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Liquid Cooling vs Air Cooling in 2024

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Choosing between an AIO vs air cooler can be a tricky prospect. For that reason, we’re going to outline the main differences and discuss which is best for specific scenarios.

A crucial part of the modern PC is its cooling solution. Whether you have the best CPU money can buy or a budget processor, you need to keep those temperatures down, especially if you are going to be overclocking. When the CPU is running at idle, you can get away with a stock cooler, but when under heavy load some CPU’s will run severely hot and require the best coolers available to minimize potential harm. If you fail to pair your CPU with an effective cooling solution, you run the risk of throttling your system, which can be a huge waste of money.

This 2023 article contains hardware from previous years, this is because the hardware is still relevant. The article will be updated with new hardware when necessary.

CPU coolers come in three different forms; air, closed-loop (all-in-one), and custom. All three will bring you effective cooling performance, with custom water cooling solutions often offering the best temps for an overclocked system. Despite custom water cooling providing the best temperatures, they are the hardest to set up for the beginner/ novice builder, and it can sometimes be a bit scary having water running through your new PC build.

Below, we’ll be taking a closer look at the intricate differences found when comparing AIO vs air coolers. Once compared, we’ll be recommending which is best for certain scenarios and which one is best for your specific requirements.

That being said, if you’re already familiar with what you need from a cooler (overclocking ability? Flashing RGB lighting?) then head over to our roundup of the best CPU coolers on the market.

AIO Vs Air Coolers: Things To Consider

Before we go buying any old CPU cooler, there are a few things to consider. The cost of the different cooling solutions varies quite a lot, and they might not handle the overclock you plan to run on your system. You could be after a particular style or maybe one of a specific size, either way, it’s good to think about these things before the purchase.


What cooler you buy could simply hinge on your overall budget. If money is no object and you have some of the best components going maybe with a view to overclock the system then consider the biggest all-in-one liquid cooler you can buy. If you are on a tight budget, then the cheaper air cooling solutions could be perfect for you, often yielding similar results to their liquid counterparts.


A huge factor in whether you go for air or liquid is if you plan to overclock your CPU. As overclocking will require more power, it inevitably will heat up to a dangerous level without an efficient cooling solution.

Generally speaking, all-in-one cooling solutions and custom cooling setups are the best when it comes to higher overclocking, but there are a few air coolers that can handle this too.


Some of the larger coolers have substantial heat sinks which may bump against your other components such as RAM. These big coolers can also hang over the edge, scraping against your case door or sometimes stopping the case door from shutting.

If you have already bought or decided on a case, then this determines what size cooler you can go for. If however, you are still in the process of creating your build, it is worth knowing that mid-tower cases and bigger ones will give you greater flexibility for which coolers may fit. Any builders out there looking to create a small compact build you are probably looking at a low-profile CPU cooler or a 120mm AIO CPU cooler.


For builders out there that don’t care how aesthetically pleasing a CPU cooler looks then you can probably go down the air cooling route. For builders out there that may have a tempered glass window or RGB components, the style becomes quite important.

Whether or not a CPU cooler looks stylish or not is down to personal opinion at the end of the day, but there is something about those AIO closed-loop coolers that make a PC build pop, especially with those specks of RGB. This isn’t to say there are no nice-looking air coolers; it is probably just that AIO coolers do tend to look more impressive.

The key factors outlined above should be considered before purchasing, but let’s move on to discuss how these coolers actually work and what makes the best for those high temps.

So How Do These Coolers Work?

liquid or air

So now you know what factors to consider before making that final choice let’s discuss the benefits to each cooler type and any drawbacks they potentially feature.


An air cooler is often comprised of two separate parts; the heat sink, and the fan. The heat sink is usually a large thermo-conductive metal which will go directly on top of the CPU to transfer the heat up to the large metal fins. You will often find heat sinks to be made from aluminum or copper all the way through.

The heat needs to be dissipated out of the case for the heat sink to work more efficiently, which is where the fan comes in. The fan will plug into the motherboard and sit either on top or to the side of the heatsink to help push air through and cool those fins down.

Air ProsAir Cons
AffordableSometimes louder under load
Less maintenance required Often bulky
No leakingLimited cooling
Price to performanceLess attractive
A table showing the pros & cons of an air cooler.


Although your all-in-one coolers come in one piece, they are comprised of four parts overall. Just like the air cooler you have a heat sink and fans to attach, however, you also have a pump to push the water through the interconnecting pipes.

The heatsink on a liquid cooler is often referred to as a radiator and works in the same way as an air cooler. The heat from your CPU is transferred into the pump (part screwed on top of your CPU) and then the heat is transferred into the water which is pumped around the closed loop system.

With liquid coolers, you will need to make sure your case supports your radiator size, and this will generally be screwed on the top, front or back of the case rather than sat in the middle like an air cooler.

Liquid ProsLiquid Cons
Better cooling potentialGenerally cost more
Smaller form, so less clearance issuesMore maintenance required
Visually more appealingHas the potential to leak.
A table showing the pros & cons of a liquid cooler.

So, AIO vs Air Cooler, Which Is Best?

Whether you are looking to overclock your high-end CPU to its limit or are facing throttling issues, the right CPU cooler is essential. If you don’t plan on overclocking and you have a relatively tame CPU, then your stock cooler should be more than adequate at doing the job.

At the extreme end of the scale where air can no longer do an efficient job, liquid cooling is going to be the answer. Liquid cooling will cost you more, but it does have the greater potential for cooling and in my opinion, looks much nicer in a system.

If you are on a tighter budget and aren’t too concerned with the bulky heat sink from an air cooler then going for an air cooling solution is never a bad idea. Air coolers, in some cases, can outperform the liquid ones unless pushed to the limit and they are normally quieter when idle.

Like lots of areas in the PC building world, it is down to your personal preference but more importantly, your system’s needs.

Product Specialist - Gaming PC, Prebuilt Gaming PC, GPUs, CPUs, AT WEPC

Shaun Conroy

Summary Shaun has been working with WePC for nearly 5 years now, becoming a Product & Affiliate Editor in 2021. He started off writing gaming PC content and PC case reviews, but quickly moved into a more editor-based role covering a wider range of topics. Shaun has multiple qualifications in I.T and Computer Science A big fan of PC gaming and all the hardware involved. Everything from graphics cards to gaming mice, Shaun's your man. Experience Shaun first took an interest in PC gaming back in the mid-2000s, moving from the console. With a keen interest in I.T, Shaun began studying various computer-related courses over his time in higher education. After college and university, Shaun began building gaming PCs professionally, before finally picking up an editorial role at BGFG. Shaun has been with the company now for nearly 5 years, helping expand the site in several different avenues but always keeping a close eye on PC hardware. Education BA: Web Development B-Tech: Information Technology A Levels: Business Studies, I.T, D & T  

2 thoughts on “Liquid Cooling vs Air Cooling in 2024”

  1. Thanks for that comment. I did not know that “Air coolers” have a liquid in their heatpipes. Still confused about what cooler to buy for my Ryzen 3700X, but i’ll do some more research about all the coolers.

  2. Thanks for this article, but I’d like to make an important correction. In the article you state that air cooler heat sinks are made of metal all the way through but this is not the case. You failed to mention that most “air” coolers actually use liquid to transfer the heat. The heat pipes are filled with a refrigerant (often ammonia, alcohol or sometimes water). This refrigerant is sealed at a certain pressure such that when it is heated by the CPU, the liquid will change state and evaporate, which is an endothermic process that cools the CPU down very quickly. Then, once the vapors reach the tops of the heat pipes, they are cooled down by the fins of the heat sink and fan and condense into liquid again, thus completing the thermal cycle. This use of phase change is actually much more effective at transferring heat than just pumping liquid water around, and it doesn’t require a powered pump. If you look at data gathered comparing mid-range AIO coolers to mid-range air coolers, the air cooler generally keep the CPU cooler, and they are generally quieter.

    I think that everyone should stop calling them “air coolers” because they use liquid refrigerants for the brunt of the heat transfer. Calling them air coolers is just as erroneous as calling AIO coolers air coolers because the water is cooled by fans in the radiator.


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