Everything You Need to Know About PC Cooling

Everything You Need to Know About PC Cooling

In the world of computing, performance and reliability are paramount — and one critical factor that can often be overlooked is PC cooling. As technology continues to advance and components become more powerful, having an effective cooling solution becomes increasingly essential. From preventing overheating to maximising the lifespan of your hardware, proper PC cooling plays a pivotal role in keeping your PC in shape.

In this article, we'll explore the importance of PC cooling, the various cooling solutions available, plus how you can make sure your system stays cool under pressure. Whether you're a gaming enthusiast pushing your rig to its limits or a professional relying on your PC for demanding tasks, understanding the principles of PC cooling is key to unlocking the full potential of your machine. Let's dive in and discover the top tips for keeping your computer cool!

What is PC cooling?

It may sound self-explanatory, but PC cooling can be quite complex — it’s more than just pointing a fan at your computer and calling it a day. PC cooling refers to the process of regulating the temperature of your computer’s components — such as the CPU (central processing unit), GPU (graphics processing unit) and other hardware — to prevent overheating and help withstand high performance. Because computer components generate heat during operation, you need to have an effective cooling solution to keep your hardware safe from sizzling. 

There are a bunch of different methods available, including air cooling through fans and heatsinks, liquid cooling with coolant-filled loops or even a combination of both. Keeping your system cool not only safeguards the integrity of your hardware but also sets you up for stable and reliable operation, especially during intensive tasks like gaming or content creation.

How to cool down a PC

Here’s your cheat sheet for everything you need to know about cooling down a PC.

Get the basics down

Know your enemy! The main perpetrators of overheating in your PC are the CPU and GPU, with other elements like the power supply unit (PSU), RAM and even hard drives contributing to a spicy environment. You should aim to draw heat away from these key components using a combo of air and liquid cooling methods.

Air cooling

Air cooling (where you use fans and heatsinks) is the general standard for regulating PC temperatures. It expels heat from components and disperses it into the surrounding air.

  • Maximise airflow: Position intake fans at the front or bottom of the PC case and exhaust fans at the rear or top to facilitate the natural rise of hot air, ensuring an effective airflow path.
  • Manage cables: Keep cables organised and away from airflow paths by bundling them with cable ties and routing them behind the motherboard tray whenever possible.
  • Upgrade fans: Consider larger or more efficient fans, which can move air at lower speeds, reducing noise levels while maintaining optimal airflow.

Liquid cooling

Liquid cooling provides a more efficient heat removal method than air cooling alone, making it an ideal choice if you’re after maximum performance from your system.

  • Closed-loop vs. custom loop: Closed-loop (or all-in-one) liquid coolers are pre-assembled and maintenance-free, while custom loops offer higher performance and customisation but require more maintenance and a higher initial setup cost.
  • Radiator placement: Install the radiator where it can access fresh air, typically at the top or front of the case, and ensure correct orientation of radiator fans to push or pull air through the fins.

Monitor and iterate as you go

To ensure solid cooling performance, it's essential to monitor your PC's temperatures and adjust fan speeds using software tools or BIOS options. Regular maintenance, like cleaning dust filters, fans and heatsinks, is crucial for preventing dust buildup, which can hinder cooling effectiveness. If your maintenance efforts still aren’t cutting it, it could be a sign to upgrade your cooling system! 

For a detailed guide, take a look at our article on how to cool down a PC.

The case for case fans

Case fans are integral for regulating temperatures within your PC by facilitating airflow, and preventing overheating of critical components like the CPU and GPU. Selecting the right number of case fans for your PC setup is vital for maintaining efficient cooling, but it can be complex — you need to factor in system demands, case size and usage habits. Understanding airflow and cooling principles is essential for optimal system performance.

What’s the right number of case fans?

Two fans (one intake, one exhaust) are often sufficient for basic use and office PCs, while gaming or high-performance rigs may require three to five fans. Enthusiast systems, especially those with overclocked components or multiple GPUs, may benefit from five to six fans or more.

Factors to consider when choosing case fans

  • Case size: larger cases offer more space for airflow but may require more fans, while smaller cases necessitate strategic placement and sizing of fans.
  • Component heat output.
  • Ambient temperature: environmental conditions influence cooling needs.
  • Balancing cooling efficiency with noise levels.

Tips for optimal airflow

  • Aim for slightly positive air pressure to minimise dust accumulation and maintain component longevity.
  • Place intake fans at the front and bottom, and exhaust fans at the rear and top for efficient airflow.
  • Adjust fan speeds dynamically based on system temperatures to optimise cooling efficiency and noise levels.
  • Clean fans and air filters regularly to prevent dust buildup and ensure peak cooling performance.

Need more information? Check out our guide to optimal airflow for your PC.

Thermal paste: a quick overview

It may not be the most exciting element of a PC build, but thermal paste is a crucial element for performance. Thermal paste acts as a conductive medium, filling microscopic imperfections on CPU and heatsink surfaces to enhance heat transfer and ensure even temperature distribution.

Time for a thermal paste upgrade?

  • Persistent high temperatures, despite dust removal, may signal degraded thermal paste.
  • A decline in CPU/GPU-intensive tasks like gaming can indicate the need for replacement.
  • Thermal paste becomes less effective over time, typically requiring replacement every 2 to 3 years.
  • Increased fan noise may suggest inefficient heat transfer due to degraded thermal paste.
  • Spontaneous shutdowns can occur as a protective measure against overheating when thermal paste fails to conduct heat effectively.

Choosing the right thermal paste

Consider factors like thermal conductivity, viscosity, ease of application, composition, durability and brand reputation to select the best paste for your needs. Balancing these factors ensures optimal thermal management and potentially extends hardware lifespan.

Want to do a deep dive into the subject? Check out our guide to replacing thermal paste.

Water cooling

As PCs become more powerful, the need for efficient cooling becomes crucial. Water cooling emerges as a solution for those pushing their systems to the limit, offering superior heat dissipation compared to air cooling alone. 

Understanding water cooling

  • Efficiency of water: Water conducts heat more efficiently than air, leading to quieter operation and greater heat dissipation.
  • Variety of systems: Liquid cooling systems range from basic 120mm all-in-one coolers to complex custom loops that can cool multiple components.

Thermal Design Power (TDP) explained

  • Increasing heat output: With the rise in power consumption and heat output of modern CPUs and GPUs, efficient cooling becomes imperative.
  • TDP Rating: Thermal Design Power (TDP) indicates the amount of heat a cooler needs to dissipate under default operating conditions, influencing cooling requirements.

All-in-one cooling systems

  • Introduction to AIOs: All-in-one water coolers integrate the pump and radiator, offering easy installation and efficient cooling.
  • Radiator Sizes: AIOs come in various radiator sizes, with larger radiators providing increased cooling capacity.

Custom water cooling loops

  • Advanced cooling solutions: Custom loops allow for more effective cooling of multiple components but require careful planning and installation.
  • Planning considerations: Planning is essential for custom loops, considering components, case compatibility, dimensions, and tubing length.

Parts of a water-cooled PC

Essential components: A basic water cooling loop includes CPU/GPU water blocks, reservoir, pump, radiator, tubing, fittings and coolant.

This is just a brief overview — check out our comprehensive guide to water cooling for more detailed information, including how to put all the components together to create your dream cooling setup. 

Air cooling vs. water cooling

In the evolution of PC cooling, from simple passive heatsinks to the demanding needs of today's high-power processors, the quest for effective cooling solutions has intensified. But which solution is right for you? Let’s talk about it.

Differences between air cooling and water cooling

  • Thermal conductivity: Water's higher thermal conductivity makes it more efficient at cooling than air, though both methods have their advantages.
  • Air cooling pros and cons: Air coolers, with their simplicity and reliability, offer affordability but can be noisier and less effective under heavy loads.
  • Water cooling advantages: Water coolers excel in heat absorption and dissipation, making them suitable for high-TDP processors, offering quieter operation and compact installation.
  • Water cooling challenges: While efficient, water coolers have pumps with moving parts and carry a risk of system damage if they leak, alongside potential evaporation and deterioration over time.

Air or Water: Which one is right for you?

  • Considerations: Pricing, case space, overclocking intentions, motherboard layout and usage scenarios influence the choice between air and water cooling.
  • Challenges in SFF builds: Small form factor systems require compact cooling solutions due to limited space, making traditional tower coolers or radiators impractical.

Looking for a more in-depth analysis? Check out our article on water cooling vs. air cooling.

Find the right PC cooling solution for your setup

Keeping your PC cool is fundamental for high performance — and when it comes to high performance, there’s only one name in Aussie tech that you should trust. At Mwave, we’ve got you covered with a range of PC cooling options to suit your setup and budget — all including the best and most trusted brands. Whether you want a custom water cooling solution or want to browse all your PC cooling options, we’ve got it all.