Water cooling is fast becoming the solution of choice for high-end computer enthusiasts and gamers due to the many benefits to be had. Water cooling is more appropriately referred to as liquid-cooling, because the majority of liquid cooled systems mostly use an ethyl-glycol coolant, similar to that used in automotive coolant. Some prefer to use a distilled water solution, but it still usually contains corrosive blockers and other chemicals. As with any developing technology there are pros and cons of such an application. (and yes, liquid-cooling technology is still growing and adapting to the temporal requirements of today's higher performance, higher temperature producing components).
The basic function of a liquid cooling system is to attach hollow, cooling blocks to particular components such as the CPU, video card(s) and other parts that produce the highest amounts of heat. Hoses connect the cooling blocks to an attached radiator where a fan or fans blow air through the cooling fins as liquid passes through removing the heat transferred by the cooling blocks. Add a reservoir to hold the liquid and a pump to push the coolant through the system completes the required components for a liquid cooling cycle. Of course there are add-ons and accessories of all kind, but we won't get into all that right now.
Benefits of Liquid Cooling
1. Superior heat removal- Thermal conductivity is a physical property indicates the rate of heat transference. Thermal conductivity of liquid water is roughly 25 times that of air, giving liquid cooling a huge advantage in heat transfer over air-cooling. Which leads to #2
2. Increase Overclocking Capability-This is probably the most attractive feature of a liquid cooling system to most enthusiasts. Today's aftermarket components are fully capable of modest overclocking without damage. The basic principle of overclocking is to increase the voltage and speed of particular components (namely the CPU, GPU, and RAM) to produce improvements in performance. Make no mistake, overclocking can provide HUGE boosts in performance, sometimes as much as 80 to 100% increases. So while liquid cooling can become costly (we'll discuss that in a minute), you can reason that your really paying for the increase in performance of the components you are purchasing or already have.
3. Quiet & Cool- Cool components are happy components, and they will perform better and last longer the cooler they are kept. Excessive heat can cause intermittent errors and cause components to perform poorly and deteriorate faster. Also, most current air cooling systems usually consist of heat sink and fan combinations that require multiple fans to cool components resulting in increased noise production. Today's high performances CPUs require fan speeds in excess of 7000rpm's that can generate 60+ decibels of noise. Overclocking with an air-cooled system would require the installation of additional fans and usually the replacement of stock fans with bigger, aftermarket fans, resulting in what can start to sound like a jet engine. Liquid-cooling systems can be made to run "almost-silent" as you'll only need a fan or fans to cool the radiator.
4. Less Maintenance-Air cooled systems typically pull in air from one side of the case, and push it through and back out of the other side of the case to create a clean flow of air. The bad part about that is that air brings all the dust contained in it with it through your pc. Dust has the ability to conduct electricity, posing a threat of a short-circuit at any given time. As I explained earlier, liquid cooling systems only require fans on the radiator, and they don't contain any electrical components.
Draw-backs of Liquid Cooling-Before I go into the negatives of liquid-cooling, I wanted to clear up a popular misconception about liquid cooling regarding electrical conductivity. Most people hear "water-cooling" and their first reaction is "water and electronics just don't go together". The biggest fault in this is the coolants used in today's liquid cooling systems are NON-conductive. Just as you can submerge an entire pc into a tank of mineral oil without problems, ethyl-glycol coolant will not cause electrical surges and will not short-circuit your system if it comes into contact.
1. Price-Liquid cooling systems do require multiple components and a full system can add a few hundred dollars to your build. However, like I said previously, if you plan to overclock you can partly justify the cost through the boost in performance.
2. Technical Difficulty-Most general pc users aren't too keen on opening up their case and breaking the entire pc down to parts to install the water blocks and rebuild. Building a liquid cooled system requires a combination of manual and technical skill. A lot of installs require custom modifications of the case to adapt to all the components. Each case is different so the locations of the pump, radiator(s), and reservoir varies which requires specific tube lengths and flow patterns.
3. Space-Pretty simple, if you add a reservoir, pump and radiator to what you already have to your case it can start to become a little tight fitting, and of course it will add a little weight to your setup. A little planning and design ingenuity can result in the alleviation of this problem.
Today there are many types and brands of liquid cooling components, and now manufacturers are even producing complete "kits" and also components with cooling blocks already integrated, specifically for liquid cooling setups, such as OCZ's new liquid cooled ram, Koolance's liquid cooled power supply, and BFG's new liquid cooled video cards. Today's components are simply better built, and are less prone to the hazards of systems of the past.