Time to cool the engines – Liquid Cooling for my CPU

Not too long ago I put together a new machine complete with 8-Core AMD processor and quite a few terabytes worth of hard drive space. It’s quite the beast of machine, but there is one small problem. Throwing all those cores at the problem sort of makes things hot. Most of the time it’s no big deal as it chews through work without breaking a sweat. But, break out a large file to convert and things get a little toasty.

That brings me to the Corsair H80i Liquid CPU Cooler. To be honest, liquid cooling makes me a tiny bit nervous. All that liquid. All those electronics. Sounds like a recipe for electrocution. But, the technology has come a long way and it’s even broken down into parts. You don’t have to run tubing through the entire machine. For this project, I just wanted to cool down the processor. The Corsair has a large radiator and two 120mm fans that push air into the case and pull air across the radiator. A friend of mine with the same chip and the same cooler says he sees a pretty significant temperature drop. The price is pretty reasonable and if increases the longevity of the machine I’m all for it.

While the cooler isn’t technically that hard to install, it is a bit of a pain in the ass and is wrought with danger. If I’d done this when building the machine it would have been a lot easier. The first problem came in getting the CPU out. Yeah, we bent a couple of pins. Second, the processor didn’t break away from the heat sink like we wanted or expected so we had to use solvent to break the two apart. Luckily I planned ahead and bought some from Arctic Silver. It wasn’t a big deal, just time consuming.

Next, getting the fans in place and wrangling the tubing inside the case is a bit tricky. They don’t have a whole lot of give and they can’t be pinched. Plus, there is some finagling to be done to get the cooler in place and anchored down.

Finally, the wires are kind of short, so cable management can be sort of tricky. I’m not a fanatic about that sort of things, but I try to make sure things are out of the way and won’t get sucked into the fans. Again, if this had been done when the machine was first put together it might have been better. But I had no interest in pulling out the motherboard just to tuck some wires away. All in all, they got routed out of the way pretty well.

When all is said and done it worked out nicely. Although, when you first turn the machine on, the fans scream like banshee for 10 seconds or so. Then they settle back down.

So how does it cool? Well, I took multiple files and converted them to MP4 for the iPad. For the sake of argument I encoded a season of Burn Notice. Make no mistake, the fans do kick in and kick in hard. The RPMs are 2400+ when it gets going, but the CPU sits at 34C. This means you’ll damn good and well when the computer is running at full capacity. It’s about the same amount of noise as the regular fans going full bore, but the CPU stays a lot cooler. Corsair provides custom software that’s free to download so you can monitor all the temps inside your machine. It pulls back CPU, video card and hard drive temps.

It hasn’t been in there all that long, but overall I’m pretty happy. In fact, I have a second unit ready for another machine I put together. It’s only an AMD Phenom X4, but after running games for awhile it gets a little warm too. Considering the price I don’t see a reason not to put one in the other machine.

Now, both machines are in custom cases. I don’t think I could get a cooler onto either of my Dell machines. The larger cases have extra fan ports which the Dells don’t. Corsair says the cooler fits most cases, but I say you better double and even triple check before you try this on an OEM machine. I bet these will be standard fare in another year or two.

But for now, if you’ve built your own rig or plan to, I’d highly recommend putting a CPU cooler on the list. It’s a bit of a slow process, but worth it.

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Corsair Hydro Series Extreme Performance Liquid CPU Cooler H80i

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