Cooling your system is very important because it simply gives you the possibility to get the performance out of the components you paid for. Good cooling will have a positive effect on the lifespan of your computer and the performance. Cooling can be done with air or water, both are a good option with different advantages and disadvantages.
If you are going to overclock any of your computer’s components, you will need very good cooling, otherwise, you are wasting your time and money. Some components can break if they are too hot for a long time. I suggest that you will use water cooling for the cooling if you have the know-how and money to do so. Otherwise, I think you should rethink your actual need for overclocking.
Basic cooling principles
Before we dive deeper into the actual cooling of the computer, I would like to state few things that affect the efficiency of cooling. These things apply to air cooling but also to water cooling. These things will already help you to cool your system, but this post also covers the actual cooling element related things to make sure you have done correctly.
Different cases have a different cooling ability. Not all cases are able to keep the components inside as well as others. The airflow inside the case is a very important aspect of cooling your components. You won’t improve the air flow opening the case, cases are designed to have the best airflow when the case is closed.
- Keep the front, back, and top of the case free from any items, furniture or walls. The air is getting in from the front of the case, you don’t want to block it. This same applies to the top and back of the case, except that the hot air is getting out of the case. You don’t want to block that either. If your computer is placed on a carpet, make sure that the bottom of the case isn’t blocked, since depending on the case, it might push it out somewhere in the bottom. Simply just make sure that the cool air can get in and hot air can get out. You can also add a few case fans more, to make the airflow even better.
- You should pay attention to cable management and that you don’t have any old or unnecessary components in the case. Those will affect the air flow, you don’t want any cables or components to be on the way.
- If you are having cooling issues with your computer that you have had for a while, make sure that you clean it properly. Removing all the dust from the case’s dust collectors improves taking air in and getting it out. Cleaning the insides of the case is also very important. CPU fan heatsink is a component that collects easily a lot of dust, remember to clean other components regularly as well. You can buy canned air to remove all the dust with ease.
- If you have done all the things above and your cooling isn’t good enough, you might need to upgrade your CPU fan for a better one or check if your water cooling components are working properly and that you have big enough radiator for your build.
Positive and Negative air flow
Having good airflow in the case is important, it will components cool, but if the airflow is positive or negative will also have an effect on the cooling and in the amount of dust builds up in the system. This might sound something very technical and hard, but in fact, it just means the amount of air that is taken in or pushed out.
Positive airflow means that there is more air coming in than getting out of the case through the fans. Negative airflow is the opposite of this. You want to achieve positive airflow because it will help you keep a lot of the dust out of the case. When you have more air coming in through the fans than getting out, the air will get out of the case any possible way. The air is simply pushed out of every hole and gap in the case. If you have negative air flow, the air is getting sucked in through the holes and gaps, which will make your system gather more dust than with positive air flow.
To achieve positive air flow, you need to have more fans pulling air in than pushing it out, or optionally you can use some software to control the fans. You are able to control fans from BIOS sometimes but to get advanced fan control, I suggest some software for it. For a software control of the fans, the fans need to be Pulse-Width Modulation (PWM) capable. If you don’t have fans that are PWM capable and you aren’t able to control from the BIOS, your only choice is to get a device called fan speed controller.
Fan speed controller is a device that has switches to control the speed of fans. The device is installed in an expansion slot or a drive bay. There are other ways, such as modding the number of volts the fan is getting to control its speed, but the rest are very advanced methods.
Good software for controlling the speeds of fans is, for example, SpeedFan, it can be very useful when troubleshooting problems in your system as well. However, SpeedFan or any other software might not work with your components and if you aren’t already familiar with the software, I suggest that you follow a guide or go buy a fan speed controller. With a software, you can control the fan speeds depending on the workload. It can also make the fans pull more air in and you will gain positive air flow easily.
The amount of air the fan can fill up in a minute is measured in Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM). The higher the CFM is, the more air the fan is able to push. Another thing to keep an eye on is the Revolutions Per Minute (RPM) of the fan. The more the fan has RPM, the more it produces noise. When combining CFM and RPM values of the fans, you will easily find the best ones. You will usually want to find one with high CFM and low RPM. The fans static pressure is more important than the CFM. High static pressure means that the fan is able to force air through small gaps.
Fans have different bearing types. The type of bearing used affects the fans performance and lifespan. The bearing types are the following.
- Sleeve bearings have been lubricated with oil, these fans aren’t good with high speeds and temperatures. Will perform poorly when placed vertically.
- Rifle bearings are close to sleeve bearings but are quieter and can be placed vertically.
- Ball bearings are usually expensive, but they can be placed any way you want and they handle high temperatures. Ball bearings are also quieter than sleeve bearings at high speeds.
- Fluid bearings are almost completely silent and have a high lifespan, usually the most expensive type of fan.
Fans come in two most used sizes, which are 120mm and 140mm. Make sure the fans you are getting, will fit in the fan slots of the case. If it’s not mentioned in the ad selling the case, you can find it in the user’s manual.
Fans can be connected with the following connectors.
- Three-pin Molex, KK family
- Four-pin Molex, KK family
- Three-pin Molex, PicoBlade family
- Four-pin Molex
Air cooling is the easiest way to cool down your computer. Cooling your computer with air is very simple, most processors come with a stock fan that is enough for the processor if it’s not overclocked and everything else is fine with the build. Graphics cards come with their own, built-in air cooling solutions. Cases also usually come with at least one stock fan.
You can install the stock fans you got with your components and add a few more case fans. These stock fans just aren’t as silent and as effective than fans that you can buy separately. If you are aiming for a high-end PC, I suggest that you spend a bit more money to buy a good CPU fan and good additional case fans for your build. It will be worth it, otherwise, you might not be getting the performance you paid for.
Fans naturally make noise some fans are noisier than others and there isn’t much that you can do to reduce the noise. A good case can make the system more silent, but that won’t help you as much as you might want to. The important factor making the case as silent as possible is the fans used. Cheap fans are usually noisier.
If your water cooling solution fails, for some reason, it can break your components or even whole system. Be very careful when installing water cooling parts and use extra care if you have fittings in the water loop since fittings are commonly the place where a leak happens. If you have a water cooled system running, it is a good practice to check it every now and then for any possible changes in the tubes or fittings.
If you have a little bit more experience with computers, you can build water cooling solution to your computer. You basically have two options what kind of water system you will build. Both of the options can be implemented in different ways.
The easiest way of using water cooling is to buy a CPU water cooling kit. These kits usually include radiator, fans, tubing and the pump which has the water block for the CPU. These are very basic water cooling kits and don’t usually need that much maintenance.
Slightly more advanced kits have also a reservoir for the fluid used for cooling. If you will use water cooling kit with a reservoir, you have to make sure that your case has space for it. Installing this kind of kit is also a bit harder.
The most advanced kind of water cooling is when you cool in addition to your CPU also the GPU(s). To cool your GPU, you will need a water block for it. To install it in place you have to remove the original air cooling solution.
There are many options when it comes to the tubing. Most kits have the tubing ready and it is almost always soft tubing. You should not use any tubing that isn’t made for water cooling. Tubing that is made for water cooling is able to withstand without any discoloration, deformation or degradation.
It is important to pay attention to the inner and outer diameters (ID and OD) of the tubing. You will select the fittings that are the same size, otherwise, you aren’t able to have seals that will be compact enough for water cooling.
Soft tubing is flexible, and it is sold as see-through and in colored versions. It is often made out of norprene, rubber, silicone or PVC.
Hard tubing is most commonly made out of acrylic or Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETG). If you use hard tubing you will have to bend or cut the tubing. Acrylic tubing can shatter, PETG won’t. Bending hard tubes is done under heat, this step requires skill, but it can be bypassed if you use fittings that make the bends needed. Then you only need to cut the tubes. Hard tubing looks a lot sophisticated than soft tubing and the look can be finished with nice looking fittings.
There are four types of different fittings you can choose from. The type of fittings you will need depends on the kind of tubing you have and what kind of properties you expect from the fittings. The fittings, as well as the tubes, come in different sizes, pay attention that you select the fittings with the right inner and outer diameters.
Fittings for soft tubing
- Barbed fittings are simple and inexpensive, it’s a good habit to tighten the tube to the connector with a clamp.
- Compression fittings consist of two parts. The tube is tightened around the tube with the other part. Compression fittings are usually sold in many colors since they show a lot.
Fittings for hard tubing
- Push-in fittings have two O-rings inside the fitting. The tube is just pushed into the fitting to create an airtight seal.
- Hard Compression fittings are safer and better looking, just like the compression fittings for soft tubing. Hard Compression fittings have two O-rings and a part which tightens the seal.
Liquids for cooling
You can use different kinds of liquids as the cooling, some use just normal distilled water. You can also buy fluids that are specifically manufactured for water cooling. These can be expensive, but if you have see-through tubing it might be worth it since the colored liquids look very cool.
The liquid used should be changed after some time, it’s a good idea to have a valve in the water loop so that the loop is easy to empty.
The radiator is the part that cools the liquid so that it can go back in and store more heat again. Radiators are sold in different sizes. The most common sizes are 120mm, 240mm, 360mm, and 480mm. The radiator sizes follow the sizes of fans because you have to attach fans to the radiator to actually cool the fluid.