Silently Fighting Thermal Death: A PC With Water Cooling
The fact itself is frightening enough, and yet it's indicative of the entire PC industry: the average PC system, such as those found from many discount retailers, is fraught with poor ergonomics. Additionally, the hardware features are nothing if not compromised, and this can only be recognized at first glance by the experienced user. There's no sign of efficiency or technical refinement - instead, the basic premise of the PC seems to be that there's nothing so cheap that it can't be replaced with something cheaper.
The increased burden of costs and those magical price points are the decisive factors when it comes to selling a large number of units of no-name bargain-priced PCs. In any case, this has been the situation in the past. Now that the market is nearly saturated, manufacturers should take a different path and bid adieu to the game of Gigahertz and Megabyte numbers.
Nevertheless, the performance platitudes from the so-called "marketing experts" seem to hold more weight than all other new concepts. After all, none of the competitors have any new ideas either. Too bad, because a new trend would be the thing to boost a weakening market for PC systems and, above all, heighten the awareness of consumers.
The components for water cooling in a PC system.
Silently Fighting Thermal Death: A PC With Water Cooling, Continued
Here, we ask the basic question: Why can't a PC do its job silently? The practical reasons for this are obvious: several active coolers (such as those on the processor, graphics card, chip set and power supply) make for a higher noise level on par with that found at a construction site. At the same time, there's a large amount of heat generated in the PC case, which, in turn, is dissipated with the help of additional fans on the chassis.
The result is that the computer ends up with at least eight fans that typically show signs of technical faultiness after only a few months of use. Our previous tests of fast PC systems have also proven that it's not possible to use conventional means to build a high-performance high-end PC system that is also silent.
An overview of all components needed to install water cooling in any PC system.
Actually, the creative impetus tends to come from smaller firms that offer kits for installing your own water cooling system. These companies have overcome the pubescent tinkering phase, and now, more mature solutions for professional and demanding users are available. The "bucket of water" method of yore is only used by a few freaks in their romper rooms.
Our message to you: All users can equip their PC systems with a highly efficient water cooling system in just a few steps, and with a little extra pocket change. Also, it can even be fun, especially if you're planning to overclock the processor to the limit. The result is a virtually noiseless PC system with high performance that the brand-name manufacturers can only dream about. Compared to the commonly available kits, we really take the full-power approach: apart from the processor, the graphics card, chipset and the hard drive are also cooled with water. Accompanying the article is a new Tom's Hardware Guide video.
THG Presents the Video in Three Languages
The third video shows how to install effective water cooling in a PC case, using only high-quality components that are worth the investment in the long run.
|THG Video 3: Technical Data|
|Resolution||360 x 288 @ 25 fps (PAL/2)|
|Color Depth||16 Bit|
|Audio Signal||Stereo, 16 Bit, 44 KHz|
|Audio Data Rate||96 KBit/s (12 KByte/s)|
|Video Data Rate||350 KBit/s (43 KByte/s)|
|Total Data Rate||446 KBit/s (55 KByte/s)|
|Video Compression||MPEG-4 DivX, 5.02 Pro Codec, 2 Pass|
|Audio Compression||MPEG-1 Layer 3 (MP3), Fraunhofer|
|File Size||17,9 MB|
Requirements for Video Playback
A high-performance processor is needed in order to properly handle the small file size and the data rate of the THG video. It's important that you have the
For All AMD Freaks: The Third THG Video
The new THG video gives you a step-by-step guide on how to install a water cooling system for your PC. The video is available in English, French and German.
Versions of the video in each language can be downloaded here:
Components for Water Cooling
For our PC system, we've used the most effective water cooling that's currently available on the market, which has mostly been developed by Innovatek. Essentially, a simple cooling system consists of a water pump with a cooling tank attached, a cooling element for the processor and a radiator with fans.
A more progressive solution involves an additional cooling element for the graphics card and chipset, as well as the hard disk. All components are connected with plastic tubing so that no leakage occurs.
Pump from Eheim: Quiet and Reliable
Based on our experience, the pumps from a company called Eheim are the most appropriate. These pumps are frequently used for the aquarium, where reliable (secure from breakdowns) and maintenance-free operation is important.
The model that we used in our test, Eheim 1046, is available in 110 Volt (USA) as well as 230 Volt (Europe). The manufacturer also provides a 2-year guarantee for this product. A note from the THG lab: because the pump runs in a closed water circuit, the pressure head has no influence. In any case, it's sufficient for normal PC cases.
Water pump from Eheim, which is the most appropriate for building performance water cooling.
Radiator: High Efficiency via Counter Current Flow
In order to dissipate the heat that is absorbed by the water, a radiator is part of the circuit. This is equiped with a large fan (12 cm diameter) that allows for quiet operation. The fan is factory-set for a voltage of 12 Volt - for our purposes, we ran it at 5 Volt using an adapter. Despite the low rpm, the flow volume is enough to effieciently cool the circulating water. The intricate cooling fins of the radiator ensure perfect heat transfer between water and air.
The best radiator currently available, which can be used in any PC case.
A fan for installation on the radiator.
Cooling Elements for CPU, Graphics Chip and Chipset.
A high-performance cooling element for AMD Athlon XP/MP, with a high-precision bracket.
A "small" cooling element for AMD Athlon XP/MP with a special bracket.
The corresponding elements do the actual cooling in the water cooling system. The most important component is the CPU cooler, which is available in versions for Intel and AMD processors. The somewhat smaller models are more appropriate for ergonomic PCs, where silent operation is important. We use the most efficient cooling element for AMD processors in our PC system.
A key point here is that the massive element comes with precisely fitting brackets, which sit snugly due to the knurled screw. The brackets are constructed so that the CPU die cannot be damaged, even if you cinch the heck out of the screw. All CPU coolers have a copper contact surface. It's important to avoid electrochemical voltage build-up, so make sure that the materials are not arranged in opposing rows. Cooling elements for chipsets and graphics cards are similarly built. The only difference is in the size, since there's much less thermal loss with these components.
Cooling elements for all graphics cards in a water cooling system.
Flow Meter: Circulation Control
With the help of a flow meter, the circulation of water can be monitored. This component simulates a fan/speedometer signal, which can be attached to all motherboards. Here, pump failure is detected when water circulation comes to a stop, and the motherboard monitor (or BIOS) notifies the user of the error.
Header Tank: Airtight Filling
The header tank prevents excess air from entering the water cooling system.
The header tank provides a professional solution to filling and draining the cooling water. It's not totally necessary, but it always makes the job easier. When the cooling system is filled during operation, the circulation can be interrupted. The excess air is automatically collected in the tank.
Tubing: Flexible and Transparent
Flexible tubing connects all components.
The tubes connecting the individual components ensure circulation of the water. There are special elbow components to ensure that there's no loss of pressure to the system due to clamping or kinking.
Elbows protect the system from squeezing.
Cooling Liquid: Distilled Water Is Ideal
Three different cooling liquids in various colors.
Distilled water is used as the cooling liquid so that, in the event of leakage, a short circuit doesn't occur in the PC case. Some users prefer to use cooling fluid in different colors, but the specific heat conduction of these liquids isn't as good. This small difference is exactly the factor that can determine your success or failure when overclocking.
Preparing the Installation
In preparation for installing the components, you need to drill holes to attach the radiator.
If you've got a complete PC system already, you have to take it apart before installing a water cooling system. Components such as the graphics card, hard disk and motherboard need to be removed from the case. Then, holes need to be drilled for the radiator as well as for the pump cable, as required. It's important that the radiator be installed in the upper part of the case, since heat rises. Be careful: the metal shavings must be removed from the tower in order to avoid shorting the motherboard.
A view of our PC system with components.
Graphics Card: Replacing the Chip Cooler
Using MSI's GeForce 4 Ti 4600 as an example, the video shows how the graphics card's original cooler is replaced by the cooling element for the water cooling system. Removing the cooler on the graphics card is no trivial task: depending on the manufacturer, some coolers are glued firmly to the card and are quite difficult to remove. A trick you can use for such situations is to put the graphics card in a plastic freezer bag (to protect the card from moisture) and then put it in the freezer. At -15 degrees Celsius at the latest, the glue loses its effectiveness, and the cooler can then be easily detached.
The graphics card (GeForce 4 Ti 4600) with the cooling element installed.
Motherboard: Replacing the Chipset Cooler
Exchanging the chipset cooler is similar to the same process with the GPU cooler on the graphics card.
In our test system, we used a board from Gigabyte.
Hard Disk: Installing the Cooling Unit
An installed hard disk cooler.
The hard disk cooler is an entirely new component, which is also serves as an installation bay in 5.25" format. Because of the low thermal loss with hard disks, two cooling units are sufficient. These should be mounted on the right and left sides, connected to one another with an arcrylic rod.
The cooling units are connected to one another with an arcrylic rod.
High-quality workmanship with the hard disk cooler.
Processor: Installing the Cooling Element
Installing the water cooling element for the processors is much easier: the cooler is placed in an upright position, and the knurled screws are then tightened. Before this step, though, some thermal paste should be spread on the CPU die. You should not use silver paste because the copper contact plate is very flat. It is important that the CPU holder is positioned before the tubing is attached, so that the water circuit runs through the holder.
Radiator: Installing in the PC Case
The radiator can be placed inside or outside the PC case. Of course, it looks better if you place it inside the PC case, in the chassis. Here, you need a rather powerful drill to do the job. If you opt for an external placement of the radiator, then the length of the tubing can be long enough so that the radiator sits freely on a window sill or in a refrigerator, or even in a freezer compartment. Here, it's important to note that with low external temperatures, condensation can quickly build up and eventually ruin the hardware. For example, in our tests with the Intel Pentium 4, overclocked above the 3100 MHz limit, we experienced problems with condensation.
Cooling System: Connecting the Tubes
Connecting the tubes is quick and uncomplicated. Using scissors, cut the tubes to a length that is optimal for the tower. They should not cause a tangle of wires in the case when attached. To finish off, the cap nuts should be tightly fitted.
Cooling System: Filling with Cooling Liquid
After the tubing has been installed and the cooling circuit has been closed, turn the pump on, then pour the distilled water into the header tank until the entire system is filled with water. In order to break the surface tension of the water and prevent air bubbles from forming, add a drop of dishwashing liquid.
Equipment, Costs, Links
Conclusion: High Performance and Silent Operation
None of the well-known manufacturers offer PC systems with perfect cooling for all components (CPU, graphics card, chipset, hard disk) and noiseless operation as well - this is what we achieve with the PC system that we built here. Friends of extreme overclocking also get an optimal foundation for stably running the AMD Athlon XP or the Intel Pentium 4 at their limit.
Granted, we've presented a rather elite solution that's not exactly cheap. However, in the end, you get a water cooling system with components that are of the highest quality and precision. In the long run, it's well worth the investment, especially because the cooling system will also be compatible with processors still yet to come (e.g., AMD Hammer or Intel Pentium 4 - Prescott), as well as with future graphics cards.
The simpler water cooling kit is priced at $199, while the full-featured kit costs $365. It's quite a large expense for users on a tight budget, but on the other hand, it's a perfectly reasonable price for a perfect cooling solution. If you compare the effectiveness of a water cooling system to that of the most high-end, high-performance cooling fan, then the price difference is not so great. Retailers often ask for as much as $80 for top-of-the-line standard coolers. Also, a traditional cooler of the high-end category attains its effectiveness through a massive fan, which in turn generates high noise levels, thereby destroying any sense of ergonomics or comfort in the workplace.
The new Tom's Hardware Guide video is an important part of this article, and it continues the series that began with the first two THG videos. The video is 5.5 minutes long, so it requires more memory than the previous videos. We limited the resolution to 360 x 288 (compared to our last video at 720 x 576 pixels), otherwise the file size would have been approximately 30 MB. At half the PAL resolution and with the help of all optimizing methods offered by the MPEG-4 format, we've managed to keep the file size to 18 MB, which is quite reasonable when you take the video and sound quality into consideration.
Thanks to our international team, we bring you the video in three languages: English, French and German. We are quite interested our readers' opinions, so we appreciate any thoughts, comments and criticisms that you send to us.
A complete PC system with water cooling for all components.