bit-tech.net

Do case manufacturers really understand water cooling?

Posted on 10th Apr 2014 at 08:59 by Antony Leather with 25 comments

After a couple of years of mediocre progress, we're seeing some genuine innovation with cases that are leaning ever more towards water cooling. Pretty much every medium to large case that's released these days - even smaller mini-ITX ones on occasion - sports double, triple or even quadruple fan mounts, and though these of course boost air cooling potential too, they also allow for larger radiators to be installed.

Manufacturers such as Corsair and NZXT are now in the habit of listing radiator compatibility in their case instruction manuals too - they're clearly taking it seriously and rightly so. Water cooling is one area of the PC industry that has certainly been growing over the last few years with all-in-one liquid coolers and full-on custom water cooling topping cooler graphs and featuring in many eye candy-filled systems - both modding projects and standard builds alike.

However, there is one small issue with many cases - specifically their radiator mounts. They're usually designed only for half-height radiators, which lack surface area and thus cooling potential compared to their full-height siblings, and many cases also seem to be listing radiator and water cooling compatibility as little more than tick-box features.

Do case manufacturers really understand water cooling?
Some manufacturers are shunning space for large air coolers in favour of radiator mounts such as Lian Li with is PC-V360 - Click to enlarge

My point here is that when you try to install a water cooling system in one, there's so little space that tube kinks become a real issue and there's also little thought as to where to put pumps and reservoirs. One big factor here is that case manufacturers aren't actually that concerned with custom water cooling loops (as in separate components connected together at home) and rather more with all-in-one systems such as a Corsair H80i.

It's not just Corsair and NZXT, who incidentally make some of the best all-in-one liquid coolers out there, that are doing this. After all, you can forgive them for promoting a combination of their own case and cooler, but plenty of other manufacturers are doing it too.

Do case manufacturers really understand water cooling?
Many all-in-one liquid coolers come equipped with half-height radiators while larger radiators are available with custom water cooling that can provide additional cooling capacity

For instance, I've recently borrowed the Lian Li PC-V360 we looked at recently to see how well it can cope with a water cooling system, seeing as it has a dedicated dual 120mm-fan radiator mount in the side panel and is too slim to fit large air coolers.

In short, it wasn't easy at all and I had to use anti-kinking springs on the tubing for everything to fit inside - and that's using the skinniest radiator I could find. Also, this turned out to be only just capable of cooling my overclocked Core i5-3570K and GeForce 660 Ti with the fans on full blast, which for me half defeats the point of water cooling, which is noise reduction.

Do case manufacturers really understand water cooling?
You usually have to opt for larger cases such as Corsair's Graphite 760T, but just a few changes could mean smaller cases are just as water cooling-friendly - click to enlarge

Even with an all-in-one liquid cooler things would be tricky, but as we speak I'm in the process of dismantling the system to go back to my trusted BitFenix Prodigy, which is much more water cooling friendly. Of course, that's my point; some cases do work well with water cooling, the Prodigy being one of them. It's also far from being a large case - the PC-V360 is taller and deeper but can't quite decide whether to jump off the fence on the air cooling side or water cooling side.

A lot of the issues, then, revolve around radiator depth, and at the moment, many case manufacturers are content to leave their cases with the bare minimum. You probably can't blame them to some extent as the vast majority of all-in-one liquid coolers use skinny radiators - one reason why a custom kit with a full-height double or triple 120mm-fan radiator will likely perform much better and quieter with an overclocked CPU.

So, what would I like to see? Better consideration for water cooling enthusiasts for one, but this could just as easily be brought about by all-in-one liquid cooler manufacturers beefing up their radiators too, especially where double fan radiators are concerned. That way, we don't only get better cooling from their own coolers, but you won't have to opt for enormous cases or go through the hassle of having to use multiple radiators too. It wouldn't require massive changes either - a few small modifications to existing case designs could make a world of difference.

How do you think current cases could be improved for water cooling purposes? Let us know in the forum.

25 Comments

Discuss in the forums Reply
Nexxo 10th April 2014, 09:36 Quote
Dude can't cool an overclocked Core i5-3570K and GeForce 660 Ti on a dual 120 rad? That's only 230W-ish, tops. He's doing something wrong. I'm cooling 240W on a single BIX.

Anyway, it is pretty difficult to create a case for PC components that were designed to be in a strict particular orientation towards each other and the case, and still have room for a decent watercooling system, without ending up with a huge monster case that ate Detroit.
Combatus 10th April 2014, 10:02 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nexxo
Dude can't cool an overclocked Core i5-3570K and GeForce 660 Ti on a dual 120 rad? That's only 230W-ish, tops. He's doing something wrong. I'm cooling 240W on a single BIX.

Anyway, it is pretty difficult to create a case for PC components that were designed to be in a strict particular orientation towards each other and the case, and still have room for a decent watercooling system, without ending up with a huge monster case that ate Detroit.

Didn't say it couldn't cool it :) just that I had to have the fans at 12v to cope with lengthy gaming sessions - I usually like to have them between 5 and 7v otherwise the fans are by far the noisiest components in the PC.

I don't think it is that difficult. As I mentioned, many cases we've reviewed recently just needed minor changes like making the case a tad wider or really maximising the fan mount clearance. The PC-V360 is a classic example.
ev1lm1nd666 10th April 2014, 10:02 Quote
I have to disagree, If water cooling was a major consideration at the earliest design points of a case then it should be relatively easy, we just need the "big" names in cases to pull their fingers out as water cooling isn't going away.

It took years for case manufacturers to realise we didn't want plain beige boxes for our pc'sand they don't seem to be paying too much attention even now with all-in-one coolers.

All a case manufacturer has to do is look in the modding forums at what people are doing to their cases to fit water cooling to get the idea and convert it into a real case design.

I'd love to have the money to start up a small case company as I reckon the designs I have penned up til now would sell very well for water cooler users.
Nexxo 10th April 2014, 10:07 Quote
Talk to Partum systems. They work in acrylic, but their equipment should manage 3mm aluminium. About time they branch out their range a bit. :D
Maki role 10th April 2014, 10:07 Quote
I'd definitely like to see some more considerations being made for reservoirs. I think a lot of the time now, even mid-towers are capable of putting in so much radiator, that you don't need thick ones. The H440 can fit 2x360mm rads and the 450D a 360 + 280, and this is using a stock configuration. That's just insane, imagine taking either one of those case back to 2009, people would be gobsmacked. You don't need thick rads if you fill up the space on those.

However, they do have the issue of not having many spots for reservoirs you're right. Phantek's have done a good job of tackling this subject with their Enthoo Primo, as Have Corsair with their 900D, but those are massive cases where finding a space isn't hard.

Still, it's progress. Clearly manufacturers are taking custom loops into account (which is much better than in the past), so I would expect to see these features making their way into cases pretty soon.
Gurdeep14 10th April 2014, 10:11 Quote
Even the TJ-07 which is a premium case with watercooling in mind required quite a lot of modification from me to fit my loops. The top only accommodates a slim 240mm radiator, I had to get the case modified to fit a slim 360mm radiator to cope with cooling a i7 920 @ 4Ghz, the MOSFETS, motherboard and RAM. The bottom section is reserved for a normal thickness 360mm radiator without much modification (just a radiator mount) to cool the GPUs. I had to completely fabricate a new method to hold the dual D5s and reservoirs within the bottom 3 5.25" bays.
Baring in mind this is a £200+ case, I'd say they still have some work to do.
Spreadie 10th April 2014, 10:24 Quote
It doesn't help when the mainstream manufacturers specifically design their cases with only enough room to accommodate AIOs, when they also make AIOs. Yeah, promote your own products, but not at the expense of other options.

I've given up looking at case reviews from a certain manufacturer, because of their bias in this area.
montymole 10th April 2014, 11:44 Quote
have to say i am keeping a 4770k @4.6ghz 1.3v and a R9 280X both well under 50c whilst gaming with an EK XTX 240mm and 2 Enermax Cluster Advance Fans and is pretty much silent this is in and AeroCool Dead Silence case that is not exactly the biggest or greatest at cooling
jrs77 10th April 2014, 12:03 Quote
Manufacturers don't even put too much thought into aircooling, so why should their products be any better for watercooling?

The biggest problem with most cases is, that they still have tons of unnecessary 5.1/4" and 3.1/2" trays. Get rid of them and you automatically gain more room for radiators and better airflow.

Put the PSU in the bottom and a single 5.1/4" and two 3.1/2" trays infront at the bottom. That way you've got the whole rest of the front and the whole top for radiators not blocked by anything. Just food for thoughts.
true_gamer 10th April 2014, 12:13 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gurdeep14
Even the TJ-07 which is a premium case with watercooling in mind required quite a lot of modification from me to fit my loops. The top only accommodates a slim 240mm radiator, I had to get the case modified to fit a slim 360mm radiator to cope with cooling a i7 920 @ 4Ghz, the MOSFETS, motherboard and RAM. The bottom section is reserved for a normal thickness 360mm radiator without much modification (just a radiator mount) to cool the GPUs. I had to completely fabricate a new method to hold the dual D5s and reservoirs within the bottom 3 5.25" bays.
Baring in mind this is a £200+ case, I'd say they still have some work to do.

The TJ07 was an Awesome case for it's time, as water cooling was only really starting to show up.

I had 3 loops in that case back in 2010 with 1x slim 240 rad in the top along with 1x 240 & 1x 360 rad in the bottom.

Clicky

So as the likes of the Corsair 760T case, you can mount a full size 120.3 rad in the roof along with a oversized 120.2 rad in the front without any modifying.

So case manufactures like Corsair are listening to their costumers and accommodating for custom waterloops. :)

I have some great plans for when my 760T case turns up. :D
rollo 10th April 2014, 12:14 Quote
Water cooling is complicated and over the years ive resorted to wierd case mods to get the stuff inside and outside of the case. My current setup has the 360 rad outside of the case with the fans on 5v.

It can fit inside the case but the problem then becomes higher fan speed requirements for the same temperature.

And thats with a case designed for water cooling the NZXT Phantom that you reviewed a few years back.

PSU in bottom is how the phantom does it and theres still not alot of room unless your removing drive bays and hd spacers. Niether is really that realistic for most users.
Gurdeep14 10th April 2014, 13:08 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by true_gamer
The TJ07 was an Awesome case for it's time, as water cooling was only really starting to show up.

I had 3 loops in that case back in 2010 with 1x slim 240 rad in the top along with 1x 240 & 1x 360 rad in the bottom.

Clicky

So as the likes of the Corsair 760T case, you can mount a full size 120.3 rad in the roof along with a oversized 120.2 rad in the front without any modifying.

So case manufactures like Corsair are listening to their costumers and accommodating for custom waterloops. :)

I have some great plans for when my 760T case turns up. :D

Nice, I went for a 360 in the rood and a 360 in the bottom, because I wanted some space at the bottom for cables and to mount the pumps and reservoirs
Clicky
Shirty 10th April 2014, 13:10 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nexxo
Talk to Partum systems. They work in acrylic, but their equipment should manage 3mm aluminium. About time they branch out their range a bit. :D

Parvum innit.
M3G4 10th April 2014, 13:16 Quote
I personally don't understand watercooling. What with the lower TDP of CPU's and most other components the need for it is becoming moot, unless you're a major overclocker.
Maki role 10th April 2014, 13:29 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by M3G4
I personally don't understand watercooling. What with the lower TDP of CPU's and most other components the need for it is becoming moot, unless you're a major overclocker.

Thing is, watercooling is about much more than overclocking. Air cooling is for the most part very much a "black box" solution, you can't really put your own stamp on it as much. Sure you can add shrouds, change fans etc. but your options are very limited. Watercooling on the other hand offers a huge amount of freedom. You can express so much simply through how you choose to use it. It can also be a fun challenge to try and see just how far you can take it. It's basically a full on hobby, the Raspberry Pi doesn't even need a cooler, didn't stop Phame from watercooling one for the hell of it.

Not to mention that whilst the TDPs on many/most parts are indeed going down, there are still notable exceptions. Top end GPUs are still power hungry beasts, Intel's Sandy/Ivy-e chips are also very power hungry, especially when overclocked. AMD's latest CPU offerings have 220W TDPs, with their normal versions still clocking in at 130W. That's a lot of heat for any air cooler, even the very best. Start overclocking even a reasonable amount and you'll find the fans spinning up a lot.
Shirty 10th April 2014, 13:49 Quote
Ill just leave this here.

I strongly urge you to have a good read of that thread from start to finish, because chap made a number of valid points huehuehue.
Spreadie 10th April 2014, 13:55 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by M3G4
I personally don't understand watercooling. What with the lower TDP of CPU's and most other components the need for it is becoming moot, unless you're a major overclocker.
One thing, and most important to me, about watercooling - you can add enough rad to a loop to keep your rig cool even for extended gaming/benching sessions without any increase in fan speed or noise output.

I've stripped and sold off my loops twice now, but I still keep coming back. I'm not going to say it's for everyone, and I'm not going to pretend that it's essential but, for me at least, it is worth it.
Spreadie 10th April 2014, 13:57 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shirty
Ill just leave this here.

I strongly urge you to have a good read of that thread from start to finish, because chap made a number of valid points huehuehue.
**SLAP**

That asshat doesn't need the coverage or encouragement, Nick. ;)
Shirty 10th April 2014, 14:02 Quote
I have a theory that chap (who recently returned after an 18 month hiatus with this gem) is actually one of the first sentient computers connected to the internet.

He's not very good at much yet, but he's learning. We should welcome his occasional presence at Bit-tech.
Spreadie 10th April 2014, 14:07 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shirty
I have a theory that chap (who recently returned after an 18 month hiatus with this gem) is actually one of the first sentient computers connected to the internet.

He's not very good at much yet, but he's learning. We should welcome his occasional presence at Bit-tech.
I'd welcome him and even tolerate him if he promised never to breed.
aramil 10th April 2014, 14:19 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Spreadie
I'd welcome him and even tolerate him if he promised never to breed.

He would probably start a thread on how to breed :D & then wait another 18 months.
Spreadie 10th April 2014, 15:04 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by aramil
He would probably start a thread on how to breed :D & then wait another 18 months.
Elephantine pregnancy? ;)
Umbra 10th April 2014, 17:18 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by M3G4
I personally don't understand watercooling.

Cause it looks perty ;) Obviously it also has cooling benefits but we are modders and W/C is another form of customizing, it might not be cheap or practical but neither is spending £20,000 on a sound system and putting in a £10,000 car but people do it, I don't need W/C, but I will build a W/C system just for the hell of it and because I can, just like I didn't need to build all the custom m/cycles I built (ALL THAT MONEY, WHAT WAS I THINKING!).

W/C is such a small minority sport, relatively speaking, that I'm actually surprised there is so much W/C kit available and as a modder I feel compelled to try it, it's not for everyone but as I'm real good at wrecking stuff I can't wait to mix expensive electronics and water, perty coloured water B)
phuzz 10th April 2014, 17:26 Quote
My current case is a Zalman MS1000, which I chose because I worked out that I could fit a slim 240mm radiator in the top, along with fans.
Of course, I cheaped out on the radiator, and when it turned up it was a full depth 50mm radiator, so on the fly I had to adjust my loop and now the radiator pokes up through the top of the case, with the fans inside, and actually it all looks kinda badass.
I would like a case where I can fit all of the cooling inside.
Cthippo 10th April 2014, 22:46 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Spreadie
I'd welcome him and even tolerate him if he promised never to breed.

Just because you're not getting any doesn't mean the rrst of us shouldn't :p

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