Thermaltake Big Water 12cm water cooling kit review

Cooling/Water Cooling by KeithSuppe @ 2004-12-21

Today we?re evaluating an all in one water-cooling solution from Thermaltake, the Big Water 12cm internal H20 kit and see if it can tame a Prescott powered system.

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Data / Conclusion


Big Water 12cm Spec's & Test System
CPU-Kuhler Copper/Acrylic 453gr/ S-Channel/ Blue LED
Pump 12V DC/ 120LPH/ 20-dba/ 3-pin
Radiator Dimensions - 122x35x166mm/ weight - 835gr/ aluminium fins copper tubes/ Fan 120mm/38~93CFM (adjustable)/ 17~27-dba/ 4-pin
Accessories S-775, S-478, K7, K8-mounting hardware/ 8 x quick-connectors/ UV liquid/ 300cm green tubing
Test System P4 550 (3.4GHz)/ Abit AA8/ Kingston Hyper-X PC2-5400 2x1024MB kits/ ATI X800 XT/ TTGI 600W Modular PSU/ Thermaltake Shark fulll-tower aluminium tower case
Operating System & Software Windows XP SP2/ Abit EQ µGuru/ CPU-Z/ Prime95/ SETI/ Throttle Watch/ Sandra/ H'Odas CPUID/ Futuremark

Certainly one of Big Water's strongest selling points is its ergonomics. Compact enough to fit in the smallest of cases and visually attractive it's well designed in this respect. In the photo below the small filler bottle could/should be removed as the pump has its own reservoir.

Madshrimps (c)

Although the case side-panel is removed in the photo above, all tests were performed with the case closed. The radiator fan will be on high for all tests, and finally the system is installed per Thermaltake's instructions: pump > water block > radiator > pump

Thermaltake's chosen order for water flow between components may be considered somewhat abject compared to atypical H20 system fashion. The majority of H20 kits employ the following order of flow: pump > radiator > water block > reservoir > pump

I believe many would place Big Water H20 system in an entry level category, and I believe most making this purchase would follow the instructions, therefore I did.

To measure temperatures as extensively as possible I employ several methods. First using TTGI-USA's SF-609 which features four external thermistors; I place one between water block-base and CPU. I repeat mounting this device several times ensuring the thermistor is as close to CPU core as possible without negating contact. Second, I suspend a thermistor within the case so it's just a few centimetre from the CPU, this reads internal case temp. A third thermistor is suspended outside the case measuring ambient air temp. To generate the maximum amount of heat (LOAD) from the P4 550, I run SETI and Prime95 in Torture Test (Small FFT's) node simultaneously.

In addition to thermistors I use software provided with the Abit AA8 µGuru Abit EQ and the Panopsys freeware utility Throttle Watch. The former by Abit extensively measures voltages and system temps, the latter monitor's Intel P4, Pentium-M, and Xeon CPU thermal throttling (TM1, TM2) indicating at 100%, full LOAD is brought to bare on the processor. Our first screenshot below exemplifies these utilities, running our system at default speed (3.4GHz), default Vcore (1.38V) and during IDLE conditions.

Madshrimps (c)

As the data shows Thermaltake's Big Water does a decent job of keeping things cool. With an ambient temp of 17°C and internal case temp of 22°C, a CPU temp of 30°C is acceptable. Of course this is just an IDLE reading. Clicking on the thumbnails below will reveal the system temps while overclocked to 4.0GHz (240FSB). The left Thumbnail represents the system at 4.0GHz during IDLE, the right thumbnail 4.0GHz under LOAD running SETI and Prime95 concurrently.

Madshrimps (c) Madshrimps (c)

Madshrimps (c)

I decided to insert some stock air-cooling temps into the chart to widen our frame of reference. There are no air-cooling temps at 4.0GHz because I was unable to reach, and maintain with any stability 4.0GHz speeds under stock air-cooling. Several conclusions can be deduced from the data above. First, Big Water out-performs stock air-cooling at default speeds (3.4GHz Socket-775 CPU), by a margin of 5°C at IDLE, and 8°C under LOAD respectively. Big Water cooled well enough to overclock to 4.0GHz under full LOAD (including Gaming and 3D Stress tests). While the maximum temp under LOAD of 43°C might be considered mediocre performance for a high-end water cooling system, it was definitely acceptable for an entry level system. To squeeze as much performance from Big Water as possible I attempted a few system tweaks. In the photos below I simply reversed the direction of radiator fan so cooler ambient air was drawn into the case cooling the water.

Madshrimps (c) Madshrimps (c)

I tested the system after making several alterations for comparison, with some surprising results.

  • Simply changing the order of water-flow as follows: pump > radiator > water block > pump; deducted 2~4°C at IDLE, and 2~6°C at LOAD.

  • Reversing the radiator fan direction had the greatest impact on performance as ambient air was drawn in through the radiator. This minor adaptation subtracted an additional 3~7°C at IDLE, and 3~9°C at LOAD.

    The reduction in temps are representative of 17°C ambient room temp, and reversing radiator fan direction also lowered internal case temps from 24C to 21C. Reversing fan direction had the greatest impact on performance and took all of four minutes to accomplish. If your PSU is drawing warm air up through it, then pulling in ambient air from the front and rear of the case may actually improve your case temps.

    Ergonomically the LED illuminated CPU block and reactive green tubing should add an attractive hue to just about any case interior. Additionally the system is very quiet and even with the fan maxed out, just audible over case and/or PSU fans.

    Madshrimps (c)


    Thermaltake's Big Water is most definitely an entry-level system; it was, however; constructed of high-quality materials usually found in higher-performance H20-kits. The system is unobtrusive, easy to install, and is very quiet during operation. If you're an overclocking fanatic, seeking high-performance cooling I wouldn't expect too much from Big Water, although it did take me places stock air-cooling could not.

    If Thermaltake were to ask me to make improvements to their Big Water 12cm system, I'd make only one major suggestion; exchange the pump/reservoir for a more powerful model. Other tweaks Big Water owner's can easily do themselves making a substantial improvement in performance. If you do nothing else to your Big Water system, and you have the radiator mounted internally, reverse the fan direction. This will draw cooler ambient air through the radiator cooling both the water and case simultaneously. This is always preferable to placing the radiator fan so it doubles as an exhaust attempting to remove heat from the water with pre-heated case air. Next I would suggest changing the order in which water flows through the system to the following: pump > radiator > water block > pump.

    Thermaltake's suggested price for the Big Water is $159, while the system can be found for less, it's my opinion in its current state it is a bit costly. Especially when one considers alternatives High End Water Cooling kits from competitors like Danger Den, Swiftech and others.

    Most frustrating for me is how close to greatness this system comes. Were it not for a few weaknesses mentioned throughout this review, I would be recommending the Big Water system whole heartedly. At this time, and at its current MSRP I'm somewhat torn, giving this system a medium performance rating. Big Water 12cm can be found for $139 on sale at Cooler Guys (USA), and €73.90 at FIXX (Europe).

    I'd like to thank Annie at Thermaltake for the help.

    Questions/Comments: Forum thread
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