Update (and complete replacement of the previous description)!
Firstly, this was a build I did with my partner. She was previously using an Intel NUC as a desktop as she isn't a gamer and only needed it for school work. I, on the other hand, am a gamer. I also do 3D design work and software development (which includes a proprietary 3D engine) for some very large clients including the largest semiconductor manufacturer on the planet (this is one of the reasons I don't use AMD chips - nothing against AMD, just more a sense of loyalty to a long time client). As such, my personal home desktop has a fair amount of graphics power (MSI GTX 1080 Ti Sea Hawk X) and frequently she would say "Can I play that with you?" and I would have to explain that most modern titles require you to have a computer and own a copy. So, in the interest of her learning to build a computer and her having a computer in which we could actually play some games together, this build was born.
That said, she insisted on a custom water loop because, let's face it, they're pretty. I wasn't going to discourage it because I've been building computers for the past decade (mostly for businesses which don't let me do fun stuff like custom loops) and jump at the opportunity to do fun and interesting builds. I thought the timing was about as good as it gets with the 8th generation Intel Core series having just become available and PrimoChill having just released their beautiful VUE fluid.
The Case: I had her pick the case and define the general aesthetic and I took it from there. I was actually quite excited when she picked the NZXT Manta because it's one I've wanted to do a build in for awhile now and I really love the way it looks. It is very expensive for a mini-ITX case but the quality is fantastic! There's plenty of room in this thing and I had no issues with the case itself. It's very easy to disassemble and reassemble and provides plenty of space for cable management in the back due to the curvature of the side panels.
The Radiators (and more on the case): I had looked at a number of other completed builds on here to try to get a feel for the allowable thickness for the radiators and I was deceived into believing I could fit an EK PE series radiator on the top and I discovered the hard way that the PE's are too thick. This ended up working out for me because my original plan was to put a 240mm on both the front and the top but after playing with that configuration a little I didn't like my options for mounting the pump and reservoir. I ended up mounting the pump the way I did and downsizing the top radiator to a 120mm for ease of access to the fill port. Ease of maintenance was fairly important to me because I wanted her to feel comfortable performing her own maintenance on this machine in the future when I may or may not be around.
The Motherboard: I. *******. Hate. Asus. Software. AI Suite 3 has given me NOTHING but trouble and I have to have it installed in order to run Aura to control the LED's on the motherboard. BUT, guess what? Aura won't remember my settings after the computer is shut down and restarted. Asus's response? "Faulty motherboard." Well, considering how many posts in their forums I find dating back as far as early 2016 on people experiencing and living with this problem with no response or action from Asus I just find that hard to believe. I'm also not going to rip this thing apart just to solve that one problem. I like Asus's BIOS and the hardware seems to be high quality I just cannot get over what a pain AI Suite 3 has been. Between the constant exception errors that are only solved by reinstalling AI Suite 3 all together, and the fact that it doesn't want to save my settings, I just really don't see myself buying an Asus motherboard again, at least for awhile.
The RAM: Let's spread some hate around! The RAM is beautiful and it performs as I would expect it to. So where's the hate coming from? The LED's on the RAM will not turn off without shutting the computer down completely. This may seem like a minor inconvenience, and it is truly a first world problem, but keeping in mind that if I shut the machine down Asus' Aura / AI Suite 3 will forget it's settings I would certainly like the option to leave this thing in sleep mode. What's the big deal of the lights staying on? We live in a big loft apartment and our computer desks are essentially in our bedroom. Those LED's put off some serious light in a dark room. I would love to see Corsair update their Link software to support turning the LED's off in sleep mode, so if anyone from Corsair is reading this, do the thing I just described!
The CPU: Nothing I can really say here that can't be found all across the web. Things a beast. Was tempted to delid and replace the TIM with liquid metal to better control temperatures. Still might, but really isn't necessary (but this whole computer wasn't exactly necessary). Would just make keeping this thing quiet at higher clock speeds an easier task. UPDATE Did delid and wow.. what a world of difference it made! My temps dropped so significantly that I can keep this thing clocked at 5.0GHz on all cores with a silent fan curve. Very happy.
The Coolant: PrimoChill's VUE fluid is fantastic looking! I had concerns about it gunking up the loop like Mayhem's Aurora does but after watching a few videos from folks like JayzTwoCents I felt pretty comfortable going with it. Highly suggest this product! They have a wide range of colors available to accent just about any build.
The rest: Not a lot to say. I have never been let down by Samsung SSD's. I use them in most of my builds if I have the option. Excellent performers that never seem to fail (knock on wood). The fans perform amazing. Not the first time I've send the Corsair ML series and probably won't be the last. In the land of power supplies, I just wanted "Gold" or better and something fully modular from a trusted brand. I have a tendency to use EVGA or Corsair PSU's and have never had issues with either in the past.
Operating System: Why Windows 10 Pro? Well, I've been in IT and software too long to settle for Home edition. Home won't let me disable many of the "features" I find to be annoying and I usually end up in the Group Policy editor. There are too many tiny, individually insignificant, limitations in Home that just make me frustrated to have it on a computer I'm supporting.
Overclocking and the like... I spent a number of hours playing with different levels of OC's and fan curves with the goal of trying to get the most performance while keeping the system as silent as possible. I tinker and tweak and update things constantly so this is subject to change (especially if I delid a little later). That said, I currently have the CPU at 4.8GHz and the GPU at a +80MHz offset on the core with a +400MHz offset on the VRAM. I have the fan curves not going above 60% unless temperatures hit 70C (which they haven't). I also slowed the pump down a bit because at 100% it was moving the fluid so fast that you couldn't even notice the cool "shampoo" effect of the VUE fluid. I did some early synthetic benchmarking for stability before tweaking fan and pump curves but I haven't re-run any synthetics since. What I have done is real world tests, predominantly just gaming for a few hours and seeing what happens. I've used Civilization 6, Destiny 2, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Assassins Creed: Origins, and ARK: Survival Evolved to put this thing through it's paces. The results? My CPU is typically topping out around 67C and my GPU doesn't leave the 50's except in ARK when I'm purposing abusing this card at 1440p at which point I've gotten to 61C.
I'm sure I'll likely keep tweaking these settings but I'm fairly happy with how things are at the moment. Performance is excellent and the machine stays silent.
UPDATE AND PSA PrimoChill VUE fluid fell out and gunked everything up. I thought maybe the first time was a fluke but it happened again. Switching to distilled water and dye next time I clean this thing.