Watercooling Kits - What To Look For

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Some purchasing guidelines – Joe

SUMMARY: A hard look at a watercooling kit’s parts can tell a lot about performance.

Watercooling kits are coming on the market with increasing frequency, and while we review a fair sampling, sometimes you might come across a kit at a good price that has not been reviewed – how might you evaluate it?

What follows are some indicators that could be useful in evaluating a watercooling kit:

  • Price: It’s true – you get what you pay for. Watercooling components are expensive, and whatever it costs the manufacturer directly, there is a profit and markup percentage that can at least double the cost at retail (if it costs the manufacturer $100 to make, it will retail for at least $200).

    Wringing out costs at the manufacturing level results in less robust components, usually seen as a small radiator and a 12 volt pump that squeezes out something like 10 – 20 liters/hour (these are typically based on 12 volt fan motors). Considering that a quality waterpump alone retails for $60 and more, a kit retailing for under $100 has to make significant compromises.

  • Radiator: The bigger the better – period. The face area of the radiator is a key determinant to performance, as is the metal used – copper better than aluminum. The bare minimum for acceptable performance is surface area equivalent to a 120 mm fan, copper tubing.
  • Pump: This is the heart of any system and compromising here is foolhardy. The lower the flow through the system, the less powerful the pump. Look carefully at the pump in the kit if it’s clearly visible – if it’s not much bigger than a fan hub, the odds are that it’s not up to the job long term.
  • Tubing Size: The smaller the tubing, the lower the performance. Tubing is sized to the pump’s ability to move water through the system – kits that feature ¼” OD tubing are typical for low performance, low price, entry level kits. These might be OK for mom, but are not serious contenders for heavy duty cooling. I would look for at least 3/8″ ID tubing.
  • Waterblock: A bit problematic, as size is not necessarily a performance indicator. I would look at the base, if possible, and note the finish – rough polishing marks are a bad sign. In addition, if it’s not a copper base, it’s not a serious heat exchanger.

  • Reservoir: Also problematic – IMHO a reservoir is not a key performance determinant; however, if it looks cheap, that’s an indication of the kit’s overall quality.

CONCLUSIONS

Of all a kit’s parts, the radiator, tubing size and waterpump are perhaps the best indicators of its quality. In general, the bigger the tubing and radiator size, the better, and the more robust the pump (better kits will use an external waterpump), the better the kit’s performance.

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