8 - Cooling #
Computers, who’d’ve guessed, use power. Shocker, right? Well, using power means making heat, and we need to get that away from the components as fast as we can - if they stay hot they’ll throttle down to a lower speed, and it degrades their quality over time. Not good.
So, what are our options?
Air Cooling #
3-pin and 4-pin fans #
Air flow VS Static Pressure #
Fan size #
Smaller → Louder.
Bearing type #
See The Basics of Case Fan Bearings - Which Bearing is Best? (Gamers Nexus) - though that is a hair out of date as, now, if you want to go all out you can go for Magnetic Levitation bearings. They’re expensive as hell, but they’re quieter, live longer, and are all around better.
Heat pipes & Vapor Chambers #
Liquid Cooling #
Just to get it out of the way now - liquid cooling is not as good as most gamers think it is. The pump itself can make noise and fail, the radiator will require high static pressure fans, and it’s just generally more difficult to work with. That said, if you’re chasing performance or putting in some of the beefiest hardware, you still might have to use it. So, where’s that threshold? Well, to put it simply, if you’re not putting on at least a 2-fan radiator, you’re doing it wrong. Any of the single 120mm or 140mm radiator options are just a worse value than a big ol’ heatsink. So, when do you need something this big? Well, the cut-off is probably right as you enter the 100w TDP range, though even at that borderline it’s often a toss up if you get a big heatsink. It’s really when you start to get into the Intel i9’s, Threadrippers, etc. that it starts to make sense.
Now, as with all things, there are exceptions here. Maybe you’re building in a case where you can’t fit a big tower cooler, but you can fit a large radiator. Maybe your workload is very burst-y and by using a radiator the thermal mass of the liquid will absorb the spikes in a way that prevents the fans from ever ramping up.
But, generally, just… don’t? Unless you’re already building a seriously top of the line system (one where you actually need a 1000 watt power supply) you’re probably better off just putting more money into your actual components and getting a damn good air cooler.