Introduction: Water Cooling a PC

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Computers get hot, and they must be cooled. Your average store-bought PC uses a system of fans to pull heat off major components such as the CPU (central processing unit), graphics processor and hard drives. Then the hot air is blown out the back of the machine. That works just fine for most computers doing most jobs. But it's not always ideal, and it does nothing to impress your friends. The other option for dissipating heat is water cooling, or, really, liquid cooling, in which a combination of distilled water and propylene glycol is piped through the guts of the machine. Installing a liquid-cooling system isn't all that difficult, though it can be intimidating. Who can really benefit from this hot-rod project? Mainly, computer users who like to overclock their PCs and run them hard for gaming applications, video processing, sequencing the DNA of Amazonian tree frogs, and the like. Such people often work their processors into a heated frenzy, forcing the fans to run constantly and noisily.

Since liquid transfers heat more efficiently than air, water-cooled PCs can run significantly cooler. (In tests at Popular Mechanics, our liquid-chilled rig ran at 62.6 degrees Fahrenheit at idle - 27 degrees colder than a similar air-cooled computer.) You'll also be able to remove one or more fans, so your water-cooled system will run more quietly. Koolance, Thermaltake, Zalman and other companies sell a variety of water-cooling kits at prices ranging from $150 to $470. (You also can buy the parts piecemeal, but we suggest using a kit for your first water-cooled setup.) A water-cooling system includes a water block, hoses, pump, reservoir, and an external or internal radiator. Make sure you buy a kit that fits your PC's motherboard. It took us about an hour to hook up a Zalman Reserator 2.

Step 1: Prepping Your PC

Picture of Prepping Your PC

Preparing your machine is the hardest part. Before you can hook up your water-cooling kit, you must remove your computer's motherboard. That means opening up the case, and unplugging all cards and cables from the board. Make sure whenever you unplug cards and cables, you pull from the connector, not the wire to keep the two from ripping apart. (Note: Take careful note of the setup, as you'll have to reconnect everything later.)

Step 2: Remove the Heat Sink

Picture of Remove the Heat Sink

Once the motherboard is loose, unclip and remove the heat sink. This will have a fan and is in the center of the chip. Make sure not to rip the chip straight off the motherboard. Use a gentle twist and slide motion because the thermal paste already on the chip makes a tight bond. Then clean the top of the exposed chip with an alcohol wipe and apply thermal paste (a conductive metal- or silicone-based grease that should come with the kit).

Pictured here: The heat sink after it is removed, cleaned and the water block is attached (see step 3).

Step 3: Install the Water Block.

Picture of Install the Water Block.

Install the water block using the provided mounting bracket. The mounting bracket will sandwich the mother board with a bracket on the bottom and top connected with two screws. As always, and especially with electronics, don't over-tighten the screws.

Pictured: Hoses attached from your water pump and radiator (see step four) will take away heated liquid from the water block and replace it with cooler liquid.

Step 4: Put Your PC Back Together.

Picture of Put Your PC Back Together.

Next, put the motherboard back in the case, and reconnect all cables and cards. Use the supplied clamps to attach the hoses to the water block. If your pump and reservoir are separate components, you must run the hoses from one to the other and then into the radiator. (Our Zalman setup was easy to work with, as all of these elements were combined in a single external unit.)

Pictured: Clamping the hoses to the water block is easy –connect one hose from the water block to the pump and one from the water block to the radiator.

Step 5: Turn It On.

Picture of Turn It On.

Now, hook up the pump's power cable to the connector coming from your PC's internal power supply.

Step 6: Check for Leaks.

Picture of Check for Leaks.

Finally, fill the reservoir with the distilled water/coolant mixture and prime the system, checking all connections for leaks (glycol inside tubes–good; glycol outside of tubes–bad). If everything is sealed tight, you're good to go.


JesusG33k (author)2016-07-09

OK, please test it with your board out and only the loop on, that way you avoid shorting out your stuff. also use paper towels when testing, better safe than sorry

jmiester (author)2012-03-02

Nice! I get your magazine, but i didnt realize you guys were on ibles!

Xixfas (author)jmiester2013-08-19

lol me too

Millawi Legend (author)2011-03-24

What motherboard are you using?

SmAsH! (author)2009-11-08

Im thinking about doing this...
I have a few questions...
1. could i use a peltier in a separate reservoir to cool the liquid?
2. could i use non-conductive oil in the setup, as the liquid?


CybergothiChe (author)SmAsH!2009-12-13

 you are a genius! non-conductive oil, like they have on electricity substation cooling units. I would have never thought of that :D

qwertyboy (author)CybergothiChe2010-04-13

The thicker viscosity of the oil might put a strain on the pump and cause it to fail sooner. That being said, oil would probably be a great alternative.

abadfart (author)qwertyboy2010-09-02

try antifreeze or alcohol in it.

SmAsH! (author)qwertyboy2010-04-13

Well, some oils have a near water viscosity so it would be fine.
But i do see your point.

SmAsH! (author)CybergothiChe2009-12-14

=) Love to be of help.

Jran Sakarra (author)2008-11-10

How would I water cool some of the other parts?

 check Tiger Direct cheaper than Newegg and fast shipping

DJ_JS9 (author)Jran Sakarra2009-02-15

you buy special water blocks for them off a site like newegg or xoxide

Danny_Payne (author)2010-04-15

Nice ible!
What case is that there?

Daniel =)

ghostrider2 (author)2010-04-11

my computer tech class did something kind of similar, except they just took a fish tank, built the computer inside, and filled it with mineral oil.  it works perfectly, and the mineral oil does an excellent job cooling it.

N3w (author)2009-07-12

I dont like it becase it is COMPANI maked not a his made

downgrade (author)2007-04-21

Most of you are don't seem to know what you are talking about. Leak check before yes, but after with components off to check for leaks while installing. Secondly water cooling works amazing, and if you are that worried you can get non conductive liquids (some made for watercooling some not) to put in the system. Thirdly you are way better off building a watercooling system from components instead of a kit like that. Also peltiers work nice however then you have to waterproof the motherboard because of possible frost, and peltiers suck up a lot of power so it pretty much requires a second power supply to be of any use, thirdly you still need a water cooling system to cool the peltier or you will end up just heating your processor more...

adamvan2000 (author)downgrade2009-06-30

Or a large heatsink/fan combo.

LinuxH4x0r (author)2007-09-15

could you use oil (non-conductive) instead? How much more effective is water? Nice Instructable

de-ionized water is non-conductive. The biggest advantage of most oils is that it does not evaporate like water would at 100C. (Although, creating steam steals a lot of heat). Even De-ionized water however will have some gasses dissolved in it, where the oils will have a much lower concentration of gas absorption.

de-ionized water will also pick up trace elements(they do leach out) and eventually become conductive. It's the impurities that give it conductivity(sp).

gurtek (author)2009-06-13

nice pc and expensive kit.............

carlg14 (author)2008-08-29

how much did that zalman kit cost you?

DJ_JS9 (author)carlg142009-02-15

too much

ReCreate (author)2009-02-07

what if we put blue colored Mineral oil?
they submerge computers in that stuff so you should be safe in a leak

Muscelz (author)2009-01-31


bombmaker2 (author)2008-12-28

my brother did this but hooked eveything up to the cooling system for games

neardood (author)2008-11-14

your damn riht about the impressing friends part

alexhalford (author)2008-08-12

Download mobmeter, it's a tiny program that gives you the temperature of your CPU (along with a load of other info).

something (author)2007-12-28

What do i do if i want a cooler for my HP Pavilion Slimline S3220. its compact and doesn't have any internal space.

ekulmeekul (author)something2008-07-31

90 degree bends on the pipes at the cpu waterblock and pipes running straight out of the case so everything but the waterblock is outside of the case unless you can somehow fit it inside either way your radiator is still probably going to be on the outside!

bytowneboy (author)2008-05-09

How could would THIS be as a radiator?! Fiddly as hell to make but doable.

bumpus (author)2008-03-14

you should think about how to water-cool a dremel mine often over-heats

kudoskun (author)2007-03-02

Good starting article for anyone intrested in cooling a rig, but emphasis should be put on leak testing the cooling before its installed over the course of a day (to be super safe) or a few hours. Rather replace a hose or clamp than the mobo and video.

DakotaJoe (author)kudoskun2007-11-07

OK...say that you were new to watercooling, that instructions said nothing, about building it outside your rig, & testing it, before you tested it... Now what...Is there a way I can test it, or do I have to pull the whole thing apart & start over? DakotaJoe

kudoskun (author)DakotaJoe2007-11-08

Well, if its in and you have been using it. I guess just keep an eye on it. Otherwise, I would build it outside of the box (PC), turn on the pump (w/liquid in the tubes) and let it run. After 'XX:XX' amount of time that you decide on, see if there are any leaks / drops / condensation. I would say leave it overnight (something like 12-24 hrs) If none of it exists, go ahead and install it else.... drain, rebuild, and recheck

DakotaJoe (author)kudoskun2007-11-08

Thanks, for the help. I didn't know these things could leak, since it didn't say to check in the instructions.(I figured unless the tubing got a hole in it or something.)

I've yet to fill it, or run it. It's a gigabyte GH-WIU02 :

I think they(Gigabyte) call it a 3D Galaxy II
It has this big 1/2" tubing, that when I put it on, wasn't easy to get on, let alone clamped.

The reason. I've asked, is there are two 4 way valves(for upgrading watercooling to the Video Card, later) that I have installed with those plastic locking strips, & it was a pain in the butt getting them in & on the chasis of this enermax Ubu-Chakra case..

I have a 8800GTS, that has a huge fan on it, and its never gone above 68C when OCed to 689/910 I figured I'd leave it, until I've saved up, buy the watercooling version of the 8800GTS, then set them both up with watercooling in SLI.

I did put in extra tubing, so I could pull some of it out, like the waterblock & pump housing/reservoir, then wrap the other parts in paper towels(I have heavy duty shop towels)

OK. Say I do unbolt the block from the CPU, will it be OK, if I leave it(CPU) in the MOBO, while I do this testing of the watercooling for 24 hrs?
It's a Q6600, that wasn't cheap, but then I don't want to ruin the evga 680i SLI board, 4 x 1GB Ballistix Tracer MEM, or other components!
or like the Instructable said
"ruin 2,500/3,000 worth of parts"!


kudoskun (author)DakotaJoe2007-11-08

If you have enough tubing, you could build it / test it / then attach it to the system like that, just make sure to drain it before you mount it back on the hardware. Also, you can leave the CPU in the mobo, simply dont turn it on until you have cooling in. The best way to fit the tubes on the nipples (block pipes) is to do the following 1. Fit the clamps on the tubes and move them a few inches down towards the middle 2. Boil some water, put the tube ends in the water to expand them 3. Drop them on the nipples and clamp them. Once they cool down, its a tight fit. 4. Test the night away

DakotaJoe (author)kudoskun2007-11-08

Sounds good. That's what I'll do then. Appreciate your help. I'll let you know how it goes! DakotaJoe

smmiller506 (author)2007-08-01

Great instructable. But I'll be the first one to say that you might do everything right, and things still go wrong. With some computer systems costing well over $5,000 and more, it makes sense to check the seals of everything before the cooling setup comes anywhere near a computer. Everything else that I've ever read is that you set the system up in a bathtub or large sink and run it for 24 hours straight. Since my computer costs around $2,500, and I'm on military pay tables, I'm not risking anything until I KNOW FROM MY OWN OBSERVATIONS that it's watertight.


phoenix124 (author)2007-08-04

love the instructable! lol if i had the time and the money i'de water cool. the next rig i build i will for sure... 5 mortgages for a computer are normal, right :P
post your instructable here:

Mussen (author)2007-03-02

Check for Leaks after its in the system? I dare say if theres a leak after its already running it will be pretty damn obvious!

Check the system for a few HOURS BEFORE Putting it in the system.

downgrade (author)Mussen2007-04-21

If the computer isnt running you run no risk of damaging anything, maybe simply delaying use while it dries. You should leak check before, but also after considering while connecting you can cause leaks.

Popular Mechanics (author)Mussen2007-04-05

If you follow the directions carefully there shouldn't be a leak. But, since you are running liquid near the heart of an electronic device, it is better to be safe than sorry.

To reiterate the leak safety points –make sure you test all the hoses with distilled water to see if there are any pinholes as well as the hose-end connection before the install.

Furthermore, the hose connections in this kit were made for an extremely tight fit. Even without the clamps the hoses are very difficult to pry off. That's not to say it's better to be safe then sorry, but this kit's clamps and the tight hose connections should be adequate to prevent all leaks.

bigpinecone (author)2007-03-15

i read this in PM, it's in the latest issue if u don't have it yet (you should)

LJames (author)2007-03-11

Just looking at the close-up of the hose connections; I wouldn't trust those hose clamps not to leak; I would rather use screw-type clamps. As someone else commented, it would be best to test it for leaks outside the PC. I would also like to see some reports on the reliability of this cooler being leak-proof. One "little" leak is one too many in the middle of all that expensive electronics!

lemonie (author)2007-03-10

How about an opinion on Peltier coolers? (I'm just using a good heatsink & fan) L

cflowers (author)2007-03-04

Nice instructable. I featured it on The Daily Hack. Keep up the great work!
C. Flowers

Mr.Asmith9 (author)2007-03-04

You know, It might be like.. the best way to cool off the PC.. But for some reasion I dont think using water is all that good of idea... Lol

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Bio: The official instructable for Popular Mechanics magazine, reporting on the DIY world since 1902.
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