Hi all, here is my water-cooled NCASE M1 with the vertical GPU mount from Mnpctech. I've never actually seen another build published with this part, so I think this one is somewhat unique for that and a few other reasons. With that being said, this is my very first attempt at water cooling, so please be gentle, but at the same time happy to hear feedback. :) Below I'm going to provide some context on the purpose of my build, walk through some of the chronological photo gallery I've included, and provide a few clarifications where I think it's useful or may be particularly interesting.
I always tend to write way too much, so there is a ton of detail below. TL:DR you can just look at the pictures. Read at your own risk or convenience.
CPU: i7-6800k w/ Barrow X99 Special Acrylic CPU block + EK Supremacy LGA-2011 Narrow mounting bracket Motherboard: ASRock X99E-ITX/ac Mini ITX Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws V 16gb DDR4-3200 Storage: Samsung 960 Evo 500gb M.2-2280 GPU: Zotac GTX 1080 Ti Mini w/ Barrow BS-ZO1080TM-PA Mini Water Cooling Block Pump/Res combo: Barrow SPB17-Mini Other: All Barrow fittings + 3/8" ID 1/2" OD tubing … PVC/PU tube cutter + a tin snip from Lowe's
...Initial Goals and Shopping Experience...
In Jan 2018, I decided to order a 1080 Ti with some of my tax return money, as an upgrade to my main gaming/VR rig. I chose the Zotac 1080 Ti Mini specifically because I also own an NFC S4 Mini, and this is the only 1080 Ti that could fit in that case in the future when I eventually choose to "retire" it to that build. Unfortunately, I found that the card performs just like the Nvidia reference Pascal models, in that it quickly hits its thermal limit (84C by default I believe) and thereafter throttles clock speeds to maintain temperature. Performance was ok, but was benchmarking generally in the lowest quartile against other 1080 Tis (gaming at 1650 ~ 1750 Mhz clock speed), probably no thanks to the tiny case it was in! Who wants to have a top-of-the-line videocard that can't run at its full potential!?!? I've never done water cooling before, always been sort of scared to try it, but this was the first "real" use case I had to give it a shot!
Due to financial concerns, I chose to order all of my water cooling parts Barrow brand off a seller on Aliexpress (basically Chinese Amazon). I was a little worried about both the shopping experience and the parts quality, but the price was just SO good, even after paying for expedited 1 - 2 week shipping. So both of my blocks, my pump/res combo, all of my fittings, it's all Barrow brand. The CPU block I purchased, for example, was only $25! So this is another pretty unique "feature" I'm not sure I've seen previously, and thought it may be useful for others to see performance results.
I will say the shipping ended up being pretty dreadful. For some reason, after being quite responsive while I shopped, the seller went totally dark as soon as I placed my order. It took him an entire week to ship, so the 1 - 2 week shipping turned into 3 from order to delivery. Then, when everything finally arrived, he had shipped the wrong tank top (the longer model where I needed the "mini" to fit in my case). He remained unresponsive even after this, so I had to open a dispute through Aliexpress, at which point he did expedite a replacement to me free of charge. All of this said, I found out a little too late that Formula Mod actually has an Aliexpress storefront, so if any of YOU want to order off there, that may be a more painless/efficient shopping experience: https://www.aliexpress.com/store/431286
...GPU Block & Vertical Mount...
As mentioned above, I went with the 1080 Ti Mini to facilitate future fit in an even smaller case. For the same reason, I chose the version with the traditional fans/heatsink vs. the one with the pre-installed water block. But when I went looking for third-party blocks, the options for my card were limited. There is an Alphacool "Pro" series block (M23 model if I recall correctly?) with a built-in pump, which wasn't a terrible idea given space constraints, although I really did not like the aesthetic. The only other option in existence is a Barrow/Bykski block, which is the one I ultimately purchased. Additionally, my card is "mini" in terms of length, but is actually a taller than the GPU standard (125mm vs 111mm). So it doesn't actually fit in the NCASE M1 in traditional orientation once you install the block, which adds ~ 20mm from the inlet/outlet ports and impedes the side panel from closing entirely. This meant there was honestly only 1 possible configuration that would work for my parts in this case, and necessitates my purchase of the Mnpctech vertical GPU mount. In case it's helpful to anyone, by my rough measurements the case has ~ 300mm of available length, with the vertical mount + 1080 Ti Mini taking up ~ 212mm and the pump another ~ 63mm. So that leaves ~ 25mm (1 in) space remaining -- a pretty tight fit!
Now regarding installation, first and foremost, the Barrow blocks don't come with any instructions! Just a little card that almost insultingly states "Do Not Waste Paper" (pictured). Luckily, I was able to find a pretty good video on Youtube of a guy messing with a Barrow block. It's not the same card, but it definitely helped me figure out how things fit together, which screws go where, etc: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhlEPuhV7bU. Also, for this card specifically, I was able to cross-reference the thermal pads from the original heatsink/fans to figure out where to place them on my new block. Finally, I used the "double cross" method with some Arctic MX-4, using this JayzTwoCents video as a primary instructional source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAid5G30-WM. Final note, the block also comes with a 4-pin connector that enables RGB lighting, but it was actually delivered with one of the wires snapped, which is frustrating although I wasn't planning to use the lighting anyway…
I also have some pictures of the grills snipped off the back of the case to provide access to the GPU's video output. Plus I included a picture of the vertical mount with "stage 2" optional add-on (so you can mount it upside down, i.e. with the inlet/outlet ports on the bottom). Although the normal/standard vertical mount is perfect for my use-case, as you can see the "stage 2" orientation does not leave enough space for even the slimmest fan + rad to fit below it. And since the vertical mount covers all 3 of the rear and side fan mounts, as far as I can tell this "stage 2" add-on is a strange product with, possibly, no use at all? So a bit of a miss with that one in my opinion.
...Pump/Res Mounting & Drain Port...
This was probably my biggest concern/difficulty while planning the build, and coincidentally also the part I'm perhaps least satisfied with afterwards. I didn't know what kind of mounting options would be possible on that front panel. I even talked to a friend about using some of his tools to drill new threads in the aluminum; I know that isn't super hard to do, but is kind of beyond my particular experience. It turns out the Barrow pump/res comes with 2 mounting solutions, 1 of which is a circular strap that wraps around the pump top, and the screw threads in that happen to align PERFECTLY with existing cutouts on the front panel. The screws don't thread into the case, but I let the heads sort of hang over a little bit, then screwed them as tight as I could. I also used thermal resistant adhesive strips on the inside and outside to give a little more grip (outside over top of the screw heads pictured). Ultimately, it mounts pretty well -- even with the case turned sideways, it stays put. With the tight tubing runs, this helps hold it in place even better. And it doesn't really have anywhere to fall anyway… Still, it isn't exactly as secure as I would have preferred, but this works pretty well without needing to drill into that front panel.
As for the pump itself, I really had no idea what to expect. Unlike the EK variant I was considering at first, this thing only has an outlet on the pump base, so it does somewhat limit your loop/flow options (inlet must come from the pump top). Other than that, it actually seems like a good product to me. It runs up to 4500 rpm, which I think was more than the comparable EK mini pump/res, although at that speed it can be pretty loud with a fair amount of creaking, gurgling, etc. I run it on my motherboard's "silent" setting instead, which does around 2500 rpm.
In the pictures, you'll also see a sort of weird combination of 90-degree fittings + my drain valve. Initially, I wanted that drain port to stick out the back of the case where there are inlet/outlet cutouts (I think originally intended for a custom-made external reservoir). Given the extremely tight fit and a general lack of variety of fittings available to me, however, I just couldn't make this work. My 2nd (under the power supply) and 3rd (under the pump) choices didn't work out for similar reasons. So in the end this was the best I could reason. The only fitting there is room for on the side of the pump is a shorter non-rotary version which, of course, sticks straight up when screwed in tightly, instead of to the side as would be more desirable. Eventually I found a way to fit the drain valve and all the tubing, but as you can see it doesn't sit at the lowest point in my loop. That being said, you can see one of the images where I demonstrate the way the rotary piece can, well, rotate outwards, such that with the case on its side I should be able to drain effectively, with the valve at the lowest point when the case is in that sideways orientation.
...Radiator & Fans...
Just a quick note here. The one component I went a little more premium with (non-Barrow) is the Black Ice Nemesis slim (30mm) dual radiator, based on the extensive review I found/studied here: http://www.xtremerigs.net/2015/02/11/radiator-round-2015/. Before use, I boiled some distilled water, let it cool for a few minutes, then filled the radiator and shook it vigorously, emptied it, and repeated a few times. There was some crud that came out with this method, but it wasn't too bad -- hopefully I got it all? Also, note that since I'm using slim fans, I went up to Lowe's and bought a set of 20mm M4 screws (thread size verified per the radiator's product page). I read many warnings about getting the right size for your fan, i.e. 3 ~ 5mm longer than your fan height, so if you use non-traditional (like slim) fans you must be careful here!
I'm using Noctua NF-A12x15s, which are the 120mmx15mm slim variants. I've used the NF-F12s in the past, and like many others am pretty bought into Noctua products, so this was an easy choice. These slim fans go up to 1800 rpm, although I have been testing/benchmarking them at a constant 1300 rpm instead. The sound isn't too bad and is pretty "clean" as fans go. I can't complain.
I have the fans oriented to push through the radiator and out the bottom of the case, and I do not have any kind of taller after-market feet (although I'm considering it). Most people report the best temps in an NCASE M1 with this orientation, although I am still somewhat tempted to try having them "pull" and blow some air through the case/over the mobo and out the top panel perforations. Mostly this is because I have no other way to actively cool my motherboard, which I have always had heat problems with (read my review on that part specifically for more details).
...Motherboard, PSU, etc....
Quick note (and picture) that I had to purchase a 2011-3 narrow mounting bracket, as the standard X99 block doesn't fit this particular board, which uses the 2011 narrow ILM.
Moving on, I purchased a "starter pack" of sleeved cables that are compatible with my Corsair SF600. I got cables that were way longer than needed in this case because 1) the pre-packaged kit was way cheaper than custom cables, and 2) I am potentially planning to buy a Define Nano S which would require the longer cables anyway. With all the extra cable length, however, I decided to use 6mm motherboard standoffs to give myself space to run the cables on the back side of the case. This actually worked pretty well! One note, though, is that with the higher location of the motherboard, it barely fit into the back panel cutout, and the I/O shield didn't fit at all, thus I was not able to use it anymore. You can see in the image the way the board is raised further off the back of the case than it normally would be.
The runs in this tiny case were very tight and really quite difficult for me to work with. I chose soft tubing for my first water cooling attempt, but not sure if that was a good idea or not. I had to try a variety of different configurations to find something that worked pretty well, and ultimately I couldn’t find any way to avoid at least 1 very tight bend (from CPU -> GPU). For this one I used anti-kink coil, which was super cheap and actually worked fantastically, allowing much more bend before any kinking occurred. I would prefer if the run from pump -> rad didn't go in front of my GPU, but I just didn't purchase enough variety of fittings to quite make that work.
Overall there is only ~ 21 inches of tubing here in total, which I think seems quite short, although I don't really have anything to compare it to. The order of the loop goes reservoir -> pump -> radiator -> CPU -> GPU -> back to reservoir. I've read that you want your CPU immediately after your radiator, presumably because that is the water's coolest point and your CPU is the hottest component? Not sure if that really matters too much though.
...Putting it All Together & Performance Testing...
I did all of my leak testing and benchmarking with distilled water only, thinking I would drain the loop and refill it with the EK coolant mix once I knew everything was in good shape. Since the reservoir is so small, I had to fill it, run the pump momentarily, then turn it off and refill again something like 3 ~ 5 time before the whole loop filled up. Once everything was set up and the time came, I definitely did not want feel like draining it out, so I actually just emptied the res and filled it with the coolant mix another handful of times, effectively "cutting" the normal distilled water with a little bit of proper coolant. That's why the color is much lighter blue than it probably would normally be. I suppose that isn't the best approach, but doesn't seem like too big a deal to me overall?
Once I get all the side panels on, you can still sort of see the GPU block through the perforated side panel. I know they (sfflab) are about to start selling glass or acrylic side panel replacements, which I am considering to show this off a little better. After all, that's sort of the original point of the vertical mount, right?
I ran a quick Heaven benchmark with 1920x1080 max settings and got a score of 3785 (no overclock on GPU or CPU), which is consistent with other 1080 Ti results I found online. You can also see how low the temperatures were! I was absolutely floored that the water block is taking 30 - 40C off my GPU!! Not pictured, but I did also run 1 hr of AIDA64 stressing both CPU and GPU, and ended up at 59C CPU, 53C GPU, again without any overclocks. I actually thought that was pretty fantastic for the highest possible TDP components running on a single 240mm slim rad. Most importantly, the 1080 Ti maintained 1900 ~ 1950 core clock throughout every test/benchmark I ran, which as I noted at the very beginning of this write-up was the primary goal of going with water cooling in the first place (to avoid thermal throttling of the GPU).
Well I think that's about everything anyone could possibly want to know about my build. :) Thanks to anyone who made it all the way through. Hope this was informative to some and, as I mentioned before, happy to hear any other thoughts or feedback from the community.
This CPU seemed like the best buy for me after performing some extensive research in late 2016/early 2017. At the time, Intel's main consumer line did not offer more than 4 cores/8 threads, but I felt that 6 or more cores would be important for future proofing, and I knew I wanted this CPU to last me at least a few years.
That being said, if I had to do it again I would (and will going forward) stick to a more frequent upgrade cycle with top-end consumer products, e.g. i7-8700k and similar. This is because some of the problems I have had have been rare and hard to find support for. Intel + the mobo manufacturers spend more time, resources, and visibility in supporting the mainstream market. The customer base for these HEDT chips is smaller and so support has just been more limited overall. That's why I would recommend, and personally will be, sticking to mainstream consumer parts in the future.
See my review of the ASRock X99E-ITX/ac mobo as well for additional details.
The only mini-ITX X99 board that was created. so props for that I guess. It looks like ASRock has maintained this position with a one-of-a-kind X299 mITX board too, so I do appreciate them catering that that market niche.
Some positives include lots of BIOS options, tons of USB 3.0/3.1, M2/NVMe support, native BIOS RAID setup, 3 PWM fan headers, etc. On the other hand, as you will see commonly mentioned in professional reviews, the board only supports dual channel memory. Additionally, the narrow ILM limits CPU cooler compatibility. It does come with a mounting bracket that lets you use many common AIOs, however. For example, I used an H105 that worked quite well. Another curiosity is the general board layout, with the RAM and 24-pin slots on the top, instead of on the right side like most other boards. Definitely something to keep in mind when choosing cases, cables, peripherals, etc.
Just to note, despite it not being mentioned in any press releases, I do see that ASRock finally released a BIOS/microcode update on 4/10 to patch this board for Meltdown/Spectre. I could only find 1 forum post from someone who tried this on their X99E-ITX/ac, however, and they reported (unsubstantiated) that it froze and bricked the board. To be honest, it isn't even worth it for me to try at this point, so I'm not going to bother.
The biggest problem, though, has been unmanageable chipset temperature without strong active cooling, which can be hard to provide in tiny SFF builds. For a VERY long time, I was so frustrated with the low results and seeming instability of my i7-6800k overclock, until I eventually identified a pattern of MOTHERBOARD heat prior to shutdowns. Very recently, I finally dropped a monoblock into my custom loop that covers the VRM and chipset, along with the CPU: https://www.bitspower.com.tw/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=173_254_257_264&products_id=4090. It turns out my suspicions were correct, because this dropped ~ 15C off my chipset temperature under load, and finally my freezes/bluescreens stopped, and my overclock is stable (i7-6800k only at 4.0 Ghz / 1.275v). So if you can even find this board these days, be prepared to drop another $170+ on an (equally rare) monoblock, or some other kind of strong, active chipset cooling solution.
So with all of that being said, this board seems to be virtually unavailable as of May 2018. Maybe you can find one on eBay, and pick up that monoblock by emailing Bitspower to inquire about backorder (like I had to). If you are desperate for a Haswell- or Broadwell-E mini ITX setup, well you don't really have a choice now do you? But at this point, you could probably pick up an i7-8700k and a Z370 board for the same price or better. You'll get way better performance and infinitely more compatibility that way. Which pretty much makes this a dead product now, along with the X99 chipset that it supports!
Drool dude. All the power in the palm of my hand. Whereas most third-party designs seek to increase cooling capacity, the goal of this card was to be the smallest 1080 Ti possible. What that means is that it doesn't perform too well in the cooling department, however.
Check all the reviews online and you'll see that it easily hits its thermal limit (84C by default I think?) and throttles the clock speeds to compensate. I can confirm my card performed exactly in this manner, unfortunately (gaming at 1650 ~ 1750 Mhz clock speed vs. 1900 ~ 2050 or so possible with proper cooling).
Note that this isn't exactly terrible for a 1080 Ti, in fact its exactly the same way the Nvidia reference designs perform. But who wants to pay for the best videocard on the market, then see the clock speeds throttle!?!? This is what led me to attempt water-cooling in the first place.
This thing has treated me fantastically for almost 1.5 years now. Rock solid and quiet. 600W is more than enough for any possible single-GPU build. I'm running a 1080 Ti (250W TDP) + 140W TDP high-end desktop chip. I don't think it's actually possible to put any more power than that behind those 2 components, but even overclocked I don't go too much beyond 400W, according to my Kill-A-Watt.
These are the 15mm slim variant. They spin up to 1800 rpm, but I keep them around 1300. The sound isn't too loud or whiny, somewhat pleasant as far as fans go I guess. 2 of these on a single 30mm radiator are enough to cool my top end components, at least without heavy overclocks.
Moving up to 240mm of radiator and overclocking CPU/GPU, I did start to notice the max capacity of these fans. They just couldn't push enough air in this layout, even with 5 of them in a Define Nano S. Switching to a combination of standard 25mm Noctua NF-F12s & Corsair ML 120 Pros in this setup results in 10 ~ 15C reduction in temps!!
So these fans are great for what they are, can't take off stars for that. They are necessary in some extremely space-constrained builds, but in the end they cannot match their full-size counterparts, so definitely go with normal fans if space permits!
I am not exactly a radiator expert, but as I understand it different fin densities are designed to perform best at different fan speeds (e.g. higher density is best at cooling, but only if your fans have the speed and static pressure to keep up). I picked this slim (30mm) rad for my build after reading this very informative article from Extreme Rigs: http://www.xtremerigs.net/2015/02/11/radiator-round-2015/.