Showing posts with label gaming. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gaming. Show all posts

Monday, August 15, 2016

Building a new gaming PC (with some digs about NZXT)

Never let it be said that I do not support the aspirations of today's young people. My contribution to the next generation was helping a local teen build out a high powered gaming PC. It was my first time installing a closed-loop liquid cooling system (the Kraken x61). 

Building a gaming rig. Notice how decades of IT work has resulted in a Quasimodo hunch
The highlights of the PC included the following:

    - Intel i7 6700K CPU
    - NZXT Kraken x61 liquid cooling system
    - Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card
    - ASUS Z170-E motherboard
    - NZXT S340 case
    - Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 RAM
    - Samsung EVO 850 SSD
    - EVGA Fully Modular GQ 650W power supply

During build-out I encountered two issues that weren't the result of my own fumbling, shaky hands. One of these issues I think is forgivable and the other is not.

The ASUS 7170-E motherboard and its associated BIOS is specifically designed with gaming and overclocking in mind. I'll save the overclocking for another time; what I had problems with is the BIOS' "QFan" monitoring system, which was unable to recognize the Kraken x61 CPU fan. Both the BIOS and motherboard appears to have more of a focus on open loop cooling systems - the 7170-E has a dedicated on-board four port connector labeled "WPUMP" for water pumps, and the QFan monitoring within the BIOS treats CPU fans and pumps as separate entities.

Booting with default BIOS settings continuously failed with an error message complaining of an invalid RPM lower limit assigned to the CPU Fan, and that I should resolve this by either disabling that lower limit within the BIOS or confirming that the CPU Fan was attached to the on-board CPU Fan Header. Of course, neither of these resolved the problem. I tried a ton of alternatives - plugging the CPU fan into the WPUMP header, changing the fan type from "auto" to "PWM", etc - without any success. Eventually I was forced to resort to Google, where I found a post on a message board suggesting to completely disable QFan's CPU Fan monitoring functionality (you can do this by pressing F9 to go the Advanced Setup menu, then goto Monitor, scroll down to CPU Fan monitoring and press space to disable). Doing this resolved the issue.

Once I had Windows installed and I had installed NZXT's CAM application (through which I was able to manage and monitor CPU Fan speed and other metrics without any problems), I decided to update the BIOS in one more attempt to resolve this whole QFan business. I can't remember the BIOS versions involved off hand other than that I know it was a major release - something similar to a leap from 0230 to 1205. I was pleasantly surprised to see that immediately after upgrading the BIOS the x61 CPU fan was recognized. With this confirmed, I powered off the system one last time to do some last minute-cable management (I'll post a pic at some point). However, when I rebooted a second time, the error reappeared even though the BIOS upgrade was successful - strangely, the BIOS screen became heavily pixelated At that point I gave up and disabled QFan again which once again got be through POST without issues (the pixelation disappeared).

This obstacle didn't bother me; I'm not sure whether the issue with the Kraken or with the ASUS BIOS, but the fix was simple enough (even if it took me a while to figure out). The second obstacle I ran into, also related to an NZXT part, was more frustrating.

We went with the Kraken x61 fan for two reasons. First - because its claimed stats for air circulation along with its claimed decibel rating were among the best in its price range. And second - the case preferred by my gamer customer was an NZXT S340, so I rubbed both of my brain cells together and reasoned that NZXT coolers are bound to fit more easily into NZXT cases than other comparable coolers. Of course, I didn't reach this conclusion on my own. NZXT's documentation for their mid-size S340 case clearly says "Full 280mm radiator support for the latest Kraken cooler".

So let me be the first to say that, no, a 280mm radiator will not fit within the NZXT S340. There is, in fact, 280mm of fan space. You can easily install two separate 140mm fans. And you can also install a 280mm radiator in addition to those fans (after physically modifying the case). What will not fit as the case is designed is the two thick rubber tubes that are attached to every cooling radiator on the market. Compounding the bullsh*t nature of the claim is that NZXT only manufactures closed-loop coolers, and the x61 is the only 280mm cooler that NZXT makes.

I did get it to work (that's why I make the big bucks), but the installation should have been much easier. There are conceivably a few different ways to do this, but here is what I did:

     - I removed the front panel and used a pair of wire cutters to remove the series of small,
        completely pointless plastic tabs inside the panel that prevent the case from closing with the
        Kraken radiator inside.

     - There are two metal holes in the front of the S340 case where the fans are designed to be
        mounted. I threaded the CPU cooler and tubes through the top-most hole. This, in turn, makes it         impossible to mount the fans where they are designed.

     - I then proceeded to install the top fan into the top hole, leaving enough space for the tubes. This
        means that only two screws can be used to secure the fans instead of 8. These two screws will             connect the bottom of the top fan where the top of the bottom fan was designed to be screwed in.

     - This leaves *just* enough clearance for the bottom fan to be squeezed into the remaining space.
        To avoid shaking, I installed a pair of adhesive bumper strips to the bottom of this fan. Instead of         using screws, a series of zip ties can be used to make sure the fans stay in place. This, in addition         to gravity and pressure, will keep the fans and radiator in place.

This is very much a hack. There are other options for getting this to work, but the list is narrowed by the very small amount of clearance in the front of the server and the radiator itself.

Is it possible that I overlooked something significant in the install of the cooler with this case? Absolutely. If that is in fact the case, and I made a mistake, I'm still going to blame NZXT - because the case provided no documentation for how to install a 280mm cooler, and the documentation for the cooler only included instructions for larger cases (where the cooler is installed on top).

Anyway, I hope this post helps save readers some time and prevents a few headaches.

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