Water Cooling Case - A to Z

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Many readers have asked where they can get this case; I received it from a defunct vendor and have seen it at some computer shows every now and then. Reader Dave, after 3 hours of searching, found the name of it on Pricewatch: Supercase. Also available from Rackmount Pro.

SUMMARY: Many readers have asked for a “water cooling how-to” – this is a step-by-step guide starting from a bare case to finished product.

Providence smiles on me sometimes; I was planning to do an article on installing water cooling so this case was just the ticket to get me jump-started on it. A couple of days later the UPS guy comes huffing up the steps carrying a box that could be used as a spare bedroom.

I open the box and find the case that is indeed a large, cheap case – just the kind you need for severe modifications. It’s the roomiest case I have seen – 6 5.5″ and 6 internal 3.25″ bays – plus gobs of room to fit a radiator at the top. What more could I ask for? Thank you Jesse!

Pictured below is the final product – a very tall case containing a completely enclosed water cooling system.

Box

Now to give you an idea of this case’s dimensions, I shot a pic with rulers on the top and bottom:

Box Measured

It measures about 15 x 24 inches, plenty of room to fit water cooling goodies inside. What’s especially roomy is the top – I measured and determined I could fit the power supply AND radiator at the top of the case. The radiator is from Swiftech and is perfect for this case – it has flanges on the side of the radiator which allows easy mounting to the case.

It is also possible to mount the radiator at the bottom of the case – the HD cages are removable and eliminating the bottom three slots will give you plenty of room. After some deliberation, I decided to go up-top to use the radiator’s fan to vent the case also.

First Step: Cutting Holes

This is the only instance of major surgery to the case – the rest of it is pretty straightforward. Remove the power supply and case front.

This is what the case looks like front and rear:

Front

Back

Every case I have has a 120mm fan in the front – 120s move lots of air at low rpms, hence low noise. This involves cutting a hole in the front sheet metal for the fan. Shown below is the hole I cut with a jigsaw using a fine metal blade:

Front Hole

Simply place the fan where it will not interfere with anything on the front cover, trace its outline on the sheet metal, draw a circle inside the square, and cut. Then place the fan over the hole, mark where the four bolt holes should be, and drill the bolt holes. I make them larger and place small rubber grommets in the holes – this reduces fan noise by isolating the fan from the sheet metal.

The back required two holes: One for a 90mm exhaust fan and one for the radiator.

Back Holes

I did the same thing for the 90mm fan. For the radiator, I drew up a template for the fan’s opening, placed it on the back and cut. I spent some time locating the radiator with the power supply in the case. I noted where the bottom of the radiator would sit and then located the template in this location.

The Swiftech was a perfect fit – like it was made for the case. This is a nice unit because it has mounting flanges and the fan is bolted directly to the fan’s housing.

Remember to use a piece of emery cloth to remove any metal burrs. The vacuum out the case thoroughly – electronics and metal shavings do not mix.

I then used a 5 inch hole saw mounted on a 3/8 inch drill to cut an intake hole for the 120 mm fan in the plastic front. You have to do this slowly as the plastic melts very easily. Once the hole is cut, place a 5 inch finger guard over the hole, drill four small holes for the mounting screws for the finger guard and screw it onto the plastic front.

These are the most difficult steps of the whole process the rest is easy.

Second Step: Mounting Components

After the holes are cut and the case is cleaned up, start to bolt the pieces in place.

120 mm Fan

I used four 6×32 1 1/2″ bolts to secure the front 120mm intake fan.

Next, cut a small slot under the 90mm fan holes so you can run the water pump wire through it (I did this later but plan for it now); the fan will sit on top of the wire and hold it in place.

Then mount the 90mm and the radiator in their respective locations. The radiator has mounting holes drilled into the flanges, so I marked this on my template and drilled four holes. I used 6×32 3/4 inch bolts to hold the radiator in place. Shown below is the finished product from the rear:

Fan + Radiator

The pic below shows the fan and radiator mounted inside the case. The last step was to place finger guards on the 90 mm fan. Now you have in place the major bolt-in pieces of the system. The rest is even easier.

Rear Mounting

Third Step: Assembling Hoses

From here on it’s a matter of cutting plastic hoses and clamping them to the radiator, water pump and water block.

Assembled

The picture above shows what’s required for hoses. In this instance, I am using an in-line water pump; what’s great about this arrangement is that it does not require a case to house the submersible water pump. I feel this is simpler and takes less space. Make sure you leave enough slack in the hoses so they can move around a bit.

However, note that there is a “Fill Tube” which is not required with a submersible pump. To make bleeding the system easy, I use a nylon “T” mounted on the intake side of the water pump. You then add water into the system using the Fill Tube and pulsing the pump on and off until all the air is out of the lines.

The top of the Fill Tube can be closed off with a 1/2 inch dowel or just tape – there is no pressure here so the water does not come shooting out when you turn it on.

What’s pictured above is a Beckett G150 (150 gph), a BE Cooling copper water block, the Swiftech radiator, 300 watt power supply and the 90mm exhaust and 120mm intake fans. All hoses use hose clamps. Depending on what’s required, there are 1/2 inch and 3/8 inch hoses.

If you have to mate a 1/2 inch hose to a 3/8 inch tube, cut a short piece of 3/8 inch plastic tubing, slip it onto the 3/8 fitting and then slip the 1/2 inch hose over it. Clamp it and it’s absolutely water tight.

Last Step: The Electronics

Now that all the pieces are in place, slap in the motherboard and drives. What’s great about this case is the fold-out motherboard tray:

Mobo Tray

This makes mounting and servicing the board a snap – nice feature for a cheapie case. Leave enough slack in the hoses so that you can open the tray at least part way.

Pictured below is the case with all the pieces in place:

Finished

RESULTS

This is the system I am using with the Duron 650/ASUS A7V @ 926 I’ve been playing with. Under stress and with all the fans on, the case temp is 2 C over ambient and the CPU temp is 15 C over ambient. It’s been cool around here the last week or so, so the actual temps are:

Ambient: 23 C
Case: 25 C
CPU: 38-42 C depending on load

Not bad for the Duron 650 toaster over. Expect to spend about $200-$250 if you start from scratch. If it seems steep, remember that once you do this, you’re good for a long time.

The last thing I did was to add a rheostat (Radio Shack 25-Ohm #271-2658) to the 120mm intake fan to cut the noise down – I found that running it at about 60-70% of its rated speed did not change temps and was quieter. I mounted it on a blank small serial port on the back – perfect fit.

Please email me if something is not clear – I will post any clarifications needed.

Many thanks to Gabe at Swiftech for the radiator. Other cases have more features, but for the space vs dollars, this one is tough to beat.

Email Joe


SUMMARY: A few details that might be of interest:

Radio Shack Rheostat

UPDATE 8/19/00: Great advice from Michael Gullander:

“Just wanted to warn you about the rheostat article – the way it’s described is really dangerous!! Mounting a rheostat with +12V conection 1mm away from the GROUNDED chassis is insane!! Some rheostats even have the adjustment pin connected; one wrong move and you will kill your expensive PSU!!

Connect the black ground cable on the fan via the rheostat instead – then contact with the case won’t matter!”

Some have asked for more details on how to wire this up. A rheostat is basically a variable resistor – used with a fan, you can adjust the fan’s speed. I found the Radio Shack 25 Ohm Rheostat, catalog #271-2658, to be an effective solution with 120 mm 5-6 watt fans. As you can see from the pic below, I mounted it in a spare small serial port – absolutely perfect!

Rheostat

All you do is clip the black (NOT RED) wire on the fan, attach one end to the center pole and one end to either of the side poles – that’s it! Buy a knob or use it as is.

User Modifications

Turns out this case is not a stranger to some of our readers; my pal Surly Joe used this case for his watercooled rig – check it out HERE.

Now once you’re happy with the stuff inside, what about a paint job and maybe a window to show things off? Check out how The Wizard painted and then windowed this case!

Radiator at the Bottom of the Case

Mounting the radiator at the top of the case is one way to go. A while back, I did a mod to a smaller case and mounted the radiator at the bottom front – check it out HERE.

Email Joe


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