Hi everyone! Recently I have acquired the legendary Caselabs SMa8-a case, and it really deserves the hype it receives. The process itself of putting the case together is very satisfying, and imo lays the groundwork for the more complex building you do later on in the case.
I view my build as constantly evolving progress - my goal is to reach that clean, beautiful aesthetic while also maximizing the performance/noise levels for the most optimal it can be.
The most complicated aspect is the water cooling - since there are endless variations of radiators, components, and ways you can approach the loop - it can take a long time to find the best options.
I will also share a lot of my lessons learned, as many fellow enthusiasts can appreciate and sympathize with.
One lesson I've learned as an enthusiast: Biggest, newest, and most expensive isn't always the best. Often these are the least supported products due to low volume, and don't make total sense. I used to think this was the ideal to strive for on a "legendary" build; but the lesson I've learned is that even in the high end - the ideal to strive for is performance for the dollar, value for the money. That often will land you in the sweet spot of the best optimized product, believe it or not. These products are usually much more worked out by the manufacture, because they will sell a lot of them. Case in point: The Asus Formula motherboard just seemed to offer so much more, feel unique and special for me for $430 rather than the $600 Asus Extreme or MSI Godlike; I just could not see the added value there. To be fair, the X299 Rampage VI IMO is legendary and worth the price. (Just had to put that in there; I respect that motherboard and it feels special)
The above is actually important; when building in a case like this, you have the urge to splurge, to make it crazy - but that's not the correct option. It has to be optimized in every aspect - aesthetics, performance, and the price ratio to these items. It's easy to throw the most expensive component in there if it's in your budget and forget it; it's much more rewarding to put in carefully curated
Here is the hardware I am using and my rationale:
1.) Asus Formula XI and 9900k
Having a X299 Rampage VI in a Lian li v3000 case previously, I honestly was a bit spoiled by that motherboard. I still consider it aesthetically one of the most impressive. I wanted a more gaming directed build with the 9900k though, as that's my primary use case. The Formula imo has the best balance of performance, price, and aesthetics. It just fits in a water cooling case. Cablemod modflex black cables, as I wanted something minimalist to just blend in the background, so I decided not to put in the thicker cables. I may change the color later or add aluminum cable combs. EVGA P2 1200 watt PSU.
2.) Nvidia 2080
To preface, I had 2080 ti Founders edition in SLI I was running in my last build, powering an Asus 4k 144hz HDR monitor. I liked the SLI for the aesthetic, but became increasingly disillusioned in their performance, even at 4k, so decided to use just a single card.
Likewise, I changed over to an Alienware 34 inch 3440x1440, and a BenQ 240hz monitor, both of which are easier to run than the 4k monitor, not needing SLI as much.
So why did I choose the 2080? It is more practical; I had a 2080 Asus turbo blower style card in an itx build, and decided that could really use the cooling and moved it to this case - 2080 is plenty powerful to power the ultrawide at ultra settings.
I also did not want to put a water block on my 2080 ti yet, I love the new design of the cooler, so I left that in my other build. I may do so in the future, though, as that would be ideal for this build vs the 2080 just for the extra, albeit not huge, performance increase
3.) 32GB Corsair Dominator RGB ram
I've been through multiple ram kits in this build; Corsair dominator platinum, nice but I wanted some RGB, so I was using G Skill Trident Z, but that doesn't sync with Corsair iCue. I also used the Corsair Vengeance RGB, which imo looks beautiful with the Corsair fans, but when the new Dominator RGB memory came out, I decided to give it a try.
Honestly, took me a little while to warm up to it when it was announced, but I am really liking it. It fits the build well.
4.) Corsair ML Fans, RGB
This was a tough one. I almost went dark with something like Noctua chromax, regular MLs, or even eloops. But imo Corsair makes some of the nicest fans aesthetically, and you can do tasteful single color rgb that looks great.
My radiators are low RPM optimized hardware labs; so these fans are quiet and perform very well. Note that for the ML140 Pro RGB, I have the "new" versions that go to 2000rpm and 3.0 h2O, matching the non-rgb performance of the regular ML140 Pro. Only available on their 115i Platinum AIO. I went through the trouble of acquiring those instead of using the independently available 140 pro rgb, which is lower spec'd. (Just in case I did more overclocking, I'd like the room to ramp the fans up as the SR2 Hardware Labs rads also perform well at higher RPMs together with their great low rpm performance.
5.) Water cooling parts:
Some progress and thoughts:
- Aquaero 6 with splitty 4 and 9, flow sensor (Best way to control everything)
- Hardware Labs 480 GTS, 560 SR2, 360 SR2 (Updating now. Had a 560 GTS, but that proved too restrictive in combination with the 480 GTS, so switching that for an SR2. was getting low flow rates with dual D5 pumps. Also had an AquaComputer thick 240mm, which aesthetically is great, but decided on the extra performance of the 360 SR2)
- EK Velocity and Vector 2080 block, and EK fittings (I really like these, and in the future may do bending of the tubes instead of so many fittings, but imo fittings do add a nice look when done in the right places)
- Singularity Computers Pump cover and Reservoirs with ethereal dual res mount (A very elegant and interesting design fit the nature of the build perfectly.
I made the mistake of having both a 480 GTS and 560 GTS, which with my loop that has plenty of 90 degree bends, proved to be very restrictive for a single D5 pump. It was getting flow rates of 105 L/H, below .5 GPM. I added a second D5, and it improved to 160 L/h, but still below the optimal 1 GPM. Made getting air bubbles out much more difficult, and this is with running at 100%.
So consequently I decided to switch out the 560 GTS for an SR2, which is a lot less restrictive and fits well in the basement of the case. The 480 and 560 GTS are amazing on their own, though - super thin and quiet, high performance.
Here are some pictures of how it stands now, will post updates and more pictures in a few days when changes are complete as they are substantial. LL140s in the basement before i moved them to ML140s.
I would love hearing feedback and suggestions on how I can improve both aesthetics and performance! It's an organic system, changing as I progress and optimize as well.