What's a reliable, quiet water-cooling setup for a new DIY gaming PC?
September 18, 2007 2:07 PM   Subscribe

I'm going for a pretty significant (and overdue) upgrade on my desktop PC and as part of this, I'm considering water-cooled system. I looking at a Core 2 Duo Conroe 2.66 GHz CPU, eVGA GeForce 8800 GTS and similar motherboard/RAM. I'm looking for a solid water-cooling setup that will be reliable and quiet. Basically, I'm wondering about kits vs. a la carte, solid manufacturers, general considerations, etc.

Being a massive System Shock 2 fan, I picked up Bioshock last week. Unfortunately, after installing and giving it a run, I realized that I haven't significantly upgraded my desktop for quite some time. Bioshock will run, but not well and nowhere near as pretty as it could be. There's plenty of other goodness coming down the pipe soon, and I'd like to turn my existing machine into a Linux media server anyway, so I'm fine with this being a pretty substantial upgrade.

I've got two degrees in Computer Science and have built all of my PCs for close to a decade, so DIY is fine and preferred (since it's usually cheaper). I haven't ever built a water-cooled system, but should be able to handle the technical bits fine. My current desktop sounds like a shop vac most of the time and the near-silence of a water-cooled system is pretty appealing. An external cooling system isn't a problem as this PC doesn't need to be mobile at all. I don't plan on going crazy with overclocking, but if things are cool enough, I'll certainly be turning up the dials a little.

Final addendum is I'm in Canada, so shipping heavy things from the States probably isn't worth the additional cost. Thanks!
posted by Nelsormensch to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know if you'd even need to watercool a stock C2D based system; but sometimes you have to do things just because they're there.

Silentpcreview is a good place to start: Watercooling has its own forum over there.
posted by heeeraldo at 2:29 PM on September 18, 2007

Check out the ARS system guides.
posted by iamabot at 2:30 PM on September 18, 2007

Try NCIX/Direct Canada for parts. They do price matching with places like tiger direct.
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:12 PM on September 18, 2007

Best answer: Don't do water cooling.

I did that for or three builds, hoping mostly that the water cooling would be quieter than air. I used the Koolance products, and while they're very well designed, they are NOT quiet. And water cooling is very expensive, because you have to buy the pump/cooling unit, and then individual coolers for all your components. All told, I probably spent about $800 across two systems. The temperature control was awesome, and it would hafve supported overclocking like crazy, but my particular components weren't capable of very much of that. But I REALLY bought it to be quiet, and it was still quite, quite loud.

Worse, all PC components are designed with the idea that there will be airflow in the case. Mine didn't really have any, so I cooked my first set of RAM chips... had to buy new RAM and RAM coolers, and then take everything apart again to get the new coolers into the water loop. I had to drain the system, cut hoses, run new hoses, and refill the system -- not a lot of fun.

What's the right solution? You want air cooling. It can be done quietly. My present system is whiper-quiet, and it absolutely destroys my Athlon 64 speed-wise.

Use an Antech P182 case -- the older 180 will also work, though it's not quite as good. Replace the built-in case fans with the Scythe SFF21E 1200RPM fans; they are much quieter than the already-quiet stock fans. You will lose the little switches on the back for CPU and case fan speed, but you get a dial-a-speed unit you can use instead. Just poke it out the water cooling hole and you can adjust your fan speeds from outside.

With a C2D 2.4ghz, OCed to 2.7, 4 gigs of RAM, a WD Raptor 150 hard drive, and an EVGA 8800GTS, the system is so quiet I can only tell it's on if I get my ear within a foot. From normal sitting position, I simply can't hear it. When it first powers on, it's a little louder, but then the case fans spin down to normal. It stays nicely cool, and runs Bioshock like liquid.

The build will take you some fidding around; replacing the fans isn't DIFFICULT, but it's a little time consuming, as you have to figure out which direction the fans are blowing, and then replace the switch/fan setup with your own. And then you'll probably need to play in your BIOS to get the fan speed settings just right, combined with your dial-a-speed unit. All told, you'll probably spend a good two hours fiddling with it. But that's still a hell of a lot easier than water cooling, and you maintain airflow in the case, so you won't cook anything by accident. It's MUCH cheaper. It requires no additional maintenance -- you don't have to fill your water system all the time. (mine lost water through the tubing steadily.) And, at least compared to the Koolance solutions, it will lbe tremendously quieter, too.

I'm absolutely certain you won't mind the noise level in a P182, if you take the time to fiddle with it until it's perfect. I found it to be a far superior solution for low-noise computing, and I think you will too.
posted by Malor at 4:24 PM on September 18, 2007 [4 favorites]

Darn it... strike 'or' in the 'or three builds'. I did three water cooled builds; at first I wasn't sure if it was two or three. I didn't remove the or, bad me. :)
posted by Malor at 4:25 PM on September 18, 2007

I'll second what Malor said. Air is cheap, quiet, and effective.
posted by aye at 4:29 PM on September 18, 2007

Water cooled seems like a a terrible time sink and not necessarily quiet. That water has to be pumped around you know and might start gurgling if there's any air (think "fish tank"). My system is super quiet and air cooled. I'm using an Antec Sonata case (rubber mounts for everything, heavy steel for damping) which helps. I also replaced the CPU and graphics card coolers with Zalman flower coolers; these make a huge difference. Also, get a quiet PSU. I again chose a Zalman PSU.

Don't waste time overclocking.

Like all the advice you'll get here, this is just an opinion.
posted by chairface at 5:26 PM on September 18, 2007

You can take that chip above 3.2Ghz per core w/ stock cooling on moderate ram. The C2D chips are really such a higher quality product than, say, my p4 2.8 Prescott that it's sort of mind blowing.
posted by TomMelee at 6:07 PM on September 18, 2007

Sorry for all the typos in my post, btw.
posted by Malor at 6:09 PM on September 18, 2007

Nthing the dont do it sentiment. I had a watercooled loop in my last desktop build...and that's why that desktop is dead and I'm typing from a laptop.

I had the loop running for 2 years, bled and refilled it several times to clean/add components with no problem, until the hose developed a leak one night and that was it for the motherboard and video card. Killed a perfectly good radeon 9700 and IC7. I switched back to air (on a POS mobo and vid card until getting this laptop) and never missed it.

If you get a good system now, there's almost no reason to overclock- a stock 8800 or something is going to run anything you throw at it, and you can build a quiet, blazing fast system on air cooling and not have to worry about the hassle/danger of a water cooling loop.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:29 PM on September 18, 2007

Response by poster: Fantastic, thanks for all the great input. Looks like air cooling has gone even further that I though. I'll see what I can do with Scythe/Zalman fans and heatsinks. Cheers!
posted by Nelsormensch at 6:46 PM on September 18, 2007

Malor already gove you some great advice but definitely check out silentpcreview as well. Lots of articles and reviews; the forums are also very good (and more current). I know my next system will be put together using a lot of the information there.
posted by 6550 at 7:24 PM on September 18, 2007

As far as quietude, get big fans anywhere possible (power supply, CPU cooler, case fans). 120mm fans are infinitely quieter than 80mm fans. (They can push the same volume of air at lower RPMs.) You can have a few fans and still have a virtually silent PC.
posted by knave at 10:42 PM on September 18, 2007

I had really good luck making a silent water cooled system with a Zalman Reserator and a fanless power supply.

I'm sure you could do it with air, but I'm slightly insane and did not want a case.

Them iMacs is pretty quiet.
posted by trevyn at 10:53 PM on September 18, 2007

« Older Need directional audio system for convention   |   Where can I find old guides on how to talk to your... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.