Such questions drive people to purchase huge aftermarket products to air cool their CPU and mod them for even better performance. I had always been on the air cooling side, a place where a nice heatsink and a few fans could run you up to and around $100 USD. I wanted more, though, and if you’re reading this, you probably do too!
Water cooling is the process of removing heat from a processor first by water and then dumping it into the air through a radiator. As a fluid, water has a higher heat capacity than air and when built with the proper radiator(s), it will achieve lower temperatures for your PC’s parts. The two common reasons people don’t make the move to water cooling are that it can be expensive when compared to air cooling, and it can be more dangerous to components if there are any leaks.
I decided to water cool in my search for lower CPU temps because I had the cash ready to do it and felt I could mitigate the risk of disaster by being careful and reading a lot before I started!
I took my time to design a cooling loop, identify which parts I would need and researching which parts were better than others. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to go with the Swiftech’s GTZ water block for my CPU and the MCP-655 pump – I knew that if I wanted to upgrade in the future, it was powerful enough to handle it.
After spending a few hours piecing together a few custom kits on my own, I came to the conclusion that the Swiftech Apex Ultima kit contained the two components I wanted, and in some cases cost less. It also provided me with the peace of mind that I would get everything I needed to make the loop work, instead of making one mistake on an incorrect barb size or too few screws and not being able to finish the loop.
It is for these reasons that I decided to purchase the Swiftech Apex Ultima kit for my first water cooling setup.
I first became interested in PC building and overclocking in 2001 when I upgraded from a Pentium III chip to the AMD Athlon. The Athlon Thunderbird presented a problem for overclockers because of its high heat dissipation requirements. Swiftech, a new face in the cooling world at the time, made a big splash with its powerful MCX370 copper heatsink which held the performance crown for quite some time.
It was developed to dissipate heat off of peltiers – electrical devices used to create very low temperatures on one side, by moving heat to the other side of the chip. The heat dissipation requirements for peltiers are very high, which ended up placing the MCX370 at the top of the performance market when used without a peltier for CPU cooling.
Since then, Swiftech has taken a different direction with their cooling products. They decided to focus on bringing water cooling to the mainstream market because industry experts believe that, one day, CPU requirements for heat dissipation will surpass what can be accomplished by air cooling. So far we’ve yet to reach that point and it remains to be seen if we ever will.
Nevertheless, Swiftech has always produced high quality, high performance and moderately priced products and these were my expectations with this kit.
For more information about Swiftech and their products visit Swiftech.com.
The kit comes with everything you need to get started unless you’re running an AMD platform; no love there. Unfortunately, you’ve got to call Michelle over at Swiftech headquarters in California and have her send you an adapter plate. Nothing is more of a downer than getting really excited to build the kit, but having to wait another 3 days for the adapter to arrive.
Credit to Swiftech for sending the adapter by express mail, but I bought this kit on Thursday thinking I could build it over the weekend and unfortunately, the plate didn’t arrive until Monday. It is worth noting though that if you purchase the kit, you get a free adapter plate; if you purchase the GTZ block on its own, the adapter plate costs an extra $9.00.
The main components of the kit include:
• Apogee GTZ block
• MCR220-QP Radiator
• MCP-655 Pump – 5 year warranty
• MCRES-v2 Reservoir
• MCB120 RadBox
• (2) 120mm Fans
If you were to purchase just the above components alone it would cost over $250.00. From this standpoint, the kit is a steal because you get all the above with tubing, coils, fluid additive, hardware, holes for routing tubing outside of the case, clamps, fan shields and an instruction manual. When I say this is an all-inclusive kit I mean it! If you build it per the instruction manual, you will not need to go to the store for anything!
The Ultima kit is designed to be mounted on the back of your case with the included RadBox. This will almost always be the best way to mount the radiator unless you are exhausting warm PC air out the back of your case. The system is designed best for situations where cool air is pulled through the bottom or front of a case and exhausted out the top. The radiator will then hang off the back and be able to pull cool air, rather than warm. This scenario produces the best temps.
I will repeat that if you build your water cooling system as the kit was designed, you will have everything you need to make it work and less hassle.
I decided against mounting the radiator off the back for aesthetic reasons. I went ahead and modded the inside of my case so that I could fit the radiator on the top panel of the case. The image below shows my initial build with the radiator at the top of my case and fans blowing air in from above.
• Before you do anything, take the components from your kit, and screw in any barbs where needed. Then run tap water through the components and drain them. Next run some distilled water through the components and drain them. Afterwards I use masking tape to close them off. Especially when cutting around your components, you do not want any particles, metals, slobber, a spilled beer, or whatever, getting into your system.
• It is difficult to cut two 120mm fan holes and eight screw holes and have everything line up without slop. I used a paper template to assist in this task. I traced the outline of the radiator on a piece of paper and poked holes through it where the screw holes were. Then I cut this out and positioned it where I wanted it on the top of the case. I taped this down and used a punch to mark each hole and then drilled the holes out after removing the template.
• The hardware store does not carry 120mm hole saws. I used a 4-1/2” saw which equates to 114mm. 6mm is less than a 1/4” over the diameter or 1/8” on each side. The holes will not seem undersized for the fans.
• The threaded holes on the radiator are internal and it is possible to thread a screw too far and puncture the radiator fins. Finding the correct screw length is crucial for success. If I were to mount the radiator off the back as the kit was designed, I could use the screws that came with the kit but since I was adding thickness, I changed to a longer screw length and offset it a bit with washers.
• The pump comes with a double sided sticky pad which is used to absorb vibration. I decided NOT to remove the paper so that I could move the pump to a different location in a future mod. The screws holding the pump down do not need to be extremely tight because it will end up pulling the pump to one side. The screw location on the base is difficult to reach with a screw driver – I found it easiest to tighten the screws by the nut on the back side instead.
• The kit comes with 7/16” tubing, but all the barbs are ½”. Placing the tubing over the barbs is especially difficult for the pump. To help, you may want to have a hair dryer or hot water handy to heat the tubing up. This will make it more pliable and help get it over the fittings.
• The loop is recommended to go in this order. Reservoir>Pump>CPU>Radiator>Reservoir. You can use a different configuration but always keep your reservoir before the pump. The reservoir acts as an air pocket bleed-off which will help keep the pump from cavitation. It also comes in handy when filling the loop.
• The placement of the reservoir is also important in the case because when adding fluid to the system, it must be from the highest point.
• Use a string to measure hose length. Allow extra for bends. If the hose ends up being too long you can always trim the ends up, but it is much more difficult (and not recommended) to splice in another piece in order to make a line longer. The kit does not come with a lot of hose length so be careful when cutting. I used five of the six feet for my system.
• If you’re mounting the radiator inside your case, always make sure fresh, cool air is being drawn through it as opposed to pre-heated case air.
Every system is different and so individual results may vary. My system has an AMD Phenom II X4 955 and I tested both at stock and overclocked. These are the temp differences that I was able to achieve with this kit.
Air cooled with CoolerMaster V8 (Stock 3200 MHz)
• Idle: 36°C
• Load: 44°C
Water Cooled, Swiftech Kit (Stock 3200 MHz)
• Idle: 32°C
• Load: 40°C
Air Cooled, CoolerMaster V8 (3800 MHz)
• Too much heat to run at 3800 MHz stable.
Water Cooled, Swiftech Kit (3800 MHz)
• Idle: 36°C
• Load: 45°C
The biggest difference is that with air cooling I was not able to get my system stable at 3800 MHz. The voltage increase required created too much heat for the V8 to keep up. I could only briefly benchmark at this speed.
Now with water cooling I can run 3800 MHz all day with reasonable temperatures. In fact, a Phenom II X4 955 can run 1.5v without overheating on this kit.
The Swiftech Apex Ultima kit is a great entry level water cooling kit with high quality components. At stock speeds, it will cool off the latest chips with ease. At higher voltages though, the system begins to lag behind for lack of cooling power. The dual radiator setup is the least I would recommend for the latest quad core processors when running them from stock to moderate overclocked speeds. If, however, you’re looking for maximum headroom for overclocking, you may want to consider at least a 120.3 radiator.
The interesting thing about this kit is the market placement. While it uses some of the best and most popular components, I do not think it is intended for the enthusiast edge of the market. The big brother to this kit is the Apex Ultima Plus, which includes blocks for a graphics card and chipset too.
Adding in this many additional parts will significantly increase the temperatures across them. You may still see better temperatures than air, but if you’ve switched to water cooling with the idea that it’s the holy grail of low temperatures, you may be disappointed with the cooling power of just one 120.2 radiator and be left wanting more.
• Low noise.
• Ability to overclock to moderate levels.
• Easy to install, with complete instruction manual.
• High quality parts.
• Easy to upgrade with more blocks, radiators.
• All-inclusive kit
• The 120.2 sized radiator limits its cooling capacity
Since purchasing this kit I have added a 120.3 radiator to my loop. I now have five 120mm fans cooling the radiators. In the picture above you can see the mounted radiators at the top of the case and at the front. I have achieved another 6°C off of my load temps with the additional cooling. At stock speeds my CPU remains between 36°C and 38°C. At overclocked frequencies of 3900 MHz, my CPU load temps are around 44°C.
In the future I plan on adding a water block to my graphics card and am looking forward to the decreased noise. The Radeon 4890 is the loudest component in my case.
It’s worth noting that Swiftech has come out with a new CPU water block called the Apogee XT. It is reported to be capable of 3°C lower temperatures under load than the Apogee GTZ.
More pictures and information of my water cooling installation can be found HERE.