Quiet Liquid Cooled Gaming PC Build Guide

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The core system parts come to around $1500, not exactly a budget build, but the quality and performance of the components is commensurate with price. You could shave about $250 by spending less on the CPU, motherboard, case and PSU without affecting gaming performance or acoustics. A smaller PSU, however, might impinge on upgrading to CrossFire with a second R9 290.

The liquid cooling components are pricey, totalling about $400, and this doesn't include the $100 value full-cover EK waterblock that comes preinstalled on the VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290 Limited Edition (which at $360 with full warranty and no installation hassles, is a steal, considering a stock 290 currently runs around $300). It's about what you will pay, regardless of exact brands and components, if you seek similar quality and performance, unless you hit a fire sale. All of these components are easily transferrable to your next system or upgrade. With a bit of care and maintenance, they should last many years.

Care and maintenance — it actually begins before assembly with ensuring the liquid path is clean and free of debris, using distilled water and coolant to retard any biological growth over time. Like a car engine, the coolant should be flushed, the system cleaned and replenished periodically. Standard advice is to do this every six months. Some say a complete breakdown and rebuild should be done once a year... though that sounds really OC to me. YMMV. Of course, basic things like leaks and coolant level need to be checked routinely as well. With good parts and careful initial preparation and installation, liquid cooling isn't that much more work than air-only cooling, where dust cleaing is the only real maintenance that is required. (Check the water cooling resources linked on the third page of this article for detailed information on maintenance and do you own web searches.)

SPCR's Quiet Liquid Cooled Gaming PC Component List
Core Components
Street Price
VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290 Limited Edition
Intel Core i5-4790k
Intel i5-4440
Intel Core i5-4460
ASUS Z97-Pro
Kingston HyperX 4GBx2 1866Mhz DDR3 RAM
Kingston HyperX Savage 8GB Kit (2x4GB) 1600MHz DDR3
Crucial MX100 512GB SSD
Samsung 840 EVO 1TB
Samsung 850 Pro 512TB
Phanteks Enthoo Luxe
Phanteks Enthoo Pro
Corsair Obsidian 750D
Corsair Graphite 760T
Corsair HX850i
Seasonic Snow Silent 1050W Platinum
bequiet! Dark Power Pro 10 850W Platinum
Corsair HX750i
Liquid Cooling Components
Street Price
VisionTek EK Supremacy Universal Nickel-Plated CPU waterblock
Swiftek Apogee XL
XSPC Dual 5.25" Bay Reservoir with Swiftech MCP655 PWM Pump
Swiftech MCP655 PWM Pump with separate reservoir
VisionTek EK CoolStream 360 PE Radiator
Other quality >360mm radiator
Compression fittings (8), tubing (1.5m), 3 high quality 120mm fans, coolant concentrate, etc.

VisionTek CryoVenom360 Liquid Cooling Kit - $320
Western Digital Red 4TB
Western Digital Green 4TB
Seagate NAS HDD 4TB
Retail prices are subject to constant fluctuations. Please use the shopping links to check on current pricing; don't rely on the prices cited in non-linked text.


SPCR's first liquid cooled gaming PC build guide is also the first discrete full-bore liquid cooled system we've assembled. This PC building project began in late October and did not end till the start of January. The process of picking the right components for the system was critical and added to the total time of the project. Armed with a pump reputed to be the quietest in the PC water cooling scene, top notch water blocks from VisionTek EK on the CPU and the Radeon R9 290 GPU, a huge 40cm long 3-fan radiator and a bag full of SPCR tricks, we managed to assemble a powerful gaming system that stays cooler than any other gaming system we've built before, despite being one of the most power hungry. The system stays at a constant, smooth and quiet 18 [email protected] under any real world loads. All this despite a system power profile of 445W, which is a pretty hefty thermal load.

A little LED lighting for geek appeal.

The system was set up for constant fan and pump speeds, which explains the unvarying acoustic level. Many users actually prefer constant low noise to a system that is quieter at idle but ramps up to a higher level at load. It's the change in sound that many people get more bothered by once overall noise is at a quiet level. If we had more time to spend on this project, we could probably have devised a modern automated cooling system that varies fan (and pump) speed in response to thermal conditions, but with enough hysteresis to be unobtrusive.

Logical and efficient airflow design, low impedance in/out vents, and precise fan control are all essential parts of this build. Probably the single most important element for this low noise system is the mechanical decoupling of the water pump by elastic cord. The 15 [email protected] improvement wrought by our time-proven elastic suspension over conventional hard mounting of the pump is impossible to obtain in any other part of the system. Without this single technique, the vibrations of the pump would force the noise floor of the system up to 34 [email protected] Most other noise producing components you could add would barely be heard over that.

Another interesting lesson is that low liquid flow rate need not be an obstacle to good cooling, even with very low speed fans, as long as the airflow for those fans is as unrestricted as possible. The pump PWM speed was set to just 35% (which apparently results in about 1000 rpm; no pump speed sensor, so this is based on Mark's report) for the final configuration.

One thought about the position of the pump in the liquid loop I built: It receives the liquid after coursing through the CPU and GPU heatblocks, then pushes the liquid on to the radiator. Given that the pump should be kept running cooler than 60°C, a better place in the loop might have been between the outflow from the radiator and the inflow to the CPU/GPU. That position in the loop is where the water temperature might be the coolest. (Unless of course, some better informed, more experienced reader assures me that the liquid temperature in the loop always reaches equilibrium.)

Swapping to quieter smoother sounding fans right from the start might have resulted in a slight quieter or cooler system, but the end result is excellent, and we're probably talking about maybe one dB, perhaps two at the most. But nicer fans might be worthwhile if you're interested in lower temperatures or live in an environment consistently hotter than SPCR's moderate 20~27°C range through the seasons. I regret not checking whether the sample Laing DDC-3.2 pump in the VisionTek EK-SBAY reservoir/pump was damaged. I will check this out and retest if damage was responsible for the poor pump acoustics.

I can only marvel at the VisionTek EK water blocks received for this project. They are so professionally designed and executed with such high quality materials and workmanship that they make most air cooled products seem rough and unfinished. If all liquid cooled products exhibit such high standards, little wonder that a contingent of PC DIY enthusiasts remain dedicated to liquid cooling. As a cooling solution for hot GPUs, VisionTek EK products are certainly great options. As long as the motherboard remains frozen in a form factor never meant for video cards that exceed the power and thermal profile of CPUs, liquid cooling will continue to attract.

My sincere thanks to the other sample suppliers, without whose products this project could not have been completed: The Phanteks Enthoo Luxe is a phenomenally well-designed and sturdy chassis for a high power system, especially if a large water radiator is in the works, my quibbles about dust filters and grill covers notwithstanding. The Corsair HX850i did a fantastic job of simply delivering the power without making even a peep; in this case, it never became an identifiable source of noise. Much thanks to Swiftech and FrozenCPU for contributing the marvelous MCP655 PWM pump and XSPC Dual 5.25" Bay Reservoir V2. Hats off to Intel for the CPU, ASUS for the Z97-PRO, Kingston for the RAM, and Crucial for the MX100 SSD.

Coming soon: A Crossfire version of this liquid cooled system featuring an additional Radeon R9 290X.

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NOTE: Overleaf, you'll find two detailed Postscripts on pump acoustics. The first is on the cause of the screeching noise of the VisionTek/EK/Laing reservoir/pump that swayed me to seek out an alternative pump. It turns out to be a resonance caused by the motor spinning in the empty water reservoir. Filling it with water completely eliminates the noise. The second Postscript is a comparison of acoustic noise between the pumps discussed in this article. My apologies for any negative effects of my original report on this reservoir/pump to EK, VisionTek and/or Laing.

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