Dark or Light

Mod Diary: Water Cooling Your GPU with the Kraken G12 (ft. RTX 2080 Ti and Kraken X52)

Poorna Shankar Posted:
Hardware Reviews 0

I love PC gaming. The thing I love most about it is the unrelenting nature of progress it affords over consoles. Pushing graphics, pushing tech, pushing brute force horsepower, and doing all of this unapologetically. My personal rig includes an RTX 2080 Ti which allows me to fulfill my love of pushing technical boundaries.

But having modded my 1080 Ti two years ago with an EVGA AIO (All-In-One) cooler, I wanted to know what kind of results I could derive if I did a similar mod to my 2080 Ti. Additionally, this would serve as a great journal of sorts to hopefully educate more people if you were curious about doing something similar, and to show the true customization afforded by PC gaming.

Before I dive in, a quick note. I am by no means an expert. I don’t claim to know everything. Additionally, my 2080 Ti happens to be the Zotac AMP Edition (specs below) with an already good triple fan cooler. Because of that, my expectations going in weren’t to seek an improvement in temps, but in noise. The triple fans on the Zotac, while efficient at dispelling heat, are quite loud when under load. For me, noise is something I do care about, and so I hoped this mod would address that. Finally, note that everything I discuss here is very specific to the Zotac AMP Edition 2080 Ti. Do not use this as a guide for other graphics cards. Without further ado, here are the specs of my specific Zotac AMP Edition 2080 Ti:

  • GPU GeForce® RTX 2080 Ti
  • CUDA cores 4352
  • Video Memory 11GB GDDR6
  • Memory Bus 352-bit
  • Engine Clock Boost: 1665 MHz
  • Memory Clock 14.0 Gbps
  • PCI Express 3.0
  • Display Outputs 3 x DisplayPort (4096x2160 @ 60Hz), HDMI 2.0 (3840x2160 @ 60Hz), USB Type-C
  • HDCP Support Yes
  • Multi Display Capability Quad Display
  • Recommended Power Supply 650W
  • Power Consumption 260W
  • Power Input 2x 8-pin
  • DirectX 12 API feature level 12_1
  • OpenGL 4.5
  • Cooling 3x 90mm fans
  • Slot Size 2.5 Slot
  • SLI NVLink (SLI-ready)
  • Supported OS Windows 10 / 7 x64
  • Card Length 308mm x 113mm x 57mm (12.13in x 4.45in x 2.24in)
  • Accessories 2x Dual 6-pin to 8-pin adapter, User Manual

In order to properly install the X52 AIO (provided by NZXT), it must first be bolted onto a bracket, which itself must be installed. The bracket in question is the NZXT Kraken G12 (purchased separately by me). In terms of tools, I used the Phillips screwdriver included in the Gamers Nexus toolkit (not sponsored, I purchased this), along with the Arctic Silver 5 thermal compound (purchased by me). I’ll get into this more in a bit, but when purchasing thermal compound, you generally want one with high thermal conductivity (presented in W/m-K, or Watts per Meter-Kelvin) and no electrical conductivity.

I’m going to do things a bit differently and show you up front the before and after pictures of my PC once this mod was completed. First up, before:

And now after:

Yes, the cable management becomes interesting with an AIO simply because you have more cables to deal with. However, given that my Lian Li case has good airflow to begin with, I wasn’t terribly concerned about this. In short, the GPU AIO is mounted at the bottom of the Lian Li O11 Dynamic case intaking fresh air in a push configuration. Three Lian Li Bora Digital Fans are mounted on the side as an intake, with the CPU AIO mounted to the top of the case exhausting air in a push configuration.

The first thing I did was remove the graphics card heat sink by removing these four screws.

Next, I removed the side screw here.

Carefully, I lifted off the heat sink. Note, you will feel some resistance from the thermal compound. Just be careful, and apply consistent measured force to lift the heat sink. Be sure to not open it all the way, as there are wires connecting the fans to the PCB (printed circuit board) of the graphics card, as seen below.

You can see the wire I’m holding is the first to start pulling away from the board, so be sure to carefully disconnect that first. Next, I removed the other wires.

Here is what the removed heat sink looks like once all wires have been removed.

As you can see, the Zotac AMP Edition 2080 Ti has an inner plate. This is made of plastic and is held on by screws on the backplate. This inner plate must be removed in order for the Kraken G12 mounting bracket to be installed correctly. I removed this inner board by removing the screws on the backplate here…

…and also the screws on the rear IO here.

Once this is done, the inner plate and backplate will remove from the PCB very easily. Be sure to remove any and all thermal pads from the PCB. You just won’t need them for this AIO mod.

Be sure to clean the GPU. Be very careful here. Do not apply increased pressure when cleaning the thermal compound. I use alcoholic cloth wipes and coffee filters to clean the GPU. Don’t worry if there is paste on the outside edge of the die. I’ll get into this shortly.

Next, I began the installation of the Kraken G12 bracket. Note that for these Turing GPUs (RTX 20-series, 1660 Ti, 1660), you will need to use the included AMD brackets, not the Nvidia brackets. Installing these is quite simple by following the included instructions with the Kraken G12 bracket.

Be sure to use the included washers. Washers increase mounting pressure, providing additional stability and security to the bracket. When handling the graphics card PCB, take care not to apply too much pressure to the board. Any slight bending or warping will adversely affect the wires contained within, resulting in artefacting.

Once this was done, I set it aside and turned my attention to the Kraken X52 AIO. The cooler itself comes with all the fans and cables you need. I, however, was interested in the pre-installed thermal compound on the pump.

Because I was going to apply the Arctic Silver 5 thermal compound to the GPU, I wanted to clean off this pre-applied paste. Again, I did this with the alcoholic wipes and coffee filters.  Note, be sure to remove the pre-installed AIO mounting bracket from the pump so you are left with only the circular pump.

Next, I installed the pump to the Kraken G12 bracket. Again, follow the instructions provided by the G12 bracket!

And here’s the other side.

Next came time to install this bracket+AIO to the GPU itself. This is where the thermal compound application becomes incredibly important. Unlike CPUs where 100% coverage of the die isn’t necessary, GPUs require total coverage. There is no such thing as “too much thermal paste” when it comes to GPUs. This is a myth.

Missing coverage results in certain parts of the die not cooling properly, which will result in artefacting and adversely affect the lifespan and integrity of the GPU. You want the thermal paste to ooze out over the die once the cooler is installed. This is also why I noted earlier that you should obtain thermal compound which is not electrically conductive. I recommend thermal paste application in the following pattern as it ensures total coverage.

Next, I installed the bracket+AIO using the screws provided by the G12 bracket. Be very careful in the amount of pressure you apply. When installing the screws, make sure to install them in a diagonal pattern. Do not tighten them all the way at first. Simply screw them down to maintain some holding pressure. Then, once all screws have been installed, finger tighten them. Do not over-tighten these screws.

I then connected the bracket fan to the PWM fan header on the PCB. Note, you may need an adapter for this since the PWM header on the GPU PCB is smaller than the actual PWM plug from the bracket fan. These can be purchased on Amazon.

Next, I followed the instructions provided by the X52 AIO to connect the fans from the AIO radiator, to the pump, and ultimately to the power supply in my PC. There’s nothing special about this. I’ll just recommend that you carefully follow the instructions provided by the X52 AIO.

When all was said and done, the results, as alluded to at the top of this piece, looked like this.

I tested both temperatures and clocks using Hardware Monitor for data with the following considerations:

First up, average temperature results.

As I mentioned at the top of the piece, I didn’t expect drastically different temperatures at the onset simply due to the efficiency of the Zotac triple fan cooler. What surprised me here was how, apart from Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the overclocked modded 2080 Ti still managed lower average temperatures than the stock clock Zotac cooler.

Again, as with the temperatures, I was unsurprised by clock performance with the mod installed. Turing and GPU Boost 3.0 work best with lower temperatures. Meaning, the theoretical clock boost will see a larger increase in proportion to a decrease in temperature. The cooler you can get the GPU, the higher the boost may be (within limit).

I’m unsurprised by Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s results for both temps and clocks, purely due to the fact that I leveraged RTX for ray traced shadows, along with a heavy overclock. This overclock -- 92 MHz on the core over stock -- is hefty. To see temperatures rise only six degrees while clocks increase 92 MHz is a more-than-fair trade off for me.

Then again, GTA V saw a decrease in OC temps with a larger OC applied when compared to Tomb Raider, however, this is accounted for the fact that GPU usage in GTA V is simply far lower on average than in Shadow of the Tomb Raider.

However, the biggest gain I’ve seen has come from acoustics. I do not have a decibel meter for objective measurements, so forgive me while I provide you my subjective anecdotal ruminations. As I mentioned at the top, the cooling from the Zotac triple fans was good, but the noise was very noticeable. I could almost hear it through my headphones.

However, even under full load and with a core and memory overclock applied, the modded 2080 Ti is unbelievably quiet. Even when I remove my headphones, the sound is no louder than a gentle “whoosh” comparable to a ceiling fan. Unquestionably, then, this is the biggest benefit of installing this AIO mod.

In conclusion, I am happy with the results of this mod. I love DIY projects like these, and I thank NZXT for providing the Kraken X52 AIO for this purpose. I love how unbelievably customizable PC gaming is, and how relatively simple projects like these have become in just the last five years.

I hope this provided some instructional value to you in case you were considering doing something similar. Now, on to the glory that is ray traced Control!

The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purpose of this article.


Poorna Shankar

A highly opinionated avid PC gamer, Poorna blindly panics with his friends in various multiplayer games, much to the detriment of his team. Constantly questioning industry practices and a passion for technological progress drive his love for the video game industry. He pulls no punches and tells it like he sees it. He runs a podcast, Gaming The Industry, with fellow writer, Joseph Bradford, discussing industry practices and their effects on consumers.