AIO Or Air Cooler A Size-By-Size Comparative Guide

AIO Or Air Cooler? A Size-By-Size Comparative Guide

A processor requires constant cooling. Obviously, we don’t want our processor to become a live frying pan.

In today’s market, both air cooling and liquid cooling are really famous. This makes a lot of us confused as we struggle to pick out one. 

You might want to know the differences between AIO or Air cooler? 

AIO coolers are considerably better compared to most air coolers. But air coolers are cheaper and more affordable than AIO. But AIO coolers can keep the temperature down at low RPM. This makes them considerably quieter. However, only selective high-end air coolers can outperform AIO coolers. 

Eager to know which are those selective ones? Well, there are different types of AIO coolers. We’ve compared all of them against air coolers and tried to figure out which one comes on top. 

You should head down and see the ultimate comparison by yourself! 

AIO Cooler vs Air Cooler: Complete Analysis

In today’s market, there are a lot of air coolers and AIO coolers to choose from. That’s why it’s quite common to be confused when choosing a CPU cooler.

Comparing them is quite similar to comparing CPU fans with case fans. They might have similar tasks and they tend to be very different performance-wise.

That’s why choosing between AIO or air cooler in 2021 is quite hard. Questions like AIO or air cooler for overclocking are super frequent as well. 

120mm AIO or Air Cooler: Can the Smallest AIO Fare Against Air Coolers?

We’re going to start the debate with 120mm AIO coolers. They’re the smallest AIO coolers in the market and the cheapest as well. 

Because of that, they tend to be in a similar price range. But is that all the reason to buy a liquid cooler? Luckily for you, we’ve compared them head to head. 

Here’s what you’re looking for:

Aspects120mm AIO CoolerAir Coolers
Cooling EfficiencyLowDecent with Single-fan
Great with Dual-fan
NoiseHighDecent
Required RPMHighHigh (1 Fan)
Low (2 Fans)
AestheticsAesthetically pleasingQuite good
Case CompatibilityATX, m-ATX, ITXATX, m-ATX
Maintenance HardEasy
Price Range$70 to $130$30 to $90
Installing ComplexityToughEasy

Factor 1: Cooling Efficiency

Budget gamers often face a problem choosing between 120mm AIO or an air cooler. But unfortunately, this isn’t even a fair comparison in the first place.

It’s because 120mm AIO coolers have low cooling efficiency. The radiator is very small which isn’t adequate enough for cooling. 

Because of that CPUs run hot under a 120mm AIO cooler. 

Compared to an AIO cooler’s short radiator, air coolers can have stronger heatsinks. And that’s under the same budget or even cheaper! 

Factor 2: Noise & Required RPM

AIO or air cooler noise is also a factor you’ll need to consider. Too much noise will make your PC louder and ruin your game/work experience. 

On the contrary, the required RPM is the RPM that’s necessary to keep the processor cool. In simple words, inefficient coolers need to run at high RPM. 

Since the 120mm AIO cooler has a small radiator, it gets hot easily. Because of that, the fan has to run at high RPM and makes a lot of noise. 

On the contrary, air coolers can run quietly. But only the dual-fan air coolers. The single-fan air coolers are cheaper but will have to run at high RPM. 


On average, the air cooler will make less noise as they’re more efficient.

Winner: Air coolers. 120mm AIO coolers are too small and at that price range, air coolers are better. 

Speaking of air coolers, I personally love these air coolers. One of my CPUs has the Cooler Master Hyper 212. So you can choose that or go for some other option from below.

Air CoolersNumber of FansPrice
Cooler Master Hyper 212Single fanBuy Now!
ARCTIC Freezer 34 eSports DUO – Tower CPU Air CoolerDual Buy Now!
Noctua NH-D15 chromaxDual high-endBuy Now!

Choose whichever you like and get started!

240mm AIO vs Air Coolers: Are 240mm AIO the Best Liquid Cooler Under Budget?

The previous AIO vs air cooler CPU comparison went to air cooler territory. But that’s not going to happen this time. 

Because 240mm AIO coolers are considered to be the standard AIO coolers. To keep it simple, we have made a chart for you-

Aspects240mm AIO CoolerAir Coolers
Cooling EfficiencyGreatWorse with Single-fan
Decent with Dual-fan
NoiseLowDecent
Required RPMDecentHigh (1 Fan)
Low (2 Fans)
Case CompatibilityATX, m-ATXATX, m-ATX
MaintenanceHardEasy
Installing ComplexityTougherEasier
Price$90 to $150$30 to $90

As you can see, the pricing is already quite different. But it also performs better in other categories!

Factor 1: Cooling Efficiency

Unlike 120mm AIO, 240mm AIO is great against air coolers. First off, the radiator is decent. 

It’s big enough to hold more liquid and a bigger circulation. 

Thus, the temps rise slowly. This works in favor of AIO when comparing AIO vs air cooler temps

Source: Tom’s Hardware

On the contrary, single-fan air coolers don’t stand a chance against 240mm AIO coolers. 

But the dual-fan air coolers are decent and can go toe-to-toe against 240mm AIO.

Factor 2: Noise & Required RPM

Since 240mm AIO coolers barely get hot, it doesn’t need to run at high RPM. This makes them quieter compared to air coolers. 

On the contrary, only dual-fan air coolers can sustain great cooling while maintaining low RPM. 

Single-fan air coolers, however, need to run at high rpm and will make more noise. 

Winner: 240mm is the overall victor here. But great air coolers are the best option under budget. 

Speaking of 240mm AIO coolers-

You can choose any of these to get started. All of them are great coolers in their own price range.

360mm AIO vs Air Coolers: Can Air Coolers Be A Cheaper Alternative? 

360mm AIO coolers are considered the best on the market. They’re huge, and with the help of 3 fans, they dominate the high-end range. 

This comparison is the same as comparing 2x 140mm fans against 3x 120mm fans. The same physics applies here. 

Without a doubt, 360mm AIOs are expensive. These coolers can cost up to 3x more than air coolers. That being said, air coolers are also an option. 

To keep everything in one place, we’ve made a short chart for you-

Aspects360mm AIO CoolerAir Coolers
Cooling EfficiencyHighestPoor with Single-fan
Moderate with Dual-fan
NoiseLowDecent
MaintenanceComplexEasy
Installing ComplexityHardEasy
Required RPMLowHigh (1 Fan)
Decent (2 Fans)
Case CompatibilityATX onlyATX, m-ATX
Price$120 to $280$30 to $90

The air cooler performance is the lowest here against 360mm AIO. But is the 360mm AIO worth 3x the price?

Factor 1: Cooling Efficiency

360mm AIO offers the best cooling in the market. They’re equipped with the longest radiators and best cold plate designs. 

Source: BinaryTides

360mm radiators take the longest to get hot. The 3-fans come equipped and together they keep the overall CPU temperature very low.

It’s also one of the best coolers to choose for an enthusiast range processor. For example, 360 AIO is better when comparing AIO or air cooler for 5900x

Dual-fan air coolers perform quite great against 360mm AIOs. But the air gets hotter easily. Because of that limitation, air cooler performance diminishes against 360mm AIOs. 

Factor 2: Noise & Required RPM

360mm AIO doesn’t need to operate at high fan speed because of 3 fans. You can achieve great cooling results at low RPM. 

Because of that, 360mm AIO coolers are extremely quiet. If you prefer silence, 360mm AIO coolers are something you should consider.

On the contrary, air coolers are noisier than 360mm AIO coolers. But dual-fan air coolers can be a great budget alternative. 

Winner: 360mm AIO coolers are unmatched when it comes to CPU cooling. 

Here we’ve listed some of the most hailed 360mm AIO coolers by pro gamers-

AIO CoolersPrice RangeWhere to Get
Mag Core 360 EconomicOrder from Amazon
EKWB basic/D-RGB AverageOrder from Amazon
Asus Ryujin 360 RGBPremiumOrder from Amazon

You can pick any of them depending on your budget and get started!

280mm AIO vs Air Cooler: Is 280mm AIO Great Against Air Coolers?

280mm AIO coolers are the middle ground between 240 and 360 AIO coolers. They consist of 2x 140mm fans. 

Here are all the differences you’re looking for-

Aspects280mm AIO CoolerAir Coolers
Cooling EfficiencyHighPoor with Single-fan
Moderate with Dual-fan
NoiseLowDecent
Required RPMLowHigh (1 Fan)
Decent (2 Fans)
Case CompatibilityATXATX, m-ATX
Price$100 to $250$30 to $90

Factor 1: Cooling Efficiency 

Despite having a short radiator, 280mm AIO coolers have extreme performance. It’s because the 2x 140mm fans can pass more air through the radiator. 

I’ve seen this build with NZXT Kraken X63 and have been thinking about it since that day.

On the contrary, only the dual-fan 2x 140mm air coolers compete nicely. But single-fan air coolers have poor performance as they’re not even close. 

Factor 2: Noise & Fan Speed

The 280mm AIO cooler consists of 2x 140mm fans. That’s why it doesn’t need to spin much. With low RPM, it can easily keep the temps down. 

As a result, the 280mm AIO coolers are really quiet. 

On the other hand, high-end air coolers are decently quiet. If you use a 2x 140mm air cooler as an example, they’re on par. 

Otherwise, the rest of the air coolers fall behind when compared. 

Winner: 280mm AIO coolers win the round. But a 2x 140mm air cooler can be a great alternative. 

There are also AIO vs air cooler longevity concerns among many PC users. Most AIO coolers can last up to 5/7 years without any maintenance. 

Luckily, AIO coolers come with a 5-year warranty. The air coolers can have a similar warranty or more depending on the company. 

FAQs

Is air cooling enough for gaming?

For most budget gamers and PC users, air cooling is more than enough. There are some great air coolers in the market that perform greatly. But for 4K gaming, rendering and streaming, AIO coolers are better. But extremely high-end air coolers can still be a nice and viable option. 

Is custom loop better than AIO?

Custom loop water cooling is the best cooling system without a doubt. But they cost a lot of money as they’re insanely expensive. These are great if you’re planning to make a great overclocking PC and push the limits. Otherwise, AIO coolers are more than enough to cool the high-end gaming PCs. 

Is a GPU cooler worth it?

A custom liquid cooler for GPU is absolutely worth it. If you’re using enthusiast tier GPUs, liquid cooling provides great benefits. Because overclocking those graphics cards will heat up the GPU. As a result, it’ll create thermal throttling which requires a custom liquid cooler. 

Final Thoughts

That was everything we could gather on AIO or Air cooler. We hope these comparisons helped you reach a decision. 

If you want the best performance, steer clear from 120mm AIO. Go with the other three AIO. Otherwise, staying with air coolers is the best idea.

Finally, have a nice day!

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