A Mod Goes Modding, v2.0


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Evolution of a system – Brian Berryman

“I’ve had the privilege of being a member of the Overclockers.com Forums since December, 2000. I stumbled across the website, and the Forums there, while searching for some info about building my first PC. What I have learned here is tremendous. The friendships I have made are awesome. In a million years, I couldn’t repay what has been freely given me. The closest I can come is to pass along the knowledge given to me to those who follow, the way it was done for me. “Freely ye have received, freely give”.

Brian Berryman, 10/1/2002.

When I wrote these words a year ago, they reflected my feelings towards this website, the Forums, and all of the people associated with them.

These words still ring true to this day. Thank you, again.

Alien

He’s baaaack!!

This little plastic fellow has been in my main computer for over a year now. He’s seen air and water cooling, GeForce 2’s to 4’s graphics cards in my AGP slot, generic PC2100 DDR to the present Dual Channel Corsair XMS PC3200, several motherboards, various optical and hard drives, paint, lights, and God knows what else. With my constant tinkering and tweaking, he is one of the few (if not the only) items that remain from when I built the first version of the “O/C Tribute Rig”.

If he could speak, oh the stories he could tell…. =)

Well, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get into the proper mindset for fragging a computer case.

Flag

[OCG] Mr_B: “I’ve got the flag!” =)


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Brian Berryman – aka “Mr B”, Overclockers Forums Moderator.

The Computer System Itself

The computer itself is fairly straight forward, with only a few upgrades: the addition of a passive heatsink on the MOSFETs and sticking an old i486 HSF (heatsink and fan) on the Southbridge chipset. You can read more about these mods HERE.

I also added a window to the side panel of the Chieftec Dragon Series mid-tower case I built this system in, and details of that procedure can be found HERE.

Full system specifications are detailed at the end of this article, so I’ll just hit the highlights here.

The system is built upon Abit’s NF7-S v2.0 motherboard, which uses the nVidia nForce2 chipset. This board is laden with more features than you can shake a stick at. An AMD XP2100+ Thoroughbred “B” cored CPU currently resides in the Socket “A”. A full gig (1024MB) of Corsair XMS PC3200 spec DDR (two 512MB sticks) runs in Dual Channel mode.

For graphics, I’m currently using an nVidia GeForce 4 Ti4200 series card, and as I type this, it’s the “bottleneck” in my system. Once I can upgrade to a card that can utilize the onboard AGP 3.0 (8x AGP) capabilities, amongst other things (DX9 for one), I’m certain this system will really come alive (not that it’s a “slouch” now, by any means…LOL). I’m hoping an ATI 9700 Pro will find its way into this system in the near future (or a 9800 Pro, but that’s less likely, given the current retail price).

And it’s watercooled. This part of the machine is what really sets it apart from anything I’ve ever built before. The way the cooling system is configured stems from a rather ingenious idea from a couple fellows from New York.

PC

Caption: Here she is! =)

The H20 system is loosely based on Kevin and Dino’s “Nebulous Cube”. When this article was posted here a few months ago (and after having seen it in person at a LAN party in March, 2003), I wanted to see if I could build something similar.

I had a few ideas, and drew out a few sketches on paper. The basic idea was to house the radiator and pump externally, rather than inside the computer case itself. This removes both sources of radiant heat from the case while allowing normal airflow through the case. I also wanted to build in a certain measure of versatility.

I wanted to use a standard size fan that was commercially available, should replacement ever be required, or desire to install a higher flowing fan rise. I wanted the external “airbox” to be easily disconnectable, if I wanted to move it from its perch on top of the case to underneath, or beside (or across the room even, although the pump might not handle that one…). And I wanted it to look good, and try to match the Chieftec tower case visually, if possible.

What I wound up with when I had finished, met all of those goals and more.
{mospagebreak}

Brian Berryman – aka “Mr B”, Overclockers Forums Moderator.

The Real Modding… The H20 System

The “airbox” started out life as a Pentium 166 AT format rig. Just a generic, “run o’ the mill” work station. I used this case as the platform for the airbox for a few reasons:

  1. It was a P166 system, with 4MB of 30 pin RAM. Sloooooow. Plus, it was impossible, given the design of the chassis, to modify the case to house a standard ATX format motherboard.
  2. I had it stashed in the closet and had gotten it for free at one point, so no money was needed to acquire it. =)

  3. Most importantly (to me anyway), the top panel of the case was attached with screws, not rivets, which allowed me to reuse it as the top panel in this configuration very easily.

The old AT case got gutted, then cut in half, right at the bottom of the 5.25″ drive bay opening, and at the same point in the back. What you see here was originally the bottom half of the case. After halving the case, the front area where the switches, speaker, etc. was got cut out, as did the expansion slot area in the back. The top panel then got reattached to the now shortened chassis. The original side panels got cut down to fit the new height, and scrap from them was used to form the front and rear panels. The tools I used to carve this old case up are standard automotive repair/body tools, and are described in detail more in the articles I referred to earlier in the first two paragraphs of this article.

Here we see things a bit closer:

Top

The radiator I used is a D-Tek unit, as is the waterblock on the CPU. The pump is an Eheim 1250 model, which has a flow rate of 317 gallons per hour. The fan used here is a 172mm diameter Comair Rotron Patriot series. Designed to run on 24v DC, it’s plugged into the power supply in the PC (12v DC). While this decreases its output (rated 205 CFM @ 24v), it also greatly decreases the amount of noise it makes. I’d imagine it’s flowing somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 to 100 CFM at this voltage, but, it’s whisper silent… =)

I “liberated” the power cord socket and switch from a dead PSU, and installed them just above the fan opening:

Wires

I also have a NMB 172mm fan that runs off of 120VAC. This fan pushes 235 CFM, and is extremely loud. I had this fan installed in the airbox part of one afternoon, and removed it and put the Comair fan back in. While the NMB fan might have added a sense of realism to playing Microsoft Flight Simulator, it was just too much, especially where the machine runs 24/7, working on Folding @ Home work units.

Back

Anywhere you see a screw attaching a panel externally is a new hole. All of them were drilled out and threads tapped in the sheet metal by hand using a 6-32 thread tap. This is the correct size for standard coarse thread case screws. Using standard case screws to button the box together gives it a more professional look…almost store bought.
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Brian Berryman – aka “Mr B”, Overclockers Forums Moderator.

Plumbing…

Here’s a few pictures of the way the hoses got routed, starting at the top, and working our way down;

Bleed

Twin bleed/fill tubes made it easy to get all the air out.

Tubes

Rubber grommets keep the metal from cutting the hoses.

Hoses

The hoses connect to bulkhead fittings to pass thru the sheet metal on both boxes.

Rear

Rear view of the cases.

Visible here is the external plumbing, connecting the cases, the power cord for the Eheim, and the wires carrying 12 volts up to the airbox. I cut a small notch under the fan for the wires to exit and put a small grommet around the Eheim power cord to keep the edge of the sheet metal from cutting into it.

Route

The hoses then get routed over the PSU and down, where they are split using a pair of “Y” fittings.

WB

Finally, the waterblocks themselves. They just barely clear each other.

I spent hours thinking, and rethinking how I wanted to route the hoses, and where the airbox was going to go. I had two schemes, the one that didn’t get built, had the airbox under the Chieftec. There were a number of factors at work that ultimately led to my decision of putting the airbox up top.

I’ve been told that having the water pump above, higher than the rest of the system, isn’t good for the pump. It forces it to work harder, and may cause it to fail prematurely. The first watercooled system I had built had the pump fairly high in the system as well, and due to the routing of the hoses, it was a bear to bleed out the air when I filled it.

What ultimately swayed me to the final configuration were these points: The airbox looked better, appearance-wise, on top. I built the airbox to be strong enough to support the weight of the fully loaded Chieftec. I tested it, and it did. I even stood on the airbox, and it didn’t cave in. I weigh 170 pounds. So it’s more than sturdy enough, but it just didn’t look right.

Having the case underneath would have required routing the hoses quite differently, as you might imagine. My options there were, having the bulkhead connectors down low, beside the expansion slots. This would have reduced access to any cards installed, blocked airflow greatly, and obscured much of the lower half of the motherboard from view.

Having the airbox low and the bulkhead fittings where they are now would have removed those issues, but would have meant the water would be traveling a long ways to get up to the fittings, down to the blocks, back up, back down to the pump, then the radiator, and around again. Having the hoses run up the back of the case would impair access to the back panel I/O ports. Plus, tapping in the fill tubes would have been more difficult in either “airbox low” hose configuration.

Using those bulkhead connectors will allow me to change the airbox’s location easily, if needed. Just drain the system and replace the two short external hoses…a little bit of that versatility I wanted to build in.
{mospagebreak}

Brian Berryman – aka “Mr B”, Overclockers Forums Moderator.

Electrical…

Powering this contraption is, oddly enough, the PSU that came with the Chieftec – a Turbolink CWT-420ATX 420W unit. Where it’s recommended for stability to use the auxiliary 4 pin 12v power socket, this was the best PSU I had with the connector to plug into it. It was this or a CompUSA 400W unit. So far, it’s holding up quite well. The voltage readings I’m getting, while slightly low, aren’t dangerously low, even with the cold cathodes lit up. I am asking a lot of this PSU, but it’s performing admirably, given the load I’m throwing at it. In the future, I will upgrade to a more powerful PSU but can’t afford one right now.

I (as usual) spent a good deal of time agonizing over the wiring, trying to get as much of it out of sight, and more importantly, out of the airflow. Eventually I’d like to buy some spools of bare wire of the same colors and gauge of the power leads and custom wire the entire system. Then I could tuck a lot more of the “spaghetti” out of sight even further.

All of the case fans (except the one in the window) are Sunon 80mm KD1208PTB2 model units that push 39 cfm. The fan in the window is the one that came with the Chieftec side panel. I left it there, as it’s clear, and looked better in the window.

There’s three 12″ cold cathode lights installed, two green lights in the Chieftec, one blue in the airbox. When I bought the blue one (well after all of the cutting and painting was done), half the reason I bought that particular kit was it used the exact same type of switch as the one I had installed for 120VAC power in the airbox. For reasons I’ll get to shortly, I had decided to stick with the Comair DC powered fan, so I swapped out the switch and installed the light.

The two green lights got mounted high and low in the Chieftec, one inside the horizontal support bar visible in the window, and one on the floor of the case. While there appears to be dark areas in the case with the lights on, in person there isn’t – they light up every corner of the case quite well. I hid the light switch behind the drive bay door in the unused floppy drive bay cover:

Switch

When I went to AMD’s XPP2 Tour stop in Boston late last year, one of the items they were handing out at the door were plastic packages of mints. I got a few of these, and eventually after emptying a couple of them, (yummy!) one got put in my server case (AMD dual CPU rig), and another one in my main rig here. It “lights up” quite nicely with the cold cathode just below it.

AMD

No mistaking who’s powering this system… =)

Enough already B! How does it run?


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Brian Berryman – aka “Mr B”, Overclockers Forums Moderator.

Well, let me tell you… “Atsa spicy meataballa!!” =)

This machine blows away any and every other system I’ve built by a long shot. Benchmarks are higher, across the board, than I’ve ever gotten before. And they’ll only get better with an upgrade to the graphics card, and moving to a Barton cored CPU with the extra cache… Right now, the XP2100+ T-Bred “B” is happily humming away at 2200 MHz @ 1.75v (11 x 200). I could get slightly more out of it, but this setting is unquestionable rock solid. The lower vcore also helps keep the temperatures down.

While the temps are open to discussion here, I noted one very curious thing. When I first fired the system up as you see it here, I ran the Comair Rotron fan, and let the Arctic Silver 3 settle in for a few days. When the temperatures seemed like they had stabilized, and the AS3 was ready to go, I swapped in the 120VAC 235 CFM NMB fan.

Despite pushing at least 100 CFM (probably closer to 135 CFM) more air, my CPU temperature only decreased 1 to 2 degrees Celsius. This set up works that efficiently with the lower output fan. With the NMB being so loud, and not really helping temperatures (and in the interest of domestic harmony…LOL), I put the Comair back in. The four Sunons in the Chieftec make more noise…and they aren’t very loud at all.

As I type this, it’s a bit warm in the ol’ computer room tonight. I’ve got an ambient of 25C right now, and the onboard temperature sensors show (this is full load, as Folding @ Home is running) a system/motherboard temp of 28C, and a CPU temp of 39C (again, full load). The cooler that ambient temp is, the better this airbox works. When I had the air conditioner in the window, and sub 20C ambient room temps, the difference between system and CPU temps was closer together. 23C and 35C respectively was a usual reading, with an ambient of 18 to 19C.

A ‘lil birdie sent me a care package the other day, which included a tube of Arctic Silver 5, and a new formula of Arctic Silver Ceramique. I’ve been so focused on writing the last few days (this is the third article I’ve composed in four days), I’ve dawdled a bit in pulling the waterblock off and trying this stuff out. I’m hoping it’ll shave a couple more degrees off the full load temps I’m getting. If the future of Arctic Silver (AS-5) is like their past…I’m confident it will. 😉

Lit

Fragging by cathode light….how romantic. =)

Upgrade Path

There’s really not much I’m not happy with on this configuration as seen here. The first thing I would change is the graphics card. It’s the weakest “link in the chain” right now. Stepping up to an ATI 9700 Pro or higher would really bring out the best in this system. Upgrading the current CPU to a Barton core with the extra cache wouldn’t hurt things either. There are a few odd spots in a few odd maps in Unreal Tournament 2003 where things get a bit “laggy”. Both of these upgrades would immediately cure that. After that, a bigger power supply is about it.

Someone mentioned to me in a thread in the O/C forums here that this system doesn’t look very “portable”. LOL…no, it’s not. However, sitting on a desk behind me, is a mATX case that I’ve already reworked to fit a full size ATX PSU in, and has enough room for the same radiator I used here in this project under the drive cage. Very portable. So, I’ve got good news, and bad…. There will be a “project Mod Goes Modding v3.0″…however, as it’s going to be based on a mATX case, how long can that article be? =)

I’ll leave you to decide which is the good, and which is the bad….;)

Mr B.

Cheers!

Full System Specifications

Here’s what the whole enchilada is comprised of:

Case

  • Chieftec Dragon DX-01WD mid tower ATX case
  • Turbolink CWT-420ATX 420W PSU
  • 4x Sunon KD1208PTB2 80mm fans, 39 CFM
  • 1x Turbo Cool 80mm fan, clear plastic, in window. ?CFM

Computer

  • Abit NF7-S v2.0 motherboard
  • AMD XP2100+ Thoroughbred “B” core, 2200 MHz @ 1.75v (11 x 200)
  • 2x 512 MB Corsair XMS PC3200C2 DDR (1GB), in Dual Channel mode
  • BFG Tech Asylum GeForce 4 Ti4200 (4x AGP) 128 MB onboard
  • Samsung 40x12x40 CDRW
  • Toshiba 5x/32x DVD-ROM
  • Maxtor 160 GB ATA133, 7200RPM 8MB cache HDD
  • Samsung FDD
  • Onboard LAN, and SoundStorm audio

Watercooling System

  • D-Tek radiator
  • Eheim 1250 waterpump
  • Comair Rotron Patriot 172mm 24v DC fan, PQ24C0X, running on 12v DC
  • The above housed externally in a custom, heavily modified AT format mid tower case
  • D-Tek spiral waterblock
  • DangerDen Northbridge waterblock
  • Tygon ½” ID tubing
  • 4x brass bulkhead fittings
  • Various plastic hose fittings, Y’s, T’s, fill tube caps, clamps…

Miscellaneous Items

  • 3 x 12″ cold cathode lights (2 green, 1 blue)
  • Hand cut windows, in both cases, with 1/8″ plexiglass
  • Active i486 type HSF mounted on Abit Southbridge chip
  • Passive heatsink on Abit MOSFETs
  • 1x ‘lil green alien surfer dude, who’s seen it all… =)

Credits and Miscellany

I’d like to thank the Owners, Staff, and Members of Overclockers.com and the Overclockers Forums, for sharing with me their knowledge of all things computer, advice and wisdom that allows me to be creative and experiment and find new solutions like these. I am indebted to you all. Thanks!!

Special thanks to James Pyne and David Greenfield, for their assistance in taking some of the pictures used in this article. Thank you!

Extra special thanks go out to Karen and Jay Hendrix, for letting me borrow their digital camera, again…. Thank you!!

Very extra special thanks go out to Dino Velez and Kevin Heckeler, for providing the inspiration for this project in the construction of their “Nebulous Cube”. Great job on your project! Thank you!!!

Last, but certainly not least, thanks, hugs and kisses, to my wife Deborah. Love you….xoxoxox

Email Joe