The CPU and the motherboard upgrade was free of charge. :)
Working with hard tubing wasn't easy without any tools. But it works. There are no leaks and both the CPU and the GPU are kept below 45 C during heavy gaming (i.e. CPU and GPU usage are both above 90%).
I've been using this PC of mine when I was having issues with CPU intensive games. I could play them, but there were rather noticeable lags or straight down slowdowns in certain scenarios when the computer started to beep to indicate it cannot process input from the keyboard. That's bad. So I needed a CPU upgrade.
Also, I always entertained the idea of a custom full liquid cooling loop. I was contemplating whether to buy the latest technology, but I decided, I don't need it. The radiators, pumps and even the universal CPU water block can be reused in a future machine. So why wait? Why not do it here and now?
I've spotted a PC on Gumtree for $150. This included
I called the guy that I'll be there in an hour. :) I left the office and was there the place to pick up the PC. I asked for a demonstration that it works and I checked that the hardware is as advertised. All matched. I asked the guy why on Earth would he sell this so cheap?! He told me he found this PC on the street!!! LOL He wasn't sure how good condition it was, so he was selling it cheap and not accepting any liability.
I took it home. Swapped my motherboard and CPU from my computer to the newly acquired ones. They both used DDR3, so I was covered on that matter. I overclocked the CPU to 4.7 GHz and was happy as a clam at high tide. The CPU did rather well. All my previous issues stopped.
I bundled my old motherboard and CPU with the case "new" case and PSU and listed them on Gumtree. Sold for $150. So technically the CPU and motherboard upgrade was for free. ;)
Now that my CPU got a decent speed upgrade in many games my CPU stopped being the bottleneck and my GPU could achieve 100% utilization. With this, a new problem happened: my GPU VRMS with default settings overheated and caused the game to crash. ASUS's official reply was to tweak the fans curve on my GPU but to keep at low temperatures, I had to crank it up that the sound reminded me to jet engines. Even my girlfriend complained about the noise. So I resolved this with setting up a frame limiter in the game. What a waste on a 144 Hz display. :(
So since I've been considering to build a custom liquid loop, I convinced myself that this is as good as any time to build one. The radiators, the pump, the universal CPU water block can be reused later on in future builds. EKWB provides mounting plates for future sockets free of charge. ;)
Only the GPU water block could not be reused. But since I'm not too fussy about the graphics, I was content with what I currently have. I can always lower graphics settings if the need arise. And with a liquid cooling loop, I can start some overclocking on the GPU as well. ;)
The only problem was, that EKWB does not manufacture GPU water blocks for the ASUS GTX 970 STRIX anymore. Getting them was rather expensive as shipping to Australia from abroad is costly. So I ended up buying an Alphacool GTX 970 GPU water block to my loop.
I ordered parts from Germany (Alphacool), Slovenia (EKWB) and Australia (MWave -- as EKWB component resellers).
I had to wait quite a long time for everything to arrive. About 3 weeks and a total of more than a month for everything, as some components were not in stock (GPU water block for instance and had to be manufactured.) Interestingly EKWB did their delivery from EU faster than MWave within the same city. LOL. I understand that they had to get some component (not in stock) from EKWB from EU but why it took them 2 weeks and still 2 items missing while my same day order from EKWB arrived within 5 days, I do not know. I told MWave to drop the 2 missing items and ordered them from EKWB directly. Another 5 days and I had everything.
Ready for the build.
I took a day off from work on a Friday. In case I messed up something, I still could try to buy it on a workday. Maybe on Saturday, but not much chance on Sundays. Besides, I figured, it could take a while to build it.
I started by cleaning the radiators. Their packaging says, they are factory cleaned, no need to clean them, yet I sued 4 liters of distilled water to clean them up properly as they still contained quite a few manufacturing waste trapped in them. Just look at the 4th picture. I'm glad they are not fed to the pump. :) I guess just this process alone took at least an hour. I got properly tired by the vehement shaking of the radiators.
I considered long where to mount and what radiators. I didn't want to use the front of the case as radiator mounting point as hot air would just come back into the case. But since I wanted separate radiator for the CPU and the GPU, I didn't have much choice: CPU rad on the front, GPU rad on the top.
The front radiator was a no-brainer: 2 x 140 mm, cover the full mounting space. However, the top one was trickier. Knowing this, I first purchased the 280 mm radiator and tried it, how it would fit on the top (how a 3 x 140 mm radiator would fit there). First of all, the mounting holes did not align with the case holes! The radiator was 0.5 - 1 mm longer, that is enough for an offset so you can't use the screws. Furthermore, the fans would barely fit above the RAM. Knowing that DDR4 is taller than DDR3 I couldn't use this case & radiator combo in the future, so I instead went with a 3 x 120 mm radiator, as that one had not RAM clearance issue.
I would rate them 4/5 because even though they were supposed to be clean, they were not and they have some cosmetic problems, that is, the brass is not painted everywhere throughout the fins and the fins are somewhat irregular. Though they work as intended, so at functionality, they are 5 stars. I would add here, that the fans for the radiator are not properly mounted, as EK send the exact number of screws required (no spares), and one of the screws was faulty (bent). I'm waiting for that replacement, which is already posted at the time of writing this. That also adds to the 4/5 rating.
The next thing was the GPU. I removed the STRIX cooler. Disconnecting the 5-pin fan connector (yes, not 3, not 4, but 5 pins) was rather difficult, but after I used a flat head screwdriver to wedge it between the male and female connector I could loosen them with a few twist and they came apart.
Putting the water block together was a bit funny. For instance, thermal pads were provided for the back of the card as well, but it's rather hard to install them over the back of the circuit board elements when you don't see them where they are. So it was more or less a guess. Furthermore, the original STRIX cooler contained a thermal pad for a series of chips, but Alphacool did not provide thermal pads for those! I had to reuse the "old" ASUS thermal pads, but they being 1.5 mm and the Alphacool ones being 2 mm thick, they now do not have proper contacts.
Another strange thing about the GPU was, that the manual said that after 12 hours of use, one should fasten the screws again. Hold there for a second. After 12 hours of use (Benutzen, if you speak German, so the word use is not a mistranslation). So am I expected to take apart my custom loop after 12 hours of use just to fasten the screws?! What I ended up doing is left the card and 12 hours later I fastened the screws. Only after that, I installed it in the computer.
Also, the GPU with this metal water block and backplate and all the fins for the passive cooling is rather heavy: it weighs more than a kilogram. Maybe I should get some GPU holder, to relieve stress from the PCIe socket.
Some explanation for the rating: the GPU water block works, but the water covers only the area above the cold plate, not like with the EK GPU water blocks, where it flows over a much wider area covering RAMs and other components as well. With this GPU only the graphics chip has water above it, the rest of the components are cooled with the heat conductivity of the metal base of the GPU and some fins (so kind of passive air cooling, lol). And of course, the points mentioned above.
The pump and reservoir combo gave me quite a headache. Although I did a preliminary design how the build would look, I just somehow missed the size of the pump and reservoir combo. Although it fits inside the case, it does not have room for my HDD rack anymore. (I've got 3 HDDs.) I rushed to MWave to purchase a mounting bracket so I can mount the pump on the top of the case, that is, on the top radiator. There was hardly enough space to access the mounting screws, plus it pretty much blocked the intake and outlet of the front mounted radiator. Also, with a horizontal reservoir, filling it needs tilting the case, which is a pain.
So I resolved not having my HDD rack and mounting the reservoir with the pump on the front of the case. It had just enough room to add a fitting on top of the reservoir and lead a soft tube out of the case with a funnel as a refill point. Closing it later on needed some intuition once again, as no screwdriver fitted in there so I had to use something small enough to fasten the closing cap of the fill port. A 5 cent coin did fine. :D
The pump works quiet, however, it does seem to run always at 100%. If PWM is applied, it doesn't seem to run at all (below 60% PWM duty cycle, e.g.: 25%). I've e-mailed EKWB as I purchased a PWM pump, so I expect it to work. I've got a bit of a funny answer that I believe was composed by a salesperson, not a technical one. I did not pursue, as the pump seems to work when connected directly to a PWM fan header. Maybe I should conduct some test with different PWM signals, but it's hard to guess the flow rate just by looking as the liquid loops. ;)
It was easy to assemble, it works fine, keeps the CPU under 35 C most of the time. And EKWB provides new mounting brackets free of charge. I've also ordered some green LED for it. What not to dislike?! :) Only slight downside was that since it is a universal water block, you can configure it to multiple sockets and the default configuration was rather funny for a not too popular setup. But replacing the right parts to match my hardware wasn't hard at all, so not much to complain about. Five stars!
I'm not sure how to rate them. This was my first liquid cooling loop and I did not use any tools for bending (apart from the silicon insert that is a must). I used my girlfriend's hair drier and did a free-hand bending. So tubing looks as ugly as is due to my inexperience with this material and the bending. I did read about it, watched videos, but those with experience made it look easy. Just like ballet: the dancers make it look easy like they are feather dancing in the air, but would you need to repeat what they just did. Oh, man.
For precaution, I ordered more tubes than I needed. Surprisingly only one piece had to be thrown away and redone, the rest got used in the build. I used a tube cutter, not a saw. That was a useful thing.
Next time probably I'd save myself some trouble and get some bending tool, some gloves for heat protection, some heat gun as hair dryers don't heat evenly, the right side of the tube was always more malleable than the left. Or maybe I will just buy some 90-degree adapters to avoid bending completely. :D
About 12 hours were spent with bending. An awful lot of time. Probably would have taken half the time with the right tools. Maybe just a couple of hours if I had prior experience in this.
Building a custom loop was an interesting experience. Based on the material I found online I thought it should have been much easier. Maybe one should just take an old joke to the heart: A fiddler hurries down on New York City's street. He is lost so asks a guy: "Excuse me, how do I get to the Opera?" The man looks him in the eyes: "Practice, man, practice!"
Was it worth it? Yes, in terms of having the experience of building my custom loop. If I think about performance gain, the AUD $1200 would have been definitely better investing it into a new motherboard/CPU/RAM and GPU than into a custom loop, though many components of the loop can be reused later in the future.
If I'd do it again (as a first-time liquid cooling loop builder), I'd definitely get more tools for bending to make life much easier or just avoid bending completely by using 90-degree adapters or just use soft tubing for the first time.