Liquid cooling isn’t a new fad in DIY PC building, however it has become more popular recently due to improvements in technology that allow it to be more accessible to even beginner builders. But wait, isn’t liquid and water bad for computer components? We all know the horror stories of spilling coffee on a laptop. Why would someone risk putting a water or liquid cooled loop near all their expensive components? The reason is simple: the benefits far outweigh the risk, and when assembled correctly, the risk of damage from leaks is very low.
If you’re looking to get into liquid or water cooling your CPU or graphics card (or maybe both), then as always you must first consider your budget. There are two very different types of cooling options: all-in-one (AIO) kits or custom-made cooling loops. You can easily find AIO kits offered by many hardware manufacturers including Corsair, Cooler Master, NZXT, and Asetek. The point of one of these AIO liquid cooling kits is to make it incredibly easy to use out of the box. The whole ecosystem comes together connected: the pump, the radiator, the tubes, and the heat transferring block (usually made of copper, which is incredibly effective at transferring heat). There is also mounting hardware included, so you can attach it to your CPU.To cool the CPU, the pump part of the unit pushes cooled liquid or water from the radiator into the tubes and onto the water block where it will cool the metal plate that attaches to the CPU. From there, heat is pulled from the CPU and transferred to the liquid that is in the block, which is then pushed out and back into the radiator end so that it can cool. Fresh, cooled liquid is then cycled back and the loop is complete, and your system should be running a lot cooler and quieter. An AIO like this usually is a one-time cost with little-to-no maintenance involved. However, there are still space considerations to take into consideration when installing one of these AIO liquid cooled kits, as the radiator can take up significant space in the top or front panel of your case. The radiator that comes with the kit may not fit in the area where you want to install it, so you should always check both your case and the specifications of the AIO kit before you invest in one.
While it seems like having an AIO liquid cooled kit would be enough, for some systems, it still can’t provide the level of cooling that users may want, especially if their system has a really powerful CPU and graphics card. An AIO can only cool one or the other, not both. Also, because everything comes with it, there is little-to-no customization that a user can do. This is why many builders have branched out into the other type of cooling, which is a much more involved (and expensive process): custom liquid cooling.
For custom water cooling, each part of the cooling loop is purchased and assembled by the user themselves. That includes radiators, pumps, reservoirs, the cooling liquid, fans, tubing, and even the metal fittings for each section of the loop; each are picked out, measured, and assembled by the builder. Makers such as AlphaCool, EKWB, and DeepCool specialize in these parts, and the options are nearly endless.
When going into a custom cooled build, preparation is key. Each section of the case must be measured and measured again to make sure there’s enough room for the reservoir, radiators, and pump, which take up the most space in the case. Users also must measure how much tubing they need to cut and screw into each fitting so they can connect the CPU and GPU to the loop. The fittings themselves are offered at different threading widths and angles. What the user ends up choosing depends on the configuration of their case and the kind of loop they want. For instance, it’s best to avoid overlapping tubes and obstructing the graphics card, because any pressure incurred upon the tubing makes it more likely to leak over time. Many a gaming rig has been damaged by leaks – it is the number one risk involved in creating your own custom loop (aside from the cost).
However, the end benefits are clear: users can have a clean, silent, and incredibly cool system, even with the most powerful hardware inside. Many custom cooled computer systems are more like works of art, and they certainly look impressive on a show floor or living room alike.