This started as a build that I put together December 2015, which explains why the motherboard isn't black and white (haha). It was in Define R4 with a Corsair H80iGT cooling the CPU. I wasn't in love with the cooler and wanted to switch it out for something like the EK Predator or Swiftech H220x. In the end, I decided it was best to just custom watercool it, so that brings us here. I've never put together a custom loop before, so I spent a lot of time reading about issues that people have faced and looking at what others have done. I also spent a lot of time reading reviews for the various water cooling parts that I will need. I finally got everything together last week, and I started the tear down and rebuild. As this was my first custom loop, I ran into a few issues, detailed below. In the end, I'm really happy with how it turned out.
Heatkiller IV Pro
The top three CPU blocks are basically the EK Supremacy EVO Full Nickel, Raystorm Pro, and the Heatkiller IV Pro. After going back and forth, I decided that I liked the look of the Heatkiller IV the most.
The only problem with the HUGE block (Pic 39 is that it didn't fit my MOBO in the standard orientation due to some capacitors to the left of the CPU area (see Pic 32. In a test by Extreme Rigs, the goofy mount actually cooled better, so I'm not 100% disappointed that I had to rotate it 90 degrees, which is what you see in Pic 46.
One of the first things I wanted to deal with was the G80 bracket on the EK Thermosphere. If you look at the pictures of the EVGA 980Ti FTW in the album (Pic 3 and Pic 4, you'd see that it has a midplate that EVGA calls Memory MOSFET Cooling Plate (MMCP). Since it offers some cooling, I wanted to use this midplate along with the universal VGA waterblock from EK because I didn't like the solution that Alphacool offers with their NexXxos GPX coolers, which were just released for my graphics card.
The issue with the EVGA midplate is that it contains four protrusions (Pic 3) that will interfere with the EK bracket, as it does with other cooling solutions such as the NZXT G10. A viable solution would have been to use a copper shim, and I actually ordered a set of 25mm x 25mm x 1.5mm copper shims for this purchase. I decided that I'd rather not have two layers of TIM and a piece of copper between the GPU and the waterblock, so I ordered a spare G80 bracket from EK to modify. You can also see how the stock ACX 2.0 heatsink has notches cut out to deal with the midplate protrusions (Pic 11).
The EK bracket is 2mm thick. I figured 1mm removed at the pertinent locations should be sufficient, so I got started with a dremel, as in Pic 6 and 7). It was working, but it was going to be too slow. In the end, I ended up just cutting out sections so it'll fit. After that, it was just a matter of cleaning the block with the 91% isopropyl alcohol, spreading some Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut on the GPU, and mounting it, as in Pics 8 and 9.
In addition, I needed a way to cool the VRMs even with the midplate still mounted. I picked up two NoiseBlocker Blacknoise Silent Pro 92mm PE-P fans from PPCS and a PCI fan bracket from eBay for this purpose Pic 10. They're wired up to a 4-pin PWM to mini GPU 4-pin fan connector so I can still let the 980ti control fan speeds. I've tested the fans hooked up to my motherboard. They're surprisingly quiet even at 1800 rpm. They're rated at 20db at full speed. After completing the build, I've verified that they do work with the GPU control. Since I have no way of measuring VRM temps, I'm doing a guesstimate fan curve that's based on on actual GPU temps. Since my GPU rarely sees 40 degrees now, the 92mm fans are set to hit 80% once it crosses 35 degrees. Even at 100%, you can't hear it over the D5 pump.
I sleeved the cables coming from the D5 pump, which were not difficult since I've sleeved speaker cables in the past. The sleeving wasn't very dense, so you can still see some of the red in Pic 12. I may resleeve that portion at some point, but it'll be fairly hidden from view once everything else is installed, so I might leave it until it's time to drain and clean the loop (or when I upgrade again).
I really like the white and black combo that I picked out. The only complaint was that I had some difficulties mounting the D5 housing onto the reservoir base. I ended up tearing apart the rheostat on the pump due to the force. Most of that was likely my own stupidity. Lesson learned. I was able to test the pump to check that it still runs, and it does. So I continued the build anyways.
I really like the mounting system that Monsoon designed (Pic 18 and 21). For some reason, I assumed that two brackets would be included. One ended up being pretty sturdy, but to make sure it was more secure and would remain vertical under weight, I used some 28mm M4 screws along with the radiator mount bracket that Fractal Design included to secure the top mounting position on the reservoir to the case. Having the reservoir mounting slots already designed into the Define S was definitely a plus.
Since I damaged the rheostat on the D5 pump, it is now stuck at 3600 rpm. For reference, a setting of 3 would've been 3300 rpm, and a setting of 4 would've been 4050 rpm. I might pick up a PWM D5 pump this summer. It's impossible to reach the vario on the D5 even if it was working with my layout. The system is really quiet, but it's not silent. For comparison, the H80iGT was silent in quiet mode, but quiet mode was only good for general computer use. You can't use it for gaming. For gaming, the entire system gets pretty loud, especially when combined with the fans on the 980TI. With this custom loop, even with the D5 running at 3600rpm, the noise level doesn't change much, no matter the load.
Black Ice Nemesis Radiators
I picked these because they were the best 30mm radiators, at least according to a test by xtremesystems. My plan was to have the 360GTS at the top with the ports at the rear of the case. The 280GTS would be mounted in the front, near the top. The coolant would flow from the reservoir/pump to a flow indicator before hitting the GPU block. From there it would enter the CPU block, followed by the 360GTS on top. The exit from the 360 would be routed along the top of the case (as in Pic 20), hidden from view, before entering the 280 in the far side port before exiting the nearside port and back into the reservoir from the top.
Well, it wouldn't all fit. The ports on the 280 would end up hitting something on the 360. It was the 360 radiator itself or the fans on the radiator that would interfere with the ports on the 280. I didn't want to flip the 280 so the ports are at the bottom, mostly because I don't think I'll like the way it looks with soft tubing. I ended up removing the front filter on the Define S and sandwiched the fans and 280 to the case. Since I didn't want to lose the filter, I found that the filter could sort of be snapped back onto the fans. Some electrical tape made it more secure. You can see the filter mounted in Pic 16 and Pic 17
My only complaint about the case so far is that the fan mounting slots at the front of the case don't run the entire length. I know that it's designed that way to not block airflow, but it meant that I was fairly limited at how high or low I can mount my fan and radiator combo.
Interestingly enough, with the 280 radiator in the upward orientation, I couldn't fit a third 140 fan onto the front. I'll do push pull with the extra fan. I can't get a fourth fan onto the 280 since it will interfere with the 45 degree or 90 degree rotary that I will need at the exit. When I was finishing the build, I found it best to use one 90 degree and two 45 degree fittings at the 280 radiator exit. You can see in the pictures now it routes the flow towards the back of the curve where it makes a U before turning into the reservoir's 90 degree inlet. You can see that in Pic 54, top right and 57)
The LED lighting is handled by Cablemod's new WideBeam LED strips. I picked the RGB version with magnetic strips. 60cm seems to be enough for now, but I think another 30cm would be good to fill out the rear a bit. The IR receiver is just a tiny bulb at the end of a wire. I routed it to the front of the case behind one of the intake vents. All I have to do is point the remote at it.
Primochill Vortex Flow Indicator
There are some changes to the build from the current album, namely the Primochill flow indicator. I had to disassemble that part of the loop to make the indicator spin reliably. Plus, that part of the loop looks even better now. During the planning stage, I knew that I needed a drain valve, so that came in really handy. The only complaint is there is no extra ports on the radiators that I can use as a bleed valve. One change I'll likely incorporate the next time I feel like tearing the flow indicator out is just add something like this from the pump to the flow indicator instead of the compression fitting - short tube - compression fitting setup that I have now, which you can see in Pic 62.
Because someone will eventually comment on why I blew so much money on audio when I could've gotten a few more 980tis or a better CPU, I should note that almost all the audio equipment I have are things that I've owned for years with the exception of the JBLs. I recently sold a set of Mackie MR5 mk2s for those. Scored a new set of the JBLs for about $200 shipped.
The Bottlehead Crack with the Speedball upgrade is amaaaazing headphone amp. I bought it use from another forum years ago. It was factory build, which means I didn't have to learn how to solder. I need to stain the wood and poly it at some point to give it a richer tone. I also picked up the Matrix Mini-I and the Sennheisers at the same time. The best part is that most the money spent on the audio equipment was practically gift money. So in reality, the cost of this build, out of my own pocket, was far less.
The JBLs are really good, but the Bottlehead and the HD650s are just out of this world. Sure, there may be better combos, and someday I may decide to explore somewhere, but for now, with the music I listen to, I'm happy with them.
There are also better studio monitors, but I'm only using them for casual music and general computer audio. I have another setup in the living room for home theater and two channel music. That's a list for a different day.