So I recently embarked on a journey. The hardware in my PC isn't really worth upgrading yet, but I wanted to treat myself to some stuff for Christmas. So I decided to run a loop through my rig. I'd been swapping back and forth between air coolers and AIO's on my CPU for a while, however my GPU's haven't been on liquid in probably...6 or 7 years.
My CPU on air with a mid-grade cooler like a Hyper 212 Evo I was seeing minimum temp's of around ~35C and under full load I would sit anywhere from ~68C to ~85C depending on the load. However, as soon as I started applying any type of overclock my temps would go up at high as 95C. Running a Noctua D15 seemed to be damn near identical to the temps I was getting on any of the 240/280mm AIO's I've owned. At idle, I'd see temps areound 23C and at load with a 4.9GHz (i7 7700K) overclock, I'd cap out at around 81C.
Now as far as my video card is concerned, it's a 1080Ti Founders Edition and I'll be honest, the blower cooler on this GPU performed a lot better than I thought it would. With a +160 core and +350 memory overclock on this card, I would idle at around 35C and under the heaviest load I would cap out at around 82C with a pretty extreme fan curve.
I didn't NEED to throw a loop in the rig, but I wanted to have the ability to expand down the road. So I started my trip down liquid road. That $350 budget includes an A250G kit from EK, a 360mm expansion radiator from EK, a delidding kit from Rockit and a tube or Conductonaut from Thermal Grizzly. Installation day was a bit of a pain in the butt. I had to modify my case a bit (really need to upgrade soon) and a lot of the installation was a VERY tight fit. For example, mounting the tubing on the top radiator was real tricky. However, it went pretty smooth. I'll be honest, EK's directions could absolutely be more detailed. I didn't need them really as I have experience with liquid but I skimmed through them and the bleeding process wasn't really covered at all which was disappointing as it's a pretty important step.
Delidding the CPU was much easier than I expected as well. The 7700K is also a very easy chip to delid as there's really nothing on the top side of the chip you need to worry about shorting out. The Rockit tool is manufactured pretty damn well for the price point and it does it's job as intended. I took off the stock IHS, cleaned it, removed the silicone, applied the liquid metal and added an extremely thin layer of RTV to the IHS to keep it in place. The next time I go to take this IHS off it should pop right off without any force at all. I added just enough sealant to keep the IHS in place during installation.
All in all, I spent around 4 hours installing everything and getting the PC back together. The biggest change obviously was on the GPU's end. My idle temps dropped to around 23C and at the heaviest load the highest temp I've seen is 53C. CPU temps also dropped a little bit, with all of the credit going to the delidding and liquid metal application. Liquid cooling is liquid cooling. Unless you're buying an absolutely trash AIO, you won't notice a difference between an AIO and an open loop. However, with the delidding I did see a drop of about 10C at load sitting at a cool ~60C and at idle around 23C.
Was it worth it? Well, here's how I see it. You can buy a CPU AIO and as long as you keep the mounting hardware it should last you for quite a while, especially since most companies offer upgrade kits for newer sockets. Now whether or not the cold plate will fit the CPU properly is another story (looking at you Threadripper). Being able to drop GPU temps substantially is nice though. Is that worth $350? No, not really. However, for me, the biggest thing is convenience. If my AIO craps out, I have to tear out the entire thing and send it in for RMA or buy a replacement. With an open loop, you just have to replace whatever part went bad. If you can swing it, go for an open loop. If you're on a tight budget, just stick to air/AIO's.