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FAQ: Planning and Installing Your Liquid Cooling System

post #1 of 48
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Recently, there have been a lot of people jumping on the bandwagon and in order to prevent them from having a horrible virgin experience, I decided to write this FAQ. This can be considered a sequel to my other FAQ “Is Liquid Cooling for Me?”

Things to consider:

-Liquid cooling can become very expensive, especially if you purchase new parts. My personal philosophy is that if you are going to liquid cool, then do it right. Do not buy crap kits from Corsair, Koolance, Thermaltake, or Zalman. They will perform about the same level as a TRUE. However, there are some kits that do perform fine, but those are usually kits assembled from already proven commercial parts.
-Liquid cooling will make your computer very heavy. This is something one may need to seriously consider if one moves the computer a lot.
-While dangers are more or less nullified if proper precautions are taken, liquid cooling is still dangerous if anything does happen. Even non conductive liquid will gain the ability to conduct as it becomes contaminated over time and a leak will more often then not, prove fatal to your computer.
-Liquid cooling will not give you any magical temperatures. Idle temperatures will be a bit higher than ambient and load temperatures depend on a variety of things.

Acetal/Delrin/Copper (Group A) VS Acrylic/Polycarbonate/Plexiglass (Group B)

- None of these will cause galvanic corrosion
- Group A is tougher, but a lot of people consider it uglier, especially a lot of times there are milling marks left over
- Group A will not spider web or crack no matter how much you tighten barbs
- Group B is considered cooler looking as you can see through it or use UV reactive dyes when making them to stain it
- Group B will spiderweb and crack if you tighten the barbs too much, although this tends to only happen with cheap/thin stuff. For thick slabs of premium acrylic that most respected manufacturers use, this is often not the issue. It is very hard to crack half inch thick premium acrylic!

From even half a decade ago, liquid cooling has now come a long way. Water blocks have achieved a range of variety much like action figures with enough different types and mounts to play dress up so to speak. Radiators have also popped up like children in third world countries and the array of third party tops for pumps now is simply mind boggling. To start things off, let’s review what makes up a liquid cooling system:

-Pump to drive the liquid through the loop. Think of this as the heart of your system, which we all know, hearts are very important.
-Heat exchanger is what one uses to dissipate the heat collected in liquid cooling. This is usually in the form of radiators or the uglier heater core cousins.
-Water blocks are the heat exchangers that transfer heat from the component in question to the liquid. Water blocks are like humans, each type and brand are a bit different. Some are restrictive and others are not.
-T-Line/Reservoirs provide the function of feeding the pump as well as bleeding the system. T-Lines are cheap and take minimal space while reservoirs make bleeding and filling simple, are nice to look at, and pretty pricey.
-Fans are used on the heat exchanger to dissipate the heat. When shopping for fans, always remember that static pressure is more of a factor to consider than noise, airflow, or speed of spin. If your fan fails to draw air THROUGH the radiator fins, however much air it can pull is moot point.
-Tubing is very important and the variety has also recently expanded. You now have UV colored tubing, silver tubing, small tubing, and Home Depot tubing. I still remember when I first started Liquid cooling we only had the following choices: Tygon, Clearflex 60, and normal PVC tubing from the local hardware shop. I recommend buying more than you need since it is one of the cheapest parts of loop.
-Coolant is what is used to transfer the heat from the blocks to the heat exchanger. Anything that efficiently transfers heat can be used. The most common medium is distilled water.
-UV dye is something I consider VERY important, because it allows you to effectively detect leaks. It is not just for bling!

After you have fully researched what liquid cooling is and what you are getting yourself into, the next step is to plan your loop. I advise people follow the following steps:

-Plan how everything is going to fit inside your case. While it will not be perfect it will allow you to see where everything will most likely go and significantly minimize any surprises.
-Once you decide how you want to arrange your loop inside or outside your case, start planning which parts you are going to buy and how much you have to spend. Make a list of everything you are looking for so you won’t have to go back and pay $10 shipping for a single item. In my liquid cooling journey, it depresses me to know that with the money I have wasted on forgetting to purchase parts could have easily bought me an additional 3-4 high end liquid cooling parts. Never mind that though, my loss your infinite gains!
-While making your list, also decide what type of liquid cooling system do you want. It is not as easy as just buying the best performing parts and being done with it. Certain blocks or radiators are good in certain situations and the same applies for pumps as well. For example, the EK Supreme is recognized as the best performing block for quad core CPU’s. However, the block is also restrictive as hell and would not benefit you in a multiple block loop. Factors such as silence or thermal performance will also weigh in heavily on what you want to purchase.
-A good thing to also remember when making your list is consistency. If you are going 3/8” tubing, then stay with it from start to finish. If you are going for a low restriction loop, then only get free flowing blocks and radiators. If you are going silence then pick the radiator that best provides that option. If you are going copper then stay with copper until the end.
-After you have written down your Santa list for your computer, I would highly recommend you post it on your preferred forum of choice. I recommend OCN obviously, though if you don’t go to OCN you wouldn’t be reading this to begin with. This allows people like me to review your intended purchases and make experienced suggestions and recommendations. That is normally a good thing, at least when your wallet is not concerned!
-After your list is finalized and certified by the forum, don’t immediately jump the gun and start clicking buy. Shop around first and check out the prices. Find out what will give you the lowest end price. Make sure to include shipping since even if you only buy a few parts, shipping is still very pricey. I recommend buying as much as you can from one place usually, for the simple reason that it has more or less proven to be the cheapest. A good place to also look is on the sales part of forums. Unlike CPU’s and GPU’s, most liquid cooling parts are built like a tank and last forever.

After you finally get all your parts together, first thing is take a hard look at your case and your loop setup diagram that you planned out. Theory does not always translate to reality. Something always goes wrong and trust me, something WILL go wrong. It is much easier to find something went wrong before you start drilling holes and stuff. Here are the steps that I advise when installing your loop:

-Verify that you have enough space to work with before you do anything at all. The worse feeling in the world is when you get your fancy Black Ice GTX and find out you cannot in fact fit it on the top of your case.
-Make sure that all mods to the case have already been completed; holes for the radiator, holes for the tubing, holes for the… wait that should be it! Also make sure that there are no metal shavings at all.
-Install the blocks to their respective components. It is easier to get the tubing on the barbs than the blocks on the components when hooking everything up.
-Mount the radiator since it takes up the most space. You want to know how much room you have left to work with after this.
-Once you are done installing all the components, go back again and make sure everything is secure. Especially pay attention to the barbs as that is where you most commonly spring leaks. If you have any acrylic connectors, make sure to check for cracks.
-Install the motherboard and video card into the case before you put in anything else. This will allow you to accurately gauge how you want to rout your tubing.
-Begin measuring how much tubing you need to connect each component of the loop together. A good way to do this is hold one end to one component and the other to the other. This will allow you to visualize how it will approximately turn out. Remember to also check the tubing for any punctures. It is usually rare to have punctures in your tubing, but better safe than sorry.
-Attach one end to one component and then measure again. It is very important to remember that you can measure an infinite amount of times but cut only once. It is usually a good idea to leave a little more and shave off later if you need be. I say connect only one side because then you can figure out which tubing goes behind what.
-If you are using anti kinking coils, I recommend you to first clamp the tubing. For clamps you have a choice of worm clamps, hose clamps, and zip ties. Anyone who tells you that you don’t need clamps, please slap them in the face for me. There is absolutely no reason for you to risk the safety of your entire computer to save a few dimes and keep everything that much safer!
-When you finally have everything connected and clamped up, check again to make sure everything is completely secure.
-Take your computer to an area near a draining system, such as inside a bathtub or on a counter by a sink. This will help if you have any accidents. I also recommend not being near carpet. Coolant is a PITA to get out if you spill it on carpet.
-Fill up the loop as much as you can. There will be some parts that you cannot fill in due to internal levels of pressure. These area swill fill themselves up naturally later on.
-Connect your pump to a spare power supply or rig your PSU to start up without powering your computer. Turn on the PSU and allow the pump to draw in water and start filling up the rest of the loop. When you are approaching empty on your T-Line or reservoir, shut off the PSU and start filling again. Eventually, you will fill up the entire loop.
-The next step is the ever torturous leak test. I would put in a couple of drops of UV dye to help detect leaks and I would leak test the loop for 24 hours. While most leaks are detected within minutes of running up a fully filled loop, there could be some flaws that only show up over time as cracks become larger or barbs become loose. Accidents do happen, but a paranoid leak test session will drop the percentile of accidents to near zero.
-Once you successfully leak tested your computer, go ahead and turn it on to check your temperatures in BIOS. You may have to re-seat the blocks a couple of times to get the best possible temperatures, since blocks do tend to slide around at times when you are installing it.
- It is also a good idea to continue monitoring your temps with 3rd party monitors such as CoreTemp, RealTemp, or Everest to make sure nothing is going bad!

Once you have completed my suggested steps, I can honestly tell you that you have done everything possible to minimize any risks and you are on your way to being very happy with your new system!
Edited by OC'ing Noob - 1/7/09 at 8:46am
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post #2 of 48
Great FAQ OC'ing Noob


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post #3 of 48
Thread Starter 
thanks
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post #4 of 48
Great FAQ! This is my first post and I would like to thank not only you but all of the people help with there knowledge. I just finished my first water cooling setup and the learning curve would have been much steeper if not for all of the great information here.
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post #5 of 48
Thread Starter 
lol yea i did mine by trial and error RIP Asus P4P800, you had served me well...
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post #6 of 48
OC'ing, at least spell planning right in the title COME ON MAN!! , but it's a good FAQ
Edited by GPA_Voltaire - 12/26/08 at 7:04am
    
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post #7 of 48
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by GPA_Voltaire View Post
OC'ing, at least spell planning right in the title COME ON MAN!! , but it's a good FAQ
LOL... good catch man! Changed and thanks! After typing a 4 page FAQ all the n's tend to turn into m's haha!
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post #8 of 48
Thread Starter 
Updated
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post #9 of 48
Great FAQ!

I will be refering to this when I get my Petra D4 kit!
    
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post #10 of 48
Good Job! I've got it bookmarked and stickied...
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