We're a little crazy, about science!

Day one of the computer rebuild

That giant blob on the right? That’s my computer.

Well today’s the day I crack open the computer case and get to work on fixing my desktop computer. Since I have not popped anything open yet, I want to talk a bit more about the plan going in, how I am going to do things, why you should do it too if that kind of thing sounds fun to you, and why I selected some of the things I did.

Okay, technically I already wrote about how I selected the things I did (here), but the rest of the stuff I plan to talk about is new and I think having everything in one neat little (long) post will be a good way to help people feel more confident going into this if they are doing it for the first time. So a recap of the problem is probably in order.

The story goes like this, my computer has a large CPU. The CPU is the brain of the computer and I’m running a 32 core AMD threadripper. It’s a great computer brain and even though it’s a few years old I still love the thing and I won’t (hopefully) need to upgrade for another several years. Unfortunately the brain of a computer can get incredibly hot. My laptop for example can hit close to 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees fahrenheit for my fellow backwards Americans) before throttling to keep the CPU from getting damaged. The threadripper I have is rated for a maximum temperature of 68 C or about 155 F.

To cool the CPU I opted for a AIO watercooler (All In One). It was easier, cheaper, and I had hoped it would last the life of the computer since computers age like milk in the sun. Well after a little over a year I noticed several problems and found that my CPU temps were around 70 degrees C, or not good since they should be closer to 30 C. Thinking it was bad luck, I ordered a replacement and swapped a new AIO cooler in its place (here). The good news, it worked great, the bad is that it lasted less than a year.

So here I am once again with a really hot CPU (I have seen it hit ~73 C, which is uncomfortably well over the max rated temp and when I turn it on it reaches > 55 C just starting it) so it’s been sitting alone and unused for fear of ruining the CPU due to the temperature issues. The issue is the AIO watercoolers clog, it happens fairly often and I suspect that since my CPU is so large and so hot it speeds up the clogging process. I have no real proof of this, but I feel like two clogged AIO in less than two years is enough for a hypothesis anyway.

Which brings us to today and the long rebuild. I’m running a custom hard line water cooling system for the CPU. This will give the CPU full coverage (the old watercooler only covered most of the CPU meaning the edges would be hotter than the center) and even though I will need to change the fluid once every six months or so, it will save me money in the long run because each AIO costs anywhere from $250-$400USD depending on what you want. Instead I’m spending ~2x that up front and putting in a lot more time and effort, but the system should last as long as the computer and I can open it, clean it, and refill it should there be any issues. Basically this system will last the lifetime of the computer, but it requires significant work upfront and some not so minor work to maintain it.

The advantages of course are that I can customize it and cool all the important stuff I want to cool. Namely my CPU and GPU (graphics card). I’ve got two radiators in this build a 360mm radiator and a 240mm radiator, which is slightly more than the minimum I need, but as I said in the selection post I link to above, you can never have too much radiator, but you can have too little. A good rule of thumb is 240 mm of radiator for each thing you’re cooling, since I’m cooling two things, I should have ~ 480mm of radiator and I have 600mm total.

The radiator exchanges the heat with the air, so it’s important to get enough for the system you’re cooling. I opted to watercool the graphics card because I’m already doing the work, so why not? The amount of effort to add it into the loop is not that much so I opted to include it in since it would be nice to maintain an even temperature on that side of things as well. It’s probably more of a vanity purchase than anything else, but again doing the work, it didn’t cost much to add it into the loop, so might as well include it.

For those who have never done a build like this, well welcome to the club! I’ve never done one either, but I know a lot of the techniques and I’ve done a lot of other builds (cars, computers, etc). The trick is you’ll never learn if you don’t dive in so I’ve done a lot of reading, watched a lot of youtube videos on the topic, and I feel pretty confident going in that I won’t screw anything up seriously. Some of this is art, some of this is preference, but a lot of it is just basics to make sure the tubing doesn’t leak and that feels like a pretty low bar if I don’t worry too much about making it look perfect. I’m going to do my best of course, but I don’t suspect that it will be as good as people who do this on a regular basis.

Mostly the trick is that I’m using ridgid tubing. It will look nicer, but it also lets me route it a little better (in my opinion) than the soft tubing. My case is an odd shape, so I didn’t want to kink the soft tubing on accident or have it kink when I’m not watching it. Hard tubing requires a heat gun to warm the tubing and make bends. You can buy kits to help you do this and I did just that, it comes with a bending tool and a soft insert to keep the tube from collapsing on itself when you bend it. The tool will help me make 45, 90, and 135 degree bends without having to eyeball it.

Now if there’s anything I’ve learned in all my reading and watching it’s that this build will take time. I fully suspect that over the weekend I may not finish it completely, but we start today and possibly finish either tomorrow or next weekend (since I won’t have time to work on it during the week). There will be tons of photos, explanations, and if I do something wrong, warnings so you don’t end up like me.

Okay, so let’s talk about how to plan a loop.

First, my CPU is in a fixed spot so that takes care of where I can put that little guy. I have two radiators and I’m limited where the big one can go so it’s getting put in the single spot it was made for. The second radiator I’m forcing in with love and care into a spot that should technically hold it, but I don’t think was designed for it. The GPU (graphics card) has several different locations it can go, so I need to find the best spot for it based on how I run the loops and some of that is for practicality, some of it for space, and some of it for aesthetics. That part I’m going to need to play with and figure out where it should go. Lastly, and the thing I haven’t really talked about, the pump.

The pump is what circulates the fluid through the loop. I have a pump and reservoir combo so the extra fluid just hangs out with the pump. I could’ve bought them seperate and ran tubing from the reservoir to the pump, but that is extra work so this felt easier and my case is pretty big so I’m not worried about space here. I have a spot picked out for the pump and it just happens to be the highest spot on the loop, this is good because we need to flush out the air in the loop and this will help the air collect there instead of some other part. Air doesn’t conduct heat as well as water, so we want to remove all the air from the lines if we want to have the best result.

I plan on covering a lot of this over the next few posts, but basically if you want to build a loop, you don’t have to be scared, if you take the time to do it right it can be both cool to look at and rewarding. I’m annoyed that I have to put all this effort in to fix what feels like a simple problem, but I’m also excited to make something new with my hands. Basically the goal of the next few posts (or series of posts really) is to help anyone on the fence make the choice that’s right for them. Remember, this is my first time too so we can do this together.

I’ve even made a new category to group all these posts for anyone who stumbles across it. I’m going to retroactively toss in all the other posts from my computer hijinks over the years as well.

But enough about us, what about you?

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