Liquid cooling vs fan cooling

steve Building a Computer , , , ,

In the world of computers, heat is the thing that causes the most issues. Consistently running while your computer is over heating will cause permanent damage to your computer. In terms of heat transfer, there are three ways to remove heat, conduction, convection, and radiation (this isn’t the same kind of radiation from all that nuclear stuff).

Anything hot will radiate. The only way to take advantage of this for cooling a computer is to keep your computer in a freezer. This isn’t very practical by itself.

That leaves conduction and convection. All computers use conduction to a degree. They will have heat sinks that touch the hottest parts and are designed in a way to allow the most air contract.

The convection is caused by the fans pushing the hot air away from the heat generators. This works great most of the time. Occasionally, you need to use a fluid that can absorb more heat than air. That’s where liquid cooling comes in. It provides a cold liquid that remove heat much more efficiently than air.

You can find the same heat transfer concepts in everything. In a pot of water you have conduction from the heat source into the pot, convection in the swirling water, and heat radiation from anything hot). If you are interested in the science behind this then leave a comment and I’ll go full nerd on you. The question remains, what’s better liquid cooling or fan cooling?

Heat absorption

In the world of thermodynamics, there is a measurement of how much energy it takes to raise one gram of something by one degree Celsius. It takes water about four times as much energy to raise a degree than it does air.

The water can hold a lot more heat energy than the air. In a computer, this means the cooling doesn’t have to run as much to keep your computer at the same temperature. If you have a computer that has a problem overheating, the liquid cooling will be able to keep the computer much cooler.


I’m sure we’ve all seen how much dust a fan can get. A fan in your computer is no different from a box fan or a ceiling fan. They get dusty, and in a computer, dust eventually blocks all air flow off.

This is one of those less mentioned things about fans. Dust isn’t the only thing that reduces the cooling efficiency. If you are building, or have built your own computer then you’ll need to worry about cables blocking the air. In laptops and prebuilt desktops the manufacturer had taken care of the cables.

With a liquid cooling system, there is no forced air flow to pull in all those particles. You’ll still get dust, but it’ll only be the amount that accumulates on the top of a door frame, and this dust won’t affect the cooling efficiency of your system.

Oh the noise, noise, noise

My office (which has nothing to do with this website) recently had a network upgrade. The new equipment belongs in a server room (it isn’t in one) and it has some killer fans on it. This thing is loud.

The point is that fans make noise. They don’t all make the same amount, but they can put out a lot of noise. Nobody wants to have a computer that is always making high-pitched noises.

With a liquid cooling system you have the bliss of silence. Trust me on this. When you have to listen to a high pitch computer fan for hours, a little bit of silence is fantastic.

All good things have a price to pay

That saying if there is no such thing as a free lunch always holds true. That cost may not always be money, but in this case it is.

If your stock fan dies, you can pick up a new one on Amazon for about $8 for a stock fan. If you want to upgrade to a liquid cooling system you’ll be paying anywhere from $60 for a CPU cooler to $250 or more for a liquid cooling system for the entire computer.

The more expensive kits come with a coolant solution, but it’s mostly water. You could rig one up yourself for less. In either case you’ll need to worry about springing a leak and spraying water throughout your computer.


Liquid cooling is pretty awesome. But the majority of us wouldn’t benefit from it very much. To really know which one you should use, you need to look at your hardware and your tasks. If you haven’t experienced any over heating problems then you really don’t need liquid cooling.

If you are really itching to upgrade your system, then the absolute best upgrade you can do is to put in a SSD (solid state drive) for the hard drive. If you go this route, you’ll see the best performance boost if you install your OS (operating system) is installed on the SSD.

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  2. There are some first generation desktop computers which do not have any cooling fans on their casings. This was because their designers have decided that computer fans just destroy the general appearance of their desktop machines. However, to the annoyance of end users operating these computers, the heat generated by their machines is so extreme that it causes some chips to be dislodged off the main board.

    1. There are all levels of users out there. Anyone that wants to become an expert can. They just have to start somewhere and challenge what they know. Thanks for commenting.

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