By: Greg Zenger
Water cool your warm northbridge with this!
Before I get started, I would like to thank the hardworking people at Danger Den for sending one of their Z-Chip chipset blocks for review.
CPUs, and GPUs are often watercooled for some obvious reasons. They both produce a lot of heat, and therefore cannot always be passively cooled. This causes the need for large heat sinks and noisy fans to cool them properly. Watercooling is often used to lessen the systems noise and improve the overclock that you can get out of the chip. While the CPU (and often GPU) gets to be cooled with water, the northbridge is often overlooked.
The northbridge is the integrated circuit typically located below the CPU, which connects the CPU to the system memory and the AGP and PCI busses. The northbridge is often cooled with a small heatsink/fan that looks much like one used on a graphics card. Some motherboards, such as many motherboards sporting a Via KT333 chipset, have passively cooled chipsets. In a typical air-cooled system, air from the CPU fan usually passes over the northbridge aiding in its cooling. When water cooling is used, the northbridge may not receive the proper airflow that it needs, and may hinder its overclockability. The solution? Watercool it!
Danger Denís Z-Chip Block arrived wrapped in bubble wrap in the center of a box full of packaging peanuts. Included was the mounting hardware, a set of Standard, and a set of Stainless steel so that the two types could be compared. Unless you are on a strict budget, I recommend you select the Stainless Steel option. The stainless steel mounting hardware was easier to install, and in my opinion looks better than the nylon hardware. Either style should perform exactly same, so which one you choose is entirely up to you.
The block itself is made from 1/2Ē copper with a channel depth of 3/8Ē. This leaves the base of the block 1/8Ē thick. The top of the block is made from 1/4" laser-cut Lucite and is mounted to the copper with 4 screws. An O-ring sits partly into a groove milled into the copper and makes a tight seal with the top, preventing leaks. Teflon tape (plumbers tape) is used around the hose barbs to ensure that they are tightly sealed into the top. At first glance, the mounting holes in this block may seem odd. However, the design used allows the block to be mounted on different boards with different center-to-center hole patters, without the need for a different top. The Z-Chip can be mounted on any motherboard with center-to-center hole distances ranging form 2.10" to 2.43". This should cover every motherboard on the market at this time.
Before the Z-Chip Block could be installed, the old HSF on the northbridge had to be removed. Usually the heatsink will be held on with little one-way snap fasteners. These fasteners can be removed by squeezing in on the tabs on the reverse side of the board and carefully pushing them through to the front. Once the fasteners are removed, the heatsink may still be attached with some thermal tape. Wiggle the heatsink around and pull it off. If there is any thermal compound or thermal tape left on the chipset, clean it off with isopropyl alcohol. Now that the northbridge is clean, apply a fresh coat of your favorite thermal compound. I used Arctic Alumina due to its non-conductivity and reasonable price. Assemble the mounting hardware by placing the nuts on the end of the threaded rod and stick them through the mounting holes from the reverse side of the motherboard. Set the motherboard on a flat surface and place the Z-Chip block over the mounting hardware and rest it on the northbridge. Now the thumbscrews can be threaded onto the threaded rod. Tighten them so they hold the Z-Chip Block firmly in place, but be careful not to over tighten them as unwanted stress on the board may damage it.
Connect the tubing to the hose barbs and clamp them just as you would with a regular waterblock. If you choose to have your CPU and northbridge blocks adjacent, keep an eye on the tubing connecting them; the distance between the barbs on the CPU and Northbridge block are close enough together that tubing connecting them might kink.
I tried fitting the Z-Chip Block on the EPoX EP-8KHA+ and was disappointed to discover that the chipset was located too close to the CPU for the Z-Chip Block to fit. I tried installing the Z-Chip block in all possible configurations, yet no matter how it was oriented it interfered with the Maze 3. Thankfully, the Z-Chip did fit on my Soyo SY-KT400 Dragon Ultra Platinum Edition motherboard with plenty of room to spare.
I didnít notice much of an improvement with overclocking, however, system stability seems to be greater. If your chipset suffers from lack of airflow, or you happen to be pushing a high FSB overclock, the Z-Chip Block may make all the difference.
Danger Den has amazed me once again with their beautifully machined Z-Chip Block. The Z-Chip Block would make an excellent addition to any water cooling setup and may entitle you to a higher overclock and increased system stability. Installation was easier than suspected, and took less time than I had set aside. Danger Den always puts 100% efforts into the quality and craftsmanship of their products, and The Z-Chip Block is no exception. I rate this block with 4.5 out of a possible 5 drops of water. If Danger Den were to include better documentation on installation (none was included), and fix the fit issue this would have been a perfect 5/5 product.