Water Cooling Guide: The basics
An Introduction to Watercooling your Computer
WaterCooling your PC is becoming a very popular thing to do as of late in the overclocking world. However, the problem with it is the complicated choices when building a cooling setup. Many choose to not deal with this and buy a pre-made watercooling setup from Koolance, Corsair, Swiftech, etc. Some of these kits can be very good, many are not. In this guide I will not tell you which kit to get, but rather teach you how to build your own setup and dispel some common watercooling myths along the way.
Before I go any further, I need to explain something that apparently most users do NOT understand. Please read the following VERY carefully and if you have ANY questions regarding the following, do NOT hesitate to contact me. The pressure of the water going through the watercooling loop does NOT in any way matter. ONLY the flow matters. This in no way refers to the following section on pumps, but merely to the pressure of the water in the loop. It does not matter if the water is at 100psi or at 4psi, the cooling will be the same. Furthermore, it does not matter what order the components are in (as long as T-Line or Reservoir are right before the pump) as the flow is the same through all components even though the pressure is NOT.
To start, let’s lay out all of the components of a watercooling “loop.” They are listed below. Each item is hyperlinked to an example of the piece listed.
1. CPU waterblock (piece that directly cools the processor)
5. Coolant additives
6. Reservoir / T-Line
8. Hose clamps and other miscellaneous hardware
9. GPU waterblock (this is an optional item)
The items listed above are essentially every part that you would need to build your watercooling system from start to finish. With the basic pieces laid out we can now give an in depth description of each item and its function in the system.
1. The CPU Waterblock:
The CPU waterblock is the cornerstone of a cooling system. Depending on which you choose you can gain up to 10 degrees centigrade (temperature drop) from a poorly designed block to an efficiently designed one. The difference is not usually to such extremes, but these variations do exist.
Before I start talking about the blocks themselves let me set down some general rules. Stay away from blocks that mix Aluminum and Copper. They WILL destroy themselves due to galvanic corrosion. Secondly, I suggest you avoid Acrylic topped blocks, as they will crack eventually. Many of the acrylic topped blocks have brass toped versions which are excellent.
There are two basic designs used for waterblocks today. One style is called impingement and the other style doesn’t really have a defined name. The fundamental difference between the two is that impingement needs a powerful pump to get good performance, and non-impingement blocks are capable of good performance without a powerful pump. Now you are probably thinking to yourself, why get the impingement then? Well the impingement blocks do perform better when fitted with a powerful enough pump. In fact they are the best performing blocks in existence at the moment. But because of their requirement for a powerful pump they are not often used in budget pre-built systems. An example of a commercially available impingement design block is the TDX from Danger Den (www.dangerden.com), and the perfect example of the non-impingement design is the MCW6002 from Swiftech (no longer in production) (www.swiftnets.com).
So here are the basics that you should know.
Impingent = highest performance but needs a strong pump to get there (Example Here (Swiftech Storm): Outside Picture, Impingement Cups Impingement Jets)
Non-Impingement = good performance without much pump requirements (Example Here: Internal picture)
There are also blocks that could be called quasi-impingement like the cooltechnica MP-05. Blocks Such as this use jets somewhat similar to the Storm, but do not have the cup design like the Storm. Instead, they use raised pins that the jets shoot the water at. Here are two pictures of the MP-05 to give a better Idea of the style. Outside View and Inside View
Out of the two designs the non-impingement designs tend to be cheaper and offer better bang-for-buck, but if you have to have the maximum performance go with an impingement style block, but be prepared to spend a little bit more for it. (special thanks goes to Cathar for pointing out my error)
For a listing of current waterblock thread sizes and fittings check out eXa's guide to "Waterblock threading and fittings". It contains a wealth of useful but hard to find information about threads and fittings as well as the particular sizes and types used on current and older CPU waterblocks.
Due to repeated incidents in which the storm is improperly installed, please be advised that the proper way to install the tubing on the storm is as follows: inlet in the center and outlet towards the outer edge.
2. The Pump:
The pump is also a very large determining factor in the performance of your cooling system. Getting good flow in your system is essential for your components to function properly and efficiently. Therefore, you need to make sure you choose correctly when picking a pump. There is a wide variety of pumps on the market for different tubing sizing and system requirements. Here I will show you the basic types of pumps and the differences between them.
Before I talk about the different types of pumps there is something that should be explained. Many people think that the flow rate rating on the pump is the thing that they should be looking at most closely when shopping for a pump. But in fact, it isn’t. The most important item that should be taken into consideration when purchasing a pump is the head pressure of the pump. The head pressure is the amount of water that the pump can push in a vertical column. This with a jet shot straight up in the air and the height of it measured. For example, my Iwaki MD-20 has 14feet of head pressure. That means that it can pump 14feet of water in a piece of Â¾inch tubing. The reason that max flow rate is not really a concern when picking a pump is that the max flow that you will ever see in a loop is around 3gpm. Moreover, this is with a 150 dollar Iwaki pump. At 3gpm, your average system would represent around 14-15 feet of head restriction (this is a relatively inaccurate number, as I do not have actual test numbers in front of me). So that means you have to have a pump that can provide 14-15 feet of head at 3gpm. To achieve this, a pump with roughly 25feet of head pressure would be required. You may be asking yourself why you wouldn’t need a 14-15foot of head pump. Well the reason is that pumps head pressure is measured at 0 flow rate. As the flow rate goes up, the head pressure that the pump can provide goes down. At max flow the head pressure of a pump is 0 and at max head pressure the flow rate is 0. In short, lower flow/higher head pressure pumps are what you should be looking for. Conversly, stay away from pumps that are rated for very high flow but have relatively low head pressure ratings.
There is also one more thing to take into consideration when buying any pump. And that is heat dump. Or in laymen’s terms, how much heat (in Watts) the pump puts into the water that is flowing through it. DC pumps put anywhere from 7-20 watts of heat into the water. AC pumps on the other hand go from as low as 8 to as high as 50watts depending on how large the pump is.
The two basic types of pumps are AC (Alternating current that comes from your wall outlet) and DC (Direct Current, which is converted from AC and is uses in most electronic devices including computers). AC powered pumps run from your wall outlet and are generally larger than their DC powered counterparts. The DC pumps run from the 12volt line on your computer and have a standard Molex connector on them. In recent years they have become very popular in the watercooling community for the small size, ease of setup and excellent performance.
AC pump vary in sizes from quite small (such as the Eheim 1046 ), to very large (such as the Iwaki MD-20). AC pumps can be very good for watercooling, but most of them are low head pressure pumps. Because of this, most are not suitable for use in high performance watercooling setups. For a long time people though that the Eheim 1048, and 1046 were very good for watercooling, but that thought has changed recently. In my opinion, a pump for watercooling should not be even considered unless it has at least 9 feet of head pressure. Anything much below this will net rather low flow rates. The problem with this is that most AC pumps with over 9 feet of head are VERY large. And to make matters worse there are not many of them. But I should state that this 9feet of head requirement is only for performance cooling. If your are cooling your computer with water for its relative silence, then a pump with as little as 5 feet of head pressure will suite you very well. If you choose to use an AC pump I also highly recommend using a relay so that the pump turns on automatically with the computer. Otherwise, you WILL forget and possibly damage your system. Here is an example of a Swiftech relay kit which can be purchased at many watercooling outlets (link Swiftech Relay Kit )
Now onto DC pumps. There are very few suitable DC pumps for watercooling, but they are all very good. These pumps come in 3/8 (Example of a DDC Here Link)and 1/2inch (Example of MCP600 Here:Link) tubing sizes which are the standards in America. Of the 3 DC pumps that are used in watercooling, 2 of them can be found at almost every overclocking store that sells watercooling gear. The other can be had at only 2 websites which are both located in the united states. If you want to know which ones I am talking about, go to the pumps sticky in the forums that I wrote. It has incredibly in depth information all DC and AC pumps used in watercooling today. In general the DC pumps we use are very small and compact devices that have very low heat dump. But there is one pitfall with these pumps. They are not going to be able to give you the absolute maximum performance that a larger AC pump will provide. They will provide excellent performance, but a bit shy of extreme. To overcome this, the DC pumps can be run at 14volts, or you can run them in series, one right after the other. Running them in series is a very good way to give a good 50% flow increase. When two of them are run in series at 14volts you can expect in the range of a 100% flow increase over one pump.
That is the basic info that you will need to select a good pump. You can visit my pumps guide to get more in-depth information on all of the current pumps used in watercooling, including links to where to get them, prices, and specs.
3. Radiator / Fans
The radiator is an essential part of a watercooling system, as it removes the heat in the water deposited form the waterblocks and the pump. Without it the system would overheat in a matter of seconds. Radiators come in many different shapes and sizes. Some are better than others, but it all depends on application and the fans chosen. There are two types of radiators that are commonly used in watercooling setups. The first are the purpose built radiators that are designed to accommodate 120mm fans (some also use 80mm fans) and have different types of hose barbs for a myriad of applications. The second are heatercores. Heatercores are the heating elements used in car heating systems. There are plus and minus’ to both solutions that I will discuss.
Before I continue with explaining the types of radiators there are a few basic terms used to describe radiators that should be explained. The first commonly used term that is often confused or misunderstood is "passes". All radiators can be described in terms of passes. Passes are essentially how many directions the water goes in the radiator while being cooled. Generally watercooling radiators are 1 or 2 passes. The higher the number of passes the more restriction due to having the water change flow direction and that generally the area the water has to flow (per pass) in higher pass radiators is smaller. For a graphical explanation of "Passes" take a look at THIS picture.
The second bit of terminology is "Rows". Rows refer to the number of flow tubes the radiator has, with regards to depth. By depth I am referring to the thickness of the radiator in the direction of the airflow, and not the water channels. The picture HERE shows a CoolRad 12-T which is dual row. Each row looks like a column of elliptical holes. A single row radiator would be one column of those holes, and would be accordingly about 50% the thickness.
Now back to the radiator types.
The purpose built radiators have their plus’, and their minus’. They are a good choice for their ease of use and good performance, but they do not provide the absolute maximum performance. There are a few reasons for this. Mainly it is due to their basic design. Because they are purpose built there is not the essential equipment to build the radiators as they are made in car radiators. The way that they are designed causes two pitfalls. The first is that they are a bit more restrictive, and the second is that they are not as efficient at heat transfer. A dual 120mm (uses 2 120mm case fans on each side) version will run anywhere from 45 to 100 dollars. Now you may wonder why you would want one of these radiators after hearing what I said, but do not be worried. These radiators will perform admirably in near any system if used correctly. They are great for the user who wants a very clean looking system and doesn’t want to hassle with having to modify a radiator to get it to work in their rig. The purpose built radiators come in two general styles. “Low Noise” and “High Noise”. The low noise fans are optimized for fans like the Yate-Loon D12SL-12 and other quiet, 25mm thick fans. These radiators are either thin, like the Black Ice Pro’s from HWLabs or have a lowered fin count (~12 Fins Per Inch) to reduce the airflow restriction. The reduced airflow restriction allows the quieter fans to be used without suffering great performance losses. Conversely, the “high noise” radiators are designed for fans around 100CFM and 38mm thick. These fans can cope with the higher fin count (17-25 FPI). The high noise radiators do have a higher maximum performance potential, but at a sacrifice of noise. If noise does not bother you, then a high noise radiator is the way to go, otherwise stick with the low noise radiators. For a complete listing of these radiators check out my Parts guide HERE.
The big difference between the “high noise” and “low noise” radiators is the fin density which I mentioned earlier. Here is a simple image demonstrating the difference in fin density between the two styles.
”High Noise” – High Fins Per Inch
”Low Noise” – Low Fins PerInch
The radiators come in 7 different sizes; Single 80mm, Dual 80mm, Single 90mm, Dual 90mm, Single 120mm, Dual 120mm and Triple 120mm. (Thermochill came out with a 160mm radiator for 120mm fans as of May 205. It performs slightly worse than a dual 120mm radiator) The mm sizing refers to the fan that is being used and the single, dual and triple refers to the number of fans that can be attached to each side of the radiators face. I should mention that anyone building a system that is either overclocked or uses both a GPU and a CPU waterblock will want to stay away from the 80mm sized radiators. They do not dissipate a great deal of heat and would give abnormally high temperatures for a watercooling system. I would suggest a single 120mm as the minimum for a single CPU setup, a dual 120mm for a CPU and GPU setup, and a triple 120mm for those who want the absolute maximum performance that these types of radiators can provide.
UPDATE: As of October 2005 Thermochill has released the PA series purpose built radiator and for fans below 100CFM they are the pinnacle of performance, surpassing all other radiators including heatercores in sub 100CFM (per fan) applications.
The other type of radiator that is quickly gaining popularity is the heatercore. These, as I mentioned previously, are merely air conditioning heating elements which have hot water pumped into them and air pushed through them to give you warm air in your car. In our watercooling loops we are essentially doing the same thing, but with much lower water temperatures. These heatercores are excellent for watercooling as they are highly efficient and provide the absolute maximum cooling per size that you can get. They are also very low restriction which lends themselves well to our purposes. They come in various sizes, suitable for a single 120mm fan, dual 120mm fans, and quad 120mm fans. The other thing that is great about them is that they are DIRT cheap. You can pick a dual 120mm one up for less than 20 dollars at your local auto parts store. The most commonly used one is the 2-302 for the 77 Bonneville with AC. A variant of this is the 2-199, which is also for the 77 Bonneville, but is without AC. As good as they are, there are issues to be had with heatercores. First, they need to be modified for use in watercooling. They start out with large copper (sometimes brass) fittings which can either be hack sawed off to the desired length (if your tubing is the appropriate size), or if you’re in need of a different fitting size, you must take a blow torch and remove the tubes all together, and place your own fittings on. To do so requires copper soldering (brazing) knowledge. The other issue with them is that you cannot just mount the fans to the face of them. They need to be used with a shroud. What the shroud does is move the fans away from the face of the radiator, thus lowering turbulence and the large dead spot in the middle of the fan. This does two things. It increases airflow through the heatercore, and reduces noise. There are various manufactures of shrouds. The best of which is sold by the Xtreme Systems forum member “Weapon”. The shrouds are partially manufactured by our forum member "Malph", and the finishing job is done by "Weapon". They sell shrouds for the 2-302 and 2-199. I currently am using one of their 2-199 shrouds, and can attest to its superb quality. There are several other shrouds which can be had over at www.dangerden.com and www.vouyermods.com . I also have the dangerden shroud for the 2-199. It is nice, but is not nearly as effective as the “Weapon” shroud. As with the thicker purpose built radiators, the heatercores are incredibly thick, and thus provide very high airflow resistance. Because of this, more powerful fans are needed. 38mm fans are a must when dealing with heatercores. For most people a 38mm thick fan at 12volts is too noisy, so running them at 7 volts is a good option. Their high airflow restriction would classify the heatercores in the “high noise” category of radiators, because if low noise fans are used with them, performance will greatly suffer.
I mentioned earlier that there was also a quad 120mm heatercore. Craig and Weapon over at XS dubbed it the monstercore. This thing has 2x the performance of a 2-302 or 2-199 and anywhere from 2-3x the performance of a dual 120mm purpose built radiator. This item is not generally used by anyone, but Weapon does also make a shroud for it if anyone is interested. There are several places that heatercores can be purchased. As I mentioned earlier, you can get one at your local auto parts store, but it will be unmodified. Doing the necessary modifications is not something that excites most users who are new to watercooling.
Thankfully there is an alternative. There are several sites online that sell pre-modified heatercores. Among them are the aforementioned danger den, vouyermods, and other various sites. Weapon also sells modified 2-302 heatercores with 1/2inch and 5/8inch fittings in any color. Pricing on modified heatercores ranges from 35-50 dollars.
As of April 2006, Weapon is not currently producing heatercore style radiators, therefore anyone looking to buy a heatercore will have to purchase it through DangerDen or Vouyermods. More information about these companies is available in my stores guide located HERE
A basic rule of thumb here. If you have warm air pumping out of your radiator that means that it is NOT up to spec and NEEDS to be upgraded and/or more powerful fans used.
3b. Radiators to Stay Away From
Now that I have gone over which of the radiators that would be suitable for watercooling, I feel that I should warn potential watercoolers of which radiators to stay away from. Several years ago, condenser style radiators, which are used for refrigeration systems, were popular when we did not know better. Since then, they have lost their popularity, but they still seem to be alive and kicking in certain parts of Europe due to incredibly strong misinformation on the part of manufactures. Their popularity is what motivated me to write this section of the guide.
Anyway, back on topic. To avoid these condenser style radiators we need to know a bit more about them. First off, they can easily be spotted by the numerous 180 degree bends of tubing on both ends. Secondly, you can spot them by their characteristic round tubes. The last common characteristic is their incredibly high fin density which is designed for VERY powerful fans. The prime example of these radiators is the Mora2 which is pictured above. You can see the numerous 180 degree turns on it, which creates an incredible amount of restriction for the pump leading to VERY low flowrates. What you can also notice is the round tubes. The round tubes provide less than adequate cooling efficiency because less of the water is close to the walls of the tube, unlike the flat tube radiators which I described earlier. To better show how much more efficient flat tube radiators are, look at the picture below. The blue parts are the cooler water, being cooled by the sides of the tube, and the red is the warmer water, which is insulated from the cooling effect of the walls by the water closer to the tubing wall.
While I didn’t spend much time describing the condenser style radiators, I hope that I got the point across as to why they are so poor for watercooling use.
Example of Clearflex Tubing: Link
Terminology: ID = Inner Diameter , OD = Outer Diameter
Generally an overlooked item in watercooling, the tubing you choose can have a large effect on how you can setup your system. A major problem that can occur when setting up your system is kinks in the tubing. If there is a kink anywhere in the tubing it will bring the system flow down to a screeching halt and most likely cause system failure and leaks in the process. Therefore it is a wise idea to choose good tubing. There are generally only two types of tubing that are used in watercooling. The first is Tygon r3603 and Clearflex tubing. Tygon is the more expensive of the two but will not react to any chemicals that are put into the tubing and is slightly better at taking curves without kinking. Clearflex is an excellent inexpensive alternative that can be purchased for roughly 1/3 the price of Tygon for those willing to search around for it. The size of the tubing that you will want to use depends on how you setup your system. Generally you will only use Â½ inner diameter (ID) or 3/8 (ID). 1/2inch will provide you with more flow, so if you are going for maximum performance, 1/2inch is the way to go. The 3/8inch tubing is more flexible than the 1/2inch and is excellent for building a system that is low noise, but not suited for maximum performance.
More recently people, including myself, have switched to 7/16" ID Masterkleer tubing which can be purchased from www.Mcmaster.com. Check out my stores guide for the exact part number. The reason for the switch is that it is considerably smalller than 1/2" ID Tubing (the outer diameter is 5/8" compared to 3/4"), gives a tighter fit on hose barbs, and does not loose any performance compared to 1/2" because of the smoother transition between barb and tube.
A rather short section. The only coolant I recommend is distilled water. It has the best cooling properties short of exotic fluids created by 3m (cost upwards of 1000 dollars to fill your system), has relatively low conductivity compared to regular tap water, and is cheap. There is NO need for all of those so-called non-conductive fluids as NONE of them actually are non-conductive. They have moderately higher resistance than distilled water, but will still damage sensitive electronics.
5A. Coolant Additives
Coolant additives are necessary when watercooling. If you do not do so, algae will start to grow inside of your system and cause possible failures in the pump, or clog up one of your waterblocks. The other issue involved with watercooling system is when you mix metals there is a slight electrical charge in the system that will cause a redox reaction in the system and thus start to corrode the metals. It is a specific type or redox reaction called "galvanic" (hence galvanic corrosion), and the reaction also causes the water to be acidic like that of a car battery (though to a much lesser extent, and would not be immediatly harmful). Coolant additives are designed to stop this with corrosion inhibitors. Because of these issues it is necessary that you use an additive. The one that I suggest is called Zerez/Valvoline Racing super coolant. It is excellent for its properties for anti corrosion, anti algae, surface tension reducer, and it also has a minimal effect on temperature compared to propylene glycol based antifreezes. (polypropylene glycol is the chemical that stops the water in the radiator from freezing). There are other alternatives to Zerex such as water wetter, Swiftech’s hydrx, and various other ones sold around the internet. You can choose whichever you like, as they will all serve their intended purpose, but I do suggest Zerex. While I do suggest Zerex for those who plan to run mixed metals (Aluminum + Copper), Zerex is hard to obtain and relatively expensive. With that said, for those who do NOT plan to run mixed metals, a good biocide (kills organic life) would be optimum, as no corrosion inhibitor is needed. Biocides can be purchased at your local pet store for 5-15 dollars USD. They are generally labeled as Algae killers. A considerably higher concentration that is suggested by the manufacture is recommended as there is no organic life in the WC'ing loop that needs to be preserved. Generally one capful is needed, with a small booster of a few drops once a month.
Originally Posted by MaxxxRacer
6. Reservoir / T-Line
Example of Swiftech/Danger Den Reservoir Here: Link
The reservoir is used to hold the water that is pumped through the system to a location that will be easy for the pump to pull the water from. The other purpose of the reservoir is to help remove the bubbles form the system when it is initially filled. This process is called bleeding. To make the bleeding process faster, it is suggested to have the reservoir placed as the highest components in the system. If this is not possible, the next best place to have it is directly next to the pumps inlet. Having the reservoir directly next to the pump inlet will give you the best possible performance but will be slightly more difficult to bleed the system.
There are many different types of reservoirs, and there is really no difference as to performance between them. The one thing that you will want to do though, is to choose one with oversized fittings. This is a wise idea, as you want the most flow to your pump as possible as well as reducing the overall restriction in the cooling loop. For instance I have 5/8inch fittings (thank you Weapon) on my reservoir, but my system is 1/2inch fitting based.
Example of a T-line Here: Link
The other thing that can be used in place of a reservoir if you don’t have the room for one is a T-Line. In the past few months they have been becoming increasingly popular due to their small size. Now they are convenient, but there is a drawback. The bleeding process will be lengthened by literally about 100x the time. Bleeding in a reservoir takes a matter of seconds, and with a T-Line it can’t take up to several days. Although it can take up to several days, with some care and patience you can get the bleed time to less than an hour. (Bleeding is defined in the first paragraph of the Reservoir section).
Between the reservoir and the T-Line, with identical fitting sizes the T-Line will in fact slightly outperform the reservoir. I should note that the difference is very slight. with a AQX50Z the difference is less than .1gpm when using the same fitting sizes, but if you are want to squeeze every last gpm out of your pump then it is something to think about.
If you are reading this article its most likely that you have been into aircooling overclocking for a while and know quite a bit about fans, so I wont go too deeply into this, but rather bring up a few key points. The biggest of which is being that if you are planning on using a heatercore or one of the thicker purpose built radiators you NEED to use 38mm fans. There are some 38mm fans that when run on 7volts give very good airflow and are relatively low noise. Two of which are the sanyo denki fans and the panaflow fans. Myself, I use 6 of the sanyo denkis fans, 4 of which are on my radiator. If you plan to use the thinner purpose built radiator and are going for low noise, papst are a very good option.
8. Hose Clamps and Various Hardware
There are 5 Major Groups of hose clamps you can use to seal your watercoling system. First we have the plastic clamps that are sold by most watercooling retailers and packaged with Swiftech waterblocks. Secondly, we have worm drive clamps which are made out of a variety of stainless steels, and use a screw to tighten them. Third we have the Smooth band bolt which is a metal clamp that tightened by a screw, somewhat like the worm drive. These clamps require the use of locktite on the screw so that it does not loosen. The fourth group of clamps are the self tightening clamps which are made to steel and require the user close down the tabs on the clamp to loosen it. when the tabs are released the clamp immediately tightens down onto the tubing. The final category of hose clamps is the Zip Tie. Zip ties are usually had around the house and work fairly well for sealing your loop.
Below is an image of the different types of clamps, excluding zip ties, which need no introduction.
Clockwise from Top Left
1. Double snap grip (nylon)
2. Swiftech interlocking snap grip (plastic)
3. Lined worm drive (stainless steel)
4. Micro Plastics interlocking snap grip (plastic)
5. Smooth band bolt (stainless steel)
6. Wide band self-tightening (carbon steel with black zinc rich plating)
With the wide variety of clamps laid out here, you may be rather confused as to which is best for you. When choosing there are 2 things to consider. First; will the clamp stay on the fitting in spite of the case moving? And Second; how well will the clamp seal the loop so that no water will escape?
For staying power, the worm drive clamps have no competition, and for overall sealing power, the self tightening and smooth band bolt clamps take the gold.
Overall, what would I recommend? I would say the worm drives would the best option. With that said, there are a few precautions to take when using them. First, make sure to not over tighten the clamp. The worm drive clamps are so strong that they can completely collapse plastic barbs. Over tightening can also cause gouging of the tubing, sometimes even cutting into it so far as to cause catastrophic failure. You will know the clamp is tightened to the right level, when you notice it compress the tubing slightly, and turning the screw provides high resistance.
For those of you who use thin walled tubing, the worm drives may not be the best option due to the uneven inner surface of the worm drive. Normally the thickness of the tubing (1/8" wall thickness) would distribute the worm drives force evenly, but 1/16" thickness tubing may not accomplish this goal. In place of the worm drives I suggest the self-tightening steel clamps.
You're probably wonder about the plastic clamps right now. Every watercooling outlet sells them.. so they must be good, right? Well not quite. What I will say for them is this; they do seal the tubing very well, but they are susceptible to be accidently removed if the system moves around a lot, and have a tendency to fail after repeated use.
With that out of the way, I must stress that it is necessary to ALWAYS use hose clamps in your watercooling loop, or you will almost guaranteed get leaks at some point in the system.
9. GPU Waterblock
The GPU waterblock is a nice option to have for all of us out there who like to overclock our video cards. There is not much to say on this topic, other than what to stay away from. My suggestion to you is to stay away from the big blocks that cover the GPU and the memory. These blocks are wholly inefficient and ignore the fact that simple ramsinks are more than enough to cool the memory. Generally these coolers run in the 100 dollar range (twice the cost of normal GPU coolers), and have considerable restriction on the system as well as having reduced performance. They are also 3-4x the weight of a standard cooler and provide considerable stress on the PCB of the video card. Overall there is nothing good about them, and should be stayed away from if at all possible.
10. North Bridge Waterblock
This is an item that, for the most part should have never been created. If you are a performance user, you will want to stay away from these. The NB (north bridge) waterblocks are generally overly restrictive and do not do much of anything for your overclocking capabilities. There are some exceptions to this, but for the most part your NB will be cooled more than adequately by the stock cooling, for by an inexpensive air cooling option.
The legitimacy of the NB block is a little bit greater for those users searching for the almighty silence. If you want to get rid of the noisy fan that plagues your NB this is a viable option. But I stress to try a zalman fanless air cooling unit first before you try a NB block, because it will hurt the overall performance of your watercooling loop. I should note though that there are some exceptions where the NB block can actually help flow, but these are very rare and I only know of one such situation.
That pretty much sums up all of the different parts of a watercooling system and should give you some basic information to start looking for parts. But before I finish up, there is one last thing that I feel I should mention, and that is loop order. Loop order is something that almost always confused people that are new to watercooling. So here is a general rule to follow. Pump>Radiator>CPU>GPU(if implemented)>NB(if implemented)>Reservoir. This is the most efficient way of setting up your system. But there are a few exceptions to this general rule. First, is that it is generally better to have the shortest amount of tubing with the least amount of bends in it. So that means if it takes a lot of tubing or some 90 degree bends to get the loop order that I just suggested, don’t do it. Figure out a way to have it where these bends and extra tubing are not need. But there is one rule of order that you must never break. That is to have the reservoir right before the pump. If you do not follow this rule it will guaranteed hurt the performance of the system and cause the pump to be starved for water. One more thing to keep in mind is to NEVER use 90 degree bent barbs in your system. They are absolute and total flow killers. Using them will most surely hurt your performance.
Well that is about all the basic points of watercooling. If you are looking for more in depth information, I will have more guides coming regarding different waterblocks, and I already have an incredibly in depth guide on pumps that you should definitely take a look at.
Part 2 of the Introduction to Watercooling: Pre-Installation Procedures
A watercooling loop is much like a fragile eco-system and can easily be disrupted if proper precautions are not taken. Here I will discuss a few steps that you can take to ensure that you watercooling loop is as maintenance free and clean as possible. There are 3 steps that I will go over to ensure a clean system.
1. Cleaning of radiator and waterblocks.
2. Cleaning the funnel.
1. Cleaning the Radiator and Waterblocks
(EDIT by Shazza 4-02-10: Note - most current radiators use water soluble flux, and it is not necessary to use vinegar - if you find that flushing with hot water does not fully clean your radiator - you can follow the steps given by MaxxxRacer here. You may also want to post a question in the Liquid Cooling Section asking for assistance with cleaning your specific radiator before trying the vinegar step. For waterblocks, it is usually sufficient to rinse new blocks with distilled water - please be cautious if you use any other cleaning substance.)
During the manufacturing of PC radiators, certain chemicals are used that can leave residues inside of the radiator. Due to the time and cost, it would take to ensure that all of these residues are removed, radiator manufactures do not properly prep their products for use. You can see just how dirty radiators are in the pictures below. The picture is of some vinegar that was in a Black Ice Pro2 for about 6 hours.
Advisory: If copper, brass, or the solders used in radiators are exposed to vinegar (acetic acid) for extended periods of time, the acid will begin to eat away at the materials. I have updated the guide to limit the soaking of components in vinegar for no more than one hour. A tale-tale sign that vinegar is eating your copper components is a blue tinge to the vinegar, which is caused by copper ions being dissolved into the vinegar. If you want to play it completely safe, I suggest substituting the vinegar for isopropyl alcohol, or as recommended to me by Marc of Thermochill, Kamco System Pre-Clean which is specifically designed for cooling systems for use. Finally, salt, when combined with vinegar, acts a catalyst for the destruction of copper (I am unsure if it hastens the reaction with solders or plastics). So please do NOT include salt in any cleaning regimens of your watercooling loop.
Thankfully prepping a radiator for use is a relatively simple procedure. Just follow the steps I have outlined below.
1. Flush the radiator with distilled water. I suggest getting 2-3 2.5gallon jugs and just start pouring about 2.5-3gallons of distilled through the rad.
2. Pour Distilled or De-Ionized water into radiator. - Pour until full, drain and repeat. Shaking the radiator when it is half full of water will help. Repeat this 3-5 times.
Note - the following steps for flushing with vinegar are not required for most radiators - use caution if you choose to use vinegar or any other radiator flushing additive.
3. Following the same procedure as in step 2, repeat with vinegar.
4. Fill the radiator with vinegar, and let it sit for appx. 1 hour.
5.Flush the radiator, following the procedure of step 2. Repeat Step 3 as well.
6.Repeat Step 4.
7.Repeat Step 2.
Alternatively, or in addition to the above outlined cleaning methods, you can pump hot water through your radiator which will clean out the left over solder flux from the manufacturing process. This method will work well with Thermochill radiators because they use water based flux, but it is not known how well it works with other manufactures radiators.
Flushing the radiator with hot water can be accomplished by filling your sink with hot water (via the tap) and leaving the tap on. Then, using a submersible pump (you can purchase one at a local fish store for cheap), placed in the sink, pump the water through the radiator and into the other side of the sink. If you have a one sided sink, using a bucket in the sink to hold the water will work.
If you are still not satisfied with the cleanliness of the radiator, the final step you can take is to create a small loop with the radiator, pump and reservoir/T-line along with the Pentek 5 micron filter I will mention below, and pump the water through the rad. If done overnight, the water will erode most debris/rosin that has not already been removed and the Pentek filter will ensure that it never gets back into the radiator.
You're now done cleaning the radiator. It may seem like a very tedious and time-consuming procedure, but as you saw, PC radiators are far from clean.
Now that you’re done with the radiator, we can move onto the waterblocks. Thankfully, the waterblocks are much easier to clean than the radiator. The first thing to do is to take the waterblock apart, and flush it with de-ionized or distilled water. (EDIT by shazza 4/2/10: Note that it is not necessary to soak most of today's waterblocks in vinegar - a good flush with distilled water will be sufficient. It's also a good idea to take the block apart and verify there is no residue or leftover milling chips inside - but know that many of us use water blocks without going through this step. Note also that MaxxxRacer is referring to copper waterblocks in the following step.) After you have flushed all of the parts, grab some vinegar and pour it into a glass or ceramic bowl. Plastics won’t do as they can actually stain the waterblock. Once the bowl has been prepared, place ONLY the copper base of the waterblock in the bowl, making sure it is fully submerged and that only a small portion of it (non-wetted surface) is touching the bowl. Set the baseplate stand in the vinegar for 1 hour. Upon removal of the waterblock, flush it with distilled water and then lightly scrub it with a NEW toothbrush that has been cleaned off with rubbing alcohol and distilled water.
Now that your done with the waterblock, we can move onto step 2; The Funnel.
2. Cleaning The Funnel
When you fill your loop with water, you almost always use a funnel to get the water into the reservoir or T-line. To ensure a contaminate free loop, make sure your funnel is clean. I suggest placing it in your next load of dishes and then flushing it with isopropyl alcohol and distilled water before use.
Even after the steps previously taken, garbage can get into your loop. To fight this, a good inline filter is all that is needed. They are inexpensive, and work great. The filter I recommend is a 5 micron filter that can be found at McMaster-Carr for 16 dollars. The unit uses 3/8 NPT Female fittings (just get 3/8" NPT male fittings, which you can find at McMaster as well) and is good for up to 2GPM. The Part number is 4448K26. Apparently it is manufactured by a company called Pentek
The filter should be placed before the CPU waterblock, so right after your pump would be a good choice. this position is optimal as the CPU waterblock is generally the easiest to clog and filtration right before it ensures that it stays clean. It is a good idea to leave the filter in the loop for about a week, just to be entirely safe that no lodged in debris will clog the system.
The pictures below are of the 4448K26 filter from McMaster.
After following the three steps outlined above, you should have a super clean loop that requires little to no maintenance for extended periods of time, and SHOULD resolve the issue of the foggy tubes that so many watercoolers are plagued with.
Also, remember to NEVER get tap water near your components. It contains calcium and will leave nasty deposits on the components. If you MUST use it, I suggest flushing the component with distilled water immediately after using the tap water. Bottled waters are also a no no. They contain minerals and other chemicals that are unhealthy for the loop.
One last comment. Ben (BigBen2k) did a little research and found that Vinegar (10% concentration or less) is fine on Tygon/PVC tubing as well as acrylic and Delrin. So it’s safe to run through the waterblocks and tubing on a temporary basis (although I should mention there are some documents online, stating acetic acid will damage PCV). Concerning your pump, you should ask the manufacture if the plastics used are safe with vinegar and other acids.
Part 3 of the Introduction to Watercoling: Installation and Leak Testing
In the third installment of the guide, I will go through a quick procedure for setting up your watercooling system and leak testing it to make sure there are no problems. Let’s begin!
1. Removing Non-Essentials
The first thing you should do when you are setting up your watercooling system is to open up your case and take out ALL non-essential components other than fans. This means memory, CPU, hard disks, CD-ROM drives, etc. Leave in your motherboard and graphics card (graphics card is only if you are running a GPU block.) If you have a DC powered pump, make sure to leave the PSU in, as this will be used to power the pump.
The next step differs by the pump type used. For AC pumps, just unplug the computer from the wall if you did not already remove the PSU. For DC pumps unplug ALL PSU connections inside of the PSU so that no power is going into ANY of the components. This will ensure that no shorts can occur. If you want to be overly paranoid you can also remove the CMOS battery, but this is not necessary, as the current is too low to cause permanent damage.
There is another way of handling this if you are worried about any water getting on your components. Follow the steps above, but after you are done fitting the watercooling components, unhook them from the motherboard, video card, etc. and then fill the system. With this method, you still don’t have to move the watercooling components out of your system to test, and you have no worries about getting any water on your expensive gear. Doing this is a bit more time consuming, but well worth the time if you nervous about even the smallest drop of water on your computer.
2. Installing the Cooling System
After you have all the power connections unplugged, it is time to install your watercooling components into the case. The manner in which you do this varies wildly due to different case designs and would require a 100-page guide to cover half of them. Therefore, if you want any help in that department make a thread in the forums or contact me via PM or AIM/MSN/Yahoo/ICQ and I will be glad to help you.
Now that you have all of the components in the system fill it up with your desired fluid mixture and make SURE the pump is flooded (internally that is) so that no damage will occur when the pump is first turned on.
Before you turn anything on, I suggest that you lay some rags or paper towels in the bottom of the case to soak up any water leaks that may occur. if you have a video card waterblock, your video card will be installed and I suggest putting a paper towel or rag over the back of the card to protect it from any leaks from the CPU block. Although there can be no short circuits due to there being no power flow, it’s still not a good idea to unnecessarily get components wet.
4. Powering On the Pump
Now it is time to turn on the pump! Here is the moment of truth.
For those of you who are running a DC powered pump that runs from the PSU, you need to take the 20/24 pin connector on the PSU and look at it head on. when looking at it there will be one green wire and about 5-10 black ones on it. To turn on the PSU you must connect the green one with ANY of the black ones. Either of the adjacent ones generally are the easiest to connect with and are the ones I prefer. the connection can be done with a piece of solder or a paper clip put in the PSU socket pins. Once connected, the pump will come to life and you can start checking for leaks.
For those of you who are running AC pumps, it is a much more simple operation to get the pump running (assuming you’re not running on a relay without a switch). Just plug it into the wall. If this wasn’t already bleedingly obvious then I suggest you stick to air-cooling.
5. Checking for Leaks
Now that you have your pump running, you can look for any immediate leaks. I suggest that new users leak test for up to 24 hours to be totally on the safe side. I know it is painful to not have your computer for an entire day, but if you come across any slow leaks that appear 12hours in, you will thank me later, and so will your x800. If you come across any leaks right away, it is most likely from a barb that was not tightened down properly or a hose clamp that was improperly applied to the fitting. In this case, it is wise to turn off the pump immediately and tighten the offending clamp/hose barb. It is also possible that you could have leaks coming from the waterblocks themselves or the radiator and this is a much more serious issue. If it is from the waterblock, it could be from an improper seal or a screw that might not have been tightened correctly. In this case, just turn off the pump, tighten the screws up, and see if it helps. For the radiator it is a more arduous task and involves RMA'ing the faulty radiator back to the manufacture. In other words, you get to start all over.
More recently, something has come to my attention. After moving the system around during the leak testing phase, the hose barbs of the waterblocks can be slightly unscrewed, causing very slow leaks that can remain undetected until a catastrophic failure occurs. So make sure that the barbs are full screwed in before your power your system up for the first time.
6. You’re Done!
After the successful 24-hour leak test, (if it was successful) you can install all of your components back into your system and power it up. If you followed all of these instructions correctly, you should have a working watercooling loop with no problems.
Congratulations on a job well done and a great new cooling system!
Final Notes About Your New System
This section is to address one point that seems to escape most users and has been a point of much frustration: onboard temperature sensors.
When many people upgrade to watercooling, the first thing they do is run to smartgaurdian, MBM5, or whatever temperature monitoring software they use, and see if their temps improved compared to their previous air cooling setup. While I can’t stop you from doing this, I can inform you about those so-called temperature sensors. Plain and simple, they are useless. They can be up to 10C off and are NEVER accurate. Yes, I said never. So please do not rely on the onboard sensors for CPU temperature readings. Furthermore, many CPU temperature diodes are affected by air movement around the CPU. The more air movement (ala: Thermaltake TT w/ 220CFM delta fan) the lower the reported CPU temperature, regardless of what the actual CPU temperature is.
At this point you are probably wondering what is causing the inaccurate readings. Your first guess is the software. Dam those software engineers. WRONG.. Your next thought goes to the CPU manufacturer.. Your getting warmer, but Intel/AMD are only part of the problem. Yes, you guessed right now. It’s the motherboard manufacturer. That is indeed correct. Motherboard manufacturers use IC's (integrated circuits) from various companies, to monitor temperature and voltage. Depending on which IC they use, it may have absolutely horrid accuracy, or high accuracy. However, there is another factor. While a particular IC may be of high quality and have the capability to display highly accurate voltages, the IC temps/voltages still MUST be calibrated. This is where the system starts to crumble. To my knowledge there has never been an accurate temp/voltage reading ever reported from a motherboard. This is because the motherboard manufacturers simply will NOT take the time to calibrate the IC's they use with a known standard.
So the next time you look at your temperature monitoring software, please remember what I have said, and all but disregard the useless numbers it reports to you.
MaxxxRacer WaterCooling Setup Suggestions
High Cost Setup
CPU WaterBlock - Swiftech Storm G4 or Cooltechnica MP-05 SP Ultra
GPU Waterblock - Cooltechnica MP-1, Swiftech MCW60 or Danger Den Maze4
Pump - Iwaki MD20RZT or Dual DDC-2's or Dual AQZ50'z
Radiator - Thermochill PA120.3
5/8 T-Line or Reservoir
1/2" ID 3/4" OD or 7/16 ID Masterkleer or Tygon R3603
Low Cost Setup
CPU WaterBlock - Cooltechnica MP-1 CPU Block
GPU WaterBlock - DangerDen Maze4 GPU
Pump - Swiftech MCP355 / DDC-2 (same pump)
Radiator - Swiftech MCR-220
1/2" T-Line or Reservoir
7/16"ID 5/8"OD Masterkleer or Tygon R3603
NOTE: If choosing the DDC-2 I recommend ordering the Delrin top from Petra's Tech Shop. You can find it HERE
MaxxxRacer WaterCooling Kit Suggestions
I wouldn’t normally recommend a kit, but I felt that I should at least guide those who are not comfortable with buying parts on their own. So with that said, here are my two suggestions.
High Flow Kit (GPU upgrade friendly)
Swiftech H220-APEX Ultra
on the other hand, if you really have a lot of cash to spend and want the best I suggest the:
Petra'sTech CoolKit GPU Extreme
Low Cost Kit
Petra'sTech CoolKit Lite - While not a high performance kit, if you are short on cash but want a decent watercooling setup from which you can learn more about watercooling, this is the kit for you.
If you have any questions or comments feel free to email me at MaxxxRacer (at) hotmail (dot) com , or send me an IM on AIM. My sn is MaxxxRacer