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What is Liquid Cooling?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Liquid cooling is the use of liquid, typically water, to cool off computer systems. This is usually achieved through heat transfer from the computer parts across a metal surface and into the liquid. The liquid is then run through a system like a radiator to cool the water and send it into the computer again. Due to the nature of water as a conductor, liquid cooling systems can help release a great deal more heat than traditional heatsink and fan systems. Though fans are still most commonly used, as computer equipment becomes more powerful and creates more heat, such systems may become more common.

A liquid cooling system is built with a series of hoses running throughout a computer tower, replacing typically louder fans. Plates made of copper or other highly conductive metals are placed in contact with the central processing unit (CPU) or other heat-producing parts of computer equipment. The water tubes are then joined to those metal parts to carry the heat away through the system and release it through the radiator. Built upon basic laws of thermodynamics, the transfer of heat through this type of system is efficient and the heat is released far quicker than through traditional heatsinks and fans.

Traditional heatsink and fan systems work by pulling heat away from a CPU or other device into the metal heatsink, and then the fan blows air over the heatsink to transfer the heat out from the system. Water has a far greater degree of conductivity than air, and so the water is able to more quickly absorb the warmth from computer equipment, and then release that heat. This type of system can also more effectively move the heat completely out of the tower, instead of relying on more fans to then push the heat out. While most computer users may not yet need liquid cooling, as hardware power increases, which increases heat produced by the equipment, such systems may become more popular.

Some initial users of liquid cooling can be concerned with potential issues of having water running throughout their expensive computer equipment. Most liquid cooling tubes are manufactured to withstand pressures much greater than those created through standard use of the system. Anyone looking to buy such a system should be sure to buy it only through a reliable manufacturer with an established reputation of quality products. Though liquid cooling may be more effective than heatsinks and fans, they are often quite a bit more expensive as well. Like any other technological purchase, research into manufacturers and looking for reviews or comments from users of the product, is strongly recommended.

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