Liquid Cooling vs. Air Cooling Benchmark In-Depth (NH-D15, NZXT X62, & More)

by birtanpublished on September 29, 2020

One of the oldest debates and component selection for PC building as air cooling versus liquid cooling other than the obvious buyer advice that people seek this is also an interesting topic because of one key thing a really bad liquid cooler it can cause catastrophic

Damage which gets a whole lot of attention online well a really bad air cooler will mostly just not work but not actively harm other parts for the most part liquid coolers are safe for use and we have them in most of our test benches

But the times that illiquid cooler is bad it's really bad and it gets a lot of attention reliability is one angle that we'll talk about today but we'll also be focusing on thermal performance time to study

State temperature noise normalized performance with each coolers own stock fans set to 35 DBA and more our hope is that this will help you answer some questions before buying your next cooler for your PC built before that this video

Is brought to you by Thermal Grizzlies conduct a not liquid metal conductor nada is what we've used in all of our liquid metal and delayed Thermal tests capable of dropping TV thermals significantly and replacing the stock

Thermal interface lower CPU thermals don't just allow better overclocks but also lower noise levels because the transfer efficiency has increased the mix of gallium and indium makes for a thermal conductivity of 73 watts per

Meter Kelvin outclassing traditional pastes significantly learn more at the link in the description below so we're testing on different sized IHSS different thermal loads from the CPUs our testing here won't be just one knock

To a cooler versus a random liquid cooler we're looking at a wide selection of both we recently published a deep dive on our new thermal testing procedures for coolers air coolers liquid coolers doesn't matter it's got a

Lot of really key points so there's a separate piece on that if you want to learn about the methodology used for this content it's all in there there's also an article for it if you want the written version separately this

Discussion altogether of is one better than the other each of them is better than the other depending on the scenario and we'll go through numbers to show which is best in air quotes for straight thermals and we're going to talk about

The practical side of things to the reliability side of things it's also again frustrating that people want such a bloodbath between liquid cooling and air cooling products because it's it's a cooling product and the the level

Of emotion people seem to express in their angry internet comments about why someone else is an idiot for using a cooler that this particular person didn't use it's insane it doesn't make any sense so most the people who make

Those comments have no idea what they're talking about and you should ignore them so each of these things has legitimate use cases we'll go over those we're going to embark on proving which is better in quotes for thermal testing but

There's more to it than that and a couple of key areas of consideration for this content will be as follows one thermal performance this is the primary talking point primary evaluation point two times the so core times the max

Temperature this is a new test we've added ease of installation the clearance of things like PCIe slots big downside for large air coolers RAM slots and case compatibility and that's a problem for both products depending on what you're

Talking about longevity is another one or points of failure and risk at the end of this content we're going to talk about the major forum arguing points of reliability and failure rates because this is also something that's often

Discussed the first chart is a new one we haven't seen focus on this before so we'll explain it briefly before putting the chart on the screen we're calling this one time – max representing the time required in seconds to reach steady

State temperature on the CPU to measure CPU temperatures in our later charts we use a reading averaged across a couple hundred cells of data once the CPU has stopped climbing in temperature and has stabilized this is known as steady state

Or in our instance the point at which the temperature is mostly stable and stops moving around we allow about 23 to 30 minutes for this depending on which CPU you we're using it's a fixed number for each CPU and we found that this

Amount of time is sufficient for coolers of every size to reach steady state one thing that isn't shown is how long it takes for those coolers to reach steady state here's the chart this measurement is simple we plot the second two second

Measurements across the entire test suite then we use spreadsheet formulas to determine the point at which steady state is reached we have a lot more cooler than this tested for the later charge for thermal data but here we're

Only looking at the new metrics so it's a bit more limited the time is second taken subtracting the known idle period prior to start the deep cool assassin three and knocked with nhd fifteen are both large air coolers they both

Required about 87 to 90 seconds to reach steady state temperatures or their averaged peak that will be presented in later thermal charts the 280 mil crackin X 62 didn't reach its maximum peak temperature which is also lower mind you

Until 260 seconds after the load started or about 4.3 minutes that's long enough that a bursted workload will calm down by then and most workloads like gaming are bursted they're not actually a hundred percent CPU load constantly

They'll bounce between the CPU and the GPU so you'd end up at a lower temperature than the air coolers for that work period in the very least the CLC 360 takes longer than the X 72 to heat up specifically because of its

Higher overall temperature result into poor static pressure from the fans the amount of liquid gives the COC 360s which the X 72 also has extra room to soak some of the excessive heat load that its fans in the case of the EVGA

Product have difficulty dissipating but it's still for EVGA is a bad solution at this noise level of 35 DBA and always normalized that 20 inches away we'll talk about this more shortly this is the biggest untold story of air

Vs. liquid the time to max temperature is significantly longer on liquid coolers to 240 millimeter sizes and higher as that liquid takes a while to warm up so this is a potential upside but it's one that most people won't

Really realize in their daily use it's still important to point out though the test coming up we'll use the AMD r9 39 50x CPU a 16 core solution with a fairly high thermal density given the IHS size the test bench has been configured to

Run out of fixed frequency and voltage with v core at one point to a nine get and vsoc at 1.06 three get power into the EPS 12-volt pins is about 200 watts for this workload and other than power leakage it's relatively unchanging this

One is noise normalized for 35 DBA at 20 inches distance in a room with a noise floor of about 26 dB anyone doing liquid versus air without normalizing for noise isn't really doing the test justice since then the winner is just going to

Be whoever has the fastest loudest fans for the most part will have those tests too if you care but you need this one to make sense of anything the whole point of liquid cooling afterall is that it can

Theoretically be run at a quieter noise level while maintaining similar performance to air let's get the chart on screen remember this is noise normalized and it's using everyone's stock fans so it's

About as fair as it gets for a performance comparison the big liquid coolers lead this chart with the big air coolers not very distant the courser a 500 continues to act as a lesson that a cooler is only as good as its contact

With the device being cooled it falls behind at 61 degrees Celsius over ambient or about 3 degrees worse than the Noctua NHD 15 air cooler and about 7 degrees worse than the NZXT cracking X 62 closed-loop liquid cooler at 280

Millimeters for the radiator size if you want to know more about why the a 500 is as bad as it is we have a review on it but it primarily boils down to an unlevel cold plate that we previously demonstrated in this scatter plot this

Plot from our a 500 review shows the cold plate levelness the a 500 doesn't efficiently transfer heat at higher heat loads but it blends into the background at lower heat loads overall it's definitely worse out of the bigger air

Coolers tested so this probably isn't the best representation but it shows the low end back to the new chart the EVGA CLC 360 proves good only at higher noise levels which we'll see later but it struggles at these lower noise levels

Its fans don't have the static pressure required to overcome the radiator as confidently as the crack in X 62 partly because the CLC 360 has more loss out of the sides of the frame and 120 fans hath you run faster anyway to compete with

The 140 s and pushing air through a radiator at lower speeds the X 72 also has a static pressure issue here ultimately matching the X 62 at 35 DBA note that these results reshuffle around a bit on the Intel HDTV platform later

Where we raised the noise level to 40 DBA allowing a higher rpm the nhd 15 is about 4 degrees Celsius worse than the X 62 which we've long favored among liquid coolers that'll get you a couple megahertz out of a rise in CPU and

It will afford you slightly more over vaulting or overclocking Headroom but not enough for either to matter too much for daily users as anyone with experience actually testing coolers can tell you these results are expected

Large liquid coolers should perform better in an absolute and technical sense and they do the bigger note is that you could run the X 60 to still quieter and match the nhd 15 if you normalize for thermals instead you might

Be able to drop the X 62 to 33 DBA instead of 35 and match the D 15 at 35 we didn't try that explicitly but that's about what these results say and it's another take away for the differences in what temperature really means it's not

Always performance it can also be just lower noise so then no big air coolers are not thermally better than big liquid coolers when both are set to the same noise level on a 200 watt load for pricing the nhd 15 is closer in price to

The EVGA CLC 280 that's another ACE attack unit that we've tested with high performance overall it's one of the better ones actually for the price the kraken x 62 is obviously way more expensive and if you're just looking for

A reasonable but not the best performance solution and you don't care about looks and if you're not worried about ram clearance k side panel clearance or the top PCIe slot then the D 15 is better value than the X 62 they

Target different markets though and that's half the point of this content the X 62 is clearly RGB infused and wants to go after that market but it also fits in more ATX case it's even at 280 millimeters and it won't cause

Clearance issues with the slots on the board the RAM or the PCIe slots the D 15 targets those who prefer Old Faithful performance and want to spend less they're both good it just depends on where you use it in terms of strict

Their own performance at an equal price we would need to come down to a 240 CLC to check for that and we can move to our older h EDT chart for that testing where we have dozens of liquid coolers for comparison

We've just run the d 15 on the assassin 3 for this one we recently partitioned our Intel HD DT CPU cooler thermal charts into a soak chart which measures across a power load dip that's intentional and a peak thermal chart

Because we're testing air cooler versus liquid here we'll only be using the steady-state chart the soaked chart is only meant to help see how well the differently sized tanks handle the power load fluctuations so this isn't useful

Here since we're trying to compare air and liquid not just liquid the liquid normalized an out on 40 DBA rather than 35 DBA and tested in a larger IHS from the Intel HD DT series the Noctua NHD 15 ends up roughly equivalent to a Corsair

240 ml h 100 i pro that's what we expected they're all performance of the D 15 when normalized for noise levels is about the same as a 240 millimeter CLC of a similar price class the H 100 I series is one of the oldest liquid

Coolers on the market and it has models that come down to about a hundred dollars the EVGA CLC 240 priced at $100 runs at 44 degrees versus the 47 degrees of the D 15 on this particular bench remember that IHS size and die spacing

Will have a difference on thermals so this won't translate to every platform out there in an exact linear fashion but it should be a pretty similar hierarchy overall we don't think the CLC 240 is particularly worth it when considering

The CLC 280 as 12 dollars more but you can watch our review for that as far as translating to other platforms things that would matter and can change the performance stack would be monolithic thighs versus multiple dice like modern

Rison or thread Ripper versus monolithic Intel or Intel HD DT the IHS size also matters but ultimately the IHS size also is outmatched in terms of performance Delta by the dip and IHS if it's concave or convex and how the cold plate matches

That we'll talk about that in a moment though the D 15 ends up overall outclassed on this particular IHS this thermal load and this monolithic sigh but it's still not bad it's just not meeting 360 ml performance

Unsurprisingly and it's about seven degrees away from peak to 80 mil performance with the h1 59 platinum at about 40 degrees as is the X 62 the X 42 performance is nearby as well but it leads into our next point about cooler

Design and what they're meant for cold plates are designed for different types of coolers ASA tech for instance designed it's CLC's around Intel CPUs because they're cold plates and pumps made the

Biggest strides before risin came out its attacks older generations of cold plates were concave which would better match the CPU IHS curvature of the time anyway and the two services would fit together flush Lee once the mounting

Pressure was applied mounting pressure was considered in the building of these and there was a known flex in the cold plate as a certain amount of pressure was applied ace attacks a larger cold plate also guaranteed every bit of

Larger h EDT IHSS would contact it and there'd even be some spillover for extra soak the micro fins inside the cold plate are what really matter though and these cover almost the entire area of the h EDT cpu IHS at least non-threat

Offer once that's a different story it covers more than the die area of the cpu and so they're once again matched well to certain cold plate designs Gen 5 ASA Tech designs moved over to a flat surface and got rid of the tree like

Concentric rains that older gen to cold blades hat all of this is to say that you could optimize for any type of CPU you want as a manufacturer and you're going to have some benefits there versus companies who prefer to

Generalize rather than specialize or who specialized in something else neither is better or worse but ASA Tech did build its original designs at the height of Intel CPU popularity for HED T in particular and so we're not surprised to

See the lead grow in this test these liquid coolers are still in the lead on Rison just less significantly and that comes down to the IHS design and the dye layout moving on to the 100% fan speed tests on the AMD r9 30 and 50 X we now

Stop normalizing for noise and start allowing coolers to perform at full bore first some that's deafening like the EVGA CLC 360 and it's 60 point 4 DBA a noise measurement it's the coolest by a long shot

About four point five degrees cooler than the already cool X 62 at fifty one point five DBA the more acoustically reasonable X 62 runs at 51 degrees Celsius over ambient which has it three degrees better than the assassin three

The assassin three measures at fifty four degrees while at forty six DBA the Noctua NHD 15 comes out looking more balanced with its 44 DB a result of 55 degrees but it's also technically at the bottom of the chart

The word technically is key here because realistically the difference between fifty five point two degrees and 51 point two degrees is enough to account for a couple megahertz on a modern GPU or CPU but not enough to create a

Meaningful performance change in your application will move to the r7 38 100x at 35 DBA now remember that we're changing everything with this the core count drops from 16 to 8 the frequency changes from four point two to four

Point three gigahertz and the voltage changes to one point two eight seven volts get remember also that our goal is to generate heat the actual overclock is irrelevant just the heat that it produces in watts about two hundred for

The original testing and somewhere closer to 117 122 B 123 for this to play on how much power leak is there is from the cooler this CPU is running at a lower power but higher voltage across fewer die across for your course so the

Point is that you can't compare the results of the 3950 X results for this one we've already collected some additional data with an octa and 1814 s and an aqua nhe 12s which are single tower 141 20 Mill coolers respectively

We talked about these in our a 500 review if you want to learn more the kraken x 72 and x 60 to remain about equal this noise level like previously and that isn't a surprise the X 62 runs about 3 degrees cooler than the assassin

3/4 degrees cooler than the D 15 and similar for the a 502 the D 15 as we showed in our course here a 500 review this lower heat load benchmark is realistic for a lot of users but it also doesn't exaggerate the difference

Between large coolers as well that's amplified by the Nhu 14s performance which is functionally equivalent to the larger air coolers tested here because of the limited power load going into the cooler the larger coolers just aren't

Leveraged as much as in the 200 watt test still the liquid coolers retain a technical lead and the nhe 12s shows that there is a point to fall-off where you'd want something better and even still if you might upgrade later

Overclock or have some reason to need the higher-end coolers it's important to at least know the numbers of what's better at the higher act finally our last thermal chart looks at load temperature on the 3800 x

Fan set to max speed again running at different noise level so this isn't the same as an 35 DB a test X 62 and X 72 leave the chart at about 50 degrees the 72 seems to run at the lower end of the plus or minus 10 percent standard pump

Speed variation whereas our X 62 runs closer to the middle so this is maybe part of the performance Delta but if we look at our 80 test bench which we're not going to put on the screen for this but you can

See it in our other reviews the X 72 runs about one degree cooler at max speed which is within variance of the 60 to either way regardless of which bench we use there with an error of each other and are functionally equivalent the

Assassin three large air cooler and NHD 15 alongside the horridly inefficient and loud a 500 are all about two to three degrees warmer at full speed the NHD 15 remains one of the most efficient operators at max fan speed although with

This lower power load the Nhu 14s looks potentially better depending on needs it's not enough heat load to really push the large towers but the liquid cooler still benefit from the reserve of water and the efficiency at which they move

The heat away from the CPU the question of liquid versus air has always been pretty simple but people really seemed to become cheerleaders for one or the other and it's a bit of a weird mentality here's what it boils down to

Ultimately in the strictest most tactical sense roughly price for prize liquid is going to be in large air quotes better than air but that doesn't mean it's better to buy it just means that the temperature

Is going to be at least a couple degrees lower if your noise normalized may be more if you're not noise normalized if you look at the CLC 360 for example so air coolers even knock towards Eric Holder's they're not magic they can't

Beat the laws of physics and a lot of people seem to think that they can because of bad testing the reality is that they're good air coolers but they're not going to be better than a good liquid cooler there's really bad

Liquid coolers out there there's really bad air coolers out there but if you put good air cooler versus good liquid cooler in the worst cases they're going to be about equal and in the best cases for the liquid one they're going to be a

Couple degrees different but a couple of things here we'd almost never recommend certain CLC is a lot of the low-end coolermaster ones have had issues with Likud in general and that's a matter of the CLC

In particular that specific design having a problem we wouldn't typically recommend 120 ml CLC's they are almost never a good deal they're typically way over price what you get there typically garbage performance and you can get

Better for a small Tower like an NH you 14 hours for 12 as in most instances so 120 s are mostly out we would only really recommend lightly using those if you're doing some specific a small form-factor PC build that just can't fit

Something else or you need more than a short Tower 140 Mel's fall in the same bucket for that both are contingent upon special cases as for 240 and higher once you account for getting an actually good product because again both exist liquid

Cooling is going to lead but it's primarily better and taking longer to heat up this may or may not matter for you if you don't know then it probably doesn't matter for you and it also just doesn't get as hot but we're again

Talking a couple degrees different so and you might also be able to normalize for heat if you wanted and then you're at two to three DBA different so those are your main differences is kind of acoustic or thermal to very small

Amounts and that's about it the bigger differences are the most obvious ones will start with air coolers large area coolers are going to be more restrictive for PCIe slot clearance for the top slot side panel clearance in

Terms of protruding out of the case they're going to be more problematic with some of the memory that's on the market like collar memory and installation is typically a bit more annoyed with air coolers especially on

Desktop platforms rather than HTTP where everything's excellent to work with and take a bit longer so all that said you typically only install a cooler once or once every few years when you build a new system so

Installation is not really a huge point of consideration but it's worth mentioning there's a big misconception that liquid coolers have a high failure rate which is also largely incorrect liquid cooler failure rate is

Universally pretty low but it's made more bombastic by videos including some of ours covering the most catastrophic failures for instance nearly 100 percent of NR Max's lift tech to line for thread report will fail at some point that's a

High failure rate but that's because of the company being cheap and not using the correct coolant a Sutekh and cool it or cool IT supply most CL CS and also have units and server farms around the world their

Deployments number in the millions and include extreme environments like extreme cold or extreme heat liquid coolant is reliable and overall has a low failure rate and most failures are not catastrophic meaning they don't

Typically explode and leak in a system the most common failure would be pump failure but even that isn't that common people just think it's common because of confirmation bias either they want to believe it's a higher failure rate

Because they have some bias or they're exposed to more media even including ours talking about unit failure is more than unit successes and there's an obvious reason for that too when we review a video card it's a one-off

Instance when we review liquid core it's one-off instance we'll only really revisit that video card in the counter example if there's some dramatic failure because you don't typically as a user or as someone in media really go back to

Talk about something if it's well it's been in the system and it's working fine because what do you do with that that's not really content once people install that they may expect it to work that's like what it should do so you don't

Really want to give praise for that because then it's just doing its job it's doing what every product should do which is continue to work under circumstances for which it was built but when something catastrophic ly fails you

Obviously want to condemn it or bring attention to it or get the problem fixed so we don't make videos talking about how all of our test benches and all of our production systems have been using liquid coolers since basically forever

And we don't really talk about how some of the high-end units that we have in deployment on test benches haven't failed in six to eight years all that said we get to the point in favor of air coolers if you want something firmly

Reliable and with limited points of failure and air coolers obviously going to well in most instances be that product liquid coolers despite having lower failures than what is perceived will still have higher failures than air

Coolers there's a lot involved it's not just a difference of there's a fan and a pump so there's one more point of failure the pump it's a difference of there's a fan there's a pump there's liquid there's permeation

To consider there's corrosion to consider if the manufacturer used the incorrect liquid there's issues of the percentage of glycol if you're using it in a more extreme environment there are a lot of

Things to consider with a liquid cooler that make an air cooler just a lot simpler and that's a completely valid very strong point in favor of air all liquid coolers will eventually have their liquid permeate the tubes

Even though really good ones so at some point typically it used to be five years now it's six or so but it's a bit nebulous because we haven't hit that point for most of the good ones that are new yet but it's an expected six year

Lifespan till you start having extreme permeation of the tubes with the liquid and at that point you either have to refill it or replace the loop or the cooler depending on what you purchased so this is another point in favor of air

Coolers a fan might have a usable lifespan of seventeen thousand hours at the low end to maybe forty fifty thousand hours at the higher end and in that instance you could take an air cooler from one system to another for a

Decade and as long as you have mounting hardware or it can make mounting hardware that cooler is still gonna be good whereas the liquid cooler will at some point have some kind of mechanical failure within it or will need

Maintenance to get the liquid back up to what it needs to be so that's what it boils down to is air coolers have one thing that needs to actively not suck which is going to be the fan and then one thing

That needs to passively not suck which is going to be the cold plate and once you've gotten both of those things in order you plug it in does the fan turn on yes no once those both check the box yes you're pretty much in business and

They're install and forget as for us we use liquid coolers and pretty much actually in not pretty much but every single production system we have here and in every single test bench actually the CPU bench is the cooler benches

Obviously are different the GPU bench is the only one we don't use a liquid cooler in is the case test bench which is for other reasons so we trust them enough for that people have this idea that closed-loop liquid

Is scary and prone to failure but the reality is it's scary and prone to failure with untested units and there's a reason I use that I can cool it two suppliers are so commonly sourced and it's because both of them have good

Failure rates they're low but there are very valid reasons to use air coolers and we very much like their colors as well I'd like to use one in my next personal system build because I don't want to ever mess with the system again

I'm gonna build it and leave it alone for eight years and run QuickBooks and Chrome and so for that and every cooler for me is great or if you just want something again that you don't ever have to think about an air cooler is great at

The same time liquid coolers are technically thermally better if you are talking about a decent cooler versus a decent cooler at a similar price point not the worst of the liquid cores I would say this I think in conclusion

Liquid coolers at the absolute low end are dangerous because they can cause harm to the system they can break things they can damage other components and potentially cost you a lot of money air coolers at the extreme low end will suck

At their job but they probably won't kill anything else as long as you realize they suck at their job in time so once we're talking about the better stuff like we did in today's review is just buy whichever one you want it

Doesn't matter as long as it meets the rest of the specs that you need there's no firm better for everything so that's it for this one thanks for watching and subscribe for more of this type of content go to store documents accessed

At net or slash gamers Nexus if you'd like to support us directly in this type of extensive testing where we try to provide a really detailed and all answer for something we'll see you all next time

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