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Question What are the biggest considerations when building a cooling water loop?

SHaines

Staff member
Apr 1, 2019
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As technology evolves over time, things that were once only for the hardest of the hardcore can become commonplace. Something that's becoming at least a bit more common these days is a cooling system built into how computers. With games like Cyberpunk 2077 promising to push technology to the limit, more and more people are likely to get their first water cooling systems.

With that in mind, what are the biggest considerations when building a cooling water loop? If someone is looking to introduce cooling, what are the things everyone should know?
 
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myocardia

Diamond Member
Jun 21, 2003
9,291
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As technology evolves over time, things that were once only for the hardest of the hardcore can become commonplace. Something that's becoming at least a bit more common these days is a cooling system built into how computers. With games like Cyberpunk 2077 promising to push technology to the limit, more and more people are likely to get their first water cooling systems.

With that in mind, what are the biggest considerations when building a cooling water loop? If someone is looking to introduce cooling, what are the things everyone should know?

With the emboldened word, which word should that be? Maybe "our"? Also, the answer to your question would depend quite a bit upon which type of watercooling you are referencing. Do you mean a DIY setup, where you pick each and every component in the loop, or an all-included, one piece setup that we almost always call AIOs, short for All In Ones? Actually, with both types the larger the radiator happens to be, the more cooling will be able to happen, even while using identical fans and fan speeds. Most of the experts seem to recommend to people who have never used water to start out with a well-regarded AIO, since they are so much simpler.
 

VirtualLarry

Lifer
Aug 25, 2001
49,517
5,594
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Most of the experts seem to recommend to people who have never used water to start out with a well-regarded AIO, since they are so much simpler.
This. WFM.

Yeah, people like JayzTwoCents, and PaulsHardware, and LinusTechTips, and maybe GamersNexus, also HardwareUnboxed, they all know how to do those fancy-schmancy custom water builds, with the colored liquid, and lights, and whatnot. Truely a work of art!

Me, I took the baby steps a couple of years ago, with a CoolerMaster MasterLiquid Lite AIO kit. (I've since owned both the 120mm as well as currently using a 240mm kit.) Works good with Ryzen, those were some of the first that came out-of-the-box with AM4 mounting hardware included, that's why I picked them up. Performance for my application is fine, and they were inexpensive enough.

They're often sold out when on sale, so people are def. buying those models. Now they have an ARGB model for around $150. Mine is the original model with the white LED on the main pump unit.
 

Aikouka

Lifer
Nov 27, 2001
29,571
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If we're talking custom water cooling, I think it's safe to say that it can be surprisingly more involved than you think. I can't say how many cases I've heard were great for watercooling, but after I got them, I found glaring deficiencies. A great example of this is Corsair's Obsidian 900D. It was lauded for the ridiculous amount of radiator space, but it had no "floor" to which to mount the pump. (This was prior to fan mounts being as common as they are now.) I have a Lian Li O11 Dynamic XL right now, and given it's only available with a solid (tempered glass) front panel, it's arguably not tuned for the best airflow possible. It was also a bit of a chore to find a good spot to mount the pump in that case too. To be fair, it doesn't help that I insist on using dual pump tops.

Ultimately, the biggest thing to keep in mind is to do your research. Watercooling is an expensive addition to a PC, and I'd argue it's more valued toward those with the expendable cash flow. (Most users would benefit from a hardware upgrade instead.) But along that line, water cooling components -- outside of a GPU block -- are generally universal (outside of CPU blocks for AMD vs. Intel), which means that spending $80 on a radiator now can lead to it lasting for quite a while. That's what makes the research so important. You want a unit that will last for a while.
 
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dlerious

Senior member
Mar 4, 2004
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The size and type of tubing (flexible/hard) will determine what size/type fittings you need. I have 12 three foot sections of 1/2" (13mm) hardline here with fittings and a bending kit. Haven't gotten around to trying it out yet - hands/eyes aren't what they used to be. Don't have to be as precise with soft tubing.
 

aigomorla

Cases and Cooling Mod PC Gaming Mod Elite Member
Super Moderator
Sep 28, 2005
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With that in mind, what are the biggest considerations when building a cooling water loop? If someone is looking to introduce cooling, what are the things everyone should know?
Budget... then Budget again... and finally Budget.

If were not talking about AIO, i have yet to see someone or meet someone who has not gone over budget building a customized LCS.

Then its about efficiency.
How much wattage is the person attaining to cool.
A proper LCS has everything planned from FLOW, to proper amount of radiators paired with fans.
Just because the fan costed 29.99 does not mean it meets application.
Just because the Pump says eK does not mean its the proper pump for application.
Just because the radiator was showcased on LinusTech, or Jayz2cents or BitWit or even GamersNexus, again does not mean it maybe the Ideal Product for application.

But fore most i warn people when getting there so called feet wet. Its Budget.
Take whatever budget you want, and then Double it.... and still then expect to go over by about 50% after you double'd, unless u specify a no budget build from the getgo.

But there are too many things to point out and mention.
Its always best to ask, as things have changed drastically.
Parts are a lot more friendlier now, then they were 10yrs ago, but at the same time a lot more expensive.
eK used to be considered budget if you compared it with alphacool and dangerden.
Bitspower were also cheap but now are considered the rolls royce in fittings.
 

Charlie22911

Senior member
Mar 19, 2005
608
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I think its important to parse the question that has been asked. In general, most people are not like us (enthusiasts). They aren't chasing lower temperatures, or overclocking.
As a general answer, they want a machine that powers up without a fuss and meets its performance specifications; so reliability is what comes to mind for me.

I would define a reliable cooler as one that:
- Is capable of handling its rated TDP
- Does the above without intrusive noise
- Will last the life of the build

For me, air coolers stand out here. One need to look no further than AMD as an example, but I digress.

TLDR; reliability.
 

BonzaiDuck

Lifer
Jun 30, 2004
14,515
939
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Aigomorla is the Man.

That being said, I've poked around this topic through some 10 cycles of PC-building for years. I'd even built cases to accommodate radiators, hoses -- fans -- then chosen in the end to use a heatpipe cooler. My last system-build was an i7-6700K Skylake, started in 2016, completed early 2017.

I usually start out seeking information about the processor, its TDP spec, databases of over-clock records. With the Skylake, it was a matter of how motherboard-makers were advised to give "default" or "auto" VCORE voltages, and voltage VCORE data for a range of over-clocks.

Then, I look at lab reviews of AiO coolers, heatpipe coolers, and modifiable AiOs for comparisons of thermal resistance/conductivity for processors and settings of comparable thermal wattage. Eventually, I have to make a decision about cost and effectiveness. Which -- I did -- on my Skylake build. I was always experimenting with fans and custom-built foam-core and Lexan ducts. And -- once again -- I chose to use a highly-rated heatpipe cooler (in my sig).

If I sacrificed record-breaking clocks, I was always satisfied with the result, anyway. Stability was always important, and avoiding processor degradation through heat and electromigration were important. This time, the system is so perfect and so trouble-free running at 4.7 Ghz, I'm afraid my "skill" or "edge" at building computers is sliding into the toilet. I have no desire at this moment or in this year to build another computer.

EDIT: Looking again at my "sig" data, the sig needs updating. I'm running 32GB of those Trident RAMs now, with about half of it allocated to two-tier caching or one-tier caching for my big NVMe boot disk. And I know that newer processors with Intel 3D-XPoint features may eliminate my caching solution, but it has never failed or given me problems. The Benches are good! Everything else is good!
 
Last edited:
Feb 4, 2009
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Finding a cpu chip that is worthy to overclock these days.
This, seems like all modern chips are binned to run at nearly the highest frequency possible. There just doesn’t appear to be much gain over clocking.
Certainly less fun but overall it is a good thing.
 

thesmokingman

Platinum Member
May 6, 2010
2,273
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Reconcile yourself to the fact that at the end of the product cycle, the expensive gpu fullcover blocks will be essentially a write off. Blocks have little value after a gpu's run. Most everything else in a loop you will continue to use years on down the line so get good parts for the longevity. I've got rads, parts, and fittings that are almost a decade old and still being cleaned up and put back into use.
 
Feb 4, 2009
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it is important to ensure proper power supply to the cooling system
Power supply as in everything is connected well and properly yes
Power Supply as in cheap vs expensive power supply. Never go cheap a power supply, especially a power supply for a system that deserves custom water cooling.
Power supply as in does the pump need more power so it needs to be bigger. I don’t think so, these pumps don’t use that much power but I’m a noob.
 

bfun_x1

Senior member
May 29, 2015
469
152
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There is always a possibility that a leak could damage your components. It’s never happened to me but I understand the risk.
Custom loops can get expensive. The fancier the loop the more you can expect to spend. It’s easy to spend more on cooling than on the parts you are trying to cool.
The return on investment may not be all that great. Spending hundreds of dollars doesn’t guarantee big performance gains.
Water cooling a GPU is a pain in the butt.

I’ve been running custom loops on and off for 20 years. For me it’s just a hobby and I like the idea that my PC is unique. My machine won’t break any speed records but I bet it runs cooler and quieter than most other PCs.
 
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Aikouka

Lifer
Nov 27, 2001
29,571
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Budget... then Budget again... and finally Budget.

If were not talking about AIO, i have yet to see someone or meet someone who has not gone over budget building a customized LCS.
Fittings are usually my bane, or sometimes, it's just trying to build "perfection". Note that I'm not even talking about some crazy, modded build worthy of showcase, but just, perfection in implementation. For example, I mucked about and put one of those Corsair Commander Pro units in a Lian Li O11 Dynamic (non-XL), but there wasn't a good spot for it apart from the removable rear vertical bar. However, I have a rule that components mounted to removable case pieces must either be easily detached, which given the difficulty of getting big hands close to the motherboard, necessitates using extensions. Surprisingly, USB 2.0 header extensions are pretty rare, but I was able to locate one from a random seller on Amazon. I ended up paying around $15 just for a silly extension.

This sort of thing sometimes extends to fittings. Fortunately, I have a decent stock of them over the years, so I don't always need to buy them. (Although, I will usually peruse the clearance sections and pick up cheap, name-brand angled G1/4 adapters.) In my latest water cooling build, which was in the O11 Dynamic XL, I had planned on using some existing components, but they just didn't work out. In the end, I purchased a bunch of new parts -- including a dual-pump top that has better placement options due to my preference for redundant pumps.

Although, thinking about it now... I wonder if this is not nearly as necessary anymore given how good CPUs and GPUs are at handling high temperatures and underclocking. I would love to free up some space that the dual-top is taking up. That stopped me from using the Lian-Li vertical GPU mount.
 

KentState

Diamond Member
Oct 19, 2001
7,945
231
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For me it's how you fit all of the cooling equipment in a given case around the hardware. Having done this a couple time recently, nothing goes according to plan and I end up with extra fittings, fans and radiators when all said and done. Plus, once it's built there is always one thing you want to tweak which usually comes down to draining, cleaning, redoing fittings and then leak testing. Can become a lot of work to add a random temp sensor in the loop or change around the location of a drain port. IMO, water cooling is something you do because you like the challenge and not necessarily because it's practical. I would never build a water cooled system for a friend or casual user.
 
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Shadowars

Junior Member
Aug 3, 2020
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For me it's how you fit all of the cooling equipment in a given case around the hardware. Having done this a couple time recently, nothing goes according to plan and I end up with extra fittings, fans and radiators when all said and done. Plus, once it's built there is always one thing you want to tweak which usually comes down to draining, cleaning, redoing fittings and then leak testing. Can become a lot of work to add a random temp sensor in the loop or change around the location of a drain port. IMO, water cooling is something you do because you like the challenge and not necessarily because it's practical. I would never build a water cooled system for a friend or casual user.

I have been water cooling my Pc's for about 15 years, Yes I like the challenge and second it is very practical. The performance gains from liquid cooling are extremely worth the effort that goes into the build. Noise reduction, esthetically pleasing and most of all the performance.

You can get these from a select few Aio's as well. I put an Enermax Liqmax 3 in my brothers pc dropped his idle to 20c roughly and max to 40ish.
 

Shadowars

Junior Member
Aug 3, 2020
4
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The flow of your custom loop also determines the min/max temps. Depending on your tower components in your build, you can improve the temps by carefully setting up the flow. Meaning if you plan to run a cpu, gpu and maybe heatspreaders in your loop. You can run the loop starting with the coolest running component, heatspreaders, cpu, radiator then gpu and back to reservoir pump. Or component radiator component. All depends on what you're working with.
 

Aikouka

Lifer
Nov 27, 2001
29,571
467
126
The RGB lighting can be set to match your existing color scheme.
The one negative that I've found about RGB -- and before anyone chimes in, I'm not going to say "that it exists" :p -- is that if you want a uniform look, you need to be careful about what you buy. In my latest build, I decided to have a little fun and toss in a little bit of RGB instead of how I normally avoid form over function. Most of my RGB components match together fairly well... except for one very obvious outlier... my EK Velocity clear CPU block. The problem is that the clear block looks almost pastel in color.

Oh, and I think if companies are going to sell overpriced RGB strips, they ought to provide diffusion strips to go with them.
 
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