Gaming PC models are extensively designed to ensure gaming sessions go smoothly. As these devices run for hours and hours, an effective cooling mechanism is needed to ensure the CPU does not get overheated and remains cool even during intense gameplay.
While building gaming PCs, buyers often get confused between the AIO and the custom loop cooler mechanism. While AIO is more pocket friendly and offers a straightforward approach, the custom loop liquid cooler with extreme and complicated mechanisms is a bit pricey. So, which one should you choose? Let’s discuss this in detail to help you make the right decision!
- What is Liquid Cooling?
- What is AIO Cooling and How Does it Work?
- What is a Custom Loop and How Does it Work?
- What are the Components Required for Custom Loop Cooling?
- AIO and Custom Loop Cooling- The Difference
- Which to Choose, an AIO Cooler or a Custom Loop Cooler?
- AIO Vs Custom Loop – FAQs
What is Liquid Cooling?
Liquid cooling is a cooling mechanism that uses water for better heat management. Usually, liquid cooling involves water blocks, radiators, tubes or pipes, fans and even sometimes a reservoir to keep the extra water. The water block is attached to the CPU, and the water from the block absorbs the generated heat from the CPU. Then this heated water reaches the radiator and again gets cooled down. The procedure continues like this.
There are two methods of liquid cooling- All-in-One cooling or AIO cooling and custom loop cooling.
What is AIO Cooling and How Does it Work?
AIO, or All in One Liquid Cooler, is a well-known cooling mechanism that comes with a partially assembled kit. You just need to install the kit inside the CPU. A typical AIO kit has tubes, water blocks, a radiator and a pump. It is also easy to install and can take fifteen to thirty minutes to install the kit completely.
The Fans in the AIO kit cool the radiator, and the radiator dissipates the heat from the processors. The liquid tube panel is usually attached to the processor for better cooling. The cooling liquid first passes through the tubes and goes to the pump, gradually absorbing the heat and becoming hot. The hot liquid then returns to the radiator through the tubes. The cooling fans then cool down the liquid once again. This cycle repeats itself, keeping the CPU cool once the computer is turned on.
What is a Custom Loop and How Does it Work?
A custom or open loop cooler is one of the most advanced cooling mechanisms available. It involves effective cooling to touch the water. You need to buy each component of this cooling mechanism separately to assemble the whole unit inside the CPU separately. Due to this, the installation is time-consuming and takes enough technical knowledge. Hence, you will find only expert PC builds or professionals using this more.
The tubes are connected to the reservoir and the cooling water blocks; the water blocks come with micro fins and absorb the CPU and GPU heat. The cooling water becomes hot, and these again go to the radiator and the pump. The pump and the radiator cool down the liquid and store it in the tube. This cycle continues as long as your computer runs.
What are the Components Required for Custom Loop Cooling?
1. Water Blocks
The water blocks are specially designed blocks that absorb the heat from the CPU. Micro fins ensure the cooling surface increases and the heat is channelled better and faster to help you maintain the overclocking.
2. Reservoir and Pump
The reservoir is a small tube that stores the extra water and works as the filling point in a loop. As the water circulates during the cooling mechanism, the air bubbles are slowly replaced by the water.
The pump is a small machine that circulates the water inside the custom loop cooling. It comprises a motor and a pump top comprising outlet and inlet ports. Usually, Pumps are sold separately.
3. Radiator and Fans
The radiator dissipates the heat and cools down the heated water while the fans help to keep the radiator cooled.
The water flows through the copper tubes, and during this time, the radiator fans are turned on, and the liquid cools down. The extra fans then start to cool down the radiator. In the case of custom loop cooling, the fans are unique as these provide static pressure while being as much noiseless as possible!
4. Tubing and Fittings
This is an open loop custom cooling, so you buy tubes to create the loop. While buying, you need to check the outer diameter (OD) and inner diameter (ID) sizes and diameter to ensure they will fit the whole unit. Usually, the tube is marked with the larger digit for the OD, and the smaller digit denotes the ID.
The fittings are crucial for building a custom loop cooling as these are used to connect each of the components to create the custom liquid loop. You can find different sizes of fittings with hard or soft tubing. You can buy these as per your preference.
AIO and Custom Loop Cooling- The Difference
1. Cooling Performance
In this case, the custom loop is the sure-shot winner. If you have a properly constructed and customized loop cooling mechanism in your CPU, it will dissipate the heat faster and better. It happens because the cooling loops have more headroom to disperse the generated heat faster than the pre-assembled AIO kit. It can also cool your GPU if the loop also includes the GPU.
But that does not mean the AIO is not good enough. You can also achieve the desired cooling result with AIO kits.
2. Noise Levels
Well, both in the case of custom loop cooling and AIO kits, the fans and the pump make the most noise. In the case of larger radiators, the radiator fans can also make noise while working.
In this case, if the radiator is smaller, the sound will be louder as smaller radiators come with only one fan that needs to work harder and makes more noise than usual. On the other hand, larger radiators of 240 or 360 mm, have multiple fans, which make less noise. Besides that, the radiator case and the cooling fan slots also make a big difference.
But here, the AIO kits score a bit less. These kits use more affordable radiators and fans that make more noise. On the contrary, you can buy separate radiators and fans for custom loop cooling, which allows you to buy a powerful fan and radiators with less noise. On top of that, you can also cancel the GPU fan noise if the GPU is included in the custom loop cooling.
In simple words, when an AIO kit comes with pre-installed fans and radiators, it can make more noise than the custom loop cooling kit, which can be made from scratch to eliminate all possible noises.
3. Installation & Maintenance
Installing an AIO is easy and takes only fifteen minutes to half an hour as the kit comes pre-assembled, and you need to just plug the pump into the AIO_PUMP header and the fan into the CPU_FAN and CPU_OPT headers.
In the case of maintenance, it is also an easy process- you just need to keep the AIO kit dust-free as much as possible.
On the contrary, custom loop cooling is a bit complicated in terms of both maintenance and installation. You need to build a whole network from scratch, which involves a lot of patience and time; you need to bend the tubes with that gun and form the loop.
Not just that, you must maintain the custom loop cooling to ensure it does not leak and works appropriately. You must change the cooling liquid at least twice yearly, which is also time-consuming.
If you need a straightforward solution with minimum maintenance, AIO is ideal. But custom loop cooling is excellent if you need customized cooling and do not mind the tedious maintenance and installation task.
In the case of aesthetics, the custom loop cooling scores better. While aesthetics has a personal appearance, there are multiple options to amp the aesthetic game when you choose custom loop cooling. You can use colored coolants, which are visible from your side.
On the other hand, the AIO kits come pre-assembled and do not offer any such aesthetic value. So, if you want to go for looks, we suggest custom loop cooling with vibrant colors.
Modularity refers to upgrading and customizing things on the cooling component. If you check both AIO and Custom loop cooling, the latter wins in this case.
The AIO cooling kits usually come pre-assembled. Hence, if anything goes wrong in one part, you must replace the whole pre-assembled kit and buy a new one to get things right.
On the other hand, the custom loop cooling allows you better modularity. If a part becomes defunct, you can easily change that part and replace it with a brand-new one. You can also change the liquid, liquid colour, radiator size, tubes, and other components to upgrade the whole cooling component.
On top of that, you can continue to use the custom loop cooling by refilling and changing the liquid.
If you check out the longevity, the AIO usually lasts longer than the custom loop cooling. Custom loop cooling usually lasts 1-2 years, and you must change the liquid every six months. On the contrary, the AIO will last 3-6 years if you keep the fans and radiator clean.
In the case of size, the AIO coolers usually come with standard-size boxes and are usually smaller. On the other hand, you can choose the sizes and surface areas of the Custom loop cooling model as per your wish.
8. Temperature Regulation
Regarding temperature regulation, Custom Loop Cooling is the sure-shot winner. It has a larger surface area and can quickly dissipate the heat faster. Since it has better cooling power, it can regulate the temperature better and more effectively. On top of that, the custom loop cooling can also cool down the GPU alongside the CPU. But, the AIO can only cool the CPU, and it has less capability to regulate the temperature.
Hence, it is clear that custom loop cooling is better at regulating the temperature.
The AIO is way cheaper and burns your pocket lightly. You can find AIO at just $100 and get added features like a larger radiator or RGB if you go up to the price mark of $300.
Now, it is quite less than the usual price tag of the custom loop cooking mechanism; you need to buy everything, including the liquid block, radiator, tubes etc., separately. A standard and very basic custom loop may cost you $400. If you need a high-performance and customized cooling lop, the budget can go up to $600 or even more.
Which to Choose, an AIO Cooler or a Custom Loop Cooler?
Well, there are a few things that you need to discuss and check out before finding the right cooling solution for your computer-
- If you are an amateur PC builder and want to avoid the installation hassle, the AIO is better as it comes pre-assembled and takes less time to install. But, if you are getting it done by professionals or have the proper knowledge and need the best possible cooler solution, always go for the custom loop. Yes, installing a custom loop is a hassle; you must get the entire roast separately. On top of that, the maintenance is also tricky. But, you will definitely like the extra effort you pay with the result you get.
- If you need an optimal cooler solution for your computer and do not want anything less, a custom loop cooler is your ideal choice; even though AIO cools down the CPU, the Custom loop even has the mechanism to cool the GPU alongside the CPU. On top of that, it also has better cooling capability than the AIO. But if you do not need to get the higher mechanism, as your PC generates comparatively less heat, you can quickly go for AIO.
- Aesthetically, the Custom loop cooler has better appeal. The custom loop can be a good choice if you want to go for the aesthetic appeal and create an excellent PC.
- Do you want a customized cooling solution? In this case, the Custom loop cooler is the ideal choice. You can customize the wide color, the water blocks, the tube and the fittings, and even the fans and radiators to suit your PC cooling requirements. But, if you are not a fan of customization and do not want the extra hassle of buying everything separately, the AIO box is a great choice.
- If you have a tight budget, it is better to go for the AIO, which is more affordable; on the contrary, if you do not mind spending one extra buck, always get a custom cooling loop. You will love it.
AIO Vs Custom Loop – FAQs
Ans: The custom loop has an average temperature range of 5-8C deltaT while the average temperature of AIO is in the 12-15 C deltaT range. Hence there is always a temperature difference of 7-8 delta range between these two.
Ans: Yes, absolutely; installing AIO requires a new thermal paste. Some brands, like Phanteks, offer a tube of paste with it, and you can even buy it separately.
Ans: The AIO liquid CPU cooler alone cannot cool down the whole CPU. Hence, you will always need extra case fans for better heat management.
Ans: Custom loops are better than the AIO as they can eliminate GPU fan noise. On top of that, you can customize the radiator size to get larger fans and even multiple cooling fans to make things less noisy. Hence, it is quieter than the AIO cooler.
While the AIO offers a straightforward installation with a ready-assembled box, the custom loop cooler has more space for customization with a somewhat tricky installation and maintenance procedure. In the end, the choice lies with you. You can check this article and choose the ideal cooling solution based on your preference and budget.