17 марта 2005, 00:00

12 cm of cold: Thermaltake BigWater 12cm Cooler

Bigwater does an excellent job of cooling processors. To modders, it brings only delight and joy about the glittering blue LEDs shining in the ultraviolet of the refrigerant. It will also appeal to those who are after quiet operation. And the prices of the system is not biting at all.

If you are reading this article, then you are most likely familiar with the term "overclocking". Hundreds and thousands of processors have turned into trinkets, with no less number of motherboards scrapped... Video cards, memory modules and many more were sacrificed in chase of extra megahertz and kilo flops. There are quite a number of reasons for overclocking. Sometimes, purchasing a computer or upgrading the old machine, many users simply ignore the price-list columns listing the top-end processor models, no matter by which company- Intel or AMD. Clearly, however strong your desire to acquire a 3.6 GHz or maybe more powerful processor for your home-based PC is, far too few can afford to fork out for extra 250-300$ for additional 300-400 MHz of the clock speeds. But you can't help wanting it. Then users resort to overclocking. There is though a special category of users for whom that has become the meaning of life at its current stage. But both common users who want a bit faster computer, and PC enthusiasts who overclock for the overclocking sake - they all burn the hardware. Because, as is known, the successful or more or less safe overclocking depends on a well-balanced and good cooling.

The times when a regular aluminum cooler was enough for the CPU are gone. The technological progress does not stand still, and today 90-nm design rules are being introduced. Whereas Pentium 4 built on the Northwood core had about 55 mln transistors, Intel Pentium 4 Prescott already has over twice as many – about 125 mln, and the greater the number of transistors, the higher the heat emission. Also, don't forget about the increase leakage currents, which definitely doesn't reduce the heat emission in new processors (the heat power in first Prescott processors was equal to 135W). So far, engineers at Intel have more or less coped with the issue and attained quite decent 89-115W, but agree - that is too much anyway. The further, the higher! In future, dual-core processors are awaiting us. You can only guess how high the dissipated power in those processors may be.

You might ask me what I mean to say by that. I mean that the era of air cooling of the CPU is coming to an end, as the era of passive radiators went to a demise some time in the past. It is now turn for new technologies in this field, and the keyword of these technologies is "water". Formerly, you had to invent and assemble a water cooling system on your own, but today you can simply go out to a shop and buy one at quite a reasonable amount (small as compared to that the systems cost a year or two ago).

The system we are reviewing below is dubbed Thermaltake Bigwater 12 cm liquid cooling system and is made by Thermaltake, as you can guess. This article is a sequel to a series of materials devoted water cooling systems initiated quite a long time ago. I strongly recommend that you should read through the descriptions of the previous systems - Poseidon WCL-02 and Thermaltake Aquarius II Liquid Cooling.

Thermaltake BigWater

Thermaltake BigWater assembled

Thermaltake Bigwater technical specifications
CPU cooling unit
MaterialCopper, plastic
Dimensions, mm60 x 78 x 23.5
Weight, g453
Cooling radiator
MaterialCopper, aluminum
Dimensions, mm122 x 35 x 166
Weight, g835
Fan120 mm, 1300-2400 RPM
Air flow, cubic feet per minute38,6 – 93,7
Bearing typeSliding
Output, l/hr120
Power supplyDC 12V
Power, W4,8
Noise level, dB20
Dimensions, mm100x50x86
Weight, g230
Package bundleWater block, fastener of the unit to Socket A / Socket 478 / Socket 939, radiator, fan, rotational speed regulator, pump, overflow bottle, 3 m rubber tube, cap to outputting the hoses, clamps, thermo paste, refrigerating medium, instructions
Price, $125

Let's start step by step, i.e. from the package. I remember getting a bit scared on seeing a box for with the Aquagate system by CoolerMaster, since few CPU units could compete with it at dimensions. So imagine my surprise when I saw a package no bigger than a kettle box. Inside, there was also a lot of teasing things. Like most its analogs, the system is made up of the three main parts: a radiator, a pump with water-block that is installed straight on top of the processor.

Let's talk about each one in particular. And we start with the important part, the water-block. It is 60х78х23.5 mm in dimensions and weighs 453 grams. Its bottom part that is in contact with the processor is made of copper and is about one centimeter in thickness. The base is polished to mirror-gleam, there is thermopaste in the package bundle, so there shouldn't be any problems with heat transfer.

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Thermaltake BigWater - water-block

The lid is made of transparent plastic in which a blue LED is placed. On the upper part of the water-block, there are two connecting pipes for hoses. All the connections of pipes and hoses and the system are threaded, which results in a multiple reduction of leakage probability for the joints.

Thermaltake BigWater - threaded connections

The connections are threaded and thus highly reliable. No leakages will be there!

Inside the water-block, the connection pipes are linked by a zigzag duct that has four bents for better heat exchange between copper and the liquid. In terms of heat exchange, this is perhaps not the best solution. It would be more reasonable to make a few longitudinal ribs thus increasing the contact surface area between the metal and the refrigerant. That will also increase the water resistance, but the power of the pump will be quite enough to cope with that additional load. However, let's not theorize: if the creators of Bigwater found that useful and not the other way, they must have had reasons for that. Coming back to the issue of leakage: for higher safety, the duct is surrounded by a rubber pad, which also increases the leakage resistance. The water-block is fastened on Socket 478 with two H-shaped metal plates, one of which positioned on the side of the textolyte with the other tightened to the processor with eight nuts - two per each screw.

To fasten it on Socket 939, the same frames are used, but they are tightened with two screws only (at least, that was shown in the installation guide, but in fact I found no differences from the way it is fastened on Socket 478). For Socket A, there is a clamping clip that is fixed on pressing it at the top.

Now on to the radiator. This rig is pretty massive: 122х35х166 mm. The weight is also formidable - as many as 835 grams. But that really doesn't matter, the radiator should be placed above the processor, and you can even hang it somewhere outside the room window if the hose length is enough.

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Thermaltake BigWater - radiator

In terms of design, the radiator is a copper coil surrounded by aluminum fins. Such a design is commonplace: in central heating radiators, refrigerators, and finally in car radiators. In the bottom part, there are two connection pipes similar to those on the water-block. A fan of 120 mm in diameter and 35 mm in height is fastened to the radiator. 12V voltage to it is applied using a 4-pin connector, so if your radiator has no more vacant ends, you've got to buy a splitter. The rotational speed is within 1300 to 2800 RPM (adjustable with a special variable resistance that comes as a bundled item), so the fan is almost quiet during operation. There are two types of the radiator installation - outside and inside the housing, both described in detail in the system assembly guide.

Another important part of the structure is the pump. The pump of immersible type is placed into a tank of 100x50x86 mm in dimensions with two connection pipes and two nipples whose purpose will be explained in what follows. On the upper part of the pump, there is hole stuffed with a rubber plug to drain liquid upon the system deinstallation. The pump like the fan is powered by 12V source, but is already plugged in to a 3-pin fan connector. Its declared performance is not high - 120 liters an hour, which in fact may turn out to be lower because of the water resistance. In fact, that is not critical because the pump copes quite well with doing its job. And does that practically without noise: slight vibration is all what it makes itself felt. If you put your nose inside the housing, you will forget about the vibration at all.

Thermaltake BigWater - pump

Immersible-type pump. Not very powerful, but very quiet.

To the nipples on the tank you can attach the overflow bottle meant for maintaining a sufficient level of liquid in the tank. Fastening of the overflow bottle and the tank to the pump is done with double-sides stickers that come as bundled items. Inside the tank, there is also an illuminating blue LED similar to that in the water-block. Looks like Thermaltake does take care of modders. In an open or transparent housing, such illumination will look quite worthy.

Thermaltake BigWater - overflow bottle

Albeit advisable, the overflow bottle is not a must.

Besides all the above listed, in the box we found a 500 ml bottle of refrigerant of acid yellow color that shines in the ultraviolet. There is also a cap for outputting the hoses outside the housing, and another one but equipped with a rotational speed regulator; two ~1.5 m hoses of the color matching to that of the refrigerant; and finally a very funny manual whose size is smaller than A5 but giving rather clear idea of the system assembly procedure (mostly, through pictures).

The assemblage itself doesn't take much effort. The hoses are linked with connection pipes which we mentioned above. All the connections are reliable enough and waterproof.

Now it's high time we moved to the practice. As the test bench, we used ASUS P4C800 motherboard, Pentium 4 (Northwood) 2800 MHz/800 MHz bus. Alas, we found no Prescott at hand. For a start, we raised the processor clock speed from 2.8 to 3.53 GHz together with raising the voltage from 1.55 to 1.65 V. To put load upon the processor, we used S&M 1.5.1, and Motherboard Monitor was used to control the temperature. Before the tests, the processor temperature was 31 C. Having set the fan to the minimum RPMs, we launched S&M. After 40 minutes of 100% load upon the CPU, the system reached its steady-state mode,and the temperature froze at 49 C. Then we set the fan's rotational speed regulator to the "maximum" position, and the "torture" lasted for another 20 minutes. In the end, the temperature reached 45 C. For curiosity, we ran another experiment but this time more close to the "household" conditions, so to speak. The processor was reverted to its normal operation mode, the default clock speed 2.8 GHz, with the fan on the radiator disabled. Then the computer was used for about five hours in the everyday mode of work (I simply was working at it). Even in these conditions (remember, there was was no fan in the system!) the processor temperature did not raise above 31 C, whereas in using a nominal Thermaltake Spark 7 cooler the temperature equaled 33 C even with no load upon the processor, which tells much. Also, don't forget that the system turns practically noiseless (the pump vibration and weak rumbling of the fan on the PSU do not count).

Once the article was complete, we received a very interesting CPU - AMD Athlon 64 4000+ running at 2400 MHz. Of course, we couldn't help pass by and torturing it a bit thus testing the new cooling system with the CPU. We raised the bus speed from 200 to 215 MHz, and the supply voltage from 1.50V to 1.55V. We also tried to set even 225 and 220 MHz of the bus speed, but the system wouldn't start, and at 217 MHz it was running extremely unstable. The processor temperature without applied load amounted to 35 C, then S&M came into play, and in 30 minutes Motherboard Monitor indicated the CPU temperature 59 C. After that, we raised the fan't rotational speed to the maximum, and in the steady-state mode the temperature froze at 54 C.

So, what do we get in the upshot? Bigwater does an excellent job of cooling processors. To modders, it brings only delight and joy about the glittering blue LEDs shining in the ultraviolet of the refrigerant. It will also appeal to those who are after quiet operation. And the prices of the system is not biting at all. It's a pity there are no additional cooling elements for the north bridge and the video card. But.. is that really a big issue? Again, if you strongly desire it, all the other comes itself..