So I know the general opinion is that mineral oil computers are impractical and a huge hassle. I couldn't agree more. I would not advise anyone to build one of these if they intended to use it as their main system or for anything "serious".
My motivation behind the build was to just do something fun. I wasn't in the mood to build a conventional system within a case and what not. In my apartment, I almost exclusively use my desk-computer (see link in signature) for anything, even watching TV. So despite having an actual TV, I never use it. I wanted to make a home-theater style build that I could use my TV with. So in other words, very light computing (internet browsing, watching a video, etc). Also, I just wanted something cool to display in my living room.
I've entertained the idea of a mineral oil PC for some time and while searching around, I came across the Puget Systems kit. However, it's been discontinued, so just buying a pre-made kit was out of the question. After sitting on it for a while, I decided that I could make one myself without too much work. I also thought that most rigs that people have made, from what I've seen, were really sloppy and followed the mindset of "just throw a bunch of hardware in there and dump oil on it". So I really wanted to make something appealing to the eye. Just because it's submerged in oil doesn't give it the OK to be a huge mess of cables! I didn't have a bunch of old hardware to sacrifice, so I did buy new stuff for this build, but I kept it as modest as I could.
With that in mind, this system is probably not viable for serious overclocking/gaming or anything that could really drive up the temperatures. I opted out of including a radiator/pump into the build because I really wanted this to be a silent rig. Having a radiator with 3+ fans running sorta defeats the purpose. I still haven't had much of a chance to let this rig run for extended periods and monitor the temperatures, so that's still to come.
Anyways, here is the build process/pictures!
I started with how I was going to mount/attach the motherboard. I was not keen on the idea of permanently attaching the motherboard to the tank. I got a 10-gallon glass tank, so I definitely wasn't going to be screwing anything into that. So I spent longer than I thought I would trying to find a mATX motherboard tray without anything extra on it (I/O plates, etc). I also did not want a ATX tray that had support for mATX; I didn't want any space being wasted with a big motherboard tray. I found one from modDIY. Took a long time to get here, since it came from China or something. But it was just what I needed. A simple piece of acrylic with the correct holes for a mATX board.
Here is the motherboard (Asus Maximus Gene VI) and PSU (Corsair AX760i). I wanted to go with a red and black theme, so that pretty much determined the motherboard to get haha. I think this one was refurbished and was pretty cheap. I believe the PSU was also refurbished and I got a good deal on it. Most importantly, I was able to get nice sleeved cables for the PSU
Here is the other hardware. I went with a Core i5 4460 3.2Ghz, 16GB Corsair Vengeance RAM, some TP-Link wireless card, and a Cooler Master Vortex Plus heatsink. The heatsink serves no purpose in this build (neither do any of the fans). They're just there to look cool. So I wanted a heatsink that was mounted vertically (or maybe horizontally depending on how you look at it?) so that the fan on it would be visible when the motherboard was mounted.
I went with a Samsung 128GB SSD. I didn't want to use a hard drive, which I did have a spare one, because they cannot be submerged in the oil for obvious reasons. One thing I really disliked about other builds was that people would take their hard drives and optical drives and store them somewhere outside the tank (like on top or something) and it just looked ugly and was a huge mess of cables. So I wanted to keep as many components of the rig in the oil as possible. And the SSD can be submerged!
Here I have the 10-gallon glass tank (cost like $10 from the pet store) and the motherboard tray mounted. I don't have any pictures of how that was done but it was simple/ghetto. I went to Home Depot and got a couple of "U" brackets. I used epoxy to attach the brackets to the acrylic motherboard tray. Now the tray just slides into the tank and hangs on the edge using the brackets. This way, the motherboard can just be lifted outta the tank anytime (not that I intend to remove the motherboard often, but it was handy when I had issues later on!). In this shot, I just have the stock CPU cooler on. I believe I did a test to make sure everything worked. You can also see the graphics card I am using. This was one of the components I had previously. My girlfriend's dad had it and gave it to me. It's a MSI GeForce 210. No fan on it, just a big heatsink. Still, it's a real low profile card and I believe it's geared towards home-theater type systems. In any case, it has an HDMI port and that's all I needed.
I put everything into the tank to see how it looked. I was definitely pleased with the color scheme and the layout of the components. Not too cluttered but not too much dead space either.
So I had the issue of figuring out where/how to mount the power switch for the computer. I didn't want it to just be hanging off the tank somewhere or hidden behind it. So my girlfriend actually suggested this, half-joking. I bought a suitable rubber duck off Amazon, cut a small hole into the top and pushed a Lamptron switch into it. I fed the wires through the bottom of the duck and boom, a floatable power switch! The idea was to have the duck floating on the oil. However, as we'll see, that didn't work out as I imagined
I the had to figure out what I was going to use to cover the top of the tank. I originally was going to get a normal aquarium hood/top from the pet store and mod it. But after looking into it, I realized it would not be an easy mod and it'll probably come out bad with my limited skills. So I designed a super simple top and had a custom acrylic company make it for me. I had cut outs for the motherboard I/O and PCI cards (as you can see, they aren't super precise). I then had a square cut out where the rubber duck would be floating.
I attached some controllable RGB LEDs to the underside of the top. Here is when I was debugging a lose connection somewhere. If the connection isn't solid between each strip of LEDs, only some of them with light up correctly (there's 4 wires total between the strips, Red, Green, Blue, power. If one of those colors isn't connected correctly, you'll get what you see above). I'm also powering the LEDs from a wall outlet, so the computer can still be cool to look at even if it isn't running.
I wanted to put another fan in the case, to fill up some space (again, the fans don't really move any oil around and they're certainly not cooling anything; they're just for show). I was at a loss for how to attach the fan anywhere. I didn't want to just glue it onto the side of the tank or something. So I found some place online that sells huge pieces of plastic/acrylic, but they sell small samples of it as well. So I got these sample pieces (4x6") and attached 2 of them into a "L" shape. I then attached the fan to that. Pretty ghetto but it got the job done!
Finally, I picked up some red and black aquarium rocks, rinsed them thoroughly and let them dry for several days. Here is everything in the tank. Under the rocks, I have a bubble tube/wand which is hooked up to a Tetra Whisper 10i air pump outside the case. That will provide air to create bubbles. Bubbles should do more than just look cool; I believe it helps prevent hot spots from forming, or at least helps spread out some of the heat (in fish aquariums, they're used to regulate the water temperature). Maybe I can investigate this claim further later on.
I had everything sitting in the tank for a couple of months. I needed to buy a new TV/entertainment stand. This rig will easily weigh 100 pounds when full, so I needed a more sturdy place to put it on. So I got that a couple weeks ago and then shortly after that, I ordered the oil. The oil was probably the most expensive component of the build. I got it online from STE Oil Company. So you can imagine that 10 gallons of mineral oil is not cheap to ship. For whatever reason, they gave me a 5 gallon drum and 5x 1 gallon containers.
So it was Halloween night and I felt it was about time to fill up the tank. It was quite the experience, which I'll talk about here. Everything was going just fine (as you can see in the video at the beginning of this post), with the occasional mess from trying to transfer the oil from the 5 gallon drum to the smaller containers. After everything was filled, I booted up. The first thing that happened was a CPU fan error, which makes sense. The fans are controlled, by default, from BIOS to be spinning at a certain RPM. If they are not, you'll get this "CPU fan error" upon boot. You can typically just go into BIOS and then save/exit and boot fine. However, my rig was shutting down after 5 seconds or so. Not knowing any better, I assumed it was related to the CPU fans. So I had to race into BIOS and disable all fan controlling/monitoring. So that fixed the fan issue; they spin constantly and the system doesn't give me an error. However, it was still shutting off after 5-10 seconds. I thought it must still be the fans, so I tried all sorts of things, making a huge mess in the process (by now, I was elbow deep in oil!). It was around 2AM and I was taking a shower to clean off all the oil and I realized the only thing I haven't tried to isolate/test was the PSU. So I reached back into the tank, lifted the PSU out of the oil and booted. Everything worked after that. So it became obvious that the reason why the rig was turing off was because the Corsair PSU has a similar feature where if the fan isn't spinning at the RPM it thinks it should, it'll turn off. And obviously the fan is spinning much slower in the oil. I didn't know of any way to disable this feature, so I decided to take my test PSU that I use when filling my water-cooled loops and put it in. It's some cheapo 500-something watt PSU that has no fancy features like the Corsair one. The downside is that I won't have my sleek sleeved cables anymore. But in the end, it really doesn't look that bad with the old PSU.
While doing all of this, I noticed that the rubber duck wasn't floating very well at all! Whether I messed it up when sticking the power switch into it or if my understanding of mineral oil is lacking, it wasn't going to work out. So I just have the duck sitting on the top now. I think that'll be better in the end, less of a mess.
As I said at the beginning, I haven't had a chance to run this rig for extended periods (still waiting for a working wireless keyboard; I got one from Newegg but they didn't send me the wireless receiver...). I could grab the mouse/keyboard from my other rig and use it but I can wait. But from what I have seen when messing with it, it idles around 30C, so that's promising. Since I won't be doing anything that stresses the system, I imagine that I can maintain reasonable temperatures. I might see what kinda overlocking I can get while remaining in safe temperatures. This is the first motherboard I've had with all the bells and whistles for overclocking, so it could be fun at the very least. But personally, I spend 40 hours a week researching/programming at work, so when I get home, I just want to relax and watch something haha, so my motivation isn't very high.
Here are some pictures of the finished rig. With the bubbles on, it is pretty hard to take a good photo, so these were taken with them turned off. See the video at the top of this post for more shots! I think it's definitely a prettier sight on video/in person than a still photo. Hope you enjoyed this haphazard log and feel free to ask me any questions! It was definitely a fun project and I'm happy with the results!
(I added some red aquarium decorations in the back there to fill in the space)