Silence Will Fall...
Greetings all, Mike here, one of your friendly review staff! Sorry for the radio silence as of late, I've had a heck of a lot going on personally with my computers dying every five seconds as well as some personal affairs, but that's behind me now. Now is time for me to bring you guys something a bit different from the usual review content: this time I will be sharing with you the odyssey of a little project that I have been working on on and off for the past several months as time and funds allow. Of course I can't go on too far without thanking:
Without their sponsorship and the faith Bryan had in my build this would not have been possible. They have supplied all of the water cooling components that will be used here, though maybe not the ones you might have been thinking...
The Theme: Silence-optimized HTPC (black and gold color scheme, because "Silence is Golden").
I figured I should start with the general idea here. The purpose of this build is to produce something that is elegant and silent, yet tastefully adorned. The goal is also to keep power consumption to a bare minimum while still allowing for further expansion of the system as funds and need demands. Since this will be sitting in my living room I don't want it to be too terribly loud or draw attention away from interaction with others I have over, but I still want it to be exciting-looking enough to act as a conversation piece; essentially, functional art... and what better way to keep it artful, functional AND silent than with water cooling (in my opinion, anyway)?
The Case: Why did I choose this case?
For this build I decided to go with... the Cougar MX500
Cougar MX500 Mid Tower | Pure Overclock (link to our review)
At this point you are probably wondering: "Mike why in the bloody hell did you go with a case that you didn't even offer up an award for?" The short version is that I already had the case on-hand, and didn't know of anyone who could have used it. I got to thinking though: in my review I kept hinting that there was much potential in this case that was missed, but a few simple modifications could resolve that. I could have either gone with a more extreme "gamer" theme with this, or I could have gone the silence-optimized route, a-la H440. Ultimately, silence optimization seemed the best thing to do, so I decided to see what I could possibly do to get the noise levels down as low as is humanly possible with the fewest non-functional mods possible. I also decided to alter the color scheme for the case to reflect the internals: black and gold. Thankfully Cougar made this bit particularly easy, with all of the trim pieces easily removable and readily customizable. More on this in the next post...
The Guts: So what exactly is going into this build?
That's where things start to get a little interesting. I have long been a fan of AMD's APU platform, but could never bring myself to go all-in on the purchase of the platform since the performance at the time seemed a bit too low for my tastes to really justify taking the plunge. Times have now changed, and AMD's latest APU platform for their Kaveri chips offers plenty of real-world performance without spending all of your money in the process.
I opted to use the top-shelf APU for this build. The 7850K offers no compromise in the lineup, allowing system enthusiasts to overclock their entire system should they so desire or allowing an adjustable TDP to keep power consumption relatively low without sacrificing everyday use performance.
Motherboard: Asus A88X-PRO
At the time of purchase, this was the flagship APU platform from Asus, and frankly there wasn't much competition for this board at the time in terms of raw performance, build quality or reliability. The board also provides excellent fan tuning capabilities with all of the overclocking tools you could possibly need for this platform. Moreover, this board is also black and gold, which fit the bill for this system perfectly. Could you build a system like this with a less expensive board and still get similar performance? Absolutely you could, however I have a problem with constantly craving the finer things in life, and it didn't get any better than this at the time... so there ya go.
Memory: Adata XPG v2 2x4 1600 MHz DDR3
I decided to go with these modules, not only for their known reliability and overclocking potential, but also because... well... they're gold. They are also more readily available than other options I was toying around with (Avexir are you listening?), and are less expensive than others as well. These modules will be getting a pretty decent overclock for this system, as APU's tend to perform much better with higher frequency memory, latency be damned.
Storage: Seagate Barracuda 1 TB HDD
Unfortunately my budget did not allow for the use of a dedicated SSD for the OS, so I had to stick with the use of a single platter drive. I would have loved to use one of Adata's SX900 drives, but perhaps after the build is finished I'll be able to incorporate one once I get enough money saved up. This will still do just fine for our purposes, as a HTPC really should have more dedicated storage for HD movies and the like.
Discrete GPU: XFX R7 250 Core
With recent driver improvements and price drops, the performance/dollar ratio of a Dual Graphics system is now much more appealing than it was at the time of launch. I therefore decided to pull the trigger on an R7 250 as part of this thought experiment. I wanted to see not only what Dual Graphics could offer in the here and now, but I also wanted to see what I could do with a total system overclock. The card will be getting as hefty an overclock as it can handle, as well as some special color treatments as I can provide them.
System Fans: Cougar Vortex HDB 120mm PWM
It's a Cougar case, so I figured I should go with Cougar fans. In the review I noted that while the stock fans were great with the case, at full speed they were simply too loud for everyday use without a voltage reducer. Since I want to make sure that the system is silent under all load conditions (and I want to minimize cabling as and when I can) I opted to replace the stock fans with these guys. They are reasonably priced, offer excellent airflow and static pressure, and are all black... except for those corner vibration dampers, which we will attempt to address later in the build. All in all it's hard for me to recommend different fans for a build like this, since they are among the most silent you can buy with the most reasonable price tag... and aren't poop brown and vomit tan.
Power Supply: Enermax Revolution X't 630W
Granted this PSU might be a bit on the large side for even this build, however the idea here is to provide the system with more than enough power for further adding storage. Over time the plan is to get a RAID 10 array established. This was also chosen not only because of its black and gold color scheme, but for its efficiency rating and semi-modular design. You can catch our review of this particular PSU here.
Silverstone PP07 Black/Gold braided cable extensions
Granted I could have probably done some custom braiding on the entire PSU, but that would have been far more time consuming than this particular build needs to be. I also happened to have these on-hand from a previous review, so it felt natural to actually put these to good use rather than just sitting around collecting dust.
Water Cooling: Y u do dis, and what parts u do dis with?
At this point there will be a lot of eyebrow raising and potential nay-saying, but that's cool because it's my build, not yours ;-P. Part of the thought experiment is to see if I can not only water cool the APU... but the R7 250 as well. During some initial testing with this system I discovered that my particular 250 overclocks really well; as in you plug the card in, open Afterburner, move the sliders all the way to the right, apply and enjoy. However I noticed a few things, which I will go into more detail with in the next update: Afterburner allowed me to override the AMD-enforced overclocking limits of the card, but the stock cooler was... well... a bit less than adequate to keep temperatures where I would have liked them to be. This got me thinking that perhaps a universal GPU block would provide a more elegant solution to this problem rather than re-applying paste and lapping the OEM heat sink.
I'll be taking some up-close and detailed shots of the parts throughout the build guide, so apologies for the small-ish pic. Swiftech has provided me with a plethora of cooling hardware for this system, not the least of which is their Apogee XL block and their new Raystorm v2 reservoir/pump combo outfitted with their brand new MCP50X pump. You may also notice little white block in the picture: that little guy is Swiftech's MCW82 Universal GPU block which I will be attempting to affix to the R7 250 GPU using a special fastener kit to align properly with the GPU fastener pattern. I also went with two of their MCR120-QP radiators, largely due to spatial restrictions within the case. The hope is that with a radiator being dedicated to each device and the loop flow running block/rad/block/rad that there will still be reasonable cooling performance to be had. With the MCP50X pump there should be more than enough head pressure within the system to overcome any pressure drops this kind of loop will provide, so I'm not too terribly worried about that. I will also be passively cooling the MOSFET's and the memory on the GPU using some of Swiftech's passive GPU heat sinks, and tying everything together with 3/8" ID, 5/8" OD TruFlex tubing and compression fittings.
I hope I have tantalized your tech-y taste buds enough to sub to this thread and to keep abreast (and a thigh) of the progress on the build to come. I would once again like to thank Bryan Ramirez from Swiftech for offering to sponsor the build, to Gabe Rouchon for not only giving him the O.K. to do it but for giving us a company that provides PC enthusiasts the world over with some of the finest enthusiast components around, and to Pure Overclock for offering up its blessing for me to attach their name to this in the first place. I can also tell you guys right now that you should expect more similar content to this in the future, as we are always striving to bring you more excitement all the time! I hope to have another work log update within the next week or so, but with college starting up for me this weekend my time table will be tight so I will do my best to provide frequent updates and some fancy B-roll to satisfy your itch for pretty and functional tech!