PC Water Cooling From a Newcomers Perspective

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I had always been the type that told myself that I would never even consider putting any kind of water into my computer, for any reason, due to the risk of leaks damaging expensive hardware. My other options were going with something extreme, like phase change or LN2, or mid- to high-end air cooling. I ended up sticking with the latter, due to the fact that it was a lot easier, since I wouldn’t have to insulate everything, and much more cost effective for my uses. This lead to a lot of money spent on Thermalright coolers, with some very loud fans. When my rig was upgraded to the Q6600 CPU that I am now running, I went from the stock Intel cooler to a Xigmatek 120mm top down style cooler, and then progressed to the Thermalright Ultra 120. The fan choices for the Thermalright had changed a few times, trying to get the lowest temperature possible on the CPU. Considering the fact that this rig was running Folding@Home, I needed to keep the CPU stable, while under a constant 100% load. The fans of choice progressed from a single Yate Loon low speed, to a Panaflo ultra high speed, and then to a pair of Yate Loon high speed fans in push pull.

Researching PC Water Cooling

Needless to say, it was getting quite loud, and hard to tolerate even sitting next to. I decided to take it upon myself to start doing some research into water cooling systems, to see if it was as dangerous and as hard as I had always assumed it was. When I first heard about the idea, people were modifying heater cores from cars for radiators, making their own water blocks, using Tupperware containers for reservoirs, and pond pumps seemed to be king. Fast forward a few years, and now we have pre-made radiators, designed to work with the type of parts that we are using, pumps are easier to come by, and don’t require a relay with an AC outlet near by to keep them running, and there are a plethora of ready to install water blocks on the market. There are even fully customized liquid cooling kits for sale.

On comes the research, and it is no easy task. It came down to looking through the water cooling forums at every thread I could get my eyes on, a lot of time at several sites where water cooling is widely discussed, and even talking to a good friend that has been running water cooling for years. I spent a lot of time soaking up every little bit of information I could get my hands on. Once I came to grips with the idea that it is as safe as air cooling if done properly, it was time for the next step.

Selecting Water Cooling Components and Building

I started picking up parts as funds became available, and planning the loop. All at the same time, I am still reading to my hearts content. It is very commonly said around the forum that once you think you have read everything there is to read, read some more. This whole process took about five months, reading reviews on the parts acquired, comparisons of parts being considered, and still reading all the guides, to make sure that the process was drilled into my mind. As time goes on, I was starting to feel pretty confident in the recently gained knowledge, but wasn’t quite sure that it was enough. Once all the parts that were needed to complete the loop had arrived, it was time to start getting things together and ready to go.

The rig got shut down, and completely disassembled, down to a bare case. Everything got cleaned up, following the numerous guides out there, from flushing out the radiator, all the way down to pulling the blocks apart to make sure they were ready to go. The case modding ensued, and parts started getting mounted where they were going to go in the case. There were several breaks taken throughout the process, all of which prevented motherboard damage from the impact of a hammer, or to just take a minute to rethink the way things were getting set up, and how to make it better. After somewhere around 10-12 hours, I was looking at a finished product, which was beyond anything I had ever imagined my rig would be. It was different seeing a radiator hanging off the back of the Antec 900, and to see a couple tubes and a block sitting atop the CPU, where it had always been giant air coolers before.

Installing the Loop

It was time to start filling the loop, and getting ready for the leak test. I start to fill the reservoir with distilled water, and start getting nervous at the same time. Once it was full to the top, it was time to start the pump, and let it run until the water level is just at or above the outlet to the pump, to avoid running the pump dry for too long. Fill the reservoir again, and start the pump again. Once the water level quit dropping, it was time to let it sit for a little bit, watching anxiously, hoping that I don’t see any drips. An hour goes by, then two, and I decide that it is time to start moving the system around, to try to fill in any larger air bubbles that may be present, so that they can be pushed to the reservoir, where they would be purged from the system. At this point, it was getting late, and time for bed. The plan was to leave the pump running overnight, and to inspect in the morning for any signs of leaks.

Great Temps, Peace and Quiet

Once it was time to button up the case and actually turn on the rig, impressive was an understatement. With the GPU at idle, and the CPU folding, load temperature there was about 10 degrees cooler than the old air cooler was, but I wasn’t completely satisfied yet. It was time to get the folding client running on the 9800GT as well, to see if the loop would really shine. Once both the CPU and GPU were loaded, it was time to let things sit for a while, to let temperatures reach equilibrium, so it was left alone for an hour or so. When I got back to the rig to check on the temps, I was in complete amazement. The CPU had gone up to about 5 degrees cooler than it was on the air cooler, but the big difference was seen on the GPU. The load temperature on the GPU was quite a bit lower than the idle temperature ever was with the stock air cooler. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it, and to make things even better, it was a level of quiet that I hadn’t seen or heard out of a computer in a long time.

A year comes along, and it was getting to be time for a tear down and cleaning of the system, since water cooled computers do require maintenance as well. I started to think things over, and look it over several times, thinking to myself that there had to be something that I could have changed in the way things were run to make things more efficient, to get shorter tubing runs, and even improve on the look that I had, as I was getting tired of looking at the same old blue LED fans in the 900 case. I decided to go with green, since I haven’t seen a lot of 900’s with all of the fans changed out for green LEDs.

Needless to say, I have been water cooled for a little over a year now, and I couldn’t be happier with the results. I always thought that I would be stuck on air cooling for as long as I would be owning computer systems, but now that I have actually jumped in feet first, and did the research required to make it an enjoyable experience, I can’t see myself going back to air. There are some pictures and a little bit more information on the water cooling tear down and rebuild, so have a look at that thread in the forums.

deadlysyn

 

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Discussion
  1. Sluggo415
    Yes, it's hard to imagine going back to air cooling for me as well. I love how you emphasized "read some more". For all those out there that are considering liquid cooling, DO YOUR RESEARCH! I can't emphasize how important that is. There's a ton of info out there and many helpful people on communities like this one that are more than willing to help and share their wisdom!


    That was actually one of the points that I really wanted to try to drive home. No matter how much you read, there is still more to learn. I also hope that this article is enough to help someone that is considering going water make a decision. The big thing is, even to this day, I am still reading and learning, and don't plan to stop any time soon.:clap:

    Thanks for the kind words, guys.:beer:
    Yes, it's hard to imagine going back to air cooling for me as well. I love how you emphasized "read some more". For all those out there that are considering liquid cooling, DO YOUR RESEARCH! I can't emphasize how important that is. There's a ton of info out there and many helpful people on communities like this one that are more than willing to help and share their wisdom!
    Good article dude.

    I have to accept that I'm one of those that ran a car radiator with a "custom" reservoir and all components out of case, even, when I open the block for install the AMD support bracket I forgot install a rubber and..leaks showed me her face :). As you, I also read a lot and found a lot of information that makes me thing twice before go ahead and buy the components, more, when I had to import the components to my country :D

    Finally, everything went well and rig was running without problems, right now is down because I'm upgrading somethings (a 480 radiator for only CPU is big), but soon will be up and running again. ;)