Inside be quiet!

Do I need a water cooling system?

Water cooling is something that keeps on puzzling PC newcomers: What do I need it for? What differs it from air cooling? Which of both is better? Does it fit on my CPU? What does "AiO" mean?

To answer these questions:

1.) The basic task of a water cooler is the same as that of an air cooler: It keeps the CPU from overheating. Using its base plate it absorbs the CPU's heat and transports it by means of a rotating water circulation to the radiator, from which it gets sent out of the system.

2.) The operating principle of water and air cooling is identical. An air cooler uses heat pipes for transporting the CPU heat and cooling fins for dissipating it, while a water cooler uses a watrer circuit and a radiator for the same task.

3.) Yes, it will fit your processor! As long as you have a modern CPU by Intel or AMD, a water cooler will always fit. The one big mass market exception is AMD's "Threadripper" series, whose big CPU surface requires a dedicated cooler like our Dark Rock Pro TR4.

4.) "AiO" stands for "All in One", which means that you'll get a complete package, consisting of radiator, fan, pump, tubes and cooling unit, which reliably cools your CPU. All of it comes in a ready-to-use package on which you only have to attach the fans to. Modders and PC enthusiasts like to build their own custom water cooling system which requires a lot of expert knowledge and technical skill, while an AiO can be installed without much hassle by most everyone.


So, which one is better - water or air cooling? There is no definite answer to that question. A water cooling system has the following advantages:

Usually a water cooler offers a higher cooling performance, especially when using large radiators, and also a more even operation of the fans due to the thermal inertia of water. The small cooling unit leaves a lot of space around the CPU which avoids problems with big or fancy RAM modules. Also the CPU socket receives a smaller amount of pressure which is particularly useful when the computer gets transported. Another good point is that installing the radiator in the front or back of the case has a positive impact on the air supply: In the front more fresh air gets into the system which increases the performance - and on the other side the CPU waste heat gets transported out directly without getting a chance for internal disturbance.


At the same time you have to expect the following drawbacks with a water cooling system:

It's more expensive on average compared to an air cooler. You really should invest some time to create a bespoke fan curve tailored to your system to optimize the noise level of the AiO fans (we've created a video going into more detail about that here). Minimalist builder might get annoyed by the inevitable tubes hanging in the system. And in the long run a water cooler demands more service attention as you have to refill coolant every couple of years in order to keep the operation quiet and reliable - it is physically inevitable that minimal amounts of coolant dissolve over time.



At the end of the day the choice between air and water cooling is mostly one of personal preference: Do you like a big chunk of metal on your CPU or are you more the tube-in-your-system kind of guy? And if it has to be a water cooler - what size should the radiator be? 120, 240, 280 or 360mm? This mostly depends on your CPU, and whether you want to overclock it. We recommend studying this video as it shows in detail what's important when choosing a water cooler.