Liquid Cooling My PC

In the search for peace and quiet I decided to experiment with liquid cooling my PC.

I started with a PC mounted in a Lian-Li case, cooled by 4 80mm fans. It was loud and annoying. Using "Pyramid" thermal controllers didn't seem to help that much. I lined it with sound deadening matting from RS. That helped a bit, but the fan noise was still annoying.

So I decided to try water cooling. After many projects I have realised that I am abnormally subject to Murphy's law, or maybe just a plain screwup, so the thought of using, like, actual water, was rather scary. I didn't like all this business about needed an algae supressant either. After all, who want's to think of their high performance, state of the art PC as an incubator for a primitive lifeform ?

InertX sounded suitably high-tech, so I got a bottle of that, and a Waterchill kit. Due to the depth of the cupboard I keep my PC in, I had little choice over the PC case. I found someone had already trodden the path of modding the Antec P160 for a dual radiator, and decided to follow suit. And since I was doing all this, and I had a copy of Doom III, I figured it was OK to treat myself to a GeForce upgrade at the same time.

metal workIt was a little bit of a squeeze, but by hacking out the vent metalwork, and sacrificing the 3.5" floppy bays (and, it turns out, the bottom 5.25" drive bay), it was possible to fit the dual radiator into the front of the case, with the twin 120mm fans behind it.

water003t.jpgThe case already had a 120mm exhaust fan, and I also bought a Silverstone power supply with a 120mm fan. And to prove that I am completely paranoid, I got a liquid flow sensor that can attach to the motherboard CPU fan header and "fake" a fan speed.

A bit of plumbing, lots of zip ties and ... leaks. (Proves I was right about the water). The waterchill kit uses releaseable push-fit connections, which are excellent, but intolerant of any off-axis strain. So you have to route them very carefully to ensure they enter the fitting perpendicularly.

water005t.jpgThe next problem is running the system, manipulating the "water" blocks to allow the bubbles to escape to the reservoir, whilst not creating any of these off-axis leaks. That done, I thought I was rolling. Everything was secured in it's final position and ... bugger me the pump makes a lot of noise. More vibration transmitted to the case than any fan. So, lots of matting and some sorbothane feet under the pump, a cradle of zip ties to avoid the pump shifting about, and it's getting a bit quieter.

water004t.jpgBut that sensor rattles. More foam, slackened off the zipties a bit - now it's just a mildly annoying ticking noise. It disappears when the PC is rolled back into the cupboard.

water006t.jpg"We're there now ?", you're thinking. Nope. A bit of extended Doom III and the graphics card crashed. "What? It's got water cooling, for God's sake!". The problem is that the memory chips now have minimal airflow, since I've removed the scary dual-fan GPU heatsink to allow the water block to be fitted. Out with the jigsaw and whip out another 120mm blowhole in the side of the case. Thank the Lord for aluminium cases, I hate cutting steel. Since I've got a spare pyramid, I bunged that in circuit to reduce the noise when not gaming. So now I'm up to 5 120mm fans in my attempt at a quiet PC. Mad.

water007t.jpgNearly done. The final problem ? That InertX coolant, that claims to have been compatibility tested with most water cooling kits ? What they don't tell you until it arrives is that a powerful pump (like the Hydor 1200, for example) will cavitate the fluid on start up, so that no flow and a scary rattling noise will result. On a bad day it can take 5 attempts to get the pump to start properly. I don't think this is helping my hard disks. Oh, and that Silverstone power supply has the annoying problem that the fan blades seem to hit the guard if there are footsteps nearby.

water008t.jpgIt's difficult, however, to conclude that liquid cooling didn't help in the quest for quiet. The graphics card cooler was a complete beast. Although it was variable speed, based on load, the dynamic nature of it's whooshes and swirls was incredibly annoying. The CPU could have been quiet happily cooled using air, especially since I'm not overclocking. And the basic case had 2 120mm fans for a decent throughflow with minimal noise. So really, I've got to start overclocking like mad to really justify it to myself. Or play a lot more Halflife II.

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This page contains a single entry by David published on March 24, 2005 9:05 PM.

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