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Friday, September 2, 2011

Art Nouveaux Case Mod, Part 5

The wood shell is just about complete except for some final details. Feet were finished out and glued onto the bottom plate. Once the wood glue had set, the bottom panel and feet were lightly sanded and sealed.

Air, Water, or a bit of both?
A second fan hole is made in the bottom of the case and positioned to direct air across the hard drive cage. Using a photocopy fan template, holes for mounting screws are drilled at the corners, and a 4.5" circular opening cut using a hole-saw. Unlike the top fan hole that is positioned under the decorative carving, the bottom fan cuts through both metal and wood. A wire grill is mounted over the opening to keep fingers out of the spinning blades.

After cleaning the case again, the power supply and drives are installed in the bays. Some shuffling may occur before I am done, but this is necessary to figure out cable runs and get the system ready for the first POST. I installed the motherboard in the tray after changing out the North Bridge heat sinks and attaching the frame for a Zalman CPU cooler.

If I was using the factory heat sinks, and Intel CPU solution, everything could be attached with the motherboard installed in the tray or case. Keep in mind that you put a fair amount of pressure on the stock Intel heat sink when you are snapping the retaining clips through the motherboard. I prefer to install the CPU and heatsink into the board before mounting it in the case to avoid stressing or damaging the motherboard later.

Air cooling considerations
The Zalman CPU cooler requires the installation of a two-part mounting bracket with one piece behind the motherboard, and the mounting bracket screwed through the board from the front. Some case designs have an opening in the approximate location of the CPU, allowing you to access the bottom of the board without first removing it from the case. If you don't have this feature (like this Foxconn case), then you will have to pull the system board to attach the bracket assembly.

The Gigabyte motherboard uses passive (no fan) cooling for the North Bridge, South Bridge, and voltage regulators. Some after market coolers are available for common chipsets, but how your manufacturer mounted their stock cooler will determine if you can easily replace this.

The power supply wires are not sleeved except for the motherboard connector, so I used some blue split-loom tubing to cover the multicolored wires running around the case. To add a bit of blue color on the motherboard itself, I replaced the yellow North Bridge heatsink with one of the larger Zalman North Bridge passive heatsinks (just visible below the copper-colored CPU heat sink.)

[caption id="attachment_478" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="POST (Power On Self Test) is done with a Zalman CPU cooler. Exposed wires from the power supply are concealed with blue split-loom tubing."]case interior[/caption]

Water cooling considerations:
Water cooling usually requires some sort of CPU bracket or nut-and-bolt configuration mounted through the motherboard first. To install a water cool kit, most everything has to come out of the case again.

Other considerations include where to mount the pump, radiator, and reservoir, and any other custom liquid cool components such as hard drive cooling blocks, flow indicators, thermal sensors, etc. You may need to consider where water hoses must be able to run, especially if you choose to mount the radiator or other component outside of the case.

Mounting everything internally to the case is probably one of the more difficult projects, only because most computer cases are not designed with enough clearance around the fan opening to mount the radiator. You might be able to make room to mount it on the top or front if you are willing to give up drive bay expansion or are ready to rearrange their placement.

Water cooling in the "Demonic" FoxConn case would be difficult without totally removing the plastic hard drive assembly or mounting the radiator on the outside of the case.

Challenges you would encounter installing your first water cool system would probably have hose connections are at the top of the list. Related concerns will include how much hose will you need, getting all of the necessary parts, getting the correct fittings, and also what order should you make those connections.

[caption id="attachment_480" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Reduce the anxiety during a first-time water cool build by using a kit."]water cooling kit[/caption]

One way to minimize these issues and reduce or eliminate your anxiety might be to start with a water cooling kit for your first project. This is probably the easiest way to make sure that you are not leaving anything out and that you have a series of step-by-step instructions to work from. Don't get me wrong, even with a kit, you still have to make some choices, like where to mount the radiator and pump, and you will still have several opportunities to cut the hoses too short or too long.

[caption id="attachment_482" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="What's in the Bigwater kit? Clockwise from the bottom left: Instructions, top and bottom brackets, drive bay reservoir, bottle of UV reactive coolant, radiator, CPU cooling block, pump, and UV reactive green tubing."]water cooling kit parts[/caption]

To give you a better idea of what this means, I chose to use a Thermaltake Bigwater kit in the Nouveaux Mod case. This worked out for internal mounting, only because of the severe modifications I made to the side panel and latch. The latch mechanism would have been visible through the glass side panel, so I removed it. To make the radiator fit, I had to take out the small hinge and lock tabs as well. Finally, the only reason the Thermaltake radiator can fit inside is that the clearance around the edge of their radiator is much smaller than those found in the Swiftech, Danger Den, or similar radiators.

One disadvantage of this kit is the small hose size and reduced water flow from the pump as a result. It would be easy enough to add additional components like a flow meter or other cooling blocks, but for this project, I chose to keep it simple by only using the parts included in the kit for cooling just the CPU.

The instructions that come in the kit are tiny, but are illustrated and contain the detailed step-by-step process for installing the components. They start with mounting the CPU cooling block using a metal back-plate, insulated with foam and Mylar pads, and held in place to the system board with a series of bolts with insulating washers and nuts.

case interior

Step 1. The CPU is installed, thermal compound spread over the surface, and then the copper water block placed in position. Another bracket holds the block centered and is held in place with four more nuts.

Step 2. The manual shows you how the radiator can be mounted, either inside the case or outside. In either configuration, the cooling fan is attached to move air from inside the case across the radiator's cooling fins. I installed the radiator in the rear, with a green LED illuminated fan attached to the radiator.

Step 3. The reservoir included in the kit is installed an open 5.25" drive bay, keep in mind, you need to be able to slide this out of the bay to fill with fluid. (That turns out to be a real pain with the Nouveaux Case Mod; the front panel must be removed to pull this out far enough to fill.)

Step 4. The pump can be installed most anywhere, so I positioned it in the relatively clear space above the expansion card slots.

Step 5. Cut and connect the hoses. (Shown here in four steps)

water cooling installation
Step 5a. Attach a length of hose between the CPU block and the radiator.
I chose to connect the hose to the outside connection to minimize the curve
with the hose. If bent too sharply, it will eventually kink unless you have
something like an internal spring or external spiral wrap to keep the bend

water cooling install


Step 5b. Attach a length of hose between the reservoir intake and
your second connector of the radiator. The reservoir has two connections;
the intake is located higher on the tank, about even, or slightly above the
recommended "full" water line. The output of the reservoir is lower,
and well below the recommended fill level.

water cooling install


Step 5c. Connect the reservoir output to the pump's intake. This connection order means that the reservoir supplies a constant source of liquid to the pump, and water returning to the reservoir can release any trapped air bubbles before returning to circulation.

water cooling install


Step 5d. Connect the pump's output to the remaining CPU block connector.


[caption id="attachment_490" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Add coolant and run the pump until all of the air is out of the lines. Then you are ready to turn on the computer. If you don't clear the air and get the fluid flowing, the CPU can overheat and shut down to protect itself."]water cooling install[/caption]

Step 6. Fill the reservoir, watching for any leaks at the connections. Connect the pump to a power supply and briefly start it to begin moving fluid through the lines and radiator. Add more fluid and repeat. Use a stand-alone power supply to run the pump until you clear all of the air from the line.

BYO Testing Tip: How to turn on a stand-alone power supply 
On a computer power supply that has the ATX-20 or 24 pin connector with color-coded wires, you should see a single green wire You can use a paper clip or piece of wire to short this pin to one of the black wires. When the supply is plugged in and turned on, it should power on full without being attached to a system board.

Alternative to shorting pins: Use a Power Supply test module. These
connect to the 20/24 pin connector and perform the same operation, and also show you with LED lights or meter that the supply is working.

The actual order of flow through your cooling blocks and radiator is not too critical, but there are some common sense rules, such as passing the hottest water (from a block) into a radiator before going through another block, or at least cooling the hottest parts first.

If you were to add graphic card, chipset, memory or hard drive cooling, you might want to use more than one radiator to have the coolest possible fluid passing through the blocks. Using larger tubing and a more powerful pump will also improve the overall efficiency of a water-cool solution.

I would also arrange the flow through the most critical, then the greatest heat sources first. A reasonable sequence would be CPU, then graphics card, then chipset, memory, and last, the hard drives. Hard drives may generate more heat than chipset or memory, but since they usually are air-cooled without any fins, and should be less critical of the need.

Next time: Nouveaux Case Mod wrap up with lighting and effects.

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