Don Richards / Flickr

Don Richards / Flickr

We have yet to live in a time when the vast majority of computers don’t need to be cooled one way or another — the tasks that computers conduct generate heat, and too much heat can be problematic. There are, however, a few ways that computers can cool themselves.

The most popular ways are air cooling, which is performed through fans, and liquid cooling, which uses water to absorb heat from the processor in order to cool it. But which one is best? We took a look at the two to find out.

How do they work?

Air Cooling

The key to using air to cool a computer is the fan — and lots of them. A typical desktop computers will be packed with a fan for the case, graphics card, CPU, and possible even more — all of these designed to keep your computer’s inner components nice and cool.

Liquid Cooling

Liquid cooling, on the other hand, replaces fans with pipes which carry coolant through them — yep, the same stuff that runs through your car. The system also uses water blocks, which act as heat sinks, as well as a few pumps that push the water through the whole system to keep things running.

Pros and cons

Now that we know how everything works, it’s time to look at which is actually better — or if there’s a better one at all.

Air Cooling

tc_manasan / Flickr

tc_manasan / Flickr

The best thing about air cooling isn’t how well it cools the components in your computer, it’s how cost-effective the method is. In fact, many times you don’t even really need to do anything to set up a cooling system — most decent computer chassis come with an intake fan that brings air in, and third-party parts that need fans normally come with them too. Chassis also often come with an exhaust fan that pushes the hot air back out.

Of course, apart from the fans themselves, air itself is pretty cheap. In the end, even if you end up replacing the stock fans on your chassis and parts, it will still be cheaper than installing a liquid cooling system. That’s a good thing — it means that even if you can’t shell out for a liquid cooling system, you can still replace the stock fans you’re using for quieter ones at a relatively cheap price.

So why not use an air cooling system? There are a few advantages to liquid cooling systems.

Liquid Cooling

Don Richards / Flickr

Don Richards / Flickr

Liquid cooling systems may be a little pricer, but they can often be worth it. For one thing, they’re quite a bit better at displacing heat — that’s important for those that use overclocked processors or more advanced computers with more than one graphics card or processor. Another advantage is, of course, that liquid cooling systems are far quieter.

Another great thing about liquid cooling is that it gives you more control — if your graphics cards tend to overheat more than other components of your computer, you can set the cooling system to concentrate more on the graphics cards. That’s probably not necessary for someone who is using the stock components of their computer. It may, however, be useful for custom PC builders.

The final advantage to liquid cooling computers is that they take up a lot less space.

There are, of course, a few disadvantages to liquid cooling systems, apart from the price. For one things, they’re much more difficult to install.

So which method is better?

Liquid cooling is objectively better at displacing heat, but most people don’t need a liquid cooling setup unless they’ve custom built a highly powerful computer. Air cooled computers are cheaper by far, and if you’re using a stock setup and want a quieter computer, you can still buy quieter fans.

As mentioned, however, if your computer generates a lot of heat or you want a totally silent setup, you may want to consider going the liquid cooling route.