TechSpot: Freezing Cold CPU: Water vs Air Cooling

A few short months ago we compared 10 of the best CPU air coolers and despite stiff competition from Thermalright and Silverstone, the successor to Noctua's legendary NH-D14 -- the NH-U14S -- may have made the strongest impression of all. Besides keeping our overclocked 4.3GHz Core i7-4960X at 53 degrees (30% lower than Intel's stock RTS2011AC), Noctua's solution was one of the quietest tested, generating only 44dB of noise.

Although we didn't think twice about stamping the NH-U14S with our Outstanding Award, we've since wondered how it would fare against a basic water cooling setup. On paper, closed loop systems simplify the process of diving into water cooling, being about as safe and easy to work with as air cooling while delivering much of the performance you'd expect from an elaborate custom loop at a fraction of the cost.

For example, Corsair's Hydro H75 is priced at $85, while Silverstone's Tundra TD02 is $120 -- both of which we've picked up -- and it's not like the Noctua's air cooler is cheap at $75. It doesn't seem like it would be hard to justify a $10 to $50 premium for an entry-level liquid setup, which should run cooler and quieter than the NH-U14S with few if any drawbacks. "Should" being the key word and the reason we're here...

Read: Aftermarket CPU Cooling: Closed Loop Water Cooling vs. Air Cooling

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11 Comments

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Great article. I have the Corsair H50, and it's one of the best PC purchases I've made. It's a little more bulky than the newer models, but it still takes up much less space than an air cooler.

I also just bought a used Thermaltake Water 2.0 for $30 on Ebay, which I'll be putting in an HTPC, so you can find these things for super cheap.

I've used the Noctua big boy for some time on my i3770k OC to 4.5ghz and it's never been above 75. I considered liquid cooling first, but reading so many reviews of people losing their entire rig from leaks convinced me it wasn't for me. The failure rate is unacceptable as far as I'm concerned and proved an unnecessary risk.

You have to love how they compare a dual fan rad to a single fan rad and expect that to be a valid setup. They should just come out and say that they know they are full of crap and are comparing 2 incompatible products.

That said I think my h100 sandwiched between 4 120mm fans probably beats everything on that chart.

I would have liked to see a 4 fan H100 setup tested also. When we upgraded my wife's computer that's what we used and I'll be doing the same when I upgrade mine.

Should have thrown an Evo 212 in the mix, as it's half the price of the Noctua and nearly as good at cooling. It's a little harder to justify the low end water coolers when that's on the market for so much less.

It's funny that we call these closed-loop systems "Water coolers" as there is rarely any water in them. The heatsink that goes on the CPU is usually copper, and the radiator is usually aluminum. That combination with water can cause corrosion issues, so the manufacturers usually use something like a pure ethylene glycol