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Water Cooling Basics

Water Cooling Basics

by Cile Gray

You are encouraged to make links to this article from your website and tell your friends

The following article is based on years of experience. It is provided as a free service to our customers and visitors. However, Directron.com is not responsible for any damage as a result of following any of this advice.

Copying the contents for commercial purposes is strictly prohibited without Directron.com's written consent. However, you are welcome to distribute these computer support tips free to your friends and associates as long as it's not for commercial purposes and you acknowledge the source. You are permitted and encouraged to create links to this page from your own web site.

An Outline of Watercooling

Is watercooling dangerous? Well let me put it this way: it's just as dangerous as a chainsaw, a hammer, or a toaster. If used and assembled with proper precautions, a water cooling system will prove to be the most efficient cooling system performance-wise, in addition to allowing overclocking, and it just looks amazing.

Although the instructions provided in this guide have been tested again and again, Directron.com is not to be held responsible for any harm done to you're computer in the event of the system failing.

The basics

A water cooling loop consists of three key components, as well as many little gadgets that may be added along the way. The loop must be assembled in a specific order for it to provide optimal cooling. The water starts its flow from the pump, which pushes the water up into the radiator, cooling down the water. It then travels into the waterblock, which makes contact with the processor. The cold water picks up heat from the processor before it makes its way back into the pump, to start the process over.

The Battery Effect

The battery effect is what happens when two different metals, in this case Copper and Aluminium are present in the same body of water. If your water cooling loop contains a piece made from both these metals, oxidation (rust) will occur much faster, and the performance of the loop will quickly deteriorate. This reaction has been known to ruin many water cooling systems, but it can be prevented a few simple ways. First, whenever possible, do not mix these two metals. Use a copper waterblock with a copper radiator, or the opposite. If you cannot use two similar components, then using an anti-oxidant is a must. I would personally recommend Water Wetter, because it also prevents fungal growth while improving the cooling capacity of the water. Water Wetter is available for sale from Directron.com, and a 4oz bottle should be more than enough to cover any water cooling need.

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Chillers, or chiller blocks, are often used by people who have a lot of spare room, either in a server-style case, or in a homemade case. A Chiller requires 2 waterloops, or a loop going through 2 radiators. Basically, a few (usually 3) TECs are sandwiched between two waterblocks. The water flowing through the hot side is then cooled in a Radiator, before returning to the chiller. The water flowing through the cold side is run through the CPU, then through a Radiator (optional) and a pump, before being cooled again by the chillers. Chillers are bulky, expensive, and require a lot of time to warm up and work efficiently, making them rather poor performers.

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Condensation can occur when a water cooling loop is coupled to a Chiller block or a TEC, and temperatures around the waterblock drop below ambient. This will cause the water in the air to condense, and just like morning dew, form small water droplets on the waterblock, turning into a possible short-circuit threat for any hardware below the block. If a TEC or Chiller is used, further precautions have to be taken to prevent condensation.

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The coolant recipe is very important, because it has the effect to either maintain a good performance over time, or completely destroy your system. If for example you would be using plain tap water in a water cooling loop, the entire cooling surface of both waterblock and radiator will be covered in oxidation within a week, greatly hindering performance. Tap water will also cause mineral deposits inside the pump overtime, as well as letting fungus and algae grow inside the components. For optimal results, distilled water should be used, which means that it consists purely of H2O. You should then add a minimal quantity of coolant additive, such as RedLine Water Wetter which is sold right here, on directron.com. 2 ounces in a water cooling loop should keep the system free of any unwanted formations for at least 6 months, after which every component should be cleaned with alcohol, and refilled with a new batch of water/additive.

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Corrosion and Algae tend to form when the coolant mixture not appropriate. If corrosion or algae appear in your loop, both noticeable by heavy temperature increases, you should thoroughly clean every component with alcohol and then remix another batch of coolant and start over.

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Aren't you watercooling to get away of fans? I am sorry to say that they are also a necessary part of watercooling, but in this case a single fan is required. Generally a 120mm, the fan used in a watercooling loop sits atop the radiator, helping it remove the heat from the water, and exhausting it out of the case. As a rule of thumb, 60-100CFM (Cubic Feet per Minute) of air should be enough to keep any radiator cold, depending on the heat-load. It is also good to note the actual maximum static pressure at which a fan will draw air, because it is harder to force air between the small fins located on a radiator, as compared to the larger fins on a heatsink.

Flow Meters

Flow meters are small devices, usually positioned inside a window, which gives vital information about the water cooling system. When water is passed through the tubing, it creates a certain pressure. When that particular pressure is exerted on the wheel or fan located inside the flow meter, it will cause the device to spin, thus revealing to the owner that the system is operating properly. Slow spinning or stopping of the flow meter will indicate that either the pump has failed, or a leak has presented itself in one of the fittings.

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The Flow Meter


Pumps have the same use here as they have in aquariums, pools, etc. Since stagnant water will accumulate heat until the processor is toast, a water cooling loop requires a pump. The actual water-flow is not very important here, as explained in the. how to choose a pump for your water cooling loop article, which should be published fairly soon if it is not already done. What you want to look for is a pump that will actually be able to stand enough static pressure to push the water up through the tubes to the highest part of the case. You will also want to take note of the required voltage, either 120/240V or 12. Since computer components use 12V, supplied by your Power Supply Unit, a 12V pump can be directly connected to a PSU, while a 120/240V pump will require an additional cable coming out the back of the case. There are two distinct kinds of pumps:

Inline Pumps: These are pumps that have an inlet and an outlet, and using this particular kind of pump will not require you to have a water reservoir. These pumps will usually yield some very slightly better temperatures, but are harder to connect and bleed. Bleeding refers to the process of removing air bubbles inside the components/tubing.

Submersible Pumps: These are the kind of pumps, which you can find in your aquarium. They must be submerged completely in water to work, therefore requiring the addition of a reservoir to the case. Usually submersible pumps are sold in conjunction with a reservoir, and can also be called reset-pumps. These pumps are much easier to fill and bleed than inline pumps.

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The radiator's function is simply to cool down the water which was heated up while going through the waterblock. The higher a radiator is rated in BTU (British Thermal Unit), the more heat it is capable of dissipating. For example a radiator rated for 3000 BTU could cool down about 810 watts of heat per hour, the equal of about 10 computers production. Some radiators are produced in professional machine shops explicitly for computer cooling such as HWLabs.com's Black Ice radiators. If you are on a tight budget, a good source for a cheap radiator is the heater core off of an old scrapped car, which can be bought for under 20$.

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Temperature Sensors

Temperature Sensors used in water cooling are just like the one under your processor, or the ones that come with a Digital Doc. The only difference is that it has to be electrically insulated, and must not affect water flow, not cause any leaks. In order for both these conditions to apply, the optimum construction of a submersible temperature sensor is illustrated below.

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Temperature sensor

The temperature sensor is built inside a Y-splitter. Note that only the tip of the sensor touches the water, while the rest of it being sealed with urethane glue, Goop, or Silicone.


Tubing is something that is often overlooked. A good choice of tubing will prevent a lot of problems with the installation. If for example there are a lot of tight corners inside your case, you might want to add a few 90* elbows, because thinner tubing will tend to kink and restrain flow when bent too much. On the other hand, thicker tubing will be harder to bend, and will often spring back into its original shape, causing un-needed pressure onto the water block. Also be sure to use tubing, which matches the outlets on your components. Most waterblocks, radiators and pumps use 3 / 8 or 1 / 2 inch ID (inside-diameter) barbs, but some manufacturers might use other sizes.

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Unquestionably the most important part of any system is the waterblock. Since this is the only part of the whole system, which is actually touching the processor, it must conduct heat as well as possible. There are two things to look at when trying to estimate the performance of a waterblock. First is the surface area for the water to actually grab some heat before it is expelled back into the pump. The other thing to look at is the actual material it is made out of. Some waterblock manufacturers have even been making waterblocks out of silver to improve heat-transfer, since silver is one of the best heat conductor known, second only to diamond and a few composites.

Since water cooling implies some showing off, some manufacturers are making clear, lexan-top waterblocks, such as the one pictured on the right. These waterblocks can perform just as well as the other blocks, in addition to improving the looks of the system. Some additives are also available which will make water phosphorescent under a source of ultra-violet light.

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Well, that is it for the first installment in this series of water cooling articles I will be writing for Directron.com. I will shortly release other articles that take an in-depth look at every one of the components, and all the careful planning that has to be taken to successfully water cool. If I have not yet answered one of your questions, you are welcome to ask me by email at cilegray@mod-this.net .

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(c) Directron.com, All rights Reserved.

If you find this article useful, please create a link to it from your website or tell a friend about it. If you have any comments or suggestions about this article, please email information@directron.us

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