Immersion cooling manufacturer CoolBitts thinks there might be a market for immersion cooling systems at the ultra-high-end of the market. The company has announced a kit including chassis, coolant, fans, PCIe tray, power meter, pump, radiator, and rear IO panel. Total price? Just $2450 — though the five gallons of EC-120 coolant that you get does typically retail for about $500.
There are two types of immersion cooling system — two-phase evaporation where a liquid evaporates into a gas before condensing into a liquid, and single-phase systems that rely on a pump and radiator. The use of a pump and radiator makes immersion cooling conceptually similar to both closed-loop and open-loop water cooling, with the obvious difference that with immersion cooling, the entire PC is dropped directly into the fluid.
Obviously, this requires a non-conductive fluid. Mineral oil has been used before, but supposedly EC-120 is easier to work with and a bit less hard on motors. The ICEbox can handle up to 750W of cooling and the rear I/O port of the system is kept out of the liquid to ensure connectivity. The system supports both mATX and ATX motherboards and is capable of keeping both a CPU and GPU at a temperature of about 30C according to Anandtech.
Could systems like this power high-end computers of the future? They definitely can, but it’s not clear if they will. One of the major advantages of immersion cooling compared to forced air in the data center is that you waste far less energy. A ratio of 1.5W of power expended per 1W of computation is typical for data centers, advanced cooling systems have been measured as low as 1.08.
Will Immersion Cooling Ever Go Mainstream?
The advantage of coolant systems like this is that they’re as silent as it’s practically possible for any piece of equipment to be. It’s possible for advanced hardware to debut at the server level before waterfalling into consumer systems, but companies would need to get much more serious about immersion cooling in data centers before we’d see any waterfall IP usage over on the PC side of things.
There’s always been an enthusiast cooler market in PCs. It looks approximately like this: High-end air, closed-loop liquid cooler (these two overlap), followed by open-loop water coolers, chillers (water coolers that reduce the water temperature below ambient air temperature), phase change units, dry ice, and liquid nitrogen. It’s not actually clear how immersion coolers perform compared to other options — if I had to guess, I’d rank them between open-loop water coolers and below chillers. The high cost, in this case, is related to the fact that none of the highest-end options for CPU cooling are all that practical, and they get increasingly impractical the higher up you go.
Immersion cooling like this makes sense for dense deployment data centers, but I’m not sure what the enthusiast angle would be. They don’t seem likely to allow for dramatic performance improvements (overclocking, generally speaking, isn’t having a great moment). If this type of cooling is going to ever go mainstream, kits like this will play a part in making it happen, but so far the enthusiast PC community has relied on improving air coolers (or CLLCs) rather than moving to a radically new type of cooling.