It used to be that liquid cooling was the domain of the extreme enthusiast - you had to know what you were doing, as the components and parts were sold separately. Those days, enthusiasts customize and jury-rig their own exotic liquid cooling systems. We have come a long way since. Entry-level liquid cooling kits can now be found at reasonable prices and most importantly, have been simplified for the uninitiated. The small boutique specialist firms that were once closely associated with the 'dark arts' of liquid cooling now face competition from the major vendors. Gigabyte for one, has ventured into liquid cooling and today, we present its second generation CPU liquid cooling solution and one for graphics cards as well – the 3D Galaxy II and the Blue Eye liquid cooling kits.
The whole concept of liquid cooling is to achieve greater dissipation of heat than the conventional air-cooled method in order to assist in overclocking experiments or to eradicate noisy fans from the system. Hence, the liquid coolant is the medium and lifeblood. For the 3D Galaxy II, it is dyed in the fashionable blue favored by enthusiasts and actually goes with the blue LEDs on Gigabyte's 3D Aurora line of casings. Only this anti-freeze/anti-corrosive coolant should be used in the coolant tank that has Gigabyte's unique low water and over temperature protection. This protection is enabled by linking the tank to the motherboard via a series of connectors and power cables and giving the tank the authority to shut down the system when such an emergency occurs. Like insurance, it's very useful to have.
Liquid cooling doesn't mean that it's completely devoid of traditional fan coolers. First, the aluminum radiator block that is to be mounted outside the casing, preferably attached at the back of the casing, comes with a large 120mm fan to aid in the heat dissipation. Obviously, passive cooling was not sufficient (unless the radiator is excessively large), so a rather slow (1200 - 2600rpm) fan was chosen. The heavy copper based water block (compatible with all recent processors from both AMD and Intel) for the CPU also comes with a 90mm cooling fan meant to cool the motherbaord MOSFETs surrounding the processor. With some motherboards opting for passive cooling, the presence of the fan ensures that there is at least some moving air to aid in thermal dissipation. Therefore, the 3D Galaxy II is not 100% silent but with these fans operating at minimal speeds usually, it will be relatively quiet.
Besides the 3D Galaxy II for the CPU, Gigabyte has another complementary liquid cooling product, the Blue Eye, which is meant for the graphics card. You should know first that this graphics card cooling unit cannot work in isolation. It requires an existing liquid cooling system to be in place, as it's merely an advanced GPU water block and does not come with any pump, coolant, radiator, reservoir and others parts that make up a complete water cooling kit. Gigabyte naturally recommends its 3D Galaxy II as the perfect companion.
A variety of mounting brackets and clips ensure that this GPU block supports most of the current and available graphics chipsets in the market now (the full list of supported chipsets can be found on Gigabyte's website) and SLI configurations are also possible, as long as you are willing to buy two Blue Eye cooling kits. Gigabyte has also thrown in a generous number of heatsinks to take care of the graphics memory chips; enough for two graphics cards actually! By the way, the Blue Eye gets its name from the UV sensitive flow indicator with blue LEDs that allows you to conveniently monitor the water flow status of the GPU at a glance without having to strain yourself.
Gigabyte has obviously planned a comprehensive range of liquid cooling solutions that takes in account all of its diverse products. This means that Gigabyte can recommend its products from the chassis to the CPU and graphics coolers. While they can all work alone, they are compatible with each other and usually produce better results as a team. For example, the 3D Galaxy II has extra valves for other liquid cooling solutions and guess what, the Blue Eye can be integrated perfectly with the Galaxy using one of these extra valves. Most consumers are probably still wary and unfamiliar with liquid cooling but with these Gigabyte cooling kits, the learning slope has been lessened, especially with the colorful photographs found in the quick installation guide. It may not be exactly idiot-proof yet but it's slowly getting there.
**Updated on 2nd October 2006**
At the time of publication, the Gigabyte 3D Galaxy II and Blue Eye have an estimated SRP of US$200 and US$60 respectively. Street prices are expected to vary from region to region, so if you are interested, call up your nearest Gigabyte distributor to get the details.