Air cooling system is a popular solution for PC’s because it is inexpensive and easy to install. It disperses the heat of overheated components into the surrounding air, which can either be redirected or driven elsewhere. It is the best option for applications that don’t require a water cooling system and where an ambient temperature of 90degF or above will not cause problems with equipment longevity.
Unlike liquid cooling systems that use a coolant to remove heat from the components, air cooled equipment uses a combination of metal surfaces and fans to disperse the heat into the surrounding air. This type of heat removal is similar to the cooling methods used on car engines, with fins and flanges designed to increase the surface area that comes into contact with the airflow, increasing the rate at which the heat can be removed from the engine.
In a typical air cooling system, the heated components are clipped to or mounted onto a heat sink, which is then placed on top of the processor. The heat sinks have cooling fins, which disperse the thermal energy into the airflow that moves around the components. The air is drawn through the heat sink by a fan and out of the cooling system through ductwork or into a suspended ceiling.
Liquid cooling systems use a more complex but efficient process that works much like the radiator in your car or home. The relatively cooler liquid circulating through the water block pools away heat from the CPU, which is coated in thermal paste and a baseplate to improve the heat transfer process. The heat-laden liquid is then pumped through a radiator, where fans expose it to cold air to further reduce its temperature. It is then redirected back to the water block and the cycle repeats.
For data center operators, the decision between liquid and air cooling depends on several factors. Liquid systems are more expensive to implement and maintain than air cooling, which can add up to a higher initial capital cost. Additionally, liquid cooling requires IT and site operations to adopt a new management framework, adding training and staffing costs. Finally, the cooling market is still evolving, with many vendors offering proprietary products and posing the risk of vendor lock-in that can impact long-term TCO.
In terms of operating costs, air-cooled systems are less expensive than liquid cooling, and they do not require additional maintenance or specialized personnel. Additionally, air-cooled systems are familiar to IT administrators and can be deployed quickly. However, as computing densities and workloads increase, traditional air cooling can no longer meet demand, which can lead to overheating, power consumption issues and other performance challenges. As a result, many data centers that rely on air cooling are migrating to liquid cooling.