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Water Cooling with PolarFLO Article - Page 1 of 8

INTRODUCTION

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:

  1. Buy a fully pre-built water cooled system that includes the case, motherboard, etc.
  2. Buy a water cooling kit to install into your existing case/system.
  3. 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 components.

I will be featuring the PolarFLO TT Series Basic System Set with the PolarFLO TT Series Pump (both are in the 1/2" barb size). I'll get into more detail about these (and the other required components to a lesser degree) in just a bit.

Water Cooling Components
Click Image to Enlarge

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.

QUICK PRIMER

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. This 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 good mix.

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 I and Part II) 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 factors:

  • 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 parts.
     
  • 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.

TESTING CONFIGURATION

System Specifications

  • Lian Li PC-71 Full Tower
  • AMD Athlon 64 3500+ Socket 939 (Newcastle) @ default clocks and overclocked (2.365 GHz)
  • Gigabyte GA-K8NS Ultra-939
  • Mushkin 1GB (512MBx2) PC-3500 Level One Dual Pack
  • Antec True Power 480W
  • Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 40GB 7200RPM ATA-133 Hard Disk Drive (2)
  • Hitachi CM721F CRT Monitor - 19-Inch
  • 32-Bit Color / Vsync Disabled / 85Hz Refresh Rate
  • NVIDIA ForceWare WHQL 71.89 - Quality - Default Optimization Settings
  • NVIDIA nForce 5.10
  • Windows XP Professional Service Pack 2
  • Microsoft DirectX 9.0c
  • BFG Technologies GeForce 6800 Ultra OC @ default clocks (425/1100) and overclocked (470/1250)
Benchmarks
  • Windows at idle - 1 hour
  • Far Cry v1.3 - Research Map - 1600x1200 - 4xAA/8xAF - looped 10 times
  • Sandra 2005 v10.50 - CPU Arithmetic Benchmark and CPU Multi-Media Benchmark - looped 20 times
  • Prime95 v23.7 - Blend Torture Test - 1 hour
  • RTHDRIBL v1.2 - 1 hour
  • SpeedFan v4.23 (compared against thermal probe for reference/accuracy)
  • Digital thermometer with secondary external sensor.

Environmental Notes

  • Ambient room temperature was between 21°C and 22°C
  • Lian Li PC-71 Full Tower with two (2) Vantec Stealth fans (rear exhaust) and one 120x120x25mm Evercool Aluminum Case Fan Model AL12025 intake fan in front of case mounted on radiator. There was no blowhole or side intake fan.
  • Case was fully enclosed for all tests.
  • Arctic Silver 5 was the thermal compound used on the water blocks.

Next Page: PolarFLO Photos

Last Updated on May 3, 2005


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