Quad Titan X Build: Phase Two

This is my third post related to my Quad Titan X build. You can find the introduction here and the first phase here. The introduction post provides a full list of components, including even links to more information on them or where you can pick them up.

So in Phase One we focused on the case itself – taking the case apart, getting it custom powder coated, and then putting it back together. Today I want to focus on the initial assembly and some of the key first prep work. First, lets see what we’ll have at the end of today.

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Starting to look nice already.

Order of Operations

When planning out a build like this there are a lot of moving parts. The structural components, the cooling infrastructure, the electronic connections, water pathways and valves, and through all of that your own hands attempting to put it all together. I am going to try to describe below the order that I did things in, but I cannot stress enough – if you don’t think about it ahead of time, you will end up in a situation where you have something put into the case and suddenly realize “oh crap, I can’t reach/can’t slide in/will damage this new thing I am trying to put in because that other thing I just put in is in the way”. I did this a couple times during my construction and I spent some thing thinking it through.

In particular, those darned connection points for the water cooling. Now, it may be that some are easier, but man were those compression fittings a pain in the neck. I happened to pick XSPC fittings that were sexy looking – awesome dark color with a shine, nice and slim look – it was a royal pain to get them on though and I often found myself pulling back on them to find I didn’t quite get it screwed in. This was exacerbated by all the STUFF in the way. I strongly recommend thinking carefully about when you want to twist on these fittings and if you can do it before you put other things in the system.

Ok, enough warning, lets get on with it.

Prepping the Radiators

Looking at my build I knew I wanted to get the two big radiators in early, as I wanted to be able to see how the water line routing would need to go when planning the rest of it. I cannot stress enough – it is VERY IMPORTANT to prep your radiators before you put them in. Radiators do NOT come from the manufacturing process clean. The manufacturer may even say they clean them, but it doesn’t matter – in shipment all the banging around causes new dirt to disengage from the radiator and metal fragments to float around.

I’ll describe the process here, but here is a video I watched before doing mine that really helped me out: How to Clean a Radiator

So you take your radiator and you get distilled water and white vinegar (1 part vinegar to every 4 parts water) – it is very important to use distilled water, not tap water! Most tap water has a lot of particles in it and you really want this to be clean – those particles in addition to getting in the radiator can cause other particles to stick and remain inside the radiator, then when you go to put your coolant in they will suddenly flush out – not a good thing.

Poor a mixture of distilled water and white vinegar into the radiator getting it pretty well filled up, let it sit for a while so the vinegar goes to work – I left mine overnight. Then empty them out and do this again – after the first few times, switch to a process where after letting it sit a bit you then shake the crap out of it with your fingers over the entry/exit holes. Then dump the water out and do it again. And again. And again. For my radiators this was a days work of letting it sit for a long time, shaking and dumping.

I recommend you dump the radiator into a clear container, then hold the container up and look at what you have. You’ll find lots of black and metallic particles and junk in the water. Keep doing this until it becomes crystal clear – then do it a few more times because you can’t see everything.

This may sound to you like a lot of work. For me I felt doing it this way was best since I was doing only one build and didn’t expect to be cleaning out any radiators in the future. You may decide to be more industrious, and take the approach of this fellow who used an aquarium pump to run a constant flow through the radiator to clean it out: How to clean your new watercooling radiator

Whatever you do, make sure you clean those suckers out. While you are at it, now might also be a great time to do the same for the reservoir – we aren’t going to install it in this step at all, because it would just get in the way, but you might as well get it all done. If you want to be really careful about it you can also clean your tubing and fittings as well, just to be sure.

Installing Some Cooling

At this point in my build I took on the task of switching out all the fans – you can find them in my introductory post – from the black and white configuration they initially came in to the alternate black and red setup I wanted. This build uses a LOT of fans – about 20 – you might think “man, that will be loud!” but in fact in order to make the system quieter I used more fans. By using high static pressure, low noise fans – and using more of them – you can run the fans at lower RPMs and then barely hear them. This build is much quieter than my smaller builds that only had 3 fans.

I started by replacing the two larger fans in the front of the case. It is important to pay attention, for all the fans, to the direction of air flow. You want to push in and push out of your radiators and you want to have air flow through the case, in one side and out the other. There is a myth that you always want the air from the radiator to flow out of the case. In reality, the air flowing through the radiator is about the ambient temperature the inside of the case will be anyway – that is the entire point – and it is far more important to have good directional flow of air through the case than it is to point all the radiator air flow out.

The larger 480mm radiators required that I screw the one side of fans onto the radiator, and then I placed the fans between the case and the radiator and slide a long screw from case wall through fans into radiator to secure it. This took a bit of doing as the fans were wanting to move all over the place but with some determination you can get it done.

Make sure the screws are not too long or when they screw into the radiator they could puncture the thin coolant line.

I left my smaller, single fan radiator for the back off at this point, because it would get in the way of the next step. What I did do though was to go ahead and make good use of those fan cable splitters. I wired a bank of four fans in two in/out pairs to a four-way splitter, then wired the two splitters per large radiator into a two-way splitter. This was a great point to start some simple cable management – make liberal use of cable ties throughout the back of the case to keep the cabling in the front clean. At this stage though, you aren’t sure what all you want to cable tie in on place, so what I did was use twist ties as temporary holding, and then I added to the twist ties various cables over time until I was done, at which point I made it permanent with a cable tie. The motherboard tray has lots of little places to hook these ties in to keep the cabling under control in the back.

Here’s a pic of the bottom radiator/fan setup – just some eye candy – with the access panel flipped open.

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Power Supply

Not much to say here on installation – power supplies are very easy to install, just some screws on through the back panel of the case. I will say I highly recommend you get a modular power supply, to avoid a bunch of additional cord sitting around, and secondly make sure you get a power supply with adequate juice. A build like this takes a LOT of power…you have the pump, the video cards, the motherboard, the CPU, all the fans, etc to power. For me this absolutely necessitated a 1500W power supply. Make sure you do the math for yours.

By the way, that power supply fan pretty much never, ever runs. Really nice unit they sell at this level, you can find the full details in my introduction post with all the components listed.

Motherboard Installation w/ Waterblock, CPU, Memory

At this point, I wanted to install the motherboard however I had a bit of an order of operations item – the waterblock install required access to screw holes I wouldn’t be able to get to once the motherboard was in the case. So I did the CPU and waterblock installation outside the case. For me, the best place I found to work on a motherboard is on a table, in a room without carpet, sitting on top of its static reduction bag which can sit on top of the box it came in. This provides a nice working surface.

Since we are talking about the water block I want to highlight something important with water cooling systems. It has been found that mixing metals can cause problems. This means if you have a copper based water block, you need to make sure the rest of your blocks, radiators, etc will work with this. Some metals cause other metals to corrode and you will be running water through all of it in a loop. You also need to make sure that whatever liquid you mix yourself or coolant you buy to run through the loop is safe with the metals you plan to use.

So I took the water block and I carefully cleaned it – usually water blocks like this come with directions on what to clean them with and mine did so I followed those directions. If you aren’t sure, do some googling on water blocks with the internal surface area you are using and how best to clean – it all depends on the surfaces.

I installed the CPU per the directions that come with CPU and motherboard (pay attention to how to orient it!). I then prepped the motherboard and the water block. In my case this involved removing a heat sink from the board carefully (I had to break the metal bar that ran from one heat sink to another, just some simple twisting) and then layer on pieces of thermal tape in the appropriate places. It is important you use the right thickness of thermal tape in the correct places for best results – if the water block does not touch something it needs to, you may find yourself with a fried component.

I then covered the CPU with a uniform, thin coating of thermal paste and laid the water block on. I had to hold the waterblock with the board flipped over to do the screwing on the back side. After done, take a close look and make sure you see active contact between component/chip, thermal tape and water block wherever you can. Make sure it is screwed in well but obviously don’t split the motherboard with your herculean efforts.

Screwing the motherboard then into the case is a simple process, just be careful to follow the motherboard instructions and put the screws only in the holes indicated.

At this point you should also screw in the port fittings on the radiators and water block if you haven’t already. Like with all water fittings, you screw hand tight.

I also at this point went ahead and installed my memory, since it was low profile (wouldn’t get in the way of anything) and looked cool with the red heatsink covers.

Installing the Pump and Pump Controller

An important note about the pump in this configuration – with quiet fans in this kind of setup, the water pump could easily be the noisiest part of your system if you do the naive thing and just screw it into the bottom of the case or something. The pump vibrates and that vibration will transfer to whatever surface it touches.

As such for my build I decided to avoid the screws and instead used a noise suppressing double-sided sticky gel pad – you can find what I used in the introductory post. This stuff is often used to reduce the vibration of motors on hobby radio controlled airplanes and quad-rotors – it has worked out great in this application. I just stuck it on the bottom of the pump then placed the pump down in the bottom of the case.

This is a good time to point out – make sure you know the direction of your pump (usually water in the front and out the top, but it varies) and think about how your water lines are going to run – make them flow in natural arcs as much as possible, not hard turns. For me this meant facing the pump towards the motherboard, in the direction to where the reservoir would be once assembled. I played with putting the reservoir in temporarily and holding up some tubing to find the best spot before permanently sticking the pump in there.

I also at this point slide the drive bays back in the case and installed the pump controller in the lowest one – I again used that double sided sticky stuff, in this case just because it was sticky and I didn’t want to drive screws. In my case I used a dual voltage pump – the 450S – which can run at 12V or 24V. At 24V it pumps at a much higher gal/minute which is a key metric for how well your system will cool the components, so I had to get a controller that would provide 24v of power. To do this the controller had to hook into two 12V sources…important to make sure you have a dual rail power supply or fully switching.

I don’t have a picture right at this step, but here from a bit later shows the pump ready to go.

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Back Radiator and Fans

To finish up today, I’ll mention putting on the back radiator and fan was also a cinch. Just screw the fan on front and the radiator to the back wall. I had an “oopsie” moment here though – I had purchased two 140mm fans to do this in push/pull configuration. What I found was that with the second fan in place, the nozzles were too close to the upper radiator and I didn’t have room to get the water tubing in. If I flipped it then it would interfere with the video cards later. As such, I only installed one fan in a push configuration, putting it inside the case – you want to push, not pull, if you are only doing one fan and it looked nicer this way anyway.

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Here we are, ready for the next step:

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With that we’ll call it a day – cheers.

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