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.

The Components, Part 1
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  • madisoncarter127 - Monday, September 30, 2013 - link

  • madisoncarter127 - Monday, September 30, 2013 - link

    My last pay check was $11000working 10 hours a week online. My brothers friend has been averaging 17k for months now and she works about 18 hours a week. I can't believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
  • dgingeri - Monday, September 30, 2013 - link

    You've sold me on the case, and convinced me to not try water cooling for a while longer, and possibly never. It looks like a lot of hard work for little to no reward. I'll stick to my H100. The case looks great, though.
  • Shinobi_III - Monday, September 30, 2013 - link

    If you put the pump in a reservoir, you will no longer have a "noisy" pump.
    Noisy being a rather absurd wording, considering how incredibly little noise a EHEIM 600l/h pump produces.

    That pump you used in the article is ridiculous, what is that, a pump for ants?
    And compression fittings are complete suicide, they fail sooner or later.
    Perfectly regular ridged slide-over fittings, and a zip tie if you're nervous, will never fail.

    And the coolant is ridiculous too, get "long life" automotive coolant, mix it 1:10 and you will never need to worry again. Those bottles are just rebranded, ready-mixed glycol with a giant price tag.
  • HisDivineOrder - Monday, September 30, 2013 - link

    Watercooling GPU's makes sense, but how long before CLC is common on those? It can't be long since everyone's used to CLC's on CPU's where you don't even need water cooling at all. I imagine it won't be long before GPU's too don't need watercooling anymore since they'll be integrated into the CPU.

    Given that Intel will make its own version of Mantle in short order that they'll pay entire publishers to use, I'm pretty sure we can kiss any advantage discrete cards have goodbye. I'm sure Intel will send AMD a fruit basket for both the idea and making everyone okay with it.
  • ImSpartacus - Monday, September 30, 2013 - link

    Hot damn, this is comprehensive as fuck.

    Good article!
  • livingplasma - Monday, September 30, 2013 - link

    Thanks for the great article, it's good to see a major tech site like Anandtech cover the often misunderstood art of water cooling. Just skimmed through the comments and a lot of my fellow water cooling guys/gals made some very important points. From my experience it is most important for radiator fan orientation to act as INTAKES. Flipping those top fans to intake can decrease your load temps ~8 degrees celcius from my experience as the way it's currently set up the top 2x120 radiator is using the air from the 3x120 radiator (which is already saturated with heat). Properly decoupled pumps will minimize noise/vibration transmission to the case and with the MCP35X's PMW control it can run very quietly when slowed down 50% which is more than enough flow for most setups. Radiators themselves are low flow resistance, full cover gpu blocks are probably next and CPU blocks tend to have the most but even maxing out a pump only decreases temperatures CPU by a degree or two (plus now the pump is dumping in more heat as well). Removing the stock GPU cooling setups is probably the biggest contributions to water cooling being more quiet than a regular air setup and even with a modest setup the temperature differences are huge as shown with the author's setup.
  • 1Angelreloaded - Monday, September 30, 2013 - link

    Dustin, Do you know the difference between a Serial and Parallel loop? or how the High flow and Low Flow pressures effect heat dissipation on certain blocks? I understand this may be your first time setting this up; however, in the computer field research is everything, you already know this just like modifying a car without research you end up with an underperforming and underwhelming creation. This is not how a liquid cooled setup should be set up at all, and BTW your Proc temps are higher because the Air source feeding it is already heated from your GPU Rad outlet, try reversing the flow on intake to exit Flow and your CPU temps will be better, CPUs on average run at lower temps on full loads compared to GPUs that can average 70-80 C especially while gaming.
  • hot120 - Tuesday, October 1, 2013 - link

    Man, there are quite a few fake 'experts' critiquing this fine article. It seems everyone wants the article done their way. Delid this CPU, change that fan, move this radiator, use that Kill Coil. Enough is enough. It is a basic article on watercolling, and is not meant to cover EVERY SINGLE POSSIBLE configuration. Only the most extreme of the extreme computer users will consider delidding their CPU's. Only the most insane of the extreme computer users will spend $800 on a custom loop to shave 5-10 degrees off their CPU/GPU temps. I'll take my $100 and by a CLC and live happily ever after with my CPU that is +10 degrees (over custom) and my air-cooled GPU. Some of you are tripping!
  • pandemonium - Tuesday, October 1, 2013 - link

    Thanks for the introduction article to watercooling. To me - verified according to the results - this says it's still not worth it for a general user and gamer. The cost of increased power, thermals, and noise do not appear to outweigh the performance increase. I know other setups produce better results, but this is a good sample for not bothering with it.

    Watercooling is still for benchmarking...and that's about it.

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