FREAK Shots: Why Would You Do That to Your Computer?

My brother Misha, 18, has just outfitted his computer with a water-cooling system, which consists of tubes with cold water running through them.

Here’s what it looked like before the installation:

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Here’s what it looks like now:

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According to Misha, water cooling (versus the heat sinks and fans that cool most PC’s) allows his computer to run 25 percent faster (or “overclock”).

But the system is dangerous: if one tube springs a small leak, the whole computer can be ruined; and it cost Misha about $1,200 of his own money to build. (Though he says he “went overboard a little.”)

Water cooling in PC’s is still a niche market. As my brother puts it: “only us geeks take the time to set it up.”

Though more companies are offering similar, prebuilt technology, like water-cooled computer cases.

Computer makers like IBM have started introducing water-cooled servers, which can cut data center energy costs by 40 to 50 percent, according to ITWorld.

And researchers at IBM’s Zurich laboratory have been running experiments water cooling stacked computer chips, and are looking into using the water heated up by computers to heat houses, an Economist article reports.

My brother still lives at home and doesn’t have to worry about footing the energy bills; so besides a faster computer — and considering the costs and dangers — what’s the primary motivation for Misha and his water-cooling friends?

Pretty much just bragging rights to be honest with you.

There are, incidentally, competitions for people like my brother — sponsored by the people really cashing in on this hobby: PC hardware companies.

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  1. JYK says:

    For a while, Apple was selling a PowerMac G5 that had a liquid cooling system.

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  2. Matt says:

    There are a few other benefits to overclocking your computer. High end games, in particular, are generally designed to be scaled for computers that don’t even exist yet in order to make them viable for years after they release. Overclocking computer components allows serious gamers to take advantage of this and run games at settings that simply would not be attainable with any other existing technology.

    Overclocking also allows serious gamers to practice their hobby and stay within a budget. With a little bit of overclocking, someone can take an $800 computer and make it run as fast as something that would have otherwise cost them $1500+. Also, cooling components, unlike other parts can often be reused through multiple builds. That said, most of this can be done with air cooling and the marginal difference in performance between what someone can accomplish with air and what they can accomplish with water is pretty minimal.

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  3. discordian says:

    I call these people the Rice Boys of the computer world. You get a bit more performace but to what end?

    Actually Rice Boys are worse becuase none seem to realize that a rear spoiler is pretty meaningless on a front wheel drive Honda Civic.

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  4. Joel says:

    The rationale behind overclocking and modifying a computer is almost exactly the same as when youths soup up their muscle cars. Largely limited to young men who enjoy learning the technical knowledge, then putting it to use and getting their hands “dirty”.

    There’s a feeling of satisfaction, doing a tricky upgrade yourself and having your machine (be it car or computer) perform better as a result.

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  5. DJH says:

    FWIW, back in the late 80s, a company I worked for in the northeast had a data center with a big mainframe which generated a lot of heat — as they all do. The data center had an environmental system that collected this heat and heated the building’s office areas, wholly or partially depending on the outside temperate, in the winter. Although I went to this data center a few times I was not privy to the exact workings of this system, just that it saved the company a great deal of money on its heating bills.

    Would that were enough to have saved it from an acquisition … but alas, it was not meant to be! A great company was bought out, then that was bought by a competitor, and that company was bought out later on … whew!

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  6. Ken says:

    Your before picture is missing a pretty critical component…. the actual, erm…. computer. No mainboard, video card, nothing. :)

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  7. Dennis says:

    Sign of a hard-core gamer.

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  8. Mike B says:

    Water cooling is for sissies…Fluorinert is the way to go. Much safer for the electronics too.

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