This blog post is part of a series on my experiencebuilding the perfect computer. This articlecovers how to choose the path to follow for water cooling your computer. For information on the other componentsrequired, see Water Cooling the Perfect Computer, Part 2.
If you have decided to go down the path of water coolingyour PC (which I would highly recommend), you must first decide what type ofwater cooling system you want to create. There are already a lot of articles out there about this choice and theoptions available to you, so I have focused on the information that I founddifficult when I was making my decisions about which path to follow.
Here is an overview of how your available choices arerelated:
Contains all components in a single device.
You choose each component separately. This is more efficient at cooling and expandable but introduces thepossibility of leaking and is much more expensive.
This is the easiest and cheapest option available for custom loops, butit can get cloudy over time.
This requires additional tools to bend properly but looks reallycool. All materials of tubing use thesame fittings.
You can easily bend plastic tubes with a heat gun. While it gets less cloudy than soft tubing,it will still cloud slightly over time. Bending PETG and Acrylic is pretty similar.
This is a really awesome material that is extremely durable.
This is the clearest plastic material – reducing the amount of cloudiness accumulatingover time. However, it is very brittleand more difficult to work with than PETG.
This is by far the most difficult material to work with – requiring specializedtools and lots of practice. However, itis extremely clear and will not react with your coolant whatsoever, allowingyour loop to look awesome for as long as you use it.
There are a variety of other (generally opaque) materials available forrigid tubing which I did not work with. This includes copper, chrome-plated copper, electroplated brass, andcarbon fiber.
All-in-One (AIO) coolers contain all of the components youneed – a radiator, pump, coolant, fittings, and tubing in a single product. This is by far the least expensive, safestoption and there are a ton of high-quality choices available (e.g. NZXT’s Kraken and Corsair’s RGB Pro). While this option all but guarantees toprotect you against leaks, it is not expandable and can’t be customized as muchas your other options.
If you plan on a top-end processor (like my AMD 3950x) or if you want to cool your GPUalong with your CPU, you will likely need to go with a custom loop (e.g. any ofthe other options).
- Cheapest option.
- Safest option.
- Not as efficient at cooling as the other options.
If you choose soft tubing (or any other of the options) youwill need to also buy a radiator, a pump, coolant, and fittings (specificallyfittings for soft tubes).
Soft tubing is a very forgiving medium to work with – youjust cut it to approximately the correct length and use the fittings to secureit in place.
Unlike an AIO cooler, if you choose a custom loop (eithersoft tubing or hard tubing) you will be able to see the coolant run throughyour system, which gives a lot of really awesome design possibilities.
Cutting soft tubing is pretty straight-forward – you can usescissors or a soft tube cutter (to ensureit is cut evenly).
- Avoids the difficulties associated with bending hard tubes.
- Uses fewer fittings, making it a cheaper option.
- Extremely safe.
- Lets you see your coolant running through your system.
- Allows you to expand to cool multiple components.
- Will get cloudy over time.
Hard Tubing uses a series hard tubes to route your coolant –which you can either bend to your needs or use fittings to connect straightlengths. Hard tubing is much lessforgiving – you need to cut the lengths to within about 1-3mm of where it needsto be in order to get it to fit. Further, hard tube fittings are far more varied in how they work – and Ihave had some drastically different results with different brands. On the flipside, hard tubing looks by far thebest, and it is totally worth undertaking assuming you can stomach the cost andtake the time to learn how to work with the different materials involved.
Bending PETG involves heating it with a heat gun
Bending plastic tubing involves inserting a silicone bending insert into your tube,heating it up with a heat gun (I would suggest getting one with a temperature setting and setting it toaround 200°C) and bending it to the desired angle.
To get consistent angles, you can use a mandrel, or a custom-made bending tool (e.g.XSPC, or Barrow). I personally really liked Barrow’s tool –when I was initially trying to do complex bends it was very helpful but evenfor my simple 90° bends using its edges let me create consistent rightangles. Bykski also makes a really coolspiral bending mold which I didn’t try.
Once you have the tube bent you can either dig it in wateror set it aside to cool. To cut it tothe right length, you will need a pipe cutter, such as RIGID’s cutter or the one included in Thermaltake’s kit. To smoothen out the edges, you will need somesand-paper blocks, a pipe reamer, and a deburring tool for the final touches. PrimoChill also makes a finishing bit that is supposed to make iteasier, but I couldn’t get it to work well.
This is the easiest, most durable plastic materialavailable. While it is not as clear asacrylic, it is much less brittle.
PETG becomes malleable at 62°C and melts at 260°C. It also retains its temperature for a longtime, which means after you have heated it to an appropriate temperature, youhave plenty of time to get it situated in a mold to ensure that it is shapedperfectly (unlike glass which drops out of the optimal temperature quickly).
Handling acrylic is similar to PETG, except that it is muchmore fragile.
Glass tubing (which is what I used for my loop) leveragesborosilicate glass, which is the same glass used in laboratories for thingslike beakers. Compared with other glass,borosilicate is extremely durable and resistant to reacting to itsenvironment. While it is definitelystill glass (if you hit it with a hammer it will break), it is much moredurable than you might think. I havedefinitely dropped glass tubes onto my hardwood floor without them breaking.
In terms of looks, glass is by far the winner – it iscrystal clear and will not change over time. However, there are some definite downsides. Bending glass requires the use of a blowtorch
It is also more of an art-form than a science; it can be verydifficult to get truly consistent angles and requires a lot of practice to getconsistently good results. While thereare some videos online, I thought I would provide some notes on my experience.
Mention that you can get pre-bent glass.
First of all, you will need the following equipment:
You need a blow torch that has a button to stay on even when you aren’tholding it. I would suggest the Benzomatic TS8000, which lets you burn eitherPropane or MAP-PRO. I have seen othersuse their stove or a butane torch – I tried both of those options but Icouldn’t get it hot enough to bend the glass. You can also try to setup a Bunsen burner (which normally uses Methane),but I couldn’t figure out how to do that easily at home. There are also torches specifically made forglass blowing, but that was beyond what I wanted to spend.
Choosing a fuel is a confusing process – there is not a lot ofeasily-accessible information on which one is the best for this type ofjob. I basically made the decision basedon what was available for my torch and the temperaturerating. I started withMAP-PRO (since it came with my torch) but it seemed to get too hot too quickly(it burns at 2,054°C). I did the rest ofmy glass blowing with Propane (which burns at 1,982°C). If you use a different type of burner youalso have the option of butane (which burns at 1,970°C and methane (which burnsat 1,957°C). The actual temperature thatyou will see is heavily influenced by the type of torch you use – sincedifferent torches let different amounts of oxygen into the burningprocess. It can be difficult (andexpensive) to get fuel shipped to you – you are much better off buying it fromyour local hardware store.
You will need gloves that are capable of withstandingthe high temperatures that you will be working with – look for welding or forge gloves.
You will need a special surface to put your glass onafter you have bent it for it to cool off. I would suggest buying several ceramictiles with a high enough temperature rating.
Borosilicate starts to soften at around 820°C and melts at 1,648°C. While this seems like a big range, I havefound that the time between when the glass starts to bend and when it is toohot comes pretty quickly once you get it up in that range.
While you could theoretically use many of the same mandrelsand bending aids for glass as plastic, I found that the glass didn’t stay hotenough for long enough to use them. Instead, it seems like you just need to bend glass by hand.
Onebenefit of using borosilicate glass is that you can get your tubes from aprovider of borosilicate tubes to laboratories, which can make them prettyinexpensive. I got mine from
, but you can also get them from