The beauty of building a gaming PC is that you can choose which parts it should have and fine-tune it to your specific needs. However, when you go over a certain performance point, some things become a necessity, and water cooling is one of them!
The best part? While you’ve probably heard in the past that water cooling is an expensive, ultra-enthusiastic affair (and still is in some scenarios), there’s an easy and affordable way to get into it: an AIO cooler. But what is it really, and should you use one?
What is an AIO water cooler?
AIO stands for “all-in-one”, and when it comes to AIO water coolers, it is a pretty good summary of how they work. AIO water coolers are a simplified water cooling set intended to be an install-and-forget thermal solution, similar to air coolers.
They have the same basic working principle as ultra-expensive custom water cooling kits. There is a radiator meant to be attached to the top or front of the computer case, fans meant to dissipate heat from the radiator, a copper / metal block installed on top of the CPU socket, and, of course, coolant flowing around. cooler, aided by a pump.
However, unlike these sets, a few things are simplified. There is usually no reservoir for coolant, nor is it necessary to plan, and work with, pipes in the cabinet, since the cooler comes with soft, sleeved pipes that go straight from the radiator to the CPU block and vice versa. That hose is also factory sealed and pre-filled, which means that you are not supposed to put in your own coolant, and in the same way there is almost no chance of coolant leakage unless it is physically damaged.
They also have a price advantage. While a custom water cooling loop can set you back hundreds of dollars, a reliable AIO water cooler can set you back anywhere between $ 70 and $ 200, depending on whether you want more premium materials or a larger radiator.
Are AIO coolers better than custom water cooling loops?
Surely, with both price and performance benefits, AIO water coolers need to be better than custom water cooling loops overall? And the answer to that is that although AIO coolers are great for almost everyone, custom, old-fashioned looks still have their place.
AIO coolers can be used by almost any computer, but some specific layouts, especially ultra-expensive ones, may still require a custom set. After all, a well-planned loop can still give you better thermals than an older PC. Although AIOs are also limited to just your CPU (there are some AIO GPUs as well, but they are not the norm), custom loops can also cool down the GPU, RAM or even the power supply if you really want to.
They also have the advantage in terms of appearance. You can make it look exactly the way you want it, whether you want to use a soft or hard hose, and it can make your PC look great. AIOs can also look good, but when it comes to a rough comparison, custom water loops will almost always have the upper hand.
That said, they are also much more difficult to install and, as we mentioned before, more expensive. So in most cases you will probably prefer an AIO.
Are AIO coolers better than air coolers?
In most cases, they are, yes.
As a matter of principle, coolant will almost certainly do a better job than air of keeping things cool. Liquid can help a lot in transferring heat away from the CPU. Think of it as how jumping into a pool or taking a cold shower will cool you down much faster than standing in front of a fan. And if you can fit one in your PC, your CPU will live a much cooler life than with most air coolers.
That said, air coolers still have the price and simplicity advantage. They are much easier to assemble, since you do not have to lug around and attach a radiator to your computer. They are also significantly less expensive, and come in at about half or even a fraction of an AIO’s price. And many will still do a pretty good job of cooling your CPU adequately, especially tower style from manufacturers like Noctua. Unless you go over a certain price point or try to overclock your chip, they should not sweat at all.
But when you compare things in terms of performance, without taking other factors into account, AIO wins in most scenarios. This brings us to our next point.
Should you use an AIO cooler on your PC?
If you can afford it, you should definitely do it.
AIO coolers have several advantages over both custom liquid cooling loops and air coolers. The assembly process is definitely more complicated than for a standard air cooler, but still infinitely easier than taking the time to assemble a custom loop. And although it is not as efficient as a custom loop, it is almost as good in terms of thermals for most PCs. In addition, it will also deliver objectively better performance than most air coolers, giving you the ability to cool down advanced computers without spending a lot of money. It will also look better if you are interested in it.
The “If You Can Afford” section is important. Although you can get AIO coolers for as little as $ 70, you might look somewhere in the $ 100- $ 200 range for a good 240mm or 360mm unit. However, they are cheaper than ever, making them more tempting than ever. But if your specific PC can do well with an air cooler or even a storage cooler, it may be worth putting the money on other parts, such as better RAM or storage.
They are neat, but not everyone needs one
Not everyone needs an AIO cooler. Most computers will be powered by a tower air cooler – most of them will give you enormous thermal ceilings for even some advanced chips. But when you reach a certain TDP or plan to overclock, water cooling becomes necessary – and this is where AIOs come in.