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Project Absinthe – Intermission and future plans

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Well Absinthe is basically complete now. There’s not really anything left on it. Everything is installed that was planned to be, though there may be some adjustments in the future. I do plan to build out another water cooling loop in my own personal computer in the coming months, and I’ll probably be experimenting with a few things as well in building that out, but I don’t foresee many upgrade paths for Absinthe.

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The only plan on the plate right now is just figuring out how to get those hard drives out of the picture. Sure, I could switch them over to SSDs, and she’d certainly love the speed those would bring, but I wouldn’t like the expense: 2 x 1TB SSDs would cost more combined than the components in the loop and the tools I needed to buy to make it all happen.

Instead, I’m going to move them to an external RAID enclosure. I’ve done this with my computer, and it works quite well – though I’m going to be swapping out the current enclosure for something else with better features.

There are three hard drives in Absinthe: 2 x 1TB Western Digital Blacks and an older 250 GB Western Digital drive. The 1TB drives are in a RAID 1 setup, while the smaller drive is for backups. Moving the two 1 TB drives into a RAID enclosure that connects via eSATA, with the spare in another enclosure or removed altogether, will free up space and improve airflow and get rid of what is definitely an eyesore while removing some of the cable bulk. I may also move her Blu-Ray drive into an external enclosure as well, removing another eyesore.

But then with 256GB USB 3.0 sticks out for a reasonable price, and the amount of her hard drive usage being less than that, I could actually move her entire system over to a USB stick and have her run off that – and the read speeds I’m seeing for some of those, it could be better than her hard drive.

Now removing the hard drives exposes the inverter for the bottom CCFL, so I’d either need to move that behind the mainboard tray, if possible, or devise a way of covering it up. Or paint it. Probably cover it up, though.

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Cleaner loop and look

JayzTwoCents is documenting on Instagram and YouTube an upgrade on a previous client machine in changing the loop over to acrylic tubing from soft tubing. The results are certainly quite phenomenal.

Before:

Now this could’ve been made cleaner by having the pump in a different location, such as finding a way to have it under the reservoir. It’s an AlphaCool VPP655 pump in this build, so he could’ve used a Z2 bracket or something similar to have it on top of the fans on the lower radiator.

In the update, he has it so the pump and reservoir are one unit. And with acrylic tubing, it looks so, so much cleaner.

This is very similar to the previous loop and current loop I built out in my wife’s computer. The original loop wasn’t terrible, mainly because I had the pump and reservoir as one unit, but it certainly could’ve been better. Now the previous loop was my first attempt at a loop, and even with all the reading and videos I’d watched, my inexperience certainly showed. But then there’s no doubt that rigid tubing – whether acrylic, PETG or copper – allows you to build a cleaner loop overall. Even with a new radiator added to the loop over the previous, this build is still much cleaner.

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And it’ll be much cleaner when I get those hard drives out of there. If I’m careful, I shouldn’t need to do anything with the loop to accomplish that.

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Takeaways and lessons

So what lessons could be learned on this? What did I learn along the way of building Absinthe? Note: some of these might sound like common sense, but it’s often been my experience that things considered "common sense" are the things that need to be repeated the most to ensure you don’t forget them.

1. Don’t skimp on the tools

This doesn’t mean you should max out credit cards or drain bank accounts paying for them either. Annealed copper tubing is typically used for water systems, not water cooling systems. As such, those are the tools you need to consider if you’re going to go with copper tubing. The tubing bender I purchased was made for HVAC professionals. I just needed to shop around to find the best price for it.

There are more expensive options, but I didn’t need to go that route. If I was doing client builds, building out copper tubing water cooling systems for others, then I’d probably consider it to ensure I was building with the best tools for the application. But then I’d also have spent $200 on a tubing straightener or figured out how to build my own – come to think of it, I may consider trying to figure that out anyway before I build out a loop in my personal computer as I’m likely going to use copper tubing for that as well.

2. Practice before building

I went through an entire 10′ coil of copper tubing figuring out a few things before I built the loop. I wanted to know what I was getting into, what the tools were going to do, and figure out any "gotchas" before getting down and dirty. It’s amazing how many people just jump right in with acrylic or PETG tubing without spending a little time learning their tools and figuring out the techniques. That is a formula for waste.

Speaking of "gotchas", there’s one major reason I went with copper tubing: the bender all but guarantees the angles at which I’m bending. I can trust the marks on the bender better than I can my own judgment of where 90-degrees is. A lot of people who’ve built loops with acrylic have built jigs to assist in getting the 90-degree and 45-degree bends they may need. You may need to do the same if you go with acrylic/PETG tubing as opposed to copper.

There’s a common tip I’ve seen with regard to building out water cooling loops: build your loop outside your case before you build it inside your case. That sentiment is not just about planning, but about practice. It’s why I wanted to get a proof of concept on the copper tubing before planning out the rest of the loop.

3. Don’t be afraid to change your plans

I will guarantee you that most of the build logs you read across the web or videos you see online involve a lot of changed plans that may or may not be documented. The individuals behind the builds likely didn’t show you their entire planning process, including having to change plans. And I highly, highly doubt that all plans they had going into the build were maintained through it.

As I documented across the build log, I’ve had to change plans. A lot. I had a number of ideas in mind going into this, and a lot of them didn’t work out. I originally planned to have the reservoir mounted externally on a 140mm UN Z3 bracket on the back of the case with the pump sitting on top of the power supply. Then I discovered there wouldn’t be nearly as much room as I originally thought due to the lower graphics card.

I wanted to have the 240mm radiator laying on the floor of the case. I had an inkling going into this that it wouldn’t fit with the new power supply, so I had to change it so the radiator was on the front. This meant my original idea for how to mount the pump and reservoir would also have to change after seeing they would need to be mounted internally.

I even had to change the drainage system. Twice! With the second time being while I was doing the first leak test on the full loop.

So many plans, ideas and decisions needed to be changed through the course of this build – I know I didn’t document all of them. Changing plans does mean spending more money, which means…

4. Don’t purchase everything up front

If you’re going to be switching out fans, I’d say get those ordered first and get as many installed as you can. Work on the system little by little if possible. Then decide on your water blocks and radiators first and get those ordered. Decide on where your radiators will go. Everything else needs to be planned around those, including the pump and reservoir. Plus the blocks and radiators can easily be over half the cost of your loop, so getting those out of the way is going to be a good thing. Be sure to read reviews and watch review videos as well.

What you should not purchase up front are the fittings. Even in the original loop I built out back in March, the fittings were actually the last things I bought, and in my next loop that’ll hold true as well. The loop needed to be planned first, then the fittings acquired. Fittings can easily send your budget into the red, even if you’re just going with soft tubing and flush compression fittings. Because chances are you’ll discover something in building out your loop that you did not consider going into it.

One thing you’ll notice with the build log is actually how slowly things progressed until nearly the very end. I decided to change the fans after doing some research, so I bought those and got them installed.

5. Budget for contingencies

Back when I was in late elementary school into middle school, there was a cartoon series on television called "Darkwing Duck". In one episode, DW’s adopted daughter Gosalyn is sleepwalking around town (video here), having a very imaginative dream about historical events because, as the character Astroduck notes, she was "lazy and wanted a shortcut to avoid studying history".

Anyway, Gosalyn notes toward the end of the episode while still in her dream: "You should never let a minor setback stop you and nobody ever lands right where they plan to."

It is only with experience that you can plan out things well enough in advance that few of your plans will need to change during the course of building out a loop. Chances are you will never become that experienced. Chances are, neither will I. Regardless of how much you read online, or how many videos you watch, you will not be able to overcome your inexperience and the ignorance that comes with it. It’s just something you’re going to have to live with, meaning you need to insure yourself against it.

And the only way you can insure yourself against it is to keep some room in your budget to account for it. This is something that should be common sense, but then, to borrow the oft quoted phrase, common sense tends to not be that common. Given that in building out two loops I’ve had to in both instances overnight something seemingly at the last minute, and overnight shipping prices are likely going to be significantly more than what you’re overnighting, again you need to account for the possibility.

* * * * *

Inventory

You can see the current parts inventory, minus the water cooling equipment, on PCPartPicker. Here are the components of the water cooling loop:

Radiators: AlphaCool XT45 240mm and 360mm
Pump: AlphaCool VPP655 w/ AlphaCool HF D5 top
Reservoir: Assembled from these parts:
Bitspower Water Tank Z-Tube 100mm (BP-WTZACT100-CL)
Bitspower Z-CAP I (BP-WTZACC1-CL)
Bitspower Z-CAP II (BP-WTZACC2-CL)
CPU: Koolance CPU-380A
Graphics cards: 2 x EK FC-660
EK FC Bridge, dual serial 3-slot CSQ Plexi
Tubing: Type L Copper annealed tubing
Fittings PrimoChill Rigid Revolver, Nickel plated, Silver/Black
Swiftech 90-degree swivel elbow adapter, chrome
Swiftech 45-degree swivel elbow adapter, chrome
Bitspower valve, shining silver
Bitspower mini-D plug, shining silver
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Gun confiscation

Cracked.com recently ran a series called “If Every Lie on the Internet Was True“, in which this picture was included:

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The lie here isn’t that government agents will actively confiscate guns, it’s that gun rights supporters say that government agents will actively confiscate guns.

Here’s the thing, outside Alex Jones and a few other conspiratorial nutjobs, no one is saying this will happen. In fact the platform people like Alex Jones and Glenn Beck enjoy is actually the reason it won’t happen. The last thing gun control and gun ban proponents want is Alex Jones and Glenn Beck having a reason to say “we tried to warn you” or “we were right all along, and you should’ve listened to us”.

The issue here is the definition of “confiscation”. Too many people think of confiscation as a person taking something from you, such as when a teacher confiscates something from a student. But like many words in the English language, “confiscate” has more than one definition. Here’s the other one (emphasis added): “to seize as forfeited to the public domain; appropriate, by way of penalty, for public use”.

Remember when word of these first hit the news (from NBC News) after the TSA changed the rules, yet again, on what passengers were allowed to carry onto the plane:

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This is also a form of government confiscation. But these fliers have no choice but to surrender these items voluntarily before being searched by DHS agents, where they would ultimately be seized if they weren’t surrendered up front. The difference between that and a firearm is failing to surrender a water bottle won’t get you sent to jail, as it’ll just be seized from you later. Failure to surrender a firearm you are no longer legally able to have within the timeframe the statute or law enforcement allows for surrender becomes possession of an illegal firearm, which is a felony.

When a firearm you own is outlawed, you have two options: surrender it to law enforcement or sell it. Sure you can try to argue in Court how the law is an ex poste facto law, but by the time that argument comes around, you’ve already lost your firearm anyway.

That is what gun right supporters mean by confiscation.

But there’s another statement that many gun rights proponents have said: “Gun registration leads to confiscation”. And this is another thing that has already been seen in recent years. Many States and jurisdictions have gun registration. After the passage of New York’s inaptly named SAFE Act declared illegal numerous firearms – along with requiring a background check to purchase ammunition or bring it into the State – law enforcement took to the gun registry to determine what registered firearms were now illegal.

Did they then go driving around to each person’s house to confiscate the now-illegal weapons? No.

Instead they sent form letters naming the firearms in question – including make, model and serial number – that were now illegal under the law and declaring that they had a certain period of time to surrender the firearm or lawfully transfer it out of the State.

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This, folks, is what “gun confiscation” looks like. Not government agents going door-to-door to seize firearms, but law enforcement sending out letters demanding people surrender firearms, transfer them out of the State, or have them permanently modified to be in compliance with some law.

And whenever you hear of “gun confiscation” from a gun rights proponent, it is this to which we are referring.

But because gun control proponents have this insatiable desire to constantly portray gun rights proponents as if we are batshit insane, they’re going to still keep using the schoolhouse definition of “confiscate” when talking about firearms.

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Project Absinthe – Part XV: It’s alive!

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If you’re going to use Koolance’s coolant in your loop, don’t try using the little spigot that comes on the bottle. It’s worthless. Just pour it out into a jar and use a syringe to feed it into your reservoir. You’ll save yourself a bit of trouble.

But speaking of the coolant, as I suspected, Koolance said the amber bottle was not good. Thankfully Microcenter had a couple bottles in stock. My wife’s been waiting – as patiently as possible – for her system to be done since it was torn down last week. And I think having to order in more coolant would’ve driven her a little off the edge. So one bottle is going to Kansas City Water Services for proper disposal.

Draining the loop was again a little bit of a pain, as was filling it back up with coolant. But at least I was down to the point where I just needed to get coolant circulating.

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It took a while for the vast majority of the air to bleed out, somewhere around an hour and a half before I unplugged the external power supply and got everything plugged up and booted the system.

There was also a last minute upgrade. I earlier purchased a Sound Blaster Z SBX sound card. Okay not exactly last minute, but I waited until everything else was installed and running reasonably stable before installing the card. It went into the last PCI-E slot on the mainboard. I’m still considering getting a RAID card, provided I don’t just put her hard drives into an external RAID enclosure to just get them out of the case.

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And the temperature performance on this is phenomenal. Running Prime95 Small FFTs for about a half hour, the CPU got up to 48C. And running Valley Benchmark, the graphics cards got to 43C max. On World of Warcraft, the CPU barely broke over 40C and the graphics cards stayed under 40C with everything cranked up.

And the build is quiet. Very, very quiet.

A retrospective will be coming shortly where I’ll have additional pictures, specifications and parts, and some more discussion of the build.

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Project Absinthe – Part XIV

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For the record, trying to drain a loop that has a vertical radiator with its fittings toward the top is a pain. But that was necessary before I could pull the tubing. And will be necessary again before putting in the coolant.

Brasso is the polish of choice in shining up the copper tubing. It had its nice, shiny reddish coppery hue when it was polished up,

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but had already gained a slightly darker patina by the time it was re-installed. But it still looks a hell of a lot better than before the polishing. To give you an idea of how bad it was, if you’ve never had to clean a brass musical instrument, consider yourself lucky. If you ever have, what comes out of a brass musical instrument after weeks or more of saliva making its way through the tubing, it’s similar to what was coming off the copper tubing emulsified in the polish. Yuck!

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And I’m glad that it did gain a slight patina before being installed. My wife prefers that slightly darker hue, and so do I. The sharp copper color would’ve stood out too much against the mainboard. There’s still some contrast, but it’s not nearly as distinct.

In rebuilding the loop, I filled it with distilled water again to run that through. In cleaning the tubing, I used dish soap to clean the polish off the tubing and rinsed with tap water. There was very likely still some tap water left in the tubing, albeit only a small amount, but enough that I wanted to run distilled water through to pick that up and drain it out. It probably wouldn’t have mattered if I went straight to coolant.

Speaking of coolant, the Koolance bottles I purchased from Microcenter were a little concerning to me when I opened them and pulled them out of their boxes. In both cases there is a noticeable precipitate floating in the liquid. And in one case, what is supposed to be a colorless liquid is actually an amber color. I sent the following message to Koolance’s customer support:

Good day,

I purchased two bottles of Koolance coolant LIQ-702CL-B off the shelf from my nearby Microcenter. In opening the boxes for the bottles today, I noticed that the coolant in one of the bottles has taken on an amber hue while the other remains colorless. Both appear to have a slight precipitate floating in the coolant that is noticeable under light.

What could be causing the amber hue in the one case, and should I be concerned about that? Should I be concerned about the apparent precipitate as well?

So until I hear back from them about the coolant, it’s not going into the loop. Unfortunately to preserve the warranty on the CPU block, I need to use their coolant, so I’ll see what they say. Until then, things are likely on hold. I re-discovered after sending the message the note on Koolance’s page for the coolant that "It’s recommended to replace the coolant every 2-3 years, or immediately if there is any change in color or clarity." I’m pretty much guessing that I’ve got two bottles filling both criteria. The one that is an amber color most certainly does, but we’ll see about the other one.

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Project Absinthe – Part XIII

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Finally the day arrives that I can finish tubing out the build. The night before I made sure to get some tubing from Home Depot. In the afternoon I made sure to remind my wife to walk over to the apartment office to pick up the package. All was pretty much set for when I got home. I knew what to do, I knew how to make it happen. It was just a matter of doing it.

Fittings to install. Only one line for tubing needed to be bent and run.

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And there were some last minute changes to plans – aren’t there always? So what happened this time?

Remember the interesting drainage system I had that would originally have taken the drain through the floor? The 90-degree dual-rotary fitting that curved the flow down to the valve couldn’t get a good seal around the next fitting in the chain for some reason, and it leaked slowly. So I went for a slightly different option while just putting a stop fitting on the bulkhead.

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I had already pulled and bent the tubing for the line going to the SLI bridge before doing this, but thankfully it was just a matter of flipping the tubing around. I didn’t even need to run adjust it in any way. Speaking of the SLI bridge…

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Recall from the previous iteration on this build log that I had placed an order with Performance-PCs for 5 x 90-degree single-rotary fittings. I needed two for the SLI bridge, one for the CPU block, and the other two were going to be on the radiator. Well there ended up being a small change of plans.

The two 90-degree fittings forming an S-curve of sorts actually put the line too low on the radiator inlet. But I had two 45-degree single-rotary fittings that I tied together to make a dual-rotary fitting and used that instead. Problem solved.

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Along with that, the way I was originally going to tube up to the SLI bridge I wasn’t entirely comfortable with, so this turned out to be fortunate. The two 90-degree fittings were moved to the inlet on the SLI bridge to offset it perfectly for the run from the pump. Initially I had the line going parallel with the floor out of the acrylic block fitting and curving up to the SLI bridge. In changing the drainage system, I changed it so it went up from the acrylic block then parallel to the case to meet up with the 90-degree fittings shown above.

The line coming out of the radiator back to the reservoir was pretty straightforward.

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The 90-degree tubing on the right is a fill line going into the reservoir. Only temporary.

Once I got the drain port changed over, the leak test went very, very well. Unfortunately it seemed to be taking a while to bleed. Draining it is interesting because of the upright radiator with the fittings toward the top.

But we’re not quite done yet. Next up is pulling this whole thing apart so I can polish the tubing, then re-assembling and doing a quick leak test to ensure everything is how it should be. Then it’ll be filling it back up with the Koolance coolant and doing some temperature benchmarks.

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Project Absinthe – Part XII

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While waiting for the overnight order to arrive, I took advantage of the fittings I did have to see if I could get tubing bent for the two runs I wanted to clean up. Everything is to be torn apart eventually anyway, so this provided a slight bit of practice. Beyond that, having tubing already measured, cut and fit before the fittings arrived would speed up the process immensely.

I had some scrap tubing left over that I was able to straighten and use to run some test cutting and fitting. The line connecting the pump to the SLI bridge I was able to get fitted, so that’s one line down. Unfortunately that one came about from overcutting the line I was attempting to fit from the CPU to the front radiator: I was trying to run the tubing to the top port out of the radiator as opposed to the facing port. But in overcutting it I was at least able to salvage it to get the line for the pump to the SLI bridge.

The tubing that originally came from the CPU to the front radiator was repurposed as well. I cut the 90-degree bend off it and shaved it down to create a new 90-degree bend coming off the radiator to feed into the reservoir. In trying to undo that original connection, I’m definitely glad I redid it. I also decided to leave the fittings in place till the order arrived. It’ll need to come out for the polishing, but I’ll wait till then to take it down.

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Getting the last line run would require more tubing, and as this was done on a Sunday when Home Depot closes early, I would have to wait till the next day to pick it up.

Earlier in the day before deciding to try the tubing, I managed to finish up the cable management for everything except the pump and get the back onto the case. This pretty much means that the only thing left is to plug the pump up into the rest of the system once the water loop is done.

* * * * *

I also had a re-think about the loop. One thing that I was pleased to discover when I initially tubed up the loop was how well the outlet on the top radiator lined up with the CPU block with just a Swiftech 90-degree single-rotary fitting. And given that the front and top radiators are both aligned similarly in the case, I kept wondering if I could get a similar alignment to avoid having to make complicated bends in the loop.

In making some test measurements, I observed that the facing ports of the front radiator about line up perfectly with the lower clips on the memory slots.

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So I’m thinking that having a 90-degree single-rotary fitting on the outlet for the CPU block going down and across – a single 90-degree bend in the tubing – should get me in the ballpark for lining up with a port on the front radiator. What should allow me to hit home on that is two more 90-degree single-rotary fittings to make an S configuration. I have a Swiftech extension fitting if necessary.

Basically I’m hoping to use fittings to avoid multiple bends in the tubing like I tried previously (and failed). All of the other lines in the loop are single 90-degree bends, so figuring out how to get it so all lines are that way would make things look a little more uniform, and it’ll be significantly easier to build out. This also meant taking advantage of a feature Performance-PCs has on their site to amend an order to add two additional Swiftech 90-degree single-rotary fittings to the order I already placed for three of them.

It also means changing the outlet for the radiator to the other side, but that’s only a minor concern with probably some minor adjustment to the copper tubing.

And that is where I’ll have to leave this iteration, as there isn’t much to do until the order arrives. The cabling is virtually done, most of the tubing is already cut and ready to go, though I’ll need to get more for the last tubing run, which can’t happen until I have the fittings. About the only thing I could do in the interim is move the radiator outlet to the other side, but as that’s a minor thing, I’ll wait till later to do that.

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Project Absinthe – Part XI

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Finally we come to the part of the build that I have been looking forward to for weeks: connecting the dots.

The first order of business, though, wasn’t running tubing, but testing the drainage system I had earlier worked up with fittings. I wanted to make sure everything was tight and wasn’t going to leak. More importantly I wanted to make sure it was going to work the way I was seeing it in my head.

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I just used distilled water for this. As you can see, it drains as I said: like draining the coolant from a car. I think that vase is about a half gallon volume (about 1.9L) as well, so when it comes time for the real leak and drainage testing, it’ll hold volume without a problem.

Down to business.

I started running the tubing on Friday night. Living in an apartment, that meant that cutting and straightening tubing more than what I originally had during my earlier experiments would have to wait till the next day. I had some tubing already pulled that I could use, and I was able to make the first run from the pump to the SLI bridge.

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You can probably tell that piece of tubing isn’t entirely straight on the fittings. That’s actually one of the beauties of the Primochill fittings and one of the key points where they beat the Bitspower fittings: the tubing doesn’t need to perfectly line up. With the Bitspower fittings, a slight deviation could mean leaks. With the Primochill fittings, so long as you can get the compression ring down and tight on the fitting, all should be good. Sure the cockeyed lineup might impact flow a little, but it shouldn’t leak.

But I left it for the next day to fix as I didn’t have any lengths of straight tubing long enough to handle it.

* * * * *

Yet another Saturday in this long journey for Absinthe.

Straightening and bending copper tubing is certainly an exercise in patience. Even tubing with single 90-degree bends will probably take a half hour of adjustments to the tubing length. Whether you’re taking 2″ or 1/4″ inch off the end of the tube, both cuts take the same amount of time. And as you get the tubing dialed in to the proper lengths, your cuts are going to get shorter and shorter.

And let’s not discount mistakes as well, which will also eat your time.

Initially I started by looking at connecting the SLI bridge to the top radiator. It was a single 90-degree bend followed by cutting down the tubing little by little until I had it right.

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Afterward I turned my attention to attempting to redo the front connection, the one that was a little off-angle, but ended up messing up the tubing trying to cut it down. So instead I tried to use it as a guide to measure up the top radiator to CPU connection. That allowed me to discover that a 90-degree single rotary fitting plus the bent tubing lined up perfectly. So the top radiator ended up tubed up sooner than I had originally planned.

I was certainly pleased because it meant some of the bends would be significantly less complicated than I originally imagined.

With another piece of a screwed up bend and a 45-degree single-rotary fitting, I was able to tube up the flow from the front radiator back to the reservoir.

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This was a very tight fit on the fittings too, so I’m not sure if I’m going to leave this like that.

Now with both my 90-degree single-rotary fittings used on the radiator connections, I turned to Microcenter to find another one. Their web site said they had one Bitspower matte-black fitting in stock, but unfortunately I couldn’t find it once I got there. It was either sold and their online inventory hasn’t adjusted  yet – given they don’t have their nice current stock of 45-degree single rotary and 90-degree dual rotary fittings listed, this is likely – or the fitting was lifted – which is also likely given I found open and empty packets for a Bitspower valve and stop fitting.

So I tried to tube up the rest of the loop with what fittings I still had.

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There are paper towels placed because I initially tried to do a leak test on this, which worked out somewhat well, but not nearly as well as I would’ve liked.

The 45-degree connection going from the pump to SLI bridge leaks if it’s jostled. And I don’t like how the tubing from the CPU to the front radiator looks a little cock-eyed as well. At the least that needs to be re-done. And the initial flow line out of the pump is also going to get replaced. I’ve got an order for a few more single-rotary fittings on an overnight order from Performance-PCs, so those should be here Tuesday.

The 45-degree connection will be replaced with a 90-degree connection similar to what is leading from the SLI bridge to the top radiator. I’m going to also replace the connection going from the front radiator to to the reservoir using another 90-degree single-rotary fitting coming off the port that currently has the temperature probe, alleviating the tight fit on the compression fittings. As for the CPU to front radiator, I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do with that yet. I’m also considering figuring out how to redo the drainage system using copper tubing as opposed to fittings.

Unfortunately it means more waiting, but everything should be better in the end.

And once the fittings arrive and the connections are re-done, I’ll be doing another leak test. If everything goes well, the tubing will be taken out of the system to be polished and re-installed for another leak test. Once that leak test is done, the distilled water will be changed out for the coolant.

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Project Absinthe – Part X

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Wednesday didn’t see much action on Absinthe due to some thunderstorms that rolled through the KC area, so I took the time to plan out what was going to happen next. Obviously the graphics cards needed to go in before any tubing could be run, and I needed to see how they would relate to the rest of the build to see about finalizing my plans on that mark.

So that was the focus for tonight after I got home from work. As the original thermal pads that came with the water blocks are basically gone, I made sure to order new thermal pad material a while back. The material is Fujipoly’s SARCON X-E, both the 1.0mm and 0.5mm thicknesses since that is what the water block instructions call out the thicknesses to be. It was expensive, but it’s supposed to be pretty high performance.

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Of course ArctiClean was used to clean the stock thermal compound from the GPU. Then it was a matter of lining up the block to the card and screwing it down into place. I described how I did this originally in the original build log. For the SLI bridge, I misplaced the screws that were supposed to go with it. Thankfully Home Depot carried M4 screws with the right sized heads to fit inside the recessed mounting hole. For those curious, the instructions call out 25mm screws.

 

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Now with the graphics cards installed, a few things became apparent that would relate to tubing things up. For one, the face of the SLI bridge lines up near perfectly with the edge of the power supply. For much of the tubing, I had in mind trying to maintain 90-degree bends all over, with any bends in the tubing to keep it running parallel to a side of the case.

That however was going to get complicated in a hurry.

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In the picture above, you can see single-rotary fittings on the inlet and outlet for the SLI bridge. In both cases, that will allow me to use 90-degree pieces of copper tubing to connect the pump to the SLI bridge, and the SLI bridge to the top radiator. One bend. No complications. It won’t have the tubing running parallel with the sides of the case, but the tubing looking a little off-sided is about in line with some descriptions of what absinthe does to your mind, the kind of distortion that can result from being a regular drinker of it, such as the poet in the painting to the right.

Come to think of it, a long gaming session can probably do the same to a gamer as the Hemingway to a typical person. The cocktail is described thusly: "Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly."

But I digress.

The tubing not being square to the case reduces the complication and potential waste of trying to make it square to the case and allows me to instead focus on how to make it all work well. It should all still look pretty good in the end.

As tubing up the loop will require potentially making a lot of noise as I try to straighten lengths of it – hopefully not using more than what I bought in the process – that will likely have to wait till the weekend, though I’ll probably try to do some of the tubing Friday night, or I’ll just focus on the rest of the cabling first.

We’ll see.

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Project Absinthe – Part IX

Contents: All articles in this series

Monday was a night off from working on Absinthe. Tuesday I ended up staying home from work due to some dizzy spells that greeted me when I woke up. And anyone who has had those along with their stronger counterpart we refer to as Vertigo (thankfully he responded to my demands to stay away) likely knows the kind of morning I had. Thankfully the dizziness managed to die off enough later in the day that I was able to make some headway.

And first order of business on the build was making a backup of my wife’s hard drive using Macrium Reflect. I have her drives configured in a RAID 1 setup, and I’ll eventually get a hardware RAID card as well. The difference between a hardware RAID card and the onboard RAID on her mainboard, for those curious, is the same difference between the old "Winmodems" and hardware external modems that were used via a 9-pin COM port.

When the backup was done, I needed to let the computer cool off before pulling everything apart. Having a fan blowing onto the components helped it cool off faster. It’s always recommended you let everything cool off for at least an hour before you start taking things apart. I’ve violated that rule numerous times, depending on what I was doing, but the rule absolutely applies if you’re going to be doing any kind of dusting using a compressed air canister because of the extremely low temperature. It’s about the same as putting cold water into a hot glass.

Disassembling the Zalman

While waiting for the computer to cool down, I disconnected everything except the power supply. This leaves the case grounded for when I actually get in and start removing components. Since I’m touching the case, touching screws and other things that also touch the case, I can instantly ground myself. If I was using an anti-static wrist strap (I’ve never used one of these, by the way), then I’d be able to clip it directly to the case at a point near the power supply and be completely grounded because the case would be connected to my apartment’s ground circuitry.

It’s one of the reasons whenever I build a computer from the ground up, I always install the power supply first, and shortly after that I plug it in. I make sure the power switch on it is off to ensure I don’t end up doing something stupid, but the power supply being in the case and plugged in grounds the case completely for when I’m installing sensitive electronics. I have the RM1000 power supply plugged in for the same reason.

The hard drives were my first target. I needed to get those out and get the hard drive cage mounted in the case. If I didn’t do this early, it’d be difficult later on as the graphics cards were going to be close by, and the mainboard itself would also interfere a little. One thing I failed to anticipate with mounting the hard drives is that the hard drives would actually interfere slightly with the lower corner screw for the mainboard. It wasn’t impossible to reach, but it was a little blocked.

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So after getting the hard drives mounted, I turned to undoing much of the cabling in the case. I wanted to get a lot of it out of the way before going after the graphics cards. Once those were out, I turned to the ThermalTake water cooler, then to the mainboard. The graphics cards I set aside on the 750D, while the mainboard I set on another mainboard box to prepare it for work.

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The Koolance block I new would be larger than the AlphaCool block. And it is also much heavier than the AlphaCool block. It’s probably the heaviest block on the market, now that I think about it, mainly because there is very little plastic in this. That is certainly a good thing. Plus the fitting threads are recessed into the block’s body, meaning if they crack there’s not really anywhere else for the coolant to go.

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The block was relatively straightforward to install as well. The instructions were pretty easy to follow. And under the block I didn’t use Koolance’s included thermal compound, but my personal preference, IC Diamond. ArctiClean is the two white bottles next to the CPU with the old IC Diamond compound. Once the CPU was clean, it was a matter of installing it and the water block.

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The block is installed "upside down", so to speak, as I wanted the inlet closest to the radiator, as the path of the coolant is to go from the graphics cards to the top radiator, then to the CPU. With the block mounted, the only thing left was to install the mainboard into the case.

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There was one thing I discovered about this setup that is requiring that I modify my plans, in that the water block is certainly taller than I originally thought. This isn’t a show stopper. It just means that the outlet from the SLI bridge will need to go to the port on the radiator on the mainboard side of the case as opposed to the window side of the case. Then the other port will go to the CPU.

And that is where I’ll leave this iteration, as that is where I left the work. The plan for the next day is to get the water blocks and SLI bridge on the graphics cards, which will allow me to make the last determinations for the tubing. Whether I start attempting to run tubing I will determine at that time.

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Project Absinthe – Part VIII

Contents: All articles in this series

Another Saturday was upon us! Time to get to work!

The drain port was my first move. I knew I needed to cut a hole in the bottom for it, but how was the question. I tried Dremel blades at first and they didn’t do jack on that mark. So I paid the $20 for a step bit, which did the job nicely, though it left nice little aluminum shards all over the place, but that’s what a vacuum is for. The step bit I bought only goes up to 1/2", which is just under the 14mm that would allow a clean pass-through. But I was able to thread the fitting through till I could secure it with the nut on the other side.

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Earlier in the day I visited Microcenter and decided to go with the Primochill "T" fitting. The weight of the Swiftech manifold is what turned me away from it. The next stop was to Home Depot to get more copper tubing. I only bought the 10-foot roll, so hopefully that’ll be all I need… And later in the evening while my wife was at work, I made sure to pick up the chocolate. I needed milk anyway, so it was basically just another stop.

My cat didn’t seem to care, though.

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But after getting the bulkhead fitting installed, I used fittings to create the drain system off the Primochill fitting. I have a Swiftech dual SLI fitting that extends off the pump’s outlet to the Primochill fitting. To the left looking directly at it is the Primochill hardline fitting. To the right, the flow goes through a Swiftech extension fitting, Swiftech 90-degree dual rotary fitting, down to a Swiftech single-slot SLI fitting, into the Bitspower valve, which connects to the Koolance bulkhead fitting via an Alphacool male-to-male rotary fitting.

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I may change that out for copper tubing between the T-fitting and the valve. I have enough fittings, but I’m not sure if it’s too tight a turn for my tubing bender. We’ll see.

As I mentioned earlier this means that draining the loop is going to be about the same as draining a car: put a container underneath, open the valve, and just let it flow out. Good thing that only has to be done every couple years.

* * * * *

Sunday dawned with a thunderstorm, a latte, and a black cat who seemed to be complaining there weren’t any sunbeams coming in through the balcony door. Just kidding. While I was working on my wife’s build, the cat was parked someplace a little more vital…

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Ah the joys of owning cats…

With my wife still sleeping, I began with the cable management. I wanted to put off tearing apart her computer till I no longer could so she has the least amount of downtime – even though this whole process was still going to take several days to complete, mainly because I do have a regular job during the week.

The bigger reason it will take several days is the fact I’m going to be bending copper tubing for this build. And while copper is a little more forgiving than acrylic and PETG, I have to straighten what comes off the roll first. Home Depot does sell straight sections of soft copper tubing, but only for 3/8" OD, and it’s $4 for a 24" length. If I wanted a 1/2" OD, I’d be paying for copper type L pipe. It’s less expensive than copper tubing, but more difficult to work with. Bending requires a conduit bender or hydraulic tubing bender, making tight radii out of the question, so I’d have to resort to fittings, the easiest and lightest of which would require solder, flux and a blowtorch.

And I think my wife would rather not have flames near her machine again.

With the cable management, I started with plugging the fans into the fan controller and tying up as much of the cabling as possible into some 3M Command cable clips I’d previously installed into her case when I did the initial power supply upgrade. Zip ties helped keep everything together within the clips. Speaking of power supply, getting the power supply cables installed was the next step – I wanted them in before I started installing components just to make things a little easier. I also installed the Koolance temperature sensor in one of the ports on what will be the outflow of the radiator.

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Then I turned my attention to placing the inverters for the CCFLs. One is sitting conveniently behind the mainboard tray, while the other is behind the bottom 120mm fan closest to the power supply, which will be behind the hard drive mount when that is reinstalled, meaning the inverter will be completely hidden from sight. Both are held in place by 3M VHB tape.

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The intent is to run these without the switch, so for that I needed to modify the power cables.

Simple mod, really. Snip the red and yellow wires first about halfway between the switch and Molex power connector. This should give you red and white wires that are more or less the same length. Then strip the ends and join them together. I just hooked the ends around each other and secured with electrical tape – it looks crude but they’ll be behind the mainboard tray and out of sight anyway. If these were going to be visible in any way, I would’ve tried to find a better way to do this.

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* * * * *

And that’s basically it for this iteration. My wife wants the least impact to her on this build, so she asked that I wait till Monday night to start migrating components and building out the loop since she’ll be at work. It also gives me a little more time to plan out things and make sure I’m settled on what I’ll be doing for the loop.

First order of business will be getting the water block on the CPU and getting the mainboard positioned. I need that to take some measurements and see how the CPU block will appear in relation to the upper radiator. I may also try to connect them up. I also want to get the graphics cards done tomorrow, but I’ll see how far I can get as the teardown alone is going to take probably close to two hours.

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