With CPU overclocking getting more and more popular and new CPUs coming out every year, liquid cooling is becoming the new standard for keeping CPU temperatures in check. When it comes to liquid cooling your CPU, you have two choices to go with; either an AIO vs Custom Loop Liquid cooling.
In this article, we’ll cover the basic differences between both types of cooling methods and their effectiveness and find out which one is the better choice to go with when building a PC.
Also read: 280mm vs 360mm AIO
- AIO Liquid Cooling is an all-in-one cooling solution that’s easy to install and costs less compared to Custom Loop setups. On the other hand, Custom Loops offer better performance, aesthetics, and quieter operations compared to the AIOs.
- AIOs don’t require a lot of preplanning to implement inside your PC and take much less time for installation compared to the Custom Loops, which can take days to fully assemble.
- Custom Loops can also include GPU cooling inside the loop, which can help in improving the GPU performance, whereas the AIOs don’t have this feature.
What Is AIO Liquid Cooling?
AIO, or All-In-One Liquid Cooling, is a CPU cooler that comes with all the parts needed to liquid cool a CPU pre-attached to a single unit. It includes everything from a water block that has a coolant that absorbs the heat coming from the CPU, a pump that circulates this heated-up coolant to the radiator by tubes, and the fans that dissipate the heat outside of the PC case. Once the heat is dissipated, the coolant is sent back to the water block to repeat the process. This is how the AIOs work in keeping a CPU cool and dissipating the heat out of your PC case.
AIOs generally take a lot less time for installation as it’s a very simple process that can be done in about 20 minutes to an hour. The manufacturers also use pre-attached, flexible tubes to transfer the coolant from the pump to the radiator and vice-versa, which removes the need for careful piping of the tubes in the PC chassis.
There’s little to no chance of leakage, which makes the AIOs very safe and reliable. Moreover, they don’t require regular maintenance to keep performing as well as they should. They only require a periodic dusting of the radiator and the fans every couple of months.
AIOs also cost low compared to custom liquid cooling, and the price could range from anywhere between $100-$200 depending on the different sizes of radiators and the number of fans. Most types of AIOs also have decent aesthetics, including RGBs on fans.
Also read: Best 240mm AIO Coolers
What Is Custom Loop Liquid Cooling?
Custom Loop Liquid Cooling is a much more difficult process to work with for new PC builders. In Custom Loop Liquid Cooling, you have to pick out the parts by yourself carefully. These include hardware such as the cooling fans for cooling the radiator, the radiator for dissipating heat, a water block, a reservoir to store the coolant, and a pump to circulate the coolant around your loop. This is without mentioning the tubes through which the coolant flows to different components inside the loop.
All of this can be very confusing for a newbie as it is a delicate process that requires a lot of planning, especially if you want to cool other PC components like the motherboard and the GPU alongside the CPU. But the performance of Custom Loop Liquid Cooling makes the whole thing worth it. You can also check out our guide on how to watercool GPU.
In Custom Loop Liquid Cooling, as everything has to be attached and built separately, the process can be very time-consuming, taking up a whole day or more. Moreover, assembling the loop around your PC case can be very difficult as it’s going to be specific to your case, which is why you should get an expert to help when making a Custom Loop system for the first time.
You also need to make sure that there’s no leakage and test out the whole loop a few times beforehand, so there’s no risk to your system. Moreover, Custom Loop Liquid Cooling requires maintenance on a frequent basis so that it can function properly. This requires changing the coolant, which may require disassembling the whole loop and cleaning the dust off the radiator.
The higher performance of the Custom Loop Liquid Cooling comes at a high cost which generally starts from $400 and could go up to $600. You can use a Custom Loop Configurator online to find the total cost of the project specific to your PC. When it comes to aesthetics, Custom Loop Liquid Cooling can’t be beaten, as you have full control of how every single part looks and functions.
Also read: Best Water Cooling Kit
AIO Vs Custom Loop Liquid Cooling
Now that you’ve had a brief introduction about both types of cooling, it’s time to put them both side by side in various categories to find which is better.
The first thing to take into account when comparing the two methods is the performance of both types of liquid cooling. When done correctly, the Custom Loop Liquid Cooling offers significantly better performance compared to the AIO Coolers. This is because everything from the radiators, water block, pump, and reservoir can be customized to get the best performance out of the loop.
That’s not to say that AIOs are bad at their job. Any AIO from a reputable manufacturer will do a decent job of cooling your CPU, even when overclocked. But when compared to the Custom Loop Liquid Cooling, the AIOs aren’t as good, especially when Custom Loop configurations also allow for GPU cooling.
Another important factor to consider when comparing AIO vs Custom Loop Liquid Cooling is the Installation time and difficulty. As mentioned before, the installation process of AIOs is very straightforward. You just need to install the pump on top of the CPU and the radiator in the fan slots available on your PC case. This process can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, depending on your experience.
On the other hand, Custom Loop Liquid Cooling requires a lot of time to assemble and install in your PC, as every individual part has to be connected perfectly. Moreover, you need to plan out the piping across your PC case, especially when adding the GPU to your loop. This also requires a bit of testing to see if there are any problems with the loop so that there’s no damage to your PC components. This process can take up a whole day or more, depending on your experience, which is why you should get an expert to help out when it’s your first time assembling a custom loop.
For installation, AIOs are the clear winner as they’re both easy to install and take up much smaller time compared to Custom Loop Liquid cooling.
Moving on to the maintenance factor, there are a lot of things to consider.
In Custom Loops, you have to do everything by yourself, which means you’ll have to do a lot of research when getting the parts and assembling the loop. Moreover, you need to check the compatibility of these parts with the rest of your system and with each other. You have to consider the different parts and the materials they’re made of and how the coolant will have an effect on these materials.
There’s also the risk of leakage, and you’ll have to do multiple tests in different environments to prevent it. Moreover, you’ll need to constantly check whether there’s any corrosion or rust in the cooling pipes and tubes. Also, you’ll have to replace the coolant and clean the radiator off of dust every once in a while.
On the other hand, the AIOs don’t require you to do any of that as everything is included in a single unit, and the manufacturers properly run leakage tests through the system. AIOs will only need a cleaning off of fans and the radiator every once in a while to keep them running at their best.
In the case of maintenance, AIOs take the win over the Custom Loops as they don’t require careful maintenance that often and regular tweaks to perform as well as they should.
When it comes to AIO vs Custom Loop Liquid Cooling noise levels, we don’t have a clear winner. The main component making the noise in both cooling methods are the cooling fans, the radiator, and the pump. While AIOs are fitted with fans that have controllable RPMs, if they’re put under a lot of loads and have to work harder, they will produce more noise.
This also plays into the radiator size since the larger it is, the harder the fans have to work. Moreover, most AIOs are fitted with subpar pumps for circulating the coolant around, which makes a lot of noise.
On the other hand, in a Custom Loop, you can decide from a wide range of different pumps that work on silent operation and also offer great performance. Moreover, Custom Loops, including GPU cooling, can also lessen the noise coming from the fans of the GPU. Overall, Custom Loop Liquid Cooling has quieter operations with better performance compared to the AIOs.
Comparing the in the criteria of aesthetics, we can say that there’s no objective winner, but the Custom Loops might have an advantage over the AIOs in terms of customization. As you’re the one picking out all the parts when assembling a custom loop, you can make it look exactly the way you want.
Moreover, solid piping across the PC case looks beautiful, which just isn’t available in an AIO. Furthermore, you have the choice of picking out how the color of the coolant looks in the cooling pipes, which is another visually pleasing feature that isn’t available in the AIO. With the Custom Loop Liquid Cooling, you have more options to choose from and customize according to your liking, whereas an AIO doesn’t have any room for customizability.
The last thing to talk about when comparing the two is the pricing. You’ll find that most AIOs from reputable manufacturers have cheap prices compared to a Custom Loop Liquid Cooling setup.
While Custom Loops do provide better performance as compared to an AIO, it doesn’t come at a cheap price. Most Custom Loop setups can cost even more than many components of the PC case. They have an estimated general price ranging from around $350 to $600. This is why it’s recommended to only get a custom loop liquid cooling setup if you have the most high-end specs in your PC, meaning that if you have spare cash to get a custom loop setup, you can much rather spend that on upgrading other components of your PC.
On the other hand, AIOs have a much cheaper price range starting from $100 and going up to $200. These may depend on different sizes of fans, the number of fans, and the sizes of radiators. It’s important to check the compatibility with the rest of your system when buying an AIO, just like a Custom Loop.
Which Is Right For You?
When it comes to AIO vs Custom Loop Liquid Cooling, there’s no objective winner as it is mostly up to your personal preference. To put it briefly, the Custom Loop Liquid Cooling has an overall better performance compared to an AIO. It also looks visually pleasing and quieter. The downside of having a Custom Loop is the effort and time taken into assembling and maintaining it as well as its expensive price.
On the other hand, an AIO costs cheaper and takes very little effort to install and maintain compared to a Custom Loop setup. Alongside that, an AIO costs a fraction of what a good Custom Loop Liquid Cooling setup with decent performance and noise levels. It also doesn’t look that bad, but it just isn’t that good compared to the Custom Loops.
With that said, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to put in the money and effort into getting a Custom Loop for the looks and the performance or whether to buy an AIO, install it, and be done with it.
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