Thursday, February 7, 2013

Aquarium PC Case - Review

Going to LAN parties and various events throughout the years, I’ve been privy to see an amazing amount of creativity from people in the world.  I’ve seen cases made from LEGOs, cases carved out of wood, and cases that had fantastic artwork sculpted into them – but none of those compare to the shock factor that will come when someone sees a working computer on your desk submerged in what appears to be water and placed into an aquarium.
Appearances can be deceiving, and once you take the time to thoroughly examine this crazy case, you see that it is not actually water in the aquarium, but mineral oil.  Mineral oil lacks the electrons to conduct electricity unlike water, so it is completely safe to submerge any kind of electronics into – although once something goes in, there’s basically no way to get the oil back off of it (which as you would guess, will void any manufacturers warranty).  So then, aside from the shock value – is there any useful reason to put perfectly good computer hardware in a tank with mineral oil?
The real reason to subject your equipment to this is because of just how well mineral oil handles heat.  Some people have huge fans in their cases, but they push a load of dust which means you have to clean the internals fairly often.  Some people swear by water cooling which works great, but one mistake and you have a shorted out piece of junk.  With mineral oil you don’t have to clean it or worry about shorting out your stuff, and on top of that it dissipates heat five times better than air.  To put this into perspective, the system I put into the case pulled 740W of power from the wall during peak load, and the internal temperature peaked at 52C.  That was with the fans on low.  If you have a system that runs cooler – I’d love to see it.
I was pretty much blown away by just how well it worked.  I built a rig that could handle Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 on the highest graphics settings, and it never came close to “breaking a sweat” – on top of that I overclocked the shit out of the CPU that I put in it, and the temperature stayed cool even after leaving it on for two weeks straight.  I proudly left this displayed not in my office, but right on the desk in my living room so that anyone coming into the house could see it and start up a conversation about it (and it is definitely one hell of a conversation piece).
The guys at Puget decided to put me through the whole process a normal user would see, so I could know just how well their operation worked.  From placing the order, to getting informed of what was going on with the order at any given time, dealing with the people here was a real treat.  I loved the fact that the workers would actually comment on the order to let me know what was going on – I felt special, even though I knew that this was what everyone got treated to.

Now remember, this is a DIY kit, so you need to provide your own “computery” parts, but it does come with everything else you need.  The aquarium is a 12 gallon Eclipse system, which is a really nice all-in-one aquarium (there’s one in my step-daughter’s room) – inside that you put a special motherboard tray that will hold pretty much any kind of mobo – it’s super easy to bolt one on, just like you would inside of a normal computer case.  On top of that, you bolt on a specially designed acrylic aquarium top that is designed to hold your hard drives (they don’t recommend putting a hard drive in the aquarium because of how viscous mineral oil is; if you have a Solid State Drive though, you’re good to go).

If you really want to make the case stand out even more than it already will you can also pick up a cold cathode light to install into the top and then add in a “bubble bar” to the bottom of the aquarium.  These things aren’t standard, but really for the $30 you’d spend on them, the are incredibly worth it.  Another thing you can get just for effect, are the “weighted” fake fish – that way they float at different heights and will serve to freak people out even more when they see it – don’t be dumb and use real fish though.  Real fish can’t breathe through mineral oil.

The radiator that you mount on the back of the aquarium is impressively huge.  It’s literally the height and width of the fish tank (and about half of the depth), with four huge fans running in tandem to pull the heat off of it.  The best thing about the radiator though, is that when the fans are set to low, they are virtually silent – the benefit of having so many going so slow.

Editor’s Rating:



The Bottom Line:  If you’re looking for something that will pretty much floor anyone that comes over to look at it, this is definitely the way to go – it does cost a pretty penny, but it’s worth every cent.
  • The cooling that you get from this case will exceed anything you could hope to do otherwise
  • The setup is relatively quick and simple so even someone inexperienced can do it
  • Adding a light and bubble bar makes the whole thing surreal
  • Mineral oil is another expense you have to consider (about $60 to fill it)
  • All warranties are null and void after putting things in this
  • Once you have it up and running it’s a lot of work to tear down and move
The V4 kit will run you $596 plus shipping and includes a 12-gallon tank and cover, acrylic motherboard tray, 7 slot I/O shield, power cord, power/HDD LEDs, power switch, PCI SATA and power bracket, 3-inch brushed nickel wire handles, hard drive mounts that go above the surface, Watercool MO_RA3 Pro radiator and a radiator stand, submersible Swiftech MCP35X pump, 5 feet of half-inch tubing, and all necessary screws, barbs, and fittings.  It can be purchased from Puget’s site.

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