Watercooling

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Since computer enthusiasts have been around, they've been interested in getting components faster, more powerful, and almost most importantly, colder. Obviously, when computer chips are pushed faster, this requires more voltage to go through them to enable them to hit these speeds, and as such, the temperature they operate at can sky rocket. Eventually, it got to a point where good ol' air cooling just wasn't enough. Enter: watercooling.

Watercooling is used as a more extreme alternative to air cooling. There are several versions of it, such as chilled water, but the usual set up involves basic distilled water and an additive of your choice to prevent corrosion and/or bacterial growth buildup in the tubes. The temperatures on the chips can go down close to ambient, but the most impressive part is the control over load temperatures. With air cooling, temperatures can rise to very hot values while the chip is being stressed; but with watercooling, the load temps are kept under control a lot better, which allows you to push the chip even further.

The basic watercooling setup usually involves the following: a pump, a radiator/heatercore, waterblocks of your choice [CPU, GPU, chipset, etc...], fans and a shroud for the radiator/heatercore, a reservoir/t-line to store the excess water, and good tubing to route around the case. In some cases, there are some radical waterblocks such as RAM blocks, hard drive blocks, or even a PSU block, but those are hardly used and usually end up hurting the watercooling loop because they add more restriction to the flow. People mix and match components to get the kit they want, but those are the general parts that go into a watercooling setup.

The following page will go into detail on watercooling, such as the specifics of each component, some basic principles of fluid dynamics, ideal and budget setups, and maybe even some reviews on certain products.


Important Components
Maze 4 GPU waterblock, made and designed by DangerDen

Waterblocks
Swiftech Storm CPU Waterblock, originally designed by Cathar

The waterblock is a component made out of some sort of metal. Its purpose is to remove heat from the heat source and put said heat into the water. The most common and best material for waterblocks is copper, as it does not become corroded like aluminum will. Water flows through the copper block without touching the actual computer component, for the most part. Some extreme coolers have made direct die waterblocks, but the water seeps into the CPU and destroys it. Waterblocks can be made for any type of heat source, such as CPU's, GPU's, Power regulators, RAM, Hard Drives, chipset, etc, however CPU and GPU are the only things that usually cooled, as other components don't typically need it to reach their maximum potential.

 

Pumps
Eheim 1260
The pump is used to provide flow through the watercooling system. Passive systems have been made, but these are not common or particularly good at cooling. Most pumps used in watercooling are not made specifically for watercooling, but are adapted from other areas such as aquariums and such. Two main numbers to be concerned with are Flow (GPH/LPH) and Head Pressure. The flow is how fast the pump can move water with absolutely no restriction on the intake or output. Head Pressure is how high the pump is able to push water at 0 gallons per minute.

Note that head pressure has no relation to vertical height in a closed system, and the length of tubing has little to do with the head pressure (1/2" inside diameter tubing, for example, provides 3" of resistance for every 3 feet, at 1 gallon per minute).

Most common pumps are the Swiftech MCP350/Dangerden DDC, Aquaextreme 50-Z, and MCP 655/Dangerden D5 models. The CSP-MAG pump, sold by Dangerden among others, is a rising pump, but the company's last product, the CSP-750, was horrible for longevity, so they have a fairly bad reputation right now.
Pre-modded 1977 Bonneville Heatercore from Dangerden


Radiators

The purpose of the radiator is to remove heat from the water and out into the open air. There are several types of watercooling radiators, including made for PC radiators and heatercores. However heatercores offer better performance, at a lower cost, so they are recomended. In cars, heatercores are used to heat the interior. They have a very low water-side pressure drop, but a dense fin structure. However, they are typically larger than the fans used, so their pressure drop is relatively low. As far as performance goes for radiators, one thing is very clear: size matters. Of all the other variables out there, size is the definitive one, with fin density and radiator thickness taking a back seat. You can grab a heatercore at pretty much any auto store for around $20. Recomended models are from a 1977 Pontiac Bonneville (w or w/o AC)(Ideal size for 2 120mm fans) and a 1986 Chevette (Ideal for 1 120mm fan). The other main options are the Black Ice Extreme (BIX) and Black Ice Pro (BIP) I, II or III which can fit from 1-3 120mm fans and the PA160 series. The BIX is the most popular option due to marketing on HELab's part. The BIP is an increasingly popular option due to a lower price, lower profile, and higher performance than the BIX. The PA160 is the best of those three, but has an incredibly high price. The heater cores are better than the made-for-PC radiators of similar sizes.

Modding a heatercore at OCModShop

Shrouds

The purpose of a shroud is to eliminate the deadspot of a fan (where the motor is) and spread airflow out evenly over a heatercore, in addition to reducing backflow and thus increasing airflow. They are recomended for a large performance increase. The ideal shroud for a 120MM fan has a depth of 1.12". Performance does not suffer greatly with a slight change from that - the old way of doing things was to zip tie the fan to the radiatior, and that hurts performance a lot.


Shroud from DTEK customs

Tubing

There are several different types of tubing available. 3/8th inch and 1/2 inch Inner Diameter (denoted by ID) are most common. Both clearflex and tygon are commonly used because of their flexibility and kink resistance. For the watercoolers purposes, clearflex is all that is needed (Tygon is signifigantly more money for the only benefit of resistance to algae). Tubing also has an Outer Diameter (OD) rating. The most common tubing is 3/8in ID with 1/2in OD and 1/2in ID and 3/4in OD. Generally, the thicker the tubing wall, the more kink resistant, but less flexible. For a budget build, 1/2ID, 3/4OD vinyl tubing is available at Home Depot for significantly cheaper than Clearflex or Tygon, but it is much less flexible.

Coolant

The most commonly used liquid in watercooling systems is a mixture of 90% distilled water and 10% antifreeze. Premixed solutions and nonconductive solutions are also available, but these tend (that is, all those in existence today) to be worse than 90/10 water/antifreeze mix at cooling, while costing several times more. The nonconductive solutions offer added security, although most consider it unnecessary.

Redline Water Wetter was in favour for a while, but then reports of it leaving long white strands of scum in water cooling systems surfaced, and it generally went out of use. This stuff is not recommended any more - avoid it if you can.

Reservoir/T-line

A reservoir is just a tank in the system in which air is caught (extra air in your loop is bad). However, reservoirs cost more than T-Lines, and acrylic reservoirs have the tendency to crack. The T-line is fairly cheap, but it takes considerably longer to bleed the system, and a reservoir set up right before the pump may increase flow slightly. It does not have to be at the highest point in the system. The High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) reservoirs sold by Dangerden, Swiftech, and Dtek generally do not crack. Swiftech and Dangerden both have a version that accomodates a DDC/MCP 350 in the same 5.25" bay.

Part Recommendations

In this section, there will be recommended setups for you depending on what your budget is. Included will be a budget setup, a mid-range setup, and an high end setup where money is no option. All of these setups are going to include a T-line instead of a reservoir because of its effectiveness and price; the same mixture of coolant is going to be used through each option as well. Also, the performance difference between each setup is minimal: 2-3C tops, but thats a liberal guess.


Budget Setup

This is for people who are on a very strict budget but still want the effectiveness of watercooling.

CPU Block: Swiftech MCW6002/AquaXtreme MP-1
GPU Block: <none>
Pump: Dangerden CSP-MAG [DC 12V] & Via Aqua 1300 or Danner Mag3 (may require some sealing for inline use) [120vAC]
Radiator: Self-modded heatercore or Pre-modded heatercore (single available for ~30, double for ~35 (double is worth the extra 5 bucks, if you can fit it)
Fans: 2 120MM generic fans of your choice
Tubing: Home Depot or Clearflex ½” ID with steel worm clamps (available at Home Depot for ~0.75 a piece)
TIM: Arctic Silver 5 or Ceramique
Coolant: Distilled Water [80-90%] & Anti-Freeze [10-20%]
Accessories: Polypropylene T-fitting, 2x120MM shroud, water dye [optional]

For ultra-budget, the GPU block has been removed so only the CPU is being cooled. The heatercore can be bought at Autozone [1977 Bonneville, also called 2-302] for very cheap, and can be modded like this. Although that guide is for a 1986 Chevette [1x120mm], the same thing can be done for a 1977 Bonneville heatercore [2x120mm] as well. For the tubing, generic Home Depot tubing can be used, but Clearflex isn’t that expensive to begin with.


Mid-Range Setup

Here is your average, very effective setup that won’t cost you your first born child.

CPU Block: Swiftech MCW6002 / Storm G4 / AquaXtreme MP-05 (all versions are good)
GPU Block: DangerDen Maze 4 Acetal / AquaXtreme MP-1
Pump: Dangerden CSP-MAG [12VDC] or Hydor L30 [120vAC]
Radiator: Black Ice Pro or Black Ice Pro II (if you can fit it) / Pre-modded heatercore
Fans: 2 120MM fans of your choice
Tubing: Clearflex ½” ID with clamps, either steel worm drive or nylon
TIM: Arctic Silver 5 or Ceramique
Coolant: Distilled Water [80-90%] & Anti-Freeze [10-20%]
Accessories: Polypropylene T-fitting or HDPE Reservoir, 2x120MM shroud, water dye [optional]

The MCW6002 is mentioned again because it is still a very effective block and only a slight amount less effective than the Storm [by 1-2C at max]. Certain parts can be mixed and matched from higher end setups, such as the pumps or fans, but this is going on a mid-range budget. For the radiator, a pre-modded heatercore would be a better choice, but the BIP's can also be very effective for around the same price.


High End Setup

This is the system that you could build if money was no option. Basically consider it a “dream” setup.

CPU Block: Storm G5/G7 [made by Cathar]
GPU Block: Silverprop Fusion HL
Pump: DangerDen D5/Swiftech MCP655 or MCP350/DDC [DC 12V] / Eheim 1250/Iwaki MD20RLZ [AC] / AquaXtreme 50Z [DC 12V]
Radiator: Premodded Heatercore (double if you have space) with shroud & 120MM fans [double is made by Weapon or Danger Den, the Procore, a painted single heater core is made by Dtek]
Tubing: Tygon ½” ID with steel worm-drive clamps
TIM: Arctic Silver 5 or Ceramique
Coolant: Distilled Water [80-90%] & Anti-Freeze [10-20%]
Accessories: Polypropylene T-fitting or HDPE Reservoir, water dye [optional]

Cathar has been making waterblocks for quite a while and is widely regarded as having the best products in the world. Weapon's heatercores are popular as well, as they're well made and attractive. Upon consent, contact information will be added. Weapon's heatercores are no better than Danger Den ones; they're literally the same thing, with the exception of weapons triple and quadruple fan heatercores )

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