When building a computer, the subject of cooling often just gets glossed over – “buy an after market fan.” It’s a pretty simple solution, and is quite effective. The other option is Liquid cooling – and for a long time this has been a somewhat complex and involved solution. There are now liquid options that are just as easy as Air, and diving into the custom liquid solutions is actually not that difficult. First, the differences between air cooling and liquid cooling:
An air cooler is basically a metal block with finned radiator design on top – usually with fan mounted to it. The heat dissipates up the fins and is then distributed to air via the fan (and/or other moving air components). You will notice RAM often has a metal “heatsink” on it as do certain chips on the motherboard – these usually don’t have fans because the amount of heat being distributed is typically not too great that the moving air in the case can’t take care of it. A typical liquid cooler is a metal block with hollow section that has tubes attached to it. The heat dissipates into the metal block and is then transferred to the liquid which is flowing in a specific direction through the metal block. The basic reason for going liquid over air is that liquid transfers heat much more efficiently than air, allowing for much higher levels of cooling.
The easiest way to do liquid cooling is to purchase an all-in-one unit, typically made for the CPU – such as the Corsair H100. These units are installed very much like air cooled units, but they come with tubes attached to an external fan (typically attached internally to an external port). These are basically the cooling block, pump, and radiator all in one. They are designed to not need a reservoir.
Those CPU units are excellent if you are looking to do some decent overclocking with your CPU (though there are air units which handle this just fine as well). They are also well suited for processors like the Sandy Bridge E, which naturally runs hotter than regular Sandy Bridge – as a note, you can just look at the wattage of a CPU to determine roughly the level of heat it produces. Sandy Bridge E is a 130W CPU vs the Sandy Bridge i5-2500k which is a 70 Watt CPU.
Aside from those premade CPU units, if you want to also use liquid cooling for your graphics card, RAM, motherboard, and even hard drive, then you want to look towards building a custom liquid cooling solution. Here I want to touch on the basics of this. Once understanding the basics, it is not that difficult to dive in – so to speak.
The Liquid cooling systems is typically comprised of four core components.
- The water/heat block to transfer heat from the component
- The pump to move the liquid through the system
- The reservoir to hold the liquid used by the system
- The radiator to exchange heat from the liquid system to air
Once understanding this, the critical detail to figure out is how much you are going to cool with liquid. As previously stated, you could easily acquire a stand alone CPU liquid cooler and be done with it – you could also put together a custom liquid cooler for the CPU which would no doubt be able to provide higher levels of performance. The real reason to put together a custom liquid setup is to cool multiple components.
Let’s say we want to do this for the Ultra Dream machine build. To start, we would want liquid cooling for at least the CPU and the two graphics cards. The way you handle multiple components in a liquid cooled system is quite simple – this involves setting up a loop for the liquid to travel. In this case it would be from reservoir to cpu to gpu to gpu to radiator. You might wonder – won’t each successive component receive heated water? This conundrum is handled by acquiring the proper type of pump for the amount of components you are using. A larger pump moves more water faster, increasing the rate of heat exchange, increasing the amount of heat that can be exchanged.
This means that you can create extremely customized system setups. For a fully liquid cooled system – including chipsets – it isn’t uncommon to build multiple loops. The company I prefer for looking into custom built liquid cooling is Koolance – while I have not used them personally (as I have not custom built liquid cooling), they have been around a long time, are well reviewed, and well respected.