My new PC has been up and running for a few days, but it didn't really feel complete until today. First, I just wanted to get it up and running while I waited for the graphics card I wanted to ultimately install. And that card came set for watercooling out of the box, which meant I would need to install a liquid cooling system in the PC, and I needed to wait for those parts as well...
I started on it a bit last night and finished up today. Everything is working great and I'm thrilled! Liquid cooling is one of those projects where it's really scary the first time you attempt it on your own. Kind of like building a PC itself, I suppose. But things went really smoothly and better than I expected! There were a few hiccups here and there that will serve as lessons for next time, I suppose.
I got help with a few parts as birthday presents thanks to ndoto!
CPU - quad core 2.66 GHz or so
RAM - 12 GBs (6 x 2GB sticks)
Hard drive - 160 GB SSD
GPU - Nvidia GeForce 480
OS - Windows 7 64-bit
Case - Thermaltake Armor+
Other - Liquid cooling system, Nvidia 3D Vision, Blu-ray writer drive
I wanted to make it more of a gaming PC, and also compatible with Nvidia 3D Vision. I was really wowed by the demo I saw (I think it was at PAX?) and I really wanted to try it out. I originally wanted to go with the GeForce 295 for the video card, but the 480s just came out and I found it a little hard to resist. The model I got was from EVGA and came overclocked and ready for water cooling right out of the box!
I wanted to try Windows 7 for whatever reason, and figured it was about time to step up to 64-bit (or else all the extra RAM would've gone to waste). I'm really liking Windows 7 so far! I never owned a machine with Vista on it, so I kinda skipped a generation. It just feels snazzy and clean and fast and I haven't had any problems so far, aside from Nero 7 not being compatible (but luckily Windows 7 had out-of-the-box burning software that did the trick).
For the hard drive, I really wanted to go with a SSD drive for the speed boost it would provide for gaming. 160 GB isn't a large hard drive in general, but I have an external drive and I plan to build a Windows Home Server later on to serve as my main place of storage. Once you start using multiple computers, it really feels necessary to have a central hub for everything...
As for the case... First, I managed to find a better price for this on Mwave. It's not quite a NewEgg killer, but when they have what you're looking for, odds are it'll be an awesome price. NewEgg doesn't always have the lowest prices anymore! Second, I went for this because I really liked the look of it, and no other case I looked at seemed to compare. After messing with it, I can say it's not the greatest case in the world... It has a lot of great features, but is just not user-friendly enough. I don't regret using this case since it is what I wanted, aesthetics-wise, but I think in the future I will try sticking with other brands like Cooler Master.
It would have been great if only they told you which screws were meant to go in which parts of the case. One neat feature they had was two extra hard drive cages at the bottom of the case, which could be removed to make room for extra fans -- either 120mm or 140mm. And there are holes to accommodate either size fan, but they are NOT marked. You have to figure it out for yourself.
The tool-less design for the hard drive cages and 5.25 drive bays work great, though. The removable hard drive tray is a great touch. And being able to slide a support bar under your power supply unit for a custom fit? That's crazy. I also like the connections on the front upper side of the case (USB, eSATA, etc.).
What I didn't really get was the sliding tray on the top. It slides away to reveal a storage tray, and you can remove this to open access to the inside of your case and see the top 5.25 bay drive. I think, if you get the matching Thermaltake LCS kit, you can refill it this way without ever opening your case... Otherwise it's kinda useless. I was hoping to be able to install an extra fan here, to push air up and out of the case... it's actually the PERFECT SIZE for a 140mm fan. But considering it's partly blocked by the 5.25 bays, partly wide open for debris to fall into the case when open, and completely blocked off when closed... It didn't seem like a great idea.
However, I did end up MacGyvering an extra fan to the inside top of the case... It seemed like the perfect spot, since the bottom fans would be pushing air up in that direction, and there were plenty of vent holes in the top. I used some adhesive velcro strips to secure an extra 140mm fan up there. It doesn't even look out of place since you can barely see where it is!
As for the water cooling system... I originally thought about going with a kit, but the more I learned about it, the more confident I felt that I could piece together things on my own. I needed:
-waterblocks for each component to cool
-a reservoir (optional, but I felt it was necessary)
I got a variable speed pump that was small enough to fit inside the case (it's the thing that came with the adhesive velcro). My GPU already came with a waterblock, and I wanted to cool my CPU as well so I got one for that. I went with 10 feet of tygon tubing -- I wasn't really sure how much tubing to order. I was afraid it wouldn't be enough but I think it was just right. I actually had way more than enough (I may have used close to 6 feet?).
I got a reservoir that fit into a 5.25 drive bay, which seemed neat. It had two holes drilled for LEDs (included in the order), but there's nothing to secure them so I ended up taping the LEDs in place. One lesson I learned was to MAKE SURE IT WAS FILLED AND CLOSED UP TIGHT BEFORE TESTING. I kept it open, thinking I could fill extra coolant in as needed. I don't know WHAT happened but it formed tons of tiny foamy air bubbles, coolant started splashing out (even though it wasn't enough to overflow), and the pump began choking on air. I'm not sure if I would've run into similar problems with a different style or bigger reservoir. However, once set up properly, it is working perfectly.
The radiator, though, gave me the most headaches... After all my research, it was the component I felt I knew the least about. Even now I wish I knew more about them. I figured I would get a small model, the size to fit over a single 120mm fan. Not the most efficient, but enough to suffice for my project, I thought... But I couldn't figure out how to attach it properly to my case. Maybe it needed a special case, or some sort of mounting bracket. I got it to work, but it didn't seem the way it was intended.
I mounted it on the outside of the case, on the back, over the 120mm exhaust fan that came in the case. I luckily found two punch-out holes in the back of the case, right where the tubing would go, so I figured the case was prepared for water cooling. I figured I'd place the radiator's in/out barbs in the holes and then screw it into place somehow. But the holes were a little too far apart! Luckily my step-father had some tools to help me embiggen those holes for the water cooling tubes.
But of course, it wouldn't line up with any pre-made screw holes. So I ended up (yes, again) using the adhesive velcro. So it's secured to the case via the structure of the tubes/barbs and velcro. Another MacGyver-ish stunt...
I'm not sure how a bigger radiator would attach to the case. I know some don't attach at all, but rather, are relatively free-standing. But I like the idea of keeping everything together in one cohesive package... I wonder if there's a way to find how other radiators would attach to a computer case short of actually buying them and experimenting.
But all in all, I love the end result, and you couldn't tell things were so haphazardly slapped together. It works! I love the blue coolant I got, and the blue LEDs in the reservoir, the case's front and side intake fans, and the PSU. Also, the three 140mm fans I added have white LEDs. I just really love this setup! It should be built to last for years to come.