Question Water cooling vs air cooling

Mar 31, 2020
I know very little about cooling and was wanting to know about water cooling vs air cooling and which I should opt for, as this will be my first pc. What are the benefits of each and which is better overall? Also is there any concern with water cooling possibly leaking and damaging other components? Thank you for any help you can give!


Are you talking an off the shelf AIO, or custom loop?

Generally speaking, an AIO should outperform an aircooler at a similar pricepoint, usually not by much though.
AIO's look a bit cleaner vs bulky air coolers, and are a better idea for any system that'll be shipped, or moved often (vs a large air cooler hanging off the motherboard).

On the flip side, they add additional points of failure in the pump, and potential for leakage. If something 'fails' in an air cooler, it'll be a fan - and an easy replacement. If something fails in an AIO (other than a fan), that necessitates a full replacement of the AIO.

Custom loops are a labour of love. They should be the top performing option, but they're expensive, require regular maintenance, and are not particularly 'easy' to get into.

For someone just starting out, a quality air cooler would be the route I'd suggest going.
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Contributing Writer
AIOs rarely leak, but they have the capability to do so.

Air cooling doesn't leak, although heatpipes can be damaged and rendered non-functional, although the tiny amount of liquid they contain would evaporate before any damage would be caused.

Custom and even kit watercooling can be expensive, and aren't a requirement until you get into the highest levels of overclocking and even then, most pros go with chillers and liquid nitrogen at that point.

Most of your choice will be based on budget, CPU/socket and what your case supports. Some large air coolers may not fit smaller chassis. Some AIOs might not fit - a 240mm AIO won't fit where only a single 120mm fan exists.


May 9, 2012
I just moved from a Thermaltake big water 360mm aio to a noctua nh-d15 on my system in my signature, the noctua cooler really suprise me, it's a few degrees better than my aio, at 4.5ghz I was hitting around 85 90c during stress test, I now get into the high 70s with just 1 fan installed running prime 95.

If you want the highest performance air cooler, noctua nh-d15 is one of the best, but its huge, it even covers my top pcie slot, some cases wont even be able to close. Though I will admit, the aio coolers are definitely more appealing.