Component selection for this build was tricky, but not overly so. If you're going to engage in an undertaking like this, you really do want to pick the most ideal hardware you can. Thankfully we had a few vendors willing to step up and donate some very high quality kit to this build.

Intel Core i7-4770K Processor

For our CPU we went with Intel's shiny new Haswell architecture in the form of the Core i7-4770K. This quad-core, hyper-threaded chip runs at a nominal 3.5GHz clock with a maximum turbo boost of 3.9GHz on a single core, and is one of Intel's first chips to feature an integrated VRM. Intel's 22nm chips seem to have been largely thermally limited, making the newest member of the family a compelling choice to be the center of a watercooling build. You do always run the risk of getting a dud CPU that simply doesn't want to run at a high clock speed without an unrealistic amount of voltage, though. Note that ours is a retail chip and not an Engineering Sample, so it's subject to the same potential limitations as any CPU you might pick up off the shelf.

Our thanks to CyberPowerPC for graciously donating this processor.

G.Skill Trident X 32GB (4x8GB) DDR3-2133 RAM

Our resident motherboard reviewer and overclocking expert, the good Dr. Ian Cutress, recommended we go with G.Skill for this build, and G.Skill was happy to oblige with a respectable kit of fast DDR3. This kit runs at a nominal 1600MHz, but features an XMP profile that sets it to run at 2133MHz with a CAS Latency of 9 at 1.6V. I'm not an aggressive memory overclocker, which makes the ready-out-of-the-box 2133MHz settings an easy way to score a little extra performance.

Our thanks to G.Skill for providing this memory.

Gigabyte G1.Sniper 5 Z87 Motherboard

I remain of the opinion that the Z87 chipset is arguably the most compelling part of Haswell, and Gigabyte's high end gaming offering hammers that home. The G1.Sniper 5 features a PLX switch enabling full PCIe 3.0 x16 lanes for each of two video cards, or PCIe 3.0 x8 for up to four. Alongside that are an additional four SATA 6Gbps ports to go along with the six that come with the Z87 chipset, dual gigabit ethernet NICs with one provided by Intel and the other courtesy of Killer Networks, and Creative Sound Core3D with a user upgradeable OP-AMP. There's even an 802.11n dual-band PCIe x1 wireless network adapter bundled with the motherboard.

But what sells this board for our purposes is that it includes not only active cooling on the motherboard's 16-phase power circuitry, but a liquid cooling path built in. There are barbs on both ends of the heatsink that allow you to include the power circuitry in your watercooling loop.

Our thanks to Gigabyte for providing this motherboard.

Dual NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Graphics Cards

With AMD currently still having issues with multi-GPU surround performance, we were left going to NVIDIA for a pair of high end graphics cards. Two GeForce GTX 770s would've been stellar on their own, but the 780 is getting a healthy reputation as being a decent overclocker in addition to just being a tremendously powerful card on its own. 7.1 billion transistors and 2,304 CUDA cores are nothing to sneeze at, and the 384-bit memory bus connected to 3GB of GDDR5 running at 6GHz stock ensures that beefy engine stays fed.

The biggest shame about using these reference 780s is actually having to remove their stock coolers. NVIDIA did a fantastic job engineering these shrouds, which are both very beautiful and very efficient.

Our thanks to NVIDIA for providing this pair of graphics cards.

Introduction The Components, Part 2
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  • St. George - Tuesday, October 15, 2013 - link

    If CPU temps can be controlled with good cooling, and if I am after max CPU clock, is there a max voltage for Haswell? ASUS says 1.35v, various threads suggest between 1.4 and 1.5v, but many others seem to suggest max voltage is only limited by how much heat you can take away. What am I missing? You seem to suggest that the reason you won't run at 4.7Ghz is because you pass from what feels safe, 1.3V, to what feels risky, 1.45V. I am running archi apps that need CPU clock. Thanks. Delidding netted me 31C. Reply
  • spidey81 - Monday, September 30, 2013 - link

    I appreciate immensely the effort and thought put into this article. But to have someone new to the watercooling experience doing this wasn't the best way to go about it.

    For instance, and I'm sure this has been brought up, you compared results from different overclocks like it was apples to apples. Also, the radiators and blocks you used (although I have and use swiftech components) are inferior compared to other options available. Here's ( http://goo.gl/YJ8f13) a titan/780 waterblock comparison that clearly shows not all waterblocks are created equal. In fact, the swiftech block was one of the poorer performers in the roundup.

    Although good for basic loops, the radiators used could have been seriously beefed up! There are plenty of thicker rads available that use slower fans and still outperform these. Using slower fans will obviously create a more silent build. I've been using RX series rads from XSPC and they are always near the top for most efficient and pure performance.

    Basically, what I'm saying is that watercooling isn't strictly slap a block on and "voila" it's a super overclocking silent beast. The component selection from blocks to pumps to tubing to fittings are all critical in meeting the goal of the build. Research goes miles and finding good resources in overclocking/watercooling communities are a must.

    I was excited to see this article and left disappointed after reading it. Watercooling is far superior to air cooling in nearly every instance. Silence and performance are there to be had, you just need to have the proper selection of components and the subsequent proper arrangement of them.
    Reply
  • mapesdhs - Monday, September 30, 2013 - link


    I understand what you mean (paragraph 1), but in a way it's very useful, as it shows exactly
    the kind of issues someone new to watercooling is likely to encounter. Most guides and
    forums tend to assume a degree of existing familiarity. There's an information gap between
    being comfortable with top-end air cooling and dealing with reasonable custom water loops.
    As a newcomer to watercooling, half the problem is knowing what questions to ask. Forum
    threads can help, but they're frequently hindered by the odd one or two people who are
    very vocal but incorrect in their opinions, and of course it can be tedious in the extreme to
    wade through hundreds of posts to find all the various relevant bits of info (I know, I've done
    this with 3930K oc'ing).

    Your comment about component selection being 'critical' is a good example of what I mean.
    Unless one already has some experience with this, how does one make the right choices?

    Thus, I can understand why those already familiar with watercooling (especially someone
    with considerable knowledge/skill) might be disappointed with the article, but for beginners
    it will definitely be useful, ie. discovering potential pitfalls and mistakes.

    A parallel article by someone with more experience but using the same CPU/GPUs/mbd/etc.
    would be fascinating.

    Ian.
    Reply
  • Menetlaus - Monday, September 30, 2013 - link

    I would also love to know what the retail cost of the watercooling parts/kit used in this build.

    If the cost is $800-1000 as estimated above, then the overall cost for the full system would be in the $4k range.

    Bang for the buck is terrible on a full, custom, watercooling setup as the $4k watercooling system was typically less than 10% faster for 33% more money.
    Reply
  • The Von Matrices - Monday, September 30, 2013 - link

    I'd say your estimate on the entire system cost is about right. My guess is that Switftech sponsored this article and the author was either barred from stating the price or not curious enough to price out the components he was given. Custom water loops are a pretty terrible value if all you want is increased performance. Even though there are a lot of people who praise them, few who build them really consider the extreme cost since it's easy to get hooked into assembling it and forget about the price. Custom liquid cooling should only be used in three situations:

    1) You want the absolute best performance you can get at the current time.
    2) You want an extremely powerful but quiet system (mid-range systems can be quieted much less expensively with better air cooling).
    3) You care about aesthetics and showing off your case (the "cool factor")

    If you're only looking for increased performance, the best option to save money is just to forego the custom liquid system and use the money to upgrade the system's components more often. That will provide more consistent performance increases for the same amount of expenditure. The quietness argument is only valid if you have multiple video cards; any system with a single video card can be quietly cooled by replacing the stock video heatsink and using a better CPU heatsink and system fans. The aesthetic argument can't be reasoned with because that's a personal judgment, but generally people who use custom liquid loops for aesthetic purposes aren't particularly concerned about the price.
    Reply
  • sunnyjuicedrink - Monday, September 30, 2013 - link

    Thank you for the great article. I have one question that many people seem not to address in water cooling guides: how do you take a build apart? I've never built a water cooling system before, but I like keeping my PCs for a long time and upgrading individual parts. Is this possible, or is the deconstruction process cumbersome? Reply
  • cjs150 - Monday, September 30, 2013 - link

    Sunnyjuicedrink: Upgrading can be easy as long as your loop allowed for draining the system. Obviously if you change motherboard then components may be in slightly different places so your tubing may need replacing, simply changing the CPU is straightforward. Changing GPU can be awkward as you will probably need a new GPU waterblock and location of inlets on the block may not be the same as previously (although that just means some new tubing). All components (usually) work on a g1/4" socket Reply
  • Sadrak85 - Monday, September 30, 2013 - link

    After reading the whole thing (you did a lot of work here!), here's some points from the peanut gallery:
    1) I don't think it's just the lousy TIM under the IHS for the 4770K. I think part of the blame is to the integrated voltage modules, which more and more, I believe was included solely to allow partners to buy cheaper motherboards for their laptops and desktops.
    2) Thanks to IPC, that 4.4 GHz Haswell should perform (roughly) like a 5 GHz Sandy Bridge, and for what it's worth, 5 GHz Sandy Bridge chips were also rare.
    3) To easily attach tubing to barbs, boil water, put the end of the tubing into the water until it also reaches the boiling temperature, then slip the hot tubing easily onto the barbs. When it cools, it will be on there VERY well; in fact, you would likely have to cut it to remove it, but the huge forces need not be applied.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, September 30, 2013 - link

    The FIVR has more to do with Intel's mobile first strategy. It lets the CPU ramp/drop voltages much faster (order of magnitude???) which helps stretch battery life out by increasing the amount of time the CPU can spent at minimum power levels. Desktop systems get them by default because it's easier for Intel to use the same power regulation design everywhere. Reply
  • mokre - Monday, September 30, 2013 - link

    Thanks for the article. I'd like to suggest a couple of things:

    First, have a look at the fans you were using; I suspect for the radiators the fans do not have enough static pressure to move air through the rad, which is likely why you had to turn the fan speeds up. A buddy of mine has the same setup, but two gtx titans instead, in the same case, with slightly lower radiator capacity, and his temperatures are in line with yours, but noise-wise his system is much more quiet.

    Second, using a wrench on the fittings is probably not a good idea. While you can certainly tighten them properly, it could damage the fittings or worse yet, strip the threads on the acetal material used on the waterblocks (but only if you overtighten).
    Reply

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