Custom Cooling vs AIOs

When you think about how much expensive hardware PC builders pack into their systems, it might surprise you to learn that it’s pretty common for them to put tubes full of water, which is the worst thing for electronics, inside their systems. Even though it seems strange at first, there’s a pretty good reason for it.
At its core, keeping a computer running is a game of how to deal with heat. The performance is better the cooler it is.
Liquid coolers, as the name suggests, use water instead of air to move heat away from the CPU. This is because water is more dense than air.
Even though liquid coolers are usually more effective than fan-powered ones, they carry one of the most dangerous substances to your system.

AIOs and Custom Cooling

First of all, it’s important to know that there are two types of liquid cooling: custom tubing and all-in-one coolers (AIO).
Custom tubing is more complicated because the user has to put the whole loop together by bending the tubes into shape, putting the pump and reservoir in place, and so on. The assembly process is beyond the scope of this article, but it’s something to think about if you’re trying to choose between the two.

Even if you don’t count that, there are still some pretty big differences between the two: Custom tubing is a “open system,” which means that the parts can be taken apart and cleaned or replaced. This does not apply to an AIO. Even though they can technically be taken apart and put back together, they’re not really meant to be, and putting water near sensitive electronics isn’t the best idea.

Tubing

It shouldn’t be a surprise that these differences cause a clear difference in how long people live. Most custom tubing setups use rigid tubing, which lasts a lot longer than the soft tubing that comes with AIOs. Also, because they are made up of separate parts, if one of them breaks, you don’t have to buy a whole new set.

Coolant

Also, the tubes themselves should last between 10 and 20 years, but the coolant inside them is a different story. Even though there is biocide and lubricant in the coolant, over time it will collect debris and maybe even biological growths, which will slow down the loop.

This not only hurts how well the loop cools, but it also puts more stress on the pump and makes it more likely to break. Because of this, it’s best to clean out the tubes and replace the coolant at least once a year.

Pump

On the other hand, a custom tubing setup is driven (literally) by the pump, which keeps water moving through the loop. This means that it runs all the time when the computer is turned on, making it the part that wears out the most.

Still, the pump will usually work for about 10 years before it breaks. When it does, it can be easily replaced.

The Lifespan of Custom Liquid Cooling

Overall, how long a custom setup lasts depends a lot on how well it is taken care of. One of my friends has had a custom loop in his system for over 10 years, and it hasn’t given him any big problems.

Custom solutions are great because they can last for a long time, as long as you’re willing to replace parts when they wear out.

AIO Liquid Cooler Lifespan

On the other hand, an AIO is a solution that includes everything. It has a pump, a liquid loop that is sealed, a radiator, and fans. This makes installation much easier because you only have to put together a smaller number of parts. They also need much less maintenance than custom setups.

AIO Liquid Cooler

Even though you can and should clean an AIO regularly, since it’s a closed loop, you don’t have to open it up, drain it, and clean the tubing itself. This means that the radiator is the main thing to worry about.

This hands-off and low-maintenance way of cooling with liquid has a cost, though.

Even though it is technically possible to take an AIO apart and fix it, it’s not a good idea. Chances are, if something goes wrong and fluid leaks, you won’t notice until it’s too late. Even though the loop is pretty much closed, air will eventually get in. This will cause the loop to work less well and wear out faster.

Also, it’s important to remember that the radiator should either be higher than the pump or be at the same level as it. Putting the radiator at the bottom slows down the loop cycle. To make up for this, the pump has to spin faster, which wears it out faster.

On average, a good all-in-one (AIO) should last between 3 and 5 years. However, because of the things listed above, it’s best to just replace the whole thing when it’s done.

How long does a liquid cooler last?

I’ve been using the 240mm Kraken AIO from NZXT for about a year now. And yes, the little screen on the CPU block was part of the reason I chose it. I’m sure it will last about three more years after this.

Conclusion

The durability of liquid cooling solutions depends a lot on which of the two types you choose to use. Custom solutions usually last longer than all-in-one (AIO) solutions, but this is mostly because you can replace separate parts and keep them in good shape.

When choosing between the two, you should think about how much time (and how often) you want to spend keeping them in good shape.

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