Watercooling adventure

Ok, so in the last post about my new PC, you may have got the gist that I wasn’t perfectly happy with the all-in-one Corsair watercooler. I did get the pump noise to a semi-acceptable level, but then there was still the annoying sound of the fans, and fans ramping up when the system is under load. I didn’t want to go back to air cooling either (my overclocks!), so the obvious next step was to build a custom watercooling loop. Custom loops are a lot more expensive than all-in-one pre-filled watercoolers, but do much better in terms of cooling performance and quietness.

Watercooling your PC isn’t as dangerous as it sounds. The chance of a leak in a properly installed loop is very slim, and even if a leak does happen, there’s a decent chance you’ll notice it before your components get damaged. There’s also a chance your hardware would still work fine even with puddles of water over it. Distilled water in itself isn’t conductive, however it can ionize over time due to contact with all the metal parts in the loop. That said, there is still a tiny chance of frying your hardware you’ll just have to live with. Personally, in the event that happens I would just take it as an opportunity to upgrade to newer hardware and forget about it.

Going into this, I was still a bit scared of the process. I am kind of a clunky person when it comes to handiwork, but it turns out the installation wasn’t difficult at all. In fact, planning out the loop and picking out components was more work than the actual build.

Since this is primarily a workstation computer, I decided to leave the videocard out of the loop for now, mostly because the fans don’t spin anyway when the videocard isn’t under heavy load, and because video card water blocks are really expensive.

To get a basic water cooling loop going, you will need:
– Coolant: a liquid substance moving through the loop. Most people recommend distilled water. You can also get colored fluids, but they are notorious for gunking up your loop and being harder to clean out.
– Pump: moves coolant, usually with rotor blades. Pumps are really silent these days, but it’s still recommended to decouple (e.g. put on a piece of foam) the pump so that vibrations do not transfer to your PC chassis.
– Reservoir: a tank feeding the pump. Technically, you could run a loop without a reservoir, but having one makes filling the system, bleeding (the process of getting air bubbles out), and monitoring the water level a lot easier. Some reservoirs have integrated pump mounts.
– Tubing: d’uh.
– CPU block: a metal block cooling your CPU, transferring the heat into the water.
– Radiators: Radiators cool down the water by transferring heat into the air. Most radiators are meant to have fans attached to them.
– Fittings: connects tubing between your CPU block, radiators, reservoir and pump top.

The design of your loop will depend on many factors, such as what hardware you’re cooling, how much space you have available in your PC case, whether or not you want a silent system, whether or not you’re overclocking, etc.

I highly recommend JayzTwoCent’s beginner’s guide to watercooling, but have a look around for other resources too. MartinsLiquidLab and SilentPcReview are good resources for individual part reviews. Once you’ve picked out parts, ask on a forum (e.g. overclock.net) for feedback, you want to be sure you are not buying incompatible or nonsensical parts.

With all the parts in front of you, assembling everything should only take a day or two. Then you’ll want to perform a leak test over night (with your hardware still unplugged), and the next day you can enjoy the awesome performance, quietness and badass look of your watercooled PC!

plumbing done

The total cost of my loop was just under 500€. I could probably have built one for 200€, but I wanted to pick the highest quality parts and also went with one more radiator than really necessary, just so I can run the fans at slower (silent) speeds. To put the price into perspective, keep in mind that having your hardware extra cool will increase its lifespan; also, watercooling parts will generally last you forever. The only moving part is the pump, and even these things are typically rated for about 5 years of 24/7 operation.

Is watercooling worth it from a cost perspective? Not really. But it’s a fun tinkering hobby, and the only option for folks not willing to compromise on the performance nor on the quietness of their PC.

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