant upgrade over the stock heat sink and fan, 

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