While commonplace in high-performance desktop PCs, water cooling sounds like an inherently. bad idea when it comes to laptops. At least on the surface. However, a new generation of clever liquid cooling capable laptops might rewrite gaming laptop performance expectations.
How Does Water Cooling on a Laptop Work?
The exact details of water cooling implementations in laptops differ just as other cooling solutions do between manufacturers. Each laptop maker has its own ideas about innovation and the best designs, so there’s no universal water-cooling setup.
That said, in general, water-cooled laptops are exactly like their air-cooled counterparts. The CPU and GPU reach have a plate connected to heat pipes or a vapor chamber. Heat is transported from the processors to where fans can draw cool air in to absorb that heat, and then expel it again.
With water cooling, a water line is added to this cooling system, so that when liquid is run through the line, it adds to the total amount of heat removal. The water line is usually made of a conductive material such as copper, and directly soldered to the same system transporting heat for air cooling, intercepting it before it reaches the fans.
Apart from the sealed water loop running through the laptop, there are no other components of the water cooling system in the laptop. Instead, an external unit plugged into the wall contains the liquid reservoir, pump, and radiator.
This device is attached to the water line’s connectors using a quick-release system. Inevitably some water will remain inside the line when the pump is disconnected, but when not in use the open ends of the water line are plugged.
How Useful Is Water Cooling in a Laptop?
In modern high-performance laptops, the CPUs and GPUs are just as capable as the ones you’d find in a desktop system. The main limitation is how much power they can receive and how much heat the cooling system can move out of the laptop.
In theory, having a water cooling option for your laptop when you come home to your desk setup can enable something closer to desktop-level performance since the thermal overhead is lifted significantly. This has the potential to finally remove the need to own two computers, and instead have one high-performance laptop that has its limits removed by water cooling when you sit down and use it like a desktop system.
Apart from a higher performance ceiling, water cooling solutions like these can also remove performance throttling concerns under sustained loads, and reduce how noisy the laptop is under load. Assuming these solutions are reliable, simple, and effective, there are many reasons to take it seriously as a cooling solution.
Best of all, in most cases, you can buy the water cooling system after you’ve purchased a laptop with a water loop. This makes water cooling optional and makes buying a water-cooling-ready laptop a smart idea if you want to upgrade its performance in the future. Presumably, the external water cooling unit will also work with several generations of laptop that use the same connector system, defraying some of that initial cost over time.
Water-Cooled Laptop Examples
Setting aside one-off DIY projects, we’re still in the early days of commercial laptop water cooling. Possibly the first example is the XMG Oasis, billed as the “world’s first” by the company.
The XMG NEO 16 features an improved design and cutting-edge components as of 2023. CyberPowerPC’s Tracer VII laptops are another example of liquid-cooled laptops you can actually buy, at least at some point.
RELATED: CyberPowerPC’s New Gaming Laptop Has Water Cooling and an RTX 4090
Is This Just Going to Leak Everywhere?
While water cooling has come a long way in the desktop PC world, there’s always a chance there will be some sort of disaster. AIO (All-In-One) watercoolers can leak into your system, destroying everything it shorts out. Custom loop water cooling can be even more prone to leaks, especially if designed and built by an inexperienced builder.
For enthusiast desktop PC users, these risks are acceptable in return for the performance and noise reduction you get with liquid cooling. However, you’ll still have the same fundamental risks in a water-cooled laptop.
Presumably, manufacturers of water-cooled laptops will cover you if something goes wrong because of a manufacturing or design error, but there’s still plenty of scope for user error, and out-of-warranty failures might be much worse than with an air-cooled system.
Even under normal, intended operation, you’ll be connecting and disconnecting the water system over and over again as you switch between desktop and mobile use. This is a unique stress on the system you won’t find in desktop liquid cooling. In desktops, the water line might be opened once every few months to top up or cleanse the system.
Since these laptops are only now making it into the hands of actual customers, only time will tell if these designs are reliable under real-world conditions. However, it’s an exciting and ingenious development in the quest to make high-performance laptops run as well as desktops while on a desk, without compromising their performance on the go.