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Uncovering the Reality of Water-Cooled PCs: Pros, Cons and What to Consider Before Investing

Article Image Craig Hume - MD @ Utopia

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So I was scrolling on Facebook and stumbled across a video advertising water-cooled PCs, like the one pictured above. The basic premise was that water-cooled PCs are great for everyone, hell even your grandmother should have one. They run cooler, faster and quieter, oh and they look great too...but the truth is that it isn’t all cool and quiet in the world of watercooling, so in this blog, I’m going to show you what you need to consider before investing in a shiny new water-cooled rig.

To do that, I am going to cover the following key points:

  • Why you need to cool your PC
  • Closed-loop VS open-loop Cooling
  • Reasons you should invest in watercooling
  • When to avoid watercooling?

Why do we need to cool our PC?

First, why do we need to cool our PC in the first place?

Heat is the inevitable by-product of computer hardware operation, but too much heat can cause your PC to slow down.

When hot, the CPU will trigger a feature that reduces performance to avoid damage to the processor - often referred to as thermal throttling or dynamic frequency scaling. So, we want to keep our components cool, meaning in turn, they don’t have to scale down performance. To do that, we use various types of fans, heatsinks, and watercoolers.


Closed loop VS Open loop cooling

So now we have been reminded why we need to cool our components, we can move on to watercooling in general. If you’re new to this, you may have seen two key types of watercooling being advertised, closed-loop and open-loop. First, let's break down the differences between these loops before focusing on the details of open-loop cooling, hopefully helping you decide if open-loop cooling is for you.


Starting with closed loops. A closed-loop is a pre-built water cooling loop that comes ready to use out of the box. We can install these in your PC by simply attaching the radiator and fan assembly to the case and securing the CPU block to, you guessed it, the CPU. These are also sometimes known as an, “all-in-one water cooler” or just AIO for short. These coolers have three main parts: the radiator, the tubing and the pump. With these coolers, there isn’t anything you need to do yourself apart from installing them to your system, as no further maintenance is required.


So, now we know what a closed loop is, let's further explore open loops. An open loop is designed by your computer manufacturer or, if you’re building the PC on your own, by yourself. These are more expensive, more difficult to install and require yearly maintenance to provide consistently good performance.  The critical components of an open loop are as follows, Waterblocks, radiators, pumps, reservoirs, fittings, tubing and coolant, all of which can be customised to meet your cooling and aesthetic needs. Together they are also known as a “custom water cooling loop”.


Unlike the closed-loop options, there are considerably more variables to consider. Each one of the components that makes up the loop has countless variables, from size, upgradability, cooling potential, aesthetics and more. Take, for example, radiators. These come in many sizes - 120mm, 240mm, 360mm and 480mm along with varying thicknesses, fin densities and port layouts. Getting these options right makes the difference between a well-running, well-balanced, good-looking loop and something potentially noisier than a traditional option, with poorer performance and severe maintenance issues.


So to summarise to this point, I’ve made this handy table:


Closed Loop (All in One / AIO)

Open Loop / Custom Loop

Cheap

Expensive but expandable

Easy to install

Difficult to design and install

No maintenance

Yearly Maintenance

Good cooling

The best cooling

Simple Warranty

More points of Failure

Louder than high quality Air Cooling

Quiter when designed correclty

Clean looks

Amazing custom aesthetics

Modest Overclocks available

The highest overclocks are possible



Reasons you should invest in water cooling

1. It’s More Efficient than Air


Air cooling is nowhere near as efficient as water when it comes to keeping things cool because of water’s high thermal conductivity. Remember earlier, we mentioned wanting to keep things cool to keep them fast? A good open-loop system is the best way to keep components cool. Open loops also potentially extend your hardware’s lifespan due to them running at lower temperatures.

2. Higher Overclocking Potential


When you overclock, you push your computer's performance to run beyond the component's original design. Improved performance needs more power and, in turn, generates more heat. This is where an open-loop watercooler can bring temps down and allow you to achieve more performance at lower temperatures.

3. Takes Up Less Space than Air Cooling Solutions


High-performance air cooling solutions use lots of space! Suppose you plan on running high-end components in a small space or want to fit multiple GPUs (think more than 2) into a single system for applications like 3D rendering or AI. In that case, watercooling is perfect for allowing this to operate effectively.

4. Perfect if your PC will be kept in a hot room.


Air cooling solutions drive air across components to cool them. With that in mind, they won't work very well if the system is in an enclosed or otherwise already hot environment. All you are doing is blowing hot air around. So if you plan to use your PC in a room that is always warm, watercooling can be a real performance benefit.

5. It looks incredible!


Last but not least! This benefit is personal, but let’s face it, if you are interested in tech, open-loop watercooled PCs look amazing and are the pinnacle of expressing yourself through the design of your PC. At Utopia, we offer our flagship water cooling system, the  Renegade, with three configuration options, soft tubing, hard tubing and fully customised. The fully custom option will see us choose each part of the loop with you to ensure you get the exact look you are after for a truly custom-built PC.



 

Reasons not to invest in open-loop watercooling


1. You’re on a budget


Adding an open loop to your system isn’t cheap. From all the parts you need, the additional fans and the time it takes to build and test, which is likely to be days of work to do correctly, you will be adding a lot of cost to your system. If you are looking for the best value against performance open-loop watercooling is unlikely to deliver it.


2. It’s harder to upgrade


Replacing your CPU or GPU is a pretty simple upgrade and one that Utopia designs our PCs around, allowing our customers to be able to do. However, once a system is fitted with an open-loop water cooling system, replacing these components, means a full drain of the loop and potentially a replacement of a component's waterblock in the case of the GPU.


3. It needs maintenance


To keep your loop running well, you will need to drain and refill your loop with new fluid every 12 months or so. These systems are not turn on and forget, if this isn’t for you, it’s worthwhile considering an AIO water cooler or an air cooling solution.


4. Avoid if your PC is not top spec


Let’s say you are thinking of buying a Ryzen 7 or Intel i7 chip for running in your watercooled PC. It would be much better for your build to avoid heavily investing in watercooling those lower-end chips and instead put the money towards buying a higher-end chip. Even when overclocking, lower-end to mid-range chips are unlikely to outperform their higher-end counterparts. There are exceptions to this rule, say you want a whisper-quiet PC or perhaps want something with a small form-factor , but these tend to be niche projects, rather than mainstream builds.


5. It doesn’t necessarily make your PC faster or quieter


I’ve seen many pretty loops that are configured incorrectly and in turn, their components run hotter than if they had been cooled with a decent AIO or air cooling setup. There is also a common misunderstanding of a watercooled PC's noise. Most have many fans as well as a pump to drive the water around the loop, which can create quite the racket on its own and, finally the movement of the water itself. Now a good loop can be configured with multiple radiators whose fans and fan curve has been optimised to allow them to run at lower speeds, but this is a step often missed by home builders, and even some online manufacturers of watercooled PCs. 


Conclusion


So there you have it. Hopefully, now you can see the key reasons watercooling isn’t for everyone but can see why those who do choose it are treated to a whole host of great benefits, as well as having what I believe to be the best-looking PC possible on the desk!


If you're interested in buying a watercooled PC from Utopia, then please check out our Renegade systems in the link below. If you have any questions about Watercooling or anything tech-related, hit the chat button and get in touch!




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