Last blog, I talked about liquid cooling options for your PC and how it’s a good idea to upgrade to maximize your PC’s performance. Now, I’ll provide a few tips on how to go about choosing your all-in-one liquid cooling.
Air Coolers vs. Liquid Coolers – Recap
The thing about all-in-one coolers is that they have smaller thermal range and nonlinear cooling performance as compared to air coolers. That means that when your CPU is on an idle state, liquid coolers will generally produce higher temperatures than competitive air coolers. However, when put under heavy loads – like during long gaming sessions – liquid coolers can produce lower temperatures than the same air coolers that outperformed them at idle. This is due to liquid coolers having a different thermal performance curve compared to air coolers. Always remember this when comparing all-in-one liquid coolers with air coolers.
What Liquid Cooler should I choose?
First, I’m not going to tell you which cooler you should choose. There are so many different choices for a lot of different applications and purposes, that it’s better if I guide you to the information and resources that let you make the best choice for your system.
The main question to ask yourself before getting an all-in-one cooler, is what do you need it do to? Yeah, it sounds simple enough – duh, cool my CPU – but there is more to it than that. Does the cooler need to enhance the appearance of your system? Does it have to cool a performance or gaming rig? Or do you just want a more silent computer?
So as you can see the question is simple enough, but this is the very first question you need to ask yourself before investing in this kind of product. Once you’ve determined what you will need your cooler for, it’ll be easier to narrow down which cooler best suits your needs. There are a lot of different vendors that offer sealed liquid cooling, from Cooler Master to NZXT and it can get overwhelming when it’s time to choose one.
Choosing the right size for you
It’s now time to choose, do you get the 120mm radiator? 240mm radiator? Do you want software control? If you’re not planning on doing a lot of heavy overclocking, I would suggest sticking with the entry level model, which most likely is a 120mm radiator. But don’t fret, doesn’t mean you can’t maximize an entry level cooler’s performance. By having a push and pull configuration, you can dissipate heat more efficiently. This kind of setup can even handle a long period of heavy gaming; only downside to this is that it will create more noise since you’ll be running two fans together. So if you’re aiming for quiet computing, nothing too fancy, 1x fan on a 120mm radiator should do the job. Now if you’re shooting for more of a performance rig, 240 mm radiator is better than 120mm radiators by a significant amount as it theoretically has double the surface area of a 120mm rad. And it’ll be quieter too, the fans doesn’t have to spin as fast to keep the CPU cool (especially if you upgrade the fans).
Construction of the cooler is one of the important aspects you’ll need to check out as well. How long the product will last you and how it will perform will be based on these two key things. A well built cooler will last you for years to come, even after you upgrade your CPU (almost all coolers are compatible with all cpu sockets) you’ll still get a use out of your liquid cooler. When it comes to rads, first thing that you should always look into is whether it’s made of aluminum or copper. What’s the difference? Normally aluminum would be better because of its ability to dissipate heat away heat faster, but is prone to corrosion over time (at a faster rate than copper). With copper, it will absorb the heat better than aluminum, but won’t be as easily dispersed.
One more thing I should mention about rads, it’s also important to know about fin counts. Radiators are typically classified with FPI (Fins Per Inch); means that for every 1″, there are ‘X amount’ of heat dissipating fins. 7-11 FPI are the common low and high FPI models are at around 20-30 FPI. This is important to understand as it directly relates to the radiator’s performance (more FPI = higher cooling potential)
Features are very important when it comes to your cooler performance. Like a mentioned before some includes a software control that allows you to maximize your coolers performance. Some features a plug and play, which basically allows you to install it once and it will regulate itself without you having to anything else. I would definitely look into the ones that allows software control, it saves you time and also gives you a full control over your cooler without having to go to you BIOS.
Next is to do research! It’s very important to do your own research; google is your best friend. Newegg has a lot of really helpful review regarding these kinds of products, actual customer reviewers. But if those aren’t informative enough, there are tons of reviews sites you can find around the internet, for me I always turn to tom’s hardware. The forum community is really helpful and supportive. Look around for reviews or feedbacks to that one particular brand you are looking to buy. There’s so many of them it kind of feels repetitive, but at least doing the research will put things in perspective and will allow you to make an educated selection.
Lastly, another consideration to look into, which is not usually mentioned, is the ambient air temperatures. For example, if a room is at 65 F, the air moving over the heat sinks is twice as efficient in removing heat as if the air is at 75F. So if you look at it this way, the efficiency in air cooling compared to the ambient air temperature curve is not liner but exponential. This comes with huge fall-offs above 75F when it comes to efficiency. In that situation, it’ll be better to cool with liquid when in a warm/hot ambient environment. Reason behind this is because build up in heat is slower in liquid (heat transfers to liquid more efficiently), also warm air will cool the liquid a lot faster than cooling a metal heatsink. So if you have a NH-D14 on a 18.5 DB level installed in an ultra high performance rig that’s in a relatively warm environment, it’s going to eventually sound like a Lamborghini Gallardo, revving up for a quarter mile race compared to a water cooled system.
Like I said before, in the end it’ll be up to you to decide whether water cooling is more beneficial to you or if you’re doing it just because, then by all means go for it! You can even to to the extreme and your rig under water, you make the call.