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An Introduction to High-End Water Cooling – Dominick V. Strippoli

An Introduction to High-End Water Cooling

Getting into water cooling is like going back to school again – doing tons of research and homework for the best components and being completely satisfied with your grade or your achievement.

In this case, it’s me being extremely satisfied with my personal cooling goals vs. stock air cooling. Before doing tons of research on OCForums.com, asking a lot of questions and reading up on sticky threads, I set a budget in my mind of $400. I understand that there are many kits out there, such as Corsair, Zalman and Thermaltake, that can be had for under $200, but with a sacrifice in performance.

One exception is the Swiftech H20-Apex Kit that offers excellent performance for a decent price (less than $300) but I wanted to do a custom “Do it yourself” system where each component was chosen based on its merits from the many intriguing threads on Internet forums such as OCForums.com and major tech review domains, including Anandtech.com and Tomshardware.com.

First off, let’s check out the preliminary system specs and hardware used in this build. Everything is clocked down to original speed and voltage for the water cooling results so that no information on the testing is skewed.

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Preliminary Specs:

  • CPU: Athlon X2 4800+
  • Video: eVGA 7800GTX w/ACS3
  • RAM: Corsair XMS – 2 X 1024MB – 2 Gigabytes
  • HDD: Western Digital Caviar 16-250GB SATA2
  • Motherboard: Asus A8N-SLI Premium (1009 Bios)
  • Power Supply: Aspire 550-Watt Chameleon w/SLI and 24pin ATX

Preliminary Air Cooling Results

To get a good comparison of stock air cooling and water cooling, I chose to do a before and after benchmark.

Cooling before hand was pretty decent for the processor temperatures, but the video GPU temps were extremely unreasonable for a $459 video card. When idling on the Windows XP desktop for 15 minutes, the processor would operate at 36ºC on air cooling. After loading up two instances of CPU Burn-In (two instances to have both cores operating at 100%) and running for 5 minutes, the temperature climbed up to 48ºC which seemed like almost instantly, it held a peak of 48ºC as shown in the screen shot.

Preliminary Air Cooling on the video card GPU was quite appalling to say the least.

If I needed any kind of performance gain from water cooling, I needed it here, right on the video card. On the Windows XP desktop, the eVGA 7800GTX card idles at 46ºC and after running a window of real-time HDR “Artifact Maker”, we found a peak load temperature of 69ºC. This temperature on a stock cooling solution was not acceptable.

After reading quite a few threads on Overclockers.com regarding eVGA 7800GTX users with similar temps, it made me believe there might be a small design flaw on the stock heat sink/fan/cooling hardware. Here are the screen shots and final preliminary numbers:

Part

Load Temp

Idle Temp

Athlon X2 4800+

48ºC

36ºC

eVGA 7800GTX

69ºC

46ºC

Cpu Idle Air Cooling

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CPU Load Air Cooling

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Video Idle Air Cooling

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Video Load Air Cooling

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Preliminary results seemed in line with a normal and stock air cooled system in regards to the CPU. However, CPU load temps proved dangerous when overclocking, and the video card showed no promise of over-clockability because of the high temperature mark. This testing induced a search and craving for a better cooling method, especially for the 7800 series video card that I so badly want to overclock.

Water cooling is the answer to this problem, and the Maze 4 – Acetal GPU Water block by Danger Den is a prime example of fine engineering in the water cooling industry. After individually reading all of the reviews on each specific component of a water cooling system (Pump, Reservoir or T-Line, Radiator, CPU Block, and GPU Block), I came about choosing each component based on it being the so called “Best Choice” as reviewed by many others. Since most of the top choices were based on Danger Den, I chose to order all of my water cooling hardware directly from them.

All hardware was fitted with ½” barbs and the system was routed through ½” inside diameter tubing and hardware. My list of components:

  • Black Ice Extreme 2 Radiator w/ ½” Fittings – $57.99
  • Maze 4 GPU Waterblock w/7800 Mounts – $65.44
  • Danger Den Dual Floppy Reservoir – $24.95
  • MCT-40 Coolant – $21.99
  • TDX CPU Water Block w/A64 Mounts – TDX/DD5 Special
  • DD-5 Laing Water Pump – TDX/DD5 Special $108.75 Combined
  • ClearFlex60 ½” Inside Diameter Tubing 15 X – $1.12
  • Plastic Tubing Clamps X 26 – $.75
  • Arctic Silver 5 Thermal Paste – $7.29

Subtotal: $334.66
Shipping: $32.46
Total Cost: $367.12

There was only one decision before the purchase that I was contemplating: Either the Swiftech Apogee or Storm Waterblock vs. the TDX that I purchased. I chose the TDX in the end because of the well known “good” performance and the ease of install on Athlon/Opteron Socket 939 systems (This will be documented later on).

Immediately After Receiving Shipment

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Barbs, Arctic Silver, OCZ Ram Heatsinks

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Lets get on with this already!

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Danger Den TDX and Maze 4

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Black Ice X2 + MCT-40 Solution

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Reservoir and 15 Feet of Tubing

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I decided on a complete external water setup to make things much easier on myself and to prevent leakage as much as possible. When filling the system with solution, I chose to use MCT-40 Coolant. Technically, this coolant has effective non-conductive properties to it, but in order to take full advantage you would need to fill the system with straight coolant, which would cost you upwards of $80.
With that being said, I chose to use a mixture of 30% coolant and 70% distilled water. The coolant still has anti-algae and growth properties, which is the reasoning I still continue to dilute.

To my surprise, everything went extremely smoothly and the install was less of a PITA than I thought it was going to be. Assembly of the external loop took 1 hour, 16 minutes.

In order to complete, I jumpered an old 300-watt power supply and connected the pump and fans to a dedicated power source. I left the system on for a few hours outside the case to do a short time leak test for the article.

Normally, a leak test should be done for at least 24 hours outside of the case to be absolutely sure before you bolt down any water blocks and power up the computer. For the purpose of this article, I did a short leak test. At this same time, I moved the radiator so that both barbs were on the high side vertical and I took the cap off of the reservoir. This eliminated all of the air and bubbles within the system in approximately 5 minutes.

System Assembled

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Leak Test

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Airing Out the System

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Topping Off With Some Coolant and Distilled Water

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Getting the Rest of the Air Out

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Now that we had the water cooling loop up and running, our next chore was to remove the video card and take the huge and annoying fan/heatsink assembly off. Here is a picture of the card in stock trim:

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In this next picture, we have the video card removed from the system and wide open to the circuit board, after about 15 minutes of fiddling with 20 or so screws and mounting pieces. At this time we are also cleaning the top of the RAM sinks, GPU, and preparing to install the new OCZ Overclockers RAM Sinks.

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Installation of the RAM sinks took approximately 5 minutes because of a thermal adhesive tape issue we were having. Please note – on the eVGA 7800GTX model video cards, there are 4 memory chips on each side of the card, so you need to purchase 8 RAM sinks and make sure to install them on the flipside as well. Now we will let the card sit until we mount the Maze 4 GPU on it later in the article.

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Our next tour of duty is to first turn off the water cooling loop and second, feed the CPU and GPU water block portion of the loop through the bottom rear of my case. If you remember I told you I picked the Danger Den TDX Water Block for good performance and excellent ease of installation.

This is probably one of the very few kits where you are not required the remove the motherboard – this only applies to Athlon/Opteron and Socket 939 Processors. You simply remove the old heatsink fixture with 2 screws, thread 2 new screws from Danger Den right into the existing motherboard and mount the TDX waterblock. Anybody that has any kind of decent knowledge can do this install.

Then, you basically put on a spring and top screw and tighten as much as needed. To my amazement, installation of the TDX took approximately 5 minutes. The single most beneficial factor was not having to remove the motherboard at all during installation.

Here is the TDX pressed down and mounted to the motherboard. Thanks to my wonderful girlfriend who helped me out on this install with moral support – LOL! She is in a few of these next pictures holding components.

The TDX Mounted in 5 Minutes

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Ease of install!

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The next task was mounting the Maze 4 GPU Waterblock onto our 7800 GTX.

At first, I looked at the mounting instructions and saw where they said to only use 2 threads on an nVidia video card, in a horizontal position. I couldn’t find any way to make this work. I dumped the package of the rest of the mounting hardware and figured out that Danger Den created a specific kit for the new 7800GTX cards that fits seamlessly. They give you 4 threads and a rubber/plastic backing plate.

When I figured out how simple it was to install the waterblock, I really started to enjoy putting this water cooling rig together. It has the same spring coiled top screw mechanism that the TDX CPU block has, so the install was once again seamless. Without the mental glitch from the mounting instructions, installation of the Maze 4 took 5 minutes as well. Total Mounting Time with mental mistake = 25 Minutes.

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Well, the water loop is complete and leak free and the CPU Block / GPU Blocks are securely installed and have the proper amount of Arctic Silver Thermal Paste applied to them. The video card RAMsinks were installed and the rest of the system is setup and functioning properly. Installation was extremely seamless and enjoyable to say the least. It took a few hours out of my life to get my mind off of everyday activities and on to something intriguing and hopefully worth the effort.

After a week or so of letting the system run and making sure everything remains leak free, I am going to create a custom external enclosure to clean up my desk and mount the reservoir, pump, radiator, and power supply. Here are some final pics of the loop and blocks:

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TOTAL INSTALLATION TIME (not including leak test): 1 hour, 56 minutes
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Next, lets move on to the performance figures…

I was not expecting a huge drop in CPU temperatures. The main reason I chose water cooling was for my 7800GTX and I found the gains from water cooling this video card absolutely dramatic.

Idle temperatures on both the CPU and GPU did not substantially drop; however it’s the ability to hold the load temperatures that make this water cooling rig so dramatic. In the beginning of this article, we went through my stock air cooling preliminary results; now let’s go through the water cooling benchmarks.

The CPU idle temperature dropped down to 31ºC and the load temperature would peak at 36ºC and actually cool itself down to 35ºC after more testing past 15 minutes yielded an efficient radiator and even better performance. The video card GPU idle temperature went down to 32ºC and we had a dramatic drop in load temperatures to an incredible 36ºC.

Part

Load Temp

Idle Temp

CPU w/ Water

35 – 36ºC

31ºC

GPU w/ Water

36ºC

32ºC

CPU Idle w/ TDX Danger Den Watercooling

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CPU load w/ TDX Danger Den Watercooling

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GPU Idle w/ Maze 4 Acetal Danger Den Watercooling

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GPU Load w/ Maze 4 Acetal Danger Den Watercooling

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At first, I didn’t take into account what an incredible job water cooling does to hold back heat from components under load/stress. Now for the comparison and performance gains that I achieved from swapping over to a water cooling setup:

Part/State

Air Cooling Temp

Water Cooling Temp

Comments

CPU @ Idle

36ºC

31ºC

5 Degree Drop in Idle Temps *On par*

CPU @ Load

48ºC

36ºC

12 Degree Drop in Load Temps *Substantial*

GPU @ Idle

46ºC

32ºC

14 Degree Drop in Idle Temps *Very Substantial*

GPU @ Load

69ºC

36ºC

33 Degree Drop in Load Temps *Very Dramatic Drop*

Comparison Charts

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Conclusion

Overall, I am extremely satisfied with how everything went with this water cooling setup. Danger Den was very helpful and fast with service – they did not make any mistakes on shipment and I would definitely re-order with them in the future.

As far as performance gains with this setup, I am very pleased. The gains were dramatic on my video card GPU and I still got some great temperature drops with the CPU under load. I would definitely recommend Danger Den Watercooling components to anyone considering taking on this task anytime in the near future.

Hopefully you enjoyed the article!

Dominick V. Strippoli (aka “Dominick32”)

Check out my site on muscle cars SVT Snake.com

Danger Den products are available from The Heatsink Factory.

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