Okay so we have our base components all setup now lets turn to some fine tuning. We will begin with keeping our system cool.
The stock Node 304 (the case for our build) comes with some pretty solid cooling out of the box. It has dual 92mm fans for intake and a 140mm fan for exhaust. Add to this the fact that with a stock Intel cooler we can get our overclock of 3.9 GHz on our 3450, we should be all set right? Well doing good is okay for most but I hate mediocrity so I want to push this a little.
Lets being by addressing our CPU cooler, I HATE stock coolers and am not a huge fan of after market tower coolers. So that leaves me with my cooler of choice, the all in one liquid cooling solutions.
Now because of the size of our case and the fan layouts our choices are limited to a standard 120mm cooler, a 140mm cooler or a double width 120mm cooler. For our build I wanted some decent cooling power but I wanted to keep things small as well so I chose a standard 120mm cooler.
For this build our friends over at Thermaltake sent me a Water 2.0 Performer, a cooler we reviewed in August of last year. This is a very good water cooling solution for anyone not wanting to deal with a full customer water cooling rig. It comes stock with dual 120mm fans for a push/pull configuration meaning at it’s price point it is the best at keep a CPU with an all in one unit. However I was concerned about how thick we move out from the back of the case. As you can see the radiator is direct connected to the case, a fan in between would have pushed the radiator back quite a bit over the board and potentially hindering the air flow on the rest of the motherboard.
With this in mind I elected to go with a single cooling fan in a push configuration, the most efficient setup for a single fan. The stock fans from Thermaltake can get the fan done an using the stock fan generated some good cooling numbers but I wanted something a bit more. To kick things up a notched I turn to the fine folks at Noctua, a company known for making some of the best fans in the world for your PC.
The Noctua fan we chose was the NF-F12 PWM. This fan has a very high static pressure which is a must for work with a radiator. The fan also has a very low operating noise and has PWM control. PWM means the fan is able to receive instructions from the motherboard and control it’s speed based on the temperature of the CPU across a very broad range of speeds.
The result was exactly what I hoped, under gaming loads the overclocked CPU is usually around 55C topping at about 60C, under super stress testing we lock down at 70C and do not move. At low usage and even gaming the system is practically silent and under heavy load the noise is so low as not to matter. Using a second fan or a double width radiator solution we could have gotten the numbers even lower but in the end lower CPU temps would not make any difference in our system and the other solutions would have been louder under load.
Now as I said from the start the Node comes with three good cooling fans and it has in the back a small switch to let you set the fans at low, medium or high speed. I have found the medium setting gave the best balance of noise to cooling. However I HATE switch fan controllers. The computer has a solid, built in, method of telling a fan to speed up or slow down and we should make use of that. So lets look at the front fans.
As we showed in our review of the Node 304, the case comes stock with dual 92mm fans. These fans are great, very quiet and move a good amount of air. However they are speed locked and must use the switch controller on the back of the case to change their speed. YUCK. So again I have turned to Noctua for a solution and found the solution with the NF-B9 PWM. There are actually two Noctua fans that could work, the second is the NF-A9x14 PWM which is a thinner 90mm fan. The low profile design of the A9 really intrigued me but in the end the B9 has the better air flow and so was the fan of choice.
The dual Noctua will allow for complete control of the cases airflow to be handled based on the system needs, no fan in the case will just be always blasting at a set speed. However to do this we need a way to make two of the B9 fans work off a single motherboard fan header. The fan for the CPU cooler has the CPU header and the Z77N only has one additional header. The solution is actually very simple, a PWM splitter. The header can handle two fans easily so we just need to split the power. You can buy these for about $5 easily enough but the good news is the Noctua fans come with the splitter we need.
So with all our little tweaking done what did we gain? The CPU with a stock cooler at stock speeds under gaming conditions and stock case fans set to medium. we saw the CPU hover around 70C to 75C and at idle around 40C. With the new cooling system in place the CPU is overclocked to 3.9GHz. At idle the CPU hovers around 30C under gaming conditions around 55C. Now in fairness the majority of that cooling comes from the water cooling unit but the 92mm change works in other areas. For example at idle with the stock setup the computer room was measuring around 33db and under load around 44db. The new cooler setup drops that idle noise level to 31db and under load to 39db.
The fan replacements and cooler upgrade did a lot to make our system quieter and cooler. Now let me be clear, the system is a gaming brute at stock and the stock cooling setup will easily keep your system running through your marathon gaming sessions. However if you want to up things a notch making a few changes to the cooling setup can give you lower temps and quieter operation.
Thank you to the folks at Thermaltake for providing us the Water 2.0 Performer used in our build and to the folks at Noctua for sending us a number of different fans to look at for this build.
Show segment from show airing the weekend of April 27th, 2013
The personal computer era has been around for a while, for those that have missed the memo, and during that time the consumers have had very little say in the direction this industry has headed. What I mean by that is that we, as consumers did not get a say as to when advancements were needed or even wanted. We would make our purchase and suddenly 6 months to a year later find out that we “needed” to buy again. The good news for consumers however, is that over the last couple of years that has changed. The technology has been forced to slow down by more clearly defined consumer demands and software jumping off the hardware bandwagon and working with consumers instead of hardware companies to figure out what the next product needs to have.
The good news is many of the tech companies out there have figure out this shift in the way business is done and have begun to adapt. They have changed the business model from telling consumers what they want to instead listing to what consumers want. However a few old die-hards have decided that they know best and we should listen to them, drink what they tell us as it were.
We can see some of this in todays offerings for consumer level computers. We could start with Apple and spend the entire article there, this is basically their business model and always has been. However I think we should instead focus on Microsoft. Windows 8 is an old story so I am not going to spend a lot of time talking about the OS itself. I have covered that pretty well I think and if you missed the three articles I did on it feel free to browse the archives and read them. However I will focus on their efforts to change the way we look at a computer.
Now let me explain this a bit before I make my point. You see Microsoft has always made an effort to help define the image of a what people see as a personal computer. It was after all in their best interest to exercise some level of control in this area. However up until recently that control has been a quiet guiding hand. To use the popular phrase, they led us to water but never forced us to drink. That however has begun to change.
Microsoft has launched a number of sites that are supposed to be designed to help the lay people, such as many of you, make a good choice when it comes to getting a new PC. On the surface this sounds like a great idea, something to help people see the choices they have and help them make solid decisions. We do this all the time on the show and people find it helpful. That would be good it did offer real choices. Every one of these setups I have looked at only offer laptops, tablets or all in one systems. Now this would not be bad except many of these recommendations are being listed as good for gaming. NONE of the recommendations I saw would make a good gaming PC for any but the most casual gamer. Also what about other form factors?
Thing this is just because of the move to Windows 8? You would be wrong, this started before that. Go back and look at the various Windows commercials were Microsoft talks about helping people buy a new PC. Every one of them were laptop and all in one models. You did not even seen an HTPC or tower configuration system in the videos.
One of the things I have always loved about the PC and the PC world is the freedom of choice. You can have a PC that is HUGE or tiny. One that is designed for pure hard core gaming or design for only light web browsing. Companies would offer us a range of choices, often to our dismay because we had so many but still we had choices. Over the years as the focus has shifted from hardware to software we have seen those choices diminish, not in a bad way. We have found that the budget system, at least the cost of it we used to pay, now buys us a more powerful machine. This has caused some overlap in the type of PC we buy but that is a natural progression. A natural change to the way we see PCs might not be something we like but I for one can accept it. However when we see companies that have traditionally let the market direct the path with them offering gentle nudges, switch to heavy handed tactics of forcing a direction, this is a problem to me.
Is our hobby moving to smaller form factors, well of course it is, I mean why do you think our build series is looking at ITX designs? However we can make this move in a way that does not limit our choices. Small Form factor of today is not the same as yesterday. Heck even yesterday was not that bad. Back in 2008 when enthusiasts said you needed a full tower to build a “real” gaming rig, I did a build we called the Itsy Bitsy Might Spider. This was a full powered gaming rig built in a micro ATX case. Now we see the move to even smaller, but the key here is that we can make this move without making a sacrifice. That is not the choice given to us today by some in the industry.
This of course is all my opinion and I would love to hear your opinions on this subject. Email in your comments or post them here under comments for this entry. Any comments of course might be used on the air for further discussion on this topic.