by Paul Sanders
High-performance computer components, like video cards and CPUs, can really heat up during operation. If the heat gets too high, those components can be damaged or have their life spans shortened, and while your computer likely has one or more fans installed, it may not be enough to keep your system's temperature down. A computer cooling system can help draw heat away from your sensitive hardware, using fans and heatsinks to circulate air or pumps and cooling blocks to circulate coolant.
Move your hardware into a new cooling case. You can try to modify a computer case to accept the tubing and mounted hardware of your liquid-cooling system, but if the case is not big enough, you may need to do some major alterations to mount the pump or reservoir outside the case. Buy a large case with plenty of interior space for the entire system or one that has tubing ports and connections for an exterior-mounted system. Interior mounting brackets for tubing and cooling blocks can also be extremely helpful for securing the new cooling components.
Choose which components to cool. Your computer's CPU puts off a lot of heat and requires the most cooling, but you may also want to mount a cooling block to the graphics processing unit (GPU) on your video card.
Affix cooling blocks to your components. A cooling block, or water block, draws heat away from your CPU with a metal plate. Thermal paste makes an even, heat-conducting mould over the chip while liquid coolant flows over the other side of the cooling block, pumping the heat away. The block must be compatible with your gear; for a CPU, that means matching your motherboard socket number with a compatible CPU cooling block.
Design the placement of your reservoir, radiator, and pump. Sometimes, these components are combined into a single device. The reservoir holds the coolant, and the pump circulates the fluid from the reservoir to the CPU and then through the radiator, where it cools and moves back through the system. As long as you have enough tubing, you should be able to mount your hardware in a configuration that is simple to install. Once you have your design, you can mount your hardware and test the cooling system for leaks.
Use a computer case with multiple fan openings. Most standard computer cases only have one or two fans at the back of the computer tower, which is far from ideal for creating a good airflow. Choose a case with openings on the front and sides that will accept multiple fans.
Create an airflow design for your computer. This can be a simple drawing of your computer case, marking the location of fan ports and heat-producing components, like the CPU and video card. Your diagram should indicate whether each fan is directing air to flow into or out of the case. You can then diagram the path that air takes getting in and out of the computer case. Multiple air-paths will likely interfere with one another and decrease the effectiveness of your cooling system, so make sure that the air is all flowing in the same direction.
Select fans that fit your case fan. Case fans (not to be confused with CPU fans) range in size from under 100 mm to 140 mm. If you want to install a larger fan on a smaller fan port, you'll need to use an adapter. Higher RPM fans will push more air and may be necessary if you have a limited number of fan ports.
Choose a CPU heatsink fan. A heatsink makes contact with your CPU, drawing heat away from it and into a heat-dissipating structure that is then cooled by one or more fans. You may want to incorporate the location of the CPU heatsink into your airflow diagram, too.
A new cooling system may place an additional load on your computer power supply. Before you choose a computer case or a new cooling system, be sure that your old power supply will both fit your new case and supply enough power for your entire system. If it doesn't provide enough power, you may need to replace it.