Windows Guides: What is Liquid CPU Cooling? [Hardware Explained]

By Rich Robinson for Windows Guides

What is Liquid CPU Cooling? [Hardware Explained]

The computers I work on every day are cooled by an on-board water cooled heat exchanger—without water cooling (WC), they’d either run slowly (best case) or overheat and shut down (worst case.) Outside the enterprise, liquid cooling isn’t as necessary but, for around $100 US, you too can enjoy liquid cooling technology on your overclocked home rig. In this guide, we’ll cover the basics on liquid cooling and explain why liquid cooling is superior to air cooling. We’ll then look into why you really don’t need liquid cooling for your home PC—but don’t let that stop you!


Reader Dustin Harper says it better than I can:

Watercooling may sound simple and sweet, but gets complicated real quick. Soon, you’ll have parts everywhere, and want to upgrade to a better part and then go with a new water additive, then maybe a larger radiator, then a new waterclock. Soon, you’re $500 in the hole and still wanting more – point being that it’s very addictive! 🙂

Liquid and Electronics? What Kind of Liquid?
Generally, a water-based solution is used due to it’s high thermal conductivity. Yes, water is ionized and electronically conductive so your best protection against accidents is good planning for and careful testing of your liquid cooling system.

Distilled water is a good choice if your CPU block doesn’t come with a solution. I recommend using a liquid-cooling specific solution because you really don’t need very much and these solutions are formulated to inhibit microbial growth in your system.

This guide will refer to “water” throughout but you can use any liquid like alcohol, oil, glycol etc. As your system is sealed tightly, a water-based solution is always the best option because of its excellent thermal conductivity (23 times more so than air) relative to other liquids—bettered only by mercury, which is really not a good liquid to use!

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