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Simplifying Liquid CPU Cooling: An AIO Water Cooler Installation Guide

Author: PC BuilderTime: 2024-01-06 07:45:01

Table of Contents

Comparing Air Coolers vs AIO Liquid Coolers for Cpu Cooling

When it comes to CPU cooling, there are a few main options to choose from. Air coolers and all-in-one (AIO) liquid coolers are two of the most popular choices. In this blog post, we will compare air coolers and AIO liquid coolers across different performance segments to help you decide which is the best option for your needs and budget.

Air coolers work by using a heatsink and fan(s) to dissipate heat from the CPU into the air inside your computer case. AIO liquid coolers pump liquid coolant to a radiator where fans blow air across it to dissipate heat. Both have their advantages and disadvantages in terms of performance, price, aesthetics, and more.

Budget Cpu Cooling: Air Coolers Typically Provide Better Value

In the budget category of CPU coolers under $50, air coolers almost always provide better value and performance per dollar compared to small 120mm or 140mm AIO liquid coolers. The extra cost of the pump and radiator in a budget AIO liquid cooler doesn't provide enough additional cooling capacity to justify itself. Our top budget air cooler recommendations that will outperform similarly priced AIO liquid coolers include options like the Cooler Master Hyper 212 and the be quiet! Pure Rock 2.

Mid-Range Cpu Cooling: Air and AIO Liquid Coolers Can Both Work Well

In the mid-range price bracket for CPU coolers costing $50-$100, there is more parity between air coolers and 240mm or 280mm AIO liquid coolers. Here you have decent budget to get a fairly high performance air cooler or a properly sized AIO. Those needing max CPU clearance for tall RAM may prefer an AIO here to avoid RAM clearance issues. But quality air towers like the Scythe Fuma 2 or Noctua NH-U12S offer stiff competition in cooling, noise and price.

High-End Cpu Cooling: 360mm or Larger AIOs Excel

At the high end for cooling extremely powerful CPUs like the Core i9-12900K or Ryzen 9 5950X, AIO liquid coolers with very large 360mm, 420mm or even 480mm radiators can provide the best cooling capacity to tame heat output. Massive air coolers can come close, but a high end 360mm AIO liquid cooler like the Lian Li Galahad or NZXT Kraken X73 will outperform any air cooler with lower noise thanks to having 3x 120mm fans instead of just one or two fans on an air cooler.

How to Choose the Right AIO Cooler Size

Choosing the right radiator size for your AIO liquid cooler depends on the CPU you are cooling and your PC case size/clearances.

As a general guideline:

  • 6 or 8 core CPUs: 240-280mm AIO

  • High-end CPUs (Ryzen 9, Core i9): 360mm AIO

  • Extreme CPUs (Threadripper, Core i9-12900KS): 420-480mm AIO

Optimal Mounting Configurations to Install AIO Liquid Coolers

Properly mounting your AIO liquid cooler is important to prevent pump noise issues and ensure optimal cooling performance. Here are some key rules to follow:

  • Avoid mounting the radiator at the bottom of your case. This can lead to air bubbles getting trapped in the pump.

  • Ideal mounting locations are the front, top or side of your case. Top mounting as exhaust is most common.

  • When top mounting, tubes down or front is preferred. If not possible, tubes up works too.

  • Always position the radiator above the pump to avoid trapped air issues.

Configuring Pump and Fan Speeds on AIO Liquid Coolers

Here are some tips on properly configuring pump and fan speeds with an AIO liquid cooler:

  • Run pump at max speed (100%) for first 15 minutes to clear bubbles, then turn down if too noisy.

  • Try to run pump at minimum of 80% speed for optimal performance.

  • Set radiator fan speeds based on CPU temperature via motherboard BIOS or software.

Top AIO Liquid Cooler Recommendations

Based on expert reviews and testing, here are some top all-in-one liquid cooler recommendations across various radiator sizes and price ranges:

  • Budget 120-240mm: ID-Cooling SE-224-XT, Cooler Master MasterLiquid ML240L RGB

  • Value 240-280mm: Arctic Liquid Freezer II, EK EK-AIO Basic

  • High Performance 280-360mm: NZXT Kraken X63/X73, Corsair iCUE H150i Elite Capellix

  • Extreme 420-480mm: Arctic Liquid Freezer II 420/480, Cooler Master MasterLiquid ML360 Sub-Zero


In closing, both air coolers and AIO liquid coolers have their place for CPU cooling. At the budget level, quality air coolers provide the best bang for your buck. For extreme CPU loads, a 360mm or larger AIO liquid cooler is advisable.

By understanding key factors like budget, case fitment and cooling needs, you can select the ideal CPU air or liquid cooler for your next PC build or upgrade.


Q: How long do AIO liquid coolers last?
A: AIO liquid coolers typically last around 6-8 years before needing maintenance. The cooling liquid can permeate over time, reducing performance.

Q: Can AIO coolers leak?
A: Leaks are quite rare with modern AIOs. Reliability has improved over the past 5 years. More likely is permeation of the liquid over time.

Q: What size AIO cooler should I choose?
A: Choose AIO size based on your CPU's heat output and case size. 240mm for mid-range CPUs, 280mm or 360mm for high-end.

Q: How do I control pump & fan speeds?
A: Set pump at 80-100% speed for best performance. Use CPU temp to control radiator fan speeds, like with air coolers.

Q: Which are the best budget AIO coolers?
A: Top budget options come from ID Cooling, Cooler Master, and Deepcool. The MasterLiquid ML240 is a great starting point.

Q: Which brand makes the best high-end AIOs?
A: Arctic and EK make the top performing high-end AIO coolers currently. Corsair, NZXT and Aorus also have excellent premium options.

Q: Can I customize an AIO's appearance?
A: Many AIOs feature RGB lighting on pump head and fans. Some also have LCD pump screens for info display and custom graphics.

Q: Is installation difficult for a liquid AIO?
A: AIO installation is straightforward in most cases. Hardest part is proper radiator and tubing orientation to avoid pump air pockets.

Q: Do I need to maintenance an AIO cooler?
A: AIO maintenance involves repasting the CPU every 3-5 years. Refilling permeated coolant possible after 6-8 years to extend life.

Q: Can air coolers match AIO performance?
A: The very best air coolers nearly match top AIO liquid coolers now. But AIOs provide extra case airflow and more aesthetic options.