The Differences Between Air and Liquid Cooling Systems

If you’re in the process of building a PC or are simply looking to upgrade the cooling on an existing machine, it’s important to understand the differences between air and liquid cooling systems. Liquid cooling provides a more efficient method of heat management, but isn’t necessarily the best option for every application.

The majority of PCs use an air cooling system, which disperses heat from components by using a combination of fans and heat sinks to draw away hot air from the computer. Heat is generated by many different components, including the central processor unit (CPU), graphics card and motherboard, and these devices require some sort of cooling to keep temperatures down and prevent damage. Air cooling systems are relatively inexpensive, easy to install and are the most common form of temperature management in consumer computers.

In addition to providing an effective cooling mechanism, PC air coolers are easy for IT administrators and site operators to understand and manage. In comparison, liquid cooling requires a more complex infrastructure and may require specialized training or personnel to implement and maintain. These factors may offset any potential Opex savings.

Air cooling is the most familiar type of heat removal system and continues to be a popular choice among gamers and IT professionals. The basic design consists of a large heat sink and fan that draws cool air through the CPU, GPUs and other components to disperse the excess heat. In many cases, manufacturers also include cooling fins on the top of each component to improve performance and reduce power consumption.

Liquid cooling offers a more efficient solution for heat removal, as water and other liquids are more effective at transferring heat than air. This technology has been increasingly adopted by data centers and enterprise computing, as they seek to support higher rack power densities and the associated heat loads.

Aside from a more robust performance, liquid cooling systems offer a sleeker aesthetic than standard air-cooled equipment. Most are available in All-in-One (AIO) configurations, which bundle all of the necessary parts together into a single apparatus that can easily attach to the CPU. Although these units tend to be bulkier, the extra mass is concentrated in one area rather than spread out across multiple PC components.

Like air cooling, a liquid-based system requires maintenance and oversight, but these are typically less frequent than for an air-cooled unit. Users should inspect and clean the pump, reservoir, filter and radiator on a regular basis to ensure that they are functioning as intended.

The choice between air and liquid cooling systems will ultimately depend on a number of factors, including the overall environment, the specific computing requirements and the level of expertise and availability for system administration. To get help finding the right cooling solution for your application, contact us at CDW today. Our team of experts will be happy to answer any questions you have and provide a full range of solutions that suit your needs.

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