Watercooling has been around for quite a while now and even the nether regions of Europe are beginning to pay some attention to it. This summer has been particularly hot in central and western europe and has seen many people coming home from their offices to face temperatures in the > 30C (90F) range. Any enthusiast will know what this means for the heat-dissipating components in many pre-built PC systems. I work in an office full of PCs with CPU temperatures hitting 70C.
Air-conditioning is not very common here as this is the first summer in a long time that has seen any real need for it. This summer has also seen watercooling equipment for PCs selling like beer at the October-festival in Munich.
Suffice it to say that people are interested in watercooling and don't want to fuss around with lots of complicated parts but rather are looking for something that is pre-made and requires only a simple pictogram assembly manual. They are also quite careful about spending $200 for cooling equipment that might not work, or worse, could damage their computer.
This need is something that leading manufacturers of PC-cooling equipment are more than willing to try to take advantage of. Asetek are a well known name in the world of exotic PC cooling -- they brought us the VapoChill™ line of high-performance cooling.
To put it bluntly, VapoChill™ is a pretty good system and will allow you to cool just about any processor to sub-zero temperatures. Whats more, VapoChill™ doesn't require you to own a workshop as it is a pre-built system that you just build your PC-system into.
Using their VapoChill™ experience, Asetek also are trying to cater for the more mainstream PC owners who are not necessarily looking for extreme overclocking, but are seeking a high-performance cooling platform that they can use on their future PCs. This is where the WaterChill™ kit comes in handy.
Asetek were kind enough to send me their WaterChill™ CPU cooling kit KT03, which is a plain water-cooling kit for CPUs using no refrigeration or peltier-based technology. The WaterChill™ set takes advantage of water’s high heat capacity without forcing the PC-owner to fork out for the relatively high-cost phase-change based cooling.
It is aimed at people either looking to cool their PC that little extra or perhaps looking for a quieter alternative to an array of high-speed fans in the warm summer months.
My first impression, based entirely on my thoughts on opening the box was quite a pleasant one. The water-block is nicely designed, the radiator and pump are a nice matt-black and everything had an aura of compactness to it. All in all, I got the distinct impression that the designers had thought things through, and the entire kit seemed to be oriented towards maximum compatibility.
It is also important to remember that in most peoples thoughts, the words "water" and "electronic device" have no business being in the same sentence. The design and ease of installation are essential in lowering the barrier-to-entry in most peoples minds, as watercooling is still considered "black magic" by the majority of PC owners.
In any case, the WaterChill kit comes with all the goodies you will ever need in one neat bundle. You need only add a screwdriver, something to cut the plastic hoses, the ability to read and, of course, a computer.
The inventory of the entire kit:
- Pump (Hydor L20, 700l/h) with attached WaterChill reservoir RSV01
- Hermaphrodite power cord – used to power on/off the pump and fan along with the PC.
- WaterChill radiator RDT01 with attached 120mm Sunon fan
- WaterChill CPU cooler/water-block
- 2 hoses, 10mm/6.5mm and 12mm/8mm, approx. 1m each (~ 3ft)
- One plastic bag full of assorted small parts; screws, clamps, thermal paste, etc.
- Anti-algae solution, enough for 4 complete refills of the system.
The water-block looks very nice and is extremely compatible. Asetek have made this water-block with 3 different sets of holes, socket 478, Socket 462/A and Socket 754.
The interior is based on the half-moon design -- I won't go into technical details in this article, but it is a proven design and a good choice. The transparent acrylic top allows you to see into the water-block, which is very useful for checking if there are any air pockets and also looks nice.
The push-fit connectors make installing the supplied hoses a very simple task, especially for the less dextrous people. After all, not everyone is a very good D.I.Y. professional.
The water-block was shipped with a protective plastic cover and the base was unscratched and completely smooth and flat. This is exactly what we would expect from a company with Asetek's reputation.
The retention mechanism for the entire water-block is also quite nice -- it requires your motherboard to have 4 mounting holes around the socket and is affixed using 4 metal bolts. 4 regular screws go under the motherboard and 4 thumb-screws allow you to adjust the pressure of the waterblock on the CPU. The entire mechanism is extremely stable.
The springs between the water-block and the motherboard are optional (but recommended) and by putting the weaker springs between the thumb-screws and the CPU you can fit a cold-plate and a moderately sized TEC/Peltier element on your CPU. It is a tight squeeze, but I managed to get a 226W TEC sandwiched there. This is, of course, a massive bonus for those of us who like to live on the edge.
The radiator is of the single-channel type with a narrow-bore pipe of 7mm which are cross-connected with a large number of very fine aluminum lamellas. The pipe crosses the entire radiator assembly 14 times. This should be fairly effective at removing heat from the water as well as being easy to manufacture. Asetek estimate the radiator can remove 400W of heat under "normal conditions" which means that it doesn't matter what CPU you have, this radiator will easily cope with it. There is no processor on the market today that you couldn't cool with this radiator.
The radiator comes with mounting holes for a standard 120mm fan, so if your case has a place for 120mm fans, then the radiator can be mounted there in a matter of seconds.
If your case, like mine, can only offer you a 92mm slot, then you are going to have to do some work. For testing purposes I mounted the radiator in the 5.25" drive bays, where it takes up 4 slots. For testing purposes this was an extremely snug and convenient fit and if like me you only need two CD-Drives then this is even a more permanent option. I simply put two screws through one of the plastic bezels and sort of wedged it between two sheets of sound-insulation I had left over from my noise-reduction kit. It is almost a perfect fit and took around 5 or so minutes. If you are unable to do this, then you will have to do some work if you want to permanently mount this inside your case.
For testing I removed the lower bezel which improved the temperature by approximately 0.5C to 1C.
The only criticism I could come up with is that it would have been nice to be able to mount the 120mm fan on either side to increase the installation options as not all cases are created equal.
The pump is a Hydor L20 with a flow-rate of 700l/h (about 150 US gallons/hr). As the flow-rate of the water doesn't have such a big impact on the cooling performance, this should be more than enough to cope with the thermal loads you can place on this kit. It also makes it easier to keep the noise and vibrations to a minimum. This is particularly important if the kit is designed to be installed inside the casing as vibrations can produce a variety of unpleasant resonant noises.
The reservoir is attached to the pump and glued to prevent leakage. This makes the assembly a very convenient bundle. One thing that you will have to bear in mind when installing this inside your case is that the inlet is on the side and the outlet goes up from the pump, so you have to make sure that you can arrange the pump inside your casing whilst preventing the inlet-hose from developing kinks.
Along with this kit come all the small parts you need to install this kit successfully.
It also includes a power-connector for the pump assembly, which is used to power the 120mm fan as well. This is connected through a PCI slot and is also connected up to the 110/220V power cable. This is quite convenient as it saves you a power cable. It also powers up the pump and the fan with your system.
Assembly was a relatively painless procedure. I read through the manual before starting the first assembly-run and then read the manual carefully while going through each step. I found that the manual was well written, accurate and that the authors had kept people who have never done this before in mind. Everything is explained step-by-step and most tasks are illustrated with numerous diagrams. IKEA could learn something from these guys.
I find it rare that a manufacturer of hardware can make instructions this well. I can only praise Asetek for this effort, because it will even allow someone who has never messed around with PC-guts before to install this kit successfully.
The manual even describes, albeit basically, what kind of location to look for in your case if you do not have a 120mm fan-slot to install the radiator in. However I look at it, anyone who is considering water-cooling their PC would have no problems getting up and running with this manual.
In addition to myself successfully assembling this kit (which is not difficult for me as I have been building PCs and experimenting with exotic cooling for years now), I made an attempt to test Asetek’s technical support. I made a few installation mistakes that could easily be made and not so easily spotted. I was pleased to see that the response from Asetek was exemplary and from the symptoms described Asetek diagnosed the problems very accurately. Again, a big thumbs-up and happy smiles all round. They know their product.
No system is perfect. All systems are designed with certain assumptions and aimed at a particular set of circumstances. WaterChill is no exception to this and as such there are bound to be potential problems with this kit.
- Problems with the pump:
I experienced some intermittent problems priming the system. I got the impression that when starting up and priming the system that the pump seems to have problems with pockets of air somewhere between the reservoir and the pumping mechanism as it just sounded like it was trying to pump air even though the reservoir was full. There was roughly a 50/50 chance of this happening if the radiator was positioned above the pump while priming. It never happened when the radiator was positioned below the pump.
If I placed the big-tower case on its side so that the pump and the rest of the system were more-or-less at the same height, then the system primed without any difficulty - 5 times out of 5. This is something to bear in mind if your case or system make it difficult for you to position the radiator and pump at similar elevations in order to prime the system.
In any case, you may need to goad the priming process a little. This is, in my experience, absolutely normal unless you are using a very powerful pump.
- Problems with the water-block:
Another potential problem area I came across is the water-block. I found that after an hour of operation I had an air-bubble in my water-block that was big enough to cause a rise in CPU-temperature. The inlet is directly above the CPU DIE and the design of the water-block forces me to have the outlet below the inlet. This means extra care has to be taken when priming the system so air-bubbles don't form. Too hasty a priming process left me with a moderately sized air-bubble on the upper part of the waterblock. This happens because even though the reservoir is supposed to collect the air-bubbles, not all air-bubbles will make it to the reservoir if they can settle elsewhere. The orientation of the socket on my mainboard is partly to blame for this as well.
As the CPU socket is orientated the same way on many motherboards, I highly recommend giving your system plenty of time to prime up - at least 3 times as much as Asetek recommends. Also, try and orient your system on its side so that the inlet/outlet are vertical and thus encourage air-bubbles not to settle in the water-block. but to travel up, into the hose and to the reservoir where they can escape.
- Problems with the retention-mechanism (water-block):
When un-mounting the water-block, 6 times out of 7, at least one of the bars from the retention mechanism unscrewed from the motherboard requiring you to dismantle the motherboard from the case so you can tighten the screw anchoring the bar to the motherboard (which is behind/under the motherboard) in order to mount everything again. If all you wanted to do was check the thermal paste then it’s a lot of effort to remove and re-install all PCI and AGP cards, the HDDs and motherboard just to do that.
The test setup
Now down to business. Performance is a major factor when buying a water-cooler. A second factor is the possibility for noise-reduction. I strongly believe that a water-cooling system should be capable of mastering both in order to justify its price tag and also allow for some kind of ability to control what exactly you want to do. Otherwise I’d find paying more than $100 for a cooler difficult to justify for the average consumer. As I am particularly fond of silent PCs I paid particular attention to its noise-level, but also tested its limits in terms of thermal load.
The test machine:
- AMD XP2400+ CPU
- Epox 8K5A2+ motherboard
- 1x 512MB Corsair PC3200 LL DDR
- 3x Seagate Barracuda IV 80GB 7200rpm
- ASUS V8460 Deluxe GeForce4 Ti4600 AGP
- CWT 480W "Noiseblocker" PSU
- SoundBlaster Live Player
- 3Com 3C905C-TX-M 10/100 NIC
- 4x/2x/8x DVD-RW Drive
- 16/40x DVD Drive
- Windows 2000 Professional
- All in a ChiefTec big-tower with 2x 80mm noise-blocker fans at 1050rpm.
What I went looking for were the CPU temperatures when under heavy load while running the radiator’s 120mm Sunon fan at 12V and at 7V. I also over-clocked the system to the max to see if the lower temperatures made much difference in terms of overclockability. As a point of reference I will use the air-cooling I have which consists of a silent CPU-cooler and 5x 80mm noise-blocker fans running at 950rpm which produce less than 17Db(A) each.
Thanks to my brand new air-conditioning I kept my room at a steady 24C, which is a lot better than the 30C to 32C I would otherwise be facing. Hence my familiarity with home made super-cooling setups.
The temperatures are right where I would expect them to be. The WaterChill™ gave me significantly lower temperatures than my air-cooling and I would wager that you would be very hard pushed to beat those temperatures with anything less than a 12" high-speed fan blowing air into the side of the case.
I do not recommend passive cooling for the WaterChill™ though, as this yields temperatures higher than a decent low-noise Heat-Sink/Fan setup (63C at 2000MHz). Due to the availability of fairly quiet Heat-Sink/Fan setups for under $40 there isn’t really any benefit from doing so.
- 15x100MHz = 1500MHz at 1.60V
- 15x133MHz = 2000MHz at 1.65V (default)
- 15x150MHz = 2250MHz at 1.75V
All temperatures are at full load.
At 2250MHz the air-cooling is over its limit. A small rise in room-temperature would send me down in a blaze of blue glory. The WaterChill™ has no problems at this speed. All the temperatures with the WaterChill™ are significantly better than air-cooling.
Please note that the air-cooling setup used here is likely to be better than one found in pre-built systems and to the fact that there are numerous other devices contributing heat to the system as a whole.
I have to say that when running the 120mm fan at 7V the setup is moderately quiet. My air-setup is still quieter though, even with the case open, which gives me more AGP over-clocking possibilities. In defense of the WaterChill™ I have to point out that my air-cooling setup involved untold hours of work finding the right equipment and the right settings. I paid over well $100 for everything and at least 10 hours of work installing as well as running to my local retailer a dozen times and have at least 10 80mm fans and 3 Socket-A coolers sitting in my drawers because they are too loud or not powerful enough. The WaterChill™ kit was no effort at all and after two weeks is still as quiet as on the first day. An additional bonus is that Asetek have GPU and Chipset coolers which can be used in combination with the CPU cooler, so I know my Ti4600 is going places in the near future.
At 12V the WaterChill™ is as loud as a regular, well-endowed Heatsink/fan combo, but will cool an awful lot more. Due to the steady speed of the 120mm Sunon fan the pitch and noise doesn’t continually change as is the case with many CPU fans which I find extremely irritating and distracting when working, but the fan does develop a very slight whine at 12V so you may have to position it properly to avoid your casing amplifying that noise. By positioning the Radiator a little further into the case I was able to reduce the noise-level and eliminate that whine.
Please bear in mind that my case is fitted with noise-dampening material and that if your case lacks this then you may encounter slightly different results with noise-levels when positioning the radiator.
What are we looking for in water-cooling kit?
I would say that the bulk of people are looking for extra performance benefits from the lower temperatures. They are also seeking the possibility of noise-reduction and cooling other parts, e.g. VGA and HDD, using the same system.
Asetek have provided for all these needs with WaterChill™. The KT03 kit is only for CPU-cooling, but Asetek also cater for water-cooling chipset and VGA using WaterChill™. The KT12 kit allows all 3 to be done with one convenient bundle. This means that upgrading is an option.
One thing that I was quite surprised by was the ease with which the kit was installed. I will admit I have done far more complex things to PCs in the past, but if you read the manual properly you will have this up and running in less than an hour if you have a 120mm fan slot in your case. Even without one, I got everything up and running in well under 90 minutes.
I also cannot fault the performance, which even at 7V gives a good air-cooled system a very hard run for its money.
If you feel like tweaking this system a little then I would recommend buying a rheobus, which can be found for around 2EUR, to adjust the 120mm fan to around 10V, which gives excellent performance and is still fairly quiet.
- Very easy to get up and running
- All required parts included, even the anti-algae solution
- High platform compatibility and flexibility
- Fairly quiet in 7V-mode
- Performance is good
- Possibility of adding VGA and chipset cooler to the setup>
- Manual well written and technical support was good
- Removing the water-block often means having to take your entire system apart
- Should the need arise, its hard (but not impossible) to buy replacement hoses of the correct size, at least here
I live in Austria and the WaterChill KT03 generally retails somewhere between EUR 200 and EUR 230. This is an fairly average to low price for water-cooling kits hereabouts. A quick scan on webpages of other countries also confirms a similar pricing strategy for this type of kit.
Considering the performance and the ease of installation and use, plus the performance vs. noise in 7V-mode, I can only praise the WaterChill™ KT03 kit. If someone asked me to give it marks out of 10, I would give it 9 – loosing one point for the minor issues with the water-block and the fact that the 120mm fan cannot easily be mounted on both sides and cannot be easily controlled whilst in operation or by a rheostat/rheobus. Based on this, I give the WaterChill the Editors Choice Award:
Finally, we would like to thank Asetek for supplying us with the WaterChill kit.