Introduction: Budget Cpu Liquid Cooler

Picture of Budget Cpu Liquid Cooler

My project started when I helped a friend build a high end liquid cooling system for his computer. I had thought that I could do the same thing for a fraction of the cost. This is how I made my budget cpu liquid cooler that is both functional and looks great.

Step 1: The Pump

Picture of The Pump

My system is built around the Corsair H80i liquid cooling system. It was a closed loop system that works excellent on its own, but it just wasn't aesthetically pleasing. I bought the pump second hand off a friend for $80.

Step 2: The Components

Components needed for the build

-Corsair H80i liquid cooler
-Barbed hose fittings
-1/2" vinyl tubing
-Fluid reservoir

Step 3: Dissecting the H80i

Picture of Dissecting the H80i

First I cut the flexible black hoses off of the pump and radiator, then drained all the fluid from both and set them aside.

Step 4: Building the Reservoir

Picture of Building the Reservoir

For the reservoir, I purchased a kids water bottle for $7. The plan was to cut the top and bottom off and create an all acrylic reservoir.

Step 5: Building the Reservoir Caps

Picture of Building the Reservoir Caps

The caps were built from 1/4" acrylic I had laying around the shop. I didn't think that 1/4" was thick enough so I tried laminating two pieces together with epoxy. All of the bubbles were squeezed out of the epoxy and dried perfectly clear. I then cut the acrylic pieces into the desired shape. It turned out looking really good.

Step 6: Back to the Drawing Board

Picture of Back to the Drawing Board

The laminated acrylic looked great, but when I started drilling it for the fittings, it started to de-bond. I gave up on that idea and turned to some 0.125" aluminum I also had in the shop. I cut it in the same shape as before and drilled and tapped for the fittings. To fasten it together, I drilled and countersunk 3 holes around the outside perimeter of the reservoir tube. I then cut 3 aluminum tubes to the same length as the acrylic and tapped both ends for a 10-32 countersunk screw. Next, I sealed the ends of the acrylic with clear silicone and assembled it all together. Then, I set it off to the side to set up and dry.

Step 7: Case Modifications #1

Picture of Case Modifications #1

The case I have doesn't leave much space for a bulky radiator with dual fans. Some planning went into this step to fit everything to be effective, yet aesthetically pleasing. I also wanted to do some better cable management to clean up the look.

Step 8: Case Modifications #2

Picture of Case Modifications #2

After I removed every component out of the case I cleaned it out completely with compressed air. I then took the motherboard and installed the pump.

Step 9: Case Modifications #3

Picture of Case Modifications #3

The location I found that would best suit the radiator was in the front case fan mount. The problem was the hard drive bays were in the way. Since I only have two hard drives I have them installed on the top 2 racks and there was plenty of room underneath. In order to fit everything, the front hard drive rack had to be trimmed. In order to keep the structural rigidity of the rack, I used the same technique using aluminum tubes and tapped the ends to screw everything together. Once it was installed, I started to put all the components back in and clean up the wiring.

Step 10: Bringing It All Together

Picture of Bringing It All Together

The last installation was the reservoir. I installed it so the top level was slightly higher than the pump to ease in priming the pump. I then cut the tubing to length, installed it and fastened it with zip ties.

Step 11: Leak Testing

Picture of Leak Testing

After everything was back together, I filled the reservoir with distiller water, primed the pump and powered the computer up. I had no leaks and everything ran flawlessly. The cpu baseline temperature was 10 degrees Celsius cooler than the old fan.

Step 12: Adding the Coolant

Picture of Adding the Coolant

The last step was to drain the water out and add the coolant. I used 60/40 coolant I also had in the shop. There was no change in temperature between the coolant and water.

Step 13: Summary

In total the project took me two days and a grand total of $100. 1/10th of the cost of the high end custom cooling system. My system runs flawlessly and looks great!


ggarcía-2 (author)2016-01-06

I'm a newbie on that cooling projects.

But I wonder what should happen If I change the coolant with Liquid Nitrogen?


_Boltz_ (author)ggarcía-22016-10-07

actually it'll be too costly..... as you'll need a coolent freezer typo thing to keep liquid nitrogen in liquid state......

javabro (author)ggarcía-22016-06-20

nice idea

javabro (author)2016-06-20

So you overclock the cpu??!?

DonnyE1 (author)2015-09-17

Add a peltier junction. ...

cheesehead (author)DonnyE12015-09-20


cheesehead (author)2015-09-16

the h110i has been a workhorse for almost 2 years running at about 3-5 days of combined hours per week. i live in Pittsburgh, PA where it is fairly normal to get 90% humidity at 90+ degrees in the summer and dry
indoor winter air.

**if it matters**

I'm not sure if anyone else
shares my problem but here it goes:

my hoses are beginning to
show signs of dry rot and i fear they might start leaking or evaporating
through the tiny perforations. the relocation of the radiator is a
great idea and intend to implement the same concept to mine. as you will
notice in my photo i mounted my fans on top of the case and the
radiator to the top inside because the fans didn't have proper clearance for my mobo heat sink thingy at the top.

thanks for the great simple mods that i kind of didn't know i wanted.

+++ it may take me a while but i will post the results when i make the mods... most likely after the unit fails. haha.

LiamQ1 (author)cheesehead2015-09-17

Christ man, clean your PC once in a while. It may not be the cause of your dry rot problem but dust can be just as dangerous and your system is clogged with it.

For one, your radiator will not be working anywhere close to the degree it should be as that sever fouling practically makes it pointless, get a can of air and clear it out would be my first point of advice.

Second, get your case dusted out and make sure you dust your fans and blades. Dust resting on your fans will knock them out of balance and cause noise, knocking and general unnecessary wear that can be prevented from good maintenance. The levels of dust in your system will be severely damaging your components so perhaps think about where you are storing it when in use (i.e. not on carpets)

cheesehead (author)LiamQ12015-09-17

i know i know. i do clean blow off the rad/fans/graphics cards about once a week... you know... just the important stuff. hahaha

mattcintosh (author)2015-09-14

I've been trying to sell a graphics card liquid heatsink (The card is junk) But the heatsink looks fine.

LiamQ1 (author)mattcintosh2015-09-16

You are aware GPU blocks such as the one you are selling are made for specific cards, right? The GPU block you are selling will only be of any use to someone who owns that model of card so sorry but it's unlikely you'll find a buyer.

mattcintosh (author)LiamQ12015-09-16

hmm...I had no idea. might as well just bust it up and scrap that huge chunk of copper in there.

LiamQ1 (author)mattcintosh2015-09-17

Hey, melt that copper down and make some use out of it! Plenty of ideas on here :)

RockeyDA made it! (author)2015-09-13

Close Enough? did not have money to blow so i did not spend a dime. the pump came from a water cooler i found in a dumpster, the hose is a breakline i found on the side of the road, the gpu was dead and i baked it to life in my toaster oven. and the cooling contact with the gpu is a heat sink i cut down from a broken dell that you guessed it.. dumpster. oh and the radidort/fan is from a dehumidifier i found in the dumpster.

cheesehead (author)RockeyDA2015-09-16

friggin awesome build

RockeyDA (author)cheesehead2015-09-17

well then have 2 more pics, first one is how i move a computer with no case for a lan party, the second is my main rig, it will never move and dont get me wrong, i got everything for way cheaper than i should of (other than ram) but this baby is a beast. MB was 450$ new, both cpu's were 190$ a piece used, ram was 150$ new, coolers... one was 25 new, did not have money for second one and by the time i did it was 45$ :/ sas controller was 5$(cripples my hdd seed and is unstable) 300gb 15,000 rpm drive 1 60$ new, second one 25$ used. powersuply was a gift from a firend. when i started building this pc it took me almost a year to have enough parts to power it up, cpu ram and power supply have been upgraded, the HP server has the old parts. accept the powesupply i gave to the friend who gave me the supernova 1300w. and i had the gpu since i was on a dell xps 600. specs...

Notbob (author)RockeyDA2015-09-13

That, is a work of beauty. Not even kidding, I'm damned impressed. I've always wanted to make a franken-rig like that.
Any chance You could take some pictures of that CPU cooler, maybe without the plastic shroud and fans?
You might be able to (questionably) liquid cool the CPU as well, if you snipped the ends of the heat pipes on the existing cooler, drained the working fluid out, and attached some more tubing to the ends and the existing liquid cooling set up. (might want to try on a spare CPU cooler first though.)

RockeyDA made it! (author)Notbob2015-09-13

there would be no point becase the dell xps 600 only alowes overclocking if you have a Pentium d 965 extreme, also i retried that pc a few months ago to build a modern low budget one. and that damaged 480 gets really unstable with over clocks.... so im saving it for another gpu i haven't bought yet.

(pics of the new server built for dirt cheap and the case i havent built yet[need wood])

cheesehead (author)RockeyDA2015-09-17

i know i would like to see your case when it is finished

Tanzer26 (author)RockeyDA2015-09-13

Are you sure that rad is big enough? Maybe you could keep watch behind your local garage for a useable rad from a pickup?
Seriously though, great job of scrounging and reuse of what others have thrown out. Other ideas would be heater core from a car or rear core from a mini van.

RockeyDA (author)Tanzer262015-09-13

trust me... was my first ideah, but the trash gods gave me a dehumidifier.

JoeI2 (author)RockeyDA2015-09-13

I think you should make an instructable for this.

jOker58 (author)RockeyDA2015-09-13

that's so cool that you did it for free

tornado229 (author)2015-09-13

Maybe I missed something. It was very cool that you made your own reservoir. But you already had a budget system when you bought an all in one H80. Did adding all the extra parts result in better performance?

cheesehead (author)tornado2292015-09-17

more liquid = more heat dispersion ?
just a thought, not sure how much extra liquid it takes for the results to be negligible or not.

dwoy (author)2015-09-16

This build was primarily for looks. It does work better than the old fan cooler though. I wanted the look of a high end custom system at a fraction of the cost.

AeonOne (author)2015-09-16

Very cool. I have been considering doing something similar. My case will not fit a dual fan radiator inside so I need a way to put it on the outside. This seems like a good option. Though on my I'm going to use an already manufactured resistor. Nice write up!

AlanS14 (author)2015-09-15

Looks good but it seems all you've done is change a closed loop system to use a reservoir- I can't really see much advantage when you're using the same pump, radiator and fan for all of that work. Looks?

JimM26 (author)2015-09-14

Have not water cooled since the days of the Pentium 4 Prescott cores but back then I used a automobile heater core and a small 120 v fountain pump.

BTW the main reason you use a auto coolent is not to get lower temps but because of the galvanic corrosion caused by the dissimilar metals. If you do not have a copper/aluminum mixture of components then all is necessary is a few drops of iodine to prevent biologic growth. We have pets in the house and the possibility of a leak and ethylene glycol poisoning

insanecandycane (author)2015-09-13

very nice! you did an excellent job! i am an mechanic and enjoy diy. just would like to add my two cents about cooling fluids for automobiles. there is a liquid antifreeze/coolant that is guaranteed to make your engine run 10 degrees F cooler, that is designed to help prevent the premature combustion of the fuel from heat and compression. when you are running a high performance diesel engine your exhaust gasses can get so high temperature that the pistons can actually melt and even 10 degrees can save you many thousands of dollars in parts alone. i have never used this fluid and not currently in my home country of USA , but most high performance diesel truck magazine will carry an advertisement for it! yes, it would add to the cost of the project, but because the fluid would come in 1 gallon quantities you could repackage it in smaller volumes and offer your limited quantity for sale at your actual cost including shipping and save a lot on the cost of buying 1 gallon. i say at your actual cost, because you might not wish to make a profit, but only to cut your cost to complete the project at least cost/ benefit ratio difference. it is the DIY ideas of people that make performance affordable to others and to bring new products to the world. i will use your instructable to provide additional cooling to a TEG project i have in mind! thank you so much for the attention and work you put into this instructable!!

ridalyn (author)2015-09-13

Beautiful 'ible. Some of your commenters are missing the point. It's not about the money, it's about the build, and putting your own personal touch on a concept. It's what makes US makers and THEM jealous.

Just one question, though;

Does the coolant fluoresce in a black light? If it does I would add a UV lamp under the hood just for effect. If not, would it be possible to add UV reactive liquid to the coolant?

JustinR23 (author)2015-09-13

Put some hose clamps on it because as they get older and heat up they will start to leak.

Another idea is to just buy the water block and use a submerged pump (for price) and ford truck heater core

DirkJ1 (author)2015-09-13

I was just thinking about how some other systems work in other applications. Some use convection to circulate the coolants. Not sure if the pump could be eliminated, but it could be a possibility? once the line is cleared of air circulation is pretty much assured with a vertical line to the top of the reservoir. Possibly too much temperature differential required? Certainly the pump need not be very powerful.

I saw a design once that used "plates" of steel or aluminum and gaskets between them, the liquid moved between two plates up and over the second then down and under the third etc. One could actually design the radiator with thin aluminum, leaving fins exposed beyond the gaskets between the plates, bolt the assembly together with through bolts. Pretty easy to do and one could use say galvalume roofing material or whatever aluminum is around to make it from very cheaply.

withalligators (author)2015-09-13

Hmm, I like the idea of this from a DIY standpoint, but I'm not sure about few things. Did you test the thermal difference with the cooler stock? I imagine the added liquid volume might add some more better cooling ability, but I wonder how much. I wonder if that tiny pump will have a shorter lifespan with all that extra volume it has to move. I bet it's negligible. Lastly, the coolant additive, As has already been noted, auto coolant is mostly made to not freeze, and doesn't offer much cooling help. If anything, it's making your pump work harder. I would drain the system and refill with distilled water and a few drops of biocide. Also as noted, vent the hot air out of the case, as opposed to inside of it. That hot air is dumping all over your GPU, which already has trouble cooling itself. Great start though. I'd love to see this, and some of the other ideas in the comments brought to even greater levels of DIYness. Like, using a fridge rad to vent out the side, etc... Great start!

DirkJ1 (author)withalligators2015-09-13


Actually, if you look up the specs for auto-antifreeze you will find that it is a lubricant as well and therefore protects your pump a LOT better than water. The friction of circulation of the coolant is reduced as well, there is NO NEED to add any biocide as the antifreeze is such in itself. It is in fact a much better choice than plain H2O for this purpose. He already told us that there was a 0 to negligible temperature difference from H2o to antifreeze at the percentage he used. This means he is better off because he has reduced friction in the pump system.

The only thing I would suggest is to do some testing from say 25% antifreeze to 60% or so and find the "sweet spot" for use in this application.

rmellis (author)2015-09-13

Great Project Nice pictures and put together well.

Passing You (author)2015-09-13

I like the idea of having the reservior above the pump. It looks like you have an easy fill extending outside of the case. Next time I rebuild my water cooled computer I will use these ideas

donjuan617-2008 made it! (author)2015-09-13

I did almost the same, but got an external pump and reservoir, and I installed the rad with its fan out side of the case as well.

I will take you idea of an extra reservoir and the car coolant to provide more impact.

Nice project!!

Thank you!

tong (author)2015-09-13

Great Upgrade to a closed loop system, you can even add water as needed with your custom reservoir. The 60/40 coolant mix is way overkill, the pumps do not need lubrication like those in the automotive industry and are designed to (or used to be) run on straight water. You will actually get better temperature results on just plain water, it is the best thermal conductor period. I've been doing custom water-loops for over 15 years, and the best formula I've found so far for thermal dissipation is straight water, I do add about 5% coolant to the mix just to help lubricate the pump. Try it yourself, run your mix and benchmark the system for an hour and watch your temps, then try plain distilled water, you'd be pleasantly surprised.

ctayd (author)2015-09-13

Your budget cpu liquid cooler instructable needed only 1 step:

Buy a H80i, done.

What you've done is take something simple and make it complicated. If you wanted to go cheaper, you could have bought a 120v from Cooler Master for less than $50 and for $100 you can get 240 / 280mm radiators. You would have saved two days and also had a warranty in the off chance that your cooler sprang a leak.

Also, high end systems don't have to cost $1000. A 360mm kit from one of the best cooling companies for a cpu as well as a gpu waterblock can be bought for around $450, and there are more simple but good expandable cooling systems you can get for $150 + $100 for a gpu waterblock. Even if you go for dual 360mm rads, triple gpu waterblocks, fans and all the other fittings for a petg tubing build you'll still be under $1000.

What you've done is make your cooler look nicer, so this instructable should be called 'How to make an AiO cooler look like custom watercooling'.

ColorCopy3D (author)2015-09-13

Nice project.

Your case is already H2O ready.

The rad should be mounted on top for better heat dissipation.

Wolfbane221 (author)2015-09-10

This looks great! not sure what you used to clamp the hose on, but there are some great plastic locks made for this purpose. over time the hose will get pinched/shrunk and you could get a leak if you bend a hose. also, now that you've moved to liquid cooling don't forget to add filters to all the air intakes!

pbhound (author)2015-09-10

Looks great, love the simplicity.

on the reservoir do you have the intake and discharge hoses on the bottom?

would the intake and discharge hoses cause insufficient cooling, and create a type of vortex?

rpotts2 (author)2015-09-09

Olde School. I haven't seen this in years! good job!

Pirate_Prince (author)2015-09-09

You are brave! I would have done the leak test *outside* the pc just in case, but glad that it all went well for you.
I have a question though, the tube that goes to the top of the pc, is that for topping up the liquid or does it connect to anything else? like a second radiator? Additional picture of this area would be very helpful.
Thanks to your instructable, I can now think of tackling the extreme heat in my dual processor workstation in a similar fashion.

warafael1 (author)2015-09-09


dwoy (author)2015-09-09

And to correct myself, it was a rigid tube, gpu and cpu cooler with dual rads. Enders up costing $1000.

dwoy (author)2015-09-09

The top hose just goes to a cap I used to fill the reservoir.

advaitgupta (author)2015-09-09

can you tell me tubing specifications for cooler master seidon 240m

rafununu (author)2015-09-09

A CPU water cooling system doesn't cost 1000$, it's between 100 and 200.

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