Infinity4 - Page Four


June 2005


Installing the Koolance CPU-300-V10 water blocks was one of the hardest parts of the entire build, but not through any design failings by the manufacturer themselves. Additional adaptors are required to mount the blocks onto a Xeon CPU socket, and instead of sending the Xeon/Prestonia-type brackets  I needed, the usually reliable Tekheads actually sent two of the Xeon/Nocona style brackets instead. They are very similar, so I can see how the mistake was made, but the differences become extremely clear when I tried to attach them to my Prestonia motherboard... It looked for a while as if the project might be scuppered almost before it began, but some investigation suggested that the brackets from my previous heat sinks might be the right height to mount the Koolance blocks as well. I mixed and matched as appropriate, and as I gingerly tightened down the ratcheting thumbscrews that hold the entire assembly together it was clear that it was clear that it was going to work. A long sigh of relief was breathed, I can tell you...

I vacillated over the exact orientation of the blocks for a while - connectors at the top or the bottom? Facing the same way or "back to back"? - and as the Koolance FAQs didn't have an opinion one way or the other eventually I chose the arrangement that allowed the most aesthetically pleasing arrangement of tubing. After the rather elegant arch between the two CPUs, first in the sequence after the pump, the flow divides at a splitter floating just above the second CPU. One half runs through  a matching arch that heads towards the video card cooler, and the other pipe feeds the hard disk coolers in a curve that matches the CPU feed. Both circuits merge again at another splitter beside the motherboard before returning to the radiator.

One important fact to note is that the current Koolance documentation is written for the older PC3-720 series, with the motherboard mounted in the conventional orientation. The Lian Li cases that the 726/736 models are based on mount the motherboard upside down and facing the right-hand side of the PC, which means that when the documentation says that the output from the pump is on the side of the radiator housing closest to the motherboard, it is wrong.

Fitting the water block to the Radeon 9800 All-In-Wonder video card was a touch fiddly, but went smoothly enough in spite of that. The stock heatsink detached easily once its split pins were squeezed back together, and having cleaned off the old thermal gunk and replaced it with some pointlessly expensive and pretentiously accented Artic Silver Cramique, the next step was to install a white foam spacer between the GPU chip and the surrounding heat spreader. I'm not sure exactly what benefit that brought, but I couldn't see that it would do any harm, either, so I followed the instructions.

I'd ordered a number of different water blocks for the video card, as I couldn't afford to leave a vacant PCI slot next door to it and it wasn't clear exactly how much clearance each of the designs would need. All three have the same rated 180W capacity, with the only real difference being the arrangement and style of the connectors. In the end I used the oldest model, the GPU-180-H06, which has the lowest profile of all and slipped in neatly without causing any problems with the neighbouring Adaptec DuoConnect USB2/Firewire card.

I attached the water block loosely using the screws and washers supplied, and this was where the fiddly part came in. Unlike the current designs with their tool-less compression screw fittings, the H06 design has the old-fashioned barb fittings that require a little circlip to be cinched around the tube after installation. The best water block orientation for my system meant that the circlip was partially hidden by the mounting bracket, and it took three different pairs of pliers before I found just the right nose shape to reach past the bracket and squeeze the latch together.

The final step was to fit the bundled RAMsinks onto the video memory chips, but I actually removed most of those again later on to provide clearance for various hoses and wires - not really an issue, as they are only generally necessary if the video card is being enthusiastically overclocked or if case ventilation is poor. I'm not a big fan of overclocking (I'd rather just buy a faster component, on the whole!) and in spite of the system being nominally purely water cooled I do actually have four 120mm fans - even though they're very low flow units the fingertip test confirms that there is certainly enough air movement to keep the passively cooled components comfortable enough.

The Koolance HD-50-L06 hard disk coolers are probably the least critical part of the system and, indeed, several online pundits have claimed that they're thoroughly useless. I rather fell in love with the idea when I first started looking at Koolance hardware, though, and their presence does mean that I'm perfectly happy turning off the two illuminated case fans and running just on the gentle draft from the two fans on the radiator right at the top of the case. I haven't seen any other systems using the coolers online, to date, so I had to use my imagination when designing the layout of the tubing. Koolance suggests arches between the drives, but that layout seemed prone to kinks with such tightly-spaced drives and, besides, I was mindful of reducing the total length of the cooling circuit as much as possible. The short links I used seem both practical and elegant, but installation was another little challenge - I connected the drives together outside of the case, where I could fit the pipes most easily, but then discovered that I needed about four hands to lower the entire stack down into the sliding mounting rails in one go. There's never a PFY around when you need one!

Unfortunately my early Maxtor SATA drives don't seem to have the embedded thermal monitoring that more recent devices have, so I can't tell what temperature they're operating at or even whether the drive coolers are reducing or increasing the temperature. The latter is not out of the question, as the water passing through the drive coolers has just come from a pair of 3GHz Xeon CPUs - but they certainly look good and as for the other, well, that's what RAID is for!

By now it was time for a test of the cooling system, so before installing any of the drive bay devices or any of the wiring, I filled the reservoir (such a long cooling circuit used 1 packs of fluid, leaving me very glad to have bought an extra one ahead of time) and rather anxiously powered up the system using the little wire jumper supplied with the Koolance hardware. When I were a lad, we used a paperclip, and it were good enough for us - but the little insulated loop is convenient and less prone to short-circuits and was a very thoughtful touch.

There was a lot of frothing and bubbling as the air rose out of the system, and I kept adding more coolant as the various modules gradually filled up. The hard disk coolers seemed to trap a lot of air, with more appearing every time I laid the case down on its side to work on part of it, and one of the CPU blocks developed a little bubble in one corner that took ages to escape, but with patience and some gentle rocking from side to side everything eventually settled down very nicely. Anxious inspection every hour or so revealed no sign at all of leaks, drips or oozes, so I left the pump running overnight and called it a day.





Next Page