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Building: mid-range gaming, quiet/low TDP, Intel

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December 8, 2010 7:04:01 PM

I am currently building this, ordered almost all parts and now it's collecting/receiving time:

Antec Sonata III (no PSU, comes with their 120mm Tricool)
Noctua NF-S12B FLX 120mm
Enermax Pro87+ 500W
Gigabyte Windforce Radeon 6850
Core i3 540
Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus
Kingston Valueram 4GB (2x2Gt) 1333MHz DDR3, CL9
Asus P7H55
Samsung SH-S223L/BEBE DVD-RW
OCZ Vertex 2 - 60GB 2.5" SSD SATA II
80 GB HDD (Samsung Spinpoint, old)
Soundblaster 2 Audigy ZS
Arctic Cooling MX-3 Premium Thermal Compound
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium Edition UK Retail (will install 64bit)
ArchLinux

See planning thread: http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/forum/298615-13-decisions...

How should I prepare for the build? Haven't done this for a few years. I have another computer connected via broadband so Internet is not a problem during the installation. I'm not in a great hurry but by Sunday I'd like to have a dual-boot setup that runs games and doesn't have any major problems.

I will at least:

1) Read install instructions for CPU
2) Read mobo manual for installation and BIOS settings
3) Will follow SSD install hints, see bottom of post. Also, will probably disable hibernation, and of course configure my swap file.
4) Download firmware, drivers and game patches; Also some key applications like Firefox
5) Read up on ArchLinux (new distribution for me) to manage installation
6) Read about dual-boot setup for Win7+Linux (this is a rather straightforward task)

Anything else it's good to do in preparation to ensure smooth building and setup? Or would you even have some links to a PC building/installation guide etc? (Actually I recall there was something like that, even with pictures, on this forum, will take a look later.)

7) Need to figure out how to arrange fans. I'll have 3 universal 120mm fans which can all be voltage controlled: stock CoolerMaster (Slipstream?), stock Antec (Tricool) and the Noctua one. HSF has 2 fan slots, there is one slot in the middle-rear of the case and one slot just behind the hdd trays down front (there's a dust filter and air vents in front of the drives).

How should I arrange the fans for optimal noise and cooling? I think a modest airflow would be sufficient, since the parts have a sensible TDP. Antec and Noctua fans have 3-step adapters (Hi/Med/Low). The Antec and CoolerMaster fans are more efficient but more noisy, peaking just above 30 dBA, while the Noctua one is maxed out at 18 dBA, which moves air somewhat comparable to what the others do on Med setting. The rear fan might not be possible to replace without removing the motherboard, so the best fan should maybe go there? The Noctua is the most quiet one, so it's most likely that I won't be getting rid of that at least. Antec recommends leaving the front slot empty in this case for the most quiet computing.

8) Suggestions/review links for a virus scanner? Microsoft Essentials might be OK for starters, but have to research options and whether that's sufficient for a good level of system security.

9) How to best arrange cables? I have multiple solutions if I want to strap some of them together, and can get creative if necessary...

10) Any links for best settings for SSD? I'll attach below the knowledgeable but anonymous words of a fellow forum goer at Tom's:

Quote:
(1) Do NOT use default IDE mode, Set controller 2 AHCI
(2) Disconnect HDD when doing the Install, Win 7 will move a part of installation to HDD that is best left on the SSD.
(3) Select custom install, (A) delete any pre-existing partition (B) check the box for additional needed drivers (Have Intel F6 (Ver 9) drivers ready on a Thumb drive). Redo Partition ( should show 2, a little 100mb system partition and the remainder of the SSD in a second Partition - which you want to select for installation. (B) Broose to where F6 drives are and select the intel ahci driver (c) When installation is complete, let windows do it's updates and then install the Intel RST (ver9 ) driver set.
(4) When you have win installation complete, then (a) power down and reattach your Mech HDD (B) Install your programs.


Once all the basics are done and dealt with, I think I'll be looking into 11) power saving features and fan settings (I hear you can control a lot with software about these) 12) benchmarking (probably just games)...
December 8, 2010 7:48:26 PM

1. Read the stickies
http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/274745-31-step-step-g...

2. After everything is connected and build boots, I'd recommend running Memtest for 8 passes min first to make sure your RAM is good. Lots of times people don't realize they've got bad RAM till lots of crashes/other bad stuff occurs.

3. Do steps 1-6 you listed above.

In response to other points

7. Depends on if you want + or - air pressure. Positive means all air going into system passes through dust filter so less dust in system. Negative means hot internal air is expelled at a higher rate.

8. MSE is fine. Avast is also popular. I use AVG, though they did recently have a bit of a stumble. Oddly, enough didn't affect me even though I'm on 64 bit win 7. I'd also recommend having threatfire installed on top of antivirus.

9. Um, goal is to keep them neatly together and hidden, with minimal blockage of airflow. Basically, keep stuff behind mobo as much as possible, don't have stuff running over mobo, or cables dangling anywhere.

So this is bad


this is good


10. Yea, that's pretty much it. Really no diff between installing SSD and a normal SATA HD.
December 9, 2010 7:43:49 PM

I can't give you the full link for the SSD, but let me arrive to home and will post some useful things for you.
Related resources
December 9, 2010 8:41:52 PM

7) Started thinking of an arrangement that would result in dynamic pressure. Positive or neutral (is that a good idea?) when at idle, and going negative when load increases.

The rear fan is the most important since it's the main source of cooling in the case. The CoolerMaster fan is effective at max RPM, but quiet at idle RPM, so I could put it into the rear and run it from PWM. The rest is a bit of a toss-up, but those fans can be easily shifted around anyway.

The Noctua could be perfect for the CPU. Not nearly as effective as the stock fan, but the heatsink is overspecced anyway (suitable for max 135W or so CPU - mine is 73W). Obviously I do need a fan for CPU - and the Noctua is much less noisy than the Antec one (25dBA@idle). I could run it off from PWM or just leave it at High...

For the front position, I can try the Antec. Just run it at Low (or maybe Med) - but it'll then be the most noisy component when system is idle, and I take more sound might escape from the front since it has the air vents, and anyway Antec does not recommend this fan position. So likely I'll just take the fan away, switch with the Noctua, or get another quiet fan (Noctua is about 2% of system cost, but might be worth it if I can shave off a bit of the system noise).

I'm thinking at some point I might even take a drill and my electronics kit, and add a convenient switch or two to the case to adapt cooling - could be a nice little modding project and I can get just the right parts... just don't have enough fans in this case for that and mostly this kind of stuff is done with PWM+software anyways nowadays ;) 

BTW what's the function of the air vent on the lower right in this picture - which way is the air supposed to flow? I would take the GPU, chassis and PSU fans normally suck air in via that opening.



December 10, 2010 8:16:27 PM

Thanks, stickies for 1) lead to a wealth of information :o  Think I'll pass on soldering shut the channels next to the heatpipes, not because it's too HC for me but because I'd have to polish off the result and I suppose lapping isn't enough benefit for the effort. Somebody mentioned rubbing alcohol being used before applying the paste - should I use that on a fresh HSF (comes with protective tape, of course.. wonder if that leaves any gunk) or did they assume I had a previous HSF installed with leftover grease?
December 10, 2010 9:38:06 PM

Alcohol wipe isn't really necessary but won't hurt.

Alcohol is mainly used to remove residue of paste thermal paste. Most aftermarket HSF's don't come with grease pre-applied.
December 11, 2010 11:14:58 PM

Found out the OCZ 3.5" adapter doesn't work too well with Antec's idea of mounting the HDDs via the bottom holes. Needs some modding to work nicely...

In installing the HSF bumped into some problems, and got stuck there -> http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/forum/page-258023_11_100....
December 14, 2010 9:12:42 PM

Did a good number of POSTs which all went fine I suppose (most of the time it just flashed past). Also wondered at Express Gate which is Asus's own Linux environment - would need windows to install though and I didn't have that yet. Creating a USB bootable Linux on OSX is not very straightforward so I didn't get that either (talk about developers not paying attention to interoperability nowadays! :non:  ).

Anyway, just twiddling with BIOS settings, CPU temp went to 38C, ambient is 22C and cpu is i3-540. Does that sound normal and does it tell anything about the effectiveness of my cooling? The Noctua fan which is installed for CPU was running only at 800rpm, and it's not terribly effective there. It turned out I can't set the speed from BIOS, since the fan is controlled as the chassis fan - my BIOS is from July, and the manual is from January, and they are at odds WRT this feature.

Overall, the system seems quite nice. The noise from the CoolerMaster fan is a bit annoying (it was rated as max 31dBA or so, and actually is surprisingly loud). The other fans I can hardly hear, sitting just next to the puter - yes, that includes even the Gigabyte 6850 - seems they have fixed the fan rpm issues at idle :) 
December 14, 2010 9:18:59 PM

varis said:
Anyway, just twiddling with BIOS settings, CPU temp went to 38C, ambient is 22C and cpu is i3-540. Does that sound normal and does it tell anything about the effectiveness of my cooling? The Noctua fan which is installed for CPU was running only at 800rpm, and it's not terribly effective there. It turned out I can't set the speed from BIOS, since the fan is controlled as the chassis fan - my BIOS is from July, and the manual is from January, and they are at odds WRT this feature.


Actually, could just connect the Noctua to molex which runs it at 1600rpm. Suppose this would give me sufficient cooling to manage it through the OS installs without my CPU popping? (Not that Intel CPUs are supposed to pop, in any case... but.)
December 14, 2010 10:23:16 PM

You should be able to have the MOBO control HSF's fan by connecting it into the 4 pin on the mobo.

In the case of HSF's w/ multiple fans, a y splitter will allow both fans to be controlled by that 1 4 pin.

Besides that, 38c is perfectly fine temps assuming they're load. In fact, any load below 70C will have pretty much no impact on life of the system.
December 15, 2010 5:35:35 AM

I suppose most 120mm fans come with a 3 pin connector, like the Noctua does - can I just get an adapter to connect it to the 4 pin? (Can't actually run it off molex either without another adapter since both parties are female...)

And I don't know how much load just looking at BIOS generates. Then again I doubt an OS install will max both CPU cores...
December 18, 2010 7:28:49 AM

Several days and many issues later...

Sorry for the slow reply, but I have a nice, well behaving PC now so have been just taking it easy and playing World of Tanks for a few nights :sol: 

I used usb-creator (default software in Ubuntu) and the standard Ubuntu install .iso to create a bootable Linux USB, very easy and straightforward, and a very good tool to have around. Disabled 1 of the CPU cores, reduced CPU multiplier and connected to the CPU fan to molex for 1600rpm (the connector actually had both male and female, duh). Booted up the Ubuntu and ran 8 gzip processes to generate CPU load - just couldn't get the CPU temp to move beyond 40C, even with both cores and full processor power available. Obviously CPU cooling is very effective, and I suppose the thermal compound applied nicely on the 2nd try after all. There should be serious overclocking headroom if/when I decide to go that way later.

When playing World of Tanks, CPU doesn't really move beyond 42C and GPU stays at 50C (low fan rpm) or below 60C (high fan rpm). CPU load is around only 25% for the game and GPU seems to sit at 40%... but I run it only on a 1280x1024 monitor so far - awesome anyway. The GPU seems very powerful, I'm using high settings, 4xAA etc. and still getting some 60 fps. System airflow must be pretty good, didn't even bother installing the TriCool as that'll probably be too noisy for me.

There's the Memtest86 tool available from the Ubuntu stick. This is a nice tool - runs a set of tests for your RAM over a course of 20 minutes. Used this to identify faulty RAM on a problem puter at work 10 years ago - just ran it twice, and it pointed at a faulty bit/byte at the same memory address both runs. Gotcha. Ran it just once for my system so far, will do the second run soonish...

The Vertex 2 makes the system feel quite snappy. Loading levels in WoT takes just a few seconds, barely enough to glance over the players/tanks list and then you're to the "Waiting for players screen" :pt1cable:  Booting to Windows takes a bit longer but very little anyway - a complete restart cycle is just over a minute or so. Disk usage is now at 27GB and a full system scan with Norton takes under 4 minutes. Even installing software seems to fly :o  I thought SSD had some trouble in writing speed but maybe current HDD tech would be there as well. I'd say the SSD is well worth it...

Onboard sound is very good, even with just an el cheapo VIA chip. I can see why there are claims it'd be good enough for most people - I actually found a SB X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty edition lying on my bookshelf, just 2 years old but I had completely forgotten about it :sarcastic:  Installed it just next to the GPU - which consumes all of my PCIe slots since 2 are unusable as I don't want to block the GPU's cooling. It sounds just a little bit more vibrant and natural than onboard sound, but TBH on most days I just wouldn't care...

The Enermax PSU is seriously silent, I can never hear it over the other fans - but it has a 140mm fan running at 330 RPM. The only time I hear it is when I've shut down the system and it remains running to vent out system heat. But then I have to put my ear just next to it. Very impressive! The Noctua is very quiet and the noise profile sounds pleasantly dampened, the Gigabyte 6850 is quite OK at minimal RPM, and the only issue at idle is the CoolerMaster fan which intrudes just a little bit. When gaming the system isn't terribly loud either, and there's more sound anyway so it's less noticeable - esp. since I often use headphones.

TODO:

Lots of software tweaking and installation (still have to install ArchLinux ; and probably do some security hardening/performance optimization for Windows)
Finding just the right utilities for controlling the fans - Asus FanExpert gives a suitable graph for the chassis (and CPU, eventually) fan, but the GPU fan I have to manually set with CCC
Getting the adapter cables for the fans, just have to decide which ones (multiple options suitable) and order them
Look for a better chassis fan (something similar to the Noctua, but maybe something just slightly more powerful, just in case)
Benchmarks!
December 19, 2010 1:12:52 PM

Power draw measurements:

Power off: 13W
Sleep: 13W, occasionally peaks to 16W
POST/BIOS: 80W
Windows desktop, idle: 66W
Light browsing, music from Youtube: 90W
Windows experience benchmark: 66-170W
Bad Company 2: 140?-162W
World of Tanks: 120-140W

170W total isn't bad for a powerful gaming rig! :sol:  It seems BC2 and the Windows BM take the system close to max (at least cpu+gpu), so theoretical max could be something like 180-190W. And I have a 500W PSU :pt1cable:  (10% of the power consumption is PSU losses, too, so theoretical max power draw with the PSU would be 550W)

Ran the quick BM that comes with Windows 7, have to search for some others...

Windows experience index, total: 6.9 (scale is from 1.0 to 7.9 with these)

Calculations (CPU): 6.9
RAM: 7.2
Graphics: 7.7
Gaming Graphics: 7.7
Disk: 7.7
!