Perforated Plinth (Kraken, Part 6)

In the previous post, you might recall seeing a couple of images that show a graphics card fitted in position and a sheet of aluminium directly beneath it, with through holes cut and equipped with bulkhead adapters.

As solutions go, it’s pretty neat. With just one small problem: you can only pass fluid and pipework through from the main chamber to the plinth, if, you have a corresponding hole in the plinth top. Can you guess what comes next? Bingo.

Cue more work with the Dremel. Here, we’re looking down on the plinth lid. The two sets of 4 fan holes fall in to the two sides of the case and when assembled these are separated by the central bulkhead that we’re in the process of augmenting with a huge piece of sheet aluminium. But we can’t pass fittings or tubes through the steel that is in the way.

So we tipped the case over to one side, offered up the base, figure out what needed to be cut away and, presto, we can now pass the tubing down in to the plinth for transit across the case and connection with the pumps and reservoirs.

Believe it or not, this could be a tighter fit than it looks – the plinth will, after all, have a fan-equipped radiator down either side, but we mocked it up and there’s just enough space to make it work. Just.

If I’m honest, I hadn’t quite anticipated the amount of case customisation this build would need. But it’s been interesting, educational and fun to work out solutions to each challenge. And best of all, we’re still moving forwards. Yay.

Back to the Base-ics (Kraken, Part 5)

In basic trim, the case in which Kraken will lurk looks like this:-

You can clearly see the main case with 2 side chambers (central panel of blue LED lights runs down the central divider, with each half being roughly the width of a regular PC case; and you can also clearly see the plinth.

For our design, Kraken’s plinth serves 3 main purposes: it will house the power supply, it will allow us to route cabling… and it will also serve as space to deploy 2 of the radiators, specifically those for the GPU physically lowest on the vertically mounted motherboard.

“But you’ve got a problem right there!” I hear you say. “Now you’ve got to run your plumbing from the card through the floor of a metal case and in to the plinth.” And you’d be right. Thanks for that.

Careful examination of the floor of the default case (it has a series of circular fan cut-outs and that’s about it) left us with the opportunity for more metalwork. So we did this:-

which, as you can see, is a carefully cut and shaped piece of aluminium, corners hacked off so that it won’t foul the pass-through mounting plates for the plinth, and with the previously-drilled holes for the coolant (in this image) sporting a couple of pass-through brackets – again to test fit things. It looked pretty good. So, of course, it was given to me for a dose of vinyl wrap:-

The pedants among you (and you know who you are) are going to observe that the vinyl is a subtle shade darker than the powder coat. You’re only mostly right. Actually, in this shot the case itself is showing quite a layer of workshop dust – and will brush up nicely. And, of course, the perspex side panel in the case door is slightly tinted (grey) so we’re pretty confident that any remaining difference in tone won’t be too visible.

Next up, we’re going to have to remove the motherboard in order to fit the main aluminium pump/reservoir mounting plate… after which, hopefully, the only major piece of structural work left to do will be the siting and drilling of mounting plates for the reservoirs and the siting and drilling of pass-throughs (we’ll need 4) in that main sheet of aluminium.

After that – he wrote, getting way ahead of himself – we’ll be on to actual assembly…

A Massive Problem (Kraken, Part 4)

Kraken is going to replace my existing gaming system Taz (the Tasmanian Devil), which is based around a water-cooled 6-Core i7 clocked at 4.4GHz on an MSI “Big Bang Power II” motherboard (don’t laugh – it’s actually really quite good) with 32Gb of PC2400MHz memory a water-cooled GTX1080 and all-SSD storage. Summary: it’s a pretty darned good machine.

So obviously, the Kraken needs to go better. Several better.

One of the things we decided to do, in order to achieve this, is to have not one, not two, but three completely distinct water cooling circuits. Hey, why not? That means we’ll have one reservoir/pump combination and a pair of radiators dedicated to the first of a pair of water-cooled RTX2080 Ti’s, the exact same setup for a second RTX 2080Ti and, finally, a reservoir/pump combo and a single radiator for the Intel Core i9 7920XE CPU. Only a 7920? I hear you ask. Well, yes. I could easily have specified anything up to a 7980 (or a 9980, for that matter) if I wanted to push the core count up, but since I play quite a lot of PC games, a good overall base clock is also important. The chip I’ve purchased is guaranteed to 4.7GHz, though I’ll likely not be running it beyond 4.4. It also has 12 Cores and 24 threads, double the 6/12 performance of my current system.

But, let’s go back to the cooling for a moment, specifically the reservoir/pump combos. In basic trim, without their mounting bracket, power cables or plumbing, they look like this:-

This is an Aqualis pump and pump top, from German specialist supplier, AquaComputer, chosen in large part because it was designed to work perfectly with their range of Aquero fan controller computers. And, with 5 radiators and 20 radiator fans, you bet your ### that I’m going to be doing some serious fan speed management…

And now: the problem. That little lot in the picture, right up there, weighs in at about 1,750 grams. A smidge shy of 4lb. And I’m going to have 3 of this combinations, one for each cooling circuit. Add three of these, plus the connecting hoses and a good 3 litres or so of coolant – and you’ll have a good 9-10 kilos of mass to suspend from the central partition. Hence the title of this post….

Did I mention the rather flimsy central panel in the case? It kinda looks like this:-

Yes, OK, OK, there’s a mostly-populated motherboard attached (test fittings, obviously) and you can start to get an idea of just how big this case is when you realise that the board is an Asus RoG Rampage VI Extreme Omega (as they are not small)! Unfortunately, this particular photo doesn’t do the best job of showing you that the central divide between the two main chambers of the case is made from relatively thin pressed steel that is powder-coated with a matt black finish. But that’s how it is.

So, what to do? Well, the answer is to use some sheet aluminium. Yes, for our American audience, *al-u-min-i-um*. Aluminum is a typo. I found another company that will literally let you select a type of metal, a grade and a thickness, provide length/width dimensions to the millimeter, then they will cut, wrap and send you the finish product for a very reasonable price. However, since raw sheet aluminium in a black, powder-coated steel chassis would look a little odd, it was time to get creative:-

Not the best photos (will try and take some more of the other panels), but what you see here is a sheet of metal cut to fit as the floor of the side of the case where the motherboard sits. You will see a couple of 16mm holes drilled in the metal and you will also see that I have done a pretty-reasonable job of coating the bare metal with some matt black vinyl wrap, the sort of stuff that trendy folk use to “wrap” their cars these days. The results were actually pleasantly effective.

We have another, much larger piece of aluminium that we’re in the process of siting, marking up and drilling, so that we can attach it to the central divide on the “other” side of the case from the motherboard. We’re going to use motherboard stand-offs (also matt black) and the void formed will allow us to run all our cables to various components without them cluttering up the place. We’ll drill the new centre panel in 4 places to allow bulkhead water fittings to pass the coolant fluid through.

We’ve mocked all this up and it looks remarkably effective.

OK, three hefty pieces of sheet aluminium aren’t going to help the system’s overall weight, but seeing as the empty case weighed 86lb, we’re hardly going to worry about a couple of pounds of sheet metal, are we?

In fact, we’re hoping that the “problem” of finding a way to install 3 pump/reservoir combination units – totaling roughly 6kg by the time you add the mounting brackets, plus another 3kg of coolant fluid – can be solved with the addition of this well-braced piece of vinyl-wrapped sheet metal. Yes, we know that YouTube superstars like “Declassified Systems” do absolutely wonders with sheet acrylic, but:

1. that isn’t strong enough for this; and
2. we reckon that vinyl-wrapped metal will give us a better finish than spray-painted acrylic, and
3. we priced it up and metal is less than a third of the cost.

Digits crossed…

It Fits! (Kraken, Part 3)

“We might have another little problem,” declared the email, cheerfully.

Uh-oh, I thought. I’ve seen something like this before…I’d best read on…

“I’ve been making progress on doing some basic layout testing. I decided to start by confirming that we could get a fully-assembled radiator in all the locations we agreed to put one.” Sensible fellow, I thought, seeing as this build will have 5 radiators, that’s a good idea…

“And, well, I’ve hit a problem. Your radiators don’t fit in the case.” He sent me a picture, to illustrate the point:-

Now, this might not be too informative, so let’s try a second picture and an explanation:-

In this second shot, you are looking across the width of the case plinth. Front is to the left of the image; rear is to the right. Take a look at the top left corner of the plinth unit, where you can see that three pieces of angled steel come together to make the corner. Can you see the curve of metal that forms the corner to the side panel? With the small locating hole drilled in it?

Now look at the radiator assembly. Screwed to the far side of the radiator you will see a “mounting plate” that is provided with the case. The idea – and it’s brilliant – is that you fit the radiator to this mounting plate and then you fit the plate to the case. Use some flexible raidator hosing with lengths just long enough and you can open the side door, pop off the radiator and move it just far enough out of your way to get in to the plinth, without having to disconnect and drain the radiator. Neat, huh?

Except.

Except the radiators I’ve bought simply won’t fit in the case. They’re too big. For the record, these are EKWB CE560 radiators, each being 560mm long ~150mm or so wide and 45mm thick, capable of taking 4, 140mm fans. As you can see in the above picture. The problem is that the claims Thermaltake made for the case turn out to be complete bunkum, because the radiators won’t fit.

Take a look at this (slightly grainy) enlarged image:-

See the separation from the inner edge of the steep “corner” to the locating hole? (marked with the fat red line at the top left of the picture)? Now see the separation from the mounting plate locating hole to the corner of the radiator as mounted?

See the problem?

At this point, Simon decided that cowardice was the better part of valour and got in touch.

So… I went down to see him, armed with an electric screwdriver and a range of drill bits. Dismantled the plinth, bringing all 4 of the connecting pieces home. Whereupon I got busy with a Dremel and a cutting disk, removing just enough of the bracket metal in the frame to connect the “locating hole” with the edge of the bracket. Used the locating hole to give a nice, clean, rounded corner (which is safer and stronger) and now producing a hole in the side panel large enough to fit the radiators.

Why on earth would Thermaltake claim their case could take a 560mm radiator there and then build it so that it could not?

A better question would be: why did I believe them? In fairness, this was the first time I’d come across a case where claimed fitting dimensions turned out to be an exaggeration – it’s not the sort of thing you expect to find, to be honest.

Problem solved with the BFI Technique (Brute Force and Ignorance), I then set about re-assembling the plinth and testing it’s strength (by standing on it and using it as a makeshift skateboard to zoom around round the shop, of course) to confirm structural integrity was preserved.

I’m starting to get the idea that this build might become something of an adventure. Are you?

(Un-)Hinged and Bracketed (Kraken, Part 2)

“We, er, we might have a problem,” he said, cheerfully.

And that, it turns out, was the beginning of quite the little adventure.

“Go on,” I replied, cautiously…

“Well, to give me an idea about clearances and general layout, today I fitted the motherboard and some of your front bay devices to the new PC. And in so doing I’ve discovered that we have a problem with some brackets. Specifically, these…”

This was Simon, the engineer from Rapid PCs to whom I have entrusted all of my whacky PC builds for the last few years. Or, more accurately, this was Simon letting me know that he’d spotted a problem with some mounting brackets for any devices for the front-facing 5.25” drive bays.

Then he sent me this,

to show me how the brackets were used to fit devices in to the case.

That’s a bit of an odd way to do things, you might be thinking. You would be right. But, by making the mounting points for front bay devices optional, it meant that the Thermaltake case could free up more space if only one or two front-mounted devices were required.

OK,” I ventured, still cautious, “but what’s the problem?”

“The case only provides 6 brackets. Enough for 3 front-bay devices.”

“Hang on,” I muttered, puzzled, “exactly how many front bays does this case have?”

“Ten!” he declared, cheerfully. “Take a look…”

Sure enough, there are the 10 bays, 12 if you want to be excessive and include the two slots at the top which are used to house the front panel basics (power and reset switches, USB and headset ports) for each of the 2 systems the case is capable of holding.

“So you’re telling me that a case which includes 10 drive bays only provides brackets to use 3 of them?”

“You got it,” … cheerfully.

“Bother.”*

* That’s not what I really said. Children’s show, etc…

“Bingo!”

“OK, leave it with me…”

Some time later, I’d been in touch with Thermaltake directly, in the US (headquarters in California) and determined that since the case had been discontinued, they had of course cleared their central warehouse of all spares and accessories and none were available.

Then I tried their European distribution hub. Florian, the guy I’d contacted before, spun me the same line. Then eBay. Then basically anywhere. No luck. Then I had an idea and went back to Thermaltake in the US.

“Do you by any chance use the same mounting bracket in any of your other cases; specifically any other cases that you do still have in production?”

“No. Why would we do that?”

“Well, to cut down on your spares inventory and manufacturing and tooling costs?”

“No. We don’t.”

“Well, that’s very helpful of you. Thank you.” (No, they didn’t detect the sarcasm).

“You’re very welcome. Have a nice day!”

After a brief interlude for some cathartic swearing, I embarked upon a bold, two-pronged strategy with which I hoped to skewer this particular problem.

Plan A was to go to a local specialist engineering company, Precision Fabrications, to ask them if they could, possibly, duplicate said brackets.

“Oh yes, not a problem,” Anthony declared confidently.

“You can?” incredulously…

“Absolutely!” with complete conviction…

At which point I collected a sample bracket from Simon at Rapid PCs and shot round the corner to Anthony. “We’re just finishing a bit of a big order,” he explained, “So if you can give me a bit of leeway, I’ll do this as soon as that’s clear…”

Happy, I went back to check on Plan B.

Which consisted of buying another Thermaltake case, if I could find one. As time passed and I waited for the duplicated brackets, I eventually came across one being offered by an Amazon reseller. Now, if you are thinking, Hang on, wouldn’t that be a bit expensive, just for the sake of obtaining 6 more brackets? Well, you’d be right. Especially as the second case cost in total about £630.

But in defense of this insanity, I offer the following questionable justifications:-

1. The absence of sufficient brackets basically rendered the entire purpose and design of this major build null and void. The design needed 5 front bays to be used, without which the whole thing was compromised. And I’d already spent a crazy amount on the “innards” for the build.

2. If I got a second case, then at some point in the future I could assemble it, put my next, new machine in it and only borrow bits from the current one that I really needed. As long as the case “held up”, I was future-proofing my requirements.

Sod it. Order placed.

At which point Anthony got in touch. “Your brackets are ready!” he declared, cheerfully. And so they were:-

Unlike the originals (which appear to be some form of powder-coated mild steel), Anthony went for the tried-and-true British tradition of over-engineering and used double-thickness stainless steel.

And, of course, he made me a total of 14 brackets – 7 pairs. For £48.

Because you can never have too many of a good thing. Unless, of course, you’re as unhinged (or bracketed) as I am…