A Complete Guide to CPU Liquid Coolers: Composition, Working Principle, Types, and Pros and Cons

AIO liquid cooler for computer parts

Figure 1: AIO liquid cooler.

With increasing requirements for computer hardware and operating speed, there are higher and higher requirements for the cooling performance of computers. Many friends may have heard of liquid coolers and air coolers that help computer components cool down. The biggest highlight of liquid/water cooling is that they have stronger heat dissipation capabilities than traditional air cooling.

This article will take you to understand the relevant knowledge of CPU liquid coolers. The liquid cooling can be applied not only to computer CPUs, but also to graphics cards, northbridge, and hard drives.

1. Components of the CPU Liquid Cooler

A liquid cooling system must have the following components: water block, circulating fluid (coolant), water pump, pipes and coolant tank (reservoir) or radiator (+ fan).

Liquid cooling accessory kit including water blocks, coolant, pipe, etc.

Figure 2: Liquid cooling accessory kit.

Water Block: The water block is a metal block with water channels inside. Made of copper or aluminum, it is in contact with the CPU and absorbs the heat of the CPU. It is completely sealed, so as to ensure that the circulating fluid does not leak out and cause a short circuit of the electrical elements.

Circulating Fluid: Circulating fluid acts like air, but absorbs a large amount of heat while keeping the temperature from changing significantly. It must be non-conductive, non-corrosive pure water, usually distilled water. Of course, you can also buy a good-looking and colored liquid coolant.

Water Pump: The role of the water pump is to promote the flow of circulating fluid, so that the liquid that has absorbed the heat of the CPU will flow out of the water block on the CPU, and the new low-temperature circulating fluid can continue to enter the water block to absorb the heat of the CPU.

Water Pipe: The water pipe connects the water pump, water block and coolant tank. Its function is to allow the circulating fluid to circulate in a closed channel without leakage, so that the liquid cooling system can work normally.

Coolant tank: The coolant tank is used to store the circulating fluid, where the returning circulating fluid releases the heat of the CPU, and the low-temperature circulating fluid flows into the pipeline again.

Radiator: If the CPU heat is small, using the large-capacity circulating fluid stored in the coolant tank can ensure that the temperature of the circulating fluid will not rise significantly. If the CPU heat is large, a radiator (with fan) needs to be added to help dissipate CPU heat. The radiator here is something like a heat sink. The circulating fluid transfers heat to the large-surface-area heat sink, and the fan on the heat sink removes the air that has absorbed the heat.

If it is a small closed liquid cooling system, the open coolant tank can be omitted and allow the liquid to flow back and forth between the water pump, water block and radiator, so as to avoid the deterioration of the circulating liquid exposed to the air.

2. How Does a CPU Liquid Cooler Work?

Liquid CPU coolers use a heat-conducting metal called a water block to absorb heat from the CPU. The bottom of the water block is placed directly above the CPU electronics, and thermal paste between the two surfaces ensures improved heat transfer.

When the electronic components get hot from being overloaded, it heats the surface of the water block. As the liquid coolant flows through the channels and tubes in the block, it absorbs heat from the metal base of the block, cooling the metal and electronics.

The liquid coolant continues to move through the pipes, to the radiator, where it transfers heat to the surrounding air. Then the heat is carried away by the radiator fan. The cooled liquid coolant re-enters the water block and starts the cooling cycle again.

working principle diagram of CPU liquid cooling

Figure 3: Working principle diagram of liquid cooling.

3. CPU Liquid Cooler Types

At present, the water cooler is roughly divided into two categories: AIO (all in one) liquid cooling and custom cooling loop.

To put it simply, you can understand the all-in-one as the merchant assembles the cooler for you, and it is easy to install after you buy it. The custom cooling loop is a test of the player's hands-on ability. The AIO type is simpler, while the custom cooling loop is more malleable, which is why DIY players like it.

3.1 AIO Liquid Cooling

The AIO liquid cooler consists of two parts: the radiator and the water cooling head (pump head), which are connected by a certain length of water pipe. This is because the cooling head and the water pump of the AIO cooler are integrated together, and the design of the coolant tank is canceled, and the entire water-cooled internal space is used as the coolant tank, and the whole cooler is more concise.

AIO cooler parts including a fan, and the part integrating the radiator, hose and water block

Figure 4: AIO cooler parts.

3.2 Custom Cooling Loop

The introduction of a custom cooler is simply that you buy different parts of the liquid cooler (such as water cooling head, radiator, cooling fan, water pipe, water pump, coolant tank) from different channels, and then assemble and install them on the computer by yourselves.

custom cooler parts including fans, coolant, pipes, etc.

Figure 5: Custom cooler parts.

4. Pros and Cons of Liquid Cooling

Compared with traditional air cooling, liquid cooling has the following advantages:

1. Higher Efficiency: liquid conducts heat better than air, so the liquid cooling system can quickly remove the large amount of heat generated by electronic devices such as CPU.

2. Less Noise: When you run a power-hungry program on your computer, it generates a lot of heat and requires a lot of cooling. If you're using an air cooler, your fans will be working at maximum speed to draw in enough air to cool the system, and the fans will be making a lot of noise. Liquid cooling systems produce less noise because water removes heat from the computer's internal components better than air.

3. Higher Stability: The liquid cooling system can better control the temperature, thereby improving the stability and lifespan of electronic equipment such as CPU.

4. More Even Heat Dissipation: The liquid cooling system distributes heat evenly throughout the radiator for more even heat dissipation.

5. Reduced Power Consumption: Running power-hungry programs on your computer increases the heat of internal components. Since too much heat can damage your computer, cooling systems are designed to remove heat. Because air coolers require more effort to cool the computer, the fans run faster to cool excess heat and more power is consumed. Obviously using a liquid cooler guarantees less power consumption.

However, liquid cooling also has some disadvantages:

1. Higher Cost: Compared with air cooling, liquid cooling requires more components and materials, so the cost is higher.

2. Difficulty in Installation and Maintenance: The liquid cooling system requires operations such as water pipe connection and water pump installation, which are difficult to install and maintain.

3. Taking up More Space. The tools needed for the liquid cooling are very large and take up a certain amount of space.

4. Risk of Leakage. If the assembly process is careless or the material is not good, there will be water leakage, which may damage the computer parts.

PC case with AIO CPU cooler

Figure 6: PC case with AIO cooler.

5. Conclusion

The cooling effect brought by liquid cooling is good, but not all players need liquid cooling. From a practical point of view, for example, some low-power CPUs have low power consumption and low heat, and the general air cooling can completely meet the heat dissipation requirements.

Water cooling is mostly for DIY overclocking players. While reducing the high temperature caused by overclocking, the most important thing is that some custom cooling with cool design will also give people a strong visual impact. Of course, the price is also expensive, but for some DIYers, water cooling is still a necessary component for them to show their "crafts".

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