Cheap External Watercooling Project


Nov 23, 2003
The goal is a cheap watercooling setup. I am building a watercooling setup out of just about anything I can find. My tools are limited to pretty much just a dremel. Here is what I'm planning (attempting) to make:


side view:

next to a box the size of my computer:


Ok, so that's what I want it to look like, not what I expect it to be. I seem to have a skill for making my projects look cooler as a 3D model than in real life :p

Here is my cost list so far:
Radiator - '89 Camaro Hearer Core - $16 at AutoZone
Pump - Pondmaster 500 gph, 10' 5" head, 45 watts - $18 at PetSmart
Enclosure - "Video Matic", I have no idea what it is - 0.99 at GoodWill
Resevoir - clear blue hiking waterbottle - 0.99 at GoodWill
Tubing - crappy Vinyl tubing - 1.95 for 5 feet at Ace Hardware - I'll have to be careful about kinks
Case Window - thin plexy - 0.75 at Ace Hardware
Waterblock - Swiftech MCW6002-64 - $42 online

If you guys have any tips or suggestions please tell me, this is my first big mod (and watercooling experience). Here goes the worklog.
I went out and got everything today besides the waterblock.

Inside the enclosure - btw I have no idea what a "Video Matic" is.... lol
inside new.jpg

First I wanted to work on the case and get the sides cut out. Front window down
front window.jpg
That is ghetto but I like it. Looks like it will be quite cool once you are finished. I will be watching this esp since I could get ideas for my continuing WC box.
I think if you give your vinyl tubing some extra room between the res and heatercore as in your design plans you shouldn't get kinks. You can also coil a loop around the bottom and then out rather than have the tubing make a 90* bend and possibly kink. A few inches of extra tubing isn't going to matter esp if you have a strong pump and I assume you planned for long tube lengths anyways since it's an external box.
Ok, I finished some more cutting and fixed the plexyglass.
Here is the front view with everything inside

side view

plexy installed

Now I have to mount the fan control and drill holes for the hoses and wires. Then all I have to do is lock everything in and run tubing

edit: I might put a screen over the outside of the heater core. It would look alot nicer
Nice job so far man.. If yours works out well I might do the same and take all the credit for it :p

Looks pertty good so far................. :eek: Sort of like the one I built, except a little smaller..............I used a dual heater core........... :cool:
You should deffinetely put a screen, dryer sheets, or something over the heatercore intake. You don't want a bunch of dust clogging that up and hurting airflow causing your temps to rise.

I was thinking that you would have put the plexi on the inside but either way works. Are you going to put something around the edge of the exposed heatercore to hide the cuts?
Sobek said:
You should deffinetely put a screen, dryer sheets, or something over the heatercore intake. You don't want a bunch of dust clogging that up and hurting airflow causing your temps to rise.

I was thinking that you would have put the plexi on the inside but either way works. Are you going to put something around the edge of the exposed heatercore to hide the cuts?

Actually I am cutting a hole in the other side for a fan intake, and the fan is blowing through the heater core. Would it work better if it was pulling air through the heater core?

I was also planning on putting the plexy on the inside, but for some reason it looks alot better on the outside... probably cause of my crappy cuts.

more updates:
making the fan shroud

finished product, ductape ++

Now I am working on cutting the 120mm fan hole and the wires/tubing exit in the back.
Then I'm going to lay out the tubes so I can see where to cut intake/out holes in the reservoir.
mmm... cheap watercooling... should be interesting.

ductape rocks. and here i was, thinking about all these complicated ways to make a radiator/pump box, when all i needed was some cardboard and some ductape! it could probably even hold up my computer, too...

good luck.
ok, so i cut out the back opening and the side hole so the fan can have a ready airsource (I know the fan is a good inch and a half from the hole, but it's fine). It looks kinda oval in this pic, but it's almost perfect (i impressed myself)

the inside as it stands now

But now I have a problem: when I drew up the plans, I forgot to add in the pump. you can see from the pic above that it's very close to the heater core and the reservoir sits on top of it. Does it matter how the waterflow goes through the box??

I was going to go: hot CPU -> pump -> reservoir -> heater core -> back to CPU

But then I realized that pumping water strait into the reservoir might be a problem. Any water cooling pros know how I should route the tubing?
Most people agree that pulling air through the heatercore is better than pushing it. I've read tons of threads mentioning this and nearly everyone says it's better to pull.

I can't really help you on the tube routing since I haven't WC before and am only now getting into it. You may want to ask in the WC forum.

You can go to Home Depot and get a piece of 4.5 inch PVC, I think it's called a flush brushing. It cost about $4. You can cut it to fit between the fan and the hole in the box so that you have a cheap but good looking duct. I'm doing this now and it fits perfectly over a 120mm fan hole. 120mm = 4.5 in.

Don't forget that you need to cut a hole for your pump's power cord unless that's what that square hole is for in addition to the tubing.

Good job on the ghetto duct tape shroud. :p
thanks for the comments. I guess I'm going to have to un-ductape the fan and turn it around, but if it improves performance, then it's worth it.
for the most part, you want the pump pulling water from a ready supply of water....aka the resevoir. This way you avoid any chance of cavitation of the pump causing lots of bubbles to circulate through your loop.

the ideal loop config would be:
resevoir -> pump-> cpu -> radiator -> resevoir
resevoir -> pump-> radiator-> cpu-> resevoir

either way is fine. but my suggestion would be to have your pump pulling water directly from the resevoir. While you can restrict the outbound water, you shouldnt restrict the inbound flow to the pump. Using as large tubing and as short a distance as possible from the resevoir to the pump would be the best way to minimize noise and cavitation. By using large/short tube you minimize negative head pressure in your system on the inbound flow side.

Just some suggestions....

Um... that wouldn't ba cavitation. Bubbles caused by cavitatin collapse almost immediately, and the slight snapping sound is what can be used to detect a cavitating propeller underwater. What you mean is that the pump would pull in air thru a slightly loose fitting.
ok, updates

I tried and tried, but i can't fit the reservoir inside the enclosure. there just isn't a way that the tubing will fit. I really didn't want to do this, but I had to mount the reservoir on the outside.... I guess have a working cooling system is better than a "just for looks" one :p


however, a nice package came today from Sidewinder Computers :D

i can't believe it came today.... I ordered it around dinner time on monday, I think I found a new place to order stuff....

Now I am going to try and finish this bitch up tonight and let it leaktest for a day.
Ok, so now I am pretty much done. I added a screen on the heater core too make it look a little less sharp and to mildly stop dust. It turned out that I didnt need a fan speed control because it's nearly silent with the fan shroud.
Setting up for a leak test



well, leak test 1 failed. the reservoir wasn't sealed all the way... go figure cause I just used some hot glue and a chop stick :rolleyes:
Go buy some Plumbers goop glue/sealant for about $4. It should hold really well and seal against leaks. I would have put the res on the backside so that it's not sticking out so far but whatever. Have you thought about what I said about getting a pice of PVC flkush brushing for a cheap and nice looking air duct?
yeah, the duct would be nice but I don't think I'll do it right now. I was going to put the reservoir in back, but the tubes wouldn't fit... WoW beta and Halo 2 just started so..... yeah, you get the point. I'm going to get the leaks sealed tonight, let it run overnight, and then put a top on the case tomorrow.

Once everything works I'll post some performance results

edit: well the system is pretty loud, but it's almost all vibration. That means it won't be a problem on the carpet. The other source of noise is water going into the reservoir. I think I can fix that by directing the spray into the water, not the side of the reservoir

edit 2: I give up, I can't seal the reservoir... I'll just have to wait till tomorrow and get some silicon sealant. Trying to do this with hot glue is driving me crazy
I got some silicon sealer and fixed up the reservoir. Damn stuff takes almost a day to cure, but I guess it's worth it. While I was waiting I extended the fan's power cable


I also am going to put a piece of the screen over the fan's vent hole. That way you don't just see right into the open space.
so far the cost comes out to about $100. However, I bought stuff I didn't use, or I didn't need. You can buy a water cooling set for about this much, but hopefully my setup will be pretty powerful. When I leak tested it, the water flow was crazy, so I expect it to be pretty effective
yeah i built a "cheap" wcing setup but my friend broke my waterblock lol, so now it is totaled to $125 but its a really good performer, i only have a cpu hooked up to it but i got the headroom for more
Nice, it looks like you ran into the same problem that I did with putting the res inside the box. Granted, we're both using two different cases (mines an old ATX box). But unless I mount my DannerMag5 on it's butt, it's almost impossible to have the res inside the box without kinking a hose, or having a hose run outside the case.

As a hint for the res. What I did with mine originally was drill a hole just big enough that the barb couldn't fit through, I then heated the plastic just enough so it became soft, then gobbed some sealant/caulk on the barb and shuved it through. The plastic dries, and secures it pretty nicely.
yeah, I might have to redo the reservoir.... I can't get the damn thing totally sealed. It takes 24 hours for the sealant to really hold, so I gotta wait forever just to try.

Everything was going fine, then all of a sudden, another leak formed. Nomatter what, this thing will be installed by sunday.... I'm getting pissed
haha, it's done.

As usual I ran into a bunch of problems during the final setup. But first, here are the pics




Idle: 37
Load: 54

Idle: 32
Load: 42

Noise: No louder than my 120mm fan was before. The only real noise is just pump vibrations, so I think I can reduce this.

testing will continue all week (with possible fluid changes)

OK, so here's what went wrong:

1) As I took off my heatsink, guess what else came off with it? I almost crapped myself

2) When I tried to mount the water block. The spring loaded screws from swiftech didn't reach the bottom threads.... short by about 2mm, wtf. But I used the screws from the actual black mounting plate anyway (and it worked)

3) When I was mixing the water, a friend told me that I distilled water + anitfreeze doesn't stop growth in the water. I read somewhere that Listerine (without any sugars) can take on that role is you just put a tablespoon per gallon in. Bad move.... my water is now all foamy. I think I am going to drain this and just use distilled water + 15% antifreeze. THe antifreeze should make the PH acidic enough to prevent growth...

4) To make room for the tubes to go inside the case I had to cut off a divider between 2 PCI slots in the back. I didn't realize the the tubes would be resting (or rather pushing) on my graphics card (6800 GT). So i am a bit worried that it might damage my card, especially since this is the most expensive part of the system.
Awsome man, I love good results. Doesn't look too bad for being just $100. But that's $100 more than I got. Someday my little green friend will come back to me.
now that's cool... hmm... i could actually do something similar to this for my lappy... make a w/c chillmat, and leave the wimpy targus thing at home.

i already have a 120v pump, it's a 125gpm statuary fountain pump. i got a hiker water bottle that i can use for the reservoir... and i certainly have the junk sitting around to throw a housing together, lol. i just need an idea of what the rest will cost. i will probably need a small plug-in psu for the radiator fan tho.
now that the system was stable, I felt like overclocking. Here's the results:
Starting from an Athlon64 3000+ (2000 mhz)
Increased FSB to 220 (10x mult) = 2200 mhz
Increased Vcore to 1.65v (from 1.50)

Idle: 35 C
Load: 48 C

so far, this is working great with me. I also expect better performance when I replace the water tomorrow. (oh, and the res still kinda leaks.... IMPOSSIBLE to seal)
wrap the connection up really tight in that duct tape... that usually works pretty well.
Nothing's impossible. well, ALMOST nothing anyway. Are you using some of that plumber junk (I do beleive plumber junk is the technical word for it) to seal it? I'd think that even though it might not look too pretty it'd at least work.

EDIT: how does caulking sound?
leaking... hmm... teflon tape on the barbs on the res? reinforce the holes? (not sure how exactly to go about that...)

if it continues to do that go build a new res using some pvc tubing (2"-3" - whatever you want) with some endcaps and some pvc cement. stronger + probably about $15 (with cement) so should be worth it.

plumber's goop works decently as well... if you use it, put it on *both* sides of the res wall to seal it better.

hope you can fix the leaks.
Try a Nalgene bottle.. just cut at a slow rpm with a drill or a hole drilling thing (specific, eh?)

something that isn't oddly shaped
I used some more duct tape and it seems OK for now, but the leak wasn't bad before. Go figure more ductape would solve the problem, it's 60% of the whole system.

If it gets worse, a simple PVC reservoir will replace my retarded 99 cent goodwill bottle. Plus, I REALLY messed the holes when drilling, the plastic ripped all over the place
There was that one guy who made a resevor out of a Bawls bottle. That would be awsome, considering it's outside of your case and all. And as soon as they saw Bawls, they'd forgive the duct tape and whatnot.
starhawk said:
i will probably need a small plug-in psu for the radiator fan tho.

I just ordered one from Xoxide but I think you already know that. I'll let you know how powerful it is once it gets here.

FluidG, The box looks great and I'm glad to see that it is giving you some lower temps. Try putting an old thick foam rubber mousepad under the pump to lower vibration noise.
oh yeah... i'd forgotten.

hey sobek... just noticed your loc... how often do you pass thru chatham county?