Steve's Watercooling & Case Adventures

Preamble: I got sick of fans that sounded like a jet engine, and I was really sick of intermittant problems arising from my machine overheating. Opening the case worked, but still, random lockups would persist. I work in a lab enviornment and there's a lot of stray RF kicking around here to cause me grief. So, after whining for air conditioning, I took things upon myself to fix. Water cooling is something that I looked at for a long time, and it finally looked like there were some kits ready for prime time. This PC was my primary work machine.

The biggest challenge I have with my system now isn't speed or heat anymore - it's noise again. Stay tuned for revision two..

Some machine specs:

Introduction & Setup

I wanted something that I could fit inside a mid-tower case; I don't want to be lugging around a full tower. I decided to paint my case, and that's alot more metal to deal with, too :). To this end, I shopped around and selected the Socket-A kit from Cool-Computers.

It's not the most exotic kit, but the price was reasonable and they shipped to Canada without hassles. The kit took about 3 weeks to arrive from the time I placed my order. Water cooling isn't exactly cheap, but I figure most of the components can be recycled for my next machine. Buying the kit saved wasting time hunting down pieces from different suppliers, although you can save a lot of money this way. The accessory pictures were shamelessly lifted from the Cool Computers site, I don't think they'll mind too much, though.

In way of additives & extras, I picked up some Redline Water Wetter and Arctic Silver thermal compound. The water wetter has a great reputation in racing and I figured it couldn't hurt here, either. The thermal compound has been discussed in great depth online the various overclocking sites and appeared to be worth the money. was the primary technical resource for this project. I strongly recommend anyone who's planning on attempting to do something like this spend some time researching prior projects & mistakes at this site. It's a lot cheaper to see what someone else did wrong :). As always, anything you do is your own responisibility. Don't blame me (or anyone else) if you fry your computer, burn your house down, poison your cat, whatever. Use a little common sense when doing things like this.

The kit is reasonably complete, but in addition to the additives which I purchased with the cooling kit, I added a few things that I can strongly recommend. I bought 4L of distilled water from Walmart for a little over a cdn$ buck. Make sure you get distilled water; other bottled water sees added minerals as a selling point. Hopefully we will neve rhave to find out if the distilled water was a necessary addition to the kit! :). Other things I picked up:

Component Assembly and Testing

Components before assembly

Connecting everything up; this was pretty uneventful. Make sure to put the clamps on the hoses before you go and hook everything up. Some people think that the flow direction matters; Given the size of the radiator and resevoir, and the flow rate, I doubt it matters at all. I connected it to the CPU from the pump in this test, the final installation I connected the pump to the radiator. Temperatures were not signifigantly different either way. For the mixture, I put in a couple tablespoons of antifreeze, 4 capfuls of water watter, and topped the system up with distilled water. Gave it a nice, muddy color. Mmmm. Because the pump is submersible, it is self-bleeding at this point.

Initial testing for leaks & flow

Once the system ran for a few minutes without any sign of leaking (and I was impressed that it worked so well), I decided it was now or never and decided to hook it up to the athlon. I applied the standard amount of Arctic Silver to the CPU die; I didn't take excesive care in smoothing it out. I did make sure that the bottom of the block was lightly polished, and that the die and block were well cleaned with isopropyl alcohol before the thermal compound was applied. The supplied copper shim fit over the block without any hassles. Their mounting clip worked well, the small hooks it provided weren't confidence inspiring given other people are using plates and bolts. I came up with a small fix for this later. I had no problems with their socket-A clamp, though. However:

I managed to make a HUGE mess with arctic silver. The fact this stuff is mildly conductive and it was all over the face of my chip did not make me a happy camper. This is also combined by the fact it's damn near impossible to wipe off anything, your hands included. I ended up wiping as much off as I could with alcohol and then using a pencil eraser to rub off the compound around the traces. I recommend you be extremely careful, you can make a BIG mess very quickly.

First run-test - It works! (Color added; few drops of blue food coloring; Note cable ties on fan)

Initial Test Run Results & Observations

Once I ran the system for 2 weeks or to to verify that it indeed worked well, wasn't going to leak, short, fall apart, etc, I decided to see about permanantly mounting it in my case. One of the prerequisties was that the kit be able to fit inside the case, resevoir and all. I thought about an external resevoir, haven't ruled it out completely - but I'd have to run stainless hoses to prevent them from getting banged up and kinked, and I'd have to find a kickass enclosure. So, inside the case it goes - not optimal for airflow, but good enough.

Noise wise, the 120mm Panaflo the kit ships with is VERY quiet. I also have some upgraded 120mm Panaflows that draw almost twice the current, however, these were not required. The supplied fan was much quieter than the small CPU fan it replaced, dispite the size - bigger fan means lower rpms, which means less noise. I have a 80mm panaflow on the back of the case, and am planning to replace the power supply fan with another 80mm panaflow. These are very quiet fans.

I had a serious concern about how the pump was mated to the outflow nipple in the terminal box resevoir, however. It was just a friction fit through a small plastic adapter, and while it was solid - it was also prone to vibration that could cause it to fall off, stopping effective movement of water through the hose, and possibly cooking your computer. Needless to say I wasn't too amused about THAT possibility. Since I had to drain the system to permanantly mount it anyhow, I took the opportunity to make sure that this sad problem would not present itself. I used the silicone to put a HUGE blob over the joint, the pump, and the side of the terminal box and let that cure for 24 hours. If you purchace the kit, you'll immediately see what I mean. Forgot to take pictures of this. After the silicone dried, you'd need an X-acto to get the pump out. Problem remedied.

Something else I noticed was copper shavings in the water I drained out of the system after a 2-week test run. I suspect these were due to the CnC process used to make the block. I didn't rinse out the parts before I installed the system, but I suggest that you do, or run the system with plain water for awhile, then flush and fill with your coolant mixture.

Also of note: the radiator, while copper, was painted silver, nipples included. After two weeks in the coolant, this paint started to come off, revealing the brass nipple below. This could cause a leak, as the flaked paint was quite slippery and the hose relies on friction to maintain it's seal. I polished off this paint; I'd like to see these nipples unpainted in the future. You don't see the radiator, anyhow!

Permanant Case Modification & Installation

First off was modifying the case to make things fit. Dremel is your friend here. I cut out a spot for the radiator in the front of the case - verify that it will fit with the front cover over it, before you attempt this. Mine fit with a decent margin for airflow. Temperatures can be improved more by modifying the front cover, which I intend to do. More on that later, however. For now, the front cover is closed, with the intake in the bottom, and the 120mm fan connected and on all the time. I also cut out the 80mm fan spot on the rear of the case so airflow would not be restructed - a source of noise. After cutting out the holes, I took a grinding wheel to smooth the cuts out to minimize the risk of fraying a wire or my finger on a jagged edge.

Front case modifications. Cable ties rule. I put some rubber washers under the fan to help stop vibrations.

Next was dealing with the pump problem. I didn't want two cords running out of my case, so I decided to permanantly wire it to the power supply mains supply. Note: You must install a GFCI on any pump connected to an AC source! I replaced the jack in my cube with a GFCI outlet, and am making a portable one for use elsewhere. A future project might integrate that into the power supply or case itself. Just make sure whatever you plug your GFCI into is properly grounded and that you test it for proper operation. Installation is not that difficult - if you're this far, you can do it - just follow the directions. The connection to the power supply was made through soldering to the acessory jacks. Be careful to tie back the cables and insure your solder joints are good before closing the case up. I didn't have the fan properly secured, and it vibrated like MAD.. had to take the whole thing apart to fix it.

Power supply mods for pump power cable

Finishing up: So what's it look like all put together, anyhow? After about 8 hours work, there's the final result below. Some things worth noting: I bolted the terminal box to the bottom of the case. The terminal box was sealed by putting a thick layer of silicone on the box lip, smooshing it down with the top, and then smearing the excess over the seam. I also filled the terminal box screw holes with silicone to prevent a possilbe leak there. It worked well, and appears to be completely watertight.

Note the cable ties on the water hoses - this is to help prevent any possible kinks and minimize the strain on the hoses. Also, note the cable ties on the water block - I added these, wrapped around the motherboard mounting tray, as some added insurance against the clamp failing. I saw no signs that would happen, but the case gets moved around a fair bit. Better safe than sorry. The addition of some rounded drive cables as opposed to the ribbon ones there now will also greatly assist in the airflow through the box. I'd move the hard drives up, but there's another 2x80gb Western Digitals on order to fill up those spots under the cdrom/dvd :). Still, the water block itself does not feel perceptively warm even under full load. More scientific data will be available when my AVR microcontrollers get here.

Finished watercooler installation

Conclusions & Recommendations

Recommendations - Would I do it again? Absolutely! The water cooler dropped my CPU temps from 25 to 30+ degrees celcius. In a ambient environment that's easily 30C, the water cooler doesn't let the temperature get above 44C as measured by the mobo thermistor - which is inaccurate when talking about water cooling. I suspect the case runs about 7-8C over ambient with a full CPU load, which is amazing! Idle temps are even lower, in the 36-38C range. In terms of my objectives, the kit was great. These temperatures are also considering the restricted airflow situation in my case.

Noise levels are much lower, and have the potential to drop even lower with some of the additional improvements I'm planning. The stability of my system improved dramatically - I no longer get any intermittant reboots, resets, or lock-ups that I'd grown accustomed to dealing with. I had planned on a peltier setup, but this is pointless: The water cooling kit doesn't let the chip get much hotter than 40C, no matter how high I clocked it, or how much voltage I dumped into it. Something to think about. The chip ran at between 65 and 69c beforehand with a reasonably-sized heatsink and fan at the same ambient temperatures (30C), at recommended voltage and speed.

What about the Cool-Computers kit? Well, it wasn't as complete as I'd like. There were a few items that really should have been there - namely a gasket for the terminal box and a more secure means to attach the pump to the outflow nipple. All of those shortfalls have been addressed, with improvments and recommendations made above. Anyone who feels comfortable with overclocking and wants more stability and less noise - not to mention cool blue hoses - should consider this kit or one like it. If your case is small, though, it will require a lot of inventivness to get everything inside your box. Overall, it gives someone with resonable DIY skills everything they need to get a working, reliable water cooling setup running. I'd recommend it to anyone who was interested in getting started.

I'd also recommend purchasing a spare pump, so that should yours fail or make odd noises, you can replace it immediately, and you'll know that it will fit with a minimum of hassles. Good luck pushing the envelope!

Finished product - Blue LED's yet to be added

Coming Modifications, Improvements, and Additions

Future improvements and refinements to the kit:

Video card cooling

The TNT2U that's powering my primary 3D display (Dualhead just rules) is getting a little bit dated. I'm shopping for an upgrade, probably a Geforce3, and I'm going to be interested to see what water cooling that card will do, and at the same time, get rid of the god-aweful little shreiky fan that ships on those cards and lower my dB a bit.

AVR-microcontroller based failsafe system

One of my last concerns about water cooling is "what if that pump fails". I don't want the system running if that happens. I'd also like a hardware monitor that can independandly graph the ambient, case, and water block(s) temperature for later use, and at the same time, control the fan speed on the case and radiator, so what when ambient temperature drops, or the case temp does, the fans can be slowed or stopped automatically. While XP and some Pentiums do this now, I plan on running this Athlon until I get a 64 bit processor and/or DDR memory is dirt cheap. Even then, a redundant failsafe system is never a bad idea. It'd be cool to have a dB meter, too.

I'm currently working on a serial-controlled AVR project to do just that; add computer control of the two fans, a programmable thermal power kill - so that if the block temp goes beyond 10C past ambient, power is tripped, shutting the box down. More info on this project as it progreses, I'm waiting for my AVR's to get here. I might make it available for sale as a kit if there's any demand - if you'd be interested in this, email me at - nominal cost.

Dynamat extreme sound deadening

I hate noise. The good people at Dynamat have a computer kit, although I'll probably just buy a sheet of dynamat extreme by itself. Lining your case panels with this will make a noticable difference in the noise level emitted by your machine. The water cooler alone signifigantly reduced noise levels.

Steve Manley (
Last Modified: November 8, 2001