Adventures in PC Cooling

OK, I will admit up front that there is very little adventurous about making your PC cooler.  PC components get hot, they need to be cooler or they die, and even though there is a massive industry built around this, there’s very little actual adventure.

There is, however, a certain degree of satisfaction involved.

I recently did a PC rebuild, going from a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo that had served well and faithfully for many years to a six core AMD 3.2 GHz 1090T, and it may be a bit obvious to say but things are a little snappier now.

This did, however, come at a cost.  Games LOOKED better, but my video card was making tons of noise whenever it was under any load at all and I was gaming with a USB headset just to be able to hear over the fans.  Running Nvidia’s system monitor revealed that, even with the GPU fan at max, the card was still breaking 80 degrees centigrade.  That’s not exactly healthy.

It looked like it was time to re-evaluate my case choice.  I was running an Antec Sonata II, which is a pretty good case.  It’s inexpensive, comes with a decent power supply built in, and looks pretty sharp.  I also did a build in a Sonata III a couple of years ago for my wife and quite liked the Sonata III as well.

But, it’s not really great for cooling, especially if you have a big video card in it.  Here’s what mine looked like inside:

There’s one exhaust fan at the back, and Antec provides one of their quite serviceable three-speed fans for that mount point, but intake involves having a fan mounted to the rear of the drive cage, where it’s obstructed both by the drives in front of it and the video card behind it.  It’s not a bad design, per se, but it’s not exactly designed for performance or gaming PCs.

There’s also no cable management other than my tactic of shoving the excess cables, as much as possible, into the empty 5.25″ bays.

Anyway, once I’d decided that the thing making my GPU run so hot and so loud was poor ventilation, I naturally decided that I would replace my Sonata II with an Antec 900 and all of my ventilation issues would go away.  After all, the 900, unlike the Sonata, IS designed for performance builds and has truly massive fans built in from the get-go; it should handle any cooling issues I wanted to throw at it.

The 900 is built in a couple of models, however, and I was trying to figure out which of the models to buy when I started noticing a bit of a trend on line.

Specifically, I was reading reviews of the 900s trying to decide which to get and I kept seeing references to the Cooler Master CM 690 case as a better case, and although I initially discounted these references as nonsense – to me, “Cooler Master” meant “cheap, gaudy, and plastic” – I eventually had to go and do some research on the CM 690 just to see what the buzz was about, and one thing lead to another, and I wound up buying one.

Specifically, I bought a CM 690 II, which set me back 90 bucks off Amazon but of course shipped for free and was on my doorstep in two days since I’m still in my free year of Prime for being a student.

I love Amazon Prime, by the way, for free at least.

Anyway, the CM 690 is a touch bigger than my Sonata II:

Being taller, it interfered a little with the way I had things set up, but I was able to adjust around it.  It’s also rather longer, so it sticks out from under my desk by a few inches.  The Sonata II fit neatly underneath.  These are reasonably minor complaints, mind you, because the bigger case means that it has a lot more room inside:

It also means that there’s room underneath the motherboard where you can run cables, it’s much tidier inside and would be even more tidy if I decided to devote some time to cable ties and the like.  The loose power cable at the bottom is unavoidable, unfortunately; it’s for the fans mounted on the door.

It came with three pre-installed 140mm fans – front intake & top / rear exhausts – and had lots of mounting points to add more fans.  I wound up adding two Antec tri-cool 120mm fans to the door as intakes pointed directly at the GPU and CPU and a Scythe 120mm to the top as another exhaust.

End result?

Well, my case idle temperature is a steady 25C and the CPU stays around 48C even when I’m running handbrake encodes that peg all six cores at 95-100%.  I’m actually surprised that the CPU gets that hot, but it looks like the AMD chips don’t even bother ramping the CPU fan until you’re in the high 40s.

More importantly, however, I can be gaming for hours and the GPU stays right around 70C with the GPU fan spinning at 50%.  Things are MUCH quieter now, and I’m not as worried that the thing is just going to burn up and die.

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