The EK Technology Day event is an opportunity to share the vision of our R&D experts to demonstrate how developing new and environmentally friendly production methods is the only way to move the industry forward.
We also discuss how EK plans to implement independent grid supply on several continents and reduce the cost of producing water cooling solutions, thereby making them more environmentally friendly.
What’s New in Water Cooling Technology?
Currently, one of the most discussed topics is how to reduce production costs and bring them closer to air cooling?
Probably not the most exciting topic, but quite important in terms of technical development. Especially now that raw material costs are at record highs. So right now, we’re doing basic research and testing different approaches to designing and assembling waterblocks.
The standard water block design and assembly that we are all used to will always be the case. However, other approaches are being considered as we aim for a wider range of applications in terms of both cost reduction and improved reliability. We achieve this by developing new technologies that include soldering pipes, brazed water blocks, laser welded water blocks, using aluminum and so on…
For example, in the automotive industry, the focus should be on the strength of water blocks rather than their ability to disassemble or look good. It is here that the technology of soldering metals is especially relevant.
By using laser welding or soldering, we can reduce assembly costs and at the same time greatly improve shock and vibration resistance. One new water block design approach that fits into this narrative is the use of deep drawing copper sheet metal to form water block parts. With sufficiently large volumes, it would be economically feasible to make a die that could, for example, stamp the top of the block with all channels, allowing the cold plate to be made as thin as possible. Subsequently, by fusing them together using welding, we can make a water block with minimal machining and material waste. This helps us produce highly efficient solutions at a reasonable price.
Technological innovations like this often seep into our consumer realm to solve a problem.
Soldered tube solution for ASUS
One of the recent examples of the use of industrial technology is the case of Ultra block for the flagship ASUS motherboard. The goal was to cover as much of the board as possible with very limited space between the top of the processor, the bottom M.2, and the chipset. We rummaged through our technology bank to see how we could overcome the problem of having enough cross section to make optimal use of the coolant flow.
It was impossible to do this with a single piece of copper or standard milling. But why don’t we just use the soldering process to connect the top and bottom waterblocks with copper pipes?
It fits all the criteria: fits into the space, creates a strong airtight bond, provides the highest possible flow cross section, and we already have a proof of concept – so no unknowns.
Sounds like an easy win, right? But no! As always, the devil is in the details, and the detail that gave us a real headache was the use of an industrial method for a high-quality product that had to look premium.
While we thought we had all the building blocks to put things together, we were missing one critical component: how large copper surfaces would react to nickel plating with a solder joint in the mix. Sample batches passed without any major problems, but as large-scale production began, problems began to appear one after another.
Ultimately, we resolved all issues, achieved the desired aesthetics and delivered the required amount of goods. But there were also delays, which – quite understandably – did not please our client too much. The moral here is that every time a new technology is introduced, there is an inherent risk of failure.
But without risk, there would be no progress.
History of MSI (Opti Socket)
However, in some cases, all the stars align when you try something new. This happened with our new EK-LiteBlock design.
We were offered to create an economical monoblock. There has always been an option to go with the classic approach of using separate copper platters for the CPU and VRM. However, we decided that this was too obvious and a lazy approach to design. So we went back to the drawing board and after a couple of brainstorming sessions, we came up with what we now call the Opti-socket.
Here’s how it works: A hybrid all-in-one is usually mounted to cool the processor. In addition, there is a flat area on the stock motherboard heatsink, right above the VRM. Using thermal pads, the monoblock is also in contact with the installed VRM heatsink. This design is simple and economical, and also allows us to use the latest Velocity² cooling structure and, albeit indirectly, water-cool the CPU power circuits.
The beauty of this approach is that the consumer can still use a standard air cooler or AIO to cool the CPU, and a standard heatsink will keep the VRM cool enough. But it is also possible to use water cooling and a lite block to provide VRM 20 degrees lower .
Now is the perfect moment to note that we are once again in uncharted waters, as no one has ever tried anything like it. If our calculations and simulations were wrong, we would be back to square one with nothing to show (other than two months of wasted work and no time to rework). Fortunately, this time our calculated risk was not only justified, but the project exceeded all our expectations.
This design provides another benefit. If everyone standardized the location of the socket in relation to the contact surface of the heatsink, then this convenient solution would not be limited to one board.
Reliability and testing
To be clear, we never introduce new solutions and technologies without extensive testing. This may be in the form of numerical flow analysis and thermal analysis, or prototyping, taking into account the required scaling.
What we encounter quite often is tight time frames and a lack of standardization of testing methodology in our field. Sometimes it is possible to use standardized tests from other industries if they are suitable for our purposes. But more often than not, we just have to come up with our own internal standard, which comes with its own set of problems.
To ensure that testing is carried out at the highest level, we have our own staff and work closely with certified partners, research institutes and laboratories. Using equipment such as climate chambers, wind tunnels, bench test stations and other technologies, we can perform specialized tests such as shock, vibration, ESD and other simulations that allow us to create superior cooling solutions.
Verifying the method and results and ensuring repeatability is not exactly a quick and easy task. Since time is always essential and limited, pure creativity is the name of the game.
While failures are sometimes frustrating, it’s all worth it when our R&D engineers are given free rein. When time and deadlines allow, we work on our Quantum X projects. It’s kind of like a sandbox where we experiment with out-of-the-box ideas that don’t usually get past the concept stage.
There are some ongoing projects on the safer end of the spectrum, such as AI-assisted 3D printed copper block development or evaporative cooling that doesn’t require the use of a compressor. On the other hand, we are playing with the laminar flow of tubeless block connections.
Basically, no idea is too wild.
Caring for the environment
Now more than ever, the issue of preserving the environment is one of the highest priorities for businesses around the world. This applies to both the manufacturing process and product design. Regardless of the industry, we strive to design our units so that when disassembled into their essential parts, no remaining component is made from two different, tightly bonded materials.
At the end of the product’s life, the user is required to perform some additional work to disassemble, separate, and safely dispose of the various materials. However, this shouldn’t pose much of a problem for those who care about the environment.
The same mentality applies to our packaging, where we have almost completely eliminated single-use plastics such as bags, but there is always a trade-off between sustainability and taking functionality and the unboxing experience to a higher level.
One of the important steps towards what we preach is the introduction of our new render station. Located at EK headquarters, the Fluid Works will be integrated into our heating system. We will use the waste heat from the server to heat the tap water in our system throughout the year and help heat the offices in the winter.
The next most important driving force after performance and reliability is design. Design is an integral part of the development of our technologies and solutions, as can be seen from the evolution of our products over the past 15 years.
Waterblocks have evolved from pragmatic and simple 2.5D shapes to perfectly fitted clean assemblies with a wide range of features and materials. Translating these requirements into a minimalist design is a real challenge, especially when striving for perfection in every detail.
For our latest Velocity² processor unit, we wanted a completely smooth top with no visible screws or mounting mechanism. At first, the necessary solution sounded simple: attach it from behind the motherboard. However, things get quite complicated when we consider socket specifications and allowable clearances.
Achieving a constant mounting pressure for the processor unit means that coil springs must be used. If the pressure is too low, the thermal paste will not flow and work properly, and if it is too high, the product will not meet the required socket specifications.
In addition, there is a height restriction on the back of the motherboard PCB. It was obvious that the springs needed to be on the front side and the nuts needed to be moved to the back side.
To make it practical for installation in situations where only one side is visible, the tension screws are held under load and locked to prevent rotation. This unique solution allows them to achieve spring load lengths with very little thread engagement. This short engagement ensures even assembly of the unit, and the simple flanges prevent overtightening, eliminating common user errors and any rotating parts that could damage the PCB.
Together, these improvements have resulted in a mounting design that retains and enhances all expected functionality. It can be implemented with multiple sockets with identical parts and, crucially, remains aesthetically true to the concept.
The most successful designs elegantly combine aesthetics, performance and reliability.
One example can be seen in our Vector² GPU waterblock, an element that constantly focuses on performance, but in this case we managed to improve on the aesthetics based solution.
The coolant itself is the most distinctive visual element in the system, instantly letting you know that something special and powerful is inside. The second most important element is the cooling fins, so it was only natural to eliminate the stainless steel jet plate, which does not allow you to see everything in its entirety.
But the reaction plate is an integral part of the cooling engine, increasing the flow rate through the fins and it cannot be removed completely. So we decided to combine it with a plexi insert, which used to be a very simple 2.5D shape. Since this necessitated machining of the part, we could expand the more complex geometry and narrow the inlet cavity to better distribute the flow.
The result is a simple visual and material change in one part and a 1.6°C improvement in hydraulic and thermal performance.
Our biggest change over the past year hasn’t been with one product, but rather with how they fit together. Because any custom liquid cooling circuit must be built from multiple EK products, the biggest aesthetic and ease-of-use difference comes from the sum of all the parts. To solve this problem, we created Matrix7 , a system of predefined coordinates, sizes and directions that determines the location of each port on each product, ensuring their convenient alignment.
To move forward with the standard, both regular and active-back-equipped units needed to communicate in exactly the same way, so the Direct Link multi-part terminal was implemented.
Nothing new from outside. In fact, it looks like a standard terminal, but this is exactly what was needed. The secondary inner plate allows the primary and secondary units to be connected diagonally, thus freeing up space above them for opposite or adjacent connections, as in a conventional unit.
Our efforts to optimize the construction process are not limited to the contour itself. Another key innovation was the introduction of daisy-chained fan connectors. At first glance, this may seem old-fashioned, but if you take a closer look at the new products, you will see that this is not so.
Each cable matches the length of the fan and has both MALE and FEMALE connectors. Each fan or device has all 8 of its pins connected in series, whether that product uses them or not, so the D-RGB lighting sequence is not interrupted by a non-D-RGB fan.
Also, there are actually two PWM channels so that the pumps and fans can be controlled independently with the same cable. The high current rating from all cables and connectors ensures that the entire system can be connected from one series of cables.
Because there are no proprietary parts or signals, accessories such as splitters, extenders, and adapters can be backward compatible with existing products and interoperate with any standard motherboard or controller.
We hope we have brought the magical world of water cooling a little closer to you. Since the evolution of computer systems is moving at a record pace, it is important to stay ahead of the proverbial curve we mentioned earlier.
And the safest way to do this in the water cooling industry is to stay in the user loop with us.
At EK, we love taking computers to new levels of performance, stability, and visual design. But we don’t like doing it alone. Every endeavor is much more fun when you share it with your friends and partners, so be sure to visit our website and/or contact us for a potential partnership.