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Thread: Modding my SFF i5 build for better cooling

  1. #1

    Modding my SFF i5 build for better cooling

    I've had a bit of experience building systems, but never anything where I had any desire/need to mod...until now. I found out I was leaving the country for about three months, and not satisfied with my laptop, I decided the best option would be to see how much power I could shove in a portable, little box to take with me without breaking the bank. I've been lurking lately and really getting into the idea of working on some of my own crazy mod projects when I get home but for now I'm working on something of a minor/mid-mod project depending which way I go with it.

    Here are my specs in case its relevant:

    Intel Core i5 750
    Gigabyte GA-P55M-UD2 mATX
    G.Skill Ripjaws Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3 2000 (PC3 16000)
    ASUS Radeon 4770 512MB 128-bit GDDR5
    OCZ Vertex 60GB SSD
    Seagate Barracuda LP 1.5TB
    OCZ ModXStream 600W PSU
    bGears b-Envi SFF case

    I used a lot of parts I already had but even if I included their original prices my total was only $832 after taxes and shipping, and total weight is about 15lbs. After getting double checked about fifty times at the airport for carrying around a black box with bundles of visible wires inside, I made my trip and the computer is now up and running with me in Paris...adequately.

    I know SFF computers are not a good choice for overclocking, because of typical compromises one must make like bad airflow and small heatsinks, but I think I can overcome these. In any case I'm really just doing it for kicks so the most I have to lose is time. It would seem that there is no real "practical" means of creating a cool running system with my setup as is, which is why I'm posting here for the first time. I got my bGears b-Envi for $36 during the Xoxide clearance (before it was resurrected a day later by the new owners) and its worked perfectly for me, but I'm not afraid to hack this thing up. Perhaps its actually a good thing that the whole thing feels a bit flimsy.

    My first mod ever, if it even counts, was carving up the removable 2.5" bay this thing has to house my SSD, and it makes up the only bay actually in use. I decided not to install an optical drive, in order to keep things uncluttered, so surprisingly I have a lot of space to work with. Current cooling involves only an 80mm Scythe Kama Flex attached as a front intake and one of the newer Cooler Master R4 120mm fans that claim 90cfm as a replacement for the original exhaust. I know a smaller PSU may give me some extra room, and I can use this one elsewhere, but as of right now it seems unnecessary.

    Above all, I'd like to figure out a way to install an effective CPU cooler, then comes good overall airflow. Not that I would use it anyway because of its poor performance, but for reference a Cooler Master TX3 is slightly too tall and too wide so I've estimated I have a limit of about 130mm before hitting the PSU and 45mm before hitting the support bars.

    Here are some of my thoughts:
    1. Wait for a Zalman 1156 adapter to come out and attempt to install a CNPS8700 or similar low profile/high airflow cooler. Problem: Diameter may be too great to avoid RAM and GPU.
    2. Find a short tower cooler, cutting away part of support bars if necessary. Problem: I can't find anything short that would make a significant enough difference to be worth it.
    3. Something like the Corsair H-50? I haven't explored these self-contained water cooling systems enough yet, but so far the reviews seem mixed. While normally it doesn't seem worth it over something like a Megahalem, it would also seem that the tubes are somewhat flexible, allowing for installation into tight quarters like mine…

    I'm not opposed to spending a bit of money if I'm buying quality parts I can potentially swap in and out of my own three computers or use in builds for friends, so lets say my budget on this is $150 or so. If anyone has any suggestions at all of how you would handle this, I'd really appreciate it; thanks in advance and for reading this incredibly long post.

    (These pictures should show you what I'm working with, but try not to look at how horrible that bundle of cables is. I do my cable management with zip ties and since I'm going to be doing a lot of work on this thing soon I just haven't bothered.)

    Full shot to give an idea of overall size:

    Top (the terrible green screws were the only rubber ones I could get):

    Open area/drive bays:

    Left side:

  2. #2

    Modding my SFF i5 build for better cooling

    SFF cases are the best. I think my next build will be very similar to what you have now.

    I'd go with #1 or #3. Really the i5 coolers are just coming out and I imagine before too long they will be all over the place. It won't be hard to find a good low profile cooler. However from what I've read on the H50 is that it works adequately. I don't think it will win any OC cooling awards but it's small and compact and works pretty good.

    I think something like the H50 or perhaps the Coolit Domino would fit nicely on that rear exhaust fan.

    The only thing I would worry about it the intake airflow. But you can cut easily mod some more fans in that case like in the sides if you wanted increasing the incoming cool air.

  3. #3
    Super Moderator tech-daddy's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Plano, Texas

    Modding my SFF i5 build for better cooling

    Just in case yo uwere unaware, the bGears Tarantula is a PSU specifically made for that unit. and it will make your cable management *much* easier.

    Just thought I'd chime in.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2009

    Modding my SFF i5 build for better cooling

    Have you measured to see how much vertical space you have available from the cpu to the bottom of the PSU? Because of this exact reason is why I am planning my next build with he Qmirca Qv2E which is a bit expensive for a case, but its a one of a kind and right now its a pretty small operation. It has plenty of room for the massive GPUs, even SLI given the right Mother Board, the best thing is, its pre designed to fit a dual 120mm radiator for a water cooling setup, and it also has a little over 160mm vertical clearance for those high profile CPU heatsinks, allowing you to fit almost any cpu cooler. What I am doing, that I would suggest you do as well, is for the rear exhaust fan, get a ultra high speed Delta fan...FrozenCPU has them, and I am getting one that pumps out 252cfm... which is massive compared to other basic 120mm fans..Downside, obviously loud, but getting a sound dampener and also some sort of rheobus controller to change its speed on the fly will help. This thing will suck out the air big time, and if its close enough to the CPU coolers heatsink, it can also cool that as well.

    Getting a smaller PSU wont do much good i dont think, unless you want to mod the top panel and create an opening for an additional fan, or possibly mount the PSU so that the fan faces up, avoiding sucking in warm air from inside, or blowing air into the inside..Not to sure if PSU fans blow or pull. Cool thing about the qmirca case, its sturdy and modder designed. Solid aluminum, options for the side windows, vent screen, or solid if you want to paint, and it even has screen mesh on the front face for extra air flow. I plan to mod mine so that I can put two more additional 120mm fans behind the front mesh so that you get a straight line of air flow, cool air in and directly over everything and out the back. If you want a high performance SFF based computer this case will get you it. Plenty of HD space (4 built in mounts for 3.5) And plenty of room to tinker with inside, it will allow you to overclock, and if you read the sites forums and build logs, many people show the common levels of steady overclocks, around the 4ghz areas..The core i5 is what I am using too since it is cheaper and overclocks well, plus you dont see a massive northbridge chip, the p55 chipset is smaller, and I dont think it will generate much heat... Check it out, I would highly recommend this for a portable pc, side note...built in handholds on the sides.

  5. #5

    Modding my SFF i5 build for better cooling

    Thanks for the responses, guys; I can't tell you how refreshing it is to have three relevant, helpful comments after hearing things like "the stock cooler is actually pretty good..." on my usual forums.

    First, that picture with my cables everywhere was embarrassing, especially as someone who usually spends no less than 2 hours with the initial cable management on my builds. Its still a mess, and I had to use twist ties instead of my zip ties but after spending 15 minutes or so things are at least presentable.

    Here's where your advice led me: Option #2 really doesn't make sense, because there really are no short towers that are going to get the job done; the only other style that can compete with large towers is the flower design used on the Zalmans, so option #2 is out.

    Unfortunately, I think #3 is out also, because I forgot that there is almost no room at all around the exhaust mount, and since the radiators are bigger than a 120mm they're probably not going to fit.

    I checked out the b-Tarantula, but I really couldn't justify the cost. Also, it seems to have generally positive or at least neutral reviews, but I threw together this build pretty quickly and decided to just go with a tried and tested PSU from a company I've dealt with before. I don't know why people are so down on modular power supplies in this case though; it seems to me that if you do it right you're much better off than you would be with all the extra cables in a standard PSU. I attached a molex to SATA x2 adapter for my two hard drives, and with the fans running on the other Molex, my only other cable is the PCIE 6-pin. With the rebate this 600W ModXStream also only ran me $48 shipped.

    I really wish I didn't read about that Qv2E, because its perfect, but way more than I can justify spending right now, although all my other components have more than enough room so I could go for something a bit more basic. I realized the real issue here is just the case itself and the placement of the PSU in relation to the CPU. I've got a little more than 135mm between the CPU and the PSU, and there's nothing that can be done about that. A new PSU wouldn't do anything, because the issue is one of width rather than depth.

    I'm pretty impressed with this Cooler Master fan right now, and though I was skeptical about the listed 90CFM, I'm betting it is in fact right around there. I looked into the Delta, and will probably buy one, but my girlfriend is already giving me grief over the noise of the current setup so I'll definitely need a controller. I obviously wouldn't run something like that 24/7 but the same is true of my overclocks, I just really like the potential to crank it up when testing.

    I think my best option right now is to look into a new case for under $150, but I think that may be hard to do without making the same compromises. I only paid $36 for this case in the first place and have a friend who would take it off me for that in a minute, so I lose nothing. I saw one or two between FrozenCPU and a few other sites that may work but I need to read into them more.

    One last question, is there anything to PCI slot exhaust fans? I rarely see them used, and imagine they could mess up airflow, but they also seem like they could help a lot in an SFF build.

    Thanks again, everyone, I can tell I'm going to like it here.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2009

    Modding my SFF i5 build for better cooling

    Hmmm well now that you know how much vertical space you have for a tower cpu cooler. Find one that is short enough and that you can mount fans to. has a wide selection. Find the biggest one you can fit is pretty much the only thing to worry about. Usually its the vertical clearance thats the biggest issue, but be careful since some can be wide enough to interfere with your RAM or your GPU.

    As far as the PCI slot fans..I looked into them too, mostly junk. What you might want to do is sacrifice some side window area by cutting an opening and mounting fans on the side. this can help both keep the CPU's heatsink cooler, as well as keep good air flow around your GPU.

    I guess since your not up for getting the expensive Qmirca case, I assume that getting an external water cooling setup is out too? You could run tubing from a water block on the cpu, out an opening in the case, and mount the pump, reservoir and radiator, likely a double wide one, to the top of the case. That level of fabrication could be quite easy for beginners..(i.e. me...) Thermaltake has their own type of radiators that have "feet" so they can sit on your desk externally. Get some metal brackets and mount them to the top or side of the case...Hell you could use mounting tape even and have it all sit atop your case. A water cooling setup with a good enough radiator will surely keep you cool and give you room to overclock.

  7. #7

    Modding my SFF i5 build for better cooling

    I've looked through pretty much every CPU cooler I'd consider using and as is none of them really fit, which is why I'm looking to either mod or figure out if there is a different non-tower style heatsink that would serve me better. The Zalman CNPS8700 is really looking like my best bet, but I'm going to have to wait on an adapter. I'll probably also have to change my motherboard, which is one of the easiest things for me to do, again because I have a friend that will take mine off me. The other PCIE slot on the UD2 is a PCIEX4, which is kindof odd, and I'm thinking it'll bottleneck my 4770's performance, though I haven't been able to find anything to definitively answer that question for me. I'm going to just try running it in the x4 slot in a minute and I guess we'll see.

    The Qmirca is amazing, but unlike the rest of my components, its not something I'll easily be able to use in a future project because it has a much more specialized application. I do think I'm going to start saving up on the side for one, or something similar, because a quality case is something that should last me through multiple builds/years as my standard travel case. I'm really surprised that there are no other SFF cases that take heatsinks into consideration, especially since the target market for most of them consists of people who feel they need more mobile power than a laptop could offer. I'm going to look into modding this case with fans, but I may invest in something sturdier that at least gives me a little more clearance and better airflow for around $100.

    I thought on water cooling for a minute, but the most important quality of this build is its portability, so I ruled it out. Thanks for continuing to brainstorm with me on this.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2009

    Modding my SFF i5 build for better cooling

    Hmmm one of those self contained liquid based coolers... like that one from corsair may do you good in this. You can get em for a decent price, mount it on the side of the case, and it should do well, keep you running at the very least at top speed, maybe light overclocking as well. I have heard the stories go either way on those types of coolers.

  9. #9

    Modding my SFF i5 build for better cooling

    I'm thinking along the lines of Shodan. I bet there is an easy way to mod that H50 into that case. If not I saw you mentioned the Zalman flower coolers. As an alternative have you looked into the Thermaltake ORB's? They have a similar design as the Zalmans.

    Also as far as slot coolers they do make em. They work fairly well but they also get a bit loud after a time. The build quality of those aren't the best.

    It's a shame you didn't buy a video card with a cooler that already has the back exhaust on it. That would have probably helped with overall temps.

  10. #10

    Modding my SFF i5 build for better cooling

    It's a shame you didn't buy a video card with a cooler that already has the back exhaust on it. That would have probably helped with overall temps.
    I know, about a week after I bought the Asus, everyone else released their versions of the 4770, at least three of which would have been a much better fit. I may try to pass it on to a friend at a $10 loss swap in one that exhausts out the back.

    I think trying to shove the H50's radiator into such a small case might be more trouble than its worth, and I actually noticed there is a Zalman 1156 adapter bracket now in production. I think I may wait until I can get my hands on one of those and throw in a CNPS8700 after all. I looked at the Gemini II and Thermaltake's MaxOrb, but both are significantly larger than the Zalman and offer only minor performance gains. Oh, and one last time before I finally try and see for myself, does anyone know if a PCIEX4 slot would bottleneck a 4770 at all?

    Thanks a lot for your help, everyone, this is probably far from over but I think the big question has been answered unless anyone comes up with something better before the Zalman 1156 bracket is available. I've got the Qmirca to think about for the future, and a pretty solid plan in the mean time. I'm just going to go ahead and steer clear of the PCI slot coolers; no one seems to make a decent one, and I imagine if they lowered temperatures by any substantial amount they'd be more mainstream.

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