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PC Water Cooling 101
January 24 2008

What is Water Cooling?

Water cooling is simply using water, or a comparable liquid, being pumped through aluminum or copper block coolers keeping the major heat producing components cool. Water blocks now come for many of the various heat producing computer components components. Water cooling came about when IT and Computer professionals realized that the current systems generated quite a bit of heat and noise. The noise usually comes from the many case fans or, in the loudest instances, processor fans on heatsinks. Heat is one the larger contributing factors to system degredation and instability. It would be pointless to run a top of the line computer if the system is consistantly unstable due to too much heat. Eventually, the components will degrade and finally, break down.

Air cooling versus Water Cooling:

Computer's thermal properties rise and fall with the release of newer and faster processors. The pros to good air cooling are: cheaper solutions in general and you can spend less on designing a case with good airflow. The cons to good air cooling are: larger heatsinks needed along with more involved mounting requirements to prevent processor and motherboard damage, more fans, regular system cleaning, more air friendly cases or enclosures tend to be more expensive, greater potential for noise, and you must often upgrade your heatsink with each new processor socket released.

The pros to water cooling are: much lower temperatures, much less noise, easy to keep clean, less maintenance, a silent system, less problems with system heat causing instability, and a simple mounting kit revision will allow the kit to work with your next processor upgrade. The cons to water cooling are: usually more expensive and more involved installation depending on the water cooling kit.

For example: If you want the best or a decent air cooled case, you may have to upgrade to a more expensive aluminum case. Then you will have to spend a little more for silent running fans compared to the bargain bin fans. All of this will require relocating your system to the new case can cost you almost as much depending on your choices. Water cooling kits, on the other hand, can be modified and work with pretty much any case.

Why Water Cooling?

If you work with audio or video intensive programs, chances are you do have a pretty powerful machine that demands cool and clean components. No one wants to be in the middle of a project and have the system suddenly reboot or power off, losing important data or information. Audiophiles demand quiet, stable machines since they use the most sound sensitive components. No one wants that perfect project to have the hum of a computer fan in the back ground.

And if you are an avid gamer, you will find your latest upgrade is all for naught if heat or collecting dust causes system instability. Your final match of the season and a chance to claim the championship are lost to something you couldn't see in your system case. And for some gamers, overclocking that videocard with the stock heatsink just can't get you those extra frames you needed to take the winning shot.

This brings us the extreme overclockers. There is more heat and noise coming from the overclocked components than ever before. To keep it as cool as possible, you now have to use faster and noiser fans just to keep a stable system. Overclockers are looking for one or two things: the highest possible overclock, perhaps for bragging rights, or they want the absolute last frame per second out of their machine. In some cases, overclocking can bring your machine's performance up to something more mainstream despite being older.

Water cooling kits detailed:

There are typically three different kits: base, custom, and complete kits. Each kit usually comes with the radiator, tubing, reservoir, pump, mounting kits, and extra dyes, liquids, or anti-algae mixtures. Base kits are naturally the least expensive and work well for beginners or someone looking to silence just their processor fan. Custom kits will have a CPU block and a VGA or Chipset block of your choice. Optional blocks can be found for harddrives, memory modules, and other types of Chipsets or GPUs but do not typically come in any kit currently on the market. Complete kits are for people who have high performance video cards and who want to completely silence their system.

Base Kits: CPU Block, Radiator, Tubing, Reservoir, Pump, Mounting Kit(s), Dyes-liquids-anti-algae mixtures.

Plus Kits: CPU, VGA or Chipset Blocks, Radiator, Tubing, Reservoir, Pump, Mounting Kit(s), Dyes-liquids-anti-algae mixtures

Complete Kits: CPU, VGA, Chipset Blocks, Radiator(s), Tubing, Reservoir, Pump, Mounting

Kit(s), Dyes-liquids-anti-algae mixtures

Picking the best kit for you:

The answer to this question depends on what your objective is. Do want a perfectly silent computer? Do you want a modified system to show off? Do you plan to overclock your system?

If your goal is for pure silence, then you may need a "complete kit" which contains the CPU, VGA, and Chipset water blocks. You wouldn't necessarily need the biggest, most expensive water cooling kit to do the job. Something comparable to a Thermaltake Big Water 745 with optional water blocks or the Vantec Stingray would definitely do the job. This replaces any fans that typically generate most the noise. If you like to show off your system, then you will have to decide which water cooling system looks the best.It's basically a matter of preference as to how flashy a kit you want to install. If you are an overclocker, you will want to buy the best rated water cooling kit that covers CPU, VGAs, Chipsets, and possibly memory cooler blocks.

You aren't limited to buying just water cooling kits. You can easily build and configure your own. Again, all you need to do is stick with the common components similarly found in the kits listed above. It is common for some users to mix and match different water blocks and components used to complete their system as long as they all work together and, or are compatible.

In other words, you should try and match your tubing sizes to the water blocks, pumps, and radiator barb connections. When you see the initials I.D. and O.D. this refers to the Inside Dimension and Outside Dimension. Some water cooling products come with adapters and some do not. Read the specifications and features lists thoroughly to see what you're getting. You don't want to be stuck with a custom kit and no barb adapters for all the different sized blocks you chose.

Selecting a pump isn't hard these days. The terms Discharge Head, Delivery Head, Maximum Lift, Maximum Head, or Vertical Head refer to the pump's ability to push water vertically. The more components attached to a water cooling configuration continue to add resistance. This is where "head and lift" are important as you want to be able to keep water flowing no matter how much resistance or water cooling blocks there are.

Maximum Discharge or Flow Rate refers to the pump's maximum ability to pump water through the system. If a pump has a "head or lift" factor of 10 feet and the "flow" rate is 1000 L/H (liters an hour), the system will get pump 1000 or so liters up to a vertical distance of 10 feet.

A good rule of thumb when selecting your pump: water cooling configurations with a dual fan radiator and two water blocks, should use at least a 500 L/H (liters -of water pumped- an Hour). Water cooling configurations with three or more water blocks, multiple radiators, and more than 9 feet of tubing will want to use pumps above the 500 L/H rating. If your configuration travels in an upward distance of 8 feet or more, you definitely need to use 1000 L/H and higher rated pumps. It usually pays to buy a better rated pump if you aren't sure what you need in your particular configuration.

Installation Tips:

* Enable CPU Temperature Shutdown in your BIOS. This will save your processor if something doesn't work properly.

* If you modify your case, you should empty the case first or you risk damaging your components.

* If you configure a large water cooling kit, choose a more powerful pump that can easily pump water through the system.

* When installing a chipset or CPU water block, it is much safer on your components to remove the motherboard. VGA water blocks naturally just need the videocards removed.

* When possible, pre-attach the tubing to the water blocks to avoid damage to the GPU, Chipset, or VGA processors.

* Be very careful and make sure you keep the block flat and steady when attaching tubing to mounted water blocks.

* If the tubing is difficult to attach, use a non-detergent, water based lubricant. Soap may foam up and bubbles don't keep a system cool.

* Some components may not always have the mounting hardware and may require a little ingenuity. (For example: An Asetek Dual 120mm Radiator was mounted on the rear 120mm case fan hole by using longer screws through the chassis holes, through the fan, and in to the radiator fan holes. The 120mm fan acted as a standoff and allowed the air to pass through the radiator.)

* When cutting the tubing, put the water blocks roughly in their places so you can make more accurate cuts.

* If you're new to water cooling and have questions, there are many forums that can help.

* Use 100% distilled water in your system unless the kit or custom order has something comparable. This will keep your system from grounding and shorting out if you happen to have a small leak.

If something doesn't work properly, don't panic. Do a search for "water cooling forums" and you will most likely find someone else with an identical or similar problem that offered has a solution. If not, then someone will always have an idea or advice that will work.