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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  • egotrippin - Monday, October 14, 2013 - link

    I'm about to nerd out so forgive me...

    Some of the conclusions from this article aren't representative of what you can truly do with water cooling but rather the limitations of the equipment you selected.

    For starters, the addition of a pump doesn't automatically mean more noise. The pump you selected can sound like an angry wind up toy and it generates a lot of heat and vibration. A Laing D5 Vario/MCP 655 pump is whisper quiet, especially with a Koolance PMP450 top on it. It can be running at full speed pushing 4.6 liters per minute through the system and so long as it's decoupled properly from any hard surface in the computer case then you wouldn't be able to hear it if it was 6 inches from your ear.

    I run a 3930k overclocked typically to 4.4 GHz although I've done higher and if I'm running prime 95 or Intel burn-test my temps are about 66C TOTAL and not 66 DELTA?! If your room is a comfortable 24 C does that mean your CPU temps are 84C on water? Something isn't right. I don't know that chip but maybe it needs to be Delidded and Lapped. I had that same Apogee HD block before on a 3930k which is a much hotter chip and my temps never reached that high.

    The fans you are using have a familiar style... because they look just like the Scythe Gentle Typhoons which have the best noise/static pressure of any radiator fan I've seen tested. If you used Gentle Typhoons, temps would be lower and the whole thing would be quiet.

    The coolant you used is probably less efficient than distilled water. The only coolant I've used that delivers lower temperatures is Ice Dragon which is heavy and expensive and cuts your flow rate in half. Distilled water works great and it's $1

    I can't tell for sure but it looks like small diameter tubing was used. Using 1/2" inner diameter tubing delivers higher flow which means lower temperatures.

    Those radiators are anorexic. I don't think they come much thinner than that. Use something with a bit of heft. My rad is 80mm thick which is twice the thickness of those Swiffys. This allows for substantially more cooling and also higher flow rate which, again, increases cooling and lowers noise.

    My 3930k + my GTX 690 dual GPU card can both be overclocked and Folding or benching with all cores/gpus at 100% and it can be silent enough that if it weren't for the power light, you wouldn't know it was on. I briefly used air on my GTX 690 and it sounded like a hair dryer and filled the room with the scent of charred air much like the smell of turning your heater on for the first time in winter.

    If anybody reads this, you can expect better results if you buy better components. I started off with Swiftech because they were cheap and also they were carried at my local MicroCenter. I quickly graduated to better parts. The Apogee HD is an excellent water block and the Swiftech MCP35X2 and MCP655 pumps are both excellent pumps (but neither were used here).
  • prismatics - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    Why did you only post OC Liquid benchmarks? I'm interested in Non-OC liquid numbers. I have no interest in overclocking, I just want the quietest, most efficient system.
  • mc2k4 - Tuesday, December 31, 2013 - link

    Terrible article, would put off anyone from watercooling. Those results are horrendous.
  • woogitboogity - Wednesday, January 22, 2014 - link

    I did a custom build CPU/Northbridge/GPU with the cooling loop going outside the case to the reservoir about 5 years ago...

    I will admit that when the thing ACTUALLY worked for a while it was insane... granted it was 5 years ago but even then seeing lukewarm temperatures on essentially every component at full load was pretty impressive.

    BUT... I feel that one thing missing from this article is a reality check: I work in experimental physics and I have had to work water cooling and even liquid helium cooling for magnets. 5 years ago the vendors of water cooling hardware implied a LOT more than they could back up in practice... since then their claims have only gotten more extravagant. At least in the days when people did water cooling from scratch they did not have marketeers offering false assurances in the form of warranties that clearly do not cover damage due to other hardware.

    BOTTOM LINE: I think the subtext of this entire article that needs to be clear is that custom water cooling should be treated as a VERY expensive hobby. Expect to lose every component... period. If that is not an acceptable outcome don't do it. I say this because I deal with experimental cooling all the time and I got burned by the sub-par cooling hardware offered not too long ago (same hoses and cooling block designs... still using water).
  • Drittz121 - Friday, February 28, 2014 - link

    Just do yourself a favor. STAY AWAY from this company. Yes they look good. But when it breaks and it WILL. All they do is give you the run around. They have had my system for over 2 months trying to fix the garbage they sell. Worse company out there for support. DONT BUY
  • alpha3031 - Sunday, June 22, 2014 - link

    What about these new Devils Canyon chips?

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