Water Cooling for PC Enthusiast: Installing The Video Card Water Block

Series introduction

The first time I got to see a custom loop PC, was in my NCIX PC days. It blew me away. I wanted one so bad. I asked our specialist how much it would cost to build me one, and just by his answer, I understood right away why we call them dream PCs.

Custom loop PCs are the holy grails in the eyes of enthusiasts. The sky is the limit when it comes to creative potential in these builds and with its beauty also comes a tedious building process. As beautiful as these builds are, the conception process of these builds can be incredibly intimidating especially to new builders.

In this series, we will cover the array of options available to builders who have chosen the path of the Custom Loop. We will also demonstrate the various steps that us professionals take when building for our customers to ensure that we deliver the best possible finished product.

We hope you will enjoy the series. Like always, do not hesitate to comment, and chat with us on our social media.

Image 01 - dual pc

How to install a water block on a graphics card

Part 1: Getting Ready
When installing a water block on a video card, the first important thing is to make sure they are compatible. For this, OSHKO recommends using reliable manufacturers who are official partners with your video card manufacturers. For our builds, our go to company is EKWB.

For this build, we are working with the ASUS 2080 ti 11GB STRIX GPU, the EK-Vector RGB Water Block, and the black EK-Quantum Vector STRIX RTX 2080 Ti as a backplate.

Quick Tip: You want to have the installation manual on hand for all the items that you are using. There could always be updates on any of the products that you have used in the past, even if they have the same item codes as your previous builds. In the end, when you play with a 2 000$ card, the saying “Better safe than sorry” takes all its sense.

Image 02 - Carte et water block
Part 2: Removing the stock cooler

This is where the fun begins, and where the warranty of your graphic card ends. 😊 We first want to remove all the screws on the backplate (pictured as the orange circles). There are six on the side of the backplate, and two on the IO bracket. While carefully removing the cooler, remember to delicately disconnect the RGB and LED connectors.

Image 03 - Remove Screws

On the second image below, you can see what the ASUS STRIX cooler looks from the inside.

Image 04 - Inside a cooler
Part 3: Removing the stock backplate

Now that we have removed the stock cooler, we have access to the backplate screws that are also holding the cooler bracket in place. Once the 12 screws are removed, we can separate the backplate from the card, as well as the manufacturer cooler bracket.

Image 05 - Bracket and Back plate screws
Part 4: Cleaning the card

It is important that the card is properly prepped for its new cooler. When cleaning the card, we are extremely careful and only use non-abrasive cloths. Q-tips are commonly used as well.

There are two steps to cleaning the card:
• For all orange regions (the video card memory), we make sure that no original thermal pads are left on the memory chips. If there were to be any thermal pads remaining, it would prevent the water block from properly sitting on the VGA processor in turn hindering the cooling process and thus risking damaging it.
• For the purple square (the video processor), OSHKO recommends using rubbing alcohol with a Q-tip so that you can remove the original thermal compound until the processor is completely clean.

Once we are done cleaning the card, it should look like this. 😊 Note that we are only cleaning the processor itself. We are removing the extra compound that is easily accessible around it. However, we are not rubbing ‘’hard’’ against the PCB around the chip, to prevent damaging it.

Image 05.1 - Areas to clean
Image 06 - Clean Card

Once we are done cleaning the card, it should look like this image on the left. 😊 Note that we are only cleaning the processor itself. We are removing the extra compound that is easily accessible around it. However, we are not rubbing ‘’hard’’ against the PCB around the chip, to prevent damaging it.

Part 5: Placing the Thermal Pads

Now that the card’s clean, we can place the thermal pads on the circuit board. The pads are provided with the EKWB water blocks. They make it very clear in their manual about which pads are to be used on which parts on the card. The pads come in 3 different thicknesses, so it is important to position them properly; for the same reason mentioned earlier, we want the water block to sit properly on the GPU.

The thermal pads come with two layers of protection. One on each side. Prior to the install of the thermal pads, we first remove one layer of protection.


This is an exemple of what we find in the EKWB installation manual.
Image 06 - EK maual
source: https://www.ekwb.com/shop/EK-IM/EK-IM-3831109814123.pdf

Once all the thermal pads are installed, our card looks like this below.
Image 07 - Pads in place

Now that the pads are installed on the card, we proceed by removing the top protection layer. They can be a bit difficult to separate, so we like to use a box cutter to first carefully pull one corner. Then we proceed with by hand.
Image 08 - Removing layer 2
Part 6: Placing the thermal compound

Before we go into placing the thermal compound, let us first explain the role it plays.

For the water block to properly cool the GPU, it must cover the entire surface of the GPU as evenly as possible. Even though the water block and the GPU are precisely manufactured to do so, there are still micro variances on their surface that make it impossible for both to entirely be in contact with each other. And that is where the thermal compound comes into play.

It covers the micro manufacturing imperfection to ensure that the heat coming from the GPU is transferred evenly to the water black, making its cooling efficiency higher.

Therefore, it is not necessary to put a huge amount of thermal paste. The paste’s role is to ensure a solid heat distribution.

At OSHKO, we place one line of paste on one side of the GPU chip. We then use a credit card to spread it evenly. It might be necessary to add a tiny amount to cover some spots, but, one line is sufficient to cover the whole GPU.
Image 09 - Placing the paste
Part 7: Installing the Water Block

Prior to the installation, we recommend placing the card on a higher surface on the table. The box of our power supply (or video card) generally does the trick.
Image 10 - Card on a box
To install the water block, we align the holes for the screws on the PCB, with the one on the water block. As mentioned in the manual, there are preinstalled standoffs on the GPU to help with the alignment process.
Image 11 - EK Block on card
source: https://www.ekwb.com/shop/EK-IM/EK-IM-3831109814123.pdf

Once aligned, use the proper screws and washers to attach the block to the card.

Pay particular attention to which screws you are using. You wouldn’t want to install the wrong ones. In most cases, the blocks are shipped with a different set of screws, each compatible with different cards. The manual is our best friend here, as it is telling us exactly which size of screws to use, and in which holes they belong.
Image 12 - Card and screws
Image 12 - FINAL
IT’S DONE!

The water block is now installed. If done correctly, it should look like this on the left. The look is clean, and robust. You will see as you hold it in your hand, its weigh is centered and compact. The feeling of satisfaction is close to nothing for the PC enthusiast.

Don’t celebrate too quickly now… There is still a lot more work ahead of us! .

In our next post, we will cover the installation process of the backplate.

Thanks for reading, and please let us know what you think in the comment section!

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