Despite reductions in manufacturing size, the amount of power modern CPUs require continues to increase. The end-result is that more heat is being dissipated off smaller surfaces and this requires the CPU coolers to perform that much better. Combine the above with global warming and your average overclocker is facing a tough challenge.
The regulars here will know I recently reviewed Plug&Chill's predecessor, and was generally very impressed. One other difference between this kit, hereafter code-named "Plug&Chill", and the previous kit, is that this new kit contains a CPU cooler, a chipset cooler and a VGA cooler which are all connected in series and the old one encompassed just a CPU cooler. I am curious how this setup will work when taxed by an overclocked CPU and AGP card and a chipset running at full speed.
Here is a diagram taken from the manual:
This is a sketch of how the entire kit should be assembled
The 7V option for the 120mm Sunon fan should prove very interesting in this setup.
The Plug & Chill set has the following items in it:
- 1x WaterChill Radiator RDT02
- Fan, Low Noise, Sunon 12V (120x120mm)
- 1x Pump, Hydor L20 (700lph) & WaterChill Control Unit CTU01
- 1x WaterChill Reservoir RSV01
- 1x WaterChill CPU cooler (Fits Socket 478, A, 754)
- 1x WaterChill Chipset Cooler
- 1x WaterChill VGA Cooler
- 1x 6.5mm/10mm tubing – and plenty of it.
- Large number of small parts (incl. spares) used for assembly of all the components.
First impressions last and the first impression was a good. The box was quite full of cooling goodies which definitely creates a good impression. On a fundamental level, this kit is the same as its predecessors and the differences are subtle rather than glaringly obvious. But only assembly and testing will ultimately let us know if this kit is an improvement or merely a face-lift.
The entire Kit
Differences and Improvements
I will quickly explain some of the differences between this kit and its predecessor, which are all improvements in my book.
I. The Radiator.
I won’t list all the little improvements, but they really improved it. In fact, they completely replaced its predecessor. It is now a multi-channel radiator as opposed to a single-channel radiator and the mounting possibilities for the fan and the radiator are now optimal. It now has push-fit connectors. Some people complained about the fittings for the tubing in the previous version. Personally, I had no problems.
II. The Tubing
The tubing is now all the same size; 6.5mm (inside) / 10mm (outside). This is also really easy stuff to find in Europe – every pet store sells this stuff and it is very cheap too. 10mm is also pretty close to 3/8", so I wonder if 3/8" will work as well or if in fact all the fittings are 3/8" and just labeled 10mm for us Europeans.
III. The Waterblock
The CPU cooler in this kit came with an alternative top allowing you to fit the CPU cooler in systems where the motherboard has too much clutter around the socket.
The CPU-Cooler is the same design as before with a very high cross-platform compatibility and the sensible half-moon design inside the CPU-Cooler.
The CPU-cooler viewed from above
Mounting was relatively easy and requires you to remove the motherboard from your case unless your case allows you access to the underside of the CPU socket area.
The CPU-cooler viewed from the side
However, not every motherboard gives you sufficient space to mount this cooler around your socket which means you have to modify the cooler, usually by cutting/filing/sanding away one of the Socket 754 holes (outer, center holes). This naturally can be risky as micro-fractures can develop of the cooler and, obviously, you can no longer use the holes you cut away to mount this cooler in a different system in the future.
Some problems mounting the CPU cooler
Asetek were good enough to supply an alternative acrylic cover for the CPU Cooler, which is simply bolted onto the copper base and also supplied the tool to do this with.
Extra acrylic top for CPU-cooler
The Chipset Cooler
The chipset cooler is fairly simple and was absolutely painless to mount. It took me significantly longer to get the existing chipset cooler off than to get this one on. Some Epox motherboards (some friends also tell me MSI has some motherboards) don’t use holes for mounting their chipset coolers, but rather use a small metal loops and a sprung metal bar over the cooler to mount and hold it in place. Asetek have supplied plastic cords to mount the cooler on such motherboards so this isn’t a problem.
The VGA Cooler
The VGA cooler is an interesting design, to say the least. It certainly is different from the previous VGA cooler from Asetek. The nice thing is that you only loose one PCI slot next to the AGP card and if your mainboard, like this Epox 8KRD3+ has a gap between the AGP and first PCI slot, then you don’t actually loose any slots. My NIC and SoundBlaster Live! Cards fit very snugly into that slot.
This cooler will mount of just about all current performance VGA cards:
- Geforce 2/3/4/FX
- Radeon 9700, 9800.
I am not sure if it will not also fit on the Radeon 9600 or not, from the pictures I see on the web, it should. But you better examine and compare your Radeon 9600 to a 9700 or 9800 to see if the holes are identical.
The radiator is almost a work of art. It is slim, light and can be mounted every which way you want. Its small size will make it that much more installable in your case. The 120mm Sunon fan can be mounted on either side as well, for both "suck" or "blow". Also, this radiator/fan combination seems quieter at the same voltages as the previous generation.
The smaller size of the radiator is basically down to the simple fact that the radiator is a multi-channel radiator and can dissipate much more heat than a single-channel radiator. Only the performance tests will show if a radiator this compact is up to the task of cooling an entire system.
The Pump & Reservoir
The supplied pump is a Hydor L20, which can produce 700lph. This is right in line with what other kits are being bundled with. Based on experience, I think 700lph is more than enough to ensure adequate cooling performance for even a heavily overclocked system and a peltier.
The reservoir is not pre-attached to the pump, allowing you to choose which orientation you want the inlet on the reservoir to have. This is a nice thought, but I would like to see a more flexible design in general for pump/reservoir combination as it is extremely difficult to get this to fit in the bottom of your case, as the inlet either points into the back/right-side-panel or into the door/left-side-panel. An inlet on the top of the reservoir would work wonders. Some kind of flexible design like you find on straws for soft-drinks would be just the ticket for the inlet/outlets on both the pump and reservoir.
Small parts & Hoses
Included with this kit is an absolutely unbelievable amount of small parts, spare parts, thermal paste – the list goes on and on. Everything you could possibly need is in this kit. All these small parts are what make this kit so compatible with many platforms and give you a high amount of flexibility when installing the system.
Lots and lots of small parts
The supplied hose is quite OK. I will be honest, I have seen more flexible hoses but I will definitely give it top points for sturdyness. It takes about 8cm – 10cm (3.25" to 4") of hose to bend a 90 degree angle without flattening the tube significantly. With 14cm of tube I bent a 180 degree without flattening too much, but the hose resists with quite a bit of force, so you want to ensure that you do not need to bend the hose exiting/entering your VGA card too much or you could end up bending or even breaking your VGA or Chipset as the mounting mechanisms on the motherboard/AGP cards are simply not as sturdy as those around the CPU socket.
The manual is well written and comprehensive and also isn’t really required for someone who knows the basics of watercooling as the entire assembly is fairly intuitive.
The assembly wasn’t difficult, but took quite a fair amount of time as there were so many things to do when you are un-mounting and mounting 6 different coolers and have to take the entire system and several peripheral components apart. Plugging the parts in and connecting them up took only minutes. Priming the system also was very easy (I had the radiator and the pump level with each other).
I did notice that the mounting system for the CPU-cooler still has the design-flaw that makes is necessary to remove the motherboard from the case in order to undo the screws that hold the waterblock onto the CPU (at least that how it works on Socket A).
That aside the CPU-cooler is easily mounted and the screws combined with the springs ensure it makes solid contact with the CPUs DIE.
Chipset and CPU-Cooler are assembled
VGA, Chipset and CPU-Cooler all assembled
Now that all the coolers are securely mounted I connect the tubing while the motherboard was not mounted in the case. Doing it this way makes it absolutely impossible for the tubing to be assembled in such a way as to tug on the VGA card or the chipset in any significant way.
Coolers all hooked up
And now I installed the motherboard into the case and hooked up the radiator, reservoir and pump and primed the system.
Everything assembled and ready to go
Priming the system was a simple task; you just have to be ready with the water as the reservoir gets emptied very quickly and if you are too slow then you need to turn the pump off and then on again, otherwise you have to wait for the pump to remove the air.
I left the system running for a couple of hours and could find no leaks. Only the radiator needs some time to expel all the air bubbles, which is not unusual for a multi-channel radiator. If you can wiggle it around a bit while it is priming then you should do so.
The immediate problem I faced was getting the pump and reservoir assembly into the case -- and the ChiefTec Dragon "Big-Tower" series is not exactly the world’s smallest case. I will admit there are bigger ones out there but I feel that I have plenty of room.
Unfortunately it is a very tight squeeze getting everything in. The best option is to mount everything above the PSU and have the pump end up lying on its side. As you cannot prime the system with the pump on its side I had to juggle around a bit, priming the system and then turning and positioning the pump and radiator into their final resting place. The ultimate and best solution is to modify the case and if you have the tools, this is without doubt the way to go.
And now down to business: performance. Considering we have three sources of heat production in series I was very curious to see how this system performs under pressure.
In order to test the Plug&Chill kit, I put together a machine that should be able to illustrate the potential benefits of watercooling over aircooling and also put the system under a nice load.
The test machine
- AMD XP2500+ CPU
- Epox 8KRDA3+ nForce2 Ultra 400 motherboard
- 2x 256MB PC3200 LL DDR
- 1x IBM 120GB (180GXP, 8MB) HDD
- Aopen GeForce FX5200 w/ 64MB DDR DVI TVO
- CWT 400W PSU
- 16/48x Plextor DVD
- Windows 2000 Professional
- All in a black ChiefTec big-tower with 3x 80mm ultra-quiet fans
I tested 4 different types of cooling at various speeds in order to get some kind of overview of what type of cooling setup will yield what kind of performance:
1. Plug&Chill in 12V-mode, 4x ultra-silent fans (< 16Dba each)
2. Plug&Chill in 7V-mode, 2x 80mm ultra-silent fans (silent mode)
3. CNPS 7000A, Power-air-cooling, 6x powerful 80mm fans (sounds like a rocket)
4. Standard HSF (AMD stock) and 2x 80mm fans in the case
I will test the system at the following speeds:
1. 1466MHz (~XP1600+, FSB133/266, 1.60V)
2. 1833MHz (XP2500+, FSB166/333, 1.65V)
3. 2000MHz (XP2800+, FSB166/333, 1.65V)
4. 2200MHz (XP3200+, FSB200/400, 1.70V)
5. 2400MHz (~XP3500+, FSB200/400, 1.85V)
Results & Temperatures
The results are generally quite encouraging, possibly even a little better than I expected. Connecting the components in series doesn’t seem to have as much impact as I feared. The 700lph is more than enough to keep the water moving fast enough to prevent it warming up too much as it passes through the various coolers.
PS:: All temperatures are above ambient and the machine is placed under a desk in a corner with average ventilation at best. Optimal positioning and access to cool air (eg an open window) lowerd the temperatures but didn't change the relationship between air-cooled setups and the water-cooled setups significantly. The case was closed for all tests.
The CPU temperatures are quite acceptable for a watercooled system.
CPU-temperature (above ambient) vs. Clockspeed (MHz)
Despite the components being cooled in series, the temperatures are quite ok. For example KT400 chipset owners should benefit more as KT400-based motherboards tend to run hotter than this nForce2 board.
Chipset-temperature (above ambient) vs. Clockspeed (MHz)
I initially plotted this against MHz FSB, but this doesn’t make any more sense than plotting it again CPU MHz or any other criteria. I can only attribute this to the fact that the "system" temperature is some kind of averaged temperature over several components. When I aimed a 12" fan over the system the reported temperature dropped immediately whereas the temperature of the CPU stayed the same. The temperature probe I inserted under the chipset-cooler was also showing me temperatures of around 10C to 12C above ambient no matter what configuration I was currently testing.
The AGP Card
The FX5200 card doesn’t seem to produce too much heat, but I could find no way of reading the temperature in software, so I had to fix a probe to the GPU cooler. In any case, the Plug&Chill made all the difference on this AGP card.
VGA-temperature (above ambient) vs. Clockspeed (MHz)
Performance benefits - Benchmarks
In terms of overclocking the system and the resulting benchmark scores the Plug&Chill does quite well. It helped achieve better results, for the most part by keeping the temperatures lower and less variable because it can remove significantly more heat than air.
After running SiSoft Sandra a few times I took averages of all the results, ignoring the highest and lowest of each of the 5 test runs:
XP2500+ scores (default speed):
- CPU: 6840/2775
- MMX: 10148/10840
- Memory: 2403/2238
~XP3500+ (2400MHz) scores:
- CPU: 8988/3645 (+31.3%)
- MMX: 13303/14239 (+31.2%)
- Memory: 2849/2701 (+18.5%)
The same testing method was applied to 3DMark 2001 SE 330 and 3DMark03 Pro:
FX5200/64MB @250/333 on XP2500+@1833MHz(default):
- 3DMark2001SE 330: 4436
- 3DMark03 Pro: 1344
FX5200/64MB @287/450 on ~XP3500+ @2400MHz:
- 3Dmark2001SE 330: 5772 (+30%)
- 3Dmark03 Pro: 1822 (+36%)
I would take these 3DMark scores with a pinch of salt as I had tremendous problems getting this card to even complete the benchmark at any setting. Also take into consideration that the scores are heavily driver dependent. Both tests were performed with the same drivers (nVidia 43.25 and DX9.0b) so the relative increase in performance should still paint a fairly accurate picture of the overall improvement.
The Plug&Chill system is a definitely a viable option for people seeking high-performance cooling. However, all this testing has lead me to one very important observation: motherboard manufacturers are obviously assuming that people are using HSF combinations which, as a side-effect, help cool the chipset and, very important, the VRMs which are often positioned very close to the socket. When using water-cooling you can in fact fry your motherboard’s VRMs so it is very important to put passive heat-sinks on various components on your motherboard and ensure that air is flowing in your case.
Extra-cooling is highly recommended on the VRMs
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I have circled (yellow, above) the modules on the Epox 8RDA3+ motherboard I was using that need some form of heat-sink. I used regular small passive coolers used on RAM for AGP cards and they cost $1 each. I actually managed to make my system crash by not cooling these when I was testing 2200MHz and these modules were extremely hot to the touch without the passive heatsinks on them.
This particular issue aside, the advantages of liquid cooling over conventional air-cooling are very apparent, even when cooling several components in series in one system. The 2400MHz was only achievable using extreme air-cooling methods but readily achieved using the Plug&Chill. The Water&Chill is in fact also fairly quiet compared to most powerful air-cooling solutions.
- Cross-platform compatibility
- Installation options
- Low noise, especially in 7V-mode
- Nice design - the radiator looks groovy in a black case
- Costs around $250 more than air-cooling
- Inconvenient mounting of radiator in cases that don’t have 120mm fan-slots/mounting options (case-mod required)
This particular kit is retailing for around EUR 250, excluding tax, which in this part of europe (German-speaking) makes it fairly competetively priced.
WaterChill kits are available just about all over Europe and North America and indeed around most of the globe.
Other purchasing links:
Complete WaterChill kits (Please notice that all Suggested Retail Prices are ex. VAT)
WaterChill Components (Please notice that all Suggested Retail Prices are ex. VAT)
Authorized WaterChill Resellers in the EU.
Despite encountering a few small difficulties, this decision didn’t come easy. The few potential problems and difficulties inherant to applying a totally new type of cooling to your PC, despite being affected by some of them, don’t weigh that heavily into the equation as you know what you are about to do is mix water and electronics. At the end of the day this kit is every bit as good as the previous version -- actually no, it is better.
And that is as it should be, so I am comfortable giving Asetek yet another DWPG.Com Editors Choice Award for their new kit, and can't wait to see what Asetek will come up with for the next generation of WaterChillers.
Finally, we would like to thank Asetek for supplying us with the WaterChill kit.