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A Beginner's Guide For WaterCooling Your PC

A Beginner's Guide For WaterCooling Your PC

The term "liquid cooled" sounds automotive oriented, doesn't it? Indeed, liquid cooling has been an integral part of the common gasoline engine for the better part of 100 years. Which begs to ask, why is it the preferred method of cooling expensive automobile engines? What's so great about liquid cooling, anyway?

To find out, we must compare air-cooling to liquid cooling. When comparing the effectiveness of cooling methods, there are two properties that matter the most: thermal conductivity and specific heat capacity.

Thermal conductivity is a physical property that describes how well a substance transfers heat. The thermal conductivity of liquid water is about 25 times that of air. Obviously, this gives liquid cooling a huge advantage over air-cooling because liquid cooling allows for a much faster transfer of heat.

Specific heat capacity is the other important physical property, which refers to the amount of energy it takes to heat a substance by one degree. The specific heat capacity of liquid water is about four times that of air, which means it takes four times the amount of energy to heat water than it does to heat air. Once again, water's ability to soak up much more heat energy without increasing its own temperature is a great advantage over air-cooling.

There you have it, the undeniable fact that liquid cooling is more efficient than air-cooling. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's the better choice for PC components, does it?

PC Liquid Cooling

Despite water's incredibly superior heat transferring characteristics, there are some really convincing reasons not to put water in a PC. Foremost of these reasons is liquid coolant's electrical conductivity.

If you were to accidentally spill a cup of water on a gasoline engine while refilling your car's radiator, it's really not a big deal; the water won't harm the engine. On the other hand, if you were to spill a cup of water on your PC's motherboard, that would be a very bad thing. So there is definitely a risk factor associated with water-cooling in the PC world.

Another factor to consider is the maintenance factor. Air-cooling systems are simpler and cheaper to produce and repair compared to their liquid counterparts, and heat sinks require no maintenance aside from getting the dust off of them. On the other hand, liquid cooling systems are definitely more difficult to work with. They definitely require more planning and often require some, albeit minor, maintenance.

Thirdly, PC water-cooling components are much more expensive than their air-cooling counterparts. While a collection of premium air-cooling heat sinks and fans for the CPU, GPU and the motherboard chipset would likely cost under $150, a liquid cooling system for the same components can easily cost upwards of $500.

With all these negatives, it seems like liquid cooling would be a hard sell. But the truth is that the thermal benefits of liquid cooling are so attractive that it's easy to justify dealing with the negatives.

Today's ready-to-install liquid cooling systems are not the mishmash of spare parts the enthusiast had to deal with yesteryear; they are tried and tested platforms. Also, liquid cooling isn't nearly as dangerous as it sounds: sure, there will always be an increased risk when using liquids in your PC-but if you are careful with the materials, that risk is greatly diminished. As far as maintenance, today's coolants need to be replaced quite rarely, maybe once a year. As for price, any equipment that delivers top-tier performance can be justified if it's important to you, be it a Ferrari for your garage or a liquid cooling system for your PC.

So let us continue with the assumption that liquid-cooling appeals to you, or at the very least you'd like to know how it works, what's involved and what the benefits are.

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  • 5 Hide
    tailgunner07 , July 5, 2008 8:40 AM
    I have to disagree with the above comment, as a novice to water-cooling I found the article useful and informative. While I would not choose the Koolance kit, due to cost, I now have a better idea of how to proceed.
    I would however recommend using a kit as a starting point and modify it as needed rather than ordering a collection of parts and finding that they do not meet your requirements.
  • 3 Hide
    JDMH22 , July 6, 2008 1:58 AM
    I agree tailgunner07. I'd use a kit and then start adding more cooling blocks and accessories to meet my needs. I did learn more about water cooling in this article.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , August 27, 2008 11:44 AM
    to ComputerCustomizer look before speaking this article was written over a year a go when people were shit scarred of water cooling setups.
    There weren't too trusty names in the market either. They used the koolance system as it was the easiest for n00bs at the time.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , October 3, 2008 10:23 AM
    Koolance also the best water cooling system that are around, there's nothing wrong with this usefull review, don't use water cooling if don't have more buck for it.
  • 3 Hide
    Invid , October 10, 2008 6:13 PM
    I agree with Tailgunner, if one is a novice and feels they do not want to delve too deeply into the realm of water cooling then something like this is perfect and the article is helpful in that sense.

    For custom cooling and purchasing of individual items then this article will not help you but then again this isn't about picking and choosing individual components for custom cooling options.

    - Invid
  • 2 Hide
    Bot Series , October 11, 2008 10:53 AM
    What ever happened to the Cray idea of just dropping your PC into a fish tank full of Mazola?
  • 0 Hide
    jeweel , May 25, 2009 11:17 PM
    so what is the best water cooling system for money now?
  • 0 Hide
    coolronz , August 1, 2009 3:38 PM
    well looks like everyone agrees with tailgunner.. lol i was kind of concerned more about fittings and sizes.. i just got a HAF 932. theres enough room for an internal tri rad 120mmx3 on the top of the case, and a single 120mm rad on the back. i do like how they showed to T off after the CPU. i bought a TT pump, res and front temp gauge off eBay and am in the works of buying the rest of the parts. one thing that confused me is what the heck is a G1/4 fitting? now i get it, its just a common pipe thread size. and then you go to a 3/8" or 1/2" ID hose. would have been nice to get a little into that a little... but then again its a beginners article.. great job!!!
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , December 13, 2010 10:22 AM
    This is very useful. I believe all who indead would love to ave better and faster cooling will go for a kit like this, despite the cost.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , April 14, 2011 7:16 AM
    I think its a great article. There is a lot to be learned here and the graphs are great too.
  • 0 Hide
    jewie27 , July 14, 2012 5:25 PM
    Corsair H100 FTW!
  • 0 Hide
    guardianangel42 , August 11, 2012 8:20 AM
    I love the progression of time from the date the article was written, to the first comment over a year later, and then the progressively newer posts until we get to jewie's post above.

    Guess Google is good for laughs as well as info!
  • 0 Hide
    4Ryan6 , February 13, 2013 9:20 AM
    I know this is an old article but I just want to address the misinformation as to the air flow direction of the picture of a diagramed stock motherboard air cooler, the air flow goes in the downward flow on the heat sink referenced in the design because the air coolers exhaust forced down on the motherboard is also cooling the motherboards voltage regulators.

    A little very left out fact of todays water cooling is providing airflow over the motherboards voltage regulators, when you remove the stock air cooler and replace it with a CPU water Block.
  • 0 Hide
    MJM87 , July 19, 2013 4:11 PM
    This is a beginner guide for setting up water systems, I readed this article to know how I short-jumper the power so I could get the current out of my power supply, without turning the power on (or without having power connected to motherboard).

    Anyhow, "this is achieved by shorting out pins on the ATX power supply to fool it into providing power to the liquid cooling pump without powering the motherboard."
    And then there is not given the pins which need to short out! Should I try every possible pins to be shorting out? ..maybe not, but this article pisses me off..
  • 0 Hide
    ruzbehdana , August 7, 2013 1:44 PM
    Any detailed information on DIY water block for 5970?