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Watercooled PC maintenance

This is a guide for those of you lucky enough to have Liquid Cooling in your PC. Whether you, or someone you know has a liquid cooled system, then this guide will help you with the systems correct maintenance, along with some helpful tips and suggestions along the way.

HOWEVER, please note that this is not a guide for those of you with Closed Loop Systems. If you have any type of closed loop systems, whether it's a Corsair Hydro or any other closed loop brand, just remember that these units are not built with the intention to be opened by anyone other than their respectable manufacturers. If you cherish these costly set-ups, don't read this guide and attempt to open your closed loop unit. This can lead to damage to your loops, or worse, leaks in your PC, which could end up damaging your entire system. Got it?

Understanding the basic parts of a liquid cooling system

Remember the golden rule of PC maintenance - it is essential to know your components. Understand what kind of system that you are working with. Sometimes you will be lucky enough to have parts in your liquid cooling that require zero maintenance. But still, knowledge is key; your cooling system is sacred, and you must understand what your parts are and how they affect the entire system.

Radiator for Watercooled PC

Your Radiator

Forgetting the mental image of what warms your living room, a radiator within your cooling system utilises fins to spread the liquid coolant over a large area. Attached fans boost the cooling process and keep your system safe from hot coolant. But beware, as previously mentioned above, fans accumulate dust. As your fans are blowing through the heatsinks, the dust builds up. Mind to inspect your radiator to spot if there isn't a risky accumulation of coated dust and make sure to clean your radiator at least once every six months.

Fan for Watercooled PC

The Fans

Your trusty fans are used to blow away any harmful dust and keep your system safe from overheating. But in doing this, they also accumulate harmful dust on themselves. The dust will linger on the blades and build with time, slowing the fan down and leading to issues where it can eventually stop the fans completely.

LOOK OUT for the fluffy grey matter that builds upon your fans. When you're inspecting the components of your system, make sure to remember your fans and check that they are pristine. You can use compressed air, a vacuum, or even a clean paint brush - they are all ideal for cleaning out the blades of your fans or your radiator by fitting into the delicate small spaces.

Coolant for Watercooled PC

Coolant

Coolant comes in multiple variations that can vary how much maintenance is required from you. If you have clear tubing in your liquid cooling system, you can use water with coloured dye that will give your PC a cool aesthetic. Pre-dyed coolant will light your PC like an internal rave in your room. Even distilled water can be used as a coolant, which is the most simple and effective coolant available.

All water used in an open loop must be distilled, with tap water avoided. De-Ionised, which is cheaper than distilled, can be used for flushing but should be drained out and not used for running as it can lead to corrosion of the metal parts. When filling the loop, you can use Distilled with an application of Biocide and Inhibitor. Don't use Distilled on its own. Premix fluids come already loaded with it, so no extra is needed.

The two concerns for liquid coolant that you should keep an eye on are the quantity of coolant in your system, and how clean the coolant is. Coolant levels will drop the longer that the coolant is left in your PC because of small, faltering air pockets that get slowly pushed out of your system. This occurs from the continued use of your liquid cooling system. As you use your PC, the heat levels will rise inside your cooling system and the coolant inside can begin to evaporate.

In terms of how old your coolant is, it's best to check the liquid after a year to note its colour and condition. To keep the system in good order, I would recommend that your system is flushed and filled with new coolant once a year. You want to be doing it before it gets dirty and thus becomes harder to clean.

Tubing for Watercooled PC

Tubing

Tubing is one of the more visually stimulating parts of your liquid cooling set-up, providing a sleek, intertwining system that defines the aesthetic of the PC's internals. Tubing is also one of the easier components to maintain; it doesn't need to be replaced unless you want to customise or rearrange it again.

If you have clear tubing, it is best to replace the tubing when it begins to clog and look muddy. If your tubing isn't clear, there shouldn't be any reason to replace it if you are continuously clearing and cleaning it out with fluids.

Water Pump for Watercooled PC

Your Water Pump

Water pumps require no maintenance unless you are cleaning out your system for a coolant flush. If you are cleaning out your pump, make sure to run distilled water through the system to make sure that you flush it before installing the new coolant. When the distilled water has cleaned the loop, you can then drain and replace it with the new coolant.

Water Block for Watercooled PC

Water blocks

Whilst you are going through the process of flushing and replacing your coolant, you could also clean the water block. Water blocks should only be dismantled for cleaning if they have build-up that cannot be cleaned through flushing. A toothbrush can be handy for clean the smalls fins in the base plate. Also make sure you're comfortable with the process of dismantle and reassembly to make sure block maintains its water tightness.

To clean your water block, remove the water block, disassemble it, and soak it in a dissolvable solution such as vinegar or lemon juice and mixed 50/50 with distilled water to relieve the oxidation and loosen any debris.

If any part of your cooling loop is nickel plated, avoid using vinegar as it can ruin the nickel finish. Remember to know your components, people!

Clamp for Watercooled PC

Clamps

Typical liquid cooling systems use clamps to secure the tubes with their required fittings. Note that these clamps can begin to wear over time, especially if they are made from cheap plastic materials that probably seemed like a no-brainer when you were looking for savings when assembling your cooling system.

If you're redoing your loop, replacing tubes, or flushing the coolant, use this as a good time to also replace your clamps. This will ensure that the clamps remain secure and prevent future leaks.

Fittings for Watercooled PC

Fittings

When it comes to your fittings, they generally don't need to be replaced unless you need to fit a new angle for your system. Just make sure to keep an eye on your rubber O-ring if you're disconnecting or re-adjusting your loops because these can also erode after time. It helps to at least keep some spares just in case you need an emergency readjustment.

You versus Oxidation

Remember this word. Oxidation is the natural enemy for owners of liquid cooling, on-par with liberals versus conservatives, or Intel versus AMD. Oxidation is a harmless form of erosion that often lingers within your water blocks, coolant, and tubing, and while it doesn't have any noticeable impact on the performance of your components, oxidation does cause a natural decolourisation of your glimmering parts.

There are additives that you can buy to minimise the oxidation in your system. Some pre-mixed coolants have anti-oxidants mixed in with them, but they can vary between coolants. Silver coils are also an option that can be thrown into the loop with distilled water because silver is a natural deterrent of oxidation.

Air Bleeding

You need to keep air out of your system. Much in the same way that air in your blood is a BIG no-no, your liquid cooling works better and more efficiently when there is less air polluting the coolant with air bubbles. Therefore, air bleeding is a liquid cooler's golden grace.

When you perform coolant changes, your system may need to have a bleed to get contaminated air out of the system. Systems are often built with self-bleeding valves and ports that automatically push the air out of your loop (unless it is a closed loop).

To spot air bleeding, look at your reservoir and search for bubbles that may be rising from a specific area. You will find that the water pumps have a bleeding valve at the top of the unit but the problem with a design like this is that if you need the water to be at the full level otherwise your system will begin to suck in air. Make sure to maintain your water level above this spot.

The system bleeds itself by forcing the air bubbles back to the reservoir, accumulating the bubbles in the top of the reservoir. You can then top up the reservoir later if you notice that the fluid has gone down. Normally, once you have filled it, done the initial bleed, and topped off, fluid level changes will remain minimal as the system is sealed. Still, you will get some minor bubbles and condensation appearing in the reservoir depending on heat level of the fluid.

Conclusion

Now let's discuss the maintenance of your liquid cooling system. The process is relatively simple depending on how much you're capable of doing; if you're a hardened PC builder, you can break down the entire system for annual maintenance and cleaning. Even if you aren't that experienced, you should be able to perform simple tasks to keeping your system operational.

- Make sure to keep the water levels high and have no leaks or air bubbles.

- Clean the dust from your fans and radiators to maintain your cleaning loop.

- Coolant flushes are recommended every 1-2 years

Remember that it is completely up to you as to how often you clean and maintain your cooling system. A liquid cooling system is an extra component in the complex puzzle that is your PC and you should consider this before buying one for the aesthetic glee. Take care to regard its twisting body and the maintenance that is required of it before diving in head-first. If you respect your components, liquid cooling could very well change the way that you use your PC.