4 June 2012

Mini ITX Gaming Rig Rebuild

This time with watercooling and a Sapphire 7850!

... After about 5 months of being almost constantly powered, a wooden PC (or any PC) tends to accumulate a lot of dust. MDF seemed like a great material for a DIYer at the time but may not have been the best idea.

After getting though all of skyrim, dirt 3 and many other games, the machine seemed happy with the ventilation it had, but getting into the warmer days of spring, things started to get quite toasty under the hood. I decided it was time for a water cooled solution. What overclocked gaming PC is what it is without a bit of water cooled magic eh?

Having got a Corsair H60, the MDF case had to be rebuilt a little. A huge hole was cut in the top panel and the radiator sat in the cut out. The H60 was about half the size of the case, long story short, it looked ridiculous...

A new designed was forged, this time made out of clear Acrylic! Beautifully designed in sketchup (having moved on from the expensive Autodesk inventor after the free trial ran dry).

Seems however after receiving two quotes from acrylic laser cutting houses, I was looking in the region of £200 - £350 for the lot of six 10mm acrylic parts... That was including student discount.

This design had many fantastic features, 120mm fan/radiator mount, two 2.5" drive bays under the motherboard, low profile or full height PCI-e slot cut-out as well as a clear design worthy of any enthusiast build.

It was about twice as big as the original case with plenty of expansion and cooling.

I eventually decided to not go with a self built case due to the cost and the not having a working media centre PC was becoming a problem to my other flatmates who used it for watching TV.

I decided to go with the Silverstone SG05 Mini ITX case!

Note the red glow, I had a few strips of 12V RGB leds, The fan was bought specially for the red glow effect and PWM capability.

Over the course of a few weeks, I started to love the case more and more. So much so that I wanted to make it a bit more customised to my taste. In came the red cans of spray paint and the grey sheet metal that once was the back plate got sanded down and given a few coats of gloss red.

As was the included 300W ATX Power supply!

With a decent amount of power at my fingertips, I could push the overclock a little more as well as invest in a higher end graphics card. A Sapphire 7850 was added.

I had a spare 64GB mSATA SSD sitting around so I threw that in as the boot drive.

All in all a nice fit internally and with cables tied and tucked up, this was the result:

The cpu I have is a i3 540 clarkdale, therefore I cannot change the multiplier when overclocking. The only thing I can change is the base clock frequency whose default is set as 133MHz.

Increasing this value too much causes the memory to become unstable. My motherboard doesn't allow any ratio change for the base clock and memory frequency except the selection of four default memory clock values. I get away with a base clock of 180MHz by telling my motherboard I have 1066MHz RAM installed as opposed to the 1333MHz DDR3 RAM I actually have. This also results in a memory overclock to 721MHz (remember DDR3 means that the actual rate is twice this value: 1442MHz). I tried to boost the ram voltages a tad but to no avail, just makes them really hot!!!

These settings are really on the edge but has proved stable and the systems runs hottest at 60degC on max load, to summarise:

 Clock = 180MHz
 Multiplier = 23
 Voltage = 1.2V
 Frequency = 4.146GHz

 BIOS setting: 1066MHz
 Timings = 9-9-9-24 (Auto)
 Voltage = Default
 Clock = 721MHz

Finally the bill of materials for this build:

Not bad for something that plays pretty much everything on max settings with plenty of FPS to spare. Mosty the cost is in the graphics card, it will last a long time though. In a few months, I might consider swapping out the old first gen i3 parts for ivy bridge and Z77. But for now, I'm happy!

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