Ask LH: Should I Water Cool My PC?

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Dear Lifehacker, I'm looking to build a new PC that's capable of running high-end video games and 3D graphics applications. In other words, it's going to get pretty hot! I'm seriously considering a water cooling solution but don't really know where to start. So my questions are: is water cooling worth the effort and what type of skills do I need to pull it off? Old Man River

Dear OMR,

Water cooling provides several worthwhile advantages including superior heat absorption, greater overclocking potential and much quieter operation. It basically works like a car radiator, with heat dissipated through vents to keep the water — and thus, your components — cool.

If you're building your own PCs, you're going to need some additional hardware to pull this off. This includes waterblocks (which attach to specific components like the graphics card and CPU), a pump and reservoir (for pumping and holding liquid in the loop), the aforementioned radiator (which allows heat to escape) and myriad tubes and fittings to make it all work. For best results, you can also add coolants and additives ranging from distilled water for less bubbles to anti-corrosive agents.

For step-by-step instructions on putting everything together, check out our in-depth water-cooling guide. As it's your first time, we recommend enlisting the help of a more knowledgeable buddy just in case you hit any snags. You should also pay a visit to PC enthusiast sites like Overclock.net, Tom's Hardware and Overclockers which have plenty of water-cooling tips for beginners. Here are a few articles to get you started.

So that's water cooling in a nutshell — but is it worth it? This is obviously a matter of opinion. Water cooling PCs take more time to build and are considerably more expensive. In addition, there are more things to potentially screw up, especially for PC newbies. Our colleague in the US recently washed his hands of water cooled PCs — you can read why he turned his back on the practice here.

If you plan to push your machine to its limits, have plenty of time and money to spare and like the idea of near-silent operation, a water cooling solution is definitely worth considering. Otherwise, you should probably just invest in some higher quality fans.

We're also going to throw this one over to our readers. Have you ever built a water-cooled PC? Was it worth the money and effort? Let OMR know in the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    The funny thing I notice with most water cooled PCs are the size of the cases people use. Using water cooling should allow you to reduce the size of the case to the smallest thing possible. There is no need to move air around the case anymore.
    One place I have seen water cooling work well is in Large Data Centres and very high density racking of blades and computers. IBM/Lenovo have a blade solution that has water cooling. It both reduces the need to keep the Data centre at very low temps and also doesn't inject hot air back into the DC that needs to be cooled by the CRAC units.

    Decided to try it when building a new PC and discovered the fans were running lounder than I'd like. Was still new to building a computer but thought it was worth the patience and money to try. A couple of things:

    I used a Corsair h100i for water cooling in a Bitfenix Pandora case, mounted at the front intake. Lesson learned here is to measure case dimensions for yourself as the radiator's 240mm didn't take some of the chunky plastic casing into account and the Pandora is slightly smaller than otherwise advertised. Some filing and force got it sitting right.

    The actual installation otherwise was very simple. Placement was the biggest hurdle, between dimensions and the stiffness of the hoses, my bright glowing Corsair logo was upside down. Once the correct bracket had been attached, it was just a matter of removing the seal that kept the thermal paste tacky and screwing the cooler over the CPU.

    Been a year since the build and no problems so far.

    Last edited 27/07/16 4:05 pm

    I built a pc and didn't bother water-cooling, the concept was too terrifying. After about 6 months of using a reference design graphics card I decided to get a closed loop water cooling system (read: something I didn't have to refill ever because NO). It was pretty cheap - $130 all up - I bought a Kraken G10 water cooling mount that let me attach a cpu water cooler (I used the Corsair H55) to my graphics card. There were loads of videos on how to install it on youtube, lots of in-depth descriptions for my exact card (an r9 290x aka the hottest card ever made), and only a few moments where I felt like I was going to destroy my computer.

    If you have a couple of spare hours though, it's a very worthwhile upgrade. I found that my graphics card was stuttering because it was throttling due to heat beforehand, since the upgrade that hasn't been a problem; it was running at anywhere between 80-95 degrees before, now the most I've seen it on has been 60-ish running super intense games. It's also much, much quieter (although I do still have a couple of case fans for general air flow and the cpu). The most disconcerting part is taking apart your very expensive graphics card - either that or when you turn your pc on for the first time after installing everything and hear the little bit of water trickle through the tube. Spine-tingling moments.

    TLDR: unless you are overclocking or live in a quiet convent then no.

    Liquid cooling doesn't necessarily make the system quieter.

    Heat still needs to be dissipated. Which still requires airflow.

    It should reduce noise, as you can put bigger fans running slower on your radiator.
    Saying that, i have a water cooled pc and upgrades are a pain, new GPU + $100 for a waterblock adds up over time.
    cleaning your loop as well and if you lan the extra weight is a pain.

    I'm moving away from the water cooling these days, but fund to do once, but with where air cooling is now, not sure if the benefits are there.

      Exactly this. I did a loop about 10 years ago and it was certainly quieter and more efficient.
      But, upgrades, or having to do maintenance was a major pain in the ass.
      I was also having to flush the loop every 6 months or so.
      IMO, if you are an overclocker and are going to push your hardware (not talking about default BIOS boosts, I'm talking pushing your CPU GPU to as far as they will go) then go water.
      Otherwise air is much easier and convenient.

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