Liquid PC Cooling
So, I’m way behind the curve alright?! Today marks my first adventure with PC water cooling, and I’m equal parts frustrated, embarrassed, and overjoyed. I’ll tackle each of these parts one-by-one within this brief piece on why you shouldn’t be overlooking liquid cooling.
To fan or not to fan? Well, we all know the answer is to not fan—unless it’s a Noctua fan (Amazon link)—but still, I’d been using the same heatsink and fan since 2007. Seriously. Don’t laugh. Okay, I know you’re laughing and it’s alright, I deserve it. Here’s the old-school fan cooler I’m replacing:
What has me frustrated then, if I’m upgrading from a under-powered 11-year-old heatsink to a decently high-end consumer AIO water cooler like the Corsair H115i Pro? The installation.
Yesterday, I realized that the radiator on the cooler and my case’s screw holes for mounting a radiator don’t line up. Corsair is using a 20mm gap that they proudly advertise on the side of the box. I don’t know if it’s a new standard, or an old one I’m unaware of, but I hate it because I had to get really handy with a pair of needle-nose pliers to secure the radiator to the case. Several bends, warps, and scratches later, I’ve got a good connection.
Being embarrassed is a little easier to understand. After the case debacle yesterday, I apparently shut my brain off. I converted the water cooler pump’s fitting from Intel to AMD as I should (I’m still rocking an eight-core AMD FX-8350 for the foreseeable future), but didn’t fully appreciate how the mounting screws worked. I thought my brand new cooler didn’t fit.
So after all the fuss with the radiator mounting, I took everything apart, boxed up the cooler, and printed a return label. I remounted the old heatsink and… nothing. No boot. The motherboard kicked on a processor LED, so I resat the processor. Nothing. Resat it again and finally got everything to book.
Now, you may think I’m embarrassed because I bought a cooler that didn’t fit my processor type, but no… it’s what happens next that really embarrassed me.
Sitting around with my wife and daughter in the evening, it dawned on me. The mounting screws! A visualization of them popped in my head and I could see how the whole thing came together. Granted, I felt a bit of anger that the instructions didn’t clearly call this much-needed information out, but I was still somewhat relieved to know that I could try again in the morning.
Fast forward to this morning and I obviously got the radiator re-mounted (adding a few more paint scratches due to the poor line-up), mounted the pump on the processor, and got everything working. I did a test in Handbrake ripping a couple of DVDs and the temperature of the FX-8350 never touched 55°C whereas before I ran the risk of peaking well over 75° and forcing a throttle or even a shut-down if I didn’t set the processor affinity to ignore a few cores.
My new cooler is installed!
And the sound? Whisper quiet. In fact, I think I can now hear my non-Corsair and non-Noctua fans more than anything now. I never noticed them before because the fan on the heatsink was so loud that I could hear it halfway across my house even under just 50% or 60% load. Now, I can sustain 95% load and barely tell that my computer is on. The mild hum of my ceiling fan is twice as loud as my computer under heavy stress.
So if you’re still air cooling… you need to go liquid. If you’re still on the fence, let me review the benefits:
- Whisper quiet computing, even under high processor loads
- Long-term processor health through temperature regulation
- Crank up all the cores! No more throttling or overheating crashes
- Mostly future proof. Heatsinks are generally socket specific, liquid coolers can get new mounting brackets… but not always.
- Cool LED effects! (I honestly couldn’t care less about this and have a solid case so that I don’t have to see such mess anyway, but to each his own.)
… and Anxious, too!
I suppose that I forgot to mention that this upgrade makes me somewhat anxious as well. I tend to upgrade my workstation in pieces over a multi-year period. Knowing that this is the first piece in my system that is future-proof until at least the next motherboard and processor combo, I’m anxious to get going with all of the hopes and fears that anxiety can convey. This supposes, of course, that my hopes are for a ridiculously powerful processor and my fears are for a ridiculously priced build.