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New to Watercooling?  Have questions?  This thread is to help you get started!





Warning!  Achtung! Peligro!

This thread is a work in progress and will be finished soon!

Table of Contents:

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Why Watercool?


There are various reasons as to why someone would want to watercool.  Over the years, I've found 2 primary reasons:


1. They want to OC their gear while using it as a daily driver build.

2. It looks awesome. (hell yeah it does!)


Now, there are other reasons of course, that have just as many backgrounds as to why someone modded their case the way they did.  Often times it comes down to: Why not?!


As with anything of an enthusiast origin, there are caveats to watercooling.  Expense is the single greatest turn off for people, followed by the loss of equipment due to an accident or a part failing causing the loop to hose down valuable (or invaluable, depending on your lifestyle) equipment.   As they say, no man who was willing to face his fears ever lossed.... is that what they say?  Not sure, I didn't go to proverb school.


Watercooling offers significant headroom for those who want to get the maximum performance from their equipment.  While there are other methods to this, some are dangerous and/or prohibitively expensive, such as mineral oil builds and LN2 (which is used strictly for overclocking and not something anyone would ever use for a daily driver).


In the end, you have to figure if it's a risk you're willing to take, if it will match the theme of your build, if you want every precious MHz out of your gear, and if your budget will allow for it.  This is all up to the end user.  This site is all about modders and enthusiasts though, so if you're really looking to buy an AIO/CLC system, you should look eslewhere for more detailed advice.


The benefits?  The main benefit is seeing a significant drop in temperatures from your CPU/GPU.  While I won't go into scientific detail because there are far too many components and hardware to test in the world, you're looking at cutting roughly 50% of heat off of your CPU alone with a custom watercooling loop.  Additionally, cooler running hardware is able to overclock higher (typically, not always due to hardware limits or a CPU that just won't cooperate).


The cons?  Price, I suppose.  But if we're too worried about price, then we're not even going to bother with watercooling, right?  Right!  So let's move on!

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All In One/Closed Loop Cooler Units.


I'm not going to spend a great deal of time on this section, as this is really a very mainstream option in cooling these days.


A.I.O = All In One (aka CLC: Closed Loop System.) 


These are pre-assembled watercooling systems that typically house the water pump on the CPU block itself, and have hoses with pre-mixed coolants such as ethylene glycol running within the system.  While most AIO units will give you better temps than most fan-based heatsinks (especially stock), they are only as good, if not, negligibly better/worse than high end fan-based aircoolers and cost roughly the same as their counterparts.



Pros: Cost (compared to Custom Loop), Ease of Installation, No significant weight on the motherboard, no reservoir, little maintenance involved, Warranty, Noise


Cons: Tubing Length, Component Quality, Temperature Minimum and Maximum no better than high-end aircooling options.




Corsair H series



NZXT Kraken series



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Kits are made up of custom watercooling components that are typically available outside of the kit.  The kit is to help those who are new to watercooling, or those who just want a basic kit to install in a build.


Kits will usually come with the following:

  • CPU Waterblock
  • Barbs (fittings with clamps OR compression fittings)
  • Tubing that matchets the fitting size
  • Radiator
  • Reservoir (Bay or Cylindar reservoir)
  • Pump
  • Pre-Mixed Coolant from the Manufacturer ****

Kits usually start around the $140.00 USD mark and go up from there depending on the quality of components and the size of the radiator (size matters, guys!)


Pros:  Affordable entry level watercooling, everything you need in one shot, expandable later on.


Cons: Lack of choice in hardware, not available from all manufacturers.


Examples of Kits:


XSPC Raystorm Kit w/ 360mm Radiator and Bay Reservoir



EKWB Kit w/ 360mm Radiator and Cylindar Reservoir




**** While it's tempting to use that bottle of pre-mixed fluid that came with your kit, I personally cannot recommend doing so as it's usually hazardous to the environment, your skin, your pets, and it smells like something died a toxic death.

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Custom Loops Breakdown: DIAMETER, TUBING, FITTINGS


This is where the fun is at.  Custom loops are just that, custom.  Each part can be purchased separately for a unique build, and many parts can be modified to enhance the look and the performance even further.


I have broken this down as best as I can with examples of each product.  So.... let's get started!


Inner Diameter (ID) and Outer Diameter (OD)


Because the world is a hateful place, there are various sizes of tubing, fittings, and unit scales that one must abide by to get the tubing and the fitting to be seamless.  While one can always go with the "DIY Compression" system of buying smaller tube than the fitting, we're going to shy away from that for now.


These two dimensions are what all fittings are measured in.  In a large part of the world, The imperial system (inches) is used for the measurements, whereas]some places in Europe use the metric system (millimeters).  Both tubing and fittings use this method, so it's pretty simple to match up what you need.  Most fittings these days use the imperial system ('Murrica!), so just be aware of what you're looking at.


NOTE: Metric sizes have the Outer Diameter Listed FIRST, and the Inner Diameter listed SECOND.


If you purchase 1/2 ID 3/4 OD Tubing, then buy 1/2 ID 3/4 OD Fittings.

If you purchase 16mm/13mm Tubing, then buy 16mm/13mm fittings.


IMPORTANT NOTE:  Thanks to Jesse for pointing this out.   YOU need to decide what size tubing and fittings to get.  You don't have to go with 1/2 ID 3/4 OD, the only thing you need to be sure of is that your fittings and tubing match.  Since you will be limited by the G 1/4 threads on your radiators, pumps, reservoirs, and waterblocks, bigger tubing doesn't mean better temperatures.  Your fittings will have to scale to that G 1/4 thread, so Fitting and Tubing is a negligible data point as far as temperatures go.





Tubing can be be purchased from just about anywhere.  It's best to find tubing that is Plasticizer free, which can and probably will cloud  your clear tubing and possibly gunk up your loop.  


Popular tubing choices that are known to be plasticizer free:

  • Tygon (type R3400 is best)
  • Duralene
  • Acrylic
  • Copper.


Both acrylic and copper will need special tools and fittings to adapt to your loop, however these are options are becoming a more popular look among modders and enthusiasts for the clean, rigid look that they provide.








Acrylic Tubing (from Primochill)



Copper Tubing





Fittings come in a variety of sizes, colors, angles and compression methods.


Barbs and Clamps:


Barbs are the basic fitting used in watercooling.  These fittings will need to be matched to the size of the tubing and a clamp of some type used for best measure.




Compression fittings:


These fittings have a "ring" that slides on to the tubing prior to the tubing being placed on the fitting.  Once the tubing is in place, the user then slides the ring down to the fitting.  The ring will have threads that match the fitting's threads.  Once screwed in, this "compresses" the tubing so it stays uniform and attached to the fitting, it also prevents leaks.





Angled and Rotary Fittings:


Angled/Rotary fittings come in all sorts of angles, from 30 degree to wacky-wavy-inflatable-tube-guy directions.  These are helpful for cramped spaces. or for a smooth, clean look.  Some fittings are even available with "light ports" on one side, allowing one to use any color LED with an LED Plug to shine light into their tubing, or to add temperature probe plugs.








Plugs come in variety of materials.  Some are used simply to plug an unused port, say, on a reservoir or pump, while others are used for temperature monitoring, adding Silver Kill Coil properties, or adding lighting to reservoirs or angled lighting fittings.





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Reservoirs and Pumps




Reservoirs come in many different sizes, but few shapes.  You essentially have two classes of reservoirs, Cylindrical or "tube" style, and Bay reservoirs.  Reservoirs are not essential to your loop.  You can have a loop without one, however, it is advised to use one as it makes filling your loop to an optimal level easy.


Reservoirs essentially serve two purposes:  


  1. Fill port
  2. Holding tank
  3. Fill level Viewer


Though reservoirs are becoming far more advanced these days than they have in the last couple of years, they essentially do the same thing across the board.  A lot of them offer multiple ports for inlet, LED fittings, temperature fittings, etc.  Reservoirs can also be adapted to pumps for seamless integration, meaning there are no tubes between your reservoir and the pump itself.



Example of Cylinder "Tube" Reservoirs:





Aquacomputer Aqualis



Example of Bay Reservoirs:












Pumps come in different variations and are essentially the Heart of your loop.  If you think about your body, your heart is the primary organ that facilitates circulation of blood.  Same concept here.  Pumps come in different sizes and produce varied speeds to accommodate the flow needed to keep water circulating in your loop.


While there are a few manufacturers of pumps, it's important to note that a majority of pumps on the market are just rebranded, often without even adding an official stamp on the pump itself.  For example,  Laing produces the D5 pump, which is then rebranded by various companies such as Aquacomputer, Phobya, Swiftech, etc.  Most of the time they are the exact same pump, however there are minor exceptions to the rule, such as Aquacomputer's variant that includes a USB connection along with their proprietary Aquabus interface for use with their controllers (Aquaero 5 LT/Pro/XT).


Here are some of the most popular Pump types used today in loops:

Laing D5:









Each of these pumps have varying flow rates, operating methods, and modifications depending on the company who rebrands them.  You always want to use a flow rate that is continuously cycling water from the reservoir, through the loop and back to the reservoir.  It needs to be a constant stream in order to keep your pump working to its designed specifications.  No water=burned out pump.



ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS place your Primary pump BELOW your reservoir.  NEVER above it.  Should you use two pumps for much larger loops, the secondary can be placed just about anywhere, but both need to ALWAYS have water cycling through them at a constant rate.

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CPU and GPU Blocks:


CPU Blocks:


CPU blocks are the primary block that watercoolers use in their systems.  These blocks take the heat from the CPU and transfer it to the water running through the block, which is then cooled by a radiator (more on this in the next topic).  While CPU blocks all follow the same premise, there is, without a doubt, high variations in the performance of CPU blocks.


When you consider a CPU block, more expensive doesn't necessarily mean better performance.  On the flip side, you aren't going to get stellar performance from the cheapest CPU blocks on the market.  There's a good range, from $60.00 USD upward of $100.00 USD that will perform very close to each other.


Another part to take into consideration, is the mounting.  Because Intel and AMD have too many CPU Sockets on the market, different mounts are required to install your CPU Block.  LGA1150 is different than LGA2011 is different than AM3+, for example.  One of the nice things about LGA 2011 is there is really no need for a CPU backplate to be installed, as one already comes on the motherboard.  You simply apply Thermal paste to your CPU, mount the block and use the provided screws to fasten it.  MAKE SURE YOU ORDER A BLOCK THAT COMES WITH THE NECESSARY MOUNTING MATERIALS FOR YOUR CPU SOCKET.


When you install a CPU block, it's also important to attach your tubing to the correct ports.  Inlet, Outlet.  They're designed to flow this way, so use those ports how they're labeled.


Examples of some of the most common CPU blocks on the market:


XSPC Raystorm (Copper Version)



EK Supreme:



Koolance 370




GPU Blocks:


GPU blocks come in several variations, from Full-cover, Semi-Cover, and Universal.  It is here that we find some of the most difficult options and configurations to consider.  Save for universal blocks, no one GPU Block will facilitate all GPUs on the market, and even when a block does match a specific card, there's no guarantee that it will fit that card due to aftermarket modifications.  I do want to note, however, that this mostly applies to AMD cards, as AMD and its affiliated GPU manufacturers don't produce "Reference" design cards for very long.  Usually after about 2 months from the release of a card, aftermarket cards take over from the reference design completely.


So, make sure when purchasing a GPU block, that you are purchasing one that suits your needs and matches the GPU you are buying.


Additionally, a lot of manufacturers provide GPU "Backplates," which covers the backside of  the GPU to give a cleaner appearance and add rigidity to the card itself.  Backplates are NOT part of the watercooling loop as they have no connection to the waterloop itself.


Examples of GPU Blocks:


Full Cover:


Heatkiller GTX 680 Full Cover



HeatKiller GTX 680 Backplate



Universal Block:

(Various MFGs)



Other Blocks:


There are other waterblocks on the market for you to choose from, such as RAM, HDD, NorthBridge/Southbridge, and Motherboard Specific waterblocks that will facilitate the VRM/Mosfets of the board.  These are no necessary to the loop, however, for extreme overclockers, Motherboard blocks are a popular choice.




Koolance Full Board Waterblock for Asus Rampage III Formula





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Radiators are your source for cooling the water in your loop.  They come in different sizes, from various manufacturers and materials.  So, which one do you buy?  You can look at benchmark data (there's not a ton of it out there on radiators).  You can also look at cost.  Often (but not always, as with anything) the more expensive a radiator, the better the materials are used and the better performance you will get.  A radiator with copper fins and thicker dimensions will cool better than a radiator with aluminum fins and a thinner dimensions, for example (and it will be more expensive for the copper version).


Radiators are labeled in conjunction with size fans that they use to be cooled.

A 120mm Radiator is 1 x 120mm fan.

A 240mm Radiator is 2x 120mm fans.

A 140mm Radiator is 1x 140mm fan.

A 280 Radiator is 2x 240mm fans.

And so on.


The basic principle behind buying a radiator is this:

1 x 120mm fan for every block you are cooling.


Sounds easy enough, right?  Well, it's not, because a 120mm radiator isn't as efficient as a 240mm radiator, and a 240mm radiator isn't as efficient as a a 360mm radiator.  See the pattern? Personally, I've always gone with this:  Every loop requires AT LEAST a 240mm Radiator, then go from there depending on the heat generated by the CPU, GPU, and the size of the case.


Due to the laws of physics and thermal dynamics, there are always going to be limitations.  You can not get your loop below room temperature without using a chiller (expensive gear that very few people even use).  Your loop, no matter how many radiators and fans and length of tubing you have, will always end up at what we call "equilibrium."


This means that despite buying seventeen 480mm radiators with the most expensive fans on the market. it's not going to outperform the minimal amount of hardware used to cool your loop to that same temperature.


Thicker radiators need better fans (CFM and static pressure matter here), additionally, a thicker rad will mean more cooling in the same amount of width and length space, it's just a deeper radiator.


Remember:  You only have so much radiator space inside your case, even if you mod it.  Unless you're looking to either extend the frame of your case, or mount a radiator externally, you will be limited buy the actual dimensions of your chassis.  If you're buying a new chassis to watercool, then your options are only limited by your budget and imagination.


Fan/Radiator Set Up:

Passive: Used for the most silent builds, passive Radiators are usually mounted on the outside of a chassis.

  • One Issue I have found with Passive, is that they are made of Aluminum.  So unless everything else in your loop is Aluminum, DO NOT Buy these.  I have yet to find Copper/Nickel/Brass Passive Radiators on the market.

Push:  This is when fans are pushing air through the radiator.

Pull:  This is when fans are pulling air through the radiator.

Push/Pull: This is when fans on one side of the radiator are pushing air through the radiator fins, while the set of fans on the opposite side are pulling that same air through the radiator.


Examples of Radiators:

Aquacomputer  Airplex 360mm Radiator



EK XTX Series Radiators (various sizes)



XSPC Crossflow Radiator



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Fans for Radiators


While there are literally hundreds of fans out there, most are not suitable for radiators.  Why?  With Radiators, you're trying to get as much air  through the radiator as possible to get your loop down to optimal temps for whatever it is that you're doing. Unfortunately, there are very few real details as to which fan is "The Best."  Why?  Because box specs are not always accurate, and even when they are, there's a lot of variance between airflow and static pressure, even with the same fan, at different RPM's, configurations, mounting, etc.


What I will tell you is this:  Look for fans that list high static pressure, high CFM, and LOW noise (dBA), but more importantly, do your research on these fans via Google before buying them.


I won't throw any particular company under the bus for misleading consumers on the performance of their fans *coughcoolermastercough*, but they are out there.  So again, you must do your research.


Some of the more popular fans for cooling:


Scythe Gentle Typhoon AP-15 (good luck finding them, people horde these like hookers horde crack).



Swiftech Helix



Noiseblocker M12-S2



Corsair SP120



Yate Loon


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Choosing a Case


Because watercooling requires space and the proper ventilation to achieve your desired results, you also need to research what case will suit your needs.


It's important to note that not all cases on the market are watercooling friendly out of the box.  Some will require heavy modification to allow even the smallest loops.  Since we're moddders, this isn't really an issue, and it's what separates us from the majority of people out there who expect manufacturers to do everything for them.


For this guide, however, we are going to go with an enthusiast chassis that will require only one minor modification to get our basic loop up and running.  We'll be using a CaseLabs SMH10 chassis. CaseLabs has a solution for every type of watercooling enthusiast, and they are expanding as time goes on.  While they aren't the cheapest cases on the market, they offer incredible build quality, materials, and customer service.  I've chosen this case because it's easy to configure.


You'll notice that the case has adequate space for nearly any set up out there.

  1. Multiple areas where a reservoir can be mounted.
  2. Dedicated Radiator Space.
  3. Tons of options for fan placement.
  4. Easy access to all areas needed.


This is the ideal solution "out of the box," however 90% of the chassis on the market are not geared toward enthusiasts (be prepared to bust out your dremel and drill).




Below, I've shown the basic set up we are going for.  The watercooling hardware is marked out in Red, and the pump is actually located BEHIND the radiator (I just wanted to give you an idea of placement).  We want the pump to be BELOW the reservoir so that there's constant access to water.  This will help avoid a pump burnout and prolong its life.




As we are going for a basic loop, I will be using various equipment that can be purchased at any watercooling ®etailer.  Feel free to buy any items that you feel meet your needs and don't limit yourself to what's in this guide.  






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Water water water.  Water for the monkeys, water for the pandas, water for the elephants too!

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