Water Cooling Part 1- What is it and FAQ

Water cooling can be a scary thing to people that have not tried it yet and full custom loops can have their problems, but hopefully this editorial can simplify it a bit and help.

Quick FAQ:

 

What is water cooling?

Starting off easy, water cooling is using water or another form of liquid to cool computer hardware.  A few years ago there were dozens of companies offering hundreds of different types of cooling parts, but lately the selection has dwindled down and it has simplified things a lot.

 

Are devices like the Corsair H-series considered water cooling?

The short answer is yes they are. The long answer is that units like the various Corsair Hydro models, Intel’s new cooler, the Antec ones, and so on are known as closed loop systems. They are designed to run with as little user maintenance as possible and are not designed to be upgraded.

 

Are closed loop coolers good?

If you want water cooling without the hassle they can be, but even the cheapest custom loop will easily beat the performance of a closed loop cooler. There are several reasons for this that will be explained further down, but the simple explanation is that the closed loop systems use weaker parts and are supposed to be just good enough for cooling. A high-end (and cheaper) air cooler like the Nocuta NH-D14 will beat any closed loop system including the H100.

 

What components do you need for water cooling?

It depends on how much you want to cool, but for the purposes of this article I am just going to stick to a CPU cooled loop. For that set up you will of course need a CPU water block, you will also need a radiator, fans for the radiator, a pump, and tubing. Reservoirs are optional, but highly recommended. I will get into each part individually in a moment.

 

Does the liquid matter?

Yes and no. Plain distilled water with an anti-algae and anti-corrosive additive is the best coolant out there. Closed loop systems use some kind of oil-based liquid that allows them to keep running without the need of flushing the loop, but it does not cool as well as water.

 

Flushing?

Yes flushing. The loop needs to be drained and cleaned every now and then. How often depends on the loop itself. A general rule of thumb is every one to two months, just make sure to keep an eye on the water and hoses to make sure nothing is building up in it.

 

Dyes look cool should I use them?

NO! Although dyed water does look pretty sweet running through your loop the dye will without question stain your tubes. If you want to blingify your loop use colored tubing or sleeve the tubes.

 

Does tubing size matter?

It is mostly personal preference. Obviously the size of your tubing will impact how much water can travel through it, but really just pick whatever size you want.

 

So what about brands and types?

Brand wise is also personal preference. I like Tygon myself, though it does tend to get pricey. Be careful when buying tubing though and remember the old saying “you get what you pay for”. Cheap tubing will kink easily when you are trying to curve it to your parts. Kinks will kill water flow and can ruin the tubing so at least make sure it’s good stuff. A lot of the stuff made specifically for water cooling is anti-microbial to help prevent buildup in the loop and that is something good to look at as well. Another thing to look at is size. Like I mentioned above size is a personal thing, but make sure your tubing and fittings are similar in size. Tubing has two measurements ID or inner diameter which is how big the hole is and is the number to look at with barb fittings and OD or outer diameter which is important for clamps and compression fittings.

 

Do fittings matter?

Another thing down to personal preference. Compression fittings are very nice, but they are also very expensive. Barbs are cheaper and work great, but make sure to use hose clamps with them. Personally I use 1/2″ barbs with 7/16″ tubing, it makes a very snug fit and also a pain in the arse to remove.

 

Are water cooling kits good?

Very good in fact. A couple years ago it was different, but there are a few really good kits now. Kits are great for first time loops. EK,Swiftech, and XSPC all have excellent kits for sale. My current loop was made from a XSPC kit with different tubing and an additional 120mm radiator. Speaking of different tubing if you buy any of the XSPC kits throw away the tubing and buy something better. I don’t know what kind of tubing the EK or Swiftech kits use so I’m not sure if you should use it or toss it.

 

What about leaks?

I’m going to be stressing this in part 2 and in my building instructions. Never, never, never assemble a loop without leak testing it for 24 hours. There are a few schools of thought on leak testing, but I feel that it is safer to leak test outside of the case away from any parts. There is no such thing as a non-conductive liquid and without leak testing you are putting every part in your system at risk. The good news is that if it doesn’t leak within 24 hours you’re good to go with no worries.

 

I had a leak during testing, now what?

Try to find the cause of the leak. In most cases leaks are due to a tube end or fitting not being fully installed or sealed right. If one of your parts leaks, get it replaced right away.

 

Can I plug in the pump without water to test it?

Not unless you want to kill your pump. Pumps are designed to run with water in them and they will burn out without it. Under no circumstances should you run it without water.

 

That is all for part 1. Part 2 will talk about the various pieces of the loop and some quick and dirty building tips. I will also talk more in detail about leak testing.

 

PS: If I’m way off base on something or if you feel I missed something vital please let me know and I’ll edit this as need be.