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The Custom Watercooling Loop: An antiquated tragedy to be?

post #1 of 13
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Technology moves extremely rapidly. As system builders, we especially acknowledge this; I am sure I'm not the only one vexed after blowing loads of cash on a godly build only to find it lagging behind a few months later. Problem is, though, not all technology moves at the same pace. Different sectors are at different places on their subsequent categories' timelines and, if you look at the traditional watercooling loops sector, it seems to be frozen in time while air cooling and small form factor watercooling is soaring ahead. The traditional watercooling loop (separate waterblock, reservoir, pump, and radiator) seems to have reached a plateau. There haven't been any innovations in a long time, and there seems not to be room for any more. In stark contrast, however, we see a cutthroat battle taking place for number 1 aircooler, that position constantly changing. Likewise, we see self-contained units with almost zero hassle taking over the game, with prices that are much lower than those of a full, custom loop, and similar performance to boot, without any risk and with large corporations' warranties to take all of the burden. Inevitably, with all of the innovation and rapid movement taking place in the CPU cooling sectors outside of watercooling, we will see an eventual tie taking place in temperatures and, at that point, watercooling would be deemed irrational.
There is, however, still hope for the watercooling game, and that comes in the form of its followers. You, the supporters of traditional custom loops, are the ones who fuel the continuity of custom loops. It is your passion for effort that goes into constructing your own loop, and the pleasing results that one achieves afterward, that is what draws you to watercooling. I admit myself that, although watercooling doesn't seem solidly plausible at this point, I myself am attracted to it. This is natural, however, for us builders. We came to computer building in the first place so we could do things ourselves, and not have anything make decisions for us. Watercooling is like manual transmission on a car; in some cases, it is unnecessary and inconvenient, and dealers and car manufacturers are trying their darnedest to phase it out, but it is the people that call for it, and that which they call for, they receive. In this case then, self-contained units would be the dual-clutch transmission. The transmission has the convenience of an automatic and the equivalent performance of a manual transmission. The best of both worlds. So, naturally, even some hardcore manual drivers are going to be attracted to it. There are the stiffs that will say that manual can never be replaced, but they are in the minority, and the industry is not on their side.
So, what do you make of all this? Do you see a bright and prosperous future for traditional watercooling, or do you see a diminution in the light at the end of the tunnel?
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post #2 of 13
Not too sure what you are getting at here, and the writing style seems a little odd, almost like you are writing for a magazine or advert, but I disagree that custom loops are disappearing, and that there is no innovation in the market.

A few things to note:

Performance - Forget cost for the moment, there is yet to be an air cooler or all-in-one water cooling solution that can match a good custom loop in performance. I can't see that changing much in the next few years.

Customization - The whole point of a custom loop is that they are, well, custom. Got a big case? Get a big rad. Got a smaller case? Get some smaller rads. Want colours and lights? Easy. Noisy or quiet, high performance or lower cost, good looking or functional (or both)... There are lots of possibilities that just don't exist with air / self contained water.

Innovation - Who said that there is no innovation in custom water cooling? Swiftech recently brought out a PWM pump, the MCP35x, which not only performs better than previous incarnations of the DDC pump but also brings the ability to control it easily from your CPU fan header. Companies are constantly striving to bring out better radiators, CPU blocks and pumps. The same innovation that you see in the all-in-one loops happens in the custom market too. On the contrary, air coolers don't seem to be changing much these days; slap a bunch of fins on some heat pipes and there you go.

Price - The big one. Yes, water cooling is expensive. It is. But then so are GTX 590s / HD 6990s, i7 2600Ks and high end motherboards. You could spend a lot less and get most of the performance of a high end rig, especially when it comes to every day tasks, even gaming. We are a community of enthusiasts who think nothing of laying down some serious cash for a slight edge in performance, and edge that the vast majority of computer users would never even notice.

Also, kits such as the Rasa RS240 kit help fill the void between all-in-ones and full on custom kits. For $130 you can get a kit that will outperform your H50/70s etc, and would probably give the H100 a good run for it's money when that comes out.

GPU cooling - As yet there is no decent self contained GPU water cooler available to consumers. Sure CoolIt tried with their Omni ALC, but that seems to have fallen flat. There is no reason why there couldn't be one, no reason at all, and hopefully this will change soon. But I bet when it does you still wont be able to tie it into your CPU loop.

So no, I really don't see custom water cooling going away any time soon. As long as there is a market of enthusiasts who are willing to pay the premium for a high performance, quiet and customizable cooling solution there will be companies willing to cater to that.

Maybe when we go to graphene chips that can, possibly, self cool we will see a reduction in custom WC, as they will probably only need a small heat sink to perform well. But I bet there will still be someone out there who will slap their WC kit on one and try to OC it to 500GHz...

Oh, and the whole manual / automatic transmission thing - try paying $8 / gal and you will soon see why manuals are so much better...
Edited by GingerJohn - 6/2/11 at 3:54pm
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post #3 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by GingerJohn;13729521 
GPU cooling - As yet there is no decent self contained GPU water cooler available to consumers. Sure CoolIt tried with their Omni ALC, but that seems to have fallen flat. There is no reason why there couldn't be one, no reason at all, and hopefully this will change soon. But I bet when it does you still wont be able to tie it into your CPU loop.

Don't the EVGA 590's come with thier custom "vapour chamber" which does contain water. It's a self contained loop in the GPU card. Or so I thought.

As for my opinion. I join this wonderful community less than a month ago, and already reaping the rewards of a full custom WC loop. The more people start to get into the "enthusiats" side of things, the more we'll see custom WC loops. There's also the fact that 10 years ago, you'd have to make everything yourself for WC. Don't think we had as many companies as we have today offering so many diffrent products.

Where there's a want, there's a sale. The more they want the more they'll sell. If WC was dying why would there be so many companies trying to vie in the same business?
Edited by Rognin - 6/2/11 at 4:06pm
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post #4 of 13
What?
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post #5 of 13
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by GingerJohn;13729521 
Performance - Forget cost for the moment, there is yet to be an air cooler or all-in-one water cooling solution that can match a good custom loop in performance. I can't see that changing much in the next few years.

Rebuttal: Thing is, today's markets are all about not forgetting the cost. Every computer hardware site you look at is going to have articles about the best bang for the buck. If you refer to the general computer hardware consuming population, most will be looking for a better deal for great performance as opposed to a more expensive deal for slightly better performance. And while a well-constructed custom loop with the right components in the right case in the right environment may engender excellent results, chances are that not everyone will achieve the best results they can the first time around, and industrial tactics really primarily involve reeling in new people to expand the client base. With the options arising, the concept of going through with the work and expense of your own loop is less appealing, especially to those new customers who have so many options.
Quote:
Originally Posted by GingerJohn;13729521 
Customization - The whole point of a custom loop is that they are, well, custom. Got a big case? Get a big rad. Got a smaller case? Get some smaller rads. Want colours and lights? Easy. Noisy or quiet, high performance or lower cost, good looking or functional (or both)... There are lots of possibilities that just don't exist with air / self contained water.
Rebuttal: Sure, custom watercooling loops are custom, but what next, should people start building their own waterblocks and engineering their own pumps to boot? At some point, customizable prospects marry rationality and takes a back seat in the relationship with the consumer. Plus, essentially, a custom PC is just that itself: custom. Being able to choose any cooler in general is custom. And, indeed, all of those possibilities you claim do not exist with air/self contained units do exist. There are big coolers, small coolers, loud coolers, quiet coolers, high performance coolers, low cost coolers, good looking coolers, and functional coolers that are not custom watercooling loops. They are air coolers and self-contained watercoolers.
Quote:
Originally Posted by GingerJohn;13729521 
Innovation - Who said that there is no innovation in custom water cooling? Swiftech recently brought out a PWM pump, the MCP35x, which not only performs better than previous incarnations of the DDC pump but also brings the ability to control it easily from your CPU fan header. Companies are constantly striving to bring out better radiators, CPU blocks and pumps. The same innovation that you see in the all-in-one loops happens in the custom market too. On the contrary, air coolers don't seem to be changing much these days; slap a bunch of fins on some heat pipes and there you go.
Rebuttal: Innovation: A new method, idea, product, etc. The act of starting something for the first time; introducing something new. Sure a new pump is new as in recently released, but is it new in the other sense of the word? New as truly innovative? As far as an outsider like me is concerned (and the rest of the target client base of custom watercooling) the new pump is just that; a pump. It will do the same job the old pump does. Contrary to what you state, however, it is easier to spot this innovation in the air cooling industry, and the self contained water cooling industry that became widespread just recently due to the efforts of Corsair is innovation in itself. We see temperatures constantly lowering in the air cooling sector, and new designs and ways to transfer the heat like separating a conventional heatsink into different areas and inventing new fans (see Noctuas proposition). While it is true that water cooling gets low temperatures if done right, are the temperatures really lowering? And is there such a great variation between waterblocks? From what I've heard, it really is just down to how you like the look of your block by now.
Quote:
Originally Posted by GingerJohn;13729521 
Price - The big one. Yes, water cooling is expensive. It is. But then so are GTX 590s / HD 6990s, i7 2600Ks and high end motherboards. You could spend a lot less and get most of the performance of a high end rig, especially when it comes to every day tasks, even gaming. We are a community of enthusiasts who think nothing of laying down some serious cash for a slight edge in performance, and edge that the vast majority of computer users would never even notice.

Rebuttal: You just made a point yourself that I do not believe you have realized. Processors and graphics cards and motherboards that are high end are expensive (depending on the subjective parameters of finances). Those are the main parts of the system. Cooling is just meant to be a supplement. Yes, cooling can drastically change your system with great overclocks, but the basis of the performance is the system itself, so to any rational consumer, it makes more sense to focus the funds on the initial parts used to make up the system and less on convoluted (according to a nonwatercooler) cooling methods. And you also made the point that the vast majority of computer users (I am assuming builders as well) would not notice the difference in performance. Here is where rationality comes into play. I am not saying to listen to other people and not pursue your material fantasies, but people nowadays want the best for less. Most computer consumers, I am assuming, would save hours of hassle (again for a non experienced watercooler) and up to hundreds of dollars and be content with a couple degrees celsius over what they could have had.
Quote:
Originally Posted by GingerJohn;13729521 
GPU cooling - As yet there is no decent self contained GPU water cooler available to consumers. Sure CoolIt tried with their Omni ALC, but that seems to have fallen flat. There is no reason why there couldn't be one, no reason at all, and hopefully this will change soon. But I bet when it does you still wont be able to tie it into your CPU loop.

Rebuttal: I don't disagree with this point, but I will say that - if I can generalize here - most elementary computer builders are more concerned with cooling the CPU than the GPU. A popular perception of GPU watercooling, really, appears to be that it is no nearly as necessary as CPU cooling. This explains why there is no self-contained GPU coolers. Economically, it would not be a good move for any cooling company. The Omnic ALC is a good example of a daring move toward GPU cooling struck down, as you mentioned yourself.
Quote:
Originally Posted by GingerJohn;13729521 
So no, I really don't see custom water cooling going away any time soon. As long as there is a market of enthusiasts who are willing to pay the premium for a high performance, quiet and customizable cooling solution there will be companies willing to cater to that.

Rebuttal: I agree with you on this point. The watercooling game will definitely stick around. I do, however, from a purely industrial and consumer-focused standpoint, see its imminent decline unless it builds a mountain to climb on top of the plateau it seems to be traversing. With the rapid advancement of technology, a full-blown, custom watercooling loop is not the only way to get high performance, silence, and customizable capabilities.
Quote:
Originally Posted by GingerJohn;13729521 
Maybe when we go to graphene chips that can, possibly, self cool we will see a reduction in custom WC, as they will probably only need a small heat sink to perform well. But I bet there will still be someone out there who will slap their WC kit on one and try to OC it to 500GHz...

Rebuttal: That is a possibility for 2012.
Quote:
Originally Posted by GingerJohn;13729521 
Oh, and the whole manual / automatic transmission thing - try paying $8 / gal and you will soon see why manuals are so much better...

Rebuttal: Domestically, here in the U.S., that's not something we need to worry about, so I don't need to debate you on that. wink.gif

Looking forward to some stimulating response!
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post #6 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rognin;13729673 
Don't the EVGA 590's come with thier custom "vapour chamber" which does contain water. It's a self contained loop in the GPU card. Or so I thought?

They do, and I suppose you could call that water cooling of a kind. Although it essentially does what heat pipes do, just uni-directionally. I was thinking more along the lines of a H50 type GPU cooler when I said that there were not really any available products.

Actually you can still get hold of an Omni ALC in Europe from a few retailers; I believe CoolIt discontinued the line shortly after production started, however there is still some stock available. They are only compatible with a few cards though.
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post #7 of 13
Kind of felt unsure of what exactly the OP was trying to get at...

All I can really say is that I don't see custom WC going away for quite some time.

The performance of WC far exceeds the performance of air cooling (period and is quieter at that... Muuuch quieter.

As for the lack of innovation? There's all kinds of innovation happening! If you look at the micro-fin density from 3 years ago to now, you can even see a very distinct increase of waterblock surface area... Not to mention that there's also all kinds of other factors that have been improving, such as flow rate and pressure specs on water blocks. The amount of thermal watts that can be dissipated these days is significantly different than even a year ago.

With all of this innovation in the WC department, and looking at all of the advantages of WCing, over air, especially the noise factor (Nothing beats WC's thermal dissipation to dB's) I just simply can not see how your arguement can reign true...

The only thing that I could see bring it down is the new advancement of non conductive evaporative liquids... I.E. a liquid cooling system that functions off of specific heat points at which a liquid evaporates.

Here's an example: [ame]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_X_hgtlJpA[/ame]

But besides that, there is very little competition in the market to push WCing towards a day of obsoleteness.

Not only that, but there's kits such as the very popular Rasa kits (which I own) that are bringing down big bad closed systems for a very respectable price point. Typically for really only $20 - $40 more than closed systems and these kits literally blow them out of the water. (The puns, they kill)

My main point is: There's niches in the market that simply will not close up...
As long as development continues and people continue to seek the most optimal performance, WCing will be here to stay for quite some time.

That's all that really needed to be said,

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post #8 of 13
I personally don't care whether or not a given technology or product is more "innovative" than another--that word only matters to marketers or designers or MBA's who need to justify their paychecks year to year. And I have to say it's quite entertaining reading to look back over the years and see how accurate all the prognosticators were who declared one technology or another doomed or dying based on opinion-based, incomplete, and selective analyses of marketing snapshots.

Consumers just want what works, and what suits their needs, not change for change's sake. Watercooling will always lag behind air in market share because of the higher material costs and greater technical difficulty. There will always be more "heat" in the air-cooling market segment because more people participate in it, and there are more companies scrambling to distinguish themselves from the competition. That doesn't mean there won't always also be space for watercooling. It is also something of a luxury product, so the rules are completely different.

And you can't really measure the pace of improvement in one thing based on the pace of improvement in another, then judge it dead because they are different. One could argue that watercooling products have generally been closer to their theoretical performance limit than air cooling has been, and thus improvements in watercooling as measured by temperature gain have been more modest. As has been pointed out, there have been significant and rapid evolutions in block design and other areas.

I also think it's worth noting that air cooling tech has made most of its recent performance improvement by incorporating liquids (water, generally) through the use of enclosed phase-change cooling in integrated heatpipes. So too, watercooling relies heavily on the use of radiators and fans--otherwise known as air cooling. When you get down to the actual technologies, the line between air and water is becoming increasingly blurred, and there's a huge amount of crossover.

Nor is it true that people have to either choose one, or the other. You might put a hyper 212+ in your kid's homework machine, install an H70 at work, and bust out a fully watercooled custom loop in your home rig. Looking at it like it's a cage match air vs. water isn't really accurate.
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post #9 of 13
The Noctua NH-D14 and ThermalRight silver arrow are currently at the pinnacle of cooling products before custom loops.. Sealed Loop performance is just closing in, and has not yet bridged the gap.

I find this review to demonstrate the gap between air and custom water pretty well..

http://www.overclock3d.net/reviews/cases_cooling/xspc_rasa_750_rs360_watercooling_kit_review/1

The vast majority of people are not going to even consider purchasing a 3rd party heatsink let alone overclock their components.. High end air coolers and sealed units are enthusiast level products, so we're already at the level where you're blowing cash unnecessarily.. You don't really need an i5 2500k to game at 1080p with a 6850 - the only reason you'd purchase an unlocked processor is to eke out more performance. These kinds of upgrades are not remotely practical for even the average gamer.

At this point, you're likely to reach a processors hardware limitations before you run out of thermal headroom, so in that sense water has taken a harder hit in practicality, but so have air and sealed united in the $50+ range.

We're still left with enthusiast level GPU's like the 6990, 580, 570, 6970, and crossfire/sli solutions which generate far more heat than CPU's, but also offer overclocking benefits when given more thermal headroom. A lot of these stock coolers are loud, and don't offer anything close to the performance of water. There are even less options for 3rd party GPU coolers compared to the CPU market. Despite the popularity of GPU water cooling, the improved performance is undeniable.

Your argument against the 'practicality' of custom loops also goes for things like the h50/h70 and high end air coolers.. Sealed units have not overtaken high end air and high end air has not bridged the gap with water. Even if they did bridge the gap, unless the cost came down they'd be largely as impractical as custom water when compared to a simple Hyper 212 which will cool a 2500k enough for a decent overclock for far less money.

Custom water can knock off as much as 15 degrees compared to air coolers with a significant overclock with recent products, but that's not going to defend their practicality.. The same goes for the nh-d14 - Why purchase an $80.00 heatsink when I could put those funds towards an SSD? Why spend $40 more on MSI's twin frozr model when I could just get the reference design and put that extra money towards headphones that will offer use in more than PC gaming?

Why even overclock at all when it voids your warranty? Overclocking is inherently impractical when it can take a $200.00 investment and strip it of any security you were offered by the manufacture. You could go on and on about the subjective practical value of purchasing high end parts.. If you play it safe and don't overclock, then enthusiast level components are completely impractical, including many motherboards.

The nh-d14 also offers a quiet solution if you're willing to invest the money and learn installation methods. Going to custom water offers improved heat dissipation and a quieter and cooler solution with expandability for those willing to invest the money and learn installation methods..

Of course, if you can directly profit by overclocking your components and increasing productivity, then you're likely in the market for high end components, and in which case you can certainly afford custom water. Things are going to get quite hot with an SR-2 board and a pair of overclocked Xeon processors. Why not go water at that point if you're looking at cooling solutions? Nothing else is going to offer similar performance with that product.

For the average user an i5 2500, a 6850, 4gigs of ram, and a 1080p monitor will be a luxury system that they will enjoy for a few years without caring about upgrades. I know people on single core systems with windows XP who use them all the time for watching videos and sending emails.

Debating the practicality of high end enthusiast products is futile.. It can be done, but it's means a lot more to look at it on an individual level and say "is this product for me?" just as you would do with ram, hard drives, processors, or the many other components that go into making a system.

I personally benefited from switching to a custom loop.
Edited by Annex - 6/3/11 at 1:19am
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post #10 of 13
Being a novice at WCing Il'l just put my thoughts in. The decrease in temps for air cooling has been by increased size noctua d14 the best air cooler but there are plenty of mid range cases that can't fit it, where as most mid cases can fit some form of WC so if you are interested in better temps then you need a bigger case which cost more money for the extra money on case you could get a xspc kit in your mid case with better temp then air.
Now I think the only thing that may change is those that only want to cool cpu as the all in ones all ready match the top air performance and take less space so will they push the heat sink big air coolers out is the question. But will they ever get to the low temps of water cooling? I think they could if the market would allow it but as thy have to cater to a wider range of case sizes I think the 240 rad is as big as an all in one can go also limiting them is they have to be internal where as a custom kit the rads can be placed outside to benefit from cooler external air away from the case.
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swimming haf-x
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