Suppose you’re considering creating a liquid-cooled PC with a fully customized loop. In that case, you’ll eventually need to decide whether to purchase a graphics card with a pre-installed waterblock or choose a regular card and install the waterblock manually.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both options. If you choose a GPU with a pre-installed waterblock, you can be sure that your warranty will remain intact. However, there is a sense of accomplishment in installing the waterblock yourself, and you can select one that complements the aesthetic of your system.
Today, we will demonstrate the simple steps to install a waterblock on a graphics card. Don’t be intimidated by disassembling expensive components; it’s easier than you think.
We have opted to use the RX 6700 XT graphics card. While it features a reference design PCB per Nvidia’s specifications, it comes with a more affordable cooling system than the Nvidia Founders Edition card. This makes it an ideal choice for those looking to install a waterblock, as we will not be using the included cooler anyway.
Test Graphics Card
It’s crucial to emphasize that before installing a waterblock on a graphics card, it’s essential to ensure it functions properly. Although in most countries, manufacturers are not allowed to void your warranty if you replace the stock cooler with a waterblock, it’s only sometimes guaranteed that you’ll receive warranty coverage without a prolonged battle. You should verify that your GPU is working correctly before altering it.
For better results, it’s recommended to run some GPU benchmarks to evaluate your graphics card’s performance. To do this, you can utilize tools such as MSI Afterburner or GPU-Z to track information on your GPU clocks and temperatures. Additionally, you can use other utilities like OCAT to record actual performance. With liquid cooling, you should see a significant decrease in temperatures.
Dismantling Graphics Card
While disassembling a graphics card, it’s essential to be patient. Although there may be differences between manufacturers and cooling designs, the process is generally the same.
To access the back of our EVGA card, we need to remove many small screws. It may also be helpful to take off the front I/O bracket. In our case, a lip at the top prevented us from removing the cooler, so we detached the bracket.
To remove the cooler, remove the necessary screens first. The cooler should come off quickly, but if it doesn’t, check if you missed any screws. Remember that some graphics cards use thermal glue that may need heat to loosen. Instead of pulling it straight off, twist the cooler gently to the side.
Remember to store all screws securely, such as a small plastic bag. This way, you can keep them with the cooler if you want to reinstall it. When upgrading to a newer graphics card, you should bring your waterblock. Without any form of cooling, your old GPU won’t function properly.
Cleaning the GPU
When you remove the cooler, you might notice a buildup of thermal paste. To effectively cleanse your GPU, you’ll require a non-abrasive fabric, 99% isopropyl alcohol, cotton swabs, and a soft-bristle brush. Firstly, utilize the cloth and alcohol to eliminate most of the thermal paste from the GPU. Next, use the Q-tips and toothbrush for more meticulous cleaning.
Please pay attention to the electronics surrounding the GPU. Likely, your device will not be as clean as ours because most manufacturers apply too much thermal paste, which spreads beyond the GPU. However, be reassured that you can remove the paste from the surrounding components. The thermal paste is non-conductive and won’t cause any harm, so there’s no need to clean aggressively. Just ensure that the GPU is spotless.
If your graphics card has a cooling plate installed between the GPU and more relaxed, it must be removed before continuing. Also, remember to reinstall the IO shield if you previously removed it.
Take a Short Break, Look at the Graphics Card, and Get Organized.
It’s rare to witness a graphics card being dismantled to such an extent. Now that you’ve finished cleaning it, taking a break and organizing your workspace is an excellent opportunity. Dispose of the cloth and Q-tips, gather the cooler and its screws, and prepare the liquid-cooling components for installation.
If you need clarification on whether you purchased the correct water block, test-fit it before proceeding.
Get the manual for your waterblock ready. The manual will show critical details for your GPU model.
Trim and Affix Thermal Pads and Thermal Compound
Your water block will include thermal pads designed to cool the memory and VRM circuitry when you receive your water block. You may find that the memory pads have already been cut to size. To install them, use tweezers to carefully place them onto the memory modules surrounding the GPU. Make sure to remove the protective plastic from each pad before placing them.
Consult the water block manual for instructions on cutting and placing thermal pads for the MOSFETs and coils.
When you receive your water, you will find a tube of thermal paste included. This paste is usually non-conductive, but it’s best to confirm. Apply a small amount, approximately the size of a small pea, to the center of the GPU. You don’t need to spread it out because the water block will do that for you when you secure it.
A helpful suggestion for PC builders – if you discover that your thermal paste is conductive, exercise caution when applying it. Only proceed if you are confident in applying it correctly without overdoing it. If you are new to PC building and lack experience, it is advisable to use non-conductive thermal paste instead. Over-application can cause damage, so taking preventative measures is recommended.
Place the Waterblock
You are now prepared to attach the waterblock to the graphics card. Carefully place it in position, ensuring it is as close to the intended spot as possible to avoid spreading the thermal paste underneath.
Position the assembly with the IO shield on the desk’s edge and let the graphics card rest on the waterblock.
It’s time to reattach the four screws around the GPU in a crisscross pattern. We recommend gently inserting each screw and then tightening them in an X-pattern once they’re all in place. It’s crucial not to overtighten the screws as this could cause the GPU to crack. However, applying enough pressure when mounting is essential to avoid unsatisfactory temperatures.
In case of doubt, the tiny screws and screwdriver provided will prevent over-tightening.
Please attach the remaining screws to securely fasten the waterblock onto the graphics card.
You’re All Done!
Great job! Your graphics card is now ready for installation into a custom cooling loop. Just remember to secure the plugs on the inlet and outlet terminals to prevent fluid leakage when filling the system.
Now that you’ve completed the simple part, it’s time to tackle the more challenging task of planning and arranging the remainder of your personalized loop. If you feel overwhelmed by this task or if it’s your initial attempt at custom cooling, consider considering using Corsair’s Hydro X water cooling kit with its helpful configurator page. Additionally, EKWB offers custom liquid cooling kits, which can be more cost-effective than purchasing individual components separately.
After finishing all the necessary tasks, rerun the previous tests to evaluate the alterations in performance and temperature. Additionally, consider overclocking your graphics card, as it is expected to operate at lower temperatures now.
After successfully water-cooling your GPU, follow these recommendations for optimal performance and longevity:
- Monitor Temperatures: Regularly check your GPU temperatures using software like MSI Afterburner to ensure your water-cooling setup effectively manages heat.
- Maintain Cleanliness: Clean your water blocks, radiators, and fans from dust and debris to prevent clogs and maintain efficient cooling.
- Check for Leaks: Periodically inspect your water-cooling loop for any signs of leaks or coolant loss. Fix any issues promptly to avoid damage to your GPU or other components.
- Overclock Safely: If you plan to overclock your GPU, do so gradually and cautiously, monitoring temperatures closely. Watercooling can enhance overclocking potential, but excessive overclocking can still lead to instability or damage.
- Regular Maintenance: Consider flushing and refilling your coolant every 6-12 months to prevent buildup and maintain optimal thermal performance.
- Customization: Explore additional customization options, such as adding RGB lighting or upgrading to more advanced water-cooling components, to personalize your system further.