What Is The Risk When Using An AIO For CPU Cooling?

First off, an AIO is short for “All In One”, which in this context refers to a liquid CPU cooler.

An AIO combines the parts necessary to liquid-cool your CPU into a pre-packaged solution that you bolt on in about 20 minutes. The AIO combines the water block, radiator, tubes, fans, fittings, and pump into 1 sleek package.

Risk When Using An AIO
Liquid Cooling on Deep Shadow (Deep Learning WS from 2019)

A Quick Lesson On Custom Water Cooling

  1. The reservoir funnels cold water into the pump (generally directly below the reservoir). The reservoir helps during loop filling/draining, and thus while isn’t totally necessary, is extremely helpful. Large reservoirs can hold more water, which means less goofing around with a funnel and distilled water.
  2. The pump moves the cold water (and water overall) into the water block for the heat (CPU), and out of the water block.
  3. The CPU generates heat, which is conducted to the IHS (integrated heat spreader), or the shiny piece of metal with the CPU model written on it.
  4. This heat is conducted to the water block which is laid on the IHS (there’s a thin layer of thermally conductive material between the IHS and water block, as the water block/IHS contact isn’t perfect).
    The water block uses an array of extremely thin fins to increase the surface area from which the heat can dissipate, and water is run through those micro-fins to move the hot water away from the heat source.
  5. The hot water goes to the radiator via the tubing, is run through the radiator fin array to dissipate the heat out of the loop entirely.
  6. The fans on the radiator move the hot air away from the loop itself, and out of the case.
  7. The now-cold water moves from the radiator back into the reservoir, and the cycle repeats.

The AIO simply compresses this loop into a much smaller package, and removes the large maintenance issue that you get with a custom loop.

In the system above/below, the loop ran like this

Res>Pump>(Bottom Case Transfer Tube)>360 Radiator>GPU>CPU>240 Radiator>(Top Case Transfer Tube with Flow Meter)>Res>Pump

Rage Inducer: 4K Gaming Computer

The Risk When Using An AIO (and Water Cooling overall)

With liquid cooling, you are reliant on every part in the system working as it should, in order to have a functional cooling system. The blocks need to not clog, the radiators need to not leak, the fittings need to remain watertight, and the pump needs to remain powered.

If any one of these things fail, you generally have a big problem pretty quick (overheating).

This means the heat isn’t moved away from the source, and the cold water isn’t moved in to absorb the heat. You generally have an automatic thermal shutdown in a few seconds when that happens. Not necessarily good for a production workstation.

If the radiator leaks, you’ll be losing coolant. While not an immediate issue on a big loop with a big reservoir, AIOs don’t have a reservoir, and thus a radiator leak is an issue. If the fittings leak, you have a geyser. Water cools great…but only when it’s contained. Water and a powered up motherboard do not mix well.

Actually, water and electricity mix very well, but that’s not what you want. AIOs don’t have fittings, so to speak, but you get the point. There is a risk when using an AIO in your computer.

The Good Part! Not a Big Risk When Using An AIO!

Reputable AIO manufacturers such as Fractal Design and EVGA tend to put lengthy warranties on their products, as they are that confident in their systems.

AIOs aren’t as big and bulky as their respective air brothers, and thus put less physical stress on the motherboard. All you have in the AIO is the pump head, soft tubes, and the radiator (and fans). No big monster metal air cooler!

We’re so confident in the modern AIO, that we have no issue recommending the use of an AIO in a desktop computer, and frequently design systems with AIOs used. Minimal risk when using an AIO!

We do default to air cooling on most builds, but also use AIOs when it works better overall for the customer. From our experience, there isn’t much risk when using an AIO in your computer.

About Top Flight Computers

Top Flight Computers is based in North Carolina and designs custom-built computers, specializing in bespoke workstations, gaming computers, and water cooling.

We believe that fostering and strengthening authentic personal relationships with our customers is the most important part of our business. Above all, we want to help you get exactly what you need to be successful.

If you need more than a mass-market pre-built system, trust our technical excellence and dedication to personal service to design and build your bespoke PC.