Watercooling a Dell XPS Gen1 Laptop

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I’ve modded the Dell XPS to accept an AQUARIOUS II Water cooling system. I finally settled on using the Koolance CPU-180 Waterblock, which has pipes sticking out on the same plane as the block itself and is probably one of the smallest waterblocks which fits a laptop. Below is the waterblock in its place:

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Just in case some of you may be wondering what’s the big copper piece, it’s a custom heat sink that I created to cool the ATI MR9800. It takes heat away from the core and the top RAM chips and transfers the heat to the left (where I’ve used Arctic Silver 5 on the rectangular part of the heatsink over the left CPU heatsink assembly fins). Air from the Dell fan (in the pic) blows over that rectangular part (further cooling the GPU):

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Below, you can see that I removed the battery (not much need for it, since this will be always sitting on my desktop anyway) from its bay and led the inlet and outlet tubes (coming from the waterblock) out of that part. Notice the AQUARIUS tubing has springs inside to avoid kinks (an absolute necessity if you’re trying to water a laptop)!

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Below is a close up of the hole in the battery compartment from which I channeled the outlet tubing. I found a nice little hole with a rectangular cover that can be removed (I’m not sure if this is for the Bluetooth or not, but it sure helped me).

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Below, I’ve taken a close-up of the other hole that I found to slot the outlet tube from. Sorry about the confusing background; I took this in the kitchen so you might see some kitchen utensils through the larger holes in the bay. These holes will eventually be covered by the palm rest (were not options for the tubes).

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Below is the outlet tube path from the waterblock; I found a gap around the right Dell fan and down out the bottom. Without the spring in the tube, I’d have a kink in it.

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Here’s another picture of the waterblock. The inlet tube can’t be seen as I ran it through a cavity (that directs air from the third fan out towards the back). I also had to make a hole in the cavity of the third fan. The fan cavity is really big so the tube does not obstruct the fan as the tube passes along the sides of the cavity. You see in the first picture (above) that there is a hole in the battery compartment (where part of the inlet tube can be seen). Water in the inlet tube probably gets cooled when it passes through the tubing in the fan cavity.

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Below is the whole setup (temporary as you can see):

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The beautiful thing about this mod is that my system is basically the same (with its original fan cooling solution still intact), however, now with the option to water cooler. If I ever get tired of water cooling, all I need to do is disconnect the cooling kit, leave the two tubes dangling out of the battery compartment and run the laptop with its own fans. This is unlike a desktop cooling mod (where you must open up and replace the waterblock with a copper heatsink); my waterblock is here to stay and the pump can be turned on or off at leisure.

I’ve completed the water-air cooling station that hides away and enhances the cooling process. Here are the basic steps:

First I got a Dell Monitor stand for $10.00 on eBay.

The image below shows that stand with the top cover removed and a square hold sawed out (use one of those round saws or a Dremel, cause this stuff is hard plastic). I also used a bit of intuition to create two passages leading from the center to the side (and covered them with the white plastic sheets which I glued). There will eventually be passages for air to be blown in from underneath and out directly into the right and left corner intake vents on the bottom of the XPS.

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Below I’ve fitted a food saver in that square hole. If you’ve not guessed by now, it’ll hold the Aquarius II Radiator (with a ThermalTake X-Blower fan blowing air on the radiator) and the Pump/Reservoir.

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Below is the stand now upside-down. Notice the hole I cut for the 80mm fan to blow air through the passages (to the right and left).

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Next, I screwed an 80mm ThermalTake Smart fan which has a temperature probe controlling the speed of the fan. I’ll probably tape the probe to the GPU copper heatsink that I created.

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Below is the side view of the stand where you can see that I had to cut a hole for the other fan:

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Almost done now. I purchased a 12v AC adapter and attached the two fans (the radiator and the 80mm fan) and the pump to that power source.

I’m not worried about having the water pump start with my system, because the XPS does not depend entirely on the waterblock for its cooling (ie the water cooling is an optional enhancement that further cools the system along with Dell’s stock fans (three of them).

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Next, I attached the two fans to ThermalTake Total Watts Viewer panel. The X-blower (radiator fan) speed will be manually controlled by one of the knobs on the panel. The other knob will (optionally) allow me to control the other fan (that will blow air into the vents and can be Probe-controlled also). Notice I’ve put the top cover back on after cutting two holes corresponding to the areas under the laptop where the vents exist.

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A closeup of the X-blower fan, which pulls air from both the front and back and throws it into the radiator fins. BTW, the X-blower is a quieter fan then the original 80mm fan that came with the ThermalTake Aquarius II radiator.

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Wiring was the most time consuming part of this project. I had to find a little housing for all the wires and cut holes in it so that the female sockets can stick out of them. I also connected the Molex 4 pin plug to the adapter (sorry – can’t see this part cause it’s inside the white box (housing) that’s now screwed on the bottom).

This mod makes it easy for me to connect and disconnect the power leads of the fans and the pump. I’ve also put a mesh over the 80mm fan to keep the dust out.

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Below, I’m just about to settle the XPS on its cooling station (or a pretty permanent nest until I find a smaller cooling kit that’ll fit entirely inside the battery compartment). Notice that the vents are aligned with the holes and that the pump sticks out about an inch into the battery compartment of the XPS. The battery is expandable because it’s pretty useless to me now.

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Below is my silent rig, now cooled entirely by the externally “pushed-in” air (to the vents) and, I guess, also air that’s seeping in from the battery compartment and water over the CPU.

If it weren’t for the two tubes sticking out (as you see in the pic) to meet the backup reservoir, no one would have noticed the mod.

Boy, I must have done something right! I’m now able to run an Dell XPS Gen1 3.4 GHz Laptop with a 16 pipeline modded 9800 ATI with ALL 3 STOCK FANS COMPLETELY OFF. The two fans of the cooling stand are blowing enough cool air to keep both the water and air inside the laptop cool enough to keep the CPU Stable at 53ºC and GPU stable at 55ºC! And both my external fans are funning on the slowest (quietest modes).

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SOME TEST RESULTS

With all 3 fans on full speed plus cooler fans (ie radiator fan and 80mm fan underneath on slowest, quietest speed), my idle temps are 48ºC for the CPU (that’s a 3.4 GHz P4 Prescott – the hotter running CPU) and GPU at 52ºC.

The question is, can I benchmark or play games with all three stock fans off? My guess is that with my external fans on slowest speed, there won’t be enough pressure to push air into the laptop at load conditions. I’m going to try loading this rig slightly with 3DMark06 with the two external fans running at slow speed and leaving the three stock fans off.

Here’s an interesting comparison between 2 different test settings using 3DMark06:

CONSTANTS:

39 processes and 40 services running.

TEST SETTING A: With all three stock fans set on SLOW on all four levels in FANGUI (Games profile) and the pump on, the CPU and GPU max at 73ºC and 65ºC respectively, when I run 3DMark 06.

At SETTING A, the idle temp is 50ºC for CPU and 54ºC for GPU (obtained after 1/2 hour running).

TEST SETTING B: With all three stock fans set on OFF on all four levels in FANGUI (Games profile) and, of course, turned off using the BIOS CONTROL UTILITY and with ONLY the pump running with both cooler fans on slowest speed, the CPU and GPU max at 73ºC and 54ºC respectively, when I run 3DMark 06.

At SETTING B, the idle temp is 54ºC for CPU and 55ºC for GPU (obtained after 1/2 hour running) .

At SETTING B, it was nice to not have to hear those fans running high. The Aquarius II pump and radiator fan together make it one of the quietest water cooling solutions (though not for hardcore OC’ing, which is not really the objective of my mod).

ANALYSIS and CONCLUSIONS

I’m don’t mean to open up another discussion on the “push cold air in” verses “pull hot air out” topic, but with all three Dell fans turned OFF plus 39 processes and 40 services running, my CPU temps are stable at 54ºC and, most of the time, a degree or two below the GPU temp. I think the “push cold air in” is working for me, because I’ve provided sufficient surface area (via other mods within the laptop) to remove the heat from within the laptop before it reaches the fins.

It’s a known fact that the CPU in the XPS generally get about 5-10 degrees hotter then the GPU (which also gets hotter due to heat dispersed by the CPU.) By watercooling the CPU, I’ve isolated the CPU’s heat from the GPU. I forgot to mention that I managed to mod (put holes in the cover to run tubes into and out of) the aluminum cover that originally covers on the CPU heatsink assembly, so when I remove the keyboard the waterblock is enclosed by that cover.

The original intent of the cover was to create a passage for the air coming from the third fan so that it’s directed over the fins (which I replaced with the waterblock) just above the CPU as it exits from the vent in the back of the XPS. The air passage is still intact, except now the air serves to cool the water coming into the waterblock (as the tube runs through the passage) as well as the waterblock itself.

The point is that when I’ve got all three Dell fans off, I feel almost no air blowing out from the back (of course). But the question is where is the air that I’m blowing into the laptop going? I do, however, feel more cooler air being blown out from the two top vents on the right and left sides of the keyboard (especially when I remove the little plastic covers that easily slide out). Apparently, the air that’s being pushed into the laptop (via the external fans) is now entering into the cavity of the laptop and directly cooling the heatsink and any metal that’s in direct contact with the CPU and GPU.

I bet that a large part of the heat emitted by the CPU and GPU is now being taken up by the cooler air that is going into the laptop, even before it reaches the three fins (there is one GPU fin on the left and two CPU fins, one on each side). Note that I’ve already increased the surface area for air cooing by including a finned custom copper GPU Heatsink.

Here’s what I think is the key to the cooler GPU temps (on TEST SETTING B) and a reason to explain why my CPU temps are a degree lower then my GPU temp:

With Dell’s fans off (TEST SETTING B), the air that I’m blowing into the laptop plus any air going in from the holes in the battery compartment can more easily find its way into the laptop (rather then get caught by the Dell fans and exits while cooling the fins only). The Dell fans are counter-productive (at least in my case), as I am more interested in getting cooler air into the laptop then expelling hot air outside. Also, my guess is that running the Dell fans leads to more current and, ultimately, more heat.

Noor Khan – Canada

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