By: Ross 'Tweakmonster' Wenger, Nov.2002

 

With PC's getting faster and creating more heat, many enthusiasts are making the switch over to quieter and more efficient means of cooling their computers so they do not have to sit beside a noisy case driving them crazy every day. I know I hopped on the water cooling bandwagon for this very reason, and have never looked back. Why would you want to run water, or any other liquids, through your expensive computer which is full of sensitive electronic devices? Here are a few key reasons:

 

  • Much quieter and more efficient operation than air cooling
  • Noticeable reduction in the amount of ambient heat in the case
  • Increases overclocking potential and system stability
  • Looks plain awesome with some blacklight dye in the coolant!
  • Allows you to put your 'L33T' case modding skillz to work!
  • Will make people gawk in amazement when they realize you actually did run water through your computer to cool it

 

As you can see, there are quite a few reasons to take the water cooling 'plunge' when you get up the nerve (and time). To understand the basic theory and physics behind a closed-loop liquid cooling system, we need go no further than a typical automobile.

 

 

Imagine from the diagram above that the CPU and GPU water blocks are your car's engine, which is what creates the heat that needs to be removed. Now imagine that the pump is the car's water pump, driven by the engine. And last, imagine that the reservoir and the radiator are the car's radiator assembly, which is what transfers the heat from the coolant to the ambient air. The red lines are merely the hoses that connect the system together. Plain and simply put, water cooling a computer is exactly the same as cooling an automobile engine, and we are using it to do the exact same thing an automotive cooling system does...transfer heat that the engine creates to the radiator for release into the ambient air.

 

Now that our basic understanding of a water cooling system is covered, let's move on to our project, shall we?

I first got into PC liquid cooling back in June, 2001 when I put together my first water cooled box that I named 'The Shrine'. That article can be seen here. A lot has changed since then, and a lot of new products have become available in the PC market that are making the job of converting your computer to water cooling simple and rewarding without having to use too much guess work like in the old days. In fact, there are now numerous companies that are selling pre-made water cooling cases where all you need to do is bolt-in your motherboard and peripherals and you are up and running! Of course, that is just way to easy and absolutely no fun at all because half the fun is creating it yourself, which also teaches you some valuable lessons in the process.

As you can see in the pictures above, for my first system I chose to use an external water reservoir that would sit underneath the case. The main reasons I did this was to be sure I had plenty of cool water to cool the processor, and also I thought it looked really nifty having the tank underneath. The tank was a custom made 3 U.S. Gallon Lexan job that I had my local fish store make for me at a cost of $40 USD. The pump was located in this reservoir also, which made plumbing through the case super easy and kept the case free from clutter. This system was not very mobile, but this was my home system and never moved anyways so it worked out well. This setup had a CPU waterblock only (a modified Swiftech MC462-W) and so was rather simple all around. With this setup I was able to run my 1.33gig AXIA stepping Athlon Socket 'A' CPU at 1540 mhz, which was not a bad overclock at the time. I still have this case, however, I have since replaced it with a newer generation model Lian Li, and that will be the focus of this article from here on out.

Lian Li PC-65 mid tower USB case

(photo courtesy of Lian Li)

-Dimensions: 210mm x 490mm x 450mm

 

-100% aluminum construction w/ silver
hard anodized finish

 

-Drive bays: 4 x 5.25",3 x 3.5",5 x 3.5" internal

 

-Fans: 3 x ball bearing included

 

-Motherboard type: ATX 12"x9.6" max

 

- USB: 4 front USB 2.0 ports

 

- LED activity lighting and power

Above are the specs for my early-model Lian Li PC-65 case that I will be converting to a completely self-contained internal water cooling setup. The case was already water cooled when I decided to begin this project, but as you can see below (click pictures to enlarge), it also followed the same design as my first setup...an external reservoir for the coolant and pump. This worked excellent for many months, but recently I have found myself sponsoring more and more LAN parties around the Los Angeles area, and wished to be able to take my 'pride and joy' along for all to enjoy.

 

 

As you can imagine, the only way to take it along with the setup shown above would be to disconnect the main hoses, therefore having to drain the system of coolant, and then reconnect the hoses and fill it when it gets to the new location. I would then need to repeat the process when it is time to pack up and leave. Waay too much of a pain in the rear, so let's see what we can do to make this setup more mobile and compact by making the cooling system completely self-contained inside the case.

 

Our first step, of course, is to do all of our physical case modding before we install and connect everything together. In this article, I will go step-by-step according to how I modded and put everything together, and the parts that were used and where said parts can be easily purchased. So, without further adue, let's start with the coolant reservoir.