What to Look For in a Water Cooling Kit in 2023
If your PC is running hot or you want to overclock your rig, you’ll want to look into liquid cooling. Liquid cooling, or water cooling kits, often use a reservoir and pipes to run liquid into water blocks, helping to keep the components the black is attached to cool.
Water cooling is often more efficient than air cooling, though it can seem complicated at first glance. But if you take things one step at a time, you can find a kit that works for your PC.
The most important thing you should pay attention to regarding water cooling kits is compatibility. Before you decide which kit to get, ensure that your PC case has enough room for the radiator and pump and that the included CPU water block is compatible with your CPU socket.
Radiators found in liquid cooling kits are usually 240mm, 280mm, or 360mm long. Aside from checking whether your PC enclosure can fit the radiator, you should also check the radiator’s thickness. Some chassis don’t support thicker radiators, so check out your PC case’s specs before pulling the trigger.
Next, you have the choice between soft and hardline tubing. If you’re a complete newbie to PC water cooling, we suggest you opt for soft tubing.
Rigid tubing looks better, but it’s also considerably more complicated to install since it requires a heat gun and mandrels to bend it and a saw or a pipe cutter to cut the tubing. Water cooling kits don’t include a heat gun, so ensure you have one beforehand.
If you’re dead set on using hardline tubing, try getting PETG instead of acrylic tubing since the former’s much easier to work with and won’t crack as soon as you look at it the wrong way, unlike acrylic tubing.
That said, if you’re using a cutting saw instead of a pipe cutter and are extra careful, you should be fine with using acrylic tubes.
You must also be accurate when measuring and cutting hardline tubes since being just half an inch off can make the tube too short to fit. We suggest bending the tube first and cutting it to the appropriate length later, so you don’t end up short.
On the other hand, soft tubing gives you much more breathing room since it’s soft and bendy, thus allowing you to easily measure the appropriate length before cutting it. If you’re still thinking about going hardline, check out JayzTwoCents’ guide on how to bend hardline tubing; it’s very detailed and perfect for newbies.
You should also note that all liquid cooling kits only include a CPU water block. This is because GPUs come in all shapes and sizes, and manufacturers can’t make a single GPU water block compatible with all graphics cards. In other words, water-cooling your GPU will cost you extra.
Before we move on, let’s mention what components you can find in most water-cooling kits. They include a radiator and fans for it, a pump/reservoir combo, fittings and tubing, a CPU water block, and coolant liquid. Many water cooling kits also come with a coolant-filling bottle.
Best Hard Tubing Water Cooling Kit: Corsair iCUE XH305i RGB PRO
- ✓ Includes tools for bending and cutting the tubing
- ✓ Comes with more than enough tubing
- ✓ Features tons of RGB
- ✓ Packs high quality components
- ✓ The 360mm radiator is more than enough for any CPU
- ✗ Expensive
- ✗ Acrylic tubing instead of PETG
- ✗ Lacks a drain valve
We’re starting with a high-end iCUE XH305i RGB PRO Custom Cooling Kit from Corsair that includes everything you might need to create a simple hardline tubing water cooling loop. You have all the components and tools required to cut and bend the provided acrylic tubing.
The included radiator measures 360mm in length, enough to cool down both the CPU and the GPU if you decide to expand the loop down the road. The kit also features RGB LEDs on the CPU water block, radiator fans, and the pump/reservoir combo.
The good news is that the XC7 CPU water block is compatible with the LGA 1700 and AM5 sockets, as well as the LGA 1200 and AM4 sockets—so it’s likely it will fit in your case. The only extra component you might need here is a drain valve, which you can get from Corsair for $20.
We like that Corsair provides all the tools needed to bend and cut the tubing and a ton of acrylic tubes that will be more than enough for any custom loop. On the flip side, this kit is quite pricey and uses acrylic instead of PETG tubing, so be extra careful when cutting the tubes.
Corsair iCUE XH305i RGB PRO Custom Cooling Kit
The Corsair iCUE XH305i RGB PRO Custom Cooling Kit has everything you might need to build a hardline tubing custom water cooling loop.
Best Soft Tubing Water Cooling kit: EKWB Quantum Power Kit Velocity² 360 Series
- ✓ Lots of customization options
- ✓ You can choose RGB or non-RGP components
- ✓ Top-notch component quality
- ✓ Comes with all the tools needed to build a custom loop
- ✓ Features a 360mm radiator
- ✗ Expensive
- ✗ Doesn't include a drain valve
If you want the best but prefer soft tubing, check out the Velocity² 360 Series water cooling kit from EKWB. It’s sold for a similar price as our hardline tubing pick and features everything you need to create a custom loop.
You’ve got all the necessary components, cutting tools, and pump/reservoir brackets. We like that EKWB lets users pick a CPU water block compatible with their CPU and the fittings, radiator, pump/reservoir combo, and coolant.
This way, you can customize the coolant’s color and the looks of most components. You can also opt out of RGB parts if you don’t like having a light show inside your enclosure.
This is another kit with a 360mm radiator, which we always like to see. On the other hand, the kit lacks a drain valve, a convenient piece of equipment that makes draining the loop much more straightforward. EKWB offers a variety of drain valves, most of which are priced at or around $20. While it’s unfortunate the drain valve isn’t included in the kit, they’re very useful and worth the extra cost.
EKWB Quantum Power Kit Velocity² 360 Series
The Quantum Power Kit Velocity² 360 Series from EKWB is an amazing soft tubing water cooling kit that features every component needed for a custom loop alongside the tools, a reservoir bracket, and an option to pick non-RGB parts.
Best Budget Water Cooling Kit: Thermaltake Pacific C360 Hard Tube Water Cooling Kit
- ✓ Features PETG hardline tubing
- ✓ Comes with a 360mm radiator
- ✓ Packs lots of RGB
- ✓ Includes more than enough tubing for any custom loop
- ✓ Also comes in the soft tubing flavor
- ✗ Requires an upgrade kit for Intel 12th and 13th Gen CPUs
- ✗ Not compatible with the AM5 CPU socket
- ✗ Lacks the tools needed to cut and bend the tubing
While this water-cooling kit is ‘budget’ compared to other options on this list, it doesn’t mean it’s super affordable. The Thermaltake Pacific C360 Hard Tube Water Cooling Kit will set you back $350, but this is still considerably less than many other kits.
Thermaltake’s kit is hardline, but this time, we’re looking at PETG tubes—making this kit an excellent choice for beginners who don’t want to work with brittle acrylic. The radiator is a 360mm unit, making this another water-cooling kit suitable for a future expansion to a loop encompassing your CPU and GPU.
Regarding the components included in the kit, you’ve got almost everything needed. The budget price point means you’ll have to pay extra for a pipe cutter and bending mandrels. We recommend buying this tool kit from Thermaltake, explicitly made for PETG tubing. And yes, this kit is missing a drain valve, so make sure you get one from Thermaltake.
Another downside is that you’ll have to spend extra for an LGA 1700 upgrade kit if you’re rocking a 12th or 13th gen CPU from Intel. Ryzen 7000 owners are simply out of luck because, while Thermaltake technically offers an AM5 upgrade kit, it’s nowhere to be found at the time of writing.
If you need to save more cash, you can get the soft tubing version of this kit. It costs about $30 less, and you won’t need to pay extra for the hardline tube bending kit.
Thermaltake Pacific C360 Hard Tube Water Cooling Kit
The Thermaltake Pacific C360 Hard Tube Water Cooling Kit is a relatively affordable water cooling kit that features PETG hardline tubing, a plethora of RGB, and a 360mm radiator.
Best AIO CPU Cooler Overall: ARCTIC Liquid Freezer II 360
- ✓ Affordable
- ✓ Superb performance
- ✓ Quiet operation
- ✓ Available in a variety of radiator sizes
- ✓ The 360mm and 420mm versions can rein in any CPU
- ✗ Not really a looker
- ✗ Thick radiator that isn't compatible with all PC cases
If you do it right, a custom loop can look stunning. But not all of us want to pay the premium, spend hours assembling the loop, and pay extra for the tooling. If you want to liquid cool your CPU without the extra hassle, get an AIO CPU cooler instead. The best overall AIO we recommend getting is the ARCTIC Liquid Freezer II 360.
This AIO cooler packs a massive cooling punch, enough to cool even the Intel Core i9-13000K while costing just a fraction of the price our budget water cooling kit recommendation. The Liquid Freezer II isn’t exactly a looker, but it does a stellar job at keeping your CPU at bay while also being very quiet to boot.
If you don’t own a flagship CPU, check out the 280mm or the 240mm version of the AIO. They’re both fine for parts such as AMD Ryzen 5000 and Ryzen 7000 CPUs and Core i5 and i7 processors.
And if you want the biggest model, there’s the Liquid Freezer II 420 with a 420mm-long radiator. If you opt for one of these, make sure it’ll fit in your case.
ARCTIC Liquid Freezer II 360
The ARCTIC Liquid Freezer II 360 is hands-down the best bang-for-buck AIO CPU cooler on the market. It's surprisingly affordable while offering superb performance and very quiet operation.
Best RGB AIO CPU Cooler: Corsair iCUE H150i Elite LCD XT
- ✓ Excellent performance
- ✓ Slick design
- ✓ Enough RGB to throw a party
- ✓ Quiet operation under light and medium loads
- ✓ Can cool down any CPU
- ✓ That LCD sure does look nice
- ✗ Very pricey
- ✗ Gets loud under heavy loads
The iCUE H150i Elite LCD XT is the latest flagship AIO CPU cooler from Corsair that comes with an LCD on the CPU cold plate and tons of RGB LEDs on the radiator fans. As expected, the AIO does a fantastic job of cooling, considering its massive 360mm radiator and three excellent AF120 RGB Elite Fans.
On the flip side, it can be noticeably loud under heavy loads. That said, the cooling performance is so good that the fans rarely get to that point, even when combining the cooler with high-end CPUs.
The only major downside here is the price. The iCUE H150i Elite LCD XT costs almost $300, which comes very close to the pricing of your budget water cooling kit pick. If you aren’t ready to pay the premium for the LCD, check out the iCUE H150i Elite Capellix XT. This is the same cooler without the fancy screen on the CPU block.
Regarding RGB AIO CPU coolers, we also like the NZXT Kraken Z73 RGB. The Aer RGB V2 120mm fans and a stunning LCD make for a spectacular RGB light show. If you don’t need a 360mm radiator, you can get the Corsair iCUE H115i Elite Capellix or the NZXT Kraken Z63 RGB, both featuring 280mm radiators.
Corsair iCUE H150i Elite LCD XT Liquid CPU Cooler
The Corsair iCUE H150i Elite LCD XT offers slick design, mountains of RGB, and excellent cooling performance. It can get loud under strenuous loads but it's very quiet during normal usage.
Frequently Asked Questions
You use the tubing to interconnect the CPU water block, the pump/reservoir combo, and the radiator.
Once you turn on the pump the liquid starts circulating between the components, cooling down your CPU with the radiator cooling off the coolant heated by the CPU and other components in the loop. This is why radiators have fans mounted on them.
More complex cooling loops also include a GPU water block, even a water block for your SSD. And while they feature more tubes between the components, the principle is the same. The coolant goes all around your system, cooling it down while the radiator removes the excess heat from the liquid.
If you correctly assemble the kit, you shouldn't have any leaks. However, there's always a chance that one of the fittings has issues or that there are micro punctures on the tubing that can lead to leaks. To ensure your loop is leak-free, you should test it for at least half an hour before closing your case.
Also, while coolants used in all-in-one (AIO) liquid CPU coolers and liquid cooling kits are non-conductive, they can become conductive over time as they pick dust particles, metal ions, and other conductive stuff while they flow through the loop.
It depends. Some water-cooling kits include thermal paste, while others don't. Check if the kit you plan on buying comes with thermal paste and buy some if it doesn't.
The AIO CPU coolers usually include thermal paste pre-applied on the CPU cold plate. Again, check whether the CPU cold plate has thermal paste on it and apply some if it doesn't before you install the AIO.
No, you cannot. Soft tube fittings only work with soft tubing and vice versa. If you want to switch from soft to hardline tubes, ensure you also get compatible fittings.
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