I was first aware of PC watercooling around 2000, from a featured rig on "The Screen Savers". I felt that it was cool beyond belief, but probably not something I'd be interested in trying. Watercooling at that time was definitely a DIY affair, usually beginning with a trip to the nearest auto parts store to purchase a Chevette heater core, which happened to be the perfect size to mount two 120mm fans. The waterblock often meant going to a machine shop, though even by that time there were a few places online to get one. Nothing was standard, tubing, clamps, even which additive to put in the cooler was guessed at. Probably the biggest problem was finding a water pump with sufficient flow to make the whole thing practical, usually some kind of pump for a large aquarium.
Not long after that, some companies, including Thermaltake, began putting together some watercooling kits, some even self-contained. Most of them left much to be desired, the best setups were still something pieced together by the enthusiast. These days, there are many kits on the market, most major brands that make cooling products build some kind of watercooling kits.
Up to this point I have yet to try watercooling. I have had a few opportunities to review watercooling systems over the past 6 years, but until earlier this year it just wasn't practical. My main rig was my test rig, and I reviewed a lot of cases, which meant disassembly of the cooling system for nearly every review. I did a fair amount of CPU coolers too, on the average I'd have to take the cooling system down at least once a month.
Today it is much more practical for my checking out watercooling, and our friends at Thermaltake have sent their latest complete watercooling setup, the Bigwater 780e ESA watercooling system. With a 120mm radiator, 530cc reservoir, and 500 L/hr pump, all fitting in three 5 1/4" drive bays, this is Thermaltake's nicest self-contained watercooling system yet. With this being my first attempt at watercooling, it will definitely be interesting. Read on to see whether I succeed, or whether I make one hell of a mess, trashing my motherboard in the process!
The 780e comes in a fairly large box. I didn't photo it, but this box came inside another brown shipping box, perfectly fitted, with a slab of foam in the bottom. The box is the typical Thermaltake black with the orange Thermaltake logo. There is a nice photo of the cooler and waterblock, and a large ESA logo on the front, with detail photos on the rear, along with an explanation of ESA.
Inside the box is thick foam padding, with compartments for the cooler, waterblock, and hardware. The contents should be able to survive a fall from at least a few feet due to the protection.
So what is ESA? ESA stands for Enthusiast System Architecture. We enthusiasts monitor nearly everything in our rigs, temperatures, voltages, clock rates, fan speeds, etc. Unfortunately, there is no single place to monitor it all...we use either CPU-Z or the motherboard's monitoring dashboard for clock speeds, the motherboard's monitoring utility dashboard or third-party software for CPU and NB temps. Usually, but not always, you can also use the dashboard for controlling CPU and chassis fan speeds (if you have connected the chassis fans to the motherboard fan connectors). Video card clock, temperature, and fan speed is usually monitored and controlled by the Catalyst Control Center on Radeon cards, or the nVidia Control Panel on geForce cards, or with a totally separate utility like Asus' Smart Doctor, or with a third-party utility like Rivatuner. PSU voltages are found in the BIOS, or with third-party utilities like SiSoft Sandra. To get S.M.A.R.T. HDD information, you have to use another third party software like Sandra.
nVidia decided that all of this is pretty ridiculous, there has to be a better way for enthusiasts to get their system information. So they came up with ESA, a system of monitoring all system information from one dashboard. Working with their partners, they have developed a really creative and effective system for hardware monitoring. From a single dashboard, you can monitor the CPU, memory, video card, power supply, chassis, water cooling, fan controller, HDD S.M.A.R.T. info, etc.
Our friends at Thermaltake think that ESA is a great idea, and have partnered with nVidia to create ESA-compliant hardware, and have provided some ESA items to ThinkComputers.org. This is the second of three Thermaltake ESA-compliant items, the first was the Tt Armor+ ESA full tower, and last will be a Thermaltake ESA power supply. After the third review, there will be a full-blown article on ESA, so I'm not going to spend much time exploring the ESA aspects of the Bigwater 780e, it will be explained in the ESA article.