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On Thursday, August 21, 2003, at 2:45pm, my wife of 34 years, Rebecca, died in my arms in an emergency room.

The last words we spoke were in perfect synchronization: "I love you with all my heart."

 

Watercooling Your PC

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NOTICE: This page is old - created sometime around early 2003 - and many of the products have been vastly improved.


INTRODUCTION

The idea probably sounds pretty risky: about 32 ounces of water flying around the inside of your computer case at around 320 gallons per hour.

Well, relax.  It's only risky if you spring a leak, and certainly no more risky than if your processor fan stopped spinning one day, turning that heatsink into a miniature George Foreman cooking device. 

On with the story.

I've been using Intel for many years, so I feel I'm just barely beyond the novice stage regarding them.  I can't write about AMD processors, because I have no experience with them, though I'd guess they're pretty much the same. 

Overclocking has been a way of life here since I first heard the word, and thankfully, I haven't wrecked anything yet.  (Of course, there's always tomorrow, but let's hope not.) 

Pentium 4 processors come from Intel with a huge aluminum heatsink, and a questionable sized fan.  Many aftermarket companies supply superior heatsinks and fans, and they probably all do a better job of cooling your CPU.  Cooler CPUs never hurt, and can mean faster performance.

First, the basics - I built the first new system which contains the following: 

Asus P4SDX mainboard, with LAN and sound - (this story really began with an Asus P4S533-X which has since been sold)

Intel Pentium 4 - 2.4Ghz CPU * see UPDATE below

1 gigabyte of Kingston PC2700 (333) memory

ATI Radeon 9000 video card

Adaptec 29160 Ultra 3 SCSI card, 160mb/sec transfer rate

Drive 0: Fujitsu 34G Ultra 320 drive - MAP3367 NP

Drive 1: Maxtor 34G Ultra 160 drive - Atlas 10K 336WLS

(2) Lite-On 52x CD-RW IDE drives

Rather than mounting the hard drives inside the case, I reconditioned a very nice RAID array case.  It has its own built in power supply, two 80mm cooling fans, and room to mount four drives, although I'm just using two. 

The drive case is connected to the SCSI external device connector on the computer via a 1 meter cable, specifically made for Ultra 160 application, with a high density 68 pin connector to match the computer end, and a VHDCI connector, to match the RAID box end. 

By mounting the drives in this way, the interior of the computer case stays cooler, and the drives have their own dedicated power and cooling.  10,000 rpm drives run a little warm.  I also should mention how much room and associated cable clutter this saved inside the case - a lot

As I assembled the new system, I took a look in the BIOS monitor, and noticed that the CPU temperature was around 120 degrees F, and went up to about 124-126 degrees, at idle, the longer it sat there.  That seemed a little warm to me.

Searching the net, I discovered several companies had developed new water cooling products, and this really fascinated me.  I guess modification and toys are a part of building your own computers as a hobby, and anybody could have a plain old heatsink and fan.  So I searched some more, and came up with some interesting new possibilities.

LET'S DO IT THE RIGHT WAY

There's really only one word or website you need to know about watercooling:

DANGERDEN.COM (503-458-6548)

The guys to speak with are Dan or Dennis.  Both of these gentlemen are are six steps beyond state of the art in watercooling technology - and that will become apparent after 30 seconds of conversation.

WATERCOOLING CAN BE EASY

There are four major components required for watercooling:

(1)    water pump

(2)    CPU waterblock

(3)    radiator with fan

(4)    water reservoir

Optionally, if your situation requires it, a chipset waterblock or a video block can also be part of the system.

You will also need the proper hose with compression clamps, quality thermal compound, and an understanding of the cooling path.

THE FLOW PATH

Starting from the pump OUTPUT, water flows to the CPU waterblock INPUT.

The CPU waterblock OUTPUT either flows directly to the reservoir INPUT, or to the chipset waterblock INPUT, (if used), then from the chipset waterblock OUTPUT to the reservoir INPUT.

The reservoir OUTPUT flows to the radiator INPUT.

Finally, the radiator OUTPUT flows to the pump INPUT.

As you can see, the water follows a simple path: it travels in a closed loop, and is cooled at the radiator, just about the same as in any car.  There are some options regarding the path, but this is the flow path I use.  I've read that some other water cooling enthusiasts route the flow from the radiator output directly to the CPU waterblock.  Probably any path will work well, as long as cooled water goes to the blocks.

The new system contains the following components:

Danger Den Maze 4 CPU cooler block, with 1/2" chrome fittings, clear lucite top, stainless steel mount kit
Danger Den chipset cooler block, with 1/2" chrome fittings, clear lucite top, stainless steel mount kit
Hydor L30 pump, which produces 1200 liters (320 gallons) of flow per hour
Black Ice Extreme 120mm radiator

Reservoir, clear lucite, which mounts like a CD, in a 5.25" drive bay * see DISASTER UPDATE below

PCI pump relay card which turns on the pump when the PC is turned on

I ordered two 80mm Vantech Tornado fans - they're very loud, about 5600 rpm, and they move about 90 cubic feet of air per minute.  This is a whole lot of air.  Two of these fans actually produce enough noise to make you leave the room!  Both fans were connected to a speed control device, allowing me to control the rpm, and the noise generated.  After trying the speed control, I decided not to use it.  That's why it went in the garbage can.   

One Tornado mounts to a plastic 80mm to 120mm "vortex" adapter, which connects the 80mm fan directly to the 120mm radiator.  The other Tornado was originally a case exhaust fan.  That fan has now been replaced with a much quieter fan, and the the overall noise level is considerably less.   

THE INSTALLATION and NOTES

First of all, total disassembly of the case was required. 

Out with the power supply and everything else:  a completely empty metal case.  I happen to have an Antec Evolution mid tower case, and as much as I like it, I'll never buy another case with only one removable side panel.

I assembled the radiator (this device is quite large) to the vortex, to the fan, and then I found the exact mounting position for the fan.  I finally decided to mount the fan, vortex, and radiator on the right side of the case, not the front, after considering all options.

I had previously cut out a large section of the case front, initially thinking of using a fresh piece of metal as the mount for the fan and radiator assembly.  I went through 9 cutoff wheels on the Dremel doing this, and changed my mind anyway.  Some days, I just waste a lot of time on nothing.  

With the mounting hole center decided upon, measured, and piloted, I thought I could drill the 3 1/16" hole using an adjustable hole cutter (one of those movable crossbar types that resembles a "T") and the drill press.  ABSOLUTELY WRONG.  I will never try this again.  This type of cutter is not designed for thin gauge metal.  Instead, I'll use the proper hole cutter, and I'll be sure that the metal is well supported in the back, so no bending can possibly occur. 

I didn't make a mess of the case, but I didn't do quite as perfect a job as I thought I could have, either.  I wanted a perfect circle, but ended up with a slight bend in the metal.  It's probable that no one will ever notice, but this will bother me forever.  That's the price of being too anal retentive.

After mounting the radiator, vortex, and fan, FedEx showed up with the remaining components, and this is where the fun really started.

The chipset cooler mounts with two stainless 4-40 bolts, with nylon washers below the motherboard as insulators.  Perfect.  The chipset block goes on next, and above the chipset block, nylon "tube washers" locate and align the compression springs from below and above, and knurled brass thumbnuts tighten everything down.  Again, perfect. 

I remembered to wash off the old thermal goop, and put on a smooth, light coat of Arctic Silver compound before assembling.  A little hint that might help: use a single edge razor blade to spread the compound on either the block or the chip.  Go in all directions, spreading and smoothing, and don't use more than is necessary for a light coat.

The CPU cooler was just as easy to install.  Four stainless bolts are mounted, with nylon insulators, up through the motherboard, the cooler is placed down over the bolts, and a series of washers, compression springs, and knurled brass thumbscrews complete the tightening.  Again, a smooth, even coating of Arctic Silver was applied before the cooler was installed.  I chose to use some number 6 stainless flat washers below and above the springs. 

Hint to Dennis:  Personally, I feel these springs would benefit from a proper length of nylon alignment tube inside the spring, or the same "shoulder washer" type used with the chipset.  They hold the springs in perfect alignment as you tighten them.

Approximately 14" of hose could have been completely eliminated if I had requested one 90 degree elbow on both the CPU block and the chipset block.  This would have allowed me to use a "jumper hose" of two to three inches, maximum, considerably reducing the case clutter.  This has now been done, but I used elbows, clamps, and tubing above the straight fittings.  It could have been far neater if each cooler block had one 90 degree fitting on it.  However, the elbows need to be directed precisely at each other and then epoxied in place, so they would need to be "aimed" correctly for each specific motherboard layout. 

Planning started for the location of the pump.  1/2" ID hose does not bend very easily, so curves have to be quite gradual, and thoughtful planning is a real necessity.

I connected some of the hoses, using the pressure clamps, and soon made a very miserable discovery. 

The drive bay reservoir is made to screw into place, just like a CD player.  If you examine a CD player, you'll find an upper and lower set of screw mounting holes - but the bay reservoir only has upper holes. 

Unfortunately, the Antec case uses the lower holes, and does not use screws at all.  Instead, a "pop on" plastic mounting guide goes on the right side of the device, and a sliding "lock" on the left engages two small pins into the lower screw holes to lock the device into the bay. 

I discovered instantly that the reservoir and the Antec case were not a match made in heaven.  This required some more surgery, and some creative mounting, available from only one side of the reservoir.  The screw holes on the other side are totally inaccessible, since the case only has one removable side.  Essentially, this means that the reservoir is mounted permanently - if I need to add liquid to it, I must remove one or both of the CDs above it to gain access to the top filler plug.

After many hours of installation, I was satisfied that the entire system was properly connected, clamped, and watertight.  Then I started adding distilled water, (don't use regular tap water) measuring exactly how much liquid went in, using a 60cc syringe, which equals two fluid ounces. 

I tilted the case backwards a few inches to help "burp" the air out as I added syringe after syringe of water.  After 30 ounces went in (that's fifteen full 60cc syringes!), I also added approximately two ounces of Zerex racing coolant additive in the recommended 20:1 ratio.  I now had slightly over 32 total ounces of pinkish, sudsy fluid contained in the system.

Please note here: the motherboard was installed in the case but nothing was installed or connected.

I then powered the pump (from a 110v wall outlet, not from the relay card), and watched as trapped air began to fly through the entire system, up into the reservoir.  This continued for about an hour.  I sat and watched, as the water flowed and the foam diminished.  Initially, the reservoir was full of suds, looking a lot like a washing machine, but this all dissipated within an hour or two.  I assume it was from the Zerex coolant additive.  After running overnight, no foam remained, although some slight bubbling seemed normal.

One issue that made me nervous was that, without direct lighting into the reservoir, I couldn't actually see water turbulence.  Since I'm new to the entire watercooling world, I felt I needed the reassurance that the water was moving.  Here's how I solved that issue.

Using a small, round, black volume knob, I faced it in the lathe so it would be completely flat at one end.  While still in the lathe, I bored a hole completely through it, large enough for an LED, but small enough to stop the LED's "shoulder".  Then I used a drop of Super Glue to attach an LED inside the knob, up to its "shoulder", and another drop of Super Glue to attach the flat face of the knob to the back of the reservoir, very close to center.  It's powered from a 5v header on the motherboard, and it illuminates the reservoir enough that I can actually see water movement from almost any angle.  After I gain more confidence in the entire system, I'll probably throw the LED out.  But for now, I feel much better seeing the turbulence.         

Another hint to Dennis:  The bay reservoir filler plug is a problem.  The same plug with a hex head (so a wrench or a socket could be used) would be far, far superior to the slot and washer trick.  I started damaging the slot the very first time I removed it. 

I started "pushing" the clock after completely reassembling all the components. 

With the P4S533-X motherboard configuration, I couldn't even boot at 2600 Mhz.  The Asus P4S533-X motherboard does not allow you to modify any voltages, so you can't raise the voltage slightly to the CPU, which I have done in the past with other Asus motherboards.  It also has limited control over various speeds, so I changed boards to an Asus P4SDX, which has far more control over speeds and voltages. 

The P4S533-X has a BIOS option of memory speed: you can specify AUTO as well as several other speed choices.  If you set it to 333Mhz, it increases memory speed as you increase the CPU speed, but any setting other than AUTO resulted in immediate instability and reboots.  Oh well, that's why I changed to the P4SDX ........

UPDATE:  The Asus P4SDX motherboard is installed.  After raising voltages slightly, it's running the 2.4Ghz CPU at 3.1Ghz, and seems quite stable there, except for some occasional oddball reboots.  The CPU temp averages about 84-110F, motherboard temp: 80-96F, this varies with the processing and ambient temperature.  I think it can possibly go a little higher, but I'm being conservative (or paranoid) with the voltages. 

 

UPDATE:  DISASTER.  The drive bay reservoir disintegrated.  Here's what happened.  Over a period of time, the excess teflon tape, used to seal the reservoir fittings, began to turn into white particles which ended up all over the inside of the reservoir.  I decided to drain and clean out the system, because that white stuff was getting progressively worse.  First, I emptied most of the water by disconnecting one of the hoses from the radiator.  Then I connected a spare piece of hose, and blew into it to get more water out.  Then I finally used compressed air (about 70 p.s.i.) to finish pushing out the last bit of water.  That's when the reservoir exploded.  It sounded like a .38 special when it let go, and the remaining water/coolant went all over the interior of the computer, with the white particles going everywhere.  I was pretty amazed, because there really wasn't anywhere near 70 pounds of air being pushed through the system, and I saw no logic for the reservoir to break. There was barely any water left in the system anyway, and the air had plenty of exhaust outlet relief. 

I managed to get everything cleaned up (about six hours of hard work), and next I will replace the bay reservoir with a round bottle version.  I'm still deciding exactly how I want to mount it, but I'll need to have the container in hand to make measurements.

I used a temporary "reservoir" for a day: a small Rubbermaid ice chest.  I ran the two tubes into the chest, filled it halfway with water, and sucked on one hose to get the system primed.  Then I turned on the pump and let it clear the air.  It worked just fine, but what a mess.  I also learned this:  a few cc's of Simple Green cleaner does a great job of "wetting" the water, and allowing it to flow and dissipate the trapped bubbles easier. 

Here are four pictures of the old reservoir.

UPDATE:  Disaster Recovery.  The disaster is solved, and I'd like to mention this:  I made a call to DANGERDEN to tell them about the problem.  Teri and Dennis were so incredibly helpful, it's just unbelievable.  A new (round bottle) reservoir, all fittings, and some extra hose were in my hands (from Oregon to Florida) in under 16 hours.  No teflon tape is used: the fittings are epoxied in place.  I worked for about three hours, and now the reservoir is mounted on top of the case where I can see the turbulence.  The tubing passes through two 7/8" holes.  Check these pics - here's what it looks like currently.  I had an unused blue neon light nearby, so I installed it near the top of the box.  It makes the tubing glow, and this reflects through the acrylic of the reservoir. 

EXTRA SPECIAL THANKS TO TERI AND DENNIS OF DANGERDEN

FOR SUCH WONDERFUL AND INSTANT ATTENTION!


The First System

Here is the first clue that maybe something unusual is going on inside the case.  As mentioned above, I'm not satisfied at all with the quality of the fan hole.

This is the Black Ice Extreme radiator.  As you may notice, a lot of surgery was done on the front panel of the case, but ultimately it was not required.

Here is the water pump, showing the inlet from the radiator, and outlet going up to the CPU block.  I apologize: within a few days, every single wire inside this case will be 100% neater.

The waterblock for the chipset is visible here.  All ribbon cables are being replaced with round cables in a few days, and fan wiring will be completely re-soldered, and routed to be nearly invisible.

This view shows the back of the bay reservoir.  You may notice the small black knob, this is the mount for the LED to illuminate water turbulence.

This is what the case looks like from the front while it's running.  Though the pictures don't show it, the water turbulence is clearly visible.

I tried to get a picture of water moving, but my camera isn't good enough for that.  Above the case is the SCSI "cage" which contains the hard drives, separate power supply, and fans.

The Second System

Here are the new system details:

Asus P4C800 Deluxe mainboard, with LAN and sound

Intel Pentium 4 - 3.2Ghz CPU

1 gigabyte of Kingston PC3200 (400) memory

ATI Radeon 9000 video card

Adaptec 29160 Ultra 3 SCSI card, 160mb/sec transfer rate

Drive 0: Fujitsu 34G Ultra 320 drive - MAP3367 NP

Drive 1: Maxtor 34G Ultra 160 drive - Atlas 10K 336WLS

(2) Lite-On 52x CD-RW IDE drives

This configuration will be slightly different (and NO teflon tape will be used).  One modification I'm considering is an external fill line for the bay reservoir, meaning no sliding in or out to add coolant. 

I'm really thinking about a draining system, too.  In my opinion, this would be a very important addition to include in any watercooled system.  If I can find exactly the right type of fittings (barbed and threaded, too), it should be fairly easy to design.  I probably could just fabricate one if I had to.  What I'm thinking of is the T fitting (straight line) clamped into the tubing between the radiator and pump, and the threaded fitting bolted through the bottom or side of the case with a sealing cap, or possibly a small turn off valve.  I'll work on this idea some more, so don't be surprised if you see pictures of it in the near future.       

This time, I'm using an Antec SX1040BII case, but this case has typical slide mounts to attach to your devices, with upper and lower mount holes, so mounting components in this case is done "normally".  And both sides are removable. 

The downside?  It came with a defective 400 watt power supply.  After eight phone calls, taking over three hours, Antec replaced it, and the second one was defective, too.  Antec's "customer service supervisor" just happens to be about as intelligent as a basketball, or simply cannot understand the English language.  I was so totally and completely pissed off, I just threw the piece of shit in the garbage pail, and bought an inexpensive Achieve 400 watt supply, locally.  It works absolutely perfectly.  (Keep in mind, with my configuration, the 400 watts does not have to power any hard drives - they have their own, dedicated power supply.) 

Here are most of the parts laid out ready to start work.

Chipset heatsink removed, next step is the "cage" for the Pentium.

A little thought, some experimenting, and the CPU block feeds right over to the chipset block using elbows, and no loop.

A much better view of above.  Fittings are epoxied into place.

Again, only epoxy is used on the fittings.  I left two standard plugs and rubber washers,  thinking someday soon, I'll probably work on that refill modification.  For now, I'll just slide it out to fill.

Just about ready for the Arctic Silver and install.  I test fit both blocks numerous times, and the hose length is perfect.

Some surgery was done to the front of the case to provide full airflow through the radiator.  After living with those loud Vantech fans, I chose an Evercool this time. 

Two hours into water testing and no leaks at all.

Three hours into water testing, I caused a leak at the pump outlet by trying to twist the hose right over the threads.  That was unnecessary, and it's now simply clamped down at the shoulder stop.

Starting the mount.  CPU block has begun, spring clips for the chipset still remain to be installed.

Now we're getting someplace.  Both blocks are mounted securely, but I modified the hook clips, allowing them to grab the retainer hoops in the mainboard just a little better.

Aluminum Evercool fan and Black Ice Extreme mounted in place.

Radiator and fan assembly are mounted.  I used rubber grommets and flat washers, and tapped the radiator mount holes for 6-32 thread screws.

Here we go!  Water testing inside the case.  Hoses all cut and routed as neatly as I could make them, but I haven't installed the PC relay card or routing wires neatly yet.

Distilled water and 10% Valvoline (Zerex) Racing Super Coolant.  First, 10 full 60cc syringes of distilled water, then one full 60cc syringe of coolant.  Three more 60cc syringes of distilled water, then another 18cc of coolant.

Fully functional, the trademark blue LED is again mounted to the back center of the reservoir, so water flow is clearly visible.

Closeup of the reservoir.  I really have to get a better digital camera someday.

The pump was moved twice.  Now it clears the PCI cards.

It's definitely a Dangerden watercooled system.

Look very carefully, and you can see the threads have been turned off the pump in and out fittings on the lathe.  It's a little hard to see.

Closeup of the connection from CPU to chipset. 

Several new tricks were used for this installation.  The pump inlet and outlet fittings have threads which I didn't want.  I found a way to chuck the fittings in a bench lathe and removed the threads.  This gives me a much larger flat area to clamp the hose below the barb.  From this modification, a LOT of air bubbles disappeared.  Obviously, the pump was picking up some air at these points - but not anymore.  I thought about sealing the fittings to the pump, but I'm (slowly) coming up with better ideas.  Plastic fittings with outside threads that fit the pump, and inside threads that fit the standard barbed fittings from Dangerden are available.  If I go this way, no O-rings (supplied with the pump) will be used: just epoxy.

The pump had to be moved - not once, but twice.  In the first location, the inlet hose had a slight kink, so I wanted the pump further away from the radiator, allowing for a longer hose.  I tried moving it back using two of the four existing mount holes, but then the pump and PCI cards collided.  Thus, the pump had to be mounted closer to the outside edge of the case, further away from the mainboard.  That required some minor metal cutting.  It's in, and no collisions, but what a pain to have to move it the extra times. 

IN SUMMATION:  It was fun, a challenge, and a real accomplishment, to do this work.  It was worth every cent I spent on it, but I would like to note this: the hoses needed to do this kind of installation completely dominate the inside of the case.  Changing out a PCI card, adding RAM, almost anything which you need to do inside the case is a huge problem - only because of the mass of hoses.  Although I'd like to build another watercooled machine, I won't.

UNLESS .... DangerDen begins developing and marketing an invention which has been on my mind for years: EXTERNAL watercooling.  By this I mean an external box, containing radiator, fan, reservoir, pump, and any other "extras" - I have a powerful imagination!  My imaginary invention would then connect to the case with only TWO hoses: water in and water outThat's it.  This would reduce the hoses inside the case by about 98%.  The upside is reducing all that case clutter, and making everything accessible.  The downside is the external box, which will require a power source for the fan and pump, (it could be a large "wall wart" type 12vdc supply), would be a real pain to drag around if you move your computer very often.    


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