Air cooling has reached an enviable maturity. We can currently find a huge range of fans in stores that not only stand out for their cooling capacity; they also shine for their moderate level of noise emission. Some of the solutions proposed by brands such as Noctua, Phanteks, Corsair, Thermaltake, Cooler Master, Arctic or Zalman, among others, they have unquestionable quality. And even then, they are not the best option for the most powerful CPUs from Intel and AMD.
These two manufacturers of microprocessors have gone full throttle. The performance of the 13th generation Intel Core and the more ambitious AMD Ryzen 7000 is exceptional, but they run incredibly hot. In fact, under maximum and prolonged stress they can exceed 100ºC without breaking a sweat even if they are backed by liquid cooling. And in these circumstances it is essential not only to evacuate the thermal energy that they dissipate in the form of heat outside the CPU packaging; it is also necessary to remove it from the box of our PC.
Liquid cooling can get us out of this predicament once and for all
Traditionally, compact or “all-in-one” (AIO) liquid cooling systems and advanced or customizable solutions (custom) have represented a very attractive option for users who want to practice extreme overclocking, and also for those who want to pamper the aesthetics of your PC. In the other usage scenarios, a good air fan could guarantee that our CPU was permanently working below its maximum temperature threshold.
The default TDP of the most powerful processors from Intel and AMD far exceeds 100 watts
However, the landscape has changed. And it has done so because the latest Intel and AMD microprocessors are very demanding when it comes to cooling, especially if we stick to the most ambitious models. The default TDP in both brands clearly exceeds 100 watts in their most powerful chips, and in these circumstances a well-resolved liquid cooling system can maintain its temperature several degrees below what a good air fan would.
Liquid cooling uses a circuit that promotes heat exchange by convection between the CPU heatsink and a cooling liquid, instead of promoting the exchange between the heatsink and the air, as traditional fans do. Here we have the first advantage of this system: it helps us to better temperature control inside the computer case.
This is possible because the coolant transports heat inside the chassis thanks to flexible plastic tubes and sleeves that prevent direct contact with the air. The environmental temperature is a factor that we are interested in taking into account because it also has a decisive influence on the working conditions of a computer.
As we can intuit, it is not the same to work in a refrigerated room at an ambient temperature of 21 ºC than to do it in an environment without refrigeration with a constant ambient temperature above 30 ºC. These last conditions can occur with relative ease in certain areas during the summer months.
When a computer is simultaneously subjected to a very intense effort and a very high ambient temperature, it is necessary to opt for a highly efficient cooling system.
When a computer is simultaneously subjected to a very intense effort and a very high ambient temperature, it is necessary to opt for a highly efficient cooling system. And in these conditions it makes sense to resort to liquid cooling. An additional advantage of this cooling mode that may also cause some users to pay attention to it is its ability to help us reduce the noise emitted by our computer. The fan that is responsible for cooling the CPU in air systems is usually responsible for a good part of the noise emitted by our PC.
On the market we can find very quiet CPU fans, but liquid cooling systems have the advantage that they do not require a CPU fan. Of course, they keep the fans responsible for acting on the radiator. So far we have reviewed the qualities of liquid cooling systems that may cause us to look at them, but they also have disadvantages if we compare them with the air cooling systems that we should consider.
The most obvious is that they are more complex and require meticulous installation if we want to prevent possible coolant leaks that could damage the delicate electronic components of our computer, especially if we opt for a custom system. In addition, they require more meticulous maintenance. In an air cooling system we only have to worry about periodically removing the dust that can accumulate on the fan blades and shaft using, for example, a pressurized air cleaner spray.
Currently we can find very decent liquid cooling solutions in the price range that goes from 60 to 100 euros
But a liquid cooling system will require at least that we regularly check the state of the pump, the absence of leaks, and also that we periodically renew the coolant, in addition to removing the dust accumulated on the fans that act on the radiator. On the other hand, the high number of elements required by liquid cooling requires us to a big enough box to accommodate all its components inside.
Finally, it is also important to note that a quality liquid cooling system is often more expensive than a comparable quality air cooling system. During the last years its price has been reduced a lot, and currently we can find very decent liquid cooling solutions in the price range that goes from 60 to 100 euros, but if we want an advanced system to live with our latest CPU generation we will have to spend a lot more money. And it is that some, the most ambitious, can exceed 500 euros.
Images: 洋榤 郭 | Red flame