Distros vs. Reservoirs - Which is Better?
If you’ve been interested in the watercooling scene or even the custom PC community in general, you have probably seen a fair few liquid cooled builds with either a distro or a tube style pump reservoir combo. With the variety, and options available for both styles, I hope this blog can help you all make a decision as to which is going to be best for your custom loop build.
Why Do I Need One? No matter what form factor, it is a very good idea to use a reservoir in your open loop. Not only do they assist in filling your loop, but they can often be set up to drain your loop efficiently as well. The common misconception should be noted here - reservoirs are not needed for increasing coolant capacity. Coolant capacity plays a very minor role in the cooling performance of your loop, so do not worry about how big your reservoir is. However, your reservoir will often play a large aesthetic role, so I recommend picking one that fills out the space you have accordingly. Both your traditional tube style reservoirs and a distribution plate will check the boxes outlined above, so it really boils down to your preference.
I Don’t Want to Reinvent the Wheel! Although the distribution plate options are steadily growing, you will still find more variety from the age old tube style reservoir. Prior to these, many would use 5.25” bay reservoirs, however these are becoming more like relics every day. Most every brand in the industry has a tube reservoir setup, if not several. Some of the most recognizable will be EKWB’s TBE reservoirs, previously known as the X-RES series, Alphacool’s Lighttower, Singularity Computer’s Protium line up, and many more. They come with both direct D5 and DDC pump mounting options to allow you to make a pump/res combo. My favorite style, and most recommended, are the multiport top options. These will allow you to pick from a variety of inlet and outlet ports for the best tube routing possible in your loop. You will also want at least one extra port for your drain setup, as your pump top is not a bad place for one. The top of a pump/res combo can have multiple ports as well, which will allow you to have your loop return through the top, as well as provide an easy to access port for filling your loop. Speaking of filling your system; tube reservoirs are typically the easiest to use for the job as they have very few restrictions and decent coolant capacity. Now that it’s 2021, it’s hard to find a pump/res combo without RGB lighting options, which makes turning your reservoir into a beautiful centerpiece for your custom rig extremely easy. It is very hard to go wrong with any of the name brand tube style pump/res combos.
What’s All the Fuss About? Distribution plates, or manifolds as they are also known as, have been around for longer than you might think. Modders and custom builders have been whipping these up in home shops and garages for quite a few years now. As of late, distros are being produced across the globe, making them readily available to just about everyone in the watercooling scene. Most manifolds are made for specific cases, or a series of cases, although there are some universal options available as well. The universal distros are very similar to the pump/res combos we we’re just talking about previously. They typically offer multiple ports, as well as direct pump mounting. The main difference between these two styles would clearly be the form factor. If you are considering a universal distro be sure to look into the mounting options as that is where you will find it to be the most useful. The more uniquely designed, case specific, manifolds are also a great option if you have the correct case. These will often have port locations specifically for your hardware, meaning the tube runs are more direct and aesthetically pleasing. Hard tubing is quite often the choice for this kind of loop, however, it is not at all required. Both universal and case specific distros will have dedicated fill and drain ports so filling, as well as draining your loop is typically not too challenging. It should be noted that distros will quite often have more restrictions and not have as much capacity as their tube style counterparts so filling can be somewhat slower depending on the manifold’s design. Neither the increased flow restriction nor the decreased liquid volume will produce noticeable performance differences for your loop. If you’re really looking to make a unique system there are even options for a completely custom distro to be made for your loop. You can learn more about that here, in one of our previous blogs. Most waterways are now equipped with some form RGB lighting as well so you can keep up with the jones if you want to!
How Do I Decide? At the end of the day, the options, and even customizations you can have with both distros and tube style pump/res combos are nearly endless. Making your custom loop stand out from the rest with either, is not too difficult with a little thought and ingenuity. However, when we get down to brass tacks you need to look at your system and imagine what literally fits best. What kind of space do you have a pump/res? How will you want to mount the pump/res? Have you considered how you will use your pump/res to fill and drain your loop? No matter what the decision is still going to take some time, so don’t hesitate to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or want some recommendations! You can find all of our tube style pump/res combos HERE - You can find all of our distros HERE.