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Recovering from a watercooling leak

Posted October 19, 2007 2:13 PM by stevem
Pathfinder Tags: overclocking watercooled

Computer water cooling is the practice of using water instead of air to remove heat from a computer's CPU and, in some cases, its chipset and GPU. Because water has a much higher heat capacity than air, water is more effective at cooling at a given flow rate. People who want to wring every last bit of performance from their computer will often run their processor at speeds higher than rated speeds, a practice known as overclocking. Running a processor at a higher voltage and/or speed will cause it to create more heat, so it's important to dissipate that extra heat to avoid damaging the processor.

A cooling system's ability to remove heat is measured by its thermal resistance in units of degrees per watt. The lower the resistance, the more heat a system removes at a given ambient temperature. Typically, a stock heatsink/fan CPU cooler has a thermal resistance around 0.4 to 0.5 deg C/W. High-performance air coolers can achieve .25 to .35 deg C/W, but are expensive and noisy due to high fan speeds. Though more expensive, a decent water-cooling setup can achieve 0.12 deg C/W, allowing even a processor that dissipates 100 W to be cooled to 12 deg C above the ambient temperature. Using a stock heatsink/fan, that same processor would operate at 40 to 50 deg C above ambient, but not for very long since that would probably exceed the safe operating temperature of the processor. More information on overclocking can be found at

An obvious drawback to watercooling is the potential for leaks. Unfortunately, I've had this happen on a few occasions. Most watercooling setups use a 50/50 mix of water and ethylene glycol (antifreeze) as the working fluid. Ethylene glycol is used not to prevent freezing, but to lubricate the pump and act as an antifungal agent. Unfortunately, the antifreeze/water mixture is also a pretty good conductor. If the fluid spills onto the motherboard, the computer may become unstable, crash or refuse to boot altogether. Even after a spill dries, the residue can still create crosstalk between data lines and render the motherboard unusable. Depending on the size of the spill, it may be possible to bring the board back to life by cleaning it.

Should you find yourself in this predicament, try the following procedure before throwing the motherboard away. Use a grounded wrist strap and antistatic mat or bag to work on. Disconnect and remove the motherboard from the case. Using a high-intensity desk lamp and magnifying glass, carefully inspect both sides of the board for spill residue. When you find the spill location, use a toothbrush and distilled water to completely clean off any residue. Dry the board with compressed air. Reinstall the board and keep your fingers crossed. On two of three occasions, I was able to repair such a board simply by cleaning it.


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Re: Recovering from a watercooling leak

10/20/2007 9:49 AM

The makers of these systems should simply use gravity to solve this problem. Mount the motherboard upside down inside the case and also use some plastic sheets to act as waterguards.

The heat sink is a high projection above the board. Upside down it would be below and by routing the tubes, there need never be a problem. A slight case redesign is needed.

Per Ardua Ad Astra
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Re: Recovering from a watercooling leak

10/20/2007 5:13 PM

If we had a decent operating system we wouldn't need to clock boards at stupid radar frequencies to get acceptable speed!

health warning: These posts may contain traces of nut.
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