Define R4 Build Log - Quite long and probably boring...

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Define R4 Build Log - Quite long and probably boring...

Postposted on Thu Aug 21, 2014 9:45 am

Being a long time reader of this great site, I thought I'd make a contribution and post a few details about my recent build which TR helped me with immensely. I hope someone finds it useful or interesting??

There comes a point where your old system just doesn't cut the mustard any more. I put together a Core i7 920 EX58 system over 5 years ago which, bar a graphics card here and an SSD there, remains untouched. Perhaps the 5 years of service says more about the lack of progress from Intel et al rather than my component selection back then. There's nothing particularly wrong with it but I really feel like something a little shinier, newer, faster and quieter.

So, what are my requirements? Well, I do a bit of web development, some database stuff, Photoshop, some virtualisation and some gaming now and again. A fairly broad mix and, seeing as my old system lasted me so long, I don't mind spending a few quid to make it fly. Also, as I'm so impatient, I've got an Oculus Rift DK2 on back order so I want something with a bit of grunt.

It needs to be as quiet as possible, so I've chosen most of the components with that in mind. You do occasionally have to make some compromises, but silence and performance aren't entirely mutually exclusive. I seem to have spent aeons researching the components for my new build. You can get a little caught up in the detail but that's what being an enthusiast is about, right? So let's get down to brass tacks...

CPU - Intel i7 4790K Retail

This was the CPU all the tech sites were talking about whilst I was researching. I won't be overclocking (stability is my holy grail) but with a base clock speed of 4ghz and turbo of 4.4 this should be plenty fast enough. Its single threaded performance is about as good as it gets too, so that should be pretty good when I'm playing around with huge spread sheets or running some ASP scripts. It has the added bonus of a 88w thermal envelope so it should be pretty cool - especially compared to the i7 920 from my old system. Past K versions also lacked some virtualisation features, but Intel has seen fit to include them with the 4790K which is an added bonus.

Motherboard - Asus Z97 Pro

Motherboard manufacturers have to differentiate their products with additional, and sometimes gimmicky, features these days as their performance across a common chipsets is so similar. I was going to plump for the Asus Z97-A as recommended by TR but the Pro popped up on Amazon for the same price. It's got a slightly better audio codec and a few other features, plus a nice shiny UEFI bios that I can't wait to have a play around with. Asus have got one of the better PWM case fan speed control solutions out there, so this should be great for silencing.

Graphics - MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming


This is one of the bits I'm bringing from my old system which I managed to get it for a nice price a few of months ago. It doesn't carry the price premium of the 290X, and the twin fans and heat pipe stuff make it infinity quieter than the reference design cooler. Plus my main screen is 1440p so I need something with a bit of horsepower to game a nice framerates.

Memory - Crucial BLS2C8G3D1609ES2LX0CEU 16GB (8GB x 2) Ballistix Sport 

Yeah, so it's only 1600mhz at CL9 timings - not that this makes a great deal of difference apart from in synthetic benchmarks and scientific applications. The major bonus is that this is low profile RAM so it shouldn't interfere with the silent cooler I've chosen. And when I say low profile, it's much lower than normal RAM with the pointless heat spreaders ripped off. It's only 1.35v too and is supposed to be a good overclocker.

CPU Cooler - Noctua NH-D15

Okay, so I think this is one component that is overkill for this new system but the Noctua stuff is top quality and should be near enough silent in my non-overclocked system. This twin-tower behemoth requires low profile RAM if the second fan is to be installed flush with the first fan so hopefully I should be okay in this respect.

Case - Fractal Design Define R4

Choosing a case was probably one of the hardest choices I had to make. I didn't mind spending a lot more that I ended up paying, but the R4 seemed to tick all of the boxes. Plenty of silencing features, lots of room to work in without being too big externally and good cable management. The airflow isn't amazing, but as I'm not overclocking this shouldn't be too much of a problem. I prefer to hear myself think.

PSU - Corsair AX760

Another component that I think is overkill for my new system, but I wanted a 80 plus platinum modular PSU which don't appear to be available in lower wattages. I really wanted a Seasonic, but their availability is quite limited in the UK and I couldn't find much info about their warranty policy, so I settled for the Corsair instead. Apparently it's almost silent whilst under load and, from what I've read, is supposed to be manufactured by Seasonic using quality components and Japanese caps. I just hope the dreaded coil whine doesn't rear it's ugly head...

Storage - Crucial MX100 521GB SSD

I could have used my existing Crucial M4 256GB, but it was getting pretty near to capacity hence the upgrade. Great price per GB and 'good enough' performance. Going for a greater performing drive probably wouldn't be noticeable in day-to-day use anyway. I'm also bringing a Western Digital 3TB Red from my old machine - this will be used for storage of video and music so I'm not too fussed about performance.

Putting it together

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Firstly, I seated the memory in the motherboard and mounted the Noctua NH-D15 cooler - very simple due to the bracket design. I was relieved that the right-most fan on the Noctua could be mounted flush with the first fan due to the ultra low-profile RAM, something that I couldn't confirm would be possible during my research (I hope someone else finds this helpful).

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Now, I've got to admit that I haven't really put much thought into case choice in my former builds - my i7 920 was built in an Antec 300 which seemed to do the job. First impressions of the Define R4 was its size (particularly its width) so working inside the case was a simple and stress free. The motherboard, DVD-R, storage and GPU were installed in minutes. I also removed the top drive cage completely as I haven't got any need for it, which should improve airflow from the front fan and intake. I then popped the PSU in and did my best with cable routing. The modular PSU simplified the task immensely and the area behind the motherboard tray is a godsend for hiding the cable clutter.

Image

So, with all the hardware installed, the moment of truth every system builder dreads - powering up. I popped in my network, keyboard, mouse and power lead and gingerly pressed the case power button. Nothing. I soon realised I'd forgotten to flick the switch on the PSU. Why do I make that mistake every time??

Once rectified the system powered up and I jumped into the BIOS and immediately upgraded it to the latest version. It's very nice that I can now do that from a USB stick from within the BIOS itself. I enabled the XMP profile on my RAM (which I have since discovered overclocks all 4 cores automatically to 4.4ghz), set up my storage and booted from my Windows 7 Pro install USB stick. Windows installed literally in minutes from USB, so I then installed all the latest hardware drivers and set up my 3 monitors. Next I visited Ninite (if you haven't checked that site out I heartily recommend it - saves literally hours) and got a good chunk of my applications installed. OneDrive was left on over night to download all my data. As my mechanical drive was my D drive from my previous build all I had to do is move some library locations.

So that's it really, but I'd like to make a few observations about the build. At idle, it is very, very quiet indeed. The PSU fan doesn't even spin up (not sure if it does under load), the Noctua NH-D15 is inaudible with the low-noise adapter installed and the MSI R9 gaming makes only the slightest of hums. I have set the R4 fan controller to it's lowest settings and I'm getting CPU temp readings from AI Suite 3 of ~38 degrees idle and ~62 degrees under Prime95 with all 4 cores at 4.4ghz. In fact, when idle or not doing very much all I can now hear is the hard disk and an annoying wine from one of my monitors.

Load a game up however, and the MSI R9 Gaming fans ramp up their RPM, but it's still not loud by any stretch of the imagination. I normally put the case fans on max whilst gaming to dump the extra heat out of the case. I'll probably get around to sorting out some decent PWN case fans to automate this eventually...

The only really annoying feature is the case LED. It's one of those super bright blue LEDs that illuminates my home office and most of the street at night. Even more annoying is when you put the computer to sleep the Asus mobo insists on flashing the LED meaning I have to shut the office door to save having a disco on our landing.

Subjectively, the overall performance seems great. I've got some meaty SQL queries, Photoshop and Acrobat batch actions and ASP scripts that took a lot longer on the old i7 920. Plus it's a fine gaming machine - I'm really looking forward to getting the Rift DK2 now! The total build cost excluding OS was £1,283 so not too bad for a system that should last a few years - hopefully as long as my last build.

Anyway, enough of my chattering. I hope this will be useful to someone somewhere and, if you've gotten this far, that I haven't bored you senseless...
BigTed
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Re: Define R4 Build Log - Quite long and probably boring...

Postposted on Thu Aug 21, 2014 12:25 pm

The D15 is probably the finest air cooler on the market as far as noise and cooling capacity go, but I've always been a little concerned about its weight. How much does the motherboard flex with it installed?

If the visible plastic lens (not really, can't think of a better term) for the power LED is a separate piece from the LED itself, you might be able to half-cover the actual LED (behind the front panel) with electrical tape or something, bringing brightness down to a reasonable level. That helped a lot with my Lian-Li.

Ninja-edit: welcome to TR!
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Re: Define R4 Build Log - Quite long and probably boring...

Postposted on Thu Aug 21, 2014 2:59 pm

Nice build. I found working with the Fractal Arc Midi V2 to be pleasant, although I "cheaped out" on a Corsair TX850, non-modular that went on sale for $80.

Thankfully Fractal's rear panels are quite thick and allowed good cable management despite my choice of PSU!
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Re: Define R4 Build Log - Quite long and probably boring...

Postposted on Thu Aug 21, 2014 4:16 pm

That is damn near identical, piece for piece, of the build I have been putting together. Only thing different is the PSU (seasonic for me) and CPU cooler (going with the noctua 14S). Glad to know everything will be clean and will fit. Regarding the right side panel (where all the cables hide), did you find it difficult to put the panel back on after routing all your cables?
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Re: Define R4 Build Log - Quite long and probably boring...

Postposted on Thu Aug 21, 2014 7:28 pm

BigTed wrote:Being a long time reader of this great site, I thought I'd make a contribution and post a few details about my recent build...
Welcome! That's quite an impressive first post!

BigTed wrote: The only really annoying feature is the case LED. It's one of those super bright blue LEDs that illuminates my home office and most of the street at night. Even more annoying is when you put the computer to sleep the Asus mobo insists on flashing the LED meaning I have to shut the office door to save having a disco on our landing.
My old Antec NSK2480 case has a good solution to this problem. Instead of powering the front panel power LED from the PWR LED connection on the motherboard, it powers it from a 5V connection to a molex power cable. When the motherboard goes to sleep, it turns off the power to the drives, so the front panel LED goes dark instead of blinking.

A minor bit of hardware hacking on something like this might let you do the same thing with your case.
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Re: Define R4 Build Log - Quite long and probably boring...

Postposted on Fri Aug 22, 2014 4:51 am

deepblueq wrote:The D15 is probably the finest air cooler on the market as far as noise and cooling capacity go, but I've always been a little concerned about its weight. How much does the motherboard flex with it installed?


Surprisingly, there's not much flex in the mobo with a 1.3kg cooler hanging off it. However, I wouldn't really want to transport the system around without laying the case on its side.

greenmystik wrote:Regarding the right side panel (where all the cables hide), did you find it difficult to put the panel back on after routing all your cables?


Not at all - you get a few cable ties with the case and there's plenty of points to attach them to on the reverse side of the mobo tray. You could probably get away with stuffing them all in and wrestling the side back on. Out of sight out of mind etc etc.

deepblueq wrote:If the visible plastic lens (not really, can't think of a better term) for the power LED is a separate piece from the LED itself, you might be able to half-cover the actual LED (behind the front panel) with electrical tape or something, bringing brightness down to a reasonable level.

JustAnEngineer wrote:Instead of powering the front panel power LED from the PWR LED connection on the motherboard, it powers it from a 5V connection to a molex power cable.


Thanks for the ideas guys - will be investigating this weekend.
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Re: Define R4 Build Log - Quite long and probably boring...

Postposted on Fri Aug 22, 2014 10:57 am

BigTed wrote:Surprisingly, there's not much flex in the mobo with a 1.3kg cooler hanging off it. However, I wouldn't really want to transport the system around without laying the case on its side.


Last time I had a cooler that size, I created a bracket that lashed the protruding cooler assembly up to a strut bar at the top of the case so that the cantilever torque on the motherboard was reduced. Here, you could probably do something similar with high-test fish line (or guitar wire), and wrap it around a couple of the heatpipe nipples.
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Re: Define R4 Build Log - Quite long and probably boring...

Postposted on Fri Aug 22, 2014 11:10 am

@ludi
I never thought about the weight of those things pulling on the cpu/mobo but you're right. Those things are heavy.
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