Best gpu Cooler: Is liquid Cooled GPU better?

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Written By Dominic Howard

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Graphics processing units (GPUs) are an essential component in computers, especially for gaming, video editing, 3D modeling, and other graphically intensive tasks. As GPUs have become more powerful over the years, they also produce more heat that needs effective cooling solutions. This has led to an ongoing debate – is a liquid-cooled GPU better than traditional air-cooling methods?

In this blog post, we’ll dive into the pros and cons of liquid cooling for GPUs and help you decide if it’s the right choice for your setup.

What is a GPU?

Before we can compare liquid and air cooling solutions, let’s take a step back and quickly go over what exactly a GPU is and why cooling is so important.

A GPU, or graphics processing unit, is a specialized circuit designed to rapidly process and manipulate memory to accelerate the creation of images in a frame buffer intended for output to a display. In simpler terms, the GPU takes the workload off the CPU by handling complex graphical and mathematical calculations.

In a typical computer, the GPU is a separate unit from the CPU and has its own dedicated memory and cooling system. The GPU has a massively parallel architecture that makes it efficient for graphical operations like gaming, video editing, CAD programs, physics simulations, cryptocurrency mining, and more.

As GPUs have become more powerful over the years, with some high-end models like the RTX 3090 packing over 10,000 cores, they also produce a lot of heat. All of this concentrated graphical processing power needs proper cooling to prevent the GPU from thermal throttling and impacting performance. This makes cooling one of the most important considerations when selecting and installing a GPU.

Air Cooling vs Liquid Cooling for GPUs

The majority of consumer GPUs are air-cooled, meaning they rely on fans and heatsinks to keep temperatures in a safe operating range. However, liquid cooling has become a popular alternative, especially for high-end GPUs. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each method:

Air Cooling


  • A more affordable option
  • Easier to install and maintain
  • Less risk of catastrophic leakage


  • Not as effective for cooling high-TDP GPUs
  • Fans can be noisy under load
  • More prone to thermal throttling

Air coolers come in stock on most GPUs. They utilize heatsinks and fans to direct airflow over hot components like the GPU die and memory modules. The GPU’s clock speeds will dynamically adjust based on temperature readings from sensors on the chip. If it hits the maximum rated temperature, typically around 83-95°C, the GPU will begin to throttle performance to regulate temperatures.

While air cooling is the more budget-friendly option, it can struggle to tame the heat from powerful modern flagships like the RTX 3090 Founders Edition with its 350W TDP. Even with multiple large fans, traditional air coolers may lead to thermal throttling or loud fan noise trying to keep up.

Liquid Cooling


– Superior cooling capacity for high TDP GPUs
– Lower noise levels under load
– Less thermal throttling


  • More expensive
  • Risk of leaks that could damage hardware
  • Requires maintenance

Liquid cooling uses a pump to circulate coolant through a closed loop and a water block that covers the GPU die and surrounding components. The liquid absorbs and transfers heat more efficiently than just air. A radiator with fans dissipates the heat from the liquid, keeping the loop at safe operating temps.

A high-quality liquid cooler like an NZXT Kraken G12 paired with a Corsair H55 can drop GPU temperatures by up to 30°C compared to stock air cooling. This gives you more headroom for overclocking and sustained boost clocks. Liquid cooling also reduces noise output by allowing the radiator fans to spin slower while managing the same thermal load.

The downside is that liquid cooling is more expensive upfront and comes with the risk of leaks over time. The pump may also fail eventually, requiring maintenance to keep the loop running properly. You’ll also need to periodically top off the coolant.

Best GPU Cooler Options

Now that we’ve compared the pros and cons of air and liquid cooling, let’s look at some of the best coolers available for both methods.

Top Air GPU Coolers

Noctua NH-D15 – Premium air cooler that can handle CPUs and GPUs. Dual tower heatsinks and NF-A15 fans provide excellent airflow and cooling.

ARCTIC Accelero Extreme IV – One of the best standalone GPU air coolers with a huge heatsink, 6 heat pipes, and 3 powerful fans. Drops GPU temps by up to 42°C.

EVGA Hybrid Kit – Combines air cooling on the VRMs with an AIO for the GPU core. Pre-filled closed-loop and fan for easy installation.

Raijintek Morpheus II– Heatsink with replaceable fans that supports a ton of GPUs. Excellent cooling potential when paired with high static pressure fans.

Best Liquid AIO Coolers for GPUs

NZXT Kraken G12 – Universal mounting bracket lets you attach AIO liquid coolers to a GPU. Compatible with most Asetek-designed 120mm and 140mm AIOs.

Corsair Hydro H55/H60 – Affordable closed-loop coolers ideal for use with the Kraken G12 on mid-range and high-end GPUs. Keep temps cool and quiet.

ARCTIC Liquid Freezer II – Powerful AIO cooler with a thick 38mm radiator for maximum heat dissipation. The bracket is also available for GPU installation.

EVGA Hybrid Kit – All-in-one liquid cooler made specifically for EVGA RTX 20/30-series GPUs. Plugs into the card for easy installation.

Installing Liquid Cooling on a GPU

Installing an aftermarket liquid cooler like the NZXT Kraken G12 does require some technical skill. Here are the basic steps involved:

  1. Remove the stock air cooler from the GPU. Be very careful handling the bare PCB.
  2. Clean old thermal paste/pads off GPU die and components. Apply the new paste.
  3. Install mounting bracket onto GPU and attach radiator + tubing.
  4. Secure pump/water block to GPU die and make sure contact is good.
  5. Optional: Attach heatsinks to VRMs and memory modules.
  6. Install the radiator and fans in the case. Connect the pump power cable.
  7. Seal connections and check for leaks during initial power on!

Take your time following the product instructions and don’t force anything. With proper installation, a liquid cooler can significantly lower your GPU operating temperatures for improved performance and overclocking.

Is Liquid GPU Cooling Worth It?

So is going with an expensive liquid cooling solution like the NZXT Kraken G12 really worth it compared to traditional air cooling? Here are a few things to consider:

For mid-range GPUs, air cooling is typically sufficient. Liquid cooling is overkill unless you want to pursue extreme overclocks.

For high-end flagships like an RTX 3090 or Radeon 6900 XT, liquid cooling can help maximize performance and prevent thermal throttling.

The liquid cooling will grant you lower noise output under load compared to most air coolers.

If you want to push your GPU to its limits with overclocking, liquid cooling gives you more thermal headroom.

Make sure to factor in the added expense of a liquid cooling setup. Budget air coolers can cost $20-50 while liquid AIOs are $75+.

Maintaining a custom liquid cooling loop will require more of your time long-term compared to air cooling.

So for most users, liquid cooling their GPU may be overkill. But for GPU enthusiasts trying to extract every last drop of performance with overclocking, liquid cooling can be a worthwhile upgrade. Just make sure to do your research and choose parts from reputable brands to minimize the risk of leaks.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is a liquid-cooled GPU?

A liquid-cooled GPU is a graphics processing unit that utilizes a liquid cooling system to dissipate heat generated during operation. Instead of traditional air cooling, liquid coolant circulates through a closed loop to keep the GPU temperature in check.

2. Is a liquid-cooled GPU better than an air-cooled one?

Liquid-cooled GPUs generally offer superior thermal performance compared to their air-cooled counterparts. They can maintain lower temperatures under heavy workloads, potentially allowing for higher clock speeds and better overall performance.

3. Does a liquid-cooled GPU make less noise?

In general, liquid-cooled GPUs tend to produce less noise compared to high-performance air-cooled models. The absence of bulky fans can lead to a quieter gaming or computing experience.

4. Are liquid-cooled GPUs more expensive?

Yes, liquid-cooled GPUs typically come at a higher price point than air-cooled versions. The added complexity of the cooling system contributes to the increased cost.

5. Are liquid-cooled GPUs harder to install?

Installing a liquid-cooled GPU can be more complex than installing an air-cooled one. It often involves mounting the radiator, connecting tubes, and ensuring proper coolant circulation. However, manufacturers are working to make the installation process more user-friendly.

6. Do liquid-cooled GPUs require maintenance?

Yes, liquid-cooled GPUs do require periodic maintenance. Over time, the coolant may need to be replaced, and the system should be checked for leaks. Maintenance intervals vary, but they are essential to ensure the cooling system’s efficiency and longevity.

7. Can a liquid-cooled GPU leak and damage other components?

While leaks are rare, they can happen with liquid-cooled systems. However, modern designs incorporate safeguards to minimize the risk of leaks. Components are often sealed tightly, and coolant formulations are less conducive to reducing the potential for damage.

8. Are liquid-cooled GPUs suitable for all PC cases?

Liquid-cooled GPUs require adequate space for mounting radiators and tubes. Not all PC cases are designed to accommodate liquid cooling solutions. Before purchasing, ensure that your case has the necessary space and mounting points.

9. Can I overclock a liquid-cooled GPU more than an air-cooled one?

Liquid-cooled GPUs can generally handle higher levels of overclocking due to their superior thermal management. Lower temperatures achieved by liquid cooling allow for more headroom in terms of clock speeds, potentially leading to better overclocking results.

10. Are liquid-cooled GPUs more reliable than air-cooled ones?

Both liquid-cooled and air-cooled GPUs are designed to be reliable, but liquid cooling adds an additional layer of complexity that could potentially lead to issues like leaks or pump failures. However, reputable manufacturers rigorously test their products to ensure reliability.


Liquid cooling can be an expensive but rewarding upgrade for your high-end graphics card. While it requires a bigger upfront investment, liquid cooling gives you superior thermal performance to push your GPU to the max and enables much quieter operation. However, traditional air cooling is usually sufficient for mid-range cards. At the end of the day, your specific needs and budget will determine whether liquid or air cooling is the better choice for your system. With proper maintenance, a quality liquid cooler can keep your GPU running cool for years before an upgrade is required.

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