When you’re running AAA games on high or near ultra graphics settings, your video card is going to work twice as hard and generate as much heat. And we know that too much heat inside the system can result in degenerating performance. That’s why having a liquid cooling system is probably the best thing you can do for your gaming PC.
But there are several apprehensions associated with having a liquid cooling system installed in your PC. For one thing, there’s always that big fear of the cooling system leaking liquid inside while you sleep. Or the fact that a liquid cooling system is too fragile to the point that a single bump could unhinge or loosen one of the pipes/tubes. While these fears are valid, liquid cooling systems are a lot more durable and stable than you think.
Another apprehension that people might have with liquid coolers is their lifespan. You’d think that electronics and cooling liquid don’t mix and will probably result in the quality of the system degrading through the years. But did you know that liquid cooling systems are far more durable than you’d think?
In this article, we’ll be answering the big question: how long do liquid coolers last? It’s a commonly asked question by a lot of first-time buyers and owners.
What’s The Difference Between AIO and Custom Cooling System (or Custom Loop)?
Before we answer the question “how long do liquid coolers last?”, it’s important for first-time buyers to know a couple of things about the system itself.
There are two types of liquid cooling systems, namely the All-In-One or AIO Cooling and Custom Loop or Custom Cooling System or Custom Tubing.
The most affordable and easiest to install is the AIO or All-In-One cooling system. This is a prebuilt liquid cooling system that you just install into your gaming rig. That’s it. Your typical AIO kit will come with a pump, radiator, exhaust fans, and a sealed liquid loop. The downside to an AIO cooling system is that if one of the parts fails, you can’t easily replace them. You’re more likely to replace the entire system than to replace one part.
On the other hand, custom loop or custom tubing is as what the name implies. Everything about the cooling system is customized. Unlike AIO cooling systems, custom loops are built from scratch. A custom liquid cooling system is more expensive but the performance is miles ahead of any AIO liquid cooler.
What Parts Do You Need To Pay Attention To?
Regardless of the type of liquid coolers you currently have, there are three important parts that you need to pay attention to. These parts are shared amongst both AIO systems and custom loops.
Tubes or Tubing
Custom loops are equipped with a more rigid and more durable set of tubes compared to their AIO counterparts. After all, it wouldn’t make sense to build a custom loop with just cheap tubes, right? AIO tubes are softer, which also has a shorter lifespan than the custom’s tubes.
If an AIO tube breaks or leaks, you’re not going to be able to replace that. Instead, you end up replacing the entire liquid cooler.
On average, tubes can last anywhere between 10 to 20 years, depending on the brand and make of the cooling system. AIO cooling systems might go for at least 5 years but it’s not uncommon to see tubes last longer than they should
Coolant or Liquid Cooling Solution
The cooling liquid or coolant is another story in itself. Both AIO cooling systems and custom loops share the same type and brand of cooling liquids, which is great because you don’t have to struggle with shopping for refills.
Having said that, liquid coolants aren’t exactly long-lasting. If anything, you’ll need to replace the cooling liquid at least once a year and the tubes cleaned out the same time.
The reason for this is that coolants end up becoming dirty over time, even though they’re mixed with biocides and lubricants. Debris builds up overtime, so the fluid transfer might not be as effective as it should be. Debris slows down the loop, which affects your cooling efficacy. And once your cooling efficacy takes a hit, your pump ends up working harder than it should.
The pump is the engine behind your liquid cooling system. A pump makes sure that water or liquid cooler continues to flow through the tubes or loops while the computer is running. Even when you’re not doing anything, the pump will stay on.
This is why pumps end up becoming the second most worn-down component in any liquid cooler. But don’t worry. Pumps, much like your car’s engine, are designed to last for at least ten years before you have issues. By then you’ll have saved enough money to replace it with a new one.
How Long Does a Custom Loop Typically Last?
Custom setups last longer than their AIO counterparts, but that’s not to say that an AIO system isn’t durable either.
With maintenance, a custom liquid cooling setup should run for at least 10 years. You could even make it run indefinitely so as long as you replace the parts at the right time.
How Long Does an AIO Cooling System Last?
AIO systems are categorized as closed loop systems, meaning there’s no real need for you to clean out the tubes. You’re looking at the radiator itself as the focal point of the maintenance and basis of the lifespan.
Unlike custom loop systems, AIO cooling systems don’t have the luxury of having replaceable parts. It’s also not a good idea to disassemble and service an AIO due to the fact that everything about the system is prebuilt. If a problem arises, you won’t even notice it until you see the leaks.
High-quality AIO coolers last you anywhere between 3 to 5 years. On the upside, AIO coolers are way more affordable so replacing an entire system shouldn’t even put a dent in your wallet.
How Do You Extend Your Liquid Cooler’s Lifespan?
The simplest way to extend the lifespan of your water cooling system is to do regular maintenance. That’s it. Plain and simple.
AIO coolers are easier to maintain as you only need to clean the fans and the radiator. Custom solutions require complete disassembly of the entire system, flushing down the old liquid, and replacing it with a new one. Heat management becomes a big issue when the coolant’s efficacy dwindles. In some cases, coolants also become dirty and discolored, which affects the efficacy of the entire system.
Having said that, maintenance required by both AIO cooling systems and custom solutions should be done at least once a year. For the latter, the coolants should be replaced every year and tubes should be inspected at least twice a year.
How Do You Know Your Custom Solution or AIO Coolers Already Need Maintenance?
Monitoring your GPU and CPU temperatures is a surefire way to know whether or not your cooling system needs maintenance. If your gaming rig ends up being hotter than it should be, even when idle, then it’s time to open the computer case and check if there’s something wrong with your cooling system.
For custom cooling systems, keep an eye out on your coolant. Because the tubes you use are transparent, it’s a lot easier to detect hints of discoloration and debris. When the liquid is discolored or has debris, it’s time to flush it out.
For AIO coolers, you don’t need to look at the tubes. Instead, you pay attention to the fans and radiator. Dust accumulation will end up slowing down your fans and radiator, which in turn causes higher-than-normal temperatures.
In rare cases, strange noises would also prompt you to perform maintenance on your computer cooler. You might want to check if there’s something that’s hitting the fan or if there’s a large enough debris floating through the tubes.
In even rarer cases, leaks are also something to keep an eye out for. For custom loops, you need to make sure that the tubes are secured and tight. Make sure that there are no visible cracks too. For AIO coolers, leaks shouldn’t even be an issue, but there have been documented reports of such instances.
What Should You Do When There’s a Leak?
A leak is never good for your PC components. Distilled water and other liquids will damage your hardware when left untreated, but there’s a way to go about this.
In case your cooler leaks, turn off your system and dry all affected parts with a lint-free cloth. Some disassembly may be necessary. Wait for at least three days before you reassemble the affected parts.