Back in 2013, the fastest GPU at the time, the GTX 780 Ti’s power consumption, reached a peak of 260W. However, it’s nothing compared to today’s flagship RTX 3090 Ti. In fact, the RTX 4000 flagship GPUs draw over 400W!
Higher power consumption leads to higher temperatures, so GPUs cannot be cooled with the same method as several years ago. These days, you need a good case, several case fans, and preferably an aftermarket card (ASUS, Gigabyte, Sapphire, etc.)
Water cooling can also be a good choice for GPUs, but it has some downsides. So, with these downsides, is water cooling a GPU worth it?
We’ll guide you through the advantages and disadvantages of water cooling to help you decide whether it will suit your PC or not.
Let’s get to it!
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Is A Water-Cooled GPU Better Than An Air-Cooled GPU?
To give you an idea of whether an investment such as this can be worth it, you’ll need to look at some of the various advantages over a conventional air-cooled GPU.
Here are most of them:
- Substantially better thermal performance – GPUs part of a custom water cooling loop can be up to 50° Celsius cooler (compared to standard air cooler), depending on the SKU.
- Improved in-game performance – because of that massive drop in temperature, the GPU will automatically clock higher.
- Huge overlocking potential – with so much (temperature) room to work with, you can push the GPU’s clock speeds for 10%+ more FPS.
- Quieter – high-end GPUs usually come with three fans which is why they are so loud when the temperature hits 80° or 90° Celsius. Water cooling will make your system considerably quieter when using the graphics card.
- Aesthetics – water-cooled PCs have been a trend for more than a decade simply because they look so good. Water cooling your GPU will definitely make your PC just a little bit more interesting to look at!
What About Air GPUs?
GPU water cooling seems to be the superior solution, so why doesn’t everyone have a water-cooled GPU? Well, there are definitely some downsides to water cooling a graphics card and advantages to getting a conventional GPU.
Here’s why a regular GPU can be the better option:
- Price – whether you are looking to make a custom water loop or get a GPU AIO, know that you will be entering a different price range. For example, a regular RTX 3080 Ti is priced at $1200, while a liquid-cooled 3080 Ti is around $1900.
- No risks – putting liquid (even one with low conductivity) in your PC opens up the possibility of damage, while standard air-cooled GPUs are never a threat to your system.
- Easy to install – installing a graphics card is pretty straightforward. Remove it from the packaging and push it into the PCIe slot. On the other hand, liquid-cooled (LC) GPUs are considerably more complicated, especially if you have a custom cooling loop.
Should I Watercool My GPU?
There are some alluring advantages and disadvantages that can throw you off the idea of water cooling a GPU or any other piece of PC hardware.
What you should do depends entirely on your needs or priorities.
Avoid Watercooled GPUs If You:
- Prioritize performance per dollar. Instead of paying $500 over the MSRP of an RTX 3080 Ti, you could get a faster GPU, a better CPU, RAM, etc.
- Don’t care as much for aesthetics, acoustics, or thermals. Although, you can still create a good-looking build with an air-cooled GPU too.
- Do not want the risks of water damage.
Get A Watercooled GPU If You:
- Have a larger budget/don’t have an issue with money. When you are not worried about getting the best value out of your money, you should definitely go for a liquid-cooled graphics card.
- Have a plan to watercool other hardware. With a custom water loop, you could always add other PC hardware to the loop for better thermal performance.
- Like the challenge. Installing a water loop is definitely not easy. However, it can be quite a rewarding experience once you finish and boot your computer for the first time.
- Want the quietest PC possible. The reality is that air cooling will never be as efficient and quiet as water cooling. So, to get a quiet PC while using high-end products, liquid cooling is definitely the answer.
- Are open to overclocking. Overclocking on air-cooled GPUs can be boring because there isn’t any room to increase the clock speeds without frying the card. On the other hand, LC graphics cards are significantly more fun to tinker with.
GPU AIO, Prebuilt Liquid Cooled GPU, Or A Custom Water Loop?
Even though all three methods operate on the same principle (liquid cooling), they are still quite distinct from each other.
Liquid Cooled GPUs
LC GPUs, such as the ones from Sapphire, ASUS, Gigabyte, and others, come prebuilt with tubes, pumps, fittings, and a radiator. So all you have to do is just plug the GPU and attach the radiator to the case.
However, the difference in performance (compared to air-cooled GPUs) won’t be so pronounced.
Prebuilt LC cards may go $500 above MSRP.
AIOs for GPUs like EK’s-Quantum or Alphacool’s Eiswolf 2 come with everything you need, but you will need to do some assembly yourself. You will have to disassemble the GPU’s original cooler and add the water block. The benefits of liquid cooling will be more apparent here.
These AIOs cost around $250-350.
Custom Water Cooling Loops
This is undoubtedly the most complex and awarding method for water cooling your method. It can also be the most expensive, depending on which parts you get.
To build a water cooling loop in your system that includes your GPU, you will need a few things: water block, pump, radiator, fittings, cooling liquid, soft/hard tubing, and more. All of these together can cost you well above $500. Sometimes, the water block alone can be $300+.
Combining these sections is the challenging yet fun part.
And, of course, with a custom water-cooled loop, you will get the best acoustics, looks, in-game and thermal performance.
NOTE: Future GPUs will not fit the same water block, so you will need a new one with every new GPU. But, you will be able to reuse the other parts.
Water cooling is expensive and can be risky (if not installed properly), but it will open you up to a whole new level of customization. If you go with a custom water-cooled GPU, you have the option to add your RAM, CPU, motherboard, and even SSDS to the loop.
It can become a brand new hobby but don’t forget that a small mistake could lead to a leak which might cause some severe damage to your system.
In the end, GPU water cooling can be worth it if you have the money and time to commit to such a PC build.