A Look Back at Three Products

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SUMMARY: Swiftech’s “Q-Power” Water Cooled Case, Koolance’s first water cooled case and Dell’s 600SC Server – A hit, near hit and miss.

I reviewed Swiftech’s “Q-Power” Water Cooled Case on March 2002, Koolance’s first water cooled case on April 2001 and Dell’s 600SC Server on April 2003. I thought it would be interesting to bring readers up to date on how well these products have stood up over time.

I’ve used this case just about every day since April 2001 and am pleased to report that the system has performed flawlessly to date. I have not changed the cooling fluid as it is still clear – no signs of algae or other contamination. In use, I found it to perform very well without all the fans – I only use the two 120 mm fans on the radiator – it’s enough for me.

To be sure, this system is used as a work PC – I don’t push it, so it’s not throwing off a lot of heat. I do have a fans on the GPU and northbridge chips (40 mm @ 5 volts) for spot cooling. The only extra fan I would recommend is one in front of the drive cage if you use hot-running drives. I should note that I use this case without any sides, top or front – when covered, there are enough holes in the drive cage to allow air to circulate.

In use, I have found that it is very easy to work on as it’s big and open; the drive cage slips out easily and makes changing drives a snap. The CD ROM slots use rails that bolt onto the CD – a little bit more of a chore initially, but very easy to pop a drive out.

Overall, this case has been a rock-solid performer and has lived up to its low-noise label – A Hit.

This case is no longer offered, which frankly I thin is a shame – I think it’s a good design, and with improvements could be a real hit.

The single greatest flaw in this case was to embed a cheap 120 v waterpump deep inside the “watersink” – so deep that when it failed (with some regularity), the fix was very costly to Koolance. Mine failed in six months and my son’s in about a year.

The fix that I and some others used was to dump the Koolance pump and add an Eheim in the bottom of the case (James did this first HERE.) There was a marked performance improvement and reliability was infinitely better.

The second drawback was the watercooled power supply – a great idea but very limiting, as the power supply was not particularly robust. This is no longer available from Koolance.

The case is on the small side but still adequate.

The hit that this case made was the watersink – the large, heavy chunk if aluminum on the base is a very effective cooling design. I have used this case April 2001 and it does not disappoint – it is still the quietest case I have (but beating the Swiftech by a very slim margin). I wired two of the 50 mm fans in the base to stay on continuously at 5 volts – enough airflow over the cooling fins to keep the CPU at 3-5ºC over ambient in “normal” use.

I am using Koolance’s CPU200G waterblock rather than the original. I replaced all the hoses with 3/8″ tubing to improve flow and it helps performance quite a bit.

Overall a near Hit; for “normal” use, Koolance’s first watercooled case is still viable, with the mods I indicated above. If you can get one of these, I would not hesitate to pick it up and modify it.

OK – I’m a sucker for a bargain, and along with many others picked this up at a very attractive price. I wrote back then “Server motherboards are not for everyone” and I would be even stronger today – unless you’re running a server, stick with desktop motherboards.

Some who bought this did not realize that there is no AGP slot – it is, after all, a server, not a gaming machine. There is on-board video which is barely adequate – not a surprise. There are PCI videocards that are quite good (I use a Matrox 400 for its 2D performance), but the selection is limited.

As a server, it uses ECC RAM – more expensive.

In addition, the BIOS is very limited – this is not for overclocking.

I also found that it takes longer to boot up – it is really designed to run continuously, so once on, it just hums along.

True to Dell’s product philosophy, parts are proprietary; the fan wiring is not standard at all, a minor annoyance but emblematic of Dell’s approach. The power supply does not appear to be a problem as it was on other Dell machines, but I personally can not attest to that.

What prompted me to write about these products was the apparent failure of my Dell system – it will not boot into the fan check part of the BIOS. This was enough for me – I tore the system down and ported the drives to a Gigabyte system.

In use, I did not find the Dell particularly fast or forgiving – I would get hardware errors every now and then which disappeared on rebooting. I also found that on occasion, the system would stall – I’d select a program and it would sit for a while before launching it – never happened on other systems with the same software.

Overall, I’d say that my Dell experience was an interesting experiment and leave it at that. I would not go this route for a desktop system (some of our readers will probably email me with a big “DUHH!”).

CONCLUSIONS

Swiftech’s products are usually first rate and the Q-Power is a very good product; Koolance learned from its first products and is offering some very good systems – buying a “rev 1” product always entails some risk. Finally, don’t try to make a Ferrari out of a Mack truck – it rarely works out.

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