Water cooling has been a viable cooling solution for a number of years now. Until
recently, though, it has been a solution that relatively few people have
ventured into. It is becoming more popular as processors, video cards, and
chipsets run at ever increasing temperatures.
This article is not meant to be a step-by-step guide. It is more of a collection of the
many things I've learned from water cooling. Everyone's setup varies so much that
a linear guide really wouldn't be of much use anyway. My hope is that the
lessons I've learned (based on both honest mistakes, and some deliberate) will
shed some light, answer some questions, and give a boost of confidence in
general. Thanks to 3DCOOL.COM
and PolarFLO for
providing the water blocks and pump.
Another motivating factor is that of noise. Generally speaking, a water cooled
system will be much quieter than an air cooled system. That's not to say that
water cooled systems are silent. They can be, but most still make use of one or
more fans to cool the radiator(s). Radiators can be effectively cooled, though,
with low-noise (< 30dB) fans.
Today, there are three general options for water cooling a system:
Buy a fully
pre-built water cooled system that includes the case, motherboard, etc.
water cooling kit to install into your existing case/system.
Buy all of the
water cooling components separately and build/design it yourself.
This article will focus on the third option of
buying all of the water cooling components separately and building/designing it
yourself. The intent here isn't for a comprehensive review of each component but
rather an overall introduction to water cooling that features quality PolarFLO
Fully pre-built systems might be an appealing
choice for some, but they are very expensive and you really don't learn anything
about the entire process should you ever decide to do it yourself...or even to
modify that pricey system you just bought.
Water cooling kits are a much more affordable option
and they're a great way to get started. Brian Cochran recently finished a
review of one these kits with Thermaltake's BigWater. So, between his
article and mine, we hope to present you with a lot of answers to your questions
and maybe give you that nudge of confidence to dive in yourself.
First, a quick primer to those of you that may need
one about the principles behind water cooling and what the typical best practices
are. As with anything, there are variations and exceptions but this will at
least get you up to speed.
Let's start with water. What's so special about it
anyway? Well, water is an amazing substance when it comes to something called
specific heat. The specific heat is the amount of heat per unit mass
required to raise the temperature by one degree Celsius. The specific heat of water is 1 calorie/gram °C = 4.186
joule/gram °C, which is higher than any other common substance. This is why
water plays a very important role in temperature regulation. The specific heat
per gram for water is much higher than metals such as copper. Water's
specific heat is 10 times higher than that of copper.There are some
exotic substances like liquid mercury that have a higher specific heat, but liquid
mercury vapors are deadly. Plus, water is cheap. You can grab a gallon of
distilled water (that's important) for less than $1.00 at the grocery store.
You may be wondering what kind of water
should be used. There are differing opinions on that, but you'll find most will agree
that distilled water is the best. Tap water contains metals, organisms, etc. Bottled water has chemical and mineral additives
that you'll also want to avoid. So, I recommend and use distilled water.
To be more accurate, I used a solution of 85% distilled water and 15% Prestone 5/150 Extended Life Antifreeze.
A typical reaction to water cooling is that water
and computers don't mix. This is true of course, but water that is distilled
and/or deionized actually isn't very conductive at all. Ions and particulate
matter in water (such as tap and bottled water with metals, minerals, etc) are
what increase conductivity, not the water itself. Here is a
good PDF document on water conductivity, albeit a bit deep.
experiment is toned down a bit if you didn't do well in chemistry.
There are also a variety of specialized solutions
from various well-known water cooling companies that many people favor as well.
Personally, I liked the idea of making my own mix. It is quite a
bit cheaper and just as effective since distilled water is the foundation of any
I could go on and on about the finer points of
water and the various additives, etc, etc. However, Lee Garbutt over at
Overclockers.com has already created a comprehensive
set of articles on those very topics (Part
that I highly recommend you read.
After having poured over Lee's articles, I came to
the conclusion that my mix offered the best balance between the following major
Emphasis on distilled water as the
base/majority of the solution.
Anti-corrosion characteristics to combat the
battery effect of two different metals in an electrolyte solution (in this
case it is water).
Limited reduction in water's high viscosity
(additives like glycol reduce viscosity so you don't want to overdo it).
Maintain an alkaline pH to help inhibit
microorganism/algae growth (microorganism's prefer acidic environments in this
case). It should not exceed a pH of 10 as that can actually damage aluminum
I also decided to add a drop of algaecide to
my mix to further help prevent algae.
Scratching your head yet? It can be a bit
frustrating in that there's no "silver bullet" answer. Much of this is
definitely a "your mileage may vary" kind of thing. Don't let that bother you
too much though. As long as you do your homework and plan well you should be fine.