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6/3/2004
02:20 PM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
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Langa Letter: Cool And Quiet: Warm-Weather Follow-Up

After detailing multiple approaches to keep your PC cool and quiet, Fred Langa goes a step further, testing a water-cooling system and seeking to address warm weather and high-stress applications with a thermostatic power supply.

Water Cooling: Close, But No Cigar
I was dubious about water-cooling, but not for the reasons you might expect. I knew that a well-designed and carefully assembled water cooling system wasn't particularly leak-prone, for example, so leaks and corrosion should be preventable. I also knew that distilled water isn't an especially good electrical conductor: A stray drop, while not a good thing, would not automatically mean the inevitable instant destruction of the PC.

But I did wonder about three other things: Complexity (including space for the extra components); noise (I thought I'd hear aquarium-like sounds bubbling out of the PC); and accidental damage (e.g., what happens if someone knocked the PC over?).

I chose an Iceberg water-cooling system to test. It had gotten several good reviews on "overclocking" sites where exotic PC cooling techniques are a way of life; and all the parts were specifically designed to work together. It's not cheap, at $99, but I thought it would still be worth a look.

The system is very well made and surprisingly easy to put together. The hardest part for me was getting the water-block mounted on the CPU, because the Iceberg uses the PC's original heat-sink clips, and mine were no longer in pristine condition, given all the previous changes to the heat-sink configuration. But, once assembled, everything worked the first time, and was refreshingly leak-proof. Even the reservoir was carefully designed so that it didn't leak when tipped on its side (which I did as an experiment). Given normal use, I think the odds of a catastrophic leak are very small with this system.

The system also was surprisingly quiet. The water pump emits, at most, a very gentle hum. If you follow the setup directions correctly, there'll be no bubbling or splashing sounds, no sound of moving water at all.

The system requires a conventional 80mm fan to push air through its radiator, and this does produce some normal fan noise, perhaps increased a bit by the extra turbulence of the air flowing through the radiator fins. It might be possible to use this one fan both for case ventilation and for radiator cooling, but the relatively close quarters of my mini-tower case made this problematic.

It turned out not to be worth trying to solve the fan-placement problem because of a larger problem that proved insurmountable: If you recall from the original "Cool and Quiet" series, I'd added an extra fan in the lower front corner of my PC case to cool my hard drive, which otherwise was in an underventilated spot. With that fan in place to cool the hard drive, there was no room for a water reservoir.

This was a problem I could have solved--there are special, ventilated enclosures for hard drives, for example. But this would have added to the complexity of the setup, and probably would require adding more fans to a system that was already cool and quiet. It seemed a losing proposition.

Also, the water-cooling system operates on 110v AC power; it has its own grounded electrical cord that must be run to a wall socket outside the case. You have to drill a hole in the PC case to allow the power cord to pass through.

I set up the water-cooling system enough to prove the theory without making extensive modifications: I left the PC's side off, and placed the reservoir on the floor, for example. The cooling system worked, and were I delving into overclocking, with its extreme heat-dissipation requirements, I'd certainly consider water cooling. But I'd also plan on it from the start, rather than as an afterthought. For example, I'd use a full-size tower case to create plenty of room to add the reservoir inside.

Trying to add a water-based cooling system to a mini-tower system--especially one that was already quiet and cool--simply wasn't worthwhile to me. Water cooling is an interesting approach, but seems to me to be suited mainly for unusual, nonstandard cooling needs. For routine cooling, the simplicity and lower cost of speed-controlled fans seem to be the way to go.

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