Controlling Condensation in the Vapochill System

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A major concern of anyone using ANY form of ‘super-cooling’ will always be CONDENSATION.

Condensation can occur whenever the surface temperature of an object is lower than the temperature of air that contacts that surface.

To oversimplify: Heat evaporates liquid water into vapor (gaseous state), and in most situations, warmer air can hold more water in gaseous state than cooler air. So as air cools, gaseous state converts into liquid state – a more dense form of the stuff that usually deposits itself on the colder surface. That’s the process of condensation ….oversimplified.

Other factors also affect how much gaseous moisture – “humidity” – that air can hold. Higher humidity in ambient air and greater difference in temperature of a surface and that air causes more condensation to occur.

All this is of concern to the ‘super-cooling’ overclocker for a very simple reason: Water and computers make very poor bedfellows.

Uncontrolled conditions can allow considerable condensation and accumulation of liquid water. (Picture here a glass of your favorite beverage filled with ice on a hot, humid day – water droplets streaming down it’s exterior surface.)

So, after super-cooling your CPU, THE MAJOR JOB of any such cooling system is to control this fact of nature, to PREVENT condensation from occurring. But how?

CONTAINMENT. The cooling element must be enclosed in an airtight case to prevent airborne moisture from entering and coming into contact with your CPU. But this is only half the job.

The other half is insulating the cooling element so that the cold temps inside the case do not reach the surface of the enclosing case in the first place. With no colder surface, moisture remains suspended in the ambient air – where it belongs.

VapoChill uses what it calls a ‘Clamshell’ to accomplish this. This is a foam-filled plastic box with an opening for the ‘Cold-plate’ to enter and mount upon the CPU. The CPU in turn is mounted within the Clamshell, sandwiched between layers of closed-cell foam. This waterproofs and insulates the cold-plate and CPU from outside air.

So far, in principle this is the route taken by all other ‘super-cooling’ solutions. VapoChill throws an added precaution into the mix: VapoChill uses a heating element located just above the copper tines or pins of the slotket to heat the outer case and prevent the surface from becoming cold.

VapoChill maintains that if this installation is done properly, NO condensation will occur. I maintain that there is some cause for doubt. I say doubt, for one cannot be sure about persistent reports of condensation nor of the cause of such.

I can say that they are numerous and persistent. That other reviewers – even as they attest to the perfect seal and freedom from condensation – publish lengthy articles on how to ‘MODIFY’ the Clamshell to prevent the leakage which they say doesn’t occur! How strange!!

These measures include:

  • Sealing with grease
  • Wrapping the “porous plastic case” with aluminum tape and further insulating the foam-wrapped copper pipe which circulates the freon through the cold-plate
  • Spraying the back of the chip with conformal compound to water-proof it

All very elaborate precautions for a person to take when condensation is not occurring or only occurs when the clamshell is improperly assembled….is it not??

The argument is made that these precautions are only necessary if you tilt the entire computer case to increase it’s cooling capabilities. Unfortunately this argument makes no sense at all!

As I’ve outlined above, condensation occurs at temps far warmer than the ‘standard’ running temperature of a ‘properly used’ VapoChill.

Now down to cases……..clamshells. After a long series of system instabilities that I eventually understood were indications of condensation, I opened mine.

Lets just say a small catfish would not have left willingly.
I reported my findings to my supplier (Minotaur) and they sent me replacement foam and RMA’ed my slotket. Fortunately my CPU survived the deluge and dried out quite nicely.

In reporting my woes to Jon at Minotaur, I made mention of the fact that a very small part of the foam (less than a 1/4 inch long with about 1/32nd inch wide) could be seen pinched in the seam of the Clamshell. Jon felt this might be enough to cause my difficulties.

Perhaps. But I didn’t want to take the chance. I started looking around for the best sealing methods I could find. I found ones that seemed to border on complete paranoia and when with them. You can see them at Swiftech. Thanks Gabe for publishing such a clear and (I hope!) thorough guide.

After carefully following each step, especially the part about being patient and allowing my materials to properly cure, I approached my Clamshell with renewed confidence.

The instructions were fairly clear. There was some confusion as they were clearly written for a previous model Clamshell, but this proved no great determent. What was difficult was attaching the coldplate through a foam layer to the slotket without out scratching the chip.

I strongly recommend the use of a copper shim to balance the coldplate and protect the chip somewhat. The manual predicts that this can be difficult “for some persons”. The plural is the proper tense as it was nerve racking and strenuous for my wife and I to accomplish. My hat is truly off to anyone who achieve this merger with but one set of hands.

Did I mention that this must be done INSIDE the case? Due to the fixed length of the copper pipe which the cold plate is attached the chip and case must be brought to the coldplate for assembly.

I’ve waited 2 weeks now before making this report as I wanted to somewhat verify my results. I’m still DRY!!.

Email Dan

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