Water-cooling my hidden desk PC
Or, Well, not quite, but it is overheating, which is costing me quite a bit of performance. And I'm sure it's not great for the components of the computer either. When I first built this PC, the whole custom PC building world was a completely different landscape. The original drawer pc sipped, like 200 to 250 watts of power, a couple of upgrade cycles later. And this current iteration gobbles down up to 600 watts of power.
And to make matters worse, I just bought an RTX 4080, which might push that number closer to 700 watts. All of that waste heat has to go somewhere, and this current setup just can't get it out of there fast enough. So today we are going to do something that I have wanted to do since I was a little kid.
We are going to water. Cool, my P.C.. But first, let me tell you about the sponsor of today's video AnkerWork and their brand new M650 wireless microphone. I'm actually using it to record this right now, and I used it throughout the entire production of this video.
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So if you want to get one, check out the link in the video description and let's get back to making this water cooled PC. All righty. Here we are in the shop. We have a whole bunch of really fun computer parts in here from Alpha Cool here. But before we get into that, let's get started on doing just a smidge of woodworking.
Originally, I wanted to reuse the existing drawer, but I quickly realized that rebuilding it would allow me to integrate more features and improve its functionality. So we're essentially starting from scratch here. The first thing I did was build what I like to call the sled.
This will be what the computer itself gets mounted to. Then using my CNC, I cut two large openings for twin exhaust fans. These will keep air moving over all the heat generating components that aren't directly cooled with water.
After that was done, I also started working on these two struts that will support the sled inside my desk. And because they're going to be supporting such high value components, I use the strongest joinery technique known to man pocket holes Alrighty, So that's done. Now let's change gears and do something completely different. We are going to take this brand new RTX 4080 and install this water block on it. And the reason we're going to do that is because the total length of the GPU with the water block on it is going to dictate exactly where I can place the motherboard on the sled.
So we need to figure that out before we can go any further back in the much cleaner environment. That is my office. I started disassembling the graphics card. This 100% void your warranty.
But it's going to be worth it for that sweet, sweet performance. Off came the old stock Heatsink. And on went The new water block from Alpha Cool. This old slab of chrome plated copper has a series of channels cut into it that allow water to circulate over all the boards, heat generating components, and whisk the heat away much more effectively than air.
And thanks to the innovation of dynamic clock speeds, better cooling actually means better performance. So we'll do some benchmarks once everything is done on this project. And just like that, I think we are done. I don't understand why more people don't do this.
I mean, look at how small and slim this is compared to what it used to look like. Think that's a crazy size difference. For the next couple of hours, I carefully Lido components took measurements and planned out the layout of my new computer. Alrighty, We are back in the shop, and next thing we're going to do is build some swoops for our drawer. What's a scoop? Good question.
Basically, these are just two panels that are going to go at the top and the bottom drawer. I just call them swoops because they're well swoopy appearance and well, I had the C and C fired up. I also added this recessed area at the bottom slot. This allowed the motherboard to sit just a little bit lower because I was bumping right up against my z-axis limit. This actually ruined a cool feature that I had planned, but we'll talk more about that during the post mortem analysis at the end of the project.
As is custom on this channel, I use the motherboard as a template to drill some holes that I then screwed some brass standoffs to. These will keep the motherboard elevated just a little bit and keep it from touching the wood in any way. So this guy goes here a little something like that. This guy goes here. And what these do is give us a little something that we can build off of. And also they give us a convenient place where we can melt things like power switches and this little usb-c port.
Before we could even worry about features like that, though. First I had to cut a platform from the reservoir. This simple piece of plywood is actually going to serve double duty. Not only will it support the component responsible for holding excess coolant and circulating it through the system, but it will also be a panel that covers the backside of the motherboard where a lot of unsightly cables congregate. With all the panels cut.
It was time to properly screw together the slit. If you're finding all of these raw plywood edges offensive, don't worry, those will get taken care of. But first we got to play with some computer parts.
All right. So there's still a few more pieces left to build for the sled. But let's see how this thing fits together, because I won't be able to make those next pieces until I figure out where everything goes. Exactly. So this is the motherboard.
Next thing, CPU, the pump and reservoir. It's going to go right there. Last but not least, PSU, that's going to go right there. So now let's figure out exactly where this reservoir pump unit is going to go.
Obviously, Alpha Cool ships their reservoirs with mounting brackets, but they're made for a more traditional PC case. So that meant that I had to modify mine first. IBM, one of the tabs to a 90 degree angle, and then using a cut off wheel, I zipped off the other mounting point as I wouldn't be needing it anymore.
And what I was left with was two nice compact little brackets. I screwed those onto the piece of plywood that I made a few minutes ago. And then I was able to easily mount the reservoir, Let the Intel 13900 K at the core of my computer has a serious design flaw.
The factory mounting system is so strong that it actually bends the CPU. So I stripped that out and replaced it with this contact frame that holds the CPU in place without bending it. This will allow my 13900 K to make much better contact with the alpha cool xpx aurora pro, which is another seriously heavy duty piece of nickel plated copper. Perfect for taming this power hungry 24 core beast. I screwed it down and then I screwed fittings onto each of my blocks and the reservoir. These fittings connect the tubes that will link all of my components together.
And while we're on the subject, the tubes. Let's talk about the different types. Now, basically, there are two ways to do this. You can do it with soft line tubing, which is the easy way.
And then there's hard line tubing, which is the hard way. Can you guess which of the two I chose? We do it and we do it hard. I am ready. I'm ready to get hard. Yeah. Let's talk about the process. So hard line tubing, as the name implies, is curved and rigid.
So in order to bend it and get it to connect our various fittings, we're actually going to have to heat it up first. But don't just jump right into heating it up. First, you want to insert a mandrill, this slippery silicone snake helps to keep the interior shape of your tubes as you bend them. Another important thing to note is that you don't want to overheat the tubes.
If they get too hot, they can discolor bubble and in the case of my frosted tubes lose their texture. Just be patient. Spread the heat over a fairly large area, rotate the tube continuously, and eventually you'll find a penis joke in there somewhere. Or no, sorry. The tube will get soft and then you can start to bend it.
So now we can bring our tube over here and we can pop it in there and we can see that, Well, we got the 90, right? It's obviously too long. So we're trying to connect this fitting to this one, so we just have to trim it to fit. I wonder if I'm the first person to cut hard line water tubing with the Japanese poles off. It's true. This method is going to waste a little bit more material, but it's way easier than trying to figure out the total length of your tubes and then doing all the bending afterwards.
Now, before we do any test fit, we want to give this a quick deburr with the aptly named de-burr Tool. After cutting the tube, they can often have rough edges and you don't want to jam one of those into the fitting because it might then cut the O-ring and create an opportunity for water to leak out of your system. So this just puts a little chamfer on the edge of the tubes and makes it slide, and they're nice and easy. And now we test fit so this is one of those things where you kind of get to force it in there. So, yeah, that's actually not bad for a first attempt.
So now we have to do here to here, which is going to be a little bit more complicated. This second section of tube was way harder than the first one because I had two 90 degree bends in it going in different direction. That meant that I had to measure the offset between the two fittings and bend the tube match. To be honest, it took me more than a couple of attempts to get this one right. But thanks to the miracle of movie magic, it looks like I did it in just one. After that, I had one more easy bend to do, and then it was time for a little bit of problem solving.
All right. So at this point, we've hit a little bit of a snag. You see at this point somewhere right about here, we need to transition from hard line tubing to soft line tubing because this jaw still needs to be able to move and obviously, these hard line tubes arent very flexible. In order to do that, we need to use this monstrosity of a fitting right here. This is actually a quick disconnect so that we can easily disconnect the rear radiator.
But it's really heavy and I don't want to just have it hanging on these lines. So we need to build a little bulkhead here in order to support this thing. So let's head over to the CNC my design here couldn't be simpler.
I'd make two pieces of walnut that fit together like a puzzle piece, and then I'd sandwich a thin sheet of copper between them. The copper has two advantages. One, it won't corrode by brass fittings. And two, it just looks really cool.
Plus, I actually needed these sheets of copper for my next project, but I'll tease that at the end of the video. For now, let me show you how it all goes together. So now we have our three main pieces. This is the main metal bulkhead. We put the copper sheet in there like so, and then this filler guy slides in there like so in order to fill it out, let's combine these three pieces into one piece.
And in order to do that, it wasn't as hard as you would think. All it took was a little bit of wood glue, plus a few trips through the drums in the last step was drilling tools for the fittings, which I started to do on the drill press. But it got a little sketchy towards the end when the drill bits got a little bit bigger. So instead I decided to finish things off manually with the file. Hey, look, this is pretty cool, right? Yeah, I'm pretty happy with how that turned out. So let's see if it works that goes in there.
Like so. I believe we now have a bulkhead and in order to figure out the exact location of said bulkhead, I just connected to the hard line tubes, clamped it in place, and then screwed it from the outside of the sled. All righty.
Now that we're done with the bulkhead, let's talk about where that bulkhead is going to send the water. Once it's all heated up, it's going to need somewhere to cool. And that's why I got this. The NexXxos XT45. This is well, this is probably better suited for a car, but this is a 1080mm.
Rad And you call it the 1080. Mm Rad because it has space for not one, not two, not nine but actually 18 individual fans. All right, let's get this thing set up and then I'll show you how I plan on mounting it. Two 90 degrees softline Fittings will allow water to flow in one side of the radiator and then out the other side, hopefully much cooler at that point.
This third fitting located at the lowest point of the whole setup, is actually a drain port that will allow me to empty out the loop in case I ever need to service anything. Then it was time to install all the fans. Now, because this radiator has so much surface area, I opted to run a rather pedestrian nine fans.
This will limit the total thickness of the radiator, plus it'll mean half as many wires. to manage later. All right.
That is some serious cooling potential. I mean, yes, it's a mess of wires right now, but we'll clean that up later. But before we do that, think what we need to do is figure out how we're going to melt this radiator to this piece of quarter inch plywood, which is going to be the back of the cabinet. So we'll something like that. Standard disclaimer Obviously, you do not need a CNC to cut a hole like this, but if you got one, you might as well use it. And speaking of getting tools, I'll provide links in the video description to all the tools I used, as well as some cheaper alternatives and key products like all of these water cooling parts.
So would you look at that? The radiator is now mounted to this panel. The panel gets mounted to the back of the desk and this thing should be basically good to go at this point. So now the next thing we have to do is something that I've been putting off doing for a while. We had to sand and finish all the woodworking pieces.
Nobody likes raw plywood edges. So the first thing I did was install a little bit of edge banding. I opted to use the heat activated adhesive type. Basically, you just cut it to length, use an iron to heat it up and then press it down with a hardwood block. Once it's cool to the touch, you can use a knife or even a more specialized tool to trim off the excess. A little bit of sanding to coats.
My favorite polyurethane finish and what you'll end up with is a reasonable facsimile of genuine hardwood that only the most pretentious of woodworkers will recognize as anything less than the real deal. Now that the finish has dried, there's nothing left to do but put this all back together in 3 to 1. Boom.
There we go. It is all assembled. And now we are ready to take it home, fill it up with water, see if it fits in the drawer. And I'm sure you a whole bunch of other will troubleshooting jobs. But look at that.
All right, Let's not waste any time. Let's take this bad boy home, try and get him set up. So step number one, and it's just going to move this desk out off the wall a little bit so I can get in there at work. I do love this desk, man, Is it ever heavy. Must weigh, I don't know. 300lbs Old back panel comes out nice and easy.
I guess I should have said something funny there, but I got nothing. Now we are actually going to reuse these slides because they are good slides. However, using them in this configuration hasn't really been optimal. So what we're going to do is change their orientation. But first I had to install those vertical struts I made earlier in order to make sure that the door functioned smoothly.
I use spacer blocks to set the struts exactly where I wanted them, and then it was time for a quick test fit. So this is a very important test. We have to see if there's enough clearance between the slides and the edge of the cabinet in order for the computer to actually fit in there. But no, I think we're good. It just fits, which is what I was aiming for.
Yeah, it fits. It fits. So in order to center the drawer inside the cabinet, I've actually just use these credit cards as a shim to kind of evenly spaced out the gap between the top and the bottom. And now we're just going to pull it out and screw it to the slides once at a time.
Next came the rear panel. With the radiator already attached. All I had to do was screw to the back of the cabinet and it was good to go. I connected the line tubing to the radiator and then the quick disconnect fittings to the PC side of the equation.
And that point I was ready to attempt to build the loop. It's always a good idea to spread some paper towel around so you can easily locate any leaks. And good thing I did because boy did I ever have some. The first one was an easy fix, just a loose plug on the reservoir. But the second one, well, that one was a lot better.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. And this is why you always leak test your system without any power on.
Anyways, basically, I had pinched snow ring inside of the reservoir, so I had to drain everything, all of the draw and rebuild the reservoir. After that, I filled the system most of the way and then hit another roadblock. The loop is basically full at this point, but there's still a ton of air in the reservoir that I can't really get out of there. The only way to get at it is to open up the fill port at the top of it and get it out that way. Add a little bit of fluid into the top of the fill port. The problem is there is no way to access the top of the reservoir.
A design oversight on my part that I rectified by simply drilling a hole directly above it. Unfortunately, this is kind of ugly, but don't worry, I'm going to fix it with a very cool new tool that I just got a little later in the video. But first I finished filling a loop by squirting in 12 milliliters of coolant at a time. And then I had a very ceremonial job to do, like the passing of the torch from one generation to the next.
I removed the drawer front from my old desk PC and attach it to this new one. I use double sided tape and more credit cards to precisely locate the drawer front. Who would have thought that being in so much debt would actually be useful? A couple of screws permanently fix the drawer front in place.
And then I had many hours of zip tying cable managing and looming wires together to make the whole setup look halfway organized. Well, now we get to put it up. Okay, here we go. 3 2 1 waters going...
I see movement. You know, I don't mind a little bit of lighting in the case. I think it makes it look kind of cool. But I don't understand why people do these crazy rainbow patterns. Oh, we're booted like this.
We got 36 degrees on the CPU right now. That's a good sign. I mean, not under any load, just yet, but I like that number.
That's a good sign. All righty. So it's a couple of days later, I've got the machine more or less dialed in and I've also made a couple of key improvements.
First, I 3D printed this grommet to cover the ugly hole here. I also 3D printed this cover to cover all the wires at the bottom of the computer and just clean things up a little bit. And then this one is a little hard to see, but I actually ordered a temperature probe that screws into the top of the reservoir, which monitors the cooling temperature and allows me to more effectively control the fans. And speaking of fans, well, they barely even spit. That is one of the key advantages of water cooling. Your computer is dead silent in anything but the most strenuous activities, and even then it's barely even audible.
For instance, I'm actually rendering a video right now. And yeah, the fans are not spinning. The ones at the back are spinning just a little bit and I can't even hear it pop.
And while we're on the subject of improvements, let's talk about performance. I benchmarked this computer at the start of the project and I was getting about 36,000 points in Cinebench. I'm now clocking in at over 40,000 points. So we're talking about a 10% uplift on what is already the fastest consumer grade CPU that Intel has to offer.
3D performance, on the other hand, is absolutely off the charts, almost double in a lot of scenarios, but that is to be expected. Given that I did upgrade the GPU. This new GPU is locked at 45 to 47 degrees Celsius, which allows the GPU to hit its maxed turbo and also allows for a substantial overclock over and above even that. So we're running cooler or running quieter. We've picked up some additional performance and in addition to those benefits, I also happen to think that this new computer looks way better than the old one. We went from something that looks like this to something that looks like this.
So that's it for the good. Now let's talk about the bad in the postmortem analysis. First up, we have cable management. This setup could honestly be a little bit better.
And I did have a plan to hide all the cables behind the motherboard, but I actually ran out of Z-Axis height because the chip you would hit the cabinet if it were any higher. So I was thinking one potential solution might be to bring the wires through to the backside of the door and then just zip tie them down really tight. Similarly, I do feel like my 3D printed shroud could be a little bit nicer. And truth be told, as I get better at three modeling a 3D printing, that's probably the route that I'm going to go to manage all these wires. I'll just print custom shrouds to cover all the stuff that I don't want.
Cheap use tag is another thing I'd like to take care of with the 3D printer. As you can see, it saves about a millimeter or two. So what I'd like to do is print a strut that goes from here to here, hides this wire, and then obviously lifts the GPU a little bit. And then finally, this last one is a little tricky to even show on camera, but I would like to add a drag chain inside the cabinet in order to help manage the wires and the hoses. As you can see, it's actually not bad, but I do worry about them long term. Opening the door hundreds of times might become an issue.
In my next video, I'm going to mod this phone that I bought off of Craigslist for a couple of hundred bucks into the ultimate mobile retro gaming machine. So get subscribe so you don't miss that and I will see you in that piece.