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Critique/Advice on my first watercooled build

Last response: in Systems
July 13, 2010 2:14:39 PM

I've been contemplating a new rig to replace my current desktop, which is about 5 years old and on its last legs. The main goals are that it be powerful, quiet, and look nice, with a secondary emphasis on size (I won't be taking it to LAN parties or anything but I might be moving overseas next year and I don't want to have to rent a cargo container for the thing.) I'm not on too restrictive of a budget, but on the other hand I don't want to throw away money on barely-noticable gains in performance. I'll be using it for a mix of games and 3D/vector artwork, with the occasional video project thrown in the mix, as well as day-to-day stuff like movies and music. I've pretty much made my mind up on some things, but there are still a couple questions/decisions I'm hoping everyone can help me with! (Apologies in advance, this may be a little long... skip to the bottom for a summary of the main questions.)

Here's what I've been thinking so far:

CPU: A Core i7, most likely the 920 or 930, which I would overclock. As I'm not looking for the bleeding edge, I can't see paying the price premium for a 980 or similar, I think a 4Ghz overclock on the 920 should be more than enough for my purposes.

Motherboard: I'll most likely invest in a high quality board that I can get a long lifespan out of, perhaps an Asus Rampage or similar. I really wish I knew what kind of socket the i9s will have, but I'll just have to cross my fingers on that one. My big question here is whether to get a full-sized or uATX board: Although it would seem to depend on what case I choose, I've been thinking that even in a mid tower case I might get a uATX board so that I'll have the freedom to transfer the internals into an SFF case sometime in the future. The only thing I'm sacrificing by that, as far as I can tell, is the ability to run Crossfire/SLI and still have room for a good soundcard, so in a way this the decision depends on:

The Video Card: This is where I'm having a really hard time making up my mind. I know for sure that I want a Radeon 5000 series with Eyefinity (I plan on a triple monitor setup at some point in the future). The big question is, is it worth the extra money for the 5970, or should I settle for a 5870, with the possibility of adding a second one in Crossfire later? Another consideration with these is the length, the 5970 imposes some limitations as far as what kind of case I can get away with.

RAM: Lots, for graphic applications; I'll probably do 6GB of DDR3 on three channels and upgrade to 12 later. Not sure if it's worth paying the premium for higher rate than 1066, not too conversant with the intricacies of timings and whatnot... advice would be appreciated here!

HDD: I have some flexibility on this, since I keep mass storage separately on an external drive. For that reason, I'm looking for a good quality SSD drive in about the 120GB range, just enough to install the OS and applications on.

Cooling: I'm 90% certain I want to use water cooling, despite the extra expense; Not only for the performance increase but because I just don't see a high-end system being quiet enough any other way. This will be my first time with a watercooled setup, though, so I'm not sure how much I'll need in the way of fans/radiators/pump. Again, would love to hear some thoughts on this from more people with more water cooling experience.

Case: This has actually been the one of the hardest decisions: I really wanted to do an SFF case, but I couldn't find anything that a)would fit a 5870/5890 plus radiators and b)I like the look of. The NZXT Rogue seemed like a really good fit but unfortunately it's been discontinued; I also really like the look of the Lian Li V351B, but I just don't see how I could fit a large GPU in there with enough space left over for water cooling (or air, for that matter). Since I don't have the tools, experience or desire to do any significant case modding, I've kind of resigned myself to a larger case, and I've largely decided on the Lian Li B25F, which is a mid tower.

The B25F fits the bill pretty well except for one thing: it won't fit a 5970 behind the hard drive cage. But, since I'm only planning on one tiny 2.5" drive, I figure I can get away with removing the cage entirely putting the SSD somewhere else out of the way. Of course, if I opt for a smaller card that's not an issue.

My other concern with the B25F is whether my plans for positioning the radiators are feasible: The case has two 140mm fans on top, which seems to me to be the perfect place for a 280x140 rad. My first question, for anyone who's worked with this case, is: is it possible to mount a rad there without modding, and is there enough clearance from the CPU? And my other question is: is a dual 140 radiator enough for (at max) an overclocked i7 and a 5970?

Sorry this has run so long, here's the short version for busy people:

-Is it worth sacrificing a soundcard or potential Crossfire to have the long-term flexibility of a uATX board?

-Is a Radeon 5970 worth the extra money over a 5870?

-Any good reason for RAM higher than 1066?

-How much much radiator minimum/maximum for an overclocked Core i7 + 5870/5970?

-What's the best approach for water cooling a Lian Li B25F?

Thanks to those of you who patiently read all of this... you advice is appreciated!

Best solution

July 13, 2010 2:32:53 PM

ScaryMonkey said:

1. Is it worth sacrificing a soundcard or potential Crossfire to have the long-term flexibility of a uATX board?

2. Is a Radeon 5970 worth the extra money over a 5870?

3. Any good reason for RAM higher than 1066?

4. How much much radiator minimum/maximum for an overclocked Core i7 + 5870/5970?

5. What's the best approach for water cooling a Lian Li B25F?

Thanks to those of you who patiently read all of this... you advice is appreciated!

1. No. Sound card is not needed, but micro atx is just a headache. Also hard to liquid cool a micro case.

2. If you're using software that can utilize CUDA, you're much better off with an Nvidia GPU. GTX 470 for example.

3. Yes.
AMD architecture favors tighter timings over faster speed for
performance increase. Intel, favors neither. That said, neither makes
a significant impact on performance to warrant a major price

CAs latency refers to how long it takes the RAM to do somethign after
it's given a command. Makes no difference to FPS in gaming, but like
an SSD, it improves system responsiveness.

Stock i7-930 is 133 block, 21 multiplier and 10x memory multiplier.
Though the latter is determined by MOBO not CPU. This fully saturated
1333mhz RAM. 133block speed x 10 memory multiplier= 1330.

To OC above this you'll need to either lower multiplier or get faster RAM.
In general, we recommend DDR3 1600 RAM if you plan on a OC.

Now, the reason why we recommend G Skill RAM is that memory can
perform better than rated speeds. Most companeis sell you RAM that'll
perform at specs, G SKill tends to give you better than you pay for.
So their RAM can run at higher speeds, lower voltages and/or lower
timings than specs. OCZ is the opposite, hence we don't recommend

High speeds requires tighter looser timings to work. I'll avoid the
tech details as to why, but suffice to say this is a mechanically
imposed limitation. Now, because faster RAM must be of higher quality
to maintain the same latency as slower RAM, they're generally better
quality. As a result, the Trident DDR3 2000 kit that's rated at cas 9
at 2000, can hit CAS 6 at 1600 speeds. CAS 5 at 1333 speeds. This is
why people will buy extremely fast RAM. They're getting higher quality
RAM so they can run it at tighter timings for the speeds they want.

Now as to why 1600 7-8-7-24 kit is better than a 1333 7-7-7-21 kit, is
because, the 1600 kit can run 7-7-7-21 when under clocked to 1333

4/5. i7 by itself requires minimum 2x 120mm radiators. A 5970 would be 3-4 120 mm radiators. Sound in a system is not causes by Heatsinks, it's caused by fans. Water cooling is not quieter than air cooling. Both of them depend on the fans you're using.

You can not properly water cool cases without some sort of modding, and you definitely can't get quiet cooling without a lot of radiators and low speed fans. Regardless, you'll want a full tower case, bigger the better to have space for all the fans you'll need. In addition, you'll need more radiators if you want to add in RAM and chipsets to the system. Even after all that, you still need case fans to circulate air in the case.

Related resources
July 14, 2010 1:13:42 PM

Thanks for the in-depth response! Especially about the RAM... that clears up a few things.

As for the motherboard, what makes mATX a headache? Is there any reason besides the space issue? I will most likely be mounting it in a larger case for now, so is there a reason besides size to avoid one, besides it having fewer expansion slots? I would think that, if you didn't need extra slots, it would actually be better, since it would take up less room. Also they seem to be quite a bit cheaper...

For the GPU, what would be an example of software that uses CUDA? What kind of boost would one see in performance in that case?

A full tower's not really a possibility for me (would look ridiculously oversized in my tiny Japanese apartment even if I had a place to put it :p  ) but would it really be that hard to fit a proper watercooling setup in a mid-tower, especially when I'm making minimal use of the optical/hard drive space?
July 14, 2010 3:49:52 PM

mATX, in addition to lack of slots, things are jammed closer together so harder to water cool, harder to fit HSF's as well.

CUDA can be used by anything that has calculations that can be threaded. This generally applies to high end math calculations, engineering and graphic design/movie editing.

Some common ones are Adobe premier, Matlab, CAD, folding@home.

The performance increase in anywhere from 11x-100x faster than the best intel cpu's.

Intel likes to quote the 11x number, Nvidia likes to quote the 100x. In truth, probably varies greatly btwn those numbers depending on software.

You can do a simple single loop setup to cool your CPU, but I really don't think that's a good use of money. If you're doing liquid cooling and have a high end GPU, you're definitely gonna want to put the GPU on it's own loop.

The space issue isn't internal, it's a matter of having enough surface area to fit enough fans. Mid towers usually don't have enough space to do this without extensive modding.
July 21, 2010 2:26:37 AM

Well, after thinking this one over a bit and pricing it out, I decided to drop water cooling for now and just try for a "quiet enough" air-cooled build in a smaller case (getting a Lian Li V351). Taking circumstances into account I figured I can always switch the internals into a larger case and set up water cooling after I've moved (If I'm so inclined).

In the meantime, I decided to get a Noctua NH-U9B to cool the CPU (which will apparently just barely squeeze into the V351) and the Sapphire Vapor-X version of the 5870; combined with some good quality case fans I think that will keep things quiet enough while still packing a good amount of power in a small space.
July 28, 2010 2:47:01 AM

Best answer selected by ScaryMonkey.