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Remember when you were a kid and your parents always told you to keep electrical stuff away from water? Well, blow drying your hair while standing in a tub of water still isn't wise. But when it comes to your desktop computer, water and electricity can actually work in your favor.
I'm sure at this point some of you are thinking that it's time someone put ol' Dan in a straightjacket and send him off for an extended visit to the Ha-Ha Hotel. But hear me out: the PC modding community has been water- cooling their personal computers for years, and it's caught on to the point that major manufacturers are selling self-contained water cooling kits. And here's why:
To keep the CPU cool, its fan-based cooling system involves copper tubes or fins, or both, that move the heat away from the CPU. To further dissipate the heat, a fan blows air across the fins, cooling it down to the point where it can pull more heat away from the CPU. One of my personal favorite fan-based CPU coolers is the pictured Phanteks 140mm UFB (Updraft Floating Balance) CPU Cooler ($84.99 with free shipping, a low by $5).
Flowing air has been doing a pretty good job of cooling your computer for many decades now, but let's look at the pure physics of it for a second. The thermal conductivity of water is roughly 25 times that of air. So this gives liquid cooling a major advantage over air-cooling. Why? Because liquid cooling yields a much greater heat transfer.
The notion of using liquids to cool hot PC parts has been around since the early 1980s, notably in the form of the Cray-2 computer. (Remember those? Yeah, neither do I.) Since then, the hardcore modding community has been building their own liquid-cooling kits for custom computer applications. Now it's your turn.
There are a number of cooling kits on the market for first-timers. The self-contained kit offers a complete and already-sealed water coolant, straight from the factory. Really, all you need to do is install the heatsink/pump, attach the fan to the fan port at the back of your case, and you're ready to go. The above-pictured Thermaltake Water 2.0 Performer Liquid Cooling System ($49.99 for newsletter subscribers via coupon code "EMCYTZT1734" and $10 mail-in rebate with free shipping, a low by $15) features twin 120mm fans (make sure your case can support a 120mm fan at the back) and an aluminum 151mm radiator.
Another cool cooling kit is the Corsair Hydro Series H60 Water Cooling Kit ($60.24 with free shipping, a low by $7). Like the Thermaltake unit, the Corsair Hydro 60 uses 120mm fans and a slightly larger 152mm radiator. The main difference between these models is the micro-channel cold-plate design and FEP (Fluorinated Ethylene Propylene) tubing which reduces evaporation of coolant in the sealed system.
My next PC case purchase will be the Thermaltake Level 10 GT LCS ATX Full Tower Case ($309.99 with free shipping, a low by $1), since it has just about everything you'll need for water cooling now, and for at least five to six years down the line. It's got enough room for a full ATX motherboard, a pre-built Bigwater 850GT liquid cooling system (that takes up two 5.25" bays) with a 240mm motorsports radiator with 120mm exhaust fans, high-performance pump, and CPU water block. It also includes USB 3.0 ports, five EasySwap hard drive bays, a 200mm tri-colored LED fan, eight expansion slots, cable management system, and more.
With these kits, we've actually only touched the surface of cooling your PC with liquid, but this should give you a good starting point for your future upgrade. We'd love to hear your thoughts and if you are going to build or add water-cooling to your system.
Front page photo credit: Syracuse.com