What is an AIO cooler?  Do I need one for my gaming PC?

What is an AIO cooler? Do I need one for my gaming PC?

The beauty of building a gaming PC is that you can choose which parts it should have and fine-tune it to your specific needs. However, once you get past a certain performance point, some things become a necessity, and water cooling is one of them!

The best part? While you’ve probably heard in the past that water cooling is an expensive, ultra-enthusiast affair (and still is in some scenarios), there’s an easy and affordable way to get into it: an AIO cooler. But what exactly is it, and should you use one?


What is an AIO water cooler?

AIO stands for “all-in-one”, and when it comes to AIO water coolers, that’s a pretty good summary of how they work. AIO water coolers are a simplified water cooling kit intended to be an install-and-forget thermal solution, similar to air coolers.

They have the same basic working principle as ultra-expensive custom water cooling kits. There is a radiator that is meant to be attached to the top or front of the computer case, fans that are meant to disperse heat from the radiator, a copper/metal block installed on top of the CPU socket, and of course coolant flowing around. cooler, assisted by a pump.


However, unlike these kits, a few things are simplified. There is usually no reservoir for coolant, nor is it necessary to plan and work with piping in the case, since the cooler comes with soft, sleeved pipes that go straight from the radiator to the CPU block and vice versa. That hose is also factory sealed and pre-filled, meaning you’re not supposed to be putting in your own coolant, and likewise, there’s almost no chance of coolant leaking unless it’s physically damaged.

They also have a price advantage. While a custom watercooling loop can set you back several hundred dollars, a reliable AIO watercooler can set you back anywhere between $70 and $200, depending on whether you want more premium materials or a larger radiator.

Are AIO coolers better than custom water cooling loops?

Surely, with both price and performance advantages, AIO water coolers must be better than custom water cooling loops in everything? And the answer to that is that while AIO coolers are good for almost everyone, custom, old-school kits still have their place.

AIO coolers can be used by almost any computer, but some specific setups, especially ultra-expensive ones, may still require a custom kit. After all, a well-planned loop can still give you better thermals than an older PC. While AIOs are also limited to just your CPU (there are some AIO GPUs too, but they’re not the norm), custom loops can also cool down the GPU, RAM, or even the power supply if you really want to.

They also have the advantage in terms of appearance. You can make it look exactly how you want it, whether you want to use soft or hard tubing, and it can make your PC look great. AIOs can also look good, but when it comes to a rough comparison, custom water loops will almost always have the upper hand.


That said, they are also much more difficult to install and, as we mentioned before, more expensive. So in most cases you’ll probably prefer an AIO.

Are AIO coolers better than air coolers?

In most cases they are, yes.

As a principle, coolant will almost certainly do a better job than air of keeping things cool. Liquid can help a lot in transferring heat away from the CPU. Think of it like how jumping into a pool or taking a cold shower will cool you down much faster than standing in front of a fan. And if you can fit one in your PC, your CPU will live a much cooler life than with most air coolers.

That said, air coolers still have the price and simplicity advantage. They are much easier to mount as you don’t have to lug around and attach a radiator to your computer. They’re also significantly less expensive, coming in at about half or even a fraction of an AIO’s price. And many will still do a pretty good job of adequately cooling your CPU, especially tower-style ones from manufacturers like Noctua. Unless you’re going above a certain price point or trying to overclock your chip, they shouldn’t sweat at all.


But when comparing things in terms of performance, without taking other factors into consideration, AIOs win in most scenarios. This brings us to our next point.

Should you use an AIO cooler on your PC?

If you can afford it, by all means do it.

AIO coolers have several advantages over both custom liquid cooling loops and air coolers. The assembly process is definitely more complicated than for a standard air cooler, but still infinitely easier than taking the time to assemble a custom loop. And while it’s not as efficient as a custom loop, it’s almost as good in terms of thermals for the vast majority of PCs. In addition, it will also deliver objectively better performance than most air coolers, giving you the opportunity to cool down high-end computers without having to spend a lot of money. It will also look better if you are into it.

The “if you can afford it” part is important. While you can get AIO coolers for as little as $70, you might be looking at somewhere in the $100-$200 range for a good 240mm or 360mm unit. However, they are more affordable than ever, which makes them more tempting than ever. But if your specific PC can do with an air cooler or even a stock cooler, it might be worth putting the money towards other parts, like better RAM or storage.

They’re neat, but not everyone needs one

Not everyone needs an AIO cooler. Most computers will be served by a tower air cooler – most of them will give you huge thermal headroom for even some high end chips. But when you reach a certain TDP or plan to overclock, water cooling becomes necessary – and that’s where AIOs come in.

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