Liquid Cooling vs Air Cooling: A TechSpot Comparison

By on December 19, 2013, 10:36 PM

A few short months ago we compared 10 of the best CPU air coolers and despite stiff competition from Thermalright and Silverstone, the successor to Noctua's legendary NH-D14 -- the NH-U14S -- may have made the strongest impression of all. Besides keeping our overclocked 4.3GHz Core i7-4960X at 53 degrees (30% lower than Intel's stock RTS2011AC), Noctua's solution was one of the quietest tested, generating only 44dB of noise.

Although we didn't think twice about stamping the NH-U14S with our Outstanding Award, we've since wondered how it would fare against a basic water cooling setup. On paper, closed loop systems simplify the process of diving into water cooling, being about as safe and easy to work with as air cooling while delivering much of the performance you'd expect from an elaborate custom loop at a fraction of the cost.

Read the complete review.




User Comments: 31

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dividebyzero dividebyzero, trainee n00b, said:

Interesting comparison. For an all aluminium AIO (excepting base) the Tundra isn't too shabby. 29C over ambient for an OC'ed IB-E CPU seems reasonably respectable- kind of makes me wonder what a copper and brass chambered version would be capable of.

St1ckM4n St1ckM4n said:

I have Noctua U12P SE1366 in push-pull, and it's amazing at bringing my temps down on i7 920. Additionally, I run these with Ultra Low-Noise Adaptors plugged in, so it's pretty much inaudible. 40dBA is way higher. :P

LinkedKube LinkedKube, TechSpot Project Baby, said:

I dont expect anything less from Silverstone. I feel like 90% of the enthusiast market is still sleeping on their great products.

Guest said:

"Besides keeping our overclocked 4.3GHz Core i7-4960X at 53 degrees (30% lower than Intel's stock RTS2011AC),"

How can you compare temperatures in percentages? If you switch from Celsius to Fahrenheit or Kelvin surely the percentages would change - though the actual temperatures would be the same. Or what is the difference in percentage between 0 degree Celsius and 10 degrees Celsius? Percentages in temperature make no sense.

1 person liked this | dividebyzero dividebyzero, trainee n00b, said:

"Besides keeping our overclocked 4.3GHz Core i7-4960X at 53 degrees (30% lower than Intel's stock RTS2011AC),"

How can you compare temperatures in percentages? If you switch from Celsius to Fahrenheit or Kelvin surely the percentages would change - though the actual temperatures would be the same. Or what is the difference in percentage between 0 degree Celsius and 10 degrees Celsius? Percentages in temperature make no sense.

I'm not entirely sure you understand what is being said. 30% lower than the stock Intel cooler means 30% less than the 75C recorded by the RTS2011AC in the air cooler review Steve linked to in the review:

75C minus 30% equals 52.5C...or 53C in round numbers.

4 people like this |
Staff
Steve Steve said:

"Besides keeping our overclocked 4.3GHz Core i7-4960X at 53 degrees (30% lower than Intel's stock RTS2011AC),"

How can you compare temperatures in percentages? If you switch from Celsius to Fahrenheit or Kelvin surely the percentages would change - though the actual temperatures would be the same. Or what is the difference in percentage between 0 degree Celsius and 10 degrees Celsius? Percentages in temperature make no sense.

To be honest it probably makes even less sense to talk about Fahrenheit or Kelvin when everything was displayed in Celsius :S

Cycloid Torus Cycloid Torus said:

I'm hoping some brave soul will document a DYI water cooler. Take an old air cooler with convection tubes. Hack into two pieces - tubing, clamp, etc from block to radiator - but I haven't figured out pump or filling process - water? / water & white vinegar?

Thinking it through I've gained appreciation for the kits.

1 person liked this | cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Take an old air cooler with convection tubes. Hack into two pieces - tubing, clamp, etc from block to radiator
There are several problems that will prevent an attempt from succeeding.

  • Efficiency because of design modifications appropriate each method.
  • Tubes dead end in the cooler instead of looping. You would be better off starting from scratch.
  • I've heard stories of corrosion because different types of metal was used. DIY would make it even harder in using the same metals, especially the ones you would want to use in a water cooler loop.

In the end, it would be best to purchase parts designed for best results or forget about water cooling all together.

amstech amstech, TechSpot Enthusiast, said:

I've had a liquid cooled build but that was for a Q8400 on a LGA775 chipset and GTX 280. I can't even get my i7 930 @ 4.0Ghz 24/7 to go anywhere near its thermal barriers, same for my Windforce 3X 670 ( Gigabyte use a custom 680 PCB and power phase). I have no need to go liquid cooled.

GhostRyder GhostRyder said:

Its good to see some definitive proof of this, though most people can guess that it would be better than an air cooler. That Noctua though is such a good cooler in general for air users that it really makes the liquid coolers work for their temps.

Cool Review

Heihachi1337 said:

I switched from a Thermaltake OC King Frio cooler to the Corsair H60 closed loop liquid cooling due to concerns of the added stress on the mainboard and the lack of room to work in my case. I would have to say, best switch I've ever made.

Guest said:

Corsair loop units FTW! H100 is really an awesome unit.

1 person liked this | Guest said:

It's funny that we call these closed-loop systems "Water coolers" as there is rarely any water in them. The heatsink that goes on the CPU is usually copper, and the radiator is usually aluminum. That combination with water can cause corrosion issues, so the manufacturers usually use something like a pure ethylene glycol.

Guest said:

I must be tired after a working week, but I just couldn't see how does water cooling compare with air cooling. I'd have to figure out what each name of the cooler corresponds to, couldn't they just summarise to how exactly water cooling is more efficient (or not) than air cooling. I can't physically read all those GuNuBuDOC-2001-XYZ sort of names. They may be legendary, as the author say (King Arthur had one, evidently), but I've never heard of them, I just wanted to see if I should get myself water cooling or not for my next PC.

lipe123 said:

I must be tired after a working week, but I just couldn't see how does water cooling compare with air cooling. I'd have to figure out what each name of the cooler corresponds to, couldn't they just summarise to how exactly water cooling is more efficient (or not) than air cooling. I can't physically read all those GuNuBuDOC-2001-XYZ sort of names. They may be legendary, as the author say (King Arthur had one, evidently), but I've never heard of them, I just wanted to see if I should get myself water cooling or not for my next PC.

Yeah reading and looking at pictures can be really hard right (No I's not).

The Corsair H75 and Tundra TD02 is the water coolers that obviously kept it cooler than all the rest which is air coolers.

TLDR; Go buy the H75 its cheap and small and works well.

Mike89 said:

I see nothing here that would influence my cpu cooli ng choices. I remain a loyal air cooling guy. I just still cannot wrap my head around putting liquid inside my computer. I just can't do it. I have the NH-U14S in push pull and I wouldn't trade it for anything else.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I just still cannot wrap my head around putting liquid inside my computer.
I suffer from that very same dilemma. lol

1 person liked this | GhostRyder GhostRyder said:

I suffer from that very same dilemma. lol

In this day and age though, most of the liquids inside the All in Ones or that you buy to use in a custom loop is already "Non-Conductive" and will not damage the hardware if spilled upon anyway. Theres always a chance this could happen anyway, but from all the accidents ive seen in my time most damage that happens is rarely from a liquid leak (Unless you actually use water) and more from other sources in machines that run liquid cooling. Even when the liquid leaks, for instance recently a friend of mine attached the tubing to his GPU waterblock in properly and caused it to leak down his video card 8 and 6 pin connectors along with the motherboard while the system was running for about 2 minutes, he shut it down, cleaned it up, and let it dry then ran it again with no issues or hiccups.

Air cooling will always be there if you dont plan on heavy clocking or just dont want to deal with it, but liquid really is the way to go for fast, cool, and silent machines. But of course, everyone will choose their own path.

JC713 JC713 said:

I would just go with an air cooler. I wouldnt want to risk the loop leaking or malfunctioning. The difference isnt that big and doesnt convince me.

Guest said:

I've used the Noctua big boy for some time on my i3770k OC to 4.5ghz and it's never been above 75. I considered liquid cooling first, but reading so many reviews of people losing their entire rig from leaks convinced me it wasn't for me. The failure rate is unacceptable as far as I'm concerned and proved an unnecessary risk.

Guest said:

Great article. I have the Corsair H50, and it's one of the best PC purchases I've made. It's a little more bulky than the newer models, but it still takes up much less space than an air cooler.

I also just bought a used Thermaltake Water 2.0 for $30 on Ebay, which I'll be putting in an HTPC, so you can find these things for super cheap.

1 person liked this | St1ckM4n St1ckM4n said:

Cool Review

Yes, yes it is.

treetops treetops said:

All I know is I'v had at least 4 fans die in 4 years, back, side, front. The cost to replace them comes to around 200$. And currently only my cpu and back fan still work. Next time I will def go for water cooling.

1 person liked this | cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Next time I will def go for water cooling.
Water cooling uses fans to. So I'm not following why you would use fan failure, as an excuse to switch from air cooling.

Guest said:

I switched to water cooling a few years ago but kept having pumps fail so switched to a Corsair H60 and absolutely love it. The closed loop system is "install it and forget it" while the standard water cooled systems require a lot of maintenance. Also the closed loop systems make a lot neater installation.

2 people like this |
Staff
Steve Steve said:

Water cooling uses fans to. So I'm not following why you would use fan failure, as an excuse to switch from air cooling.

Not only that don't forget that you also have to worry about pump failure which can be even harder to detect sometimes. If you are spending $50 per fan you must be getting some insanely good ones, strange that they die.

ET3D, TechSpot Paladin, said:

How does using a cooler like the Hydro H75 affect the cooling in the rest of the system?

treetops treetops said:

Water cooling uses fans to. So I'm not following why you would use fan failure, as an excuse to switch from air cooling.

With water cooling you need less fans? Well that was my understanding. I was buying 250mm fans. They aren't cheap. Well I looked it up I guess they arent that much, I was hoping with a water system id only need a back fan.

2 people like this |
Staff
Steve Steve said:

How does using a cooler like the Hydro H75 affect the cooling in the rest of the system?

For the most part it doesn't at all. The only components that can suffer are the motherboards power circuitry but depending on where and how you mount the radiator this can be avoided. Case cooling might also take care of that problem for you.

With water cooling you need less fans? Well that was my understanding. I was buying 250mm fans. They aren't cheap. Well I looked it up I guess they arent that much, I was hoping with a water system id only need a back fan.

It should only replace the fan that would be dedicated to cooling the CPU since that is all this is doing. You still need plenty of air-flow to cool the other internal components such as GPU(s). Plus depending on the radiator setup you might need to force cool air in so that the radiator doesn't get hot.

Mugsy said:

Because I'm sure someone out there is wondering, I'm using a Seidon 120M with my i7 4770K. I got it dirt cheap for just $29 after mail-in rebate. It's not listed as being compatible with Socket-1150 cpu's which is why it was going for so cheap, but I knew even the most basic water-cooler would out-perform the stock fan. And it does. Both cooler AND quieter than air-cooling.

I added a second fan for push/pull cooling and my idle temps are roughly 36'C. Under light-gaming and graphics benchmark stress, I see temps around 45'C. I wouldn't try to throttle the cpu up to 4.2GHz, but it handles a minimal overclock to 3.9GHz without breaking a sweat.

Don't think I'll ever air-cool again.

Mugsy said:

How does using a cooler like the Hydro H75 affect the cooling in the rest of the system?

For the most part it doesn't at all. The only components that can suffer are the motherboards power circuitry but depending on where and how you mount the radiator this can be avoided.

A slight caveat.

By venting your CPU heat outside the case using a water-cooled radiator vs an air cooler, other components in your case (like your air-cooled video card) won't be trying to keep your card cool using warm air.

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