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| Aftermarket Cooling: Should you take the plunge? (Add a comment )|
by: xts (27)
Posted 75 months ago ( edited 75 months ago ) in category DEFAULT
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First a little intro on me, at Firingsquad I go by the nickname Xts and I have extensive experience in having used both aftermarket air and watercooling setups, that means I have had to deal with ALL the headaches in between. I write this guide so you don't have to. This is for those who do not always make the best decisions, either because they lean too heavily towards being overly conservative on price versus the opposite end of just spending the money and going all the way.
The market for aftermarket cooling and noise reduction for everything from CPU's, chipsets to GPU's has heated up over the last few years. Aftermarket cooling has come far from the days of being a hobby of home-made water cooling kits by the hardcore PC enthusiast, to a full blown professional profitable business. It is extraordinary the leaps being made today now in both air and water cooling on the cooling front to keep modern equipment cool and running as fast and as silent as possible. Now without further ado, the first question you need to ask yourself is...
Do I need aftermarket cooling?
It seems almost basic, but it is nonetheless the most important question you have to answer. Since this is probably the most important question you will ever ask in your journey towards aftermarket cooling. With the fairly fast paced nature of the hardware industry, the larger question is then, is the money saved from keeping your current setup greater then spending the extra on cooling it? Or is the noise reduction worth the exrra cost, or would the money that would be spent elswhere?
The reasons vary from person to person but it simply comes down to either performance or reducing the noise inside the modern PC's caused by traditional cooling. Next I have provided a list of questions some of which, will not apply to yourself and which are provided as a general scheme to help possibly in the future if you move from aftermarket heatsink to water cooling. So here are the the questions for yourself that you need to answer: 1) How often do I upgrade? 2) Do I really need to spend extra money to squeeze out an extra few percentage points of performance? 3) Am I willing to install it myself and deal with the headaches? If not, am I willing to pay the price for a prebuilt case/system? 4) Am I willing to take on the risk of the potential mishaps of having water and water cooling components around electrical components? 5) What am I gaining and how important is it to me? 6) Am I doing extreme overclocking or no? 7) Why am I buying this? Is it performance, noise reduction, or simply because you have the money to spare?
How far do you really want to go?
Things you should consider with aftermarket cooling are the costs of a simple air-cooled heatsink upgrade versus the cost of getting a complete water cooling or more extravagant package and the headaches in between from not answering the above questions correctly. For some people basic aftermarket cooling will be enough, but for those who want serious noise reduction or performance, they need to ask the right questions and think about what they are getting into and consider the risks.
Avoiding Installation Frustration
This is something you want to avoid like the plague if and when you can. You can buy pre-built systems and/or cases with water cooling in mind, its best you go that route if you do not want any of the installation headaches and subject yourself to the risk of leakage from water cooling setups that were not installed properly. Next, air-cooled heatsinks in my experience with different setups, I have found that many aftermarket coolers, especially the large ones that they can be quite difficult and frustrating to install without taking apart the whole system. It's possible that some of the really large aftermarket heatsinks may not fit nicely inside a closed case properly, so keep this in mind! Especially if your case is older or your case is cramped to the max already with add-in cards or cords in front of the motherboard to audio and USB front panels and other devices.
Aftermarket watercooling and going all the way
If you're going to go with aftermarket watercooling, and you've chosen to install it yourself, then buy what you may and have at it. If you do not want to install it yourself or are worried about blundering the installation and costing yourself time and money in possibly ruined hardware then you are better going with pre-built systems/cases. For the do-it-yourselfers it's also best to buy prebuilt well designed kits that have replacement parts (should the pump ever die for instance) even tough the initial cost is more expensive. Since in the long run if you plan on having your PC or a kit thats well designed a long time, at least you can get replacement parts like pumps, etc.
For the DIY experts: What do you really gain from aftermarket cooling?
Is it performance? If it is, it certainly isn't much. If you go into aftermarket cooling expecting anything more then 10-20% gain over a stock overclock, you'll be mostly disappointed. Since for those who've tested the aftermarket waters already, the extra performance gained from most aftermarket cooling is negligible, it usually less then 20% over what you can do with a stock retail cooler. Not to mention your chip is not guaranteed to do the speeds listed in many aftermarket "reviews". I do put reviews in the scare quotes for a reason, aftermarket cooling at this time is over hyped and should mainly be considered for noise and heat reduction with expectations of a small performance benefit if you overclock. Taking a Core 2 Duo E6600 from it's stock 2.4Ghz speed and running it at 3.4Ghz, and then adding aftermarket cooling you'll only net yourself an extra 150-400mhz, since more then that is rare. For instance an extra 300mhz may seem like a lot, but consider that you've only gained roughly 11.5% more speed over stock cooler, which you didn't have to spend more money on. When you add up the difference between a stable stock overclock and an aftermarket the difference in terms of performance is negligible. With aftermarket cooling, going from the base stock cooler to an aftermarket will net you anywhere between an extra 150-400mhz, with most normal setups. Anything more is a stretch since by and large the design and unique molecular structure of the CPU determines just how much headroom there at different frequencies versus the heat output of the CPU. The higher the frequency (speed_ the more you lower the heat threshold at which the CPU fails. For instance say your heat threshold before failure was 75C on a stock cooled Core 2 duo at 3.4Ghz. Now we bump up the speed on an Core 2 E6600 to 3800mhz but you find that cannot run it stable and it will fail in tests with Prime orthos, once the CPU hits 58C while looking at the log window or results.txt from Intel's Thermal Analysis tool.
Some advice and tips for self installation
The best way to install aftermarket air cooled heatsinks is to ideally install the heatsink and test the system outside the case before one puts it back inside the case. For more complex setups like watercooled CPU, chipsets and GPU's, its best to take apart the entire system and refer carefully to the instructions given by said kits or that come with the blocks themselves, it is also noted for the do-it-yourselfers out there that you should test watercooled systems outside the case for at least 24 hours. Since in my experience you should always test for any small leaks that leak too slow to be caught within 15-30 minutes of testing, because once you have all the components back inside it may be a giant headache if you find out later you fried your components or hear the sound of a spark from the odd little droplet that got away, possibly toasting your equipment.
In my experience if you're going to go for silence with watercooling, you should simply go all the way with pre-built watercooling setups and avoid installation mishaps from the do-it-yourself angle, it's also best to build a compete system and don't forget silent power supplies, and you will have one of the most quiet PC's you have ever owned. But as always the choice is yours!
Great places for advice are the forums at:
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