A New Approach To Water Cooling

Interesting no-pump approach – Kevin Lura

Water cooling has seen several very nice improvements recently that are making systems more efficient than ever – several new pumps and a water block that is being brought to the main stream by a nice collaboration between Swiftech and Little River.

The problem I see, however, is that these high performance parts are costing top dollar and many systems are running several hundred dollars when everything is added up. I love water cooling as much as the next guy but I don’t see the gains from these top dollar systems that I would like to.

So here is my solution: In my opinion, water cooling attracts people for the following reasons:

  • Performance
  • Silence
  • Satisfaction from a DIY project

The last point, I feel, has become a lost art; scroll down the water cooling section on Overclockers.com to see what I mean – DIY cooling setups are all but disappearing.

I have used half a dozen water pumps trying to find one that suits my needs – quiet and silent. My favorite so far has been the Ehiem compact which I feel should replace the Via Aqua as the low-price king. However, none lived up to my standards, so I got rid of them.


System is partially taken apart for testing

Obviously this puts a large dent in the performance of a water cooling system. A good air cooling system could compete with a pumpless system and have a similar noise level and lower price. To make up for this, I used a thermal electric device.

Thermoelectric devices have somewhat of a bad reputation. In the process of researching for this setup, I found a lot of misinformed people about the uses of thermoelectric devices.

Peltier devices generally have a very low efficiency that makes them difficult to deal with. With such a low efficiency, large cooling loops and dedicated power supplies are necessary to run them. To deal with this, I run my TEC at a lower voltage, 5 volts; this allows me to cool my CPU but only draw 5 volts @ 10 amps.

At this power, I do not need a large radiator or a dedicated power supply. A large TEC must be used, as running it at a lower voltage increases efficiency but decreases capacity. I choose a 320 watt unit from eBay.


Plenty of amperage on my PSU’s 5v rail


Here is my original setup:

  • MCW6002
  • Ehiem compact
  • Bonneville heater core(dual 120 mm heater core)

My setup with TEC:

  • Maze3-1
  • 320 watt TEC
  • Chevette heater core (single 120 mm heater core)

The heater core must be horizontal and on top of the case; the water block must be vertical and on bottom for water flow to be established.

With the original setup, I was getting a load of 42ºC under Prime95; with the new setup, I get the same 42ºC. My idle temps have changed from 32ºC in the first setup to 24ºC (below ambient but above dew point, so condensation is not a problem ATM) with this setup. Ambient room temp is 26-27ºC.

There are several things to take into consideration when looking at the temps:

  • The legitimacy of my testing is bound to come up. I can accept this but I believe it is undeniable that I have a functional and competitive setup here
  • Decreased area on the heater core will show an increase in temp, especially with the added heat from the TEC. I will be putting the Bonneville back in shortly

  • I do not believe that water is the best coolant for this setup and I plan on purchasing and testing other coolants. I have researched some coolants and I believe I can get a decrease in temps with other coolants

I am hoping the points above will make this system a top performer.

Total cost for me was:

  • $18 for the block
  • $21 for the TEC
  • $7 for a Chevette heater core from the auto parts store (I already had this)

Total = $56

Comparing that to the latest water block priced at $76, this is obviously much cheaper than many systems built today.

A pump can, of course, be added to this system. My view: of course you can add a pump and get another ~15ºC drop in temps. This is like anything – of course you can make it better, but where do you stop?

  • If you add a pump you get ~15ºC drop
  • Then you have to insulate
  • If you’re insulated, you might as well run full voltage to the TEC
  • Running the TEC at full voltage requires a separate PSU
  • More heat from the extra volts to the PSU means you should probably add another HC/rad
  • More HC/rad means you can benefit from another pump
  • Etc, etc

You can pretty much play that game until you’re broke. I believe my system is the best performance for the dollar you can get as well as the quietest system you can build.

Kevin Lura – aka Ls7corvete

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