Water Cooling vs Air Cooling - Featuring be quiet!
9 April 2021
In decades past, a simple passive heatsink was considered adequate to cool CPUs that only consumed a few watts of power; how times change! These days it’s not uncommon to have processors pulling 250W or more at their default setting. Essentially, the more power a CPU consumes, the more thermal energy it produces and thus tend to run hotter. Hotter CPUs need better cooling, not only to stay within an acceptable and safe operating range but also to keep the CPU performing at its best.
Quality cooling isn’t only about delivering a low temperature in and of itself. All modern CPUs from Intel and AMD feature frequency boosting technology. If a chip is cool enough and has enough power budget, the CPU will clock itself higher, providing better performance. These frequency boosts or turbo boosts can be very large. If your cooling can handle it, many CPUs can boost by well over 1GHz above their base clocks. That doesn’t mean you need top-shelf cooling in every circumstance though. More affordable CPUs tend to be a lot more power thrifty, and in those cases, a good quality air cooler will easily let your CPU fly while keeping it cool and running quietly.
The last thing anyone wants is a cooler that sounds like a jet engine. Germans are known for their engineering prowess and over the years be quiet! has built a reputation as a manufacturer of cooling products and cases that emphasise quiet and efficient cooling. It produces both air and water coolers, so whatever path you choose, be quiet! has you covered. But what kind of cooling should you be considering for your next build? Let’s take a look at water cooling vs air cooling starting with a few basics, the pros and cons of each, and look at some be quiet! products to suit a variety of different builds.
Differences Between Air Cooling and Water Cooling
Water has a much higher thermal conductivity which gives it a better cooling capability than air, but remember a liquid cooler still uses air to cool via the radiator, so when it comes to PC cooling it’s not like water cooling is drastically superior to air cooling. Both systems have their pros and cons.
Air coolers are simpler and they have no moving parts – apart from an easy to replace fan or a bit of dust, they have essentially unlimited reliability. They tend to be more affordable and are well suited to budget oriented builds or builds that aren’t equipped with high TDP processors. Large heat pipe coolers, especially those made with more conductive (and expensive) materials such as copper means that many high-end air coolers are almost as effective as a decent AIO. Their weakness is they can be noisy under load and reach peak temperature quicker, particularly the compact cheaper ones. Under periods of high load, the fan can ramp quickly. be quiet! low noise fans are notably good at avoiding annoying ramp ups though. Fan ramp can also be mitigated by changing a the ‘spin-up’ delay in your fan control software or BIOS.
A water coolers’ main advantage is its superior heat absorption and dissipation ability. This makes them well suited to cooling high TDP multi core processors. They tend to be quieter under load, have a more compact socket area footprint and depending on the installation, can also expel almost all heat outside the system compared to an air cooler which exhausts inside the case.
Water coolers aren’t perfect though. They have pumps with moving parts and don’t forget that water is electrically conductive and it can damage a system if the cooler leaks. They may also deteriorate over time especially if particles begin to accumulate in the block channels + evaporation of the coolant can also occur over time. This is unlikely with modern quality control and engineering practices but accidents and failures can happen, although they are rare. Additionally, be quiet! Pure Loop AIO Liquid Coolers address the evaporation issue by including a bottle of coolant to top-up the cooler via the refill port.
Air or water: Which one is right for you?
Perhaps the biggest factor is pricing. Other considerations include the space in your case and whether you want to overclock or not. There are many other considerations too. The layout of your motherboard and its RAM slots and your intended usage will all affect your choice. Though be quiet! air and water coolers are refined and well designed, ultimately the choice is yours.
If you’re running a high core count CPU or simply wish to have the best outright cooling performance, you may want to consider an AIO. be quiet! offers its 240mm and 360mm Pure Loop coolers that are well suited to taming hot-running processors and keeping them operating at their best. They’re very cost effective compared to many AIO coolers and of course they are built according to the be quiet! design philosophy, which is to keep the CPU cool while not compromising on the goal of keeping noise levels low. Also note the ability to refill the system which adds to long-term reliability and peace-of-mind.
If you don’t like the idea of having water running around near your precious components, be quiet! offer a range of coolers to suit a high-end build. The Dark Rock Pro 4 dual tower cooler provides cooling for up to a 250W TDP, making it a great choice to pair with the likes of an Intel Core i9-10900K/i9-11900K or AMD Ryzen 9 5900X/5950X processor, all the while having a noise rating of under 25dBA – even under load. That’s more or less inaudible.
Options for small form factor systems
SFF systems have their own cooling challenges. With a few exceptions, large tower coolers and radiators can generally be ruled out of most small form factor builds. You need something that’s more compact. You can consider something like a Pure Loop 120mm cooler or a Dark Rock TF if you’re running a hot CPU. The latter has the added advantage of having a downward airflow orientation. This helps to keep the VRM, RAM and depending on your configuration and motherboard layout, even M.2 SSDs cool. That is something that’s often neglected in many builds running an AIO cooler.
be quiet! options for budget systems
If you’re looking for something a little more affordable, be quiet! offer a range of coolers to suit. Not everyone wants or needs mega CPUs, and in this case there’s no need to buy a high-end liquid cooler that offers little over an affordable air alternative. A 65W CPU will easily be tamed by the likes of the Shadow Rock Slim or if you want a black look, the Pure Rock 2 looks awesome. But of course, using a high-end cooler with And as always, be quiet coolers are optimised for low noise operation.
So, whether you go for a powerful 360mm AIO in a gaming system, a budget tower cooler for a daily driver or a downward blowing cooler for a capable SFF system, be quiet! has cooling options to suit, all built with low noise operation and reliability in mind.
As always, feel free to contact us with any questions you might have. We’re happy to recommend an air or water cooler to suit your build.