What is liquid cooling?

by Christopher Trick, on May 20, 2022 10:11:32 AM

Liquid Cooling System

When CPUs are operating at maximum capacity, they generate an enormous amount of heat, posing a risk to their critical parts and components. 

In this blog, you'll learn more about how liquid cooling helps computers avoid overheating and ensures total functionality.

What is liquid cooling?

Liquid cooling uses a coolant to transfer heat from your CPU, and sometimes the GPU as well as other components, to a radiator, where that coolant's heat is dispersed by cooling fans before being circulated back to the CPU. 

Often found in a data center, a liquid cooling system circulates liquid through a heat sink attached to the processor.

There are two types of liquid cooling systems: all-in-one (AIO) and custom cooling loops. 

AIO means that the system is literally all-in-one, whereas the custom systems have additional parts and components that you need to install yourself. 

How does liquid cooling work? 

Both AIO and custom cooling loops essentially operate in the same way.

AIO Systems

With AIO systems, the process starts with a baseplate that is connected to the IHS with a layer of thermal paste.

IHS stands for Integrated Heat Spreader, the metal exterior lid of the CPUs processor that serves as a protective shell around the processing silicon and a pathway for heat to be exchanged between the CPU and your CPU cooler.

The IHS allows for better heat transfer between the two surfaces. The metal surface of the baseplate is part of the water block, which is designed to be filled with coolant. 

Liquid Cooling Intel

Source: intel.com. A liquid cooling system circulates liquid through a heat sink attached to the processor.

The coolant absorbs the heat from the baseplate as it moves through the water block. It then continues to move through the system and upward through one of two tubes to a radiator. 

As the liquid passes through the heat sink, heat transfers from the hot processor to the cooler liquid. The radiator exposes the liquid to air, which helps it cool, and the fan attached to the radiator moves the heat away from the cooler.

The cooled liquid travels back though the system to continue the process. The hot liquid then moves out to a radiator at the back of the case and transfers the heat outside of the case.  

Custom cooling loops

Custom cooling loops are a bit more complicated than an AIO, as you have to provide and install each part of the cooling system yourself. 

Besides the radiator, fans, and tubes, there are water blocks for every component within the loop, a reservoir to hold the coolant liquid, and a pump to circulate the liquid through the reservoir, water blocks, and radiator.

In these setups, the server itself sits inside of a rack, and the tubes connected to the radiator take hot liquid outside the system to a reservoir and bring filtered, cool liquid inside. 

Liquid Cooling Reservoir Rack

Source: servethehome.com. The system itself sits inside of a rack, and the tubes connected to the radiator take hot liquid outside the system to a reservoir and bring filtered, cool liquid inside.

What are the advantages of liquid cooling?

Over time, CPU and GPU speeds have greatly increased. To generate the new speeds, CPUs employ more transistors, draw more power, runs at higher clock rates, and thus generate more heat than ever before. 

Liquid cooling is even more efficient than traditional heatsink technology at moving heat away from components. This technology allows processors to run higher speeds by keeping the CPU and graphics cards running with the manufacturer's temperature specifications.

This efficiency is one reason extreme overclockers tend to favor this approach--in some cases, doubling processor speeds using very complex liquid-cooling setups. 

Additionally, liquid cooling has quieter operation. Most current heatsink-and-fan combinations generate a lot of noise because their fans work hard at circulating large volumes of air. 

In fact, many high-performance CPUs require fan speeds in excess of 500 rpm, and overclocking a CPU requires even more airflow over the CPU. Liquid cooling reduces the "engine noise" this generates.

What are the disadvantages of liquid cooling?

They need space

Liquid cooling kits require a fair amount of space inside the computer case to work effectively. There must be room for items such as the impeller, fluid reservoir, tubing, fan, and power supplies.

For that reason, liquid-cooling systems require larger desktop system cases. Much of the system can be outside of the case, but that takes up space in or around the desktop. 

Recent closed-loop technologies have reduced the overall footprint over older systems, but they still require space. Specifically, they need enough clearance for the radiator to replace one of the internal case fans.

Also, the tubes must reach from the component that needs to be cooled to the radiator. Finally, a closed-loop system cools only a single component, so if you want to liquid cool a CPU and a video card, you need space for two systems. 

Installation requires expertise 

A custom-built liquid cooling application requires a significant level of technical knowledge to install. Although you can buy a kit from a cooling manufacturer, you still must install it. 

Every case has a different layout, so you must cut and route the tubes precisely to fit your case. If this is not done properly, it can damage your system. 

Who are some manufacturers of liquid cooling systems for data centers? 

Here are some manufacturers of liquid cooling systems for data centers: 

  1. Aspen Systems Inc: Aspen's rack, power, and cooling solutions provide maximum integration alignment to ensure your converged infrastructure can handle new and data intensive workloads in any environment. 
  2. LiquidStack: Formerly known as Allied Control Limited (ACL), LiquidStack has become the world’s largest supplier of liquid cooling. Liquid Stack pioneered 2-phase immersion cooling and holds multiple awards for building the world’s most efficient data centers.
  3. Usystems: Usystems provides cooling products that enhance data center cooling,  focusing on efficient technologies which allow customers to reach the IT densities required combined with unprecedented levels of sustainable cooling efficiency with the ability to scale and without the need for supplemental cooling.
  4. Vertiv: Vertiv offers efficient and reliable heat management and humidity control solutions geared to your specific size, location, and business goals. Your mission-critical facilities need the very best in precision cooling, and Vertiv delivers with the industry’s most advanced equipment and controls, low operating costs, and unparalleled expertise. 

Liquid cooling and Trenton Systems 

Liquid cooling provides the necessary protection for a computer's processors and its components against overheating. 

Most importantly, liquid cooling distributes heat over a wider surface area than air cooling, leading to more efficient, quieter operation. 

Trenton's line of high-performance computing solutions are able to support liquid cooling systems for rack-mount and small form factor computers, ensuring peak performance across a wide range of environments.  

Our engineers work tirelessly to develop systems that can avoid overload and sustain cool temperatures, taking pressure off of the CPU. 

Whether in all-in-one or custom loop form, hot air is kept away from critical parts and components to ensure maximum efficiency and compute power at the strategic, tactical, and operational levels. 

Topics:High-performance computersliquid cooling

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