Project: Building a better mistake

spugm1r3

[H]ard|Gawd
Joined
Sep 28, 2012
Messages
1,153
Welcome to my first documented build! Despite the fact that I have been building my own computers since 2005 when, discovering my iMac G5 was both underpowered and un-upgradable, I realized buying pre-built machines was dumb, I've never bothered documenting what I had done. Fast forward another five years of electrical education courtesy of the US Coast Guard, an English degree, a couple of years in DRAM engineering, and a little over half a BS in Computer Science, and my tastes have grown up a little since that first AM2 in a Antec P180.

Courtesy of a coworker (the original Dr Freeze, if anyone is old enough to remember) carefully exposing my ignorance, and introducing me to this whole scene, my education advanced. I didn't stop making poor choices in components, mind you, just started making them on a much bigger scale with better parts. So that perhaps, is a proper introduction to this build: building a better mistake.

I'd like to start by thanking my sponsors: thanks me, you're the best. If anyone would like to be added to that list, let me know, I think I can find you a spot.

I'd also like to thank my inspirations: Dr. Freeze, for not being afraid to dunk a couple of thousand dollars in computer equipment into a vat of oil; the [H]ardOCP community, for telling me to stop fooling around with "good enough" (and also, for buying my old stuff to fund getting this stuff); my wife, for not understanding the point; and, my 2 year-old son, for grabbing his plastic screwdriver and saying "we gotta fix it!"

As some more astute readers might have gathered from the above: I'm married with a young child, I work full time, and I'm also a student (again). What this means is updates may be sporadic. I'll do my best to maintain something of a schedule but, between life and the fact I am counting on you guys to call me out on questionable choices, this may or may not be possible. We'll see.

So, on to the fun stuff. Hardware!

Housing this beast is a CaseLabs Mercury S8, custom coated white on the inside, black on the outside. I was aiming for an atypical look, with a subdued external appearance and a highlighted interior, one that didn't rely on spinning LEDs or flashing lights to call attention to it. Think a badgless sedan with a painted undercarriage; you know it's no ordinary car.

The brains of the operation:
· Asus X99 Deluxe
· Intel i7-5820k
· Super secret engineering sample memory (mileage may vary)
· 3x EVGA 780 GTX SC
· Corsair AX1200i
· Crucial M4 256GB (for the OS)
· Seagate Barracuda 1TB (for my Steam library, my Eclipse workspace, and the godawful large Visual Studio install)

Keeping it cool:
I'm not a brand-whore, but when I do pick a route, I tend to stick with it all the way through. I'm of the mindset that, when designing towards an aesthetic, getting products designed by the same people is going to make it a lot easier. That said, all of the watercooling in this build is XSPC manufactured. This will be my first watercooled system, so I chose a company that satisfied my aesthetic needs and didn't throw up any show-stopping red flags. I get there is likely something better (there always is), and opinions will vary, but I didn't want to kill myself trying to satisfy everyone else's preferences. So here we go:
· 1x RX240
· 2x RX360
· D5 Dual Bay Pump/Resevoir Combo
· D5 Photon 170 Pump/Resevoir Combo
· Raystorm Intel CPU Block
· 2x Memory Waterblock

I had planned on waiting until the case arrived to start posting, but due to some unplanned volume at CaseLabs, I was informed my case was going to be a bit delayed. There's not much to be done without it, can't sleeve the cables, and waiting for the case to arrive to decide if anything is getting any custom treatment.

Anyway, I appreciate the input. I have stuff, I have an idea, but nothing is set in stone. So feel free to throw in your ideas or criticisms. I'll be posting pictures of the kit here in short order.
 
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Grebuloner

[H]ard|Gawd
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Jul 31, 2009
Messages
1,434
Quite a beast, I look forward to your progress!

You might want to fix your 4820 typo there. :)
 
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spugm1r3

[H]ard|Gawd
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Sep 28, 2012
Messages
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Just a double check for you, you say X99 and 4820K. I hope that one of those is a typo? 4820K is X79. Did you mean 5820K?

Good catch, fat-fingered the 4. Teach me to trust my typing on laptop chiclets.
 

deadlift1

[H]ard|Gawd
Joined
May 8, 2009
Messages
1,312
I enjoyed the intro and found myself laughing a few times, especially about your 2 year old and his plastic screwdriver.

Unsolicited advice (the best kind right?;) - ditch the dual bay pump/combo reservoir. They are a PITA to bleed properly and a major hassle to work with if one of your pumps dies. I speak from experience as I spent 6 hours on Friday morning/afternoon dealing with mine. I'd also invest in some quick disconnect fittings if your budget allows. They are a godsend when it comes to maintaining your loop and swapping out parts.

No more advice and enjoy the build!
 
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spugm1r3

[H]ard|Gawd
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Sep 28, 2012
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Got some great news today. My case has shipped! The build will soon begin in earnest.

By the way, thanks for the input on the res. I've been thinking the same thing about the hassle, plus the aesthetics may not jive. I may sell the bay res and put the proceeds towards another photon.
 
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deadlift1

[H]ard|Gawd
Joined
May 8, 2009
Messages
1,312
Got some great news today. My case has shipped! The build will soon begin in earnest.

By the way, thanks for the input on the res. I've been thinking the same thing about the hassle, plus the aesthetics may not jive. I may sell the bay res and put the proceeds towards another photon.

You will thank yourself in the long run. I actually like the way it looks but it is just such a pain in the ass when it comes to maintenance.

Looking forward to following this build.
 

spugm1r3

[H]ard|Gawd
Joined
Sep 28, 2012
Messages
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Breaking news! Fedex has invented time travel!



Now you can have your packages willed to by your grandparents. Instant family heirloom!

So it looks like the case should be here tomorrow. Including the case, I have something like 50+ pounds of hardware sitting in tubs, waiting to be assembled. I'm looking forward to finding out how many bad decisions, near fits, and changes of heart I have over the coming weeks. I'm going to be sorely disappointed if I get it all together and just feel... done.

Stay tuned.
 

spugm1r3

[H]ard|Gawd
Joined
Sep 28, 2012
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So I received the case last week and I finally got around to unpacking it and doing a quality check. I honestly haven't seen too many Caselabs unboxings, so for the uninitiated, here you go.

It’s hard to believe an S8 fits in this box.


First things first, the case comes flat packed, in a box roughly the size of my Haf XM. They tell you this on the website, but I wasn't really prepared for the implications of that statement. Flat packed means nothing is assembled. The top, the sides, front, back and bottom, everything but the hard drive cage and an internal bracing is a sheet of aluminum, punched, pressed and laid flat in the box. Rivets need not apply.

Caselabs shipping strikes me as fairly ethical, which I can appreciate. No peanuts or Styrofoam anywhere in the box. Granted, there is enough paper for a reprint of War and Peace, but it's all recyclable.

It’s like they robbed a kindergarten art class.


The only thing I have doubts about is the bags wrapped around each of the pieces (individually, mind you). If you've never dealt with Visqueen, imagine about a half dozen of those ESD bags your motherboard came in, pressed together in a single bag. It's the same stuff they use for the vapor barrier in your crawlspace and it does a great job protecting the pieces in shipping. There is something very fitting about using industrial strength materials to pack a Caselabs case.



As I said before, it is completely unassembled.




It's roughly akin to one of those wooden playground sets for your kids, a bunch of parts, a lot of hardware, and some hand stapled instructions on how to put it together.

Some light reading...


A breath of fresh air after getting so many cases with the requisite “box ‘o parts”.


But this is a BUILD LOG, right? All too often, I get a new case, and it simply feels like I'm filling it up with stuff. Rarely do you actually get to build the case.

The first two pieces assembled. There are 5 screws across the bottom, and one in either end.


Building the case is relatively simple and you could probably manage without the instructions. It's not IKEA simple, but it's still pretty obvious. There is a bag of countersunk screws, those go in the countersunk holes. Everything else basically snaps together. There are no rivets, so if anything is wobbly when you are done, you have no one to blame but yourself. I will say, due to excess finish built up in a few of the screw holes, some took a little more elbow grease than I would have liked. Aluminum threads and steel screws tend to lead towards bad results if you muscle them. I would recommend running a screw through all of the holes before assembling the case, just to clear the threads.

Look ma! No rivets!


One of the things I'm really excited about is the drop in radiator adapter. The idea is simple and ingenious. Rather than trying to assemble a radiator in place, which usually means removing the motherboard, or various other components, Caselabs has machined an adapter plate that screws in separately to the top. Remove the plate, attach the rad, then drop the whole thing back in the case. This also makes draining the loop a lot easier, you don't have to tip the case to drain the rads, just lift the plate.

A lot of the above photos are cell phone pics or shot in poor lighting, but I’ve waited long enough to post pics, so you will have to deal with the amateur pr0n. The next update should include some more shots of assembling the case and, perhaps, a bit of the hardware going inside as I start to fit test the components.

Stay tuned!
 
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spugm1r3

[H]ard|Gawd
Joined
Sep 28, 2012
Messages
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Well, I still haven't had a chance to finish assembling the case. Some inclement weather (read a week of below freezing) has kept me from working out in the garage on the bench, and putting it on my desk means cluttering the space where I'm supposed to be working on school stuff. It's a lot easier to stay focused when I can easily put the awesome away for a bit, a task made much more difficult by the size of the S8.

The last week was not without progress, however. I managed to bring my backup system up to speed to minimize the impact on my productivity (i.e. I installed all of my development tools and none of my Steam library :) ), which allowed me to take down the x99 and get to work installing some of the blocks.

I started with the memory blocks, which I know are gratuitous, but I think really lend to the overall appearance of the system. The XSPC memory blocks look pretty slick and are a breeze to put together. Couple that with the fact that, because I'm not using some fancy aftermarket memory kit in this build, it keeps my industry standard green PCBs from drawing too much attention, they are a real win.


The XPSC memory blocks come with everything you need to install the kit, including spacers if you are using low-rise DIMMs. It seems to me the heatsinks were probably designed with single-sided DIMMs in mind, as they bulge a bit at the bottom, but they otherwise fit fine. Installing them was a no brainer that didn't require really studying the directions or anything.


I have to say, I'm a big fan how they pair up with the Deluxe's color scheme. Once I get the CPU block in place, I will be able to start mapping out the fittings/bends required to get them in the loop. My only pseudo-regret here is the fact that the copper plate on the waterblock is so obvious. Nickel would have looked a bit better, probably, but I was pretty shy of anything with nickel plating, given everything I read about the issues with EK blocks. Oh well.


I also had a chance to start building up the 780s with the Razors and backplates. It did make me a little sad to remove the ACX coolers, they are a pretty slick bit of aircooling goodness, but 3-way SLI is not friendly to air, and even less so to the ACX.


Word of warning, installing the Razor with the backplate is not as straightforward as the memory blocks and required a bit of redneck and a helping hand. Honestly, I've assembled 2 out of 3 now, and I'm still not entirely certain everything went together correctly.

My son lending a hand

The waterblock and backplate come seperately boxed with separate instructions that don't take the other in consideration, so you end up with a bit of extra hardware and some decisions to make about spacers and thermal tape. Though your results may differ, if you try to install everything that comes in both boxes, you will end up with some spacing issues that prevent the waterblock from making good contact with the GPU and the components. Be sure to do a visual check after you've installed everything to ensure a good mating between the block and all of the pertinent parts.




The Razor waterblock is a slick, heavyweight piece of hardware and the thought of hanging three of them from the Deluxe makes me really happy I went with a case with a horizontal motherboard tray. All of the XSPC waterblocks come with LEDs and I'm pretty pumped about how the lighting is going to work in the final product.


Special thanks to my son for helping clean the paste off and for not popping any caps when you got a hold of the screwdriver while I was in the bathroom.

"Go away daddy, I gotta do my homework

Next week should hopefully see an assembled case, potentially some test-fitting of components, and perhaps some DSLR photos from a tripod (instead of cellphone/point-and-shoot in my over-caffeinated hands). Thanks for keeping up!
 

spugm1r3

[H]ard|Gawd
Joined
Sep 28, 2012
Messages
1,153
So it’s been a while since I’ve been able to post anything, life and all that jazz. Honestly, the amount of work I’ve been able to put in on the build has been pretty minimal. Despite that, I have made some progress and I’m pretty excited about how this is turning out.
I’m in the process of test fitting all the components and getting an idea how everything is going to look together, see if there are any changes that need to be made.




The three way SLI is looking pretty sharp! Despite appearances, that isn’t a scratch, the brushed aluminum picks up just about everything. The contrast, however, between the chassis and the components is fantastic.




I picked up some high flow bridges, which are pretty slick. It’s got me thinking I may pick up a couple more and fill them with epoxy, just for the symmetry.




If you are planning on hooking up three cards with these XSPC high flow bridges, I would recommend installing them on the middle card first. There are four screws for either end of the bridge and they are blocked by the outer cards unless you have a 90 degree Philips on hand. Using one is clunky and unnecessary with a little planning.

Originally I planned on running two separate loops, and I may yet, but as of right now I’m scaling back a touch due to size constraints. I’m running push/pull on the two 360mm radiators, which has forced some sacrifices. I have to remove one fan to place the photon 170 at the front. I also don’t have the room to put the 240mm rad in the front slot and the dual bay res/pump with this configuration. I could remedy the problem by getting the extended top cover, or not running push/pull, but I don’t care for the extra height and I’m betting on a higher efficiency and lower complexity. I’ll try and post some pictures to explain what I mean and we’ll see if my speculations match reality once the loop is up and running.

Thanks for the interest!
 

S[H]ady

Gawd
Joined
Mar 15, 2001
Messages
858
excellent build so far!

Have you seen the EKWB mosfet cooler for your board?
You've gone this far, I would keep going!
 

AthlonXP

Fully [H]
Joined
Oct 14, 2001
Messages
20,490
Oh wow this machine looks like its going to be a fun build once done. What monitor are you using to drive those 780's?
 

spugm1r3

[H]ard|Gawd
Joined
Sep 28, 2012
Messages
1,153
Hey everyone, I appreciate the interest! It's been roughly two months since I posted the last update and, while work has continued, time constraints have made it extremely difficult to get good pictures and track the progress properly. Between finals, the holidays, an unexpected death in the family, waiting on parts I didn't realize I needed, and an overwhelming desire to spend what little free time I've had with my son, the build has taken a bit of a back seat. This will be a short update, with a longer one soon to follow, and short on the eye candy (sadly).

But the months have not been fruitless! I have learned a few things over the course of the build:

  1. Watercooling is easier than I thought.
  2. Watercooling is more expensive than I thought.
  3. Watercooling is more time intensive than I thought.
  4. Watercooling requires more planning I thought.
  5. Watercooling is more fun than I thought.

Seriously though, I can't emphasize enough about TIME and PLANning. Your watercooling loop and your pocketbook will appreciate it. I spent a good 6 months thinking about this build before I started it, then purchased everything I thought I needed, and didn't already have, in about a day and a half. This was a mistake. I ended up with 240mm rad and a dual bay res I can't really use, a number of fittings I didn't need, a number of fittings I still needed, and a wishlist I really can't justify.




I also failed to give enough consideration to the room required by the parts and the compromises that would ensue:

I was deadset on using the Photon 170, and I was deadset on making it visible through the side windows. I was also pretty insistent on setting up push/pull for the rads. In order to make all of this work together, I had to put the Photon 170 on the upper platform and I needed to remove one of the fans. The radiator drop-in mount for the S8 is not entirely flat, I'm guessing to accommodate the hardware for the radiators. In order to ensure clearance above the reservoir, I flipped the mount around, but this means the low-profile top that comes with the case no longer works as intended. I'm going to measure the clearance between reservoir and the radiator to see if I can flip it around, but I may be stuck paying for the extra tall (36mm) top. The flipside is, I may be able to put the top fans outside of the case, opening up enough room to add that last fan back in.




2. I did not think long enough about placement and tubing for the loop. Because of this, filling the system was a monumental pain in the ass. Thinking myself intelligent, I piped in a fillport and drain. The reservoir being one of the lowest components in the system, I figured everything would drain towards it, then I could jog the pump to push fluid to the rest of the system. Between the fillport and the drain, I should have no problem venting any air.

Wrong. Since the top of the reservoir was inaccessible, piping the fillport there was out of the question. I piped it in at one of the 360mm reservoirs. This was all well and good, except the place I hooked up at is directly above the line coming FROM the reservoir, meaning the flow was going nowhere. Now, I could have swapped some lines and made everything right, but that whole TIME and PLANning thing I mentioned earlier meant I was trying not to backtrack wherever possible. Needless to say, I ended up doing exactly what I had hoped to avoid.

What ensued was a series of tilts in myriad directions to get the water to all of the components. The bonus was my two year old had fun squirting water into the fillport while saying "Slowly" over and over again (I think he was mocking me). It took more time than I planned, but at least I had a good partner for the frustration. Moral of the story, plan your loop. I don't think my notion of the reservoir location was wrong. Obviously, using a reservoir without a pump attached and placed higher than the rest of the components could work well for maintaining some passive head pressure, but location was less of an issue than the tubing. My two cents, wherever you are filling from, have it drain to the intake side of your reservoir. This will make it easier to feed fluid to the rest of your system with the pump.

I'm running the leak test now. It's currently piped with some clear 7/16ID-5/8OD, which doesn't look bad, but I have a good 10ft of white Primochill that I plan to replace it all with once I can run test and verify temps. In the meantime, this will give me a chance to cut and sleeve the cables to avoid any space constraints with the tubing. I have some black, white and neon blue sleeving that I need to play with and I'm not sure if I will use it all or just stick with the black and white. The blue gives it something of Tron look, which wouldn't be bad if I didn't mind putting 90-degree turns on all of the cabling. We'll see. Just as this is a watercooling first, it is a sleeving first as well, and my lack of skill may exceed my imagination.

Really, at this point, I need to get the system up and running so I can start playing with clocks and figuring out if I have any showstoppers with the current hardware. The end goal is an aesthetically pleasing build, for sure, but a fancy paint job gets you nowhere without a working engine.

@S[H]ady, I have seen the blocks but I was pretty set on sticking with a single vendor for aesthetics. If they had done something like what they did for the X79 boards, I might have been swayed.

@AthlonXP, currently I have 3 HP 2311xi in a surround setup, but I have a Dell U2713HMT on the way that's going to change things up, I think.

@marezmichael, here you go :)

If you read this far, then you know this wasn't nearly as short as I intended. I promise to post more pr0n next time. Thanks for the interest and stay tuned!
 

spugm1r3

[H]ard|Gawd
Joined
Sep 28, 2012
Messages
1,153
Mini-update:

I got the system up and running. I'm just running through some checks before I do anything crazy with the clocks and the like. I came across a couple of unexpected issues:

  • Powering on - I had an issue powering on the system that I traced back to a custom switch I made to knock the 12V going to the radiator fans to 7V. I'm guessing it has something to do with self-checks that the power supply goes through when powering up, but the main relay cycles over and over if the switch is set to 7V. I can switch it 7V immediately after powering up with no issues, but this is clearly not a tenable long term solution.
    I may build a custom controller with a time delay to switch over to 7V after the system has booted, or, for something more intelligent, maybe use my Raspberry Pi to control it. We'll see.
  • Noise - The radiator pump is more noticeable than I want. I have a feeling it has something to do with the way I mounted it, but it is resonating through the chassis. It's actually not that loud, but it hits a certain frequency that is extremely difficult to ignore. I'm going to throw a foam pad underneath the base and try to put some larger washers on the mounting hardware to see if that settles it out.
  • Temps - Temperatures on the whole are frickin' stellar, with one glaring exception. One of the video cards appears not to have mated all that well with the block. I used PrecisionX to monitor GPU temps and running 3DMark to exercise the cards sends the temps on one card skyrocketing.
    The downside is, I'm going to have to drain the system to pull the card. Ugh. On the plus side, it is the bottom card in the system. Since I used the XSPC high flow connectors, I should be able to simply unscrew the last card without removing anything else from the system. It could be worse and highlights the fact I should have taken the advice of some other builders here and assembled the loop prior to installing it, for the sake of checking this very thing.

All in all though, not terrible. I have some things to keep me busy over the next week or so, not counting Statistics and Theory of Computation.
 

Jorona

2[H]4U
Joined
Nov 6, 2011
Messages
3,546
Its because your inlet is going right into the outlet for the next card. It's getting 0 water flow.
 

spugm1r3

[H]ard|Gawd
Joined
Sep 28, 2012
Messages
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@Jorona, bingo! The exact thing I discovered yesterday when decided to take a hard look at the loop. Classic rookie mistake, I was too busy ensuring the aesthetics to pay attention to the mechanics. I drained the loop yesterday and I may take the opportunity to fix some of the other mistakes that made it so difficult to fill and, consequently drain. Thanks for the input!
 

spugm1r3

[H]ard|Gawd
Joined
Sep 28, 2012
Messages
1,153
So quick update... again. It seems I never have the time to do this proper justice. But so it goes.

As usual, my assistant had to give his hands on approval. We swapped out the clear tubing for some white Primochill LRT, which I think looks a lot better. I had to drain the system anyway, to fix a bonehead mistake on the GPUs, so it seemed like a good time to make it happen.


I'm happy to report temps are rock solid at this point in time. I haven't overclocked anything yet, but looping Firestrike saw the temps level off in just a few minutes, with no more than 10C increase from idle. I also saw a score over 17k at stock, which is the first time that has happened in my house. Rad.



More to come. Thanks for the interest.
 
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