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Cooling Systems: What’s The Best Option?

Conventional Fans or Liquid Cooling Systems, Open or Closed Loop?

Last month we brought you nifty tips and tricks about keeping your PC cool. Some of you asked us to go one step further, so this month we’ve been busy comparing the different options out there. We’ve taken a closer look at three types of cooling from plain old fans, to liquid cooling, both open and closed loop systems. See our verdict and join the debate.pc cooling vs image 2

 

So why’s cooling important in the first place?

Heat can put stress on your computer’s components, especially the CPU and GPU, resulting in a slower performance, frustrating crashes and brain numbing freezes. Not only does overheating shorten the lifespan of your PC, in the worst cases it can also lead to physical damage of plastic components and wires.

Poor thermal design can impact on cooling efficiency, with thick cable bundles restricting air flow channels, or blocking fans. Conductivity can also affect heat cooling and dispersion. While something as simple as the fan facing the wrong way can dramatically reduce your PCs cooling ability. And let’s not forget that silent danger, dust. It acts as an insulator, clinging to electrical components to clog them up and trap the heat.

So, with a couple of ways to transfer heat from inside your unit to the outside world, we took a look to decide which is the best.

 

Air cooling, the pros and conspc cooling tips feature 2

Air cooling is all about using fans to draw the heat away from your components and expelling it through the case exhaust. Heatsinks, which are large plates of conductive metal also assist the process. Strategically placed around the front, rear, top and sides of the machine, fans make sure cool air circulates the major components while warm air is driven out. Laptop fans work on the same principle of circulating air and expelling heat.

Another important thing to consider is negative Vs positive pressure cooling. In a positive pressure configuration, the CFM from intake fans is greater than that of the exhaust fans, ensuring every opening in the case works towards helping air and dust escape to keep the system cool. It does have drawbacks though, as it only offers average cooling and graphics cards with Direct Heat Exhaust kind of counteract the effect. Negative pressure systems mean the CFM from the exhaust fans are stronger than the intake fans, which creates a mini, partial vacuum inside the case. Great for cooling performance as it amplifies convection and works well with the DHE graphics card, but this option has a tendency to draw cooling enemy number 1: dust.

Our summaryfan cooling kit

Air cooling does the job pretty well. It’s easy to install and a decent price but fans can be noisy and if you want your PC to run quicker or are using high-end hardware a fan might just fall short. Chips that have been overclocked might also struggle to keep cool. With a higher conductivity than air and the ability to absorb more heat, liquid or water cooling could be a more efficient choice.

 

Water cooling made easy!pc cooling vs liquid

Water cooling has two types of systems to choose from. Closed Loop and Open Loop systems. They both work using the principle of thermodynamics, which is the concept of heat moving from warmer objects to cooler objects. It basically circulates distilled water through waterblocks, cooling the air as the cool water passes through. This cool water warms up as the heat is transferred. Once it reaches the radiator it warms the air surrounding the radiator. Fans then draw that warm air away from the exterior of the radiator causing the water inside to cool again, ready to be re-circulated.watercooling kit

 

Closed Loop Water Cooling in a Nutshell

Closed loop water cooling systems offer loads of benefits. They’re cheaper and easier to install than open loop systems and need next-to-no maintenance. Designed with an integrated fan and a CPU block they come ready to fit out of the box and can seamlessly integrate into an existing fan cooling system without the upheaval of practically rebuilding your entire PC. Easy. Compared to open loop systems, they’re a tad less efficient, but it’s marginal.

Open Loop Water Cooling Explained

Get ready for total freedom. You can fully customise your water cooling system with an open loop set up. Designed to enhance the aesthetics of your system to pretty impressive standards. You can add to, extend and change as you like, but the drawbacks are that it can leak if you’re not pretty adept with this kind of tech. It also needs regular maintenance, like topping up or changing the cooling fluid and if you forget, it can result in damage to the radiator block or pump. So it’s more adaptable but needs more expertise.

 

The Verdict

  1. Price, both liquid cooling systems are more expensive than air cooling but the boost in performance can easily justify the cost for an enthusiast.
  2. Set up and maintenance, the air cooling system comes out on top here with no maintenance and easy installation.
  3. Reliability, both liquid options are slightly less reliable than air cooling, as there’s only really the fan to go wrong with air cooling.
  4. Noise levels, both air, and liquid systems appear to be equal in acoustics, with no outright winner being crowned the King of Quiet.
  5. Complexity, the air cooling system wins hand-down as a much simpler choice.
  6. Performance, both liquid options offer marginally better performance and some would argue better aesthetics than air cooling.

It’s a close call to be honest, but we think air cooling just clinches the winning spot. But that’s just our opinion. With such closely rated cooling systems, it’s really down to personal preference, the complexity of the system you have and your available time, expertise and budget for installation and continued maintenance.

 

What do you think?

Agree or not? Don’t hold back, get involved and join in with your own verdict? Post your ideas, your blogs and vlogs here. We’d love to hear your thoughts, your tips and how you kicked some of the issues we faced into touch.

pc cooling tips title

12 COMMENTS

  1. Great overview for PC cooling.

    Is there any way of knowing when to upgrade air cooling fans? Is there a set amount of time, PC warning, noises to look out for?

    Thanks,
    Gilly

  2. Hi I’ve used water cooling for over 5yrs & have built mine, friends & sisters with all-in-one water cooling solutions from corsair also built my own big rig custom triple radiator cooling system, i wouldn’t go back to air cooling now as the single radiator all-in-one cooling systems are cheap enough and easy to install, have a looking your case at the back… is there a exhaust fan? What size is it? If its 120mm then there’s quite a few liquid cooling systems available to use, I get CustomPC magazine in issues 138/march 2015 & 116/may 2013 they have liquid cooling lab tests you can get back issues! Have a good read it may help you choose, your processor should be below 50 degrees Celsius looking at your CPU temperature will give and indication whether the cooler is ok or not, if its over 50 then its time to think about changing it! Mine runs at 20-35 degrees Celsius which is very good! A-I-1 kits are easy to install one part goes over the processor and the other (rad/fan) screws to the case in the place of the exhaust fan! Costs from £50 up to about £120ish depending on which one you choose, I’ve always bought mine from Scan.co.UK they have an insurance you can buy to protect yourself if you bugger up the install, its not expensive and its piece of mind although I’ve never claimed it! Lol you can also goto the custompc website too have a look! Hope this helps!

  3. This review is missing the best option – fanless cooling – zero noise, great for concentration and no background noise when recording musical instruments. Check out http://www.quietpc.com, I bought one of their complete systems 3 years ago and it works great – absolutely no noise at all and very high performance.

  4. Haydn I know this was a while back but,,,,the best way to cool a laptop is to not turn it on,,,lol,
    seriously though keep all the vents clear, try vacuming them out from time to remove fluff n stuff as well – not while its on though.
    If its out of warrenty you could reseat the heatsinks with some quality compound – only if you know what your doing.
    Apart from that I would say to not use it on a bed or such, keep it on a tray to keep clearence so air can easly circulate.

  5. There’s an option missing here. Refrigerant cooling. Not commercially available, but anyone half-capable at mechanical engineering can do it. No fans, and just a small quiet compressor running. Has the capability to chill the processor down to -35°c, and pump out far more heat energy than a liquid cooling setup.
    Expensive, but is the ultimate in processor cooling.

  6. Fanless cooling with Zalman FX70. Together with a Corsair RM650X my PC is now completely silent and cool.

  7. My current rig – air cooled.

    AMD FX8350, 8core cpu overclocked to 4.8ghz, 16gig ddr3 1866, 120gig corsair SSD plus 2 x 2tb hd for storage.
    Cooled by Noctua NH-D14 ducted to exhaust directly through rear of case; 2 x 8.5cm fans sucking air in through front of case; single 8.5cm sucking out through rear.
    Running temp. normally sub. 20degrees but stressed it peaks at around 40.

    And those are year round temperatures, and I live on a remote Greek island – summer temperature hits 40plus!

  8. Les the Greek I call bullshit. Dont get me wrong the Noctua d14&15 are THE best aircoolers. But claiming 40C peak load temps with ambient going up to 40… Thats just not true mate.

    At the author: watercooling wins quietness imo, if you have enough radiators (personally using a 360slim (30mm) rad up top and a 280slim (30mm) up front))and decent fans (Noctua static pressure) and pump (D5 low settings) you can run low fan speeds which means less noise. Not cheap though, obviously.

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