Quad Titan X Build: Phase One

I introduced my Quad Titan X system build, along with lists of components, in this post: Introduction

The description of how I completed the build is a bit long, so I am splitting it up into multiple posts. I will try to cross-link to make navigation easier. On to the content.

The first phase of my build is all about preparation – preparing the house and ordering the starting materials. I will also go into the case and powder coating job a bit.

Preparing the House

When I started this project it took me a while to come to a key realization – this beast was going to suck a LOT of power, particularly when running complex benchmarks or floating point calculations across all four GPUs. A bit of napkin calculation told me that it could – and later I found in some situations would – utilize almost the total acceptable current of a 15 AMP circuit. At the time my office was on a shared circuit with the living room – including its associated entertainment center – and (god only knows why) the microwave in the kitchen. This wouldn’t do.

I happened to know a friend with background as an electrician who helped me out. We grabbed a new 15AMP breaker (don’t forget for living spaces today code requires AFCI breakers, which are fairly expensive) and a bunch of roman cable. Installing the new breaker was a snap – if you haven’t done it before, this YouTube video can help: How to Install an AFCI Breaker.

Running the cabling was aided by the fact that my office thankfully sits on top of an unfinished part of my basement, so I was able to install a new outlet and wire it back to the panel without much trouble. When doing a new outlet for the purpose of a computer system or electronics, one option you have is to consider a surge protected outlet – this enables you to avoid having a big honking surge protector sitting on the floor. Here is an example: Leviton Surge Protected Outlet – just make sure it is rated for enough current for your application. Obviously this doesn’t do much for you if you are going to need a power strip anyway – in which case I suggest picking up a surge protector strip you can hang on the wall, like this one: Belkin Wall Mount Surge Protector. I used a setup like that behind my entertainment center, and to avoid the cable popping out unexpectedly I used a staple gun with plastic guarded staples to secure the power cabling along the wall – works a charm.

If you have never installed a new outlet, this video can help: Installing an Outlet in an Existing Wall. If you aren’t sure what you are doing, definitely consider finding an electrician – I will say that larger electrical companies will charge an absolute fortune to do a new “home run” – in my case, I asked one company which told me $1200. I think I spent less than $50 doing it myself. Find a smaller electrician who isn’t trying to “get rich quick” on simple jobs. Also keep in mind you may need to get an electrical permit and inspection done where you live – check with your local government if you aren’t sure.

With the electrical run the house was now ready to accommodate the beast.

Preparing the Work Space and Final Location

It is important to consider just how BIG a case like the one I used is. Pay close attention to those dimension metrics on the online store page. It is unlikely you will find a desk that a beast like this can fit under, and you’ll need lots of space to put it all together. Especially when doing a custom water cooling solution, you’ll find yourself in the case bending all sorts of different ways to get to those darned compression fittings to tighten them just right, and these gymnastics require adequate room.

For my purpose I used the eventual home of the beast as the location for doing the build – my office room in my house – however you may want to consider using space in a basement or garage. Make sure you can keep it all away from children and that you won’t cry if you spill some of the coolant on the floor. Also important to ensure your living partner won’t randomly happen along and “clean up” your carefully organized parts and fittings. Speaking of living partner, make sure wherever you are doing the build, it won’t cause an unholy family war.

Another thing worth noting is static electricity. When I first did a PC build I used to always wear a static wristband, and it isn’t a terrible idea. To be honest though these days I find the risk a little overblown with modern components, and some careful steps will help. Try to avoid putting electrical components together on carpet, also grab a metal part of the case before you touch the electronics. This will discharge any static before you touch the sensitive component. Also wear some shoes…remember how you could run around as a kid in socks and then shock somebody with a touch? Yeah, don’t do that to your $600 motherboard.

Here is the case, fresh out of the box, ready in my chosen work space:

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Since we are starting to show actual components, lets dig in a bit to acquiring all these beauties.

Purchasing Components

As a reminder I listed out all the components (which I could remember anyway) in this introductory post here.

Price is a major factor when buying PC components – you should absolutely shop around. But keep in mind a major part of the pricing will be shipping – and buying multiple components from the same place may reduce that cost significantly. For me even better is to avoid shipping costs altogether and invest in Amazon Prime – it costs $90/year these days I think and offers free shipping plus a bunch of other benefits. I easily saved well over the $90 investment in shipping costs when purchasing my components. It also helps a lot when you put that order in and realize you forgot that last pack of compression fittings…but no big deal, since getting that little pack shipped to you will be free too.

Some things though you just can’t get at Amazon. I was actually very surprised how much I could get there…but for example, getting 4 Titan X cards was impossible – I had to order from multiple sources. When doing liquid cooling often special fittings or tubing or water blocks may not be available. I recommend FrozenCPU as a good source for hard to find items. In one case I had to order directly from the manufacturer – the EK monoblock for my motherboard. That was a bit risky but sometimes you have to do what you have to do, it was clearly the best option for my needs.

Prepping the Case

So when doing a build like this, I think it is important to start from the ground up. You want to give yourself as much room as possible to move around and install your components and you want to then put things back in as late in the process as possible but no later. You should start by pulling out things like removable drive bays, dust filters, drive securing devices like the plastic lock-ins used in my case, etc. Clear all that out of there and carefully place it somewhere organized, give yourself room to get that motherboard in and do all that wiring.

For my situation, I had to go several steps further – I wanted to get parts of the case powder coated and to do that you need to separate everything out to the pieces you want to have done. This meant unscrewing pretty much any screw that was in the case, pulling off things like the back end with legs and separating the grill from it. Once everything was unscrewed, there was still more work to be done. Here is a picture of rivets (in the top left) securing the motherboard tray in place. There were several clusters of rivets on various sides of the case securing it, and even rivets in the back panel securing the grill work.

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To remove rivets, you need a drill. You put a drill bit in that is the size of the rivet head, you then ‘drill out’ the rivet – essentially using the drill to shred the head so the rivet body then falls right out the other side. This is hard to describe in text, so here is a helpful video I found on the subject: Remove POP Rivets from Computer Case

Here is a picture of the parts of my case laid out, ready to go out for powder coating:

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Everything shown here I had powder coated in red with one exception. That thin grill on the far left – when I took it to the the shop they were concerned it would warp too much in the process, so they recommended I not do it. That grill goes on the top of the case, and it would have looked cool to offset the black on the outside, but it isn’t much of a loss.

IMPORTANT POINT: What comes apart must go back together, and in particular I found there was a wide array of screw sizes used throughout the case. My solution was to grab a box of sandwich bags (you know, those little plastic baggies, preferably with ziplock tops, that your mother used to pack your PB&J in). I put sets of like screws into a baggy and labeled it with a Sharpie marker. I did this with other pieces too, like the rubber gromets that go in the cord routing holes. You can’t over-organize here…you don’t want to be sitting with a case you can’t figure out how to put back together. Be descriptive with your labeling.

Powder Coating

Powder coating is an awesome, durable way to get a paint job for metallic components. It does come with some real risks, as I was informed by my local shop. With the components being so thin and light weight compared to what they usually work with, the shop was concerned the material would warp in the process. To avoid this, we skipped doing the very thin grill and then also I had them skip the step of blasting off the existing coating that was already on the case.

Now there are services online which you can ship your stuff to, or if you happen to live close to one then even better, which specialize in these types of thin, light weight metals. They will carefully strip all the existing paint, put on a new coating and while doing so block out the screw holes so they don’t shrink up on you – all very useful. If you are nervous or want a truly stellar job, by all means go for it – you’ll pay hundreds of dollars though. For me, I went to my local auto powder coating shop – I handed the fellow $100 and said “I’m willing to take the risk that you don’t work with this sort of thing normally.” I think they had a lot of fun doing it too, and the results were fantastic. Not having the underlying coat stripped makes the resulting powder coating less resilient, but this is a computer case – it is not going to be driving down the road at 70 mph with rocks flying at it. Sitting in my office it holds up just fine.

Here’s a pic of everything back from the powder coater, I love that red – it goes extremely well with the reds in the motherboard, fans and memory – really gives the whole thing a distinctive look:

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Here are some close ups so you can see the quality complete coverage that powder coating provides:

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Unfortunately the lighting in these pictures does not do the color a lot of justice, but we’ll have a picture in a bit that shows it all coming together.

Re-assembly

It is important to remember how everything came apart and put it back together. This is where a cheap pop rivet gun with some rivets (see the miscellaneous section in my components list here) comes into play. They are real simple to do – just follow the instructions that come with the rivet tool. Then remember to screw together all the case parts – you DID label all the screws, right?

At this point you should have a case back together and ready for further assembly. Don’t over-assemble here…you shouldn’t put things like drive bays back in yet if you can avoid it. Leave out things that slide in easy later and will just get in the way.

I unfortunately don’t have a good picture of this step, but this pic from a later phase of the build shows nicely things coming back together:

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A cautionary note when it comes to powder coating – it adds a layer everywhere. Unless you use a high end service that knows what to do with these parts, it means that many of the screw holes can and will shrink – in particular this was a pain in the motherboard tray. It took a wrench to get the motherboard standoffs to grind back into their screw holes, same with the screws on the PCI back plates, but it all worked out.

I hope this was helpful and/or interesting – I look forward to sharing more in coming posts.

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