Welcome back to the Component Series. We hope to help builders both new and old to understand their options when it comes to the components in their custom water loops. Today we’re going to talk about distribution plates.
Why use a Distribution Plate?
Distribution Plates (typically called “distro plates”) are a fairly new addition to the custom PC water cooling arena. Originally custom one-off pieces, their popularity got the attention of manufacturers and they were offered for specific cases soon after.
So, what does a distro plate offer that makes them so popular?
Bitspower distro plate featuring a built-in tube reservoir and pump.
While this topic will always be subjective, the look of a distribution plate is something that appeals to a lot of people. The clean simple lines they offer are always perfect, and they are a striking addition to most cases.
Ease of use
Typical distro plates are made to fit in a specific spot in a specific case. This guarantees compatibility and makes installation easier. Once in place, a distro plate also helps the rest of the custom loop by determining specific points that coolant lines connect. These are usually directly in line with major liquid cooled PC components like the CPU and GPU water blocks, and makes it easier to create clean-looking tubing runs.
If a specific distro plates also offers a place to mount a water pump, that just makes the build process that much simpler.
Barrow standalone distro plate for Phanteks 518.
Whether a specific distro plate offers pump mounting or not, it makes a custom loop easier to make by routing coolant that would normally have to be done with tubing bends and fittings.
Distro plates are typically compact in thickness and designed to best make use of the space they occupy. Since they serve as a reservoir as well as routing your coolant, and potentially mounting your pump, several parts of designing a custom PC water cooling loop are handled by this one component.
RGB-illuminated distro plate with DDC pump for NZXT H510i.
If you’re into custom lighting, a distribution plate can give you a large striking visual area to illuminate.
So why doesn’t everyone have one?
Sadly nothing is perfect. Distribution plates have a few drawbacks as well.
With only a few exceptions, distribution plates are made to be used in a specific location in a specific PC case. This limits their use to that single purpose. While that actually forms the basis for some of the advantages listed above, it is a limiting factor.
If you’re considering building a custom water loop with a distribution plate, be sure that one is available for the case you plan to use.
Distro plate with D5 pump, designed to fit seven different Fractal Design cases.
What options do I have?
While they don’t offer nearly the diversity of options available in reservoirs, there are a couple of different types of distro plates available.
Phanteks Glacier 140 – one of the few universal distribution plates.
Standalone distro plates are simply that – a distribution plate only. They serve the function of reservoir and tube routing and are made to fit a specific location in a specific case.
Pump-mount distro plates serve the same function as standalone plates, but also offer the convenience of directly mounting a pump to the plate itself. This makes a build easier and takes up less space than a separate pump location.
EK distro plate with dual D5 pumps.
Location specific distribution plates make up the vast majority of the market. They are all mostly made to fit in a specific location in a specific PC case. Their measurements and mounting points are designed for that location and that location only. They can be standalone plates or pump-mount plates.
Distribution plates are available in universal versions but the options available are limited. They typically make use of 120mm or 140mm fan mounting locations and are usually only available in the stand-alone variant.
Standalone distro plate from Barrow, made for the Lian Li O11 case.
Just like acrylic tops on water blocks and vertical GPU mounting, distribution plates are a good example of something that we have today thanks to a few of the more adventurous PC modders out there. Their work was popular enough for several brands to pick up the idea and make them available to the masses.
And just like any other part of a custom PC water cooling loop, distribution plates have their pros and cons. It’s up to you as the builder to decide if they’re right for your PC.