Critique my workstation build!

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Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Wed Mar 06, 2013 1:17 pm

Hey all, I've been planning out this crazy workstation build to run my fluid simulation and rendering work, requiring as much CPU power, RAM, disk space and disk speed as I can throw at it, all in one go.
I've decided to try and build all this into as compact an enclosure as possible, mostly because I like the idea, but also so it's relatively easily transportable in the future, especially if the business expands and I end up building more than one.
I thought I'd put it up here as a bit of a sanity check, and to make sure I haven't missed any crucial details that could screw up the build after I lay down the cash.

Here goes, the planned spec list reads thusly:


Now, when I first looked at the GD08 case, I wrote it off, assuming the EATX specification was just a misprint, or a silly claim that wasn't actually any use, because obviously, the drive cage completely covers the whole back end of an EATX board, and that's where one of the CPU coolers would have to be.
When I looked more closely into it though, I started to realise that they'd considered it quite well. The bottoms of the bay areas are cut out, to allow upward airflow from the bottom-mounted fans at the front.
That doesn't help much though, as the divider wall of the 5.25" bay sits directly above where the 2nd CPU socket would be.
My solution is, using the NT01-PRO coolers, which are Socket 2011 compatible, are rated for the full 150W the CPUs require, are short enough to fit the height of the case, and most importantly, are L-shaped, so I can aim them off towards the side of the case, right in the path of the two 120mm fan side-mounts, and crucially rising up right inside the cutout area of the optical drive bays. I'm pretty sure they'll give just enough clearance to avoid touching the RAM too... just.

I want to fill up every available 3.5" bay with 3TB drives, and run a Raid 10 array, for maximum performance. To that end, I've picked out a super-short-ass midrange GeForce card that barely overhangs the end of the PCI-E slot, so it doesn't get in the way of the hard drives. Also, with an EATX motherboard installed, the front fan-space is limited to a row of 6x60mm fans, instead of the 120mm it comes with... so I've settled on the Sunon HA60251V4 60mm Maglev fan, which seems like it should be pretty quiet while still shifting plenty of fresh air directly up into the hard drive array.

I'm wondering about the PSU... All told I've got 2x150W-TDP CPUs, a 64W TDP graphics card, 8x~11W hard drives, various fans, 8 sticks of ram... I guess it could hit about 500-550W peak... so a 750W Seasonic Gold-efficiency PSU seems reasonable enough, right?


Phew... so, any glaring pitfalls I haven't spotted?
Last edited by GrimDanfango on Wed Mar 06, 2013 3:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Wed Mar 06, 2013 1:35 pm

for power supply calculations, i always use
http://www.extreme.outervision.com/psucalculatorlite.jsp

seems to have been pretty much ontheball since its creation..like 20yrs ago...
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Wed Mar 06, 2013 1:44 pm

Is a bunch of 7200rpm 3TB drives going to beat SSDs? I would say at least the system+app drive should be an SSD.

850W may be a bit better in terms of having some sort of margin to leave for aging, etc.
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Wed Mar 06, 2013 1:53 pm

Did you just post a rant about inefficient tower designs just to present a build that could actually make use of that space? :P (/sarcasm, etc.)

So you are going to use this for a long time? Does that mean that you might be swapping out internal components here and there? If so, I would first see if anyone here has worked with this enclosure before so they can testify. And then, just in case, check out more of those enthusiast tower designs that simplify cable routing. They won't be as efficient, but those wiring options could make life easier on rebuilds down the road.

For GPU, check your industry. A 650 might be fine, but if you're rendering stuff, there might be a workstation class card out there that can handle things a little better. I would also consider the ability of adding or using two GPUs for multi-monitor support if you would be making use of a lot of real estate.

Finally, are you putting this together as a server AND a workstation, or just a workstation with a lot of storage? In either case, I would seriously consider a second system for backups or general storage. It might knock performance a bit, but the data security is more valuable, IMO, especially for important stuff.

Oh, and I almost forgot! PUT A SSD OR TWO IN THAT MACHINE. Even as a very large cache for a very large array, and even if it means one or two fewer 3TB hard drives, DO IT. You will definitely appreciate it. (Fox also made a point about it before I got this out)
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Wed Mar 06, 2013 2:56 pm

superjawes wrote:Did you just post a rant about inefficient tower designs just to present a build that could actually make use of that space? :P (/sarcasm, etc.)

Haha, no, I was just venting out of the frustration I felt from planning this build. :-P

So you are going to use this for a long time? Does that mean that you might be swapping out internal components here and there? If so, I would first see if anyone here has worked with this enclosure before so they can testify. And then, just in case, check out more of those enthusiast tower designs that simplify cable routing. They won't be as efficient, but those wiring options could make life easier on rebuilds down the road.

I think I'll be okay. I don't plan on doing too much inside this thing once it's built. Most of the little I do will be expansion-card oriented, which should be fairly open and easy, just a little length-restricted.

For GPU, check your industry. A 650 might be fine, but if you're rendering stuff, there might be a workstation class card out there that can handle things a little better. I would also consider the ability of adding or using two GPUs for multi-monitor support if you would be making use of a lot of real estate.

GPU is a bit of an afterthought... all those workstation quadros are a bit of a farce to be honest, neither simulation or rendering makes the slightest use of them, they're just there to stick a few polygons on the screen in an opengl viewport. GPU compute stuff might be relevant to more scientific endeavors, but it's pretty irrelevant to the visual effects industry. For some reason everyone still buys them anyway. Nope, a 650 is more than enough for my needs. I'll be using my current quad-core as my gaming machine.

Finally, are you putting this together as a server AND a workstation, or just a workstation with a lot of storage? In either case, I would seriously consider a second system for backups or general storage. It might knock performance a bit, but the data security is more valuable, IMO, especially for important stuff.

It's not so much a server as just an enormous and fast scratch disk. This workflow can easily kick out a terabyte per day, and it can actually take as long to read and write that data over ethernet as it takes to simulate it.
I'm looking into ways of using Infiniband adapters to connect future workstations into this one, to share the array over something faster. It'd be easier to just go 10Gbit-ethernet, but that stuff is so insanely expensive, especially if I wanted any kind of switch... for now I'm keeping it connected directly via a SATA bus :-)
Anyways, my backup requirements are far smaller, I don't need to back up the cache data, just have it fault-tolerant so I don't lose a week's caching if a disc drops. I'll be keeping important data backed up externally, and online probably.

Oh, and I almost forgot! PUT A SSD OR TWO IN THAT MACHINE. Even as a very large cache for a very large array, and even if it means one or two fewer 3TB hard drives, DO IT. You will definitely appreciate it. (Fox also made a point about it before I got this out)

Ah yeah, I forgot that part - I already have the SSD that's going to be the system drive, so I neglected to include it in the build.
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Wed Mar 06, 2013 3:07 pm

Flying Fox wrote:Is a bunch of 7200rpm 3TB drives going to beat SSDs? I would say at least the system+app drive should be an SSD.

The 3TB drives are because I need massive capacity in addition to speed. If I could get a big enough array of SSDs for less than the price of a sports car, I'd gladly go that route instead :-P
I will indeed be using an SSD as the system drive... it slipped my mind :-)

Flying Fox wrote:850W may be a bit better in terms of having some sort of margin to leave for aging, etc.

I was thinking the same thing... how much overhead is sensible when it comes to this sort of thing. 750W seems like it would be comfortably within tolerance, even with some capacitor aging factored in. Then again, I suppose this isn't the sort of build to quibble over an extra £30-40 on the PSU...
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Wed Mar 06, 2013 3:16 pm

Yeah, actually, using the PSU calculator, 750W comes in at the ideal *before* capacitor aging... looks like you're right, 850W is a safer bet for long term use.
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Wed Mar 06, 2013 3:23 pm

I gotcha. So you would never be occupying all 24 TB of space you'd have available. I'd still make sure you had a backup plan (just in case), but that clarifies why you're putting so much in :lol:

On the PSU front, normally I would go cool and quiet, but you are powering a lot of stuff off a single PSU (9 storage drives, 2 CPUs, 64 GB RAM, GPU), so having the extra overhead won't hurt, at least as long as it doesn't cost you much to upgrade to a higher wattage. Although you would be more concerned with your number of connections to drives. Double check that you have enough, and that the PSU can source enough to those drives.

I saw your new post and struck out that bit. Definitely get some overhead. 850 W on a good PSU will probably take care of you.
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Wed Mar 06, 2013 3:41 pm

superjawes wrote:I gotcha. So you would never be occupying all 24 TB of space you'd have available. I'd still make sure you had a backup plan (just in case), but that clarifies why you're putting so much in :lol:

Hehe, yup, I'll certainly have a backup plan... I've already got vital data duplicated on two separate external devices, although at the moment it's a manual backup policy. I'd like to get something automated, and move it online. The really vital stuff is all 3D scene files, which will rarely run to more than a couple of gigs, plus my personal photography collection, which will actually be the more difficult to effectively back up.

superjawes wrote:Although you would be more concerned with your number of connections to drives. Double check that you have enough, and that the PSU can source enough to those drives.

I was actually surprised to find that the PSUs I checked had it mostly covered. The slightly odd thing is, this motherboard requires 2x8-pin motherboard connectors, plus an additional 4-pin... which the older Seasonic X covered, but the 3rd-revision dropped the extra 8-pin. Rather preposterously though, the 850 provides no less than six PCI-E 8-pin connectors! I would have thought triple-Titans would have been too much for an 850 :-)
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Wed Mar 06, 2013 3:48 pm

GrimDanfango wrote:I was actually surprised to find that the PSUs I checked had it mostly covered. The slightly odd thing is, this motherboard requires 2x8-pin motherboard connectors, plus an additional 4-pin... which the older Seasonic X covered, but the 3rd-revision dropped the extra 8-pin. Rather preposterously though, the 850 provides no less than six PCI-E 8-pin connectors! I would have thought triple-Titans would have been too much for an 850 :-)

Not really, this is what 1 Titan draws. Assuming the max 250W TDP per Titan, we will just need 500W more. ;)
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Wed Mar 06, 2013 4:29 pm

I think it could use some more cowbell
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Tue Mar 12, 2013 12:57 pm

Sounds like you've got you're requirements figured out. Just wanted to mention that Asus is building a short GTX 670. Might be something to keep an eye out for if you wanted more than a GTX 650 but were limited by length.
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Tue Mar 12, 2013 2:12 pm

DPete27 wrote:Sounds like you've got you're requirements figured out. Just wanted to mention that Asus is building a short GTX 670. Might be something to keep an eye out for if you wanted more than a GTX 650 but were limited by length.


Ah splendid, that may very well be of use down the line. Thanks for pointing it out.

For now, I think the 650 is sufficient, as I'll be sticking to gaming on my i7 machine. I could actually run this whole show using the onboard intel chipset, except that I need it to at least be able to load programs with graphical interfaces, and Intel's shoddy OpenGL drivers crap out most of my software. The 650 is mostly just to cover the off-chance that I need to do anything vaguely moderately intensive on the 3D side, I could likely get away with a 610 for most of it.
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Wed Mar 13, 2013 6:13 am

What about getting a case that you do not have to worry about graphics card length,heatsinks etc...like the COOLER MASTER COSMOS II RC-1200-KKN1 Black Steel ATX Super Tower Computer Case.
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Wed Mar 13, 2013 6:27 am

vargis14 wrote:What about getting a case that you do not have to worry about graphics card length,heatsinks etc...like the COOLER MASTER COSMOS II RC-1200-KKN1 Black Steel ATX Super Tower Computer Case.


Hahaha... you certainly know my trolling weakspot :-P

...because I don't need a long graphics card, I can't stand having half-filled behemoth cases containing mostly air, and most importantly, I truly hate hideous plasticy multi-angular blob cases like this Cosmos II.
(Edit: admittedly, the Cosmos II is far, FAR from the the worst! It's almost bearable to look at, which is more than can be said for a lot of extreme-gamer-style cases)

If I needed an enormous monolith, I'd go for the Fractal Design Define XL R2 - because it's the most classy, beautiful monolith on the market :-)

I'm actually using this case specifically because it's the smallest I can fit this build into. I like the idea of a compact workstation, and it means down the line, if I end up investing in more than one, I can easily rackmount them, and move them around.
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Wed Mar 13, 2013 6:58 am

Wow, on closer inspection, that Cosmos II is truly insane... I could actually fit almost FIVE of this build inside it, in terms of pure internal volume.
It's over twice as thick!

By volume, it could fit two of the Fractal Design XL inside, and the XL is surely the largest PC case anyone on Earth could ever need for any purpose?

It weighs 22kg! Compared to 7kg for the Silverstone - and the Silverstone isn't especially light. The Cosmos II is the standard weight limit for an airport check-in suitcase, without any components installed!

No... just... no.
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Wed Mar 13, 2013 8:47 pm

2x Intel Xeon E5-2687W - 8 Core, 3.1GHz, 3.8GHz Max Turbo


Pshaww... only two of the 8-core Xeons??? ( :lol: I'm messin' with you, that is truly badass, especially cause you have the higher clocked models there).


That is an interesting case you have there, and I like it aesthetically as well as for functionality... BUT.. (and there's always a but, isn't there?) You have 2 (count-em) CPUs with what... 135 or 150 watt TDPs? inside a rather tight space and while you have specced out your heatsinks, I'm not sure I'm so confident about your fan plans. This is taking into account that you will have this case packed pretty tight with equipment, and while the GPU isn't a monster it will still put off some heat, as will all those HDDs.

I'm not saying you won't be able to get it running but: 1. To get sufficient airflow those fans may make some racket; and 2. If you really want to take those Xeons out for a run they could very easily end up thermal throttling.
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Wed Mar 13, 2013 8:55 pm

Hooly Money Bags Batman!
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Wed Mar 13, 2013 10:46 pm

GrimDanfango wrote:GPU is a bit of an afterthought... all those workstation quadros are a bit of a farce to be honest, neither simulation or rendering makes the slightest use of them, they're just there to stick a few polygons on the screen in an opengl viewport. GPU compute stuff might be relevant to more scientific endeavors, but it's pretty irrelevant to the visual effects industry. For some reason everyone still buys them anyway. Nope, a 650 is more than enough for my needs. I'll be using my current quad-core as my gaming machine.


Not true. There are several rendering and physics engines out there now days that utilize gpgpu.
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Thu Mar 14, 2013 5:47 am

Deanjo wrote:Not true. There are several rendering and physics engines out there now days that utilize gpgpu.

There are always exceptions to the rule, but certainly anything in my field is very slow to adopt GPU acceleration. The problem with anything GPU-oriented, is it has to be carefully planned and very methodically implemented to avoid running out of on-card memory, and the VFX industry is all about hacking together whatever works as quickly as possible, doesn't matter if it uses 32GB+ of RAM.

There have certainly been plenty of attempts, I've known in-house R&D teams valiantly start recoding fluid sim solvers to get a 100x boost from the GPU, and in reality the result has been more like a 1.5x boost, with serious limitations.

GPU acceleration works great when you're working within very specific, rigid bounds, and that just isn't the visual effects industry. It's art first, science second - nobody cares how it works, and they certainly don't care if it's accurate, it just needs to look right. Fling 100 CPUs at it and tweak/hack it a bit if it crashes.

My approach is a tad more considered than that, but I still have to use software written for people whose approach isn't.

I'm sure the day will come when GPGPU starts to filter down from experimental/scientific/technical software to the production-oriented end of CG, but for the moment it's miles off for anything I work with.
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Thu Mar 14, 2013 6:00 am

chuckula wrote:
2x Intel Xeon E5-2687W - 8 Core, 3.1GHz, 3.8GHz Max Turbo

Pshaww... only two of the 8-core Xeons??? ( :lol: I'm messin' with you, that is truly badass, especially cause you have the higher clocked models there).

That is an interesting case you have there, and I like it aesthetically as well as for functionality... BUT.. (and there's always a but, isn't there?) You have 2 (count-em) CPUs with what... 135 or 150 watt TDPs? inside a rather tight space and while you have specced out your heatsinks, I'm not sure I'm so confident about your fan plans. This is taking into account that you will have this case packed pretty tight with equipment, and while the GPU isn't a monster it will still put off some heat, as will all those HDDs.

I'm not saying you won't be able to get it running but: 1. To get sufficient airflow those fans may make some racket; and 2. If you really want to take those Xeons out for a run they could very easily end up thermal throttling.

I hear ya, and I'm hoping I've considered the airflow enough that it all just works. If all goes to plan, with the NT01-PRO's mounted pointing towards the side of the case, they should sit almost directly up against the two 120mm side mounted fans, which will be set as exhaust fans. If there's sufficient gap to impede their effectiveness (which there may be on the front CPU, as it's slightly further from the edge of the board, and slightly offset from the position of the fan), I'm planning to either duct from the heatsinks to the fans, using some custom-made plasticard shrouds, or if worst-comes-to-worst, stick 2x80mm fans on the heatsinks.

There will be 6x60mm intake fans along the front edge, blowing directly upwards into the hard drive array. They're low-noise 60mm, so the airflow isn't huge, but I'm hoping it will be enough to cool them, and supply sufficient air to the rest of the case. The combined CFM of the 6x60 fans roughly equals the CFM of two of the 120mm fans. I've no idea how static-air-pressure comes into these calculations though :-P

The GPU will never be running full-load at the same time all 16 CPU cores are. Whenever the CPUs are maxed out, the GPU will usually be sitting completely idle... in fact it'll probably be sitting idle almost constantly. I don't think it'll be an issue, but I may mount an extra intake fan on the top-vent, just to improve general case airflow. I'll see how well the 60mm fans handle it on their own first.

Oh, and yeah, had to bite the bullet and go for the top-clocked xeons. This is all about sheer CPU-grunt, and while my previous plan potentially gave me more for less - I can build 4 separate i7-3770k rigs for less than this single workstation, that route causes ethernet bandwidth to bottleneck everything to the point of being useless. I needed as much horsepower as possible connected directly to the disk array.
Last edited by GrimDanfango on Thu Mar 14, 2013 6:23 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Thu Mar 14, 2013 6:06 am

PainIs4ThaWeak1 wrote:Hooly Money Bags Batman!

Haha, it's a business investment. I'm spending serious chunks of savings in the hope that the returns will eventually be enough to justify half-bankrupting myself in the present :-P
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Thu Mar 14, 2013 7:29 am

GrimDanfango wrote:
Deanjo wrote:Not true. There are several rendering and physics engines out there now days that utilize gpgpu.

There are always exceptions to the rule, but certainly anything in my field is very slow to adopt GPU acceleration. The problem with anything GPU-oriented, is it has to be carefully planned and very methodically implemented to avoid running out of on-card memory, and the VFX industry is all about hacking together whatever works as quickly as possible, doesn't matter if it uses 32GB+ of RAM.

There have certainly been plenty of attempts, I've known in-house R&D teams valiantly start recoding fluid sim solvers to get a 100x boost from the GPU, and in reality the result has been more like a 1.5x boost, with serious limitations.

GPU acceleration works great when you're working within very specific, rigid bounds, and that just isn't the visual effects industry. It's art first, science second - nobody cares how it works, and they certainly don't care if it's accurate, it just needs to look right. Fling 100 CPUs at it and tweak/hack it a bit if it crashes.

My approach is a tad more considered than that, but I still have to use software written for people whose approach isn't.

I'm sure the day will come when GPGPU starts to filter down from experimental/scientific/technical software to the production-oriented end of CG, but for the moment it's miles off for anything I work with.


I guess ILM is doing it wrong then. Their plume software is GPGPU accelerated and is used for fluid sim.
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Thu Mar 14, 2013 8:00 am

Deanjo wrote:I guess ILM is doing it wrong then. Their plume software is GPGPU accelerated and is used for fluid sim.


I actually remember reading about that on Tom's lol. Not gonna link their news in here, but here's the Nvidia page:
http://www.nvidia.com/object/the-last-airbender.html
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Thu Mar 14, 2013 9:03 am

I'm not sure I follow why you're using 6x60mm fans instead of 120mm fans. (probably because I haven't spent as much time on this as you have) Is it because of depth? You do know 120x12mm and 120x15mm fans exist?

Also, with an EATX motherboard installed, the front fan-space is limited to a row of 6x60mm fans, instead of the 120mm it comes with

I don't see anything mentioned on the product page about front panel fans/mounts.
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Thu Mar 14, 2013 9:53 am

Deanjo wrote:I guess ILM is doing it wrong then. Their plume software is GPGPU accelerated and is used for fluid sim.

Well, as I already said, there are exceptions to every rule, and ILM having one of the most advanced in-house R&D departments in the entire industry, not to mention an uncommonly liberal focus on R&D budgets and development time does make them a pretty exceptional visual effects studio.

Is Plume available to buy?

Like I say, it's still going to be a while before anything like this filters down to the majority of the industry in commercially available packages. It takes a long time because a commercial package needs to cover a very wide range of applications, where as ILM are free to develop and tailor an in-house tool to the specific requirements of individual effects, sequences, and artists. Generic application of GPU-accelerated physics is tough.

Again, I'm certainly not dismissing this out of hand, I'm just saying it's not at all applicable to my current workflow, and won't be for a while, unless somewhere like ILM start commercializing their in-house pipeline.
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Thu Mar 14, 2013 9:57 am

DPete27 wrote:I'm not sure I follow why you're using 6x60mm fans instead of 120mm fans. (probably because I haven't spent as much time on this as you have) Is it because of depth? You do know 120x12mm and 120x15mm fans exist?

Also, with an EATX motherboard installed, the front fan-space is limited to a row of 6x60mm fans, instead of the 120mm it comes with

I don't see anything mentioned on the product page about front panel fans/mounts.


Silverstone wrote:Bottom 2 x 120mm intake fans, 900rpm, 18dBA (backwards compatible with 1 x 120mm fan + 3 x 80mm fans, or 6 x 60mm fans)

- it's not on the front panel, it's on the bottom, along the front edge. EATX motherboards cover half of the 3x120mm fan intake vents, and there are holes to mount 6x60mm instead - they blow air up under the hanging hard drive cage.
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Wed Apr 03, 2013 8:47 am

Just thought I'd throw this up since I mentioned it earlier. Fudzilla reporting this morning that Asus has officially launched the GTX 670 mini.
i5-3570K, ASRock Z77 Pro4-m, Asus GTX660 TOP, 120 GB Vertex 3 Max IOPS, 2 TB Samsung EcoGreen F4, 8GB G-Skill @1.25V, Silverstone PS07B
DPete27
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Re: Critique my workstation build!

Postposted on Wed Apr 03, 2013 10:06 am

DPete27 wrote:Just thought I'd throw this up since I mentioned it earlier. Fudzilla reporting this morning that Asus has officially launched the GTX 670 mini.


That's interesting- I prefer the blowers to get the heat out of the case, but I'm sure plenty of people will make these work!
Canon 6D||[24-105/4L IS USM|100/2.8L Macro IS USM|70-300/4-5.6 IS USM|40/2.8 STM|50/1.4 USM|85/1.8 USM|Samyang/Bower 14/2.8 Full-Manual Rectilinear Wide-angle|
Canon EOS-M|11-22/4-5.6 IS STM|22/2 STM|EF-M 18-55/3.5-5.6 IS STM|
For sale!|24/2.8 IS USM
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Airmantharp
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