The Types


Ev­ery liq­uid-cooled build falls into one of two camps, based around the tub­ing used. There are two types that the en­thu­si­ast com­mu­nity takes ad­van­tage of right now: hard tub­ing and soft. Each has its own ad­van­tages and dis­ad­van­tages. Soft tub­ing, the most com­mon type, is usu­ally a form of flex­i­ble PVC, ca­pa­ble of be­ing cut to length with rel­a­tive ease. Avail­able in many col­ors, it’s com­monly found with an outer di­am­e­ter of 13, 16, or 19mm, and can be used with a barb, or spe­cially de­signed com­pres­sion fit­tings, which are a com­bi­na­tion of a barb, with an o-ring and com­pres­sion cap on top.

Its suc­ces­sor—which is ar­guably more dif­fi­cult to work with—is hard tub­ing, also known as hard­line, an um­brella term for every­thing from acrylic, to cop­per, even glass tubes. Of­ten re­quir­ing spe­cial tools to cut and shape, it’s a far more dif­fi­cult ma­te­rial to ma­nip­u­late, though it pro­vides cleaner lines and tighter bend radii than its soft-tube coun­ter­parts. Acrylic was the first hard tub­ing used in liq­uid cool­ing, thanks to its abil­ity to change shape when heated. It’s still avail­able to­day, and is some­times pre­ferred to its PETG suc­ces­sor. To shape it, you sim­ply place a sil­i­con insert into the tube, heat evenly along the part you want to bend, and slowly bend it into the an­gle you re­quire, be­fore cool­ing it. Over time, it’s be­come quite an art form, with mod­ders cre­at­ing all sorts of com­plex and lu­di­crous an­gles, styles, and lines. PETG is a more com­plex poly­mer, de­signed to ad­dress acrylic’s lack of shat­ter tol­er­ance, and is now one of the most com­mon ma­te­ri­als used by the hard­line com­mu­nity. Hard tub­ing tra­di­tion­ally used what’s known as push fit­tings, but to­day most peo­ple use com­pres­sion fit­tings, with two or three o-rings—two in­side the push fit­ting, and one in the com­pres­sion cap to re­duce the chance of leak­age.

For the rookie liq­uid-cool­ing en­thu­si­ast, it’s ad­vis­able to start out on soft tub­ing first, be­ing the easier of the two meth­ods, then try your hand at hard tub­ing at a later date.

Hard­line cool­ing is popular and classy.

Soft tub­ing is far easier to in­stall.

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