The Neophyte's Custom Liquid Cooling Guide: How To, Why To, What To Expectby Dustin Sklavos on September 30, 2013 12:01 AM EST
For a lot of enthusiasts, a full custom watercooling (or liquid cooling, if you prefer) can be essentially the final frontier. Closed loop coolers have been taking off in a big way, bringing watercooling to the masses, but sacrifices are made in the process. The overwhelming majority of closed loop coolers employ aluminum radiators instead of the copper and brass that are used in custom loops, and the pumps tend to be on the weaker side, presumably to both keep noise down and because there's really only one component to cool. I'm still enthusiastic about these products because they can offer excellent cooling performance without placing the undue strain on the motherboard that a heavy tower air cooler can, and they're typically a win for system integrators who don't want to risk shipping damage. Whether you like it or not, this is the direction the market is heading, although pure air cooling most definitely still has its place.
So why look at watercooling? First, establish how important noise is to you. Watercooling systems (and this includes CLCs) occupy an interesting middle ground. For pure thermal-to-noise efficiency, they're basically unbeatable, but if you want absolute or near absolute silence, you actually have to go back to conventional air cooling. The reason is that watercooling necessitates using a water pump, and while they can be tuned down for efficiency, they're never going to be dead silent. An air cooler will always be a fan plus heatsink; watercooling adds a pump.
Watercooling is so efficient because it effectively allows you to spread your system's heat load across a tremendously greater surface area. Water transfers heat exceptionally well, and radiators in turn will be massive, densely packed arrays of copper fins. By being able to spread that heat across one or multiple radiators, you also allow yourself to use multiple fans at low speeds. Alternatively, you substantially increase your system's heat capacity, so if you're looking to overclock a little more aggressively, watercooling may be the way to go.
In my opinion, one of the biggest reasons to go for it is actually the potential for watercooling graphics cards, especially in a multi-GPU setup. While the stock blower cooler for the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 is actually a work of art and does a stellar job of keeping that card cool, it simply can't hold a candle to a full-card waterblock that can absorb the heat from every heat-generating component on the card, especially the power circuitry. Suddenly you're not risking tripping the 780's boost clock thermal limits anymore, and the blower coolers aren't generating any more of a racket for your trouble.
Of course, building a custom loop is insanely daunting. This is the first time I've ever built one and while guides exist all over the internet, they all feel a bit incomplete in one aspect or another. There's also the fear of spraying coolant all over the inside of your case, or accidentally frying graphics cards when you install the waterblock, etc. It's also a decent amount of work, and it's not cheap. Truthfully, if I hadn't been able to put this together for AnandTech, I don't know that I'd have ever made the attempt. But the opportunity did present itself and now I can at least share the results with you.
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bojaka - Monday, September 30, 2013 - linkAnd right about THERE I lost my interest in water cooling - Thanks :) I actually believed water cooling would be a viable solution to make my computer silent, but apparently not. Thanks for a great article!!
utnorris - Monday, September 30, 2013 - linkYou can make a near dead silent water cooled system that allows you to overclock. Unfortunately, the fans you are using in the article, while good, are not the best, regardless what marketing says. I have built probably 40 to 50 systems over the last 5 years using water cooling and noise was never an issue. If you are not overclocking then a full blown water cooling setup is not worth it, but for the added performance, it's well worth it. Also, there is no need for additives like the Hydrx, distilled water with a silver coil or some anti algae drops from your local pet store is all you need and would be less toxic. Last, as already mentioned, delidding would have seen about 10c drop on the processor and if you are going to water cool, you might as well delid your chip.
Aikouka - Monday, September 30, 2013 - linkYou REALLY shouldn't take a SINGLE article on water cooling as the end all, be all on whether water cooling can provide a silent build. Dustin was NOT pushing for a silent build, but rather just a build with whatever parts he was provided. I have a custom loop with an i7-4770k and two GTX 680s, and it isn't noisy at all. It is going to be a bit noisier at idle because of having significantly more fans (I have 7 120mm fans just on the radiators), but it doesn't get any noisier at load! I also use a fan controller that lets me set the fans to the speed -- and consequently, the noise level -- that I find acceptable.
piroroadkill - Monday, September 30, 2013 - linkYeah, some people think this, but since you're shifting water at the same time as pushing air, there are simply more moving parts involved. Just get a giant tower heatsink and run those fans sloooowly, and choose a GPU with a really good factory heatsink.
tim851 - Monday, September 30, 2013 - linkDepends. There are much better, i.e. quieter, pumps available. The best one imo is the Aquastream by AquaComputer. Even then, a single Cpu-single Gpu system is quieter on air. A Thermalright HR-02 and an Accelero Xtreme will take care of it. Once you go SLI, however, you're running into space and heat evacuation problems. Watercooling is your only chance of acceptable noise at load now.
piroroadkill - Monday, September 30, 2013 - linkYeah, multi-GPU rigs are a different beast. At that point a custom water loop is probably your best bet.
But for single CPU/single GPU rigs, water is basically a vanity project, not one that will actually give you lower noise.
piklar - Monday, September 30, 2013 - linkGreat article Dustin! It just so happens I have been considering a watercooling project this summer (new Zealand time) using the Corsair Air540 with 4770K and SLI GTX 780s. Ironicly it appears The Raven RV03 is doing just as good if not better job of the cooling with Corsair H80 and reference card cooling. You have shown how luck of the draw Haswell can be since the 4770Ks Ive come across all do 4.6ghz on 2.8- 3.0v no probs. Still your article was very useful and much appreciated.
Death666Angel - Monday, September 30, 2013 - link2.8V to 3.0V? That's not right. :P
Razorbak86 - Monday, September 30, 2013 - linkLOL. My thought exactly. I'm sure he meant 1.28-1.30V. ;-P
piklar - Monday, September 30, 2013 - linksoz was half asleep, thanks for clarifying that I meant meant 1.280 - 1.30V for 4.6ghz with 4770K with H80.