Gaming PCs have come a long way from the simple air-cooled towers of yesterday. Modern graphics cards and processors output some serious heat when running at full throttle. Liquid cooling has emerged as an enticing solution for keeping high-end gaming components ice cold.
Liquid cooling pumps fluid through a sealed loop to pull heat away from hot components. This allows for lower temperatures under heavy loads compared to traditional heatsinks and fans. The benefits of liquid cooling go beyond just colder CPUs and GPUs. Let’s dive into why liquid makes sense for gaming rigs.
Benefits of Liquid Cooling for Gaming PCs
Liquid cooling offers several advantages for gaming PCs compared to air cooling:
- Superior heat dissipation – Liquid has a higher specific heat capacity than air, and the radiators and pumps in a liquid loop can transfer heat far more effectively. This leads to drastically lower temperatures for processors and graphics cards, even when overclocked.
- Quieter operation – Fans attached to radiators can run at lower RPMs, and pumps make little noise. This results in a much quieter system than shrieking case fans working overtime to cool air-cooled components. Stealthy gaming ambiance is achieved.
- Increased overclocking potential – The extra thermal headroom provided by liquid cooling means CPU and GPU speeds can be pushed way past stock specifications, granting that extra edge for benchmarks and frame rates.
- Aesthetic customization – From sleek tubing runs to flashy coolant colors and RGB lighting, liquid loops allow for personalization that air coolers simply can’t match. Show off your rig in style!
- Longevity of components – Keeping temperatures low improves component lifespan and reduces the risk of thermal degradation over time. Liquid cooling protects your expensive investment.
Clearly liquid cooling brings some major bonuses. But it isn’t without some downsides too…
Drawbacks of Liquid Cooling
Liquid cooling complexity and cost should be weighed against the benefits:
- Increased complexity – Custom loops add many points of failure with radiators, pumps, fittings and tubing. Air coolers are simpler “set and forget” solutions.
- Risk of leaks – Though rare with proper installation, a failed fitting or tube can spill conductive coolant onto hardware. Air coolers have zero leak concerns.
- Higher cost – Complete liquid loops cost hundreds more than air solutions. Closed AIO systems are affordable starter options however.
- Maintenance requirements – Custom loops should be drained and cleaned yearly. AIO systems are sealed and maintenance free though.
- Space constraints – Radiators and pumps require mounting room, limiting case options. Low profile air coolers have less space demands.
For most gaming PC builders, the trade-offs are well worth it for the substantial benefits liquid cooling provides. Let’s examine some of the top pre-built liquid cooled systems on the market.
Top 5 Liquid-Cooled Gaming PCs
Origin PC Neuron
The Origin PC Neuron blends minimalist aesthetics with maximum cooling power, ready to showcase your hardware through its tempered glass panels.
You get your choice of Intel or AMD processors, with liquid cooling keeping temps low on even top-end options like the i9-12900K. Combine this with an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 or 3090 liquid cooled with a custom distribution plate for frosty GPU temperatures.
Vibrant customizable RGB lighting built into the liquid cooling adds flair. Expect near silent operation from the Neuron thanks to pumps and fans running at low speeds. With the cooling headroom liquid provides, you can push clocks past stock settings.
Origin PC stands by the Neuron with a lifetime labor warranty, so performance is guaranteed for the long run. For a powerhouse gaming rig cooled to perfection, the Neuron is a slick option.
Maingear Rush Superstock
Custom cooling specialist Maingear lives up to its reputation with the Rush Superstock, employing a robust APEX liquid cooling system to chill processors and graphics cards in this powerhouse machine.
The Superstock can be configured with AMD Ryzen or Intel Core CPUs, combined with your choice of NVIDIA RTX 30-series graphics up to the ultra-enthusiast 3090. Maingear outfits both the CPU and GPU with liquid cooling using quick-disconnect compression fittings.
A large aluminum radiator provides ample surface area for heat dissipation. Top-tier pumps keep coolant flowing smoothly across components. The case features noise dampening material for whisper-quiet operation.
Fully customizable RGB lighting lets you add some flare to the liquid loop. Given the Rush’s thermal headroom, Maingear encourages cranking up clock speeds for extra performance through overclocking. This liquid-cooled beast delivers temps low enough to satisfy the most demanding overclocker.
Digital Storm Vanquish
Extreme cooling meets cutting-edge components in Digital Storm’s Vanquish gaming PC. House within the Vanquish’s tempered glass chassis is Digital Storm’s meticulously engineered Cryo-TEC custom liquid cooling system.
Unlike AIO coolers, the Vanquish liquid loop separates components into thermal zones. The CPU receives a dedicated cooling loop, while the high-end NVIDIA GPU gets its own isolated loop too. This thermal segregation allows each component to operate at peak efficiency without heat soak degrading performance.
By splitting processor and graphics cooling into parallel loops, coolant temperatures can be kept exceptionally low compared to a serial loop. Fan speeds also reduce to near inaudible levels thanks to the superior heat dissipation. The Vanquish keeps your hardware icy even when pushing frames to the limits at 4K resolution or in VR.
Do you dare unleash the overclocking potential within the Vanquish? The Cryo-TEC liquid cooling can certainly handle the heat. This cutting-edge thermal tech makes the Vanquish one of the most advanced liquid-cooled systems available.
Corsair One a100
Corsair takes liquid cooling into the living room with their ultra-compact One a100 system. At just 12 liters, it is remarkably tiny for a liquid-cooled gaming PC.
Corsair custom engineered the One a100’s liquid loop for high performance in tight quarters. A low-profile pump and radiator pair with slim tubing to cool the CPU and GPU discreetly.
Unlike many exposed liquid loops, all the tubes and components remain hidden within the One a100’s exterior aluminum framework. The only visible indication of liquid from the outside is the frosted translucent panels with icy blue LEDs.
Because confined cases require creative cooling solutions, Corsair opted for liquid over air in this pint-sized powerhouse. The sealed loop design requires no maintenance while keeping thermals tame even at full gaming loads.
Whisper-quiet operation makes the One a100 at home in your entertainment center. Small form factor gaming PCs rarely offer liquid cooling, but the One a100 proves impressive performance comes in compact packages.
NZXT BLD Kit
NZXT enters the liquid cooling game with their BLD Kit pre-built PC, featuring an AIO cooler made by NZXT’s own Kraken brand. Buyers choose between AMD or Intel for processing muscle to go with NVIDIA 3000-series graphics.
The Kraken Z closed-loop liquid cooler uses a radiator and 140mm fans to draw heat away from the CPU. Its infinity mirror cap gives a mesmerizing RGB light effect, accented by an LCD display with temps and custom images.
Aesthetics were not overlooked – the BLD Kit includes tempered glass side panels to showcase the liquid cooling. A rear 140mm radiator fan expels GPU heat. Customizable cable combs add a clean finishing touch.
NZXT covers the BLD Kit with a 3 year warranty plus lifetime customer support. For those seeking liquid cooling that is both stunning and functional, NZXT’s foray into PC building checks the boxes.
How to Choose a Liquid-Cooled Gaming PC
With so many models available from boutique manufacturers, selecting the right liquid-cooled PC involves weighing several factors:
- Cooling needs – AIO systems can sufficiently chill mid-range components, while custom loops better suit high-end overclocked CPUs and multi-GPU setups.
- Size requirements – Compact cases like the Corsair One a100 offer integrated liquid cooling at the expense of limited upgrades. Full towers accommodate extensive custom loops.
- Noise tolerance – The quieter operation of liquid cooling is perfect for noise-sensitive users. Performance seekers may tolerate more fan noise with air cooling.
- GPU clearance – Bulky radiators can limit graphics card size, or require vertical mounting. Measure to ensure GPU fit.
- Tubing routes – External tubes showcase coolant flow, internal concealed routing provides a cleaner look.
- Maintenance – Custom loops require annual draining/filling – sealed AIO systems are maintenance-free.
- Warranty – Leak damage can occur even in AIO systems. Look for at least 2 years of coverage.
- Overclocking – The extra thermal headroom from liquid is ideal for pushing clocks past stock speeds.
- Aesthetics – Many liquid systems offer RGB lighting and colored coolant to customize appearances.
- Expandability – Custom loops allow adding components down the road. AIO systems are not designed for upgrades.
- Budget – Liquid cooling adds cost, but boosts longevity of expensive gaming hardware.
By evaluating these factors against your needs and preferences, you can zero in on the optimal liquid-cooled rig. Let’s go over some commonly asked questions for further tips.
Liquid Cooling FAQs
What are the benefits of a liquid-cooled gaming PC?
Superior cooling allows liquid-cooled gaming PCs to achieve lower temperatures under load, quieter acoustics, increased overclocking potential, aesthetic customization, and improved hardware lifespan compared to air cooling. Liquid cooling also enables smaller form factor designs.
What are the drawbacks of liquid cooling versus air cooling?
Liquid cooling is more complex, poses a small risk of leaks, often costs more, requires periodic maintenance on custom loops, and imposes space constraints to fit radiators. Air coolers are simpler, leak-proof, cheaper, maintenance-free, and more compact.
How difficult is it to install and maintain a custom liquid cooling loop?
For first time builders, installation can be tricky and requires following instructions closely. Leak testing for 24 hours is strongly advised. Draining and replacing coolant every 6-12 months maintains optimal performance, along with inspecting fittings and tubing for leaks during maintenance.
What types of liquid coolers are available?
All-in-one (AIO) sealed units like the Corsair H100 require no maintenance. Custom loops allow choosing individual water blocks, radiators, pumps and fans, but need annual coolant draining/filling. Hybrid models like the NZXT Kraken combine aspects of AIO and custom loops.
Which components benefit the most from liquid cooling?
High-TDP processors like the Intel Core i9 and AMD Ryzen 9 greatly benefit from liquid cooling, as do powerful video cards like the RTX 3080 and 3090. Both CPUs and GPUs can be overclocked further on liquid cooling.
What should I look for in a liquid cooling system/loop?
Radiator thickness, fan static pressure, pump quality, reputable brands like Corsair and EKWB, flexible tubing, compression fittings, thermal sensor ports, and compatibility with your specific case and components are key considerations.
How often does the coolant fluid need to be changed?
Every 1-2 years for premixed coolants. Clear coolant lets you monitor color change for replacing sooner if needed. Pastel and dyed fluids may require replacing every 6-12 months. More frequent changes if buildup is visible.
What coolants are ideal for a custom loop?
Distilled water with additives like PT Nuke inhibits growth effectively. Premix fluids like Mayhems X1 offer convenience and colors. Avoid automotive antifreeze and vinegar. Pastel colors look great but require more frequent changing.
Can I overclock my CPU/GPU with a liquid cooling loop?
Yes, liquid cooling provides substantial thermal headroom for overclocking. Silicon lottery still plays a role in maximum clocks. Stress test with Prime95 and FurMark, while monitoring temps. Overclock incrementally for stability.
How often should I visually inspect the loop for leaks?
Inspect tubing, radiators, pumps, and fittings every few months for droplets which may indicate slow leaks. Catching any leaks early prevents major failures. Also inspect anytime you transport the system.
Liquid cooling transforms high-end gaming PCs from roaring beasts into sleek, cool, and quiet machines. While air cooling stillworks for basic builds, liquid’s superior heat transfer enables lower temperatures, increased overclocking, hushed acoustics, dazzling aesthetics with RGB lighting and colored coolant, and ultimately longer hardware lifespan.
Leading system integrators offer turnkey liquid-cooled PCs packing the latest Intel or AMD CPUs paired with NVIDIA RTX graphics. Models like the Origin Neuron, Maingear Rush, Digital Storm Vanquish, Corsair One a100, and NZXT BLD Kit represent the pinnacle of liquid-cooled gaming systems.
While not strictly required, liquid’s merits make it a worthy investment if you’re building a top-tier gaming rig. Carefully plan components, tubing runs and maintenance needs – but the effort pays dividends in cooling performance. Your hardware will thank you!