After some days of inactivity on my site, I would like to get back in touch with you by talking about another interesting and important part of a running computer, without which we would actually and literally „fry” our machines. Yes, that is the PC water cooling system.
Being too hot can be really bad!
As happens with any other machine that is running with the power of electricity, doing its duty and consuming energy, computers generate heat while being in function. This applies to the most sensitive and important components of the system, that are electrically powered and intensively used for our workloads: the motherboard, the RAM modules, the video cards, the CPUs, the storage drives (no matter if we speak of HDDs, SATA SSDs, PCI-E SATA/NVME SSDs or even USB sticks that are externally plugged in), the PSU unit itself… Even the mouse and the keyboard can become hot if they stay too much in contact with our hands :).
And just like our human skin suffers damages if exposed to long-duration high temperatures, the electronical circuits that the PC components listed above are made of will be damaged as well, in case there is no cooling system being used as a protection against… you guessed, this excessive heating. As Eastern Canadian people say… after we power our machine up and put it to work, it starts to heaten. Just like an oven or a microwave. So there has to be an adequated cooling solution also. Let it be an air-based or a water-based cooling system, as we are going to see below.
PC air cooling or PC water cooling systems?
Through the years, the phenomenon of PC component heating has been tackled more and more appropriately with the help of dedicated cooling pieces that used firstly the power of the air – yeah well, the principle of ventilation. This is why case fans were invented, for example. And in the early 2000s also the CPUs were having air coolers that were mounted on those heat-dissipating radiators, which on their turn were designed to stand above the CPU unit, and the force of the air cooler was helping the radiator to dissipate out the heat that was coming from the CPU.
Lest we forget that in order to be able to receive the CPU heat, that radiator (aka heat spreader) needed a special thermal paste (or thermal grease) with high conductivity, which is used till nowadays as an interface between the CPU heatsink and the heat-spreading radiator having the ventilating air cooler mounted on. And leaving CPUs aside, we can see even today how smaller or larger GPUs have one or more fans that help them getting rid of excessive heat (older GPUs like the 1 GB GDDR3 NVIDIA 9500 GT do not even have any fan, they have to cope with the heatening). Not to mention that RAM modules can have their own, dedicated cooling parts also.
However, moving over the years and seeing how the computer technology was developing towards higher, more powerful levels, people started to realize that the PC air cooling systems were not enough any more. That’s when liquid coolers started gradually to come in. And by now they have evolved to such an extent that we may use extended liquid coolers impacting all the heat-sensitive regions inside a PC case – CPUs, RAM, GPUs, the case walls… and even disk drives (yes, you are reading well)!
And a disclaimer: although liquid coolers are being considered as “water” ones, it is necessary to know that there is no pure, “tap” water inside the circuits that these coolers consist of. Calling liquid coolers as “water” is a matter of speaking, but this is not about that water we drink for quenching our thirst.
There are dedicated liquid solutions among whose ingredients we can find water too, but that’s not only water – the personnel that makes such liquids uses also other substances like concentrated coolants to be mixed with that water – and moreover, the involved water is regularly distilled water – since tap water can contain impurities that may damage the cooling circuit. So when we say PC water cooling systems, let’s just not rush into thinking that it is our daily-to-drink water that solves the PC cooling problem at a superior level!
All-in-one cooler or build it by yourself
As far as I am concerned, I use liquid cooling circuits only for my installed CPUs at home (well, not all of them, the oldest still is under a huge air cooler), while the rest of the components like GPUs (except again for the oldest one, that is a NVIDIA 9500GT with no fan, see above), RAM memory banks (and over again, except for the oldest bunch that is DDR3), and generally the case areas benefit from the power of air through fans.
Obviously I am aware of the existence of advanced water cooling systems for GPUs, RAM, HDDs & case walls, but by now I have not invested anything in these, considering that water cooling my modern CPUs at home is enough. The quality of the cooler matters a lot, especially if you know that the involved component is powerful (aka eager of power) and while you want it to be able to deliver high-parameter performance, there also has to exist a very reliable cooling solution. Who would want to buy an insanely strong 32-core CPU (like the latest Threadrippers that were released) and then risk to fry it because of an inefficient cooling installation?
As expected, there is a truly wide variety of liquid cooling solutions on the market. Since CPUs are the brains of PCs and I also said I invested only in liquid solutions for CPUs, I should be focusing this article on CPU-related PC water cooling solution. Let’s just not forget that liquid solutions for other important parts exist also.
So, if we want to retrieve high frequencies and overclock our powerful processors without damage, our choices about CPU coolers have to be appropriate, carefully made, and of course also affordable, especially if we are enthusiast users that are interested in investing serious money resources in PC hardware.
I was just saying earlier that the market offers us a large palette of liquid coolers to choose from. Some of them are already ready (rhyme intended) when arriving to the PC shop – I mean, the to-be-circulated liquid (remember that’s not drinkable water!) is in the tubes, the components are all assembled and so the cooling circuit is packaged inside the box, just waiting for you to buy it and bring at home, where you have to unpack the thing and then to mount it on your processor according to the given instructions, and well, you may still have to take care of some mounting brackets when attaching the cooler to the processor.
And also to mount the fans to the radiator, because even these liquid coolers feature a fan-based radiator for further dissipating the heat. But the core of the cooler was already assembled by others, you don’t have to worry about connecting the tubing (aka pipes) to the pump or to the radiator, neither about pouring the cooling liquid into the tubes by example. That is an All-In-One (AIO) PC water cooling system for your processor. Also called closed-loop cooler or CLC.
Of course there are brands involvd in producing liquid coolers – we may say a lot of names, like Corsair, Enermax, ASUS, Thermaltake, NZXT Kraken, EVGA, Arctic, CoolerMaster, and so on. By example, Corsair has many products of this type, like the Hydro division. Quite an interesting list offers for us to choose from! Many ways to build beautiful water cooling configurations.
But this is not all! The world hardware market is huge, and there are also custom coolers for CPUs, where you are free to choose your future pieces part by part, and even which sort of cooling liquid (color included!) you will use. This customization gives you the possibility to opt for the best possible components for your cooler, that will provide you with higher performance results and safer overclocking. Of course, this possibility comes with the price of having to patiently and carefully choose each piece, looking for every single part of your coming cooling system and deciding for each one of them that it matches your expectations the best way.
And sometimes the process not only takes extra time, but perhaps means some more expensive parts, but again, this is about higher quality too. So… best tubes, best pump, best reservoir, best cooling liquid aka coolant (being color or clear, you choose that too), best radiator & cooling fans, best CPU waterblock (it takes the place of the old air-cooling heat spreaders), and we acknowledge that it must fit into the CPU socket too (this last criterion applies to AIO coolers as well).
A liquid cooler still needs a radiator with ventilation fans, because the liquid that moves through the tubes with the power of the pump will also have its temperature increased and its heat will have to be forcefully dissipated somehow – and the bigger the radiator and the more powerful its fan system are, the safer the temperature of the liquid will stay, since the “frying” heat from the processor will continuously be transferred to this liquid via the CPU waterblock and we need safety.
Then, after you successfully bought & brought home all the needed components, into their separate boxes, you will definately have to manually mount / assemble everything! We are no longer dealing with an AIO solution here. The PC user has to put their own hands and mind&soul; at work before having all the desired stuff successfully installed.
You will have to appropriately connect all parts to each other, taking into account the instructions for having the best results – tubes must fit barbs and rings, fans must fit the radiator well as well (!), the pump + the reservoir + the CPU waterblock will each have two ports that must be adequately used as inlet/outlet ports. Also, you should see if the radiator can be mounted by screws somewhere inside your case (size matters too). My radiators are large enough to not fit into the case and I keep them aside, putting several objects such as books under the radiator and thus leaving the PC case open (as a consequence, the air inside the case cannot heaten so much since the case is not closed).
Of course you must also be careful when putting the liquid substances into the circuit, and to strengthen the tubes with corresponding rings/barbs everywhere so that the liquid won’t escape and damage the motherboard or another electronic parts of the PC. It is true that some people fear the fact of using custom liquid cooling, and that happens exactly because there is a risk of damaging the computer if that liquid is not well enough closed / secured inside the circuit.
And speaking of the liquid that is used – there are two possibilities: either it is already pre-mixed by the producer or you will have to prepare it yourself by buying some distilled water, in case you just bought some concentrated coolant, and mix it with this coolant by carefully keeping the recommended dosage proportions (like 900 ml of water for 100 ml of coolant, depending also on the capacity of the circuit – you may need just 500 ml of liquid inside, meaning 450+50).
Fast forward, all this hand work (and hard work) is worth the effort if your custom liquid CPU cooler works well at the end and if you are able to use your processor in durable and intensive workloads with overclocking while keeping the temperatures below any alarming levels such as 90 Celsius degrees.
EK Water Blocks (EKWB) is good at providing separate pieces for such custom cooling solutions, besides having various closed-loop configurations too. EKWB is located in Slovenia (European Union) and they provide cooling solutions also for video cards. I am used to use their components for CPU due to the excellent quality that can be reached, and also because geographically they are somewhat close to my country.
Corsair Hydro X Series also empowers users with necessary parts for custom water cooling kits. So if we are interested in this subject and willing to gather information about custom liquid cooling our PCs, then we will find suitable brands, that is for sure.
We may liquid-cool the entire PC case!
Earlier I was saying that nowadays PC water cooling systems are developed enough to cover all the area of a PC case. So we are able to ensure an efficient heat dissipation and keep safe almost any device in a PC: HDDs and SSDs that can be contained in racks, RAM modules, CPUs and GPUs, and the area around the motherboard aka the inside of the case, which normally gets ventilated by large case fans that are mounted in various positions.
Users who have enough money and interest for extending the water cooling and for providing enhanced protection to their computer can reach this very high level of liquid cooling , implementing a huge system of tubes in their PC cases. By example, the above-mentioned EK Water Blocks company provides waterblocks for liquid cooling RAM modules too – the EK Monarch RAM waterblocks. Thermaltake and CoolerMaster also provide tools for water cooling a PC (and not just a specific part like the CPU).
Naturally, PC users wanting to do something like that have to have some passion and inclinations for PC modding. And however, that is NOT the case of my cases (my home watercooling applies only to CPUs). Like an example, gamers who want to overclock their GPUs or memory enthusiasts that want to break RAM frequency records may really want to benefit from the extra protection that extended water cooling solutions bring with. People who are concerned about how much their storage drives get hot can check the Internet out for water cooling systems designed for PCI-E M.2 and HDD/SSD drives – e.g. Alphacool provides pieces of this kind. Such an empowering cooling technology nowadays!
I did not see or look for PC water cooling systems that would directly cool the motherboard itself (like mounting a biiiiig waterblock on its back) or the PSU, that has already a large fan inside. As technology makes progress, maybe the next years we will see that too :). However, a motherboard would naturally get warm due to the components mounted on it, and then benefit from the advanced cooling solutions that are taming those very components in the real time.
PC water cooling systems allow us to take more power and results from our PCs without having too much to fear about overheating and damages. As we see, there are many elements of a PC that water cooling systems are able to cover and protect from overheating-related damages and destruction. In order to achieve good cooling results, we have to stay connected to the technology news and to afford the desired solutions, while also having the required dexterity for installing the cooling stuff, especially if it is a custom one. If technology develops further, then we must also develop our knowledge!
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