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Components of a Liquid Cooling System - Water Blocks

written by: Jesma•edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 3/29/2009

Having briefly introduced liquid cooling, we now take a look at all the components of a computer liquid cooling system and examine a key part of water cooling computer control units. Here we discuss the water block: Its design, purpose, and a few shopping tips.

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    In our last article we discussed a few points about liquid cooling systems, and looked at the options available using pre-made kits. In this article we'll be focusing in on assembling your own custom liquid cooling systems using various components. To do this, you're going to have to have a very detailed understanding of each individual component, how it works, and how to select the right one for your liquid cooling needs.

    There are six major components that need to be included in your custom water cooling system:

    • Water Block(s) - Water blocks take the place of fans and heatsinks in air-cooled systems. They are placed over the CPU, GPU, northbridge, or other components and provide the means for heat dispersion.
    • Pump - The liquid cooling system's pump is the engine behind the technology, forcing the water through the tubing and other components in order for freshly cooled water to constantly be moved across the water block to keep it cool.
    • Radiator - The radiator is responsible for cooling the heated water on its return trip to the pump or reservoir, so as to keep all the liquid at an even and low temperature.
    • Reservoir - The reservoir stores liquid, allowing it to cool further and ensuring that none is lost. It usually also houses the means for adding or changing the liquid, via some sort of insertion point or cap.
    • Tubing - The tubing conducts the liquid throughout the system, delivering it to the various components. Tubes attach to the components in a variety of manners.
    • Liquid - It's not just water, folks. Various liquids can be used but a common one is Ethylene Glycol.

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    Water Blocks

    Water blocks are most often made out of metal that is exceptional at conducting heat, like copper and aluminum. These solid blocks come in both piped and sink design. The former design involves having a groove or tube cut into the top of the block which connects to the tubing and allows the fluid to simply flow through. The heat sink design more closely resembles a standard heat sink used in air cooling, which attempts to create maximum surface area in a small space in order to transfer the highest possible amount of heat. The sink design is supposed to be more effective, though in actual testing the numbers are so close that it doesn't usually justify an extra cost. Some water blocks appear to be solid, and all you see are the tube fittings that lead the liquid in and out. Others are a bit more flashy, with plexi or glass blocks sealed over the top, creating something of a window. They may also house LEDs for added show.

    Water blocks, like their heat sink counterparts, are physically specified to fit on certain CPUs, GPUs, chipsets, etc. When shopping for a water block, whether it is for your processor, video card, memory, or other component, you need to ensure that it is compatible with your hardware. Some water blocks, particularly those for CPUs and GPUs, will often support multiple types, taking advantage of various adapters, fittings, brackets, and other hardware to achieve compatibility. It is important to note, though, that if you opt for a "universal" water block, or one that supports a variety of hardware, that it will usually add several arduous and often frustrating steps to the installation process.

    Choosing a water block for a video card (GPU) can be somewhat frustrating as well. There are water blocks out there that are compatible with almost any GPUs that carry very reasonable price tags. On the flip side, there are water blocks that are designed for one specific video card that are 2-3x more expensive. Is it worth it? The fact is that there are more things on a video card that need to be cooled than just the GPU. The memory chips and voltage controllers also put off significant heat, and will shut down the card and/or computer if overheated. Stock fan and heat sink assemblies are designed to cool all components of the video card, and an effective water block should do the same. Keep this in mind when choosing between a universal or proprietary VGA block - unless you have a good alternative for cooling the rest of the card, the one designed specifically for it is likely worth the money.

PC Liquid Cooling for Beginners

There are a lot of things that go into utilizing liquid cooling in your desktop PC. We break it down and make it possible for even a beginner to build their own liquid cooling solution that works perfectly for them.
  1. How to Liquid Cool a Desktop Computer - A General Overview
  2. Components of a Liquid Cooling System - Water Blocks
  3. Components of a Liquid Cooling System - Radiators
  4. Components of a Liquid Cooling System - Reservoirs
  5. Components of a Liquid Cooling System - Tubing