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Project Exa: Custom Liquid Cooled Micro ATX

by lxtbell2

31
12 Comments

Part List View full price breakdown

Details

Date Published

Sept. 5, 2016

CPU Clock Rate

4.8GHz

CPU Temperature Under Load

71.0° C

GPU Core Clock Rate

1.75GHz

GPU Effective Memory Clock Rate

8.61GHz

GPU Temperature Under Load

50.0° C

Description

This is the first, aka single card version of Project Exa, a custom liquid cooled Micro ATX gaming and productivity desktop.

Though possibly being the most budget-looking part, the Corsair Carbide 88R case represents the essence of this build. It is compact, lightweight, and fits everything I need while nothing I don't: a 240mm radiator, a bay-mounted reservoir (IMO bay-mounted looks cleaner), a 170mm power supply (as long as flat cables are used), and room for upgrading to an SLI setup. I simply can't find a better case that fits the system that well. Even Obsidian 350D looks too bulky compared to this one. The front intake does look highly restrictive, though. Such intake combined with the slim EX240 radiator sometimes leads to warm coolant under load. Carbide Spec M2 is definitely the better choice for the front radiator, but it was unavailable in August when I built the desktop.

The Gigabyte G1 backplate is kept when mounting the water block by removing the four outermost standoffs installed on the acrylic part of the block. The design of filling and draining port took me some time, since the tubing doesn't have an ideal low point. Placing the case on its back, however, makes a reservoir inlet and the radiator outlet a high point and a low point. Valve and T fittings are thus installed there.

The XSPC and EKWB blocks perform exceptionally well. The only issue I have with the liquid cooling system is that there is a hole on top of the flow deflector inside the reservoir at the pump inlet. The hole can suck in bubbles to the pump preventing bleeding and making loud noise, unless I completely fill the reservoir, which takes time. Meanwhile its output looks sufficient, at least with those high flow blocks, but still makes a little noise.

The Sandisk SSD is originally bought for my laptop, and switched to this desktop. I then put a Corsair Force LE (also 960GB) into my laptop. The Sandisk is no doubt superb, but frankly speaking I can't find perceivable difference in use between the Sandisk and the Corsair, despite that the Corsair is about 60% in terms of price. In the SLC cache mode the Corsair actually runs slightly faster than the Sandisk, and the cache doesn't run out easily. The native TLC speed is also okay.

Overall performance is satisfactory. Note that for some reason Turbo Boost is not enabled for multiple cores by default. (Stock multipliers are 42-40-40-40) Some benchmark results are attached. I will add another GTX 1070 and PETG tubings in the future. I'm also considering replacing the case (for a better intake), the radiator, and the pump. Stay tuned!

                Stock       Overclocked Difference
CPU
    Base        100MHz      100MHz
    Multiplier  40 (42)     48
    Cache       40          46
    Voltage     +0mV        +100mV
Memory
    Multiplier  32          32
    Voltage     1.35V       1.35V
GPU
    Core        +0MHz       +160MHz
    VRAM        +0MHz       +600MHz
CineBench R11.5 9.63        11.41       18.5%
CineBench R15   883         1040        17.8%
Fritz Chess     15819       18881       19.4%
3DMark Fire Strike
    Overall     15442       17328       12.2%
    Graphics    19227       20748       7.9%
    Physics     12680       15315       20.8%
3DMark Fire Strike Extreme
    Overall     8308        9040        8.8%
    Graphics    9033        9721        7.6%
    Physics     12659       15288       20.8%
RotTR 1440P     59.80 FPS   59.81 FPS   0.0%
3DMark Stress (Maximum Temperature)
    Ambient     22C         22C
    CPU         48C         71C
    GPU         47C         50C

Part Reviews

Motherboard

Has pretty good overclocking capabilities. The overall looking and the LED fits my build fairly well. BIOS interface does look a little outdated.

Memory

Probably the best looking memory with one side black, the other silver, and a removable red top. Aesthetics alone should justify its price, not to mention that DDR4 3200 is blazing fast. (I don't find memory speed very useful in practice, though)

Video Card

Equipped with much more robust power design than reference cards, a fancy backplate, and a standard height PCB, this card is truly awesome. Easily overlockable to 2152MHz. The backplate is compatible with EKWB GTX 1080 G1 water block, as long as the four outermost EK standoffs on the block are removed.

Case

Fits a 240mm radiator, a bay-mounted reservoir, a 170mm power supply (as long as flat cables are used), and both 2.5" and 3.5" hard drives. Should fit an SLI setup as well. Well designed given its size and weight. However, keep in mind that the front intake looks highly restrictive, and the power button feels terrible. Consider Carbide Spec M2 if good front intake is needed.

Power Supply

Fairly sleek looking. However, it seems that the fan on my copy is not properly installed, so that it makes a vibrating noise when starts spinning. The unpleasant noise often occurs when loading the game.

Case Fan

Very quiet. The LED can be switched off.

Mouse

The best mouse I've ever used, among several Roccat, Logitech, and Razer ones. The customizable side areas are simply amazing. I currently use six side buttons with the middle line empty for thumb, and have never misclicked. Also IMO Roccat Shift is far better than millions of tiny side buttons in terms of providing extra functions. (Of course if you want you can easily go G600 or Naga style having twelve side buttons on this Nyth) I need some 20 functions for web browsing and multimedia, and this mouse handles them easily with the Shift. For example, Shift + wheel is particularly handy in switching browser tabs, pages, or undo/redo. (G Shift on G502 doesn't work with the wheel) The location of the default Roccat Shift button is kind of awkward though, so I set it to a long side button.

Comments Sorted by:

Eltech 14 Builds 1 point 7 months ago

This must have taken some work with the Corsair Carbide Series 88R. I have that MircoATX case too so I can only imagine the tight space moments. You made a powerful rig and it looks great. You have my one.

FACUNDO 12 Builds 1 point 7 months ago

I have an interesting question:

How do you get those incredible white backgrounds for the pics?!

lxtbell2 submitter 2 Builds 1 point 7 months ago

Just a ... white wall? I didn't use those fancy overexposed background lighting techniques.

FACUNDO 12 Builds 2 points 7 months ago

What product do you use to clean it? Hahah

Charmin 1 point 7 months ago

Feature Incoming

MightyAlFred 3 Builds 1 point 7 months ago

I can totally understand why you wanted to build in this case, I also really liked it for a small watercooled build and I'd like to do one in the future. I see you've gone with a complete kit, otherwise I think a slightly thicker radiator would've fit, and it might've helped with temperatures. Is there any space to add a 120mm rad on the rear of the case? From the pictures it seems there's not enough, but you can never tell. Just another 120 should be enough to cool everything, I suppose.

lxtbell2 submitter 2 Builds 1 point 7 months ago

Thanks for the advice. I just did some measurements. A 120mm radiator might fit upward on the rear with the top case fan removed with around 43mm headroom for the inlets. The case should fit a thick radiator up to around 75mm (push only) at the front. However, it seems that radiators perform similarly under low air flow, so I'm thinking about getting some Corsair SP120s or a push/pull setup to overcome the case front intake restriction before upgrading to something like EKWB XE240.

Jake762by39 6 Builds 1 point 7 months ago

This. I dig this.

AddisonKwong 1 point 7 months ago

YAAS, haven't seen one of these clean looking soft-tubed builds, job well done m80 :)

Lyrix 1 point 7 months ago

i dont like it...

i dont love it either im sorry.....

Charmin 1 point 7 months ago

As a sidenote from my feature incoming comment, this truly does look amazing. The red and black looks great and the case is very very sleek. While the Corsair M2 may have been easier to build in (but as you said, it wasn't released), the 88R looks much sleeker and better in my opinion.

theonlyRPG123 1 point 2 months ago

How long is the wire from the 4 pin bitfenix fan in the back off the case. Thanks in advance :-)

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