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[Build Log] Watercooled Mac mini (M-itx I7 3820qm HD7850)

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post #1 of 98 (permalink) Old 01-04-2013, 08:00 PM - Thread Starter
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Watercooled mac mini Build log

About this mod (Click to show)
As all my previous mods are all done I now have the time to start on something new.
My previous mods were all mac casses and they're sprouting around my house

They include a G4 sawtooth a G4 MDD and a G5 and in the future will include both this case mod and a case mod on a G4 quicksilver
as for the quicksilver I do not know yet what I'm gonna fit in it but I'll see.

Now lets get to the idea.
The plan is too build a powerful yet compact system the system has to be at least as powerful as my current rig as it will be my school and work pc for the coming year.(2013)

My rig is currently a dual xeon e5520 on a asus z8na-d6 motherboard combined with a gtx570 graphics card and 20GB reg ecc ddr3 ram.

As a final word before I begin I start a project with a finished result already in mind and I will change my plan about 100 times before getting the final result.
Therefore in this build log I will also include the things that didn't work out as it might be an aid for anyone.

So to sum up my demands for this rig: Demands (Click to show)
  1. It has to be at least as strong as my previous rig and has to be stronger in single threaded performance.
  2. It should have a low usage both idle as full load (50W idle and 200W load max)
  3. It should be running relatively cool but I don't mind it idiling at 50 °C as long as it doesn't reach extremes it should stay under 90 degrees at full load. (Yes those seem extremly hot but it are soft demands I will do as much to get them as low as possible)
  4. It should run relatively quite 40Dba max.
  5. It should have a small form factor as I plan on having it on my desk."
  6. It should have a lot of connectivity the more ports the better especially usb I always fall short on those.
  7. Resolves around point 4 but it has to be housed inside the mac case with minimal modifications to the way it looks it should stay classy
  8. Yes there is a greedy part of the story my budget is 1000 euro

Build Log
Looking for components (Click to show)
So I started planning looking for those things that would fit my demands.
I started looking trough mini itx boards low profile graphic cards low profile pumps low profile everything.

I ended up with the following in mind:

X9SCV-QV4 this board was everything I could've hoped for and comes as close to custom build for my build as it could get no over-sized DDIM slots very minimalistic however the height of the IO was one of the things that worried me a bit.

Graphics card:
HD7750 LP
A low profile card with an extremely tiny power consumption of under 30W under load bajeezus that is low.
In return the power of this tiny card is not that great however the price performance and performance watt is terrific.

The processor was a bit tricky a normal sandy or ivy bridge mobile processor that would match my performance demands would set me back about 400 euro's at least.
I decided for a i7 3610/i7 3820 it will have the clocks of a i7 3610 but the cache of a i7 3820 and it would only cost me 1/4 the price of a retail processor.

With the main components taken care of except for ram which isn't important at all as I can just throw in any ddr3 So-dimm

Power supply:
As there would be a enormous shortage on space I decided on an external power supply.
Since one of my demands is high efficiency I chose a psu that would have about 90% eff which is almost a gold certificate on the 80 PLUS rating scale.
A huge challenge was to get a external psu that still has a lot of bang I ended up with one of the most high end if not the most high end external power supply the mini box 12v/16A AC-DC Power adapter.

Simple maths will tell you that this psu can provide atleast 192W of power.
As for testing due to slight lacks on the 12V which every psu has 192W is actually 188W.
188W may sound like too little but keep in mind that all components will be feeded trough 12v and the conversions will be done on the motherboard with high efficiency.
Too keep you guys tranquil the over current protection kicks in at 120% load so no until 225W power draw before it shuts itself.

But Maarten what are you doing 192W is awfully close too 200W so yeah if the setup would load it up to 100% the draw at wall socket might be more than 200W but as I use low power components it will be more like 100W at max.
Lowering the psu wattage would be "unsafe" so that is why I took the most powerful one and ofcourse because of the high eff.

The storage will be provided by a simple 256GB SSD from adata model sp900
I will ad some pictures later on there isn't much to see but I will be taking it apart.
I don't know how it is for you but I like to see how things come apart.
Show me that Pcb baby! biggrin.gif

As for the watercooling side of things it was crucial that I only use the lowest profile things while not trading in on performance too much.

Cpu and Gpu block:
Those blocks are extremely low profile measuring just 1.2cm in height.
Koolance GPU-180-h06

8/6 tubbing

Fittings and reduction pieces

and of course a tiny pump.

A radiator as thin as possible

Those don't really need a picture as they will be shown a lot in the upcoming log.
Rethinking my component choices: (Click to show)
As I wanted to have just as much bang into this system as I had in my old powerhorse rig I wanted a better graphics card.
After looking around on the web for a few hours I found that Afox made low profile hd6850 cards after looking up Afox I found out that they we're also making a low profile card based around the hd7850 chip.
It featured a fully enabled 7850 chip (although it wasn't the Ghz edition ofc just stock 860mhz).

A beauty, only problem was there was no one selling them except for some Vietnames store.
The only thing I could do is contact Afox directly to inform where I could get one it turned out they could factory ship me one and it wasn't that expensive at all as it was a very custom card one would expect a much higher price that a regular hd7850 but it costed only 290 dollar.

I also found that using a car radiator was the only way to go and it was the only radiator I could think of measuring only 20mm in thickness.
The alternative to go flatter would be to take laptop heatsinks and flow water trough them heatpipes. (which I will have some experimenting on later on but no worries it turns out to be not for the faint hearted at all)
packages (Click to show)

The picture that says mainboard is actually quite funny besides the fact that it cost me money.
I had that package shipped from china and it contained the mac mini cases the customs officers opened up the package and found those pieces of paper placed there to protect the mac mini housing from bouncing and scratching.
She concluded it contained electronics which it did not and send me an invoice to pay 20 euro in taxes such fun axesmiley.png

Mac mini casing Processor SSD and Motherboard (Click to show)
Also photos of the mac mini housing this is the most important component of the entire build still it was the cheapest by fat this casing cost me 8 euro and I could get one with little scratches on it for 3 euro cheap is an understatement the price of the aluminium alone is close to that.

Photos on the storage disk the processor and Chinese junk glasses which I got with my order

Photos on both the package and the motherboard itself

Radiator screwups (Click to show)
I ended up demolishing various radiators.
There is no result and a lot of time wasted to it but it might be useful for one considering modding a radiator or just having a very thin radiator.
I got mine from aquastealth and it is a steering oil cooler.
Here is the link
Radiator pictures

First thoughts (Click to show)
First I was planning on using the hd7750 LP but when I changed my mind and ordered the HD7850 which turned out to be quite a bit longer
Pictures from stacking things together with the hd7750 in mind for comparing the low profile short form factor a nvidia gt7300 was used.
I was to get a general idea as in chronological order I order the radiator first and was planing to order the gpu later not knowing I would make such a switch.
In the following pictures you can get a glimpe of what my first idea was of this build just a huge surface radiator paces flat and the low profile which would be a hd7750 if I hadn't changed plans.
Also a glimpse at the low profile sythe fan measuring 1.2cm in height but the blade and motor measure just 0.9cm so there is room for improvement later on.
Stacking it together

the graphics card (Click to show)
I have been whining a lot about how the graphics card is longer than I expected but it isn't that strange as instead of drawing from the pci-e slot which already has the 12v converted to 5v an 3.3v this card would be drawing from the atx 6pin 12v connector which means there are extra conversions necessary resulting in extra components and extra pcb.
Graphics card photos and pcb photos

Water cooling components (Click to show)
water cooling this is the main focus around the build but to make it work I had to pick the smallest of the smallest some components therefore are modded heavily more on that later.
As of now these are the components I've received so far concerning water cooling (it will be joined by better hoses which won't knick and two magicool 2x40 mini radiators since I'm too irritated to waste another week on making one custom.

Watercooling pump modifications (Click to show)
Next is adjusting the watercooling I modded the pump top to the sizes I needed it to be.
I also made a loop buildup in which it would flow trough 2 radiators while still being able to fill the loop.
Modded watercooling

Some pictures of the pump's broken solder joints also a peek at the new pump top

the resevoir (Click to show)
As space is not a premium in this mod and I have to make use of every cubic centimeter I have there is simply no space for a resevoir a simple T line will do the job.
As my motherboard lacks a 20/4 pin atx connector I can place it there if its perfectly.

Motherboard tray (Click to show)
I started on this motherboard tray with the length of my graphics card in mind knowing that I would have to either extend my case or let the graphics card stick out abit.
I chose extending my case to the back.
But as with the radiator since I changed my plans later on figuring I was going to be putting the graphics card sideways this was another waste of time.
For the motherboard tray I actually used a piece of metal obtained from a different mac case one with a little more age to it it was an Apple IIc no worries it was broken already however the display is still working and I actually had it hooked up to my PS2 for a while tongue.gif
Motherboard tray

Motherboard modifications (Click to show)
I had to make some modifications to the motherboard itself so that I could put the graphics card sideways.
All I did was actually hack off the COM port and a piece of aluminum to mount the motherboard in a Supermicro build case.
Those are worthless add one to the IO.
So get ready to see some warranty voiding good pictures

mounting water block tightly (Click to show)
As I have restructured the placing of almost all my components it will be different now.
I need to make it as compact as possible to do this it is stacking everything thightly together making componets fit gaps of space.
I also had to consider the denseness of the loop and that I couldn't just have hoses making bends everywhere.

I also found out that the mounting sets of the waterblocks would add 5mm to the height something that would be terrible also it would retain me from mounting the second block as the first set would be constructing the mounting holes of the second block.

I had to fabricate something of my own that would add nothing to height.
You might think I've gone crazy since every mounting would take up some space.
Luckily my blocks have a lower line around the block which I can use to mount my blocks using a home made retainer.

wiring (Click to show)
One of the most important things of a build is ofcourse power I had to take the 12v 2x12v and 2xground(-12V in ac terms).
I directly spotted a thinking flaw of myself as those wires would be high amperage as one of them was going to feed the gpu partitialy and the wires were only rated for 7A.
To prevent the wires from getting hot I connected parallel wiring so the amperage would be split this both reduces loss and prevents over current trough the wires.
It was possibly not necessary at all but I prefer being on the safe side instead of having wires melting apart.

I also made a low profile S-ata data connector
As well as a low profile S-ata power connector.
That is one of the aspects of my motherboard that I like it gives you everything you need and it converts everything from a single line.

I still lack the wiring for the power button and the led(the led is so simple I won't bother telling about that) as I have no idea yet what to do with it.
I was planning on feeding an apple wireless keyboard trough usb so that I could rewire the power button to an IR transmitter and the power button would be hooked up to a IR receiver mounted in front of the PS/2 port on the IO as no one uses it anymore.

There will be more than enough room for both an IR receiver and the usb 5V wiring as it would normally give place too 3 thick batteries (forgot what they were called...)

The radiators (Click to show)
As I have recieved the radiators that I plan on using here are some pictures.
Note how the hose on the radiator is actually 6.4mm internal hose and it fits both the rad tightly as my pump connection worth the 5euro/meter.

I still have a concern though should I get a third radiator and then have two stacked from the back of the case and one beneath the fan.
Or should I just keep 2 and place on straight an the back with 2 fans on top and the other beneath the fan.
extending the case (Click to show)
As I want to keep the case as much as is or was I simply can not du to lack of space mostly because of the choice of taking the hd7850 instead of the hd7750 the choice in retail radiators and the choice to have a 120mm fan on top of this all.
Therefore I will keep close to the original looks and make and Apple worthy extension.
My plan is to take extremely high end solid black 20mm thick acrylic and use a cutter to hollow it where needed I will cut it to size and have it screwed on tightly.
Finally I will polish the sides all the sides so that it is just as shiny as the black apple logo on the top of the case.

Besides this I have cutted a lot of aluminum as it would get in the way of either the motherboard or different components to see what it is I've cutted just check the original mac case and then check the various other pictures showing the casing.

However I really like pushing limits to space keeping it at just 2.7cm internal would mean I have to cut back too much on radiator performance also I would lack the room for fans mostly and cooling this with small rads passive would be a death wish.

I already have polished up the bottom of the mac mini so the piece of acrylic can be mounted flat on it.

After this it was time to figure out how to secure the bottom plate in such fashion that it was removable easily.
As you may or may not have seen I had this done some time ago and it actually bases on having en triple screw in design one standoff on extender and one bolt.

In order to make more room for the front radiator I had to get rid of some excess aluminum in an ultra thin case who needs a support structure of a staggering 10mm+ of aluminum

Airflow (Click to show)
As this build has to be as compact as possible and the radiators will be mounted internal laying flat.
Getting air in and trough the components is a challenge therefore I will both mill out the acrylic so it guides the air also I will put the front radiator under an angle so air can get under it and get sucked trough the fins and out of the case.

Here are some pictures of the front radiator under an angle(they will not be held up this way but it gives the idea)

This is not the only thing needed ofcourse we need a fan planning providing both optimum in- and outtake for outtake there is another thing special to this mod.

Because the actually heated air will be vented out the bottom of the case we need to have a blower to move it to the sides of the case.
Modifying the 120mm fan will accommodate for this

180 degree bending and waterblock connect (Click to show)
My waterblocks are mounted right next to each other and are actually configured so that I could just use a 180 degree bend to interconect them (I know those kind of bends are a bit of flow kill but I only have one in a tiny loop so it'll be fine)
The one problem I was faced is that when even bending tubing doesn't matter if it is thick walled tygon tubing, pvc, or pur even at a direct 90 degree bend it would knick.
As there is no space for making a nice curvy bend I had to come up with a way to get the tubing to say in shape while being bend 180 degrees.

First thing my dad came up with was pouring in hot clean white sand then bend it after it was bend it the sand could easily be removed.
This however is a lot of work and let's not forget dangerous as the sand would be 200 degrees celsius after it's been in the oven.

Therefore I decided to go with a technique actually advised by some people back at Tweakers.net.
They advised me to fill the tubing with something solid preferably wiring so that it can easily be retrieved afterward.
Then bend it hold it in place and boil it.
After that put it in the freezer to make it adhere its new shape in the materials memory.

After this was done I cut the tubing to size and used it to interconnect the blocks

Placing mounting bolts and displacing motherboard. (Click to show)
So next up adjusting the case so that the motherboard could be mounted firmly to the top.
Sadly I ran into some trouble after having sanded epoxyed and placed all the standoffs.

One of the problems was the fill port would almost block one of the mounting places making the placing of the motherboard near impossible.
Another issue was that a displacment of the motherboard for the placing of a extra 40mm, would result into the screwhole hanging over the edge of the aluminum case. (I will mount it to the acrylic so don't worry)

Fill port modifications and fill port mounting (Click to show)
I have also worked on the fill port and the way it is secured to the case however I have not yet finished it it is near completed.
The mounting was so tight it actually holds down the motherboard more than the bolts biggrin.gif
I have sanded down both the part where the O-rings go along with the part where it is round so it can be mounted tighter.

The O-ring metal is removed because the fill port needed to be placed a few MM higher as it would interfere with the mobo otherwise.
I chipped out some of the round part so it can be placed closer to the mac mini shell.

The screw on cap for the fill port and the connection/seating piece are both fabricated from a 1/4G screw on fill nipple.
There are also 3 photos included on how tight the hose 8MM OD hose clamps grab on 9.6MM hoses. (a tight fit is an understatement I almost couldn't get them off as I tightened it with a wrench)

Axial to Radial/Axial fan modification (Click to show)
For the 120mm fan at the bottom I needed to modify it so that it both pulls the air from the back rad and pushes all the exhaust heat of both rads to the sides of the case, where it can be dissipated.
To give an idea here are some old paint pictures

That should clarify the idea.
So I've first taped down most of the plastic so it won't get scrated and cutted.
Then I started cutting slowly but surely with the dremel.
Next I sanded ot down to get rid of scratches and edges so the air flows as restrictive free as possible.

Acrylic bottom preview and green pcb cover up (Click to show)
As the motherboard is sticking out a bit it would show the green pcb something you don't want to see next to aluminum.

Also there is the acrylic plate which I will cut to size and mill to fit the protruding components.

Aluminum motherboard cover (Click to show)
To remove the green motherboard from sight there were 3 options use a piece of pre-molded plastic from an old ps3 console, use a pieces of acrylic glued together with chloroform or find a piece of aluminum that looks just like it belong there.
After a lot of thinking and measuring I came up with a plan to use the handles of a powermac G5 to do just that.
It all fell into place nicely they were 5.5cm in height which was +/- 1mm of what I needed they also had this lines across that were exactly 2.1 cm which is about what my acrylic plate is.

All coming together nicely
Aluminum motherboard cover continued (Click to show)
After removing the handles from the G5 they had to be made to fit.
I first dremmeled away the outlined piece of metal and after that I went with a bunch of viles and a micro dremmel add-on.
Finally after everything fitted I used some sand paper to make it smooth will eventually use high grid sand paper for a near mirror finish.

The next thing will be making a hole in it and carving out exactly enough to make the power button fit in I've already used my DMM to measure the power button I salvaged from the G5 and have found the pins (3 pins total so it was like battery click and done)

After that I can go on to milling the acrylic once I receive the new pump which should've already come.

Power button (Click to show)
For the power button I will be going with a nice aluminum button I scavenged one from a G5.

flashing the bios and board testing (Click to show)
Sadly I came to the conclusion that the board wouldn't support the i7 3820QM I actually even added the microcode to the board but it didn't make a difference. Anyway here are some pics of the flashing process nothing too interesting.

New fans, modified fan testing and pump hose tie wrap fittings (Click to show)
Some minor things done with the fans and the pump the tie wrap is tight enough for prevent any leaking. But to be extra secure I will use at least 2.

Milling out the acrylic (Click to show)
Let's start of by saying that the next few pictures may look horrible but that isn't really true. Even though the bottom may appear too thin it is thin in places I will be removing anyway (for the 120mm fan for example)

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post #2 of 98 (permalink) Old 01-04-2013, 10:09 PM
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this is pretty cool thumb.gif

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post #3 of 98 (permalink) Old 01-04-2013, 10:25 PM
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Subbed! Looking forward to the build log! thumb.gif

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This is going to be great! biggrin.gif

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post #5 of 98 (permalink) Old 01-05-2013, 09:27 AM - Thread Starter
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Update on progress
I've written up to the point where I am now.
Things yet to be filled in extra mods to the pump and the pump top and the polished back.
I will recieve 2 magicool radiators on monday sadly I have exams in 2 weeks so I won't be able to do much with it if anything.
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post #6 of 98 (permalink) Old 01-07-2013, 05:41 AM - Thread Starter
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Just received the magicool 2x40mm radiators.
They sure are tiny the height actualy is 2.4cm instead of the 2.7 claimed also that is just the height of the frame the real fins are actualy only 1.8cm in height.
Also instead of measuring a length of 14cm it measured just 12.5cm sounds good right thumb.gif
Although the tinyness of the rad worries me a bit since I expected the rad to be 2.7 of thickness not just 1.8 but I have 2 of them so it'll work out.
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post #7 of 98 (permalink) Old 01-07-2013, 06:44 AM - Thread Starter
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I tried to test the restriction of the rad by blowing some are trough it appeared to be full of dust so I have to cleanse it good before use.
Also the hoses I orderd still are not able to make the tights bends I want them to make so I will either make water guiders or get different hoses again had PVC PUR and Tygan together with anti knick springs been trough 5 types of hosses but I'm not giving up yet. tongue.gif
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Very nice.  I like the ghetto feel of this mod of this build. Keep it coming, it looks really cool. Have you though of trying using hard lines to make the bends? I'm guessing you have 1/4" hose so use some soft 1/4" copper tube like they use for plumbing and refrigeration/AC systems to and slide your hose all the way over it so it is holds the hole shape through the bend? Sort of like an internal anti kink that shouldn't reduce flow much.


I would also like to formally warn you to be careful what software you mention when you start installing stuff. OCN doesn't support talk of software infringement if you catch my drift.

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post #9 of 98 (permalink) Old 01-07-2013, 11:22 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by animal0307 View Post

Very nice.  I like the ghetto feel of this mod of this build. Keep it coming, it looks really cool. Have you though of trying using hard lines to make the bends? I'm guessing you have 1/4" hose so use some soft 1/4" copper tube like they use for plumbing and refrigeration/AC systems to and slide your hose all the way over it so it is holds the hole shape through the bend? Sort of like an internal anti kink that shouldn't reduce flow much.

I would also like to formally warn you to be careful what software you mention when you start installing stuff. OCN doesn't support talk of software infringement if you catch my drift.
I'm thinking about putting in a bunch of copper wires inside the pvc tube then bend it to form then boil it the cool it then freeze it the remove the wires.
I worked with copper tubes in the past but anything thinner than 1/2inch with a pipe bender would knick.

If you're talking Mac os x then yes as I'm not going to install it on this thumb.gif
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post #10 of 98 (permalink) Old 01-08-2013, 01:29 AM
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Awesome, can't wait to see how you manage the extension. Subscribed!
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