Notice: This is not a build guide, but a relatively detailed build log/story. I am also open to suggestions for the real build name, as Frosty is just a placeholder that I needed in order to publish the guide.
Even though most of the main components got changed, this is actually a Christmas upgrade of my old system. I want to mention most of the components, as there is a story behind most of what you see. Here are a few of them:
- i7 4790k
- Asus Z97-A
- HyperX 16GB, 2x8 kit
- Fractal Design Define R5
- 2x 256GB Samsung 850 Pros in Raid 0 for the OS and apps
- Crucial MX300 750 GB for games and commonly accessed docs/data
- 2x WD Green 2TB 2.5 HDDs - one for Windows archival data and one with a lot of MacOS data (for some time I was dual-booting Win & Mac)
- Be quiet! PowerZone 750W Fully Modular PSU
- MSI GTX N760 TwinFrozr
- A combo Blu-ray optical drive, obviously not used very often, but nice to have.
The system was very quick, quite functional and what I liked the most - nearly silent when idle. The only thing that was disturbing my peace were the fans on the GTX 760.
In the beginning of December I decided that I want to both step up the GPU game a bit and to further silence the machine, so I got the ROG 1060 and replaced the old N760. I got the old one mainly because it was Hackintosh-compatible back at the time. I thought that would be the only, tini-tiny update which I'd do. I couldn't have been (much) more wrong :)
Around Christmas I guess I had too much free time and watched too many videos from famous tech YouTubers and I decided that it's finally time for me to put together something that would proudly sit on the desk next to me, instead of on the ground.
The initial plan was to get a windowed side-panel for the R5 and only replace the MB, CPU and Ram. Because of the white internal elements of the case and the infamous Z170-A, I decided that I want to have a white build.
However, after watching some more videos and having some more free time, I decided that I would go a bit further, so the H115i AiO cooler and the Samsung 960 NVME found their place on my shopping list. As a part of the PC master race, I wanted to overclock the 6700k as much as possible and I have been a fan of quick storage for quite a while and the Samsung 960 Pro was my dream, but it was too expensive. Realizing that the 960 Evo is something that actually exists and is much cheaper, happened to be the reason to get the drive, even though it was not in my initial list.
I got the parts from three different shops, as Vienna, Austria does not seem to be overflown with enthusiast hardware and I couldn't wait for Amazon to deliver them. It was time to build the whole thing. The only thing I did not get at that point was the windowed panel for the case.
I started by removing the old components, which were about to be replaced and moving them into another basic case. This included the CPU, CPU cooler, MB, RAM, GPU and one of the 850 Pros, as because of having the NVME drive, I didn't need Raid 0 anymore. The only thing I needed to actually complete the system was a PSU and I got a 500W Cooler Master, just so I have a working system, which I can either use or sell. But anyway, this is not why you are here.
After everything that was left on the Define R5 was the PSU, fans and drives (HDD, SSD and ODD). Then I started the build process in the following order:
- First I installed the CPU, RAM and NVME drive onto the motherboard.
- I put the motherboard within the case
- and continued connecting all of the cables.
- After most things were in place, cable managed and tidy, it was time to proceed with the water cooler.
- The last step was supposed to be to put the graphics card in and be finished.
The plan was to mount the cooler on the top of the case - after all the Define R5 is made for that. However, this is where my plan almost failed and I panicked quite a bit.
My first issue was that the rear 140 mm fan that comes with the case was in the way of the cooler. Considering that the R5 is supposed to be able to handle a 360 rad, I thought that I would just mount the radiator assembly a bit further in the case and avoid the clearance issues. This didn't work though - the screw holes on the "roof" of the case didn't allow me to put the radiator in a random location - it needed to go at the back of the case. Alright, I surrendered and removed the fan. That's not that tragic at all, but I was disappointed, mainly because the fan is white and was I wanted it to be a part of the color scheme - a white fan next to the white IO cover of the Z170-A. So disappointing...
Then I got to the next, bigger issue - the ODD cage was in the way. What?! Again, the Define R5 is supposed to be able to fit a 280 radiator on the top without removing the ODD cage. I decided to consult myself with the mighty internet. I started with Corsair's page for the cooler. First I opened the page and read the title: "Hydro Series™ H115i 280mm Extreme Performance Liquid CPU Cooler". Okay... Let's go to the "Tech Specs" tab, after all I consider myself a technical person. There is no actual size there, it just says "Fan Specification: 140mm (x2)". I went back to the overview tab, scrolled to the bottom and was shocked: "Radiator dimensions: 140mm x 312mm x 26mm". Yes, those 32 millimeters screwed me over badly.
At this point I was mad at Corsair, but I was too eager to see the whole thing working and I had already unpacked the cooler, mounted the fans on the radiator (leaving tiny "scratched" circles around the screw holes) and there was a small chip on one of the radiator fins from before that. So I couldn't and didn't really want to return the cooler. And it's expensive, even if I tried to re-sell it (which I consider nearly impossible), I would be losing money. It was time to consider putting the cooler in the front of the case, but this also wasn't really an option - 312 mm were too many for the front radiator-mounting bracket and I would've needed to remove the HDD cage, which also was not really an option. Okay cooler, you won this round. I removed the ODD cage, along with the ODD, which costed me nearly 100 bucks.
The radiator finally got mounted to the top of the case. There was finally some light, presumably near the end of the tunnel. I had removed the fans from the radiator, while trying to figure out where to mount it, so it was time to attach them again. I started with the front one and the distance between the radiator and the RAM heat-sinks was less than a millimeter, which didn't look awesome, but was working. I proceeded to mount the rear radiator fan and again - surprise! Because of the IO cover on the motherboard, I couldn't mount the fan. I was about to kill someone. After removing the radiator, trying out a few other placement options and what not, I came to the conclusion that the radiator simply has to be there. With some heavy force, I managed to push the fan into the IO cover enough to be able to screw it in. This is at least the 3th or 4th personal machine that I am assembling and I had never ever needed to use force, let alone that much of it, in order to to fit a part somewhere.
Anyway, the system was almost "complete". The last thing to do was to put the GPU in place, close the case and connect the peripherals. I really disliked the fact that I needed to remove the ODD cage, but at least there was a machine, which I could use. It was finally time to enjoy it.
Noise! The SP140L fans made me fear that the computer would take of vertically, just as a helicopter. Seriously, I knew that water cooling cannot be that quiet, but come on - this is unacceptable! I got through with the Windows install and my first job was to install Corsair Link and try to decrease the RPMs on those fans and happily it worked. Still, the system was putting out more than 35 db of noise, which by my standards, was still way too loud. But hey - not much to do at the moment, let's proceed.
After installing all required drivers and a few small programs, I got to the conclusion that normal usage of the machine is not faster at all. Even though I was not expecting miracles in Windows Explorer, I thought the machine should be at least quicker when booting, but this was not really the case. I ran a disk benchmark and realized that the speeds of the 960 Evo were about 1 GB/s, both read and write. Again, hum... After some tinkering within the BIOS, I finally managed to get the drive into PCIe mode and damn, those benchmark speeds were amazing. However, I was still not experiencing any real performance improvements - boot time was the same as on a single normal SSD, apps didn't launch faster, nothing. It turns out that after a certain point, performance is simply underutilized and there's not much point in faster hardware, unless you are really putting it though its paces. I will get deeper into this later.
Window time (not exactly)
It was finally time to purchase the last part - a windowed side panel for the case. It was the only part, which was not physically available in the city, so I was about to purchase it though Amazon. It turned out that the panel is not a Prime item, so I would need to spend nearly 50 bucks on it and wait 3 weeks for it to arrive. More disappointment.
I considered my situation: I had the Define R5 case, but I needed to remove the ODD cage, which made the front extremely blank and pretty much useless. Additionally, one of the biggest features of the case, the silence, was already sacrificed, as I needed to remove two out of the three ModuVent covers from the top of the case and listen to the H115i fans all of the time. Also, removing the white fan from the back of the case meant that there isn't much white in there either, so the theme of the build was almost compromised - I'd be left with the white LED on the CPU pump and the white IO cover, that's all. I didn't like how the fan on the radiator was pushing the motherboard either.
The next day was spent in looking around for smaller cases, which would do the job for me. My first focus was the NZXT S340 and to be honest, I don't really recall why I dismissed it. Probably it was not in stock and I was too impatient. After some more digging, I wasn't finding anything that I really like - either too cheap, too ugly, too big or incompatible with the cooler.
I decided to browse through Corsair's website (even though I hated them a bit at this point) to see what's happening: If someone was about to be able to fit that cooler properly, that would be it's manufacturer (spoiler: yeah, right...). I stumbled upon the Carbide 400C and it actually seemed lie an awesome choice:
- It has a nearly full side-panel window.
- There is a white variant (the theme in our flat is white, boring, I know).
- There are two slots for 3.5 drives, which is exactly what I need.
- The radiator goes on the front, but there is no HDD/ODD column, so the case wouldn't look empty.
- There is the PSU shroud, which hides all PCU and HDD ugliness. In my case this was awesome news, because the Be quiet! power cables are pretty ugly.
- The "Compatible Corsair Liquid Coolers" section included the H110 and I was under the impression, that the H115 is pretty much a re-branded version of the same thing. Yay!
I ordered the case, along with 2x 140mm and 1x 120mm "quiet" white-LED fans, to match the build and bring the noise down a bit.
Migration number two
This part is awful, but at the moment I don't have the required amount of energy to continue the story. You can expect a continuation very soon, which will include the rest of the topics.
... to be continued