[Edited - added Firestrike and Timespy scores for a minor overclock only at this stage.]
Act 1, Scene A - Decisions
If you're reading this, then you know the time in your life when FPS just won't cut it, your work VMs just take TOO long to start, that well love case beside you is starting to make a few unexpected noises, and dust seems to somehow have covered everything whilst you weren't looking.
Take a good hard look at yourself in the mirror and realise - it's time I did something about this, I've let things sit idle, and if I don't do something soon, I'll end up a CONSOLE GAMER?!
So after that cold slap of reality, I sat down and laid out priorities. • Small • Fast • Quiet • Cool • Awesome • WAF = No Lights (as if!)
Act 1, Scene B - The puzzle pieces and paper, lots of paper
Who'd have thought in this day and age you'd start planning for a computer system with an A4 page and a pen?! Well that's where I started, and used Excel, PCPartPicker etc.
Tentative Summary Component List was locked in: CPU Intel Core i7-7800X 3.5GHz 6-Core Processor (yes the X - I use it for Work/VMs/Graphic Editing) CPU Cooler EK-Supremacy EVO X99 - Nickel Plexi Motherboard MSI - X299M GAMING PRO CARBON AC Micro ATX LGA2066 Motherboard Memory Corsair Vengeance RGB 64GB (4x16GB) DDR4 3000 Storage 1 Samsung 1TB M.2 960 EVO NVMe SSD Storage 2 Samsung 2TB 850 EVO Solid State Drive Video Card Gigabyte AORUS GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Waterforce WB Xtreme Edition Case Fractal Design - Define Mini C TG MicroATX Mid Tower Case Power Supply Corsair - 650W 80+ Gold Fully-Modular ATX Power Supply Cable Kit CableMod ModMesh C-Series RMx Cable Kit Black/Orange Radiators EK-CoolStream SE 240 (Slim Dual) x2 Fans EK-Vardar EVO 120S (1150rpm) x2 Fans Corsair HD120 RGB x3 with Controller (WAF = NIL) Resiviour EK-RES X3 250 + Multi-Top Water Cooling EKWB Parts Management Corsair Commander Pro LED RGB LEG Lighting Pro Expansion Kit (WAF = NIL)
Act 2, Scene A - Fractal-Design Mini C TG
Working through the plethora of cases that exist out there, I settled on the Fractal-Design Mini C TG. It seemed to have everything that I wanted for my build, and I thought I could fit awesome inside so away I went.
Wow it's small! I mean I researched the case (and others) thoroughly, measured the external and internal and cut out a rough cardboard sized 2d to plan the layout and compared this with my ATX tower, but nothing quite prepares you for seeing it in the flesh… err, metal.
Rather than jump straight in with the build (not that I had all the parts anyway), I unboxed it and sat it on my work desk for a few days so I could glance over and ponder how things were going to fit, how I'd cable it, and where some cool kit could be stuck, screwed, taped, or cable-tied. Before long my mind shifted gears from "damn it's so small, how the hell am I going to fit it all in?!" to "hmmm, now that's a possibility"!
It's a beautiful case by the way, very well constructed, lots of nifty thought has gone into functionality and flexibility to help out any PC builder. Whilst it's doesn't seem to be a case many have water-cooled (from what I could tell during my research) it'll suit my requirements well - small, compact, fit a (short) 1080ti, MATX board, Water-cooled with 2x 240 RADs and a good sized RES. If you lose the 3.5" drive bays, there's a nice little spot to nestle a pump and give you some more room for stuffing cables.
Act 2, Scene B - Planning the custom loop
So with no prior experience, and no one but the Internet to ask, and let's face it anyway - the Internet and everyone posting on it is never going to give you a definitive answer, I started my learning journey.
Since this is my first water-cooled build, and to be honest my first build in a long time, I did my research, planning, more planning, and a bit more planning. EKWB seemed to hit all the points I was looking for, but to be honest a sparrow would starve on the difference between a few of the vendors equipment quality in my (untested) opinion.
With a case chosen, and a probable vendor for the water-cooling components, I started drafting options. Scraps of paper, OneNote pages drawn, printed schematics of the case to doodle, post-it notes stuck on the desk, and my plan started to take shape. Oh, I also initially used the configurator on EKWB's site to estimate the heat and cooling required which helped me plan my needs too.
So 2x240 RADs it was - err, how was I going to fit them into my chosen beastie the Fractal-Design Mini C TG? Well, thankfully the SE RAD series from EK is only 26mm thick, so with Fans being 25mm that gave me 51mm. Leaving a whopping err 315mm with front fans mounted minus 26mm for RAD = 289mm for GPU length with no error room! Yay … now find a 1080ti that fits (another challenge).
I mapped out the port configuration (should be in the images) so I could work out all the connection requirements and parts, drew up the Pump, RES, and RADs and tried to estimate actually how it would all connect, and the pieces of the 3rd puzzle I'd need. Oh, and I even remembered to factor in a drain port - which lead me to my first problem - I missed ordering one lowly 6mm extender to attach my ball-valve to the 90degree … DAMIT… it's a $3 part - and at the moment, the only thing I missed in all my planning. It's always the small things that get you.
Act 3, Scene A - Putting the custom loop together
The fun begins. And it is fun (frustrating, but fun), if it wasn't, or if you're not sure it will be fun, go for an AIO and start using your computer a lot sooner.
I had my mapped out diagrams, and port theory configurations and they worked out pretty well going from theory to actuality with very little effort. As they say measure twice, and cut once, or in my case, measure 5-6 times and finally bite the bullet and just do it.
Since I am new to this, I started with my barebones case, threw in the RADs and FANs, tried a few options. I finally settled on the EK250 RES 3 port TOP I purchased rather than the stock base for the flow-in from the GPU and filling via another port from the very back-plates of the case.
Then I was stuck. Paper theory just didn't match the 3d world and I just couldn't align the RES-out with my pump without some very funky angles, switching to flexible tubing etc. Hmmm… what I needed was MORE COFFEE! This helped SO much, and I start thinking of options, and before you know it, bang it up on the side - Voilà it all aligns. (Except there is a gaping hole in the Fractal Design Mini C TG there, so I still had to build the strips out of the 3.5 HDD cover, and fix this to the case).
With the pump flipped, the flow-out of the RES nicely aligned downwards to the pump-in using a 90 degree and straight PETG into a T-splitter, for my pump and drain port (lowest spot I could sort out for the loop). The pump-out has 2x 90s a short PETG into another 90 degree into the RES. So with a few measurements and a quick cut of the PETG I'm away with my first two lines in.
That was the easy part. Now I had to break out the heat gun and start melting and bending PETG into the angles I needed to fit the loop. Oh, and given the exceptionally tight spacing between the back fan and the top RAD, lets just say I think I could measure 1mm by eyeballing it at the end. Fortunately I didn't burn through too much tubing with the long top runs, it was the funky little curve in to the RES that almost did me in!
I sorted the loop after much swearing and cursing and 6 attempts, Ha hah, take that computer I'm done.
Act 3, Scene B - Testing the custom loop
(I obtained the 6mm extender needed for the right angle join to my ball valve so the story has a happy ending)
Paranoia kicked in, and I think I disassembled and reassembled the loop 3 times ensuring that all the primary joins were tight in each socket. That I hadn't missed a plug, that all the pieces of the puzzle were there, and finally all the ends of the G1/4 were tight on the PETG.
The temptation was there to fill it immediately, however with iron control I held off and slept on it.
The next day I stripped out the PSU, draped the cables out and stuffed paper towel under every possible leak point. Attached just the pump with the PSU external, and prayed to the PC Gods briefly before filling my rig with Distilled Water for 24 hours of testing.
Tipping the case side on to use the top of the RES aligned with the case back (for easy access) proved a boon. But the sucker wouldn't fill! Water would trickle down my fill hose, then balloon out the top - WTF - then I remembered that trying to force liquid into an otherwise sealed loop was causing the air pressure to block, so I losened another port at the the top and it filled easily.
Luckily my beautiful wife wasn't there to watch that particular bit of stupidity. ;-)
~900ml of water sorted the loop, and away we went with the flow working well, and NOT A LEAK.
Act 4, Scene A - Cable Management
With my custom loop flowing well and no disernable leaks it was time to drain the mini c beast. So with my drain port handy, a quick plug removal and attachment of the flexible hose, it was draining like a champ. Only had to shift it around a bit to drain the top RES, but otherwise was an excellent position for the drain.
Now onto the cable management.
Why bother I hear some of you mutter quietly into your coffee/soft drink/hard drink when the case has a solid panel and it's all hidden from view?
Because... I'll always know!! It'll be my silent shame that the front looks awesome only to have a garbage dump out back. So lets get to it, since it's no more painful than ripping off duct tape that was holding your knee cap in the right position after a casual injury.
Btw, I have to say the Fractal Design Mini C TG is awesome for cable management. Check out the photos if you're really keen.
Act 4, Scene B - IT LIVES
The cable management is done, with two extra runs for additional SSDs that I'll rip out of my old rig, and like in Star Wars many cable ties died to bring us this glorious neatness.
I overkilled the ties, but each primary component is isolated from each other. This helps when replacing a dead or component being upgraded without needing to snip and re-cable tie lots.
It also meant I actually have more room in the basement than I thought I would and can get to the drain port without even pulling cables from the PSU.
Once cabling was complete, I re-filled the loop with EKs clear coolant and placed the system with reverence on it's temporary (and entirely unfitting) location so I could breath life into the Fractal Hawk in all it's glory.
OS installed (Win 10 Pro 64-bit) and all the junk needed for tweaking the system and away we go. I still have benchmarking and other stuff to complete, but for the moment with such a beauty sitting on my desk I find it hard to run a brutal system test ... it just doesn't seem right yet.
Act 5, Scene A - Performance Benchmarks
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti(1x) and Intel Core i7-7800X
Firestrike 1.1 - 20 528
Graphics Score 29 557 Physics Score 16 021 Combined Score 7 156
Timespy 1.0 - 9 337
Graphics Score 10 431 CPU Score 5 859
Act 5, Scene B - Left over stuff to complete
Would you believe there is NO orange coolant that I can source in Australia for a reasonable price? None, ZIP, Nada. I really was looking forward to trying out Thermaltakes Opaque Orange, well that was the original plan anyway so I'll re-take some photos when that's done.
I also have to finish the orange spray painting of the three back slot covers, just to add that little bit more alignment of colour and get rid of the white.
Once the orange coolant is in, I'll re-evaluate the LED positioning to see if I should drop it behind the RES.
But all stuff for another time, now it's time to simply enjoy it.
Great workhorse CPU for anyone planning on running many virtual machines, and processing graphics. It might not have the power to weight ratio for gaming like the K's, but it hits the sweet spot for work.
Seems to run cool (in a custom loop) with some overclocking, I haven't given it a flogging yet so can't advise on the ridiculous yet.
It's thermal paste! Easy to apply using the applicator supplied.
It does seem to be doing a great job when combined with my water-block. The CPU sits idle ~30c, 35c for most workloads, and peaks at 46c dropping rapidly back to 30+ within about a minute of workload completion.
Awesome MATX motherboard. MSI have taken their Carbon Gaming ATX and shrunk it, which suits anyone looking at running a smaller rig. 64GB RAM, X299 Chipset, minimal RGB, and good BIOS configuration.
Seems solid, no real flex when cabling and mounting in the chassis of my Fractal Mini C TG - highly recommended.
Good solid RGB RAM from Corsair. They are a little tall for my liking in an MATX setup, but work very well with Corsair's LINK software for the RGB side. Overclocking and configuration is pretty easy as well, all round a good set of chips.
Small, fast, and awesome - M.2 drives should be your go-to in any system and this little monster is great. It makes my system load in about 3 seconds to logon (post MB boot). Snappy, responsive and all round worth every cent.
Large SSD for great performance and form-factor. No issues with the drive (so far), everything checks out and performance is as advertised. Handles a large read/write workload with little effort.
Fractal Design Mini C TG is an awesome MATX case. It's perhaps a bit bigger than some other small form factor cases, but it was perfect for my custom-loop dual RAD build with 1080ti.
Excellent cable management at the back with supplied ties, and more than enough space between the back plate and the case cover to install a Corsair Commander Pro, 3x SSDs, Lighting Node and all relevant cabling for a full-on system.
Well played Fractal Design.
Good power supply, fans are stopped most of the time, and even when running are nice and quiet. Fully modular, and gives you a good selection of peripheral power options.
Connecting it to Corsair's LINK system is also great.
Great static pressure fans, so quiet even at 1200 RPM that I've left them running hard all the time to maximise cooling for my system. Hands down the quietest fans I've encountered so far.
Good RGB fans, although the LEDs are a little too solid for what I was looking for. Seems a bit noisy when they spin up to full speed, almost silent at the ~800 RPM speed and provide good airflow at that rate so if you get enough cooling at lower speeds, go for these - if you need more, look elsewhere.
I've had this monitor for a while now, and it's fantastic. No dead pixels, excellent FPS, and syncs with NVidia. Ideally love a few more USB ports, but it has everything you really need, especially if you're keyboard has pass-through for the mouse.
Fantastic keyboard, great feedback on the keystrokes. Perhaps a bit loud, and not as suitable for gaming (if you want that look for the RED keys), but great for coding and work.
RGB is fully customisable, only wish it was also in the LINK system, not a separate Engine app.
Comfortable ski-gear style strap over your head, and awesome sound. Lots of on-ear controls for in-system sounds with the ability to mute it down so you can hear someone talking at you without having to pull them off.
Audio quality and noise suppression is excellent, with music sounding natural and acoustically accurate, whilst gaming is base and noise so you can hear every footstep!
Boom mic retracts, and has great pickup of audio for voice, and so far battery has been more than enough 6+ hours straight without charge.