Hi everyone- I went out on a limb here are made this build-log/guide. It is a work in progress, and what I'd like to do is open it up for changes, additions, corrections that anyone would like to offer- I'll incorporate your suggestions and credit the contributors.
Water Cooling the €VGA 680i A1 in the Antec p180
(By Noob, for Noobs!)
(By Noob, for Noobs!)
The burgeoning popularity of overclocking combined with the increased heat produced my today’s computer components are drawing more and more people to watercooling as a better way to squeeze more performance out of their systems. These cooling setups can vary widely in price and complexity, and the plethora of products available today is only growing as more people are including components other than just the CPU and GPU in their watercooling loops. It is debatable as to whether water cooling is actually worth the time, money and effort when compared to a good air cooling solution, but in the end it’s hard to resist the allure of glowing liquid coursing through your now Borg-like computer lit up under black-lights: not to mention that extra 300MHz-or-so clock-speed and the extra street-cred to be earned around the enthusiast community. Watercooling can also reduce degradation of overclocked and over-volted components by greatly reducing operating temperatures. I greatly enjoyed installing my first-ever watercooling setup and learned a ton, so I wanted to share my experiences in the hope that it might be useful to other would-be builders. This little blurb will not answer all of your questions by any means, but hopefully it will help give some people an idea of which questions to ask. Luckily for me, our forum has staff and members who are far more knowledgeable than myself; and I may be so bold as to speak on their behalves, we would all be happy to provide whatever expertise we can.
Before I started building my system, I obviously had to start buying; but before I started buying I had to figure out exactly what to buy. This was the trickiest part for me, as the body of knowledge on water cooling component-quality and performance is not nearly as broad as it is for most other computer hardware. There are lots of opinions around but few people who have actually tested several different components and can offer any kind of quantitative account of how well they work. There are also a variety of components on your computer that you can cool using water including CPU, GPU, northbridge, southbridge, RAM, mosfets, hard drives, and probably some other things that aren’t even worth mentioning. I’m no expert, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say FORGET about cooling the hard drives. In most cases you’re probably better off leaving your RAM and southbridge out of the cooling loop as well (provide aftermarket air cooling for them if you want). The problem with adding more components to a cooling loop is that each one adds more heat to the water, which warms the other components up, and they reduce the flow rate of your coolant. Ideally every component you cooled would have its own pump and radiator. But since that not possible, I would recommend starting with the CPU, GPU (if you want to overclock it) and possibly your northbridge if you have a motherboard that is known to get a little hot under the collar. My EVGA 680i, like all 680i’s definitely produces a lot of heat from the northbridge (and that danged little stock fan is LOUD) so I decided to watercool that while replacing the passive southbridge cooler with an active one (you’ll see later).
Fittings ergo Tubing Size
I’m going to save you some thinking and me some writing and just say “Go with ½ inch inside diameter tubing!”: something like Clearflex 60, or if you can afford it, Tygon. Make sure that you have enough 1/2inch fittings for all of your components- most come with them, but I would recommend getting metal fittings for those that come stock with plastic (like the MCRes-Micro). The ½ inch fittings and tubes allows for better flow-rate and so better cooling.
Also be sure to pick up some appropriate clamps for securing your tubing to the fittings to protect from leakage. Some choices are zip-ties, snap-grips, worm-drives and self-tightening bands. Many of the better quality blocks come with snap-grips, but be sure to have a few extra around.
T-Line or Reservoir?
Since we're on the topic of tubing and fittings, I might as well tackle the issue of whether to use a T-line for filling and bleeding the system, or a reservoir. Bleeding refers to the removal of the countless tiny air bubbles that circulate through a freshly filled or disturbed watercooling loop- these air bubbles can greatly diminish the system's cooling ability. As you'll see, I have both a T-Line and a reservoir on my system- this is somewhat redundant although there are advantages to having both. The most important difference between the two, are bleed time with the reservoir being much much faster. The other difference is that the T-Line offeres a much easier way to drain your system when necessary- I have the quick-bleeding benefits of the reservoir AND the easy system drain-benefits of the T-Line.
The Swiftech MCRes Micro: small, inexpensive, effective and offering a variety of mounting possibilities- I recommend it.
To make a long, embarrassing story short, my original plan included only a reservoir. However, when my dyslexic memory stored the little label on the lower fitting of the swiftech MCRes Micro as saying "Input" instead of what it really said: "To Pump Input", I ended up hooking it up bass-ackwards so the water wouldn't circulate. Before I could figure out the real reason for this, I tried a number of desperate measures, and one of them included quickly sticking in a t-line to see if it alleviated the potential air-lock. So now I have both, and while this is unnecessary, it is helpful when draining the system as the t-line is much easier to use for this than the reservoir.
So without further ado, here's a little list of pros and cons for each:
Flushing Your Components
Apparently, you’re supposed to flush your components using a mixture of alcohol and distilled water before use (vinegar is corrosive) to clean out residue left behind from the manufacture of the components- this seems to be more important for the radiator than the other parts. This can be done by hooking the entire system up (out of your computer and plugging your pump into a loose 4 pin connector on a running computer. Open the system up so that you have two loose tubing ends. Stick the input end into a 4L jug of your cleaner mixture, and the other in an equally large receptacle. Run the solution through by turning on the pump but BE SURE TO TURN IT OFF BEFORE THE JUG EMPTIES. Once down, switch jugs and run the solution through again. After a few runs, you’re good to go. D-Tek has specially treated copper in their waterblocks and don't recommend cleaning them with anything but mild soap and water and don't recommend using any alcohol based products in the coolant either, so you'll probably want to leave this out of your rinse loop.
The most difficult choice for me to make was which radiator to buy. These are perhaps one of the most varied components in terms of form, function, price, and quality. Some important things to consider when choosing a radiator are:
· Size?- Most manufactured radiators accommodate one, two or three 120mm fans, but HW Labs produces a monstrous 4 X 120mm design in the Black Ice GT Xtreme series. When shopping around, you should also be sure to note the thickness, which can vary from 20mm to 60mm and can make a difference in your mounting options. Obviously larger radiators have more cooling ability, but you need to consider the dimensions of your case so that you can decide where you would like to put the radiator(s). Often some modifications to the case are required. While mounting radiators inside the case is tidy, if you choose to go this route you want to be sure that the warm air from the radiator is being forced out of the case. If you’re only cooling the CPU, I would say that a 120mm radiator is sufficient and a 240 is good, while if you’re cooling CPU and GPU, go with a good 240mm. Any more components that that and I would consider a 360mm, or more than one loop.
· How Many?- If you are cooling several components on your computer such as two video cards, northbridge and southbridge, CPU, and memory, you might want to have two separate loops which means two separate pumps, and two radiators. This also means more space, more money, and more work, and more drain on your PSU, which is why most people stick to one loop.
· Type?- Some radiators are very dense in their cooling fin design such as the Thermochill PA series, while others are more porous and allow air to flow through better, but might require faster fan speeds to cool. Radiators offering more resistance are also louder at a given air flow rate. It is quite important to be sure that you have the correct type of fan that will force the desired amount of air for your radiator (as I learned the hard way). I am not a radiator expert, but I will advise you to pay attention to variables like fin density (high noise vs. low noise), number of passes (number of trips the water makes through the radiator before exiting), and number of rows (single or double). Choose your fans based on manufacturers’ recommendations, and on how much noise you can tolerate.
After some research, I opted to go with a HW Labs Black Ice GT Xtreme 360 double-pass radiator which accommodates three 120mm fans. This fan is thicker than most (56mm) and cools very well. It has 20 fins per inch and apparently is designed to work with a wide range of fan speeds. (but definitely don’t get 11.2 CFM (cubic feet per minute) fans for it like I did! Aim for at least 50CFM for great performance.
The HW Labs Black Ice GT-Xtreme 360
Mounting the Radiator
Such a large radiator is not easy to house in, or on any case; let alone a case that is divided into two separate thermal compartments such as the Antec P180, so I chose to do some modifications in order to mount it on the case roof. I could have mounted it on risers with the fans and the radiator outside the case with less work, but I liked the idea of the solid, low-profile top-mount with the three fans inside the case, blowing up through the radiator.
Since the roof of the p180 has a layer of plastic over a layer of metal, I peeled the plastic layer off the top (it was pretty easy to do) and drew out a template for the hole on the metal surface. I was very careful in doing this as I wanted the bolt-holes for the fans to line up perfectly.
To cut the hole, I used almost a whole package of ten cut-off disks and a 30,000 rpm cut-out tool (beefier than a Dremmel, if you want one, you can get a Job-Mate at Canadian tire for 30 bucks on sale). I tried using a diamond wheel at first, but I found the cut-off wheels to be much faster, and I didn’t mind that they wore down to nothing really quickly because they’re cheap.
The plastic top- layer was not too difficult to remove.
Before you do any cutting on a case, be sure that all components are removed from the case. When completed, vacuum the case out carefully to be sure that no metal filings are around to short out your motherboard or other components. Always wear eye protection too (yada yada).
Cutting through the metal and plastic layers separately on top of the p180 to house the top-mounted radiator. I left the existing top fan vent in place and worked with it. Notice the tabs left for the fan bolts to go through.
Once the hole was cut for the fans, two holes had to be drilled toward the front of the case for the two brass fittings to extend down into the case.
Application of a foam gasket (weather stripping) to reduce vibration and air leakage.
The mounted radiator with chrome grilles attached- the copper color only appears in pictures, it’s really very black. When attaching fans and grilles, be very careful not to use screws long enough to pierce the cooling fins in the radiator as it will leak.
If you attempt this type of mod, hopefully your drilled holes will line up with the holes in the radiator for the fans to attach. Bolting the fans on is what holds the radiator securely in place. Take careful stock of what length of screws you’re using as there is very little wiggle room with these radiators. A good idea is to have a box of washers on hand in case the screws are a little too long. If they are, you run a risk of penetrating the cooling fins on the radiator and ruining it.
For my CPU, I chose the D-Tek Customs Fuzion water block as it meets or beats other water blocks within, and even beyond its price-range. For a great comparison of this block with Swiftech's offerings, check out Misoprostol's waterblock roundup.
Since the 680i chipset is known to run at high temperatures on both the northbridge (SPP) and southbridge (MCP), I chose to watercool the northbridge using the Danger Den Maze 4 680i northbridge chipset water block, and installed the new EVGA active southbridge cooling solution for use with watercooling setups.
The EVGA 680i A1 revision with the D-tek CPU waterblock, the Danger Den chipset waterblock, and the EVGA southbridge cooling fan attached.
For the 8800GTS, I used the Swiftech MCW60 water block with the 8800 adapter kit and Swiftech MC14 BGA memory heatsinks and MC21 Mosfet heatsinks.
The EVGA 8800GTS with stock cooling
The underside of the stock heatsink showing the old thermal goop
The same card with the Swiftech MCW60 and the Swiftech MC14 ramsinks and the MC21 Mosfet sinks. Be sure to put a ramsink on the I/O chip as well. The 8800GTX requires two additional ramsinks for the extra RAM.
To move the water through the system, I used a Swiftech MCP655 pump, and a Swiftech MCRes- Micro water reservoir for ‘ease of bleed’ and because it just looks cool. All fittings and tubing were ½” internal diameter. I used about eight feet of Clearflex 60 tubing to connect the cooling loop and Swiftech Smartcoils to prevent kinking in sections where the tubing had sharp bends.
The completed setup with an added T-line for easy drainage. The pump is located behind the reservoir. The side-mounted 80mm fan was added for additional chipset cooling for the GPU and CPU.
The installation of the watercooling setup met with few hitches, as the components all come with good instructions (except for the radiator) and are fairly simple to install. The Swiftech MCW60 GPU water block even came with its own tube of Arctic Ceramique. Here I have laid out some tips that might make life easier for someone installing a similar setup. This is not a comprehensive guide to setting up a watercooling system, but a list of helpful considerations that I found to be important. I was glad to have learned some of these before-hand, while others, I had to discover the hard way:
1)Carefully plan out your setup before you start- diagrams can be very helpful. Your pump should be placed low in the system, and reservoir should be placed higher in the system. This might not always be possible as it wasn’t in my case. It is also important to consider the sequence of the components along the watercooling loop. For a system like mine, the ideal sequence from the pump output is: CPU—GPU—northbridge—radiator—reservoir--then back to the pump.
2)All surfaces where heatsinks are to be attached should be very clean, but when installing the Swiftech MC14 and the MC21 heatsinks on the video card’s memory and mosfets, respectively, be sure to clean the surface of the chips VERY well with a good, non-greasy, non-corrosive solvent (99% rubbing alcohol will suffice) as the thermal material used on the stock heatsinks leaves a tenacious film after they are removed. If not cleaned properly, the self adhesive heatsinks will not adhere properly and may fall off (thanks for the heads up CdnMadrach). Do not touch the mosfets and memory modules with bare fingers once they are clean. Heatsinks falling off could have serious consequences if using an SLI setup where the copper heatsink could fall onto the lower video card and short it out. If they just won’t stick, I recommend removing the existing thermal pad on the underside of the heatsinks using solvent and replacing it with some Arctic Ceramique. To make them adhere, place a tiny amount of superglue at opposite corners of the heatsink- not too much or you may never be able to remove it.
The residue left behind from the stock cooler- clean it off VERY well!
3)The Danger Den DD-680i chipset water block mounts to the motherboard using the four existing holes surrounding the northbridge. The mounting hardware includes four headless bolts with nuts and washers that are supposed to tighten flush against each side of the motherboard so that the four bolts are rigid. The problem is that one of these bolts is very close to a piece of circuitry which interferes with the top washer and nut, and prevents it from being tightened down flush to the top of the board. To work around this, simply relax the top nut so that there is breathing room for the electronics underneath. The mounting bolt will flop around a little and it makes mounting the chipset cooler a little trickier, but it should be fine.
Notice the washer on the waterblock post overlaps a transistor on the motherboard- don’t tighten the top nut down on it.
4)DO NOT over tighten the spring loaded hold-downs for the water blocks- follow the instructions carefully, or you will warp or ruin your motherboard. If using acrylic-topped water blocks, they can crack over time and ruin your components by leaking.
5)For your radiator (especially a thick, double pass radiator), I would recommend using high-flow fans if you can handle the noise. I used Coolermaster Ultra Silent Fans which are only ultra silent because they are barely moving, and force only 11.27 CFM of air- I would recommend much higher air flow rates to get the most out of your system.
6)When watercooling the EVGA 680i, I would recommend installing additional Swiftech MC14 heatsinks on the black resistors around the CPU that are marked with “R50” on the top of each. In the absence of a CPU heatsink that uses a fan, these little guys get very hot and can create instability and hurt your overclock. The new A1 revision of the 680i is also known for a disconcerting squealing sound which emanates from the CPU area when the overclocked system is under load- I experienced this squealing from my board as well, but it disappeared once I installed these MC14 heatsinks on the r50s. They fit perfectly on them and cool very well. I would also highly recommend a side-panel fan blowing partially on the Video card, and partially on the chipset.
Detail of the somewhat crooked copper Swiftech MC14 ramsinks placed on the r50 units around the CPU for additional cooling.
7)I would also recommend adding an active cooling solution to the southbridge when water cooling a 680i motherboard (unless you are already watercooling the southbridge). Choosing good southbridge cooling can be difficult when using SLI setups, as space is greatly restricted. I purchased a new active southbridge cooler directly from EVGA for 6.99USDm, which is designed for watercooling setups, and can also be used with SLI. The southbridge can be added to a cooling loop with a water block, but I don’t feel it’s necessary as long as you do have a decent aftermarket cooler on it. If using only a single water cooling loop, adding the southbridge to the loop would raise the temperatures of your other components.
The EVGA southbridge cooler as shipped in its protective plastic tray.
8)Leak testing should be done for at least 12 hours before connecting power to any components other than the pump. When I was trying to leak-test my system, I tried bridging the green and a black wire on the 20/24 pin connector of the power supply to turn on the water pump as is generally recommended. This futile effort led to hours of frustration until I realized that my OCZ GameXStream PSU will not turn on for more than a second without a full compliment of components attached to it. Once I realized this, I just attached the pump to a 4 pin connector on another computer which is a simpler approach if you have a second computer.
9)For coolant, I recommend distilled water, a little iodine to prevent algal growth, and a capful or two of ‘Water Wetter’ by Red Line which is available in many automotive departments. It works by breaking the surface tension of the water much like a detergent does, and allows the water to move more freely across the inner surfaces of the components, and with better contact. Don’t use too much Water Wetter, or you could eventually end up with stringy goo inside your system.
10)For cable management on the p180, if you’re intent on making it tidy, remove the right-side panel of the case and route the wires behind it from the lower compartment. For the 8 pin connection wire, drill a hole in the case (with the motherboard removed) in the motherboard tray just above where the connector would be (top left corner) so that the cable can be routed behind the tray and out through it. The right side panel may require a little elbow grease to get back on, but the wire bundles will flatten out a little. Make sure you do your cable routing before you install the motherboard!
11) With three fans blowing air out the top of the case, I decided that there was plenty of air exhaust, so I decided to reverse the rear exhaust fan so that it blew into the case- it lowered my CPU temperature by 2 degrees1- presumably by increasing the airflow through the radiator.
Well, Here she is! If you're interested in seeing how it performs in overclocking a couple of Core 2 Duos, click here!