TechSpot

The Watercooling Guide, From A to Z

By dividebyzero
May 16, 2012
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  1. Watercooling Guide

    What this is
    Demystifying the art of watercooling: exploring procedure, compatibility and components. The guide will show you how to build a watercooling system based on your budget, cooling requirements and chassis limitations.

    What this isn’t
    A detailed review/database of all available components. The guide will be updated to reflect new parts, but given the sheer number of possible hardware permutations, there has to be a degree of generalization.

    1.0 Planning
    1.1 Cooling requirements
    1.2 Choosing parts for your chassis
    2.0 Components
    2.1 CPU waterblocks
    2.2 Motherboard waterblocks
    2.3 RAM waterblocks
    2.4 Graphics card waterblocks
    2.5 Radiators
    2.6 Fans
    2.7 Pumps and reservoirs
    2.8 Fittings
    2.9 Tubing
    3.0 Coolants and additives
    3.1 Cooling fluid
    3.2 Dyes and biocides
    4.0 Preparing loop components
    4.1 Radiator flushing
    4.2 Dry fitting
    5.0 Assembly
    5.1 Maintenance schedule
    6.0 Chassis and radiator compatibility

    1.0 PLANNING
    1.1 Cooling requirements for your components.
    First, you have to estimate the amount of heat you need to remove from the system. In general, power usage equals heat output. To estimate how much heat you need to dissipate, I would suggest using one (or more) online power usage calculators. It's better to overestimate voltage and wattage requirements -- you'll be incorporating a margin for error.
    When using the PSU calculator, you need to isolate wattage for the component(s) you will be cooling, so subtract any baseline power consumption not pertaining to the components you intend to watercool. Remember to deduct the 34w "minimum PSU wattage" figure from your total if using the calculator provided in the link.
    A basic rule of thumb is to allow 200-250 watts of cooling per 120 or 140mm radiator increment. You can generally use the same overall size spread across multiple radiators to achieve the equivalent cooling (I.e. a 480mm quad radiator equals 2 x 240mm radiators or 1 x 120mm plus 1 x 360mm).
    [​IMG]
    The lower wattage range requires average flow rate, radiator(s) of good ability and fans of good static pressure, whereas the upper wattage range needs a high flow rate (1.5 U.S. GPM+/ 1.25 Imperial GPM/ 5.5 litres per minute), very good radiator cooling efficiency with fans matched for static pressure.

    Both figures are highly dependent on flow rate/restriction (number of waterblocks and how restrictive they are) as well as pump, fan and radiator efficiency. High-speed fans with excellent static pressure are usually required to reach the upper values. Exceeding the heat dispersal wattage for a given radiator area will raise coolant temperature. A 10ºC difference (delta) between coolant and ambient air temperature is considered an average to work toward. Anything exceeding 15ºC means the loop is becoming overwhelmed, while a 5ºC delta (or less) is very efficient.

    CPU-only watercooling: Low restriction loop. Tubing diameter, pump (flow rate/head pressure) and radiator performance not hugely important. Little difference in temps between 240/280mm and 360/420mm radiator.

    CPU + 1-2 graphics/chipset/RAM blocks: Moderately restrictive loop. Temperature accumulation rises as flow rate is impacted by more inertia/restriction from waterblocks

    CPU + 3-7 graphics/chipset/RAM/MOSFET's/mobo blocks: Very restrictive loop. Pump quality (flow/head pressure) paramount*. Temperature accumulation rises as pressure drops across waterblocks, greatly decreasing waterblock efficiency due to rising coolant temperature. Consider separate watercooling loops with the aim of keeping the coolant-to-ambient air temperature delta under 10ºC. Alternatively, you can add a second pump (two in series within the loop). However, realize that the second pump will also add its heat dump to the coolant.

    *Remember that a pump dumps a lot of the heat it generates into the fluid it's circulating. Running a pump at its highest setting to overcome loop resistance adds to the pumps wattage and thus, heat.

    Good pre-planning is essential to building a watercooled project on a budget. One of the biggest obstacles is having an idea of what you want and then adding more pieces to an existing budget as problems or options arise. It doesn't take long for the budget to balloon beyond the original estimate, leaving you with an empty wallet and boxes of discarded components we euphemistically call "spare parts."

    1.2 Choosing parts for your chassis
    By determining the heat dissipation you require, you now know the basic parameters of the cooling needed. A typical loop encompasses radiator(s), fans, a pump, a reservoir and tubing that you'll need to house.

    Radiator placement: Most chassis have a rear exhaust fan (or top fan for 90º rotation chassis like the FT02, Raven etc). This provides an option to mount a radiator of the same size as the existing fan in that position, or to use an adapter for an external mount of most standard sized radiators. Other placement options will depend on the particular chassis, but typically include placement in the roof of the enclosure. Front or internal vertical mounting is an option, but usually comes at the expense of removing hard drive bays. Floor mounting is also possible, but can be less than ideal as either warm air is pulled through the radiator into the case, or it may be hindered by limited clearance between the bottom of the chassis and whatever it's sitting on.

    Less problematic is pump and reservoir placement, since there are many options and combinations available. The most compact solution is a 5.25" bay reservoir (single or double bay) with integral pump(s). Even fairly small and restrictive chassis will be able to utilize this method.

    The easiest route is to determine all the relative distances and volumes you have and take a couple of pictures or cull them from reviews/product websites, then plan everything out in an image editor -- or print off a few copies and cut out component sizes to scale. Once you have the placement options and space restrictions worked out it becomes a simple matter of checking component specifications against the spaces you have to work with.

    There aren't many hard and fast rules in what order the components of a loop are connected. The one golden rule is that the pump should always follow the reservoir- this is to ensure that there is always fluid available to the pump. A dry pump is a dead pump.

    Specifications for most popular sized radiators and pumps are to found in the guide (see sections 2.5 and 2.7 )

    2.0 COMPONENTS
    2.1 CPU waterblocks
    These can generally be separated into two categories: high flow (HF), which provide low restriction and are better suited to multi-block loops, and low flow (LF), whose internal structure causes higher restriction, usually from a more complex cooling chamber or nozzle layout. The latter are best suited for CPU only, or CPU+ one other waterblock.

    When choosing a CPU block, you'll probably seek reviews and find wildly differing results in rankings from site to site, while noting that the actual range of temperatures is fairly compact. The difference in cooling between a "good" block and an "excellent" block is usually less than 3ºC.While overall cooling capability is determined by other components used in the review(s), a lot can depend on how effectively the block is mounted to the CPU heatspreader. Most CPU block vendors only give sketchy instruction on how much force to apply in affixing a waterblock.

    The other main things to consider in choosing a CPU block are ease of installation, and most importantly, compatibility with fittings and tubing, since many blocks have inlet and outlet in close proximity. Barb fittings will invariably be compatible with CPU blocks, while compression fittings (with their larger locking rings) and thick walled tubing may not be.

    A quick overview of CPU block mounting compatibility and relative performance:
    [​IMG]

    2.2 Motherboard waterblocks
    Universal blocks are usually smaller and designed for MOSFET and chipset cooling. They replace the usual passive heatsink and generally rely on the same PCB mounting holes. A possible drawback with chipset waterblocks is that many motherboards use a connecting heatpipe to join the passive blocks on the board, which necessitates sourcing individual blocks for each area, or cutting the heatpipe (and sealing the cut end) to free the section that you want to watercool. This, of course, invalidates any manufacturer warranty. Rather than hack and slash your board, seek model/design-specific blocks. These can range from full cover blocks encompassing MOSFETs, northbridge (chipset) and southbridge (I/O hub) to any lesser portion of this arrangement. They represent a considerable investment of resources, both in time and budget.

    2.3 RAM waterblocks
    Basically a waterchambered slab of copper affixed by screws to the top of the RAM modules and runs the length and width of the DIMM slots. With RAM operating at 1.7v and lower today, these blocks are almost entirely for show. Modern DDR3 RAM simply doesn't generate enough heat -- unless overvolted -- to warrant their use besides aesthetics.

    2.4 Graphics card waterblocks
    Whereas RAM waterblocks are superfluous, graphics blocks tend to bring various advantages: silent operation in the case of full cover blocks, lower chassis temperature, and better overclocking headroom. There are two types of graphics card waterblocks.
    GPU block: A universal block that covers the GPU chip only. Relatively cheap, but leaves the rest of the card needing airflow for cooling -- including the power delivery circuits, which tend towards very high local (hotspot) temperatures. Often used in conjunction with ramsinks, small individual passive heatsinks that attach using thermal tape, which can lose their adhesion and fall off -- a costly event if it lands on the back of a second graphics card’s unprotected circuit board.

    Full cover blocks: As its name suggests, covers, if not the entire circuit board, then at least every heat producing element on it. These blocks are model and model revision specific, since the block face is cast to mate perfectly with an individual PCB design with the requisite cutouts, raised and relief moulding. Advantages include single slot operation (requires a single slot PCI backplate), a better aesthetic, and silent operation. The main disadvantage is cost for a part that is more frequently updated than most.

    2.5 Radiators
    As previously outlined, most radiators for the watercooling market centred on usage with 120mm and 140mm fans, as do most chassis, so this is what we'll be concerned with. Some chassis sport 200-230mm fans, and while most cater for alternate use with 120mm/140mm, Phobya manufactures a 200mm radiator for use with the larger diameter fan. Antec also make a 200mm radiator, but it's of aluminium construction and we won't be going there. Aluminium in the presence of copper (the main element in waterblocks) and silver (used as a biocide) initiates galvanic corrosion. This can be greatly lowered by using nickel-plated components, but is still a sizeable risk to components and added expenditure on coolant designed to suppress corrosion.
    Note: Galvanic corrosion has the ability to effect any system where two or more dissimilar metals are present. Please read this article from martins liquid lab for further explanation

    The radiator consists of cooling fins (usually copper), cooling tubes (copper or brass), end tanks (usually brass), and a frame that holds everything together (steel, brass or aluminium) and provides mounting holes for fans. The frame/surround provides a gap of 5-15mm between the outside face of the radiator and the cooling fins that acts as a plenum chamber to let air circulate through the fins directly behind the fan hub, lessening cooling dead spots.
    [​IMG]

    Thin radiators are usually a single row of cooling tubes deep. Medium sized and up will normally be two or three rows deep (Watercool’s HTF series are four row). Virtually all radiators are "two pass": the tube takes inlet water to the endtank, then returns back to the end it started from, thus each tube makes two passes across the airflow.

    There are many parameters for choosing a radiator: size (especially depth) as well as cooling and noise performance. A lesser consideration might be having the inlet and outlet at opposite ends of the radiator (X-flow) or at the same end (U-flow). Here's a table outlining various radiators available. The models can be further broken down into 120/140mm, 240/280mm, 360/420mm and 480/560mm depending on manufacturer
    [​IMG]
    2.6 Fans
    Key specifications for radiator cooling include static pressure (usually measured as mm/H2O, where ~2.0 is considered good, anything higher is better, and less than 1.0 is awful), acoustic rating (dBA or Sone), fan RPM (which will impact acoustics), and airflow ( CFM = cubic feet per minute).

    Note: Fans have many bearing types. Of these, sleeve bearings wear very fast when working horizontally (I.e. a roof-mounted radiator). They are usually cheap, but can get noisy fast as the internal lubrication breaks down under friction and heat.

    Good quality fans suitable for radiators are: Delta (dual ball bearing, can be exceedingly loud with the high CFM models), Sanyo Denki San Ace (ball bearing), Panaflo (hydro wave bearing), Noctua (low noise, low RPM only, SSO bearing), Scythe Gentle Typhoon (dual ball bearing), Scythe Kama Flow2 and S-Flex (fluid dynamic bearing and also includes the Thermalright FDB series, which are rebranded S-Flex), and these individual models: BitFenix Spectre (NOT the low airflow Pro version -- fluid dynamic bearing), Antec TriCool (dual ball bearing), Koolance FAN-12025MBK and HBK (dual ball bearing), GELID Solutions Wing 12 (nano fluid bearing), NZXT FN-120LB/-140LB (fluid dynamic bearing), Silverstone FM121 (dual ball bearing)

    Cheaper sleeve bearing fans with good performance: Yate Loon D12/D14SL, SM and SH, and Cooler Master’s High Performance R4.

    2.7 Pumps & Reservoirs
    Most watercooling pumps originate from two manufacturers, Laing and Eheim. Each has two widely available base models:

    Laing DDC (rebranded as Swiftech MCP350/355/350X/35B, Phobya DC12, Danger Den CPX, EKWB DCP and Koolance PMP-400 amongst others). It has a 3/8" inlet outlet, so if you're using 7/16" or 1/2" tubing you would need to look at an aftermarket top, or reservoir top. Has the advantage of being a very compact size, which is deceptive given the strength of the pump, especially the newer DDC3.2/ MCP35B (12w) and MCP35X (18w).

    Laing D5/D5T (rebranded as Swiftech MCP655/655-B, Koolance PMP-450/-450S, Alphacool VPP655 among others). The standard for near silent and efficient watercooling pumping. It has a 1/2" inlet/outlet (D5T is also available with a 3/4" barb). Both the 1/2:" and 3/4" barbs on the stock pump head can be tapped for G1/4 thread to allow for compression or barb fittings. The D5T is 12 or 24v, but requires a 12 to 24v adapter for the higher voltages. 18v is considered optimum for performance versus heat generation with the 24v version.

    Eheim 1200 series Some require AC power. Used primarily in the aquarium hobby sector. Not well known for head pressure, and as such are not suitable for highly restrictive loops.

    Eheim 1000 series (also Innovech HPPS/HPPS Plus and Aquacomputer Aquastream XT -- a modified 1046 for 12v). A solid pump known for quiet operation and quality of engineering. Supports software monitoring. Low power use and heat generation. Not the best choice for high restriction/multi block loops.

    Outside of these compact pumps, performance rises as does price and size:

    Iwaki RD-20/-30/-40 Inlet/outlet ports are 18mm (0.71") for the RD-20/-30, and 25mm (1") inlet, 19mm (3/4") outlet. Will operate adequately at 12v, although a DDC or D5 is still the better bet. Operation over 18v (which is probably near the best trade-off for pump efficiency as per the D5T) is optimal. Probably the best performing pumps available, which comes at a price. Useful for highly restrictive multi-block loops. Unless you have a 24v power supply, a 12 to 24v adapter is required.

    [​IMG]

    Bay reservoir: With or without integrated pump(s). The most ubiquitous of the three reservoir types. Using one or two 5.25" drive bays means that it has the best compatibility over a wide range of chassis. Main drawbacks: most tend to be relatively noisy, and can be more involved regarding loop filling and bleeding depending where the inlet and outlet are mounted.

    Tank reservoir: Can range from the small tanks such as Swiftech’s well-regarded MC-RES v2 to reservoir tanks that replace the pump head. The latter are quieter while retaining the high flow characteristics of an aftermarket high flow pump top (which are generally louder), while doing away with a set of connections and tubing that would, in other setups, be present to connect a separate reservoir and pump. Larger multi-options tanks add the option for a greater "bling" factor, however they tend to block chassis airflow, and mounting/placement can require careful consideration -- especially in multi-loop configurations.

    Radiator with integral reservoir: Popularized by Swiftech’s MCR series radiators which can be purchased as standalone components, or as part of a watercooling kit.

    T-line: A tubing branch that is expressly used to add fluid to the loop. It can include a small fillport reservoir, or none at all -- just a length of tubing that connects the loop at one end, and a fillport at the other.

    Internal reservoir capacity has virtually no effect on the cooling effectiveness of a loop. Most reservoirs are constructed of plexiglass or plastics which are insulators.

    [​IMG]

    2.8 Fittings
    Two types of fitting are currently used (push-lock fittings have largely passed away), barbs + clamps, and compression fittings. There is absolutely no difference in the effectiveness of either, and choice comes down to personal preference, space constraint and ease of fitting in individual scenarios. Both barb and compression fittings are generally threaded for G1/4" BSPP which is the standard thread for radiators, blocks and reservoirs.

    Straight barbs: Threaded at one end with integral O-ring. The other end is a tube with one or more lips/ridges on the outer circumference. Slide the tubing over the barb and secure with a hose clamp -- either nylon alligator style, or worm clamp (jubilee clamp). You only need to worry about the outer diameter of the barb matching the inner diameter of the tubing. Selecting tubing 1/16" smaller than the barb size will ensure a very snug fit for the tubing.

    Compression: Two pieces per fitting. The first is basically the same as the straight barb (and serves the same purpose), the difference being that the outer base is threaded. The second half of the fitting is the locking ring, which slides down over the attached tubing and is screwed down onto the barb section to trap the tubing. Compression fittings must match exactly the tubing size. The inside diameter (ID) and outside diameter (OD) of the compression fitting has to match tubing, for example:

    1/2" tubing with an outside diameter of 5/8" (tubing wall thickness of 1/16") requires 1/2" ID 5/8"OD fittings.

    1/2" tubing with an outside diameter of 3/4" (tubing wall thickness of 1/8") requires 1/2" ID 3/4" OD fittings.

    A quick note about some specific compression fittings:

    Koolance compression -- Can have issues with thicker walled tubing. Large compression rings.

    XSPC compression -- Large compression rings can have clearance issues with some blocks

    Bitspower -- The gold standard.

    Enzotech -- Some barbs have longer tails (threads). May require spacers or thicker O-rings to avoid flow restriction problems as the end of the tail can intrude into the waterblock cavity.

    [​IMG]

    Variations on a theme: Both barb and compression fittings are available in a wide range of configurations for maximum flexibility of use, they include the standard straight fitting and angled (usually 30º, 45º, 60º, and 90º), both of which can be of the regular threaded variety, or rotary fittings which allow the barb to be swivelled independent of the tail (threaded end).

    A separate group of fittings can be added to the tubing securing barb and compression fittings for any number of combinations for any eventuality. Among them: Adapters (used for introducing angles into the loop-again usually 30º, 45º, 60º, 90º), extensions (useful for staggering fittings if space is at a premium), reducers (used where two or more different tubing diameter sizes are used, couplers (for joining two tubes of equal diameter), T-splitters (primarily used to add a temperature sensor stop fitting to a loop), Y-splitter (for splitting one hose’s waterflow into two -- not really recommended), quick disconnects (QDC) (a two piece fitting with bayonet locking), drain and fill ports (allow for access to the loop for removal and adding of coolant), stop fittings (similar to a fillport or drain, can be found with integrated temperature probe for use with fan controllers), thread adapters (to change from one thread sizing to another), and SLI connectors (for connecting the loop through multiple graphics cards, and can be found as straight tubing or parallel/serial bridges).

    2.9 Tubing
    There is some debate around the optimal diameter of tubing to use. The "enthusiast" crowd is usually associated with 1/2" (13mm) ID tubing, with the smaller diameter 3/8" (10mm) and 7/16" (11mm) tubing seen as somewhat inferior. This view held some validity in the early years of watercooling where waterblocks were fairly primitive (the interior usually being an open cavity without machined pins/channels), pumps were straight variations of low pressure aquarium units, and CPUs still dumped prodigious amounts of heat. With the advent of specialist pumps and components, the argument against thinner diameter tubing is largely void. Unless the loop is massively restricted, the temperature difference between 3/8" and 1/2" will likely amount to 1-2ºC in most cases.

    3/8" and 7/16" tubing: Less flow, which only becomes an issue where restriction is high (multi-block loop), better performance for low flow optimized CPU blocks, tighter bend radius. 3/8" tubing not compatible with stock D5 pump if used (pump head has integral 1/2" barbs). Thinner tubing allows for better chassis airflow.

    1/2" tubing: Higher flow and more tolerant of restriction within the loop. Larger fittings may present challenges in connectivity.

    The cheapest option is standard vinyl tubing available from hardware stores. Unfortunately cheap also equates to inflexible and prone to discoloration. Of the specialist PVC tubing, there are many options:

    Very good kink resistance -- ClearFLEX60 Premium, Duralene, Danger Den Dreamflex, PrimoChill PrimoFlex LRT Pro, XSPC High Flex, MasterKleer (turns opaque fairly quickly), and Tygon R-2075 Ultra, R-3603 (1/8" wall), B-44-4X, Silver Antimicrobial, and R-3400 (the latter is known for retaining its clarity over an extended period of time).

    Moderate kink resistance -- Feser Tubing Active UV and Tygon R-3603 (1/16" wall).

    Low kink resistance: Tygon R-1000 (clear hose that has a vague yellow tint). Very soft.

    3.0 COOLING FLUIDS AND ADDITIVES
    3.1 Coolants
    The standard coolant is distilled water, which has a very high specific heat capacity -- the ability to absorb heat. Of naturally occurring liquids, only ammonia has a higher capacity for heat absorption. Pretty much anything else you add to, or use, in watercooling will be inferior and pricier. Some common misconceptions:

    Ethylene glycol (Antifreeze/Antiboil): Antifreeze is around eighteen times as viscous as water and adds restriction to a loop,It has half the heat absorption of distilled water.

    De-ionized water (DI or DIW): De-ionized is water that has been stripped of mineral ions. This is not a natural state for water, so as soon as DI water comes in contact with metals, it will begin stripping ions from it (DI water also absorbs carbon dioxide from air) to achieve its natural balance. Because of this solvent action, DI water is excellent for precleaning radiators, blocks, tubing and fittings, but as soon as it's introduced into the system, its de-ionizing property decreases as ions are absorbed. The de-ionization process removes mineral salts, it does not necessarily follow that DI water is free of organic matter-algae, bacteria etc. as is the case with distilled water. It depends on whether the de-ionization is carried out upon water that is already distilled.

    Adding household bleach to the fluid as an antibacterial agent: Sodium hypochlorite is corrosive and has a tendency to break down under heat. It might be considered in a very weak solution (3-4 drops per liter of water), but regular water changing and use of silver as an anti-microbial is still preferred.

    3.2 Additives
    Dyes and colored coolants: A personal choice. They may add a certain aesthetic -- at least for a while. Aside from the reservoir, the same basic look can be achieved by using colored tubing. Dyes especially have a tendency to fall out of solution (forming dye "clumps" in the tubing) and stain tubing/plexiglass/acrylic parts over time.

    The main ingredient of any vendor-brand coolant is water. Distilled water is available from pharmacies for $1-2 per liter. De-ionized water is readily available from auto parts stockists for around the same price. It is used for topping up automotive batteries. A quick note on pearlescent coolants. They are not designed for continuous use in a system -- just short-term usage.


    Biocides: Adding an antibacterial and antifungal biocide will stop (or at least slow) algae buildup in a loop. A small addition can save some extended cleaning time in the future, especially when it comes to cleaning waterblocks, tubing and reservoirs. You basically have two choices, and it's a case of using one or the other.

    Silver -- Added as either a "kill coil" (or source a length of ".9999" silver wire) into tubing, silver impregnated tubing , or what I consider the best implementation - pure silver plated fittings

    Liquid biocide -- Liquid additive. Best known as PT Nuke (two versions, the original copper sulphate, and newer PHN benzalkonium chloride).

    4.0 PREPARING LOOP COMPONENTS
    4.1 Flush the radiator
    A vital and often neglected step in preparation. At the least, a radiator will have brazing flux residue inside the chambers, so a comprehensive flushing will minimize any contamination once the loop is actually in use. The flush will also give you ample opportunity to check for leaks and defects. Adding the fittings to the radiator for the first time can cut burrs out of the inlet/outlet threads, which you will want out of the radiator.

    1. Flush water through the radiator for ~10-15min. I would suggest connecting the radiator to a household tap or showerhead via hose so you can get a reasonable flow of water through the radiator.

    2. Connect the hose to the opposite radiator outlet and reverse flush the radiator for another 10-15min.

    3. Three-quarters fill the radiator with hot (~ 50ºC) water and give it a vigorous shaking, then drain the radiator.

    4. Completely fill the radiator with a mild acidic solution -- diluted white vinegar works well, and leave for 45-60min.

    5. Repeat steps 1-4

    6. Rinse out with de-ionized/distilled water or whatever coolant you plan on using.

    4.2 Dry fit all fittings
    Check the threads on compression fittings. If using worm clamps (jubilee clips) tighten and loosen to make sure that the compression action is smooth

    If you have no previous experience with watercooling, get to know the parts. If using barbs, fit them to the radiator and get used to fitting the tubing over them (use of hot water to pre-soften the tubing etc.). Cut a short length of tubing from your supply for practice purposes.

    Test fit everything you can beforehand. Dry mount all waterblocks to see that all the securing mechanisms work and also to assist in gauging what length tubing you'll need for each section -- keep an eye on sharp radius bends to prevent tubes from flattening/kinking.

    Don't over tighten barbs/comp fittings. Over tightening causes the O-ring to compress and possibly blow out. It will also cause plexiglass to crack, and possibly cause threads to strip. A general rule of thumb is finger tight and a final tighten of 1/8 to 1/4 turn for fittings going into metal threads. A deep socket + ratchet wrench is the tool of choice. You can use an open-ended spanner. Adjustable wrenches and channel locks (vice grips) can cause slippage and ruin the finish of the fitting. Wrapping the fitting first in a lint free cloth or low-tack painters tape will help here. Measure fan screw clearance for the radiator and make sure that the screw is long enough to secure the fan, but short enough not to interfere with the radiator fins.

    5.0 ASSEMBLY
    Thanks to the dry fitting and working out the best choice for tubing routing, the final assembly should be a fairly smooth operation.

    Adding fittings to the blocks: You have a choice here. You can either fit the block before adding fittings and tubing, or secure the fittings and tubing sections to the block before mounting it. The former can result in a bit of a wrestling match in close quarters, the latter might not allow for a secure handhold on the block while adding the fittings/tubing. In my experience, it is better to add fittings to the components before connecting the blocks to the motherboard. The exception is RAM waterblocks, which are much easier to fit if the memory modules are already installed. Crossfire and SLI connectors for multiple waterblocked cards are also generally much easier to fit to the cards before installation in the motherboard. Some solid connectors will require this course of action as they can't be fitted with the cards already installed.

    Jumping the PSU: You'll want to test the loop for leaks without the motherboard and the rest of the system powered up. To do this, you will need to bridge/jump the PSU by connecting the green "power on" pin on the motherboard 24 (or 20) pin ATX cable to any of the black "ground" pins. Naturally, leave the PSU unplugged from the wall and off during this operation. (Guide >>here<<)

    Getting coolant in the loop: Long (accepted) way -- Fill the reservoir, switch on the PSU and switch off again before the reservoir fluid level causes the pump to run dry. Refill reservoir, repeat procedure until the loop is full.
    Short way -- Add two QDC to the inlet and outlet lines. Invert chassis if you have a roof mounted radiator. Fill the radiator and any blocks in the loop to near the level of the ends of tubing. Add the QDC male/female fitting to each. Plug the QDC end if necessary (knead eraser works well). Turn chassis back up the right way. Fill reservoir, pump, and tubing to near the end of the tubing. Connect the other half of the QDC female/male fittings. Connect each half of the QDC fitting together making sure that the air bubbles cannot rise in the loop. Move/rock the chassis to move the air bubble to the reservoir. You now have a mostly air free system, with the most problematic area for trapped air (the radiator tanks) air free.

    Check for leaks: Paper towels under every junction and block.

    Bleed: Run the system, check for leaks, note trapped air bubbles that are reluctant to move through the tubing. Stop-start the pump to shift them. Light tapping or squeezing of the tubing can coerce the bubbles to move through the system into the reservoir. Top off the reservoir if required, and run the pump. Some people barely spend any time leak testing, some run a system for hours -- it largely depends on how much you trust the components, your skill level, how adventurous you feel, and whether replacing components due to electrical shorting factors is an issue.

    5.1 Maintenance schedule
    Maintenance for the first few months is going to be dependent upon how thorough the initial preparation was. A comprehensive pre-cleaning of the radiatior in particular, but also including the other components should ensure that the loop should be able to be left for around six months before you change coolant.

    This is highly dependant upon what coolant you decide to use and if there are any dyes circulating. A cursory check of tubing will show coolant breaking down and leaving deposits/seperating out. A reasonable schedule will include:

    Changing coolant every six months... and since you are doing a partial disassembly to drain and refill, a visual inspection of all the components should be undertaken.
    Drain coolant and fill with de ionized water and run the loop (without the other components powered up) for 1-2 hours. Drain and refill with coolant. Bleed the system to remove air bubbles.

    Pay close attention to fans and radiators -- clean as required depending upon dust buildup. If the leading edge of fanblades shows dust buildup then the radiator fins will certainly be congested with dust. Contact cleaner (canned/liquid air) is the best solution here.

    For most people the system will undergo upgrading before any further in depth maintenance is required, but as a matter of course, I tend to strip down the whole system once a year for thorough cleaning. This included disassembly of blocks and pump(s) to ensure that O-rings remain supple and are showing no signs of wear -replace as necessary if this is not the case -remember to keep your manuals and documentation!. CPU block waterchambers are prone to blockages since the interior is lined with very small channels or pins to increase surface area. A visual inspection can be all that is needed to ascertain whether a further disassembly is required.
    During the loop strip down, you may want to replace tubing if it shows heavy discolouration or excessive buildup of deposits. Cleaning out the radiator and checking fans should be done as a matter of course.

    The rest of the maintenance is probably more self-explantory. Keep a close eye on reservoir coolant level. A small amount can be lost via evaporation depending on how porous the tubing is, and how well sealed fillports are, so top up as required. A visual inspection for coolant seepage on a regular ongoing basis could save a lot of money in future.
    ______________________________________________________________________
    Many thanks to Matthew for his editorial skills and slh28 for reminding me that watercooling doesn't end with putting the loop together ( section 5.1 added)
     
    JC713, cliffordcooley, Blkfx1 and 2 others like this.
  2. dividebyzero

    dividebyzero trainee n00b Topic Starter Posts: 4,941   +725

    6.0 CHASSIS COMPATIBILITY
    (Compatibility based upon unmodified chassis)
    ("Depth"= maximum overall -- deduct fan(s) thickness for maximum radiator thickness allowed)
    This section is very much a work in progress. Submissions from forum members to expand the database of chassis is greatly encouraged to provide a comprehensive overview of watercooling options.
    [​IMG]
     
    JC713 and Blkfx1 like this.
  3. Dawn1113

    Dawn1113 TS Booster Posts: 375   +64

    Thank you for posting, DBZ. Good stuff.
     
  4. Marnomancer

    Marnomancer TS Booster Posts: 808   +51

    Good one there, DBZ! Comprehensive and to-the-point.
    We could mash up all our guides for a cool (pun intended) showdown! I mean, a series of cooling-oriented guides with different sections. What say?
     
  5. slh28

    slh28 TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,925   +170

    Wow, very comprehensive and informative guide. Been thinking about watercooling for a while now, but haven't found the time/money/enthusiasm for it yet.

    How often do you have to maintain a WC setup, e.g. changing the water, cleaning the components, etc?
     
    dividebyzero likes this.
  6. dividebyzero

    dividebyzero trainee n00b Topic Starter Posts: 4,941   +725

    Thanks for the reminder. Maintenance schedule added (section 5.1)
     
  7. Leeky

    Leeky TS Evangelist Posts: 4,378   +99

    Thanks for the amazing guide DBZ, it's definitely answered the few remaining concerns I had with water cooling enough to make me definitely consider going ahead with it in the not too distant future. :)
     
  8. LNCPapa

    LNCPapa TS Special Forces Posts: 4,356   +283

    I am thoroughly pleased by this post - I've been trolling around on the interwebs the last few months getting bits of info here and there trying to decide if I want this to be my next hobby. Now that everything is in one place I'll have a good reference if I decide to go this route. Thanks DBZ.
     
  9. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TechSpot Paladin Posts: 6,240   +1,548

    Thanks DBZ for the guide.
     
  10. Blkfx1

    Blkfx1 TS Addict Posts: 892   +172

    Excellent Guide, It was exactly what I was looking for. Thanks, DBZ.
     
  11. Mictlantecuhtli

    Mictlantecuhtli TS Evangelist Posts: 4,916   +9

    I got a midtower case (Fractal Design Define R3) that's too small for my 360mm radiator so I just installed longer tubes and put the radiator on the floor next to the balcony door. At night if the door is open the CPU can go near zero C, GPU(s) in the same loop go around 20C. So far so good...
     
     
  12. dividebyzero

    dividebyzero trainee n00b Topic Starter Posts: 4,941   +725

    Sounds like you've got a good system worked out. Many of us started out doing much the same- tubes out through the window or through the skirting board going into a 200 litre sealed drum of distilled water with an immersible spa pump sitting in the bottom- no need for radiators with that volume of water.
     
  13. casey ryer

    casey ryer TS Rookie

    I felt compelled to join to compliment you on such a well written and complete up to date H2O article! I have been water cooling since the days of the AMD Barton 2500 ( well actually a little before that chip but I don't want to date myself) and have never in all the years came across such an informative post.
     
  14. LinkedKube

    LinkedKube TechSpot Project Baby Posts: 4,266   +42

    This is a great guide. I have 5 WC'd systems under my belt and I can definately say that its good having this kind of information in one place. I can get rid of about 20 bookmarks!
     
  15. dividebyzero

    dividebyzero trainee n00b Topic Starter Posts: 4,941   +725

    Thanks guys for the great feedback.
    Not a lot to report on the watercooling front lately. Most new parts are kits based on bundled standalone components that I've already covered. EKWB's Supremacy Elite is the latest CPU block added to the charts, and seems to be an update of the older Supreme HF.
    I'll incorporate a few more chassis into the radiator compatibility chart over the next week or so.
     
  16. Will Ingtolearn

    Will Ingtolearn TS Rookie

    Hi..
    I want to ask this question:
    1. Since there are different waterblock for different component, I wonder if this "waterblock" was the same idea like heatsink and fan?
    2. I found these product: Corsair CWCH100, Thermaltake Water2.0, Zalman CNPS20LQ (among other things), which part are they belong to? I mean, are they the radiator or reservoir? Or, are they a complete solution, meaning if I bought one of them, then I shouldn't worry about each individual part?
    Please explain it. Thank you.
     
  17. dividebyzero

    dividebyzero trainee n00b Topic Starter Posts: 4,941   +725

    The Corsair H100 and the others you mention are termed "all-in-one" solutions based on designs from Asetek, and latterly, CoolIT.
    Basically you get a sealed loop that features waterblock with integrated pump, and radiator+fan(s).
    Because they are off-the-shelf solutions and require no knowledge base past the installation instructions supplied with the kit, they are not within the scope of the guide I've written.
    Pros: Assembly skill level needs to be no higher than that required for air coolers, No matching of parts required, Relatively low cost, Minimal maintainance needed.
    Cons: Not able to be expanded ( CPU, GPU or CPU+GPU loop cannot be easily modified), Cooling is generally little better than conventional air coolers at the same price point, The fans used in all-in-one's are generally loud, high r.p.m. units utilizing cheaper sleeve/rifle bearings.

    Basically the AIO coolers are entry level watercooling. They provide an easy access point into watercooling. At their best, they make for clean build - some people have reservations about hanging a kilogram of air cooler off their motherboard long term, are convenient, and relatively cheap.

    From a personal point of view, I'd recommend expending a little more cash (if buying an AIO) and going with a Swiftech Edge kit. -they offer considerably better cooling and build quality in relation to the additional cost, or a boxed kit like XSPC's - that includes all the pieces required for a watercooling loop that can be added to or modified as the user gains in their knowledge base...and isn't significantly more expensive than a CoolIT or Asetek design.
    Both the Swiftech, XSPC, along with EK's and Alphacool's basically use the same same high-end parts that are sold individually-and are featured in the guide.
     
  18. Burty117

    Burty117 TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 2,524   +324

    Chef, Red brought me to this wonderful Post you have I must say, I recently decided to go the proper water cooling route for the first time, I'm just in planning stages at the moment and trying to learn as much as I can and been trawling through the web to find out as much as I can and I have to congratulate you on possibly the best post on the subject I am yet to read, fantastic, you even mentioned parts that I plan to get as well which fills me with confidence that I'm not ordering the wrong parts.

    Thank you very much for the useful post :)
     
  19. Orphiucus

    Orphiucus TS Rookie

    I'm looking to finally assemble a full water cooling system for peace of mind. Running a w3520 at 4ghz, but it needs an absurd 1.4v to remain stable. Obviously produces large amounts of heat, and my air cooler had me worried playing games as heat can edge up to 80 on the actual cores. I am looking to switch from a Coolermaster Storm Scout over to a Corsair, probably the 700 or 800D. What I am curious about is going from just cooling the CPU to adding a GPU water block down the line. According to the calculator my system is using approximately 700w of power.

    The XSPC kit seems to be about the best bang for the buck for just the CPU, but research has some people saying that it isn't enough to cool a GPU as well if I decide to add it later. Couple that information with the calculator, and I would need to upgrade to at least a 360 to add a GPU, to say nothing of whether or not the pump would provide enough head for the system to work efficiently. Could I add a second pump and radiator after the loop, or even just a 120 between the CPU and GPU?

    If not, I presume I should look to build my own system from scratch to begin with and it'll just be overkill until I can get the GPU block.

    While GPU isn't a necessity, I am going to be upgrading to an AMD 7970 and OCing to somewhere around 1200, which should put out quite a bit of heat that I would like to keep out of the system. I figure if I cool the CPU and GPU then there's no need for cooling the board.
     
  20. dividebyzero

    dividebyzero trainee n00b Topic Starter Posts: 4,941   +725

    ^^^^ A lot is going to depend on what cooling components you opt for. For a OCéd Bloomfield + 7950, a 360 (3*120) or 280 (2*140) would do the trick fairly easily. The XSPC kit I linked to is only one of the kits available. The RX360 is priced extremely well, while the D5 version carries a premium for the pump upgrade but still would be hard to beat if building a custom loop, even if you factor in getting some higher quality/higher static pressure fans.
    You can, as mentioned, add a 120/140mm fan to the loop between the GPU and CPU, although if you're going with a 700D/800D you may as well just go with a triple rad in the roof for the sake of simplicity. Tube routing with a rear mounted 120/140 means cutting down your options with the roof mounted rad- to having the inlet/outlet towards the rear of the chassis, unless you favour the plate-of-spaghetti approach to tubing routing.
     
  21. Orphiucus

    Orphiucus TS Rookie

    Well of course the 800D would be dependent upon finding it for a good price, which means keeping eyes open on eBay and some tech forums for people moving on up.

    As an aside, the NZXT Phantom full tower will fit a dual radiator on the top. On the NZXT page there are some gallery shots of people with them mounted up. Not sure on how thick said radiator can be, but for reference there are people running the Corsair H100 as well as 360mm radiators in the top, and a 240mm in the bottom. Also have found evidence of some running the Phobya 400mm radiator up top but it requires some case modding. May end up being what I have to go with due to costs. At $119, it's a steal for something that will fit a 360.
     
  22. dividebyzero

    dividebyzero trainee n00b Topic Starter Posts: 4,941   +725

    The 800D is a nice enough chassis (but far from ideal), I cast it adrift when I got a Switch 810. The Phantom works well enough unless you plan on packing it full.
     
  23. TitanJeager87

    TitanJeager87 TS Rookie

    I have a question though. im planning a custom loop with 2 480 mm rad's and a 240mm rad. how many pumps do I need for this setup? its gona be in a corsair 900D tower. along with a swiftech maelstrom res with dual pump and an extra res with it. any tips and info would be great.
     
  24. dividebyzero

    dividebyzero trainee n00b Topic Starter Posts: 4,941   +725

    That depends on the actual loop. Adding MORE usually comes down to either the need to overcome loop inertia, or just adding parts for increased visual appeal or to garner attention.
    I'll assume you're using dual MCP350X's with the reservoir which should be plenty if you're using relatively low restriction waterblocks and 1/2" ID tubing that has well radiused bends (no tight bends that introduce inertia into the system), and frankly, if you're using a full tower like the 900D there isn't any excuse why the loop should suffer from tight flow direction changes.

    Why are you using a second reservoir? If it is for pure aesthetics then fine, but it adds absolutely nothing to the cooling ability of the loop.
    Also bear in mind that adding extra pumps means dumping their heat output (20W per pump) into the coolant. Personally, assuming you are running a CPU block and three or four graphics blocks (given the amount of radiator cooling you're planning on) and maybe a full cover (or VRM) motherboard block I'd look at just getting a couple of 12-24V Laing D5T's (D5 Strong) and run them at 18V (pretty much optimum trade off between flow rate/head/heat output) this does necessitate the use of a 24V controller, but they aren't hard to source. They'll offer much better performance and their head pressure is sufficient to overcome the most restrictive of loops.

    Running multiple pumps, multiple reservoirs is fine for a show piece but it is basically counter-productive in a real world cooling scenario unless you have multiple loops for the same system - I.e. separate loops for CPU+VRM and GPUs.
     
  25. TitanJeager87

    TitanJeager87 TS Rookie

    The second res is for looks. im planning on 1 asus poseidon graphics cards for now with the evenutuallity of a second. but I have a habit of enjoying a good bit of overkill on what I do. so my cooling I want is a bit on the side of overkill value for my pc even if im not a heavy gamer. granted my CPU im running is an Amd Fx-9370 cpu and the radiators are all made by Xspc.

    Im just looking for tips and new info. the only things I will have liquid cooled ar my gpu and cpu for now till someone decides to make a block for my motherboard which is an ASUS Sabertooth 990Fx R2.0 mobo

    The apogee drive 2 cpu block is what I was thinking about using for my cpu block but if the 2 pumps that come with the main res im looking at will be more than enough then I will pick out a different cpu block
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 26, 2014


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