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Saturday, June 3, 2017

How to buy and install a closed-loop liquid cooler—it's not as scary as you think Part III

Power on: First check
You may not want to close your PC case fully before reconnecting the power cables and checking that everything works, though. Hit the power switch and, as a first test, be sure that the radiator fans spin and that the pump is operating. Listen for a gurgle or two as the liquid begins to flow through the system. For closed-loop liquid coolers fitted with integrated lighting, illumination is a sure sign that the pump has power.
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Terry Walsh/IDG
Powered up and cooling down.
If you find that the PC refuses to power up, or closes down quickly, then it’s likely the processor is overheating. Double check that all the cooler’s cables are correctly connected. If they are, you may need to reseat the pump on the CPU to ensure a good thermal connection.
Once your PC is running properly, close up the case and we’ll install the cooler’s controller software.
Next page: The hardware’s software

Fine-tuning your liquid cooler with software

While your new closed-loop liquid cooler should spin up and cool your CPU as soon as you hit the power button, installing its supporting software allows you to monitor and fine-tune its performance.
The NZXT Kraken X62 is accompanied by a desktop application called CAM that offers a range of features. Some of these are exclusively designed for NZXT hardware but others, such as temperature monitoring or in-game FPS overlays, work with any PC. Liquid coolers from other manufacturers offer management software of their own.
Install the app and, once you’ve created an account, you’ll get your first opportunity to see how your new cooler is performing. As you can see from the screenshot below, my Intel Core i7 is running at a cool 14°C when idle. At a glance, you can also check out the CPU fan speed (meaning the radiator fans), GPU temperature and fan speeds, RAM load, and storage usage.
Tweaking AIO cooler performance
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Terry Walsh/IDG
Three cooling profiles are available, alongside custom settings. (Click to enlarge.)
Your cooler will be automatically configured with a default profile that defines the AIO’s fan and pump speeds for any given temperature. As your CPU temperature rises, for example, when you fire up the latest AAA blockbuster game, those speeds will increase accordingly to prevent the CPU overheating. Higher temperatures can lead to CPU performance throttling, which will impact the action on screen, so it makes sense to keep your processor cool. On the other hand, higher fan speeds can lead to increased noise output, spoiling your enjoyment of the game. It’s no surprise that the trick is to balance maximum cooling with minimum noise.
The NZXT Kraken X62 offers a selection of three profile presets alongside a custom option which allows you to set your own speed curve. The latter allows you to precisely define the rate at which fan and pump speeds increase as temperatures rise.
At the bottom of the window, a drop-down menu allows you to switch easily between the default Silent Mode (which limits noise output), a Fixed Mode (which balances noise and temperature control), and Performance Mode (which maximizes cooling). Additionally, real-time stats help you monitor current cooling performance. You can see your current liquid temperature, fan speed percentage, and pump and fan revolutions per minute (RPM).
For more precise control, hit the gear icon to the right and you’ll be taken to the Tuning tab. Now you’ll see independent controls for the fan and pump, alongside graphic displays of the speed curves for each component.
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Terry Walsh/IDG
Adjusting the speed curves.
In the screenshot above, you can see the settings for the Kraken’s Silent Mode. This maintains fan speeds at 25 percent until the liquid temperature reaches 35°C. If the temperature rises further, fan speeds will increase—up to 100 percent if required.
It’s a similar story with pump speeds, which are set to 60 percent until the liquid temperature reaches 35°C, after which the pump will work harder to cool your CPU.
In terms of profile differences, Fixed Mode speeds are faster and the curve is sharper, so those speeds accelerate more rapidly when temperature thresholds are met. Meanwhile, Performance Mode sees higher opening fan and pump speeds, which maximizes cooling performance—handy if you plan on overclocking your processor.
If you find that none of these profiles work for you (and, for the record, the default Silent Mode has worked just fine for me) then custom settings will allow you to create your own speed curves, with fine drag-and-drop controls.
Cooling with color
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Terry Walsh/IDG
Some fancy coolers ship with integrated RGB lighting, controllable via software. (Click to enlarge.)
One additional feature you’ll increasingly see pop up on closed-loop liquid coolers is integrated RGB lighting. It’s no longer sufficient for a cooler just to cool your PC. Nowadays, a cooler also has to look cool while it’s cooling!
Dig a little deeper into the controller app and you may well find lighting controls. Alongside the aesthetic benefits of creating an internal lightshow in your PC case, there are more functional features available, such as changing the color of integrated lighting to match your CPU temperature. When you see that red flash, you’ll immediately know your PC is racing!
In a world where seemingly every gaming PC component is available with twinkly lights, selecting an AIO cooler with RGB lighting adds a little more excitement to what is a highly functional piece of kit.
So, if you’ve been thinking about enhancing your PC with an all-in-one, but haven’t quite built up the courage to do so, I hope this walkthrough has shown you not only that it’s safe and easy to install a liquid cooler, but also a lot of fun too.
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