MenuWater Cooling Build - Part 1: Decisions

Today I want to show you my first water cooling PC build. It's not a hardware upgrade. I just switched cases and cooling method with this build. I own my computer for a while now and I am still pretty happy with the performance. The weak-points of my setup could be compensated with a little overclocking here and there if needed.

This is the first episode which features why and how I changed from air- to water-cooling.

The Specs

Old housingOld housing Old housing CloseDownload Mainboard with CPU & RAMMainboard with CPU & RAM Mainboard with CPU & RAM CloseDownload

Before, I had some kind of hybrid-cooled PC utilizing a complex pattern of silent-fans to maintain reasonable CPU/GPU temperatures. Additionally, the CPU was cooled by a Corsair H60 to allow a little more silent operation. Due to the fact that I used a mid-tower case this setup was pretty hard to maintain. Especially dust was a big problem.

In such a case (pun intended) all the fans are depending on each other's performance to keep up the airflow needed to stay cool & quiet. If one of the fans collects enough dust, this system eventually will collapse. At first temps start to raise and after a while the system will try to compensate this and turn up the fans to provide more airflow. I ended up cleaning the whole system every 3-6 months and repairing/replacing fans a lot.

I could have used a big tower to reduce these problems in the first place but I prefer mid-tower cases to maintain transportability and flexibility, and to have a leightweight look.

The Goals

  1. Silence first: I want a silent PC no matter what
  2. Reasonable temperatures: temps are secondary but should not exceed 70-80°C
  3. OC-margin: Some room to OC a little if neccessary

To achieve this, I decided what components need cooling:

  • CPU: Definitely, that i7 gets pretty hot!
  • GPU: Yes, the Asus DCII cooler is very silent. But it is HUGE and cannot develop full performance in small cases.
  • Mainboard: Maybe cooling the Northbridge and MOSFETs could reduce the needed airflow in the case a bit?
  • RAM: Nah ... not needed at all
  • Harddisk: I really don't know what this could be good for?!

From a water-cooling perspective such a setup needs a moderate pump and at least a 3x120 radiator

The new case

If you already have a case and want to keep that, you have no alternative but to buy cooling-equipment fitting your case or modding the case.

My old case was an AeroCool Strike-X Advance.

I was going to switch (in) this case (pun intended) what makes it somewhat hard to find a good start. So I started to select a new case first to defeat all issues related to the old case:

Due to the fact that the Strike-X is really small and not silenced at all (thin material and mesh everywhere) I would need a case whith less mesh and more insulation. To get the most out of a new case, I looked in all directions to find what best suits my needs. At first I ended up fancying with cases which have seperate areas to place radiators into. All other cases always had tradeoffs when it comes to water cooling. But I didnt want to spend too much money on huge towers. It was really hard to find something right but the following cases have been in my short-list:

After searching and searching and searching I "accidentally" found the following case:

  • NZXT. H440 Mid Tower
    • Great look
    • Mid-tower (as I prefer)
    • Good potential for custom loop watercooling
    • good noise insulation
    • Fair pricing
    • No bays for an optical-drive ... but I dont have one anyway :-P
    • Not so much room

When I saw this beauty I immediately wanted to use it for the build. So I decided to go for the black-red version:

Case OverviewCase Overview Case Overview CloseDownload Left sideLeft side Left side CloseDownload Right frontRight front Right front CloseDownload Interface closeupInterface closeup Interface closeup CloseDownload

 I reviewed my goals and tried to find a way to achieve them with the H440:

  • 360 Rad: Check
  • SSDs: Check
  • Pump: Could get a little tight in there
  • Reservoir: Must be a small one or be placed on the outside
  • Hard-Disk: Could be tricky to get that in the case if the radiator sits in front

The Parts

Finally, I could create a list of all needed parts for my first build:

The Plan

To visualize the masterplan, I created the following beautifully designed and handcrafted masterpieces:

The Plan - FrontThe Plan - Front The Plan - Front CloseDownload The Plan - BackThe Plan - Back The Plan - Back CloseDownload

The first image shows the complete setup:

  1. Radiator with fans (Pull config)
  2. Pump
  3. Reservoir
  4. SSDs
  5. HDD
  6. GPU
  7. Case Fans (moved from front to top)

The second image just shows the clearance for a 360 rad in the front. I measured this by painting the HDD (orange) first, then converting its real width to pixels and finally converting the real width of the pixels left to it (blue range) to real millimeters.

Coming up next

The second episode of this buildlog features the preparation of hardware and waterblock installation with lots of images and details about the whole process.

Watercooling Build - Part 2: Hardware Preparation