PC water cooling has been around for sometime now, and using water to cool your PC certainly isn’t as foolish as it first might seem. In fact, water-cooling is the best bang for your buck method to cool your PC components, despite its seemingly steep price tag compared to air cooling. Water-cooling provides better performance with a lot less noise, and it usually allows for higher overclocking. There are a zillion parts available on the market but which ones to choose? If you don’t have enough information about them, or some knowledge on how to get started this guide is for you. And it’s even harder to get to the bottom of things when each manufacturer claims their products are the best of all time.
DIY vs. Prefab Kit
If you're wondering why the heck you would want to build a water cooling system when you can purchase one already made should remember that we have the same dilemma when PC building -- why would you want to build your own rig rather than buy one already built?
Prefab kit is a pre-assembled collection of cooling parts sold by a manufacturer such as Swiftech or Koolance. When you buy a prefab kit, you are paying a small premium for the peace of mind that comes from knowing the kit will have everything you need to get up and running, as well as a walk through installation manual.
The DIY route will leave you totally on your own to decide which blocks, pump, and tubing and other parts to buy. It takes some know how to match the tubing size to the fitting on the blocks, to know if the pump’s specs are appropriate and mostly, to know how to put it all together.
So which is better?
In the early days of water-cooling, the kits were crap and DIY was the only way to get a kiss-ass performance. That’s no longer a case, water-cooling has entered the mainstream and stiff competition has led to powerful prefab kits from Swiftech, Danger Den, Corsair and Koolance. While building a DIY setup can be a lot of fun, there’s no shames in a prefab kit, especially if you’re not a water cooling wizard. However, I do recommend the DIY water-cooling system over prefab kit becuase you will have better cooling results to your specific cooling needs.
Commonly, prefab (factory sealed) kits are small compact that is usually designed only to cool the CPU, some might handle an addiction component. So make sure you understand its capability before you purchase one. Here are a couple samples of prefab kit from Swiftech H20-X20 Edge series, XSPC Rasa 750 RS240 series; these kits cost $150-$350 and they do perform well.
There are two kinds of pumps used in water-cooling: submersible pumps, which go inside a reservoir and are submerged underwater, and the non- submerged one. Submersible pumps are usually found in external, all-in-one kits that sit on top of your case, such as Koolance Exo2LX
The majority of pumps used in DIY water cooling are stand alone; the key stat for your pumps is its flow rate, the amount of coolant it can move in an hour.
When go for pump shopping, keep this in mind. If you’re just cooling a CPU, you can go with a low-to-medium flow pump 150 gallons per hour / 568 liters per hour, if you want to cool a GPU, chipset, and a hard drive or two; you’ll need a higher flow pump. You should look for 300Gph (1135Lph) plus pump.
Here is the most popular and good performance pumps, these pumps can fit inside your case perfectly.
A reservoir is not necessary in a water cooling setup, but it’s a good idea to have one. It allows air bubbles to escape easily and a reservoir greatly increases the total water volume in the cooling system, thereby increasing cooling performance. Also, a reservoir makes it easier to fill the system with water because you can just pull it out from your rig to top it off your loops.
Systems without a reservoir require a fill port or T-line, which makes filling and bleeding air from the system more difficult.
The best reservoirs are made from acrylic or moulded plastic and have a separator to ensure that the water is constantly moving through the reservoir and available in many shapes and sizes.
The type of tubing varies; most tubes are made from either, Tygon, silicone or just generic vinyl. Tygon is very expensive but bends well and doesn’t crimp easily. Silicone is very flexible, but not widely available and the common type of tubing is vinyl, it’s cheap, works well and is easily find at the local plumbing and home hardware stores.
It available in varies sizes and colors, from ¼” (6mm) to ½” (13mm). The most common way to identify tubing size is by its internal diameter, also known as ID. As a rule of thumb, wider ID tubing delivers a higher flow rate, the higher flow rate, the more cooling for your rig.
Most of people settled on fat ½” or 7/16” (11mm) tubing for high performance water cooling. The 7/16” will fit onto ½” bard tightly like a glove you don’t even need to use clamps but for the safety, you should use clamps to secure the tubing. The disadvantage of using ½” tubing is it hard to work with in a small case, in a tight bending radius and perhaps routing as well.
The next best common size are 3/8”(10mm) tube, this size of tubing are easy to work with and not too small to lose the performance, compare to the ½” tube. The performances lost for this size of tubing are so small you don’t even notice, because of the high performance water blocks, it's makeup the differences. Water blocks don’t make like they used to do in the past any more.
I wouldn’t recommend using anything less than 3/8”, if you use small tubing with thin wall, I would recommend you to use SmartCoil to strengthen the tubing to prevent it collapsing from over time due to the pressure build up the circuit. However, plastic SmartCoil gets bristle overtime, the metal coil is perferable.
Even thought the tubing usually fits onto the bard very securely but you do requires hose clamps around the tubing on the inlet and outlet barbs of your cooling blocks, pumps, radiator and reservoir to prevent leaks.
There are two types of clamps: the adjustable plastic (ratcheting type) or the metal type (worm drive) uses in plumbing that are available at home hardware or plumbing stores.
A cheap alternative method is to use zip-tie, it works only if the tube fit tightly onto the barbs.
Commonly, it comes with chrome plated barbs, I recommend to use the chrome plated type over the plastic type. It is better quality and looks nicer than the plastic type, it won’t break if you over force it. The plastic one can break if you over do it.
The compression fitting type only available in ¼” (6mm), 3/8” (10mm) and ½” (13mm)ID & 5/8” (16mm)OD, which is mean you can’t use the fat ½”ID & ¾”OD (thick wall) tubing. I wouldn’t recommend using ½” ID & 5/8” OD the thin wall tubing with a high flow pump. It will collapse under high pressure even you use SmartCoil. This fitting are more expensive than the chrome type.
The radiator transfers heat from your water cooling circuit to the environment outside your case. It’s where the heat from your water cooled components radiates out of the system.
Aluminum is the most popular material for radiators because it’s light, inexpensive and can be crafted into very complex shapes, much more easily than cooper. However, most water cool enthusiast prefers cooper material than aluminum. I will tell you the reason why in the coolant additives section.
Most radiators are designed to work with a single, two, three or even four 120mm fans, for maximum cooling with minimum noise. The more surface area on the radiator, the more heat it will be dissipates. Plain English translation, bigger radiator is better cooling than small radiator.
Radiator Heat Dissipates Capacity Chart
- Single 120.1 = 150w
- Dual 120.2 = 300w
- Triple 120.3 = 450w
- Quad 120.4 = 600w
Now determine the heat load on the components that you’re going to water cooled, use this power consumption calculator to find out the heat load so you can pick out an appropriate radiator for you setup. Also, you can use the calculator to determine an appropriate PSU for your rig as well.
Formula: MaxPower Consumption = Max Heat Output click on the formula link to calculate the heat load.
Fill in only the components that you are going to water cooled (ie: the fields for those items upon which you intend to mount a water block), and the pump field (as your pump dumps heat into the system too). Hit calculate, and knock 38w off the result. What you have left is your heat load and if you want to include chipset cooling, just add another 100w for sake of argument and assume you'll be left with headroom. For GPU overclocking just add another 60w per card to the final total.
Leave TDP on 85%**
Example: We’re going to water cool the following components.
- CPU: Q6600 G0 overclocked 3.6Ghz @ 1.425v
- MOBO: Maximus Formula
- NB: 1.39v
- GPU: G8800GTS, 640MB Overclocked
- PUMP: MCP655
Select matching items in the pull down menu; input the overclocked CPU speed and the Vcore voltage from the BIOS. Click the calculate button to find out the heat load.
The result: 308watts
Now add on 100w (about 40w of headroom) for NorthBridge chipset and 60w for overclocked GPU.
(308w + 160w) – 38w (default wattage) = 430w final result
Check the radiator’s capacity chart to pick out an appropriate size radiator.
In this example we need at least a Triple 120.3 radiator to cool all the above components. A Triple 120.3 radiator is more than enough in this case, because we did add on 160w of estimation. The actual heat load is about 390w, therefore a 120.3 radiator is suitable for this setup.
Note: no matter how big a radiator is, you won’t be able to cool the components below the ambient temperature (the temperature of the air around water-cooling circuit).
To be continued...