Want to know one of the most argued topics when it comes to PC building? Whether you’re just kicking off your PC building journey or consider yourself an expert, you’ve more than likely debated whether AIO coolers are worth it or not.
While this question can be very subjective, there are some objective facts we want to share with you when it comes to picking the right cooling solution for your next build.
Are AIO Coolers Worth It?
AIO coolers are definitely worth it if you are looking to overclock your components regularly, need a quiet cooling system, or aiming to get more space in your case. This is particularly important when using a Mini ITX case, as AIO coolers are slimmer in profile which gives you more room for your RAM. AIO coolers are also worth it if your PC will be in a place with low airflow where traditional air coolers begin to drop in performance.
The Pros of AIO Coolers
AIO Coolers have plenty of great points in their favor. Here are two things we really like about them:
- AIO Coolers excel where airflow isn’t nominal
- AIO Coolers provide greater cooling during overclocking
We’ve encountered plenty of people who have to put their PC under their desks and against the wall because they just don’t have the room to safely put their PCs anywhere else.
In this scenario, cooling solutions that use air coolers are going to provide a hotbox effect as it is circulating hot air in and out, and your fans are sure to cause a ruckus as it does. AIO coolers don’t suffer from this limitation as they provide consistent cooling due to their liquid solution.
AIO coolers really prove their worth when it comes to getting the most performance during long overclocking sessions. Overclocking refers to when you push any PC component above its designed configurations either through third-party or manufacturer-provided tools.
When it comes to overclocking, liquid has proven to be king. While, on average, liquid versus air cooling has been shown to have just a small temperature difference, those few degrees are super important for overclocking.
Most motherboards have an auto high temp safety shutoff, so being able to maintain a steady temperature is more important with overclocking than normal use.
As you can see, there are plenty of benefits for AIO coolers, but not everything is sunshine and rainbows.
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The Cons of AIO Coolers
While there are certain use scenarios where AIO coolers are a great solution, there are a few times when they fall flat. Here are two things we can’t stand about AIO coolers:
- AIO coolers have a defined lifetime
- AIO coolers tend to provide little performance boosts during normal use
AIO coolers are self-contained, meaning the coolant that is within the system typically cannot be (or should not be) replaced after installation. Even with proper maintenance, this places an expected lifetime of about 3 to 5 years.
This lifetime comes from the liquid coolant evaporating over time naturally due to the heat exchange and general properties of liquids. This can definitely make them less appealing for those looking to invest in a cooling solution they can take from build to build.
The second biggest flaw we found with AIO coolers is in regard to perceived performance gain. Over various benchmarks and testing done by the denizens of the internet, it’s been concluded that there is very little performance increase (if at all) when using an AIO liquid cooler versus a more “traditional” air cooler while in normal operation.
Normal operation, in this instance, refers to playing a game in a decently cooled room without any overclocking or other high-temperature additions. The cooler the computer is, the better all of its parts will run, but equally expensive AIO coolers and air coolers tend to have a difference of just a few degrees during this level of operation.
This is why we mentioned that AIO coolers are great for overclocking in our pros section, but if you’re not looking to overclock your machine, then an air cooler may be the better choice. Speaking of which.
AIO Coolers Versus Air Coolers
Our writers, much of Reddit, and beyond, all have their opinions on what the best cooling system is. If we didn’t, you wouldn’t be looking to find out if AIO coolers are worth it, would you?
To really understand why there is still a debate, the best place to start is with the price.
While AIO coolers are becoming more affordable over time, the difference in price between the highest-end air cooler and the highest-end AIO cooler has the air cooler around $50 – $100 cheaper.
As mentioned, air coolers also provide similar (and in some instances better) performance than AIO coolers during normal operation. As you may already know, air cooling has been around for a long time, and it won’t be going anywhere any time soon, as it still works great. In fact, lots of our writers swear by it.
Moreover, air coolers tend to have longer lifespans due to their simple design. However, when it comes to PCs, especially gaming PCs, there’s only so much an air cooler can do within a system.
We’ve noticed a trend as CPUs have become more powerful, heatsinks and fans have become waaaay bigger to provide enough cooling. Unfortunately, there are only so many ways to make a fan, so the level of customization and “curb appeal” really suffers with most air coolers.
AIO coolers, on the other hand, come in all shapes and sizes and even have different colored coolants to make your system look just the way you want it. Heck, there are even tutorials on YouTube on how to change the color of the coolant! We don’t recommend following any of these, but it’s there for those brave enough to try.
As you can see, there are plenty of benefits and drawbacks for both air and AIO coolers. However, we do have some guidelines on whether or not an AIO cooler is worth it for you.
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Should YOU Get an AIO Cooler?
If you’re still on the fence about whether an AIO cooler is right for you, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you want to overclock your system reliably?
- Are low noise levels important to you?
- Do you have a case that requires a slimmer cooling system?
- Are you OK with spending an additional $50 – $100 for close to equal performance (at normal operation)?
If the answer to any of the above is Yes, then an AIO cooler is a great solution for you. However, if your answer was no to all of the above, then it’s AOK to skip getting one.
As mentioned a few times, air coolers are generally less expensive, provide similar performance, and, as long as you have room in the box, will fit most standard cases. While you can find some AIO coolers at good prices if you search around, this currently is a more specialized use case.
That said, we still recommend looking into them and do believe AIO coolers are worth it for anyone who finds themselves in a situation such as the above where their needs are matched. Or maybe someone who just wants something that looks super cool!
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So, are AIO Coolers worth it? We’d say absolutely if your use case matches its many benefits. Just as a reminder, if you’re weighing the options, AIO Coolers excel when it comes to overclocking, unique PC builds, and situations where airflow isn’t optimal.
Before you run out and buy one, though, remember to look at all the options to find one with proven reliability, and don’t forget to protect it with proper maintenance once installed.
So, what do you think is better – air or AIO cooling? Continue this ages-long debate by leaving a comment below!
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