MICRO CENTER: COMPUTERS AND ELECTRONICS
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In The Lab
Art Nouveau Case Mod, Part 2
by chris

Last month I described some of my construction activity on my Art Nouveau style carved wood case. This month I describe the wrap-up of the construction and get on with the computer portion of the build, and find out what will fit and what won't.

The second case window was assembled by the same process I detailed last month, starting by cutting a paper template that fits inside the recessed opening on the back of the wood panel. The edges of the panel openings are marked, and a flowering dogwood design is roughed out on the paper. Glass pieces are then cut and ground to follow the resulting design, with pink for the blooms, caramel color glass for the stems, and clear frosted for the background. All pieces are edged with thin copper foil and tacked into place before the final soldering. Using a heavy-duty soldering iron, tin-lead solder is used to cover and bond the segments together into the assembled window. Upholstry pins are used to cover the small openings at the center of the petals and suggest the dogwood blossom detail. The finished window is cleaned and installed into the wood panel and held in place by several screws. The metal side panel is then attached to the completed wood panel with wood screws.

From left to right: (1) Glass cut and trimmed with foil. (2) The completed window. (3) The window installed in the side panel with the metal side reattached.

Feet were finished out and glued onto the bottom plate. Once the wood glue had set, the bottom panel and feet were lightly sanded and sealed. I removed the panels to cut a fan hole in the top, but left the bottom panel in place since the opening has to pass through the wood. A photocopy of a fan is used as a template which is positioned between the power supply and front drive bays, and held in place with a bit of tape. Holes for mounting screws are drilled at the corners, and a circular opening cut using a hole-saw. The process is then repeated through the bottom of the case, cutting directly through the wood base panel and sheet metal beneath it. The bottom fan is positioned to direct air across the hard drive cage.

After cleaning the case again, the power supply and drives are installed in the bays. Some shuffling occurred before I was done, but this is necessary to figure out cable runs and get the system ready for the first POST. I installed the motherboard in the tray after changing out the North Bridge heat sinks and attaching the frame for a Zalman CPU cooler. If I was using the factory heat sinks, and Intel CPU solution, everything could be attached with the motherboard installed in the tray or case. Keep in mind that you put a fair amount of pressure on the stock Intel heat sink when you are snapping the retaining clips through the motherboard. I prefer to install the CPU and heatsink into the board before mounting it in the case to avoid stressing or damaging the motherboard later.

Air cooling considerations
The Zalman CPU cooler requires the installation of a two-part mounting bracket with one piece behind the motherboard, and the mounting bracket screwed through the board from the front. The Gigabyte motherboard uses passive (no fan) cooling for the North Bridge, South Bridge, and voltage regulators. The power supply leads are not sleeved except for the motherboard connector, so I used some blue split-loom tubing to cover the multi-colored wires running around the case. To add a bit of blue color on the motherboard itself, I replaced the yellow North Bridge heatsink with one of the Zalman North Bridge heatsinks.

(1) A top vent hole is cut using a photocopy of a fan as a template. (2) The system configured for Air Cooling with a 120mm fan positioned in the bottom and the rear of the case. (3) What is in the Thermaltake BigWater kit? Clockwise, starting with the drive bay reservoir in the top center, pre-mixed coolant, the radiator, the CPU cooling block, the pump, two lengths of UV-reactive hose, instructions, and an accessories package with nuts, bolts, washers and mounting plates.

Water cooling considerations
Water cooling usually requires some sort of bracket or nut-and-bolt configuration mounted through the motherboard first. To install a water cool kit, most everything has to come out of the case again. Other considerations include where to mount the pump, radiator, and reservoir, and any other custom liquid cool components such as hard drive cooling blocks, flow indicators, thermal sensors, etc. You may need to consider where water hoses must be able to run, especially if you choose to mount the radiator or other component outside of the case. Mounting everything internally to the case is probably one of the more difficult projects, only because most computer cases are not designed with enough clearance around the fan opening to mount the radiator. You might be able to make room to mount it on the top or front if you are willing to give up drive bay expansion or are ready to rearrange their placement.

Water cooling in this particular FoxConn case would be difficult without totally removing the plastic hard drive assembly, or mounting the radiator outside of the case. Of all the challenges you would encounter attempting your first water cooled system, hose connections are probably at the top of the list. Not only in terms of how much hose you need, but getting all of the necessary parts, getting the correct fittings, and also in what order to make those connections. One way to minimize these issues and reduce or eliminate your anxiety might be to start with one of the water cooling kits for your first project. This is probably the easiest way to make sure that you are not leaving anything out, and that you have a series of step-by-step instructions to work from. Don't get me wrong, even with a kit you still have to make some choices, like where to mount the radiator and pump, and you will still have several opportunities to cut the hoses too short or too long.

To give you a better idea of what this means, I chose to use a Thermaltake BigWater kit in the Nouveau Mod case. This worked out for internal mounting, only because of the severe modifications I made to the side panel and latch. The latch mechanism would have been visible through the glass side panel, so I removed it. To make the radiator fit, I had to take out the small hinge and lock tabs as well. Finally, the only reason the Thermaltake radiator can fit inside is that the clearance around the edge of their radiator is much smaller than those found in the Swiftech, Danger Den, or similar radiators. A disadvantage of this kit is the small hose size and reduced water flow from the pump as a result. It would be easy enough to add additional components like a flow meter or other cooling blocks, but for this project, I chose to keep it simple by only using the parts included in the kit for cooling just the CPU.

The instruction manual that come in the kit are tiny, but are illustrated and contain the detailed step-by-step process for installing the components. They start with mounting the CPU cooling block using a metal back-plate, insulated with foam and Mylar pads, and held in place to the system board with a series of bolts with insulating washers and nuts. The CPU is installed, thermal compound spread over the surface, and then the copper water block placed in position. Another bracket holds the block centered and is held in place with four more nuts.

The manual shows you how the radiator can be mounted, either inside the case or outside. In either configuration, the cooling fan is attached to move air from inside the case across the radiator's cooling fins. The reservoir included in the kit is installed in a spare 5.25" drive bay, although you will need to be able to slide this part way out of the bay to fill with fluid later. The pump can be installed most anywhere, so I positioned it in the relatively clear space above the expansion card slots.

(1) Components are installed into the case or drive bay as close to the final positions as possible. (2) Attach hose from CPU to radiator. (3) Hose from radiator to reservoir.

(4) Hose from reservoir to pump. (5) Hose from pump to CPU. (6) Fill the reservoir and connect the pump to a power supply to flush out the air in the lines.

Once the kit components are in their approximate positions, hoses can be cut and attached. The directions lead you through the process in this order:

  1. Cut and attach a length of hose from the CPU block to the radiator. I chose to connect the hose to outside connection to minimize the curve of the hose. If bent too sharply, it will eventually kink unless you have something like a spring or external spiral wrap to keep the bend gentle.

  2. Connect a section of hose from the radiator to the reservoir intake. The reservoir has two connections; the intake is located higher on the tank, about even or slightly above the recommended "full" water line. The output of the reservoir is lower, and well below the recommended fill level.

  3. Connect the reservoir output to the pump input. This connection order means that the reservoir supplies a constant source of liquid to the pump, and water returning to the reservoir can release any trapped air bubbles before returning to circulation.

  4. Connect the pump output to the remaining CPU block connection.

  5. Fill the reservoir, looking for any leaks at the connections. Connect the pump to a power supply and briefly start it to begin moving fluid through the lines and radiator. Add more fluid and repeat.

The actual order of flow through your cooling blocks and radiator is not too critical, but there are some common sense rules, such as passing the hottest water (from a block) into a radiator before going though another block, or at least cooling the hottest parts first. If you were to add graphic card, chipset, memory or hard drive cooling, you might want to use more than one radiator to have the coolest possible fluid passing through the blocks. I would also arrange the flow through the greatest heat sources first, meaning CPU, then graphics card, then chipset, memory, and hard drives. Hard drives may generate more heat than chipset or memory, but since they usually are air-cooled without any fins, and should be less critical.

Special Lighting
When I used the bench light to illuminate the glass window from the inside of the case, I realized that just illuminated fans and other LED lighting were not going to show off the case to the best effect. To give a uniform white-light illumination on the system board side, a dual-lamp Cold Cathode Fluorescent kit was installed with one tube at the top and the second along the bottom edge. The CPU block and pump have blue LEDs, and the two 120mm fans I have installed on the radiator and in the bottom of the case are lit with green LEDs.

The second side panel and the glass panel in the front bezel get a custom LED treatment. The gap between the side panel and the sheet metal behind the motherboard is not wide enough for a fluorescent tube to fit (at least not while still in its protective plastic tube). I saw a lighting kit called "The Chameleon" that consists of three potentiometers (variable resistors) that connect to four small multicolor LEDs. The red, green and blue LED in the package each have a single connecting pin, with a common ground. By adjusting the red, green or blue knobs, you can achieve any color illumination you want. To this end, I assembled four LED light bars, each with three red, three green, three blue, and three white LEDs. (I added the white LEDs so I can dial up pure white illumination instead of the rainbow-tint white, and to get washed-out colors like pink, lavender or sky blue). This many LEDs are going to draw much more current then the four in the Chameleon kit, and rather than build four adjustable voltage circuits, I used a Sunbeam Tech Rheobus fan controller. Each of the LED color clusters is connected in series with a 240 ohm resistor to limit the current, and I alternated the colors across the bar to diffuse the light more (red, green, blue, white, red, etc.). Wires from each color group are connected together and then attached to a single output of the fan controller. (I replaced the dual-color LEDs in the fan controller with a single-color red, green, blue, or white LED to indicate the color you are adjusting.) Three of the light bars are placed around the edge of the case behind the second side window and the fourth light bar is behind the front bezel.

There is no lighting in or behind the Thermaltake water reservoir. This makes it difficult to view the fluid level, so I created one more LED bar that connects directly to a 12v Molex disk drive connection. This bar has 12 ultraviolet LEDs that are directed at the rear of the plastic fluid reservoir and create a bright green glow.

(1) LEDs connected in series. (1) Multicolor LED light bars attach to the fan controller outputs. (2) Three of the light bars are installed behind the second glass window on the left, right and bottom edge. (3) Light color of the side panel and front bezel is controlled with the Rheobus in the upper drive bay.

(4) Front view with door closed. (5) The right panel is illuminated by three LED bars. (6) Top panel with white glass insert.

Project summary for Nouveau Mod

Time: 119+ hours

  • Time carving and constructing shell: about 103 hours
  • Time assembling light bars (4 multi-colors LED, 1 ultraviolet LED bar to illuminate reservoir): about 6 hours
  • Time installing, removing, and rearranging components, including air-cool solution, water-cool solution, and final installation of lights and wiring: about 10 hours

Materials:

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