Is water cooling making a comeback?
Have you considered water for cooling your PC? The received wisdom suggests you probably haven't. Computer components have been getting gradually more efficient and cooler running, while at the same time traditional fan and metal heatsinks have improved in design to the point that they're often more efficient than water coolers and cost a lot less.
According to some industry insiders, however, water cooling is undergoing something of a renaissance. Baroque designs and piping are back in fashion, so they say, and demand for water cooling has never been higher.
Actual figures are hard to come by, mind. Gartner and other analysts don't really track the types of cooler PC owners are custom fitting to their machines, and any evidence one way or the other is entirely anecdotal. What's almost certain, though, is that reports of the demise of the water cooler have been greatly exaggerated.
I was first alerted to the possibility that watercooling was back by the launch of a new shop specifically designed for watercooling by Overclockers.co.uk. The site has been typical of most over recent years, gradually reducing its stock of liquid chilled heatsinks to a handful of all in one sealed units like the Antec Kuhler range which, while very effective, aren't really as exciting or personalised as plumbing your own pipes. Last week, however, Overclockers announced its new Tech Lab, headed up by Richard O'Neill. He says the new shop is entirely a response to consumer demand.
“The way I see it is that customers speak with their money,” O'Neill says, “The activity in our watercooling section of our forums and the week on week development of watercooling is staggering, especially as it is such a niche group.”
Quite how much money speaks that loudly O'Neil didn't mention, but he says it's enough to make the new site worthwhile.
“I would totally agree that watercooling is making a comeback,” he says, “Many users see watercooling as an investment because their loop will last many builds with maybe only a compatibility bracket being required for a new socket.”
Looking around at popular modding forums, it does seem that O'Neil might be right. There's a healthier number of posts at specialist sites like Bit-tech on the subject of modding than I've seen for years.
O'Neill, of course, has a new shop to promote, so I asked around other retailers to see what they said. Paul Lockey, from liquid cooling specialists XSPC says that he's also seen a significant increase in sales throughout 2011.
“We've had over 800,000 views on some of our forum threads,” Lockey says, “That would have been unheard of two or three years ago.”
Over at QuietPC.com, another retailer which has slowly replaced most bespoke water cooling kits with off the shelf sealed units, Glenn Garrett says that there's still a lot of interest around the stock it has kept on the shelves.
“[The Zalman Reserator] must be one of our longest standing products in its current form [unchanged since 2006]”, says Garrett, “Sales continue to be surprisingly strong.”
If water cooling – and case modding in general - is making a comeback, I'll be very happy indeed. Without mentioning the iPad (oops), there's a dreadful tendency to conformity and celebration of the bland within computing at the moment, which should be resisted at all costs. And since we don't need to upgrade as often as we used to, it makes absolute sense to me to spend more time fine tuning the case and performance into something unique.
There's an ongoing thread over on the PC Gamer forums for showing off your modded cases and watercooling set-ups. There's some excellent designs in there already (including Luciel's awesome horned beastie). I'm going to be keeping an eye on that thread over the next few weeks for signs of increased activity, and if we can get enough good looking PCs up there look at making it a regular feature for the mag and blog.
Show me what you've got.
Note – the images at the top of this post and above comes from the mighty Desk Art mod, one of my favourite designs currently doing the rounds. Beat that if you can.