Computer Cooling Systems

Computer Cooling – Does it matter which type?

Tech-Tip# 312 By Mark Tiongco - April 24, 2011

“… Ultimately, you have to consider what specific characteristics of a CPU cooler you’re looking for such as airflow, fan endurance and if you plan to overclock or not.”

If you’re a desktop PC gamer, enthusiast or just want to keep your rig from turning into a George Foreman Grill when it’s running the most demanding games (insert Crysis joke here), video editing, rendering pictures on Photoshop or just heavy multi-tasking, the manner in which your computer stays cool is very crucial in the long-term. Just like how synthetic motor oil does a better job of protecting vital engine parts in the long-run, having a good cooling system can preserve your computer’s motherboard and processor and reduce premature wear and tear. This Tech Tip will examine available cooling solutions and help you make an informed decision.

Air Cooling

Computer Cooling Systems The Good – Simplicity, relatively cheap, easy to install and has good cooling ability for overclocked CPUs (with the right heatsink/fan and configuration) for the price.

The Bad – Simplicity and outdated design, fan can die out, can have reduced cooling if case has poor ventilation.

The Ugly – Comes in all shapes and sizes so it can be confusing picking the right one.

What to look for – If you’re looking to save some cash but want a solid cooling solution, you can’t go wrong with a traditional fan/heatsink setup.

First, you have to examine your computer case and determine if there is enough space to fit a moderate or large-size cooler.

Second, you’ll want to check what fan(s) are around the CPU since these case fans help with pushing hot air out through the back. (or up the top and/or side) The popular trend nowadays is a cooling fan that’s placed perpendicular on top of the CPU and is connected with several copper heatpipes. The main issue with this is the installation can be intimidating for newbies if the cooler arrives fully disassembled. In addition, depending on what you’re hoping to achieve, you’ll want to check a prospective CPU cooler’s specifications.

  • For example, my personal preference is a near-silent cooling with long life. One of my favorites, the Thermaltake TR2-R1 spins at a whisper quiet 17-18 decibels and has a 50,000 hour Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) rating. If you’re all about efficient air movement, you’ll want to check out a CPU Cooler’s airflow rating. The Thermaltake TR2-R1 has a max airflow of 35.43 CFM which is generous for a cooling fan but its huge size makes it impractical for a very small computer case. Also, a cooling fan that supports several processors can be good if you’re upgrading CPUs. Salvaging your current CPU fan can be one less incurred expense when upgrading.

Lastly, if possible, try to find a CPU cooler that has a copper base (or completely copper heatsink) which is better at dissipating heat than aluminum.

Water-Cooling

The Good – Virtually silent operation, has way better cooling capability than a traditional CPU fan/heatsink

The Bad – Expensive, could be difficult to install and configure for beginners, could fail and damage computer parts

The Ugly – Maintenance-heavy, bulky cooling hoses and apparatus, might need a new case

Computer Cooling Systems  What to look for – Water-cooling solutions have become a popular alternative to PC gamers and enthusiasts as it absolutely does a better job cooling an overclocked high-performance processor. In addition, its design makes it near-silent as the only sound would be emanating from the radiator’s fan(s) which is minimal. (some are fanless!) However, you have to be careful and consider the costs involved. A water-cooling solution has a higher cost premium and involves the purchase of a radiator, pump, coolant, solution and heavy-duty tubing. (some have all parts in a kit)

If the water-cooling system malfunctions, either by manufacturer defect or after years of use and wear and tear, coolant can leak onto other vital computer components which could cause additional damage. Furthermore, you might have to mod your case to make room for the bulky tubing that extends out to the radiator and pump. This might involve having to buy a whole new water-cooling computer case all together.

Bottom Line

Ultimately, you have to consider what specific characteristics of a CPU cooler you’re looking for such as airflow, fan endurance and if you plan to overclock or not. For hardcore gamers and video editors looking to get the maximum cooling power from their hard-working CPUs and are okay with the maintenance, water-cooling is probably the more efficient cooling solution.

For beginners and moderate users, air-cooled fan designs have evolved to have a more efficient (and comprehensively bulky) direction such as the Cooler Master Hyper RR-920-N520-GP C which means you can leverage a little more power from your CPU (via overclocking) without having to invest the time, energy and money on a more expensive water-cooling alternative.

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