In general, there are three methods to cool your PC: air, AIO (all-in-one water cooling), and custom loop water cooling. Of course there are some other methods like passive cooling or mineral oil, but those are in really small portion. In both performance and aesthetic angle, custom loop surpasses other two. But in terms of cost and maintenance difficulty, custom loop is way higher. The actual assembling process may take only few hours, but before that the design and planning takes probably even longer. In this guide, we will discuss some basic knowledge of custom loop, and try to make a fresh build.
There are four main parts of custom loop: water block, pump, reservoir, and radiator.
- Water Block: metal blocks that transfer heat from sources to water. Usually made with copper, and there are some low-end products made with aluminium.
- Pump: pushes liquid through the whole system.
- Reservoir: cylinder or cuboid that holds extra liquid in the system. Also helps extract air out of the system and makes filling easier.
- Radiator: dissipate heat from liquid with the help of fans.
Between these parts we use tubes and fittings to connect them, and some special fittings like extenders, angled fittings, and splitters make the connection even easier. Usually there will be a drain point set to the lowest part of the system, and a ball valve is perfect for this condition.
Step 1: Design
This step could take a while. Think about several things: what kind of performance do I need; what specs do I want; where do I want to put it. One thing to keep in mind is the dimension: water cooling components could take a lot of space. For example, some mid-tower like Corsair 570x allows you to mount 2×120 or 2×140 radiators on the top. But if you have a thick radiator or high-profile RAMs, things become pretty annoying.
Below is a list of PC parts and a list of water cooling parts used in this guide.
- CPU: Intel - i7-7700K
- Thermal Compound: Thermal Grizzly - Kryonaut
- Motherboard: MSI - Z270 Gaming M7
- Memory: 4 × G.Skill - Trident Z RGB 8GB DDR4-3200 CL16
- PNY - CS2030 480GB
- Samsung - 840 Pro 256GB
- Samsung - 840 EVO 1TB
- Seagate - Barracude 3TB
- Toshiba - X300 5TB
Water Cooling Parts:
- CPU Water Block: EK-Supremacy EVO - Nickel
- GPU Water Blocks: 2 × EK-FC1080 GTX G1 - Acetal+Nickel
- GPU Backplates: 2 × EK-FC1080 GTX G1 Backplate - Black
- Pump & Reservoir: EK-XRES 140 DDC 3.2 PWM Elite (incl. pump)
- EK-CoolStream PE 360 (Triple)
- EK-CoolStream PE 240 (Dual)
- Compression (ACF): 10 × EK-ACF Fitting 10/13mm - Blue
- Angled Adapters:
- 45°: 2 × EK-AF Angled 45° G1/4 Black
- 90°: 3 × EK-AF Angled 90° G1/4 Black
- Static Extenders: 2 × EK-AF Extender 6mm M-M G1/4 - Black
- T-Splitter: EK-AF T-Splitter 3F G1/4 - Black
- Ball Valve: EK-AF Ball Valve (10mm) G1/4 - Black
- Filling Bottle
- Coolant: EK-CryoFuel Navy Blue Premix 900 mL
- Soft Tubing: 4ft × EK-DuraClear 9,5/12,7mm
- Mounting Mechanisms: EK-UNI Pump Bracket (120mm FAN) Vertical
Step 2: Install CPU Block
This is a pretty easy step. Apply thermal paste to top of the CPU then screw the water block. Depending on different brands and sockets you may need adjust backplate and mounting plate as well. Detailed description is usually provided with the block or it can be found on that brand's website.
Step 3: Install GPU Block
If you purchase a GPU with water block on then this step can be skipped.
Otherwise follow the description that comes with the block to install it. Keep screws and stock cooler in case you want to use it one day.
Step 4: Mount Radiators & Fans
Mount radiators and fans onto the case. Be aware of the placement so they won't block each other.
Take 570x as an example. I have the ports of PE240 facing backward and ports of PE360 facing downward since I don't have thinner adapters. Also I have fans mounted below PE240 instead of a better looking up-mount. They barely fit on top of memories so that I have to install memories first then those two fans.
Step 5: Mount Reservoir and Pump
Mount reservoir and pump to desired location.
Note: here I have them mounted in the middle of PE360, but later I adjust them to the bottom so the second GPU could fit.
Step 6: Connect Tubes
Connect each component with tubes and fittings.
Be aware of the tube length: if too short you obviously cannot reach two components; if too long the tube might kink.
If you are using compression fittings, remember to put lock rings on first then insert the tube into fittings. Or you need to pull out and start over. I did that sometimes and it's really annoying.
By securing fittings onto two ports you are actually rotating the tube to two opposite directions. You can secure one end to the port that cannot be easily moved (like radiator), then connect the other end by rotating the block (like the CPU block in the picture), and lastly mount the block onto the system. Of course there's an easier way: to use rotary fittings.
Step 7: Add Coolant
WARNING: Leaking coolant could potentially damage your system even though it claims to be non-conductible. For safety reasons I do recommend disconnecting everything other than the pump from the power supply, or at least having napkins around all connections.You don't want a tiny bit of leak to destroy the entire system, right?
If you have enough space like the one in the picture, you can pull the top of the reservoir off and pour coolant in. If not you can use a filling bottle, or sometimes called wash bottle or squeeze bottle.
When coolant reaches a high level, start the pump so the coolant gets into the system. Add more coolant and repeat the step so that coolant fills almost the entire system.
Note: some pumps require both 4-pin fan header and molex connected and powered to start. Since here we don't have the motherboard powered on, you can use a pump testing adapter to convert 4-pin fan header to SATA, or have it connect to an external fan controller. Jump start the power supply so you can do a leak test and fill coolant. In terms of jump start, most power supplies now have a "test tool" included.
Step 8: Connect Cables
Well, cable management.
Personally this is the toughest step and I don't like it. But for better looking and easier maintenance I still do this.
Some accessories like labels and individually sleeved modular cables can make things even easier.
Step 9: Check
Now you have a nearly finished build.
Check to see if you miss anything, like SLI bridge in the picture.