Passive Water Cooling Memorandum

I get inspired by a lot of things. Sometimes I’m inspired by idiotic and impractical things just because I find them fascinating and I want to apply the logic in more reasonable scenarios. After watching the Linus Tech Tips series Whole Room Water Cooling Project I started thinking about impractical ways to water cool my own system while keeping it as quiet as possible. For some reason I decided on using a fish tank to act as both a reservoir and passive radiator, relying on convection and evaporation to provide a powerful one-two punch of cooling.

Instead of jumping into the deep end I started with a very simple setup, opting to cool only the CPU since I wasn’t sure exactly how effective the tank would cool the water. The loop starts in the tank, flows through a water-feature pump submerged in the tank, though a soft tube to the water block, then back into the tank. The dimensions of the tank where a huge unknown since the volume determined how long the water would take to heat up and the surface area would determine it’s cooling characteristics. After a lot of research and goofing around in Excel I came up with this chart to determine how long it would take to heat a given volume of water with various heat loads (that is, how many components I added to the cooling loop and if they’re at idle or full load).

tank size

The processor I was using at the time, an AMD Phenom II X4 965, had a maximum heat output of 140 watts. Given that, we can use a range of tank sizes to determine how long it would take to heat the water. For example, it would take 6.6 hours to raise 10 gallons of water 30 degrees Fahrenheit, or from a normal room temperature to around 100 degrees, my target maximum water temperature. Given that a 100% workload across all four CPU cores for over 6 hours is not a reasonable workload I figured this was a good size, providing cooling under a worst-case scenario.

What the chart above doesn’t take into account is cooling; it only addresses heating the water. This system has essentially three sources of cooling: radiation through the sides of the container, surface radiation, and evaporation. Based on testing I did the tank was able to radiate 48-70 watts, depending on temperature, through the glass sides when the top was sealed. According to this chart a 30 degree Fahrenheit difference between water temperature and ambient temperature produces 130 watts of cooling per square foot. However, the tank I’m using has a surface area of 1.2 square feet, producing a total heat loss of 156 watts. That puts our total at 204~226 watts of cooling meaning the water should never actually reach 30 degrees above ambient. So far everything looks good, but how does it work in practice?

prime95

To test the real cooling performance of this system I ran Prime95 for five hours then let it idle overnight (I didn’t take measurements while I was asleep so there are no data points). We can see the average difference between CPU temperature and water temperature is 9.2 degrees Celsius which has more to do with the water block’s performance than anything. More importantly, the peak CPU temperature came in at 38 degrees Celsius. To put that in perspective, on the all-in-one water cooling solution that was previously on this same CPU I was seeing temperatures in the high 50s under gaming load which is much less stressful than Prime95 and on standard air cooling you might see high 60s, low 70s, or even higher if you’re overclocking. Compared to that, 38 degrees is absolutely frigid.

case and tank

At this point we know it works both on paper and in practice, but what is it like to live with? Let’s start with the bad parts.

It isn’t silent. Seems insane for a passive system but it really isn’t that simple. It’s quiet, sure, but only sometimes. The pump is cheap and meant to be used outdoors. The pump itself vibrates, meaning I can’t use its suction cup feet to mount to to the walls of floor of the tank as pictured above because it transfers that vibration straight to the glass and into the room. My solution has been to position it so that it sort of floats in the water, not contacting anything but the water. It still makes sound but you really only hear it when the rest of the system is off. Speaking of which, there are still other system components that generate noise. The biggest offender was my dual GTX 560 Ti SLi setup which, under load, sounded like four jet engines in a screaming match. When those were idle the case fans are the source of noise. Not much, but when the rest of the system is so quiet little noises become moderate noises. Basically by removing the one fan cooling my CPU I did little if anything to quiet the rest of my system down at all.

With evaporation being responsible for half my system cooling a lot of water evaporates. It takes a long time but the occasional trips to the drug store for more distilled water are a bit inconvenient. Summer time makes the system operate at a higher overall temperature, too, which increases the evaporation that much more.

It’s not all that pretty. I had bought the blue glass rocks to spice up the tank and had some plans to make it look nicer but I just never bothered. It takes up a huge amount of space and cleaning it between refills isn’t fun.

It’s not all bad, though, the cooling performance is insane and it cost half of what a typical water cooling loop would. In all this system should cost around $130 USD which is about the price of a radiator and reservoir alone.

If your goal is silent computing this isn’t the way to go. High quality air cooling can do much better with little to no maintenance. Traditional water cooling loops can achieve similar performance with quieter results assuming you’ve invested in high quality fans. That said, if your goal is to build a cheap water cooling loop that works well then I can’t think of a better solution.

 

GTX 560 Ti SLi vs GTX 970 SC

970

The comparison no one asked for but here it is. I’ve always been fascinated by nVidia’s SLi technology, shotgunning multiple videocards to multiply graphics performance. Of course, it’s not a perfect technology. You’ll see the same or better performance investing the same money into a single better graphics card, performance doesn’t scale 1:1, and the difference between minimum and average frame rate typically grows as you add cards (citation). So why do it? For me, I was adding a second card after I had owned the first one for a while. Prices dropped and and it became reasonable to invest a few extra dollars to increase my system’s performance. Later I was simply given two identical cards that were a whole generation newer, so I had no real reason to run a single card. Now that I’ve been gifted a GTX 970 SC it’s time to compare multiple older cards to a single current one.

The system the cards are being tested in consists of a water-cooled AMD FX-8350 overclocked to 4.415 GHz, 16 GB of DDR3 at 2427.9 MHz, and an ASUS M5A99X-EVO motherboard packed inside an NXZT H440 case with stock cooling. The dual GTX 560 Ti cards are from Palit (I hadn’t heard of them either) while the GTX 970 SC is from EVGA.

First up is the most standard test, 3D Mark Firestrike. Thanks to consistent settings across all systems this is the most reliable test for comparing performance, though it’s arguably not “real-world” performance. The highest score I was able to manage utilizing the dual GTX 560 Ti configuration was 5332. With the single GTX 970 SC my score jumped 62.9% to 8685. While this is a pretty huge jump I wasn’t completely satisfied since my score was still slightly below the “Oculus Rift spec” of 9271. To combat this I moved the card up to the top PCI-e slot, figuring the lower slots might be limited to x8 speed. Moving the card up brought my Firestrike score up to 8854. This could be because of the added bandwidth afforded by the x16 slot or it could be the result of, well, any number of things. I didn’t move the card down to see if that brought the scores back down, but it was at least an interesting change.

Next was the 3D Mark Sky Diver test. I scored 16,082 with the dual 560s and 24,612 with the single 970; a gain of 53%. It makes sense that the jump here wouldn’t be as big as we saw with Firestrike since it’s using older rendering technology and throwing memory and DirectX 12 support at it doesn’t really help here.

3D Mark, 2x GTX 560 Ti vs GTX 970 SC.
3D Mark, 2x GTX 560 Ti vs GTX 970 SC.

The most impressive by far test was Tomb Raider. Using the default settings on “ultra”, a resolution of 1680×1050 @ 120 Hz and V-sync off I got a minimum frame rate of 90, maximum of 140, and an average of 116.4 frames per second. With the new setup those figures increased to 130.1, 198, and 165.7 frames per second for a gain of 44.6%, 41.4%, and 42.4% respectively. That in itself isn’t impressive but when I changed the settings to “ultimate” (identical to “ultra” but enables TressFX for rendering hair as strands rather than a single mass) the frame rates fell through the floor on the old setup. Minimum, maximum, and average frame rates were 3.6, 35, and 13. The minimum frame rate was under four frames per second and the average a meager 13. With the new system we saw a minimum of 82, maximum of 132, and an average of 107.9 frames per second. That equates to a gain of 2,177.8%, 277.1%, and 730%.

Min, max, and avg. frame rates in Tomb Raider.
Min, max, and avg. frame rates in Tomb Raider.

One benchmark came back with kind of the opposite result of Tomb Raider. Cinebench’s OpenGL test came back with 89.57 points with the 560s and 82.32 points with the 970, a gain of only 3.1%. I also ran the CPU test, just for giggles, and that resulted in a gain of 4.7%. Initially I thought that maybe the test only ran on the CPU using software but the reporting in Cinebench also tells you what GPU is being used so I’ll have to investigate.

Going back to trying to match or surpass the Oculus Rift spec score, when I ran Firestrike Extreme and Firestrike Ultra (neither of which could run on the 560s due to only having 1 GB of memory) I somehow got better results. In Extreme I beat the Oculus Rift score 5,136 to 4,926, and in Ultra I beat it 2,746 to 2,596. Other users are supposedly getting over 10,000 points in the standard Firestrike test using the same CPU and similar GPUs so I think there’s still some work to do.

Another observation, outside of performance, is noise. My 560s and my 460s before that both started to sound like aircraft taking off when they started to sweat, even after cleaning and reapplying thermal compound. I’ve supposedly thrown some pretty demanding processes at this new 970 and it never seems to break a sweat. In fact I can never tell if the fans are even spinning (which they don’t at idle). After running a benchmark the temperature drops from an already-cool low-70s to low 50s within seconds. I’m honestly baffled at how this is even possible but I’m not complaining; I’m just not sure if the 970 is even being taxed at this point.

Conclusion: Shockingly, a single modern, high-end video card is better than two old ones taped together.

How-To: Play Import Playstation Games

For most gamers importing Japanese games is a novelty, allowing us to play slightly different versions of games that eventually made their way to North America. Maybe there was a change made during localization, like the post-race animations in Super Mario Kart, or maybe the game simply never officially left Japan. Games like Konami’s Beatmania only ever saw one release, giving Americans only a small taste of the over two-dozen Beatmania versions available for the Playstation and Playstation 2. Over the next few weeks and months I’ll be detailing, step-by-step, the process of playing import games on the various consoles I own.

The Sony Playstation is perhaps the easiest system to play import games on, not counting consoles that don’t have any type of region lockout like the Playstation 3 or Nintendo DS. While most systems that are easy to play imports on requires at least some amount of modification or extra software the Playstation only requires a North American game disc and a zip-tie. This guide assumes you’re using the original style Playstation. I don’t own a PSOne so I can’t say for sure how to do this on that style of Playstation or if this method even works with it.

  1. Trick your Playstation into thinking the lid is always closed.
    Open the lid and locate the round button at the back-right. When the lid closes a plastic tab depresses this button which tells the console the lid is closed. Push down on the button with the square end of the zip-tie and insert the flat end in the gap between the button and the well it sits in. Use a pair of scissors to cut the flat end of the zip-tie off so that it’s somewhat flush with the rest of the case. You’ll want to leave the tray open during these steps but once the game loads you can close the lid.
  2. Turn on the Playstation with a North American disc inside.
    I’d suggest using a disc you don’t care about, like a demo disc or a sports game due to the aggressive handling you’ll have to do with the disc. During this step the system is looking at the disc content to verify its a legitimate game disc from the correct region.
  3. Pull the disc out and pop in the import disc.
    After the Sony Computer Entertainment logo and its white background fade to black pull out the disc and replace it with the import disc as quickly as possible. I believe this is when the console is reading the table of contents from the disc so it knows where different key assets are physically located on the disc.
  4. Put the North American disc back in.
    Once the console detects the presence of the disc it will spin at its normal read speed. After about six seconds the disc will slow down noticeably. You should have a pretty large window of time to swap discs here.
  5. Put the import game back in.
    After the North American game is swapped back in the Playstation should try to boot it. As soon as the Playstation logo disappears pull out the North American disc and put the import back in as quickly as possible. The screen will probably stay black a second or two longer than normal, then you should see the opening cinematics.

That’s it. Assuming you already have a game from your region and a zip-tie this method should cost you nothing but the time it takes to jam the button and swap the discs back and forth. If the instructions here don’t quite click I’ve also made a video detailing the steps above.

#ProjectDream

Today I was notified of #ProjectDream. Initially I was flooded with stories of Sega’s long fabled Dreamcast 2. Current speculation says the Dreamcast 2 would be a small form-factor PC running an Intel Core i5 CPU and a GTX 740 GPU, would be backwards compatible with Dreamcast games and potentially Saturn games, and cost less than building your own PC. Adding fuel to the fire, Project Dream, the gang perpetually insisting their members are hard at work infiltrating Sega to make the Dreamcast 2 a reality, has posted a countdown timer on their website insinuating that some revelation will be revealed at the end of 2015. SEGAbits already has a lengthy article going into the history of this nonsense but here’s some key points that show this as being complete horse-ass:

  • Why would Sega invest in a new console?
    Really they wouldn’t. If any of this were true it would essentially be a Steam Machine, but then why build PCs at all when you can let other companies handle the financial risks of building these computers? Sega’s arcade hardware is already based on Intel x86 processors, nVidia graphics chips, and TDK solid state drives, why not repackage the software for distribution on Steam or a propritary storefront like EA’s Origin or Ubisoft’s Uplay? In a best-case scenario Sega could rebadge a special edition of an existing Steam Machine and call it a day.
  • Who’s going to pay for it?
    There are conflicting reports of it being both crowd funded as well as Sega interns, also members of Project Dream, working on proposals to bring to Sega’s higher-ups. Theoretically Sega could buy enough hardware in bulk to reduce the price of a consoles/PCs to below typical market rate but again, why? It’s a huge risk for a company that’s already struggling. Relying on crowd funding is laughable. History has shown that large-scale operations like this simply cannot be Kick Started; at best it would be supplemental to corporate funding.
  • Who’s going to buy it?
    Gamers already have a huge pool of hardware to play games on; Xbox 360, Xbox One, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Wii U, 3DS, Vita, tablets, phones, laptops, and dedicated gaming PCs. What incentive is there for gamers to drop another $4-600 on a box that only does things other hardware already does?
  • What are they going to play?
    The main selling point I’ve seen for the Dreamcast 2 is support for original Dreamcast games. There are three huge roadblocks here: physical media, licensing, and everything else.
    Dreamcast games came loaded on GD-ROM discs, basically CDs with a higher capacity. The current story being told is that games could be inserted into the Dreamcast 2, “installed” onto its hard drive, and played “natively” in 1080p over HDMI. Who is going to make new GD-ROM drives in enough capacity to make it cost effective? If there’s an optical drive it would need to support at least DVD, more likely Blu-Ray, meaning they’d need to manufacture a single drive that supports CD-ROM, GD-ROM, DVD-ROM, and BD-ROM all in one slim package. Once the games are somehow inside the system can they even be played? Legally, probably not. As many of us have seen with Xbox 360 emulation on the Xbox One and Playstation 2 emulation on the Playstation 4, most of the supported titles are are first-party with third-party titles rolling in over time. Aside from licensing the games, each game typically has music licenses which are very strict about how the game, and thus the music, can be used. So assuming the game is on the system and it’s legally allowed to be played, how is the game going to run? Sega would either need to reproduce the original Dreamcast/NAOMI hardware in a very small package (think Gamecube support in the Wii) or find a way to perfectly emulate the Dreamcast hardware with over 99.9% accuracy. If the Dreamcast 2 can’t play Dreamcast games it becomes a PC, so again, why would Sega invest in building gaming PCs?
  • Who is behind the countdown page?
    It sure as hell isn’t Sega. Aside from being hosted on ProjectDream.co, the name of the group unaffiliated with Sega, the background video announcing things like “Powerful”, “Next Gen”, and “Dream” is hosted on a YouTube channel called Games For You with the title “DC Revival Petition.” The rest of the videos are Shenmue gameplay with one video showing a copy of Shenmue running on an Xbox 360 emulator. Sounds official to me. Also the font used is Take Cover. Usually companies like Sega or the agencies they contract work out to don’t use free fonts.

So what could Sega be up to? Well, probably not much, but if they were going to make another push into the home market I have two theories. First, since their arcade hardware is all off-the-shelf PC hardware they could theoretically open up a distribution platform on PC like Steam, Origin, and Uplay, allowing users to buy arcade games with some restrictions to prevent arcades from building their own cabinets. This could upset arcade owners and potentially cut into Sega’s arcade business so that seems unlikely. The second possibility, which in no way do I think is even remotely plausible, is building an emulation layer, like the Xbox 360 emulation in the Xbox One, allowing users to download and play games from Sega’s arcade library. At that point, though, they may as well port the games and package them on compilation discs.

Any hopes of new Sega hardware in the home have been crushed, but there is some good news! There was once a real thing called project Dream, an RPG developed by Rare between Donkey Kong Country and Banjo-Kazooie. Check out the video for a brief history.

Dragon Ball Z + Ford?

I’m not usually a fan of companies, or more likely the ad agencies they contract with, using Intellectual property I grew up with to sell me products. More often than not it feels like pandering and I end up liking everything involved a little less. That being said, this commercial for the Ford Focus strikes an amazing balance between informing me of a products and it’s features and respecting the source material. And it’s pretty funny to boot.

Gym Battle Episode 2

Today’s trip to the gym was a little different than yesterday. The game felt a lot more grindy than it did yesterday which meant I was a lot more distracted by 2 Broke Girls on the gym’s TVs, which in turn made the game slower and less interesting. However, I did push through to Professor Sycamore’s lab, beating him in a battle, and receiving my second starter, Bulbasaur. Despite cycling for about the same time as yesterday I burned more calories and cycled further as well (stats below). I’m starting to think that, rather than major battles being my checkpoints, I should maybe start to look at milestones in the game. Maybe making my way through a cave system or arriving in a new city.

Oh. And apparently I can’t go the whole two hours anyway since my gym only validates parking for 2 hours. So 90 minutes it is.

Time: 90 minutes (187 minutes)
Calories:
325 (615)
Cycled:
15 miles (24.5 miles)
Badges: (1)
New Pokemon:
8 (30)

*Totals are in parenthesis.

Gym Battle Episode 1

My last job was at a car dealership taking photos and creating ad copy for their online advertising. This meant I was outside for six or seven hours each day, running from one end of the massive property to the other, climbing into and around all sizes of cars, trucks, and SUVs. I would also take the bus to work which added even more walking. Before that I had a typical desk job but frequented the gym that was across the street from where I worked. All this to say that, while not ripped, I’ve typically been active and somewhat fit. At my current job there’s been a lot more sitting and the only lifting I’ve been doing is the gallons of water it takes to refill my computer (I’ll do a separate post about that soon). I’ve gotten a little soft around the edges. In college you’d call it the Freshman 15 but at my work they often call it the Microsoft 20. I’m a little over six feet tall and at my peak fitness I was about 165 pounds. Now I’m 186 and none of that gain is muscle. It’s time for some of it to go.

I was largely inspired by Rooster Teeth co-founder Burnie Burns‘ system of keeping in shape; walking on a treadmill while gaming. During a Reddit AMA he answered a few questions about his weightloss.

I put a treadmill facing a wall, hung a TV on the wall and walked (slowly) while playing games.
Longest so far was ACIV, I walked 232 miles.
During my 60lb weight loss, my longest was when I walked 137 miles playing Fallout 3.

Don’t play FPS games. I almost crippled myself playing Halo once. I instinctively walked left when turning left and stepped off a moving treadmill.

I don’t have a treadmill but I do have a dusty gym membership. I’m not sure where I got the idea but I decided on erasing my save on Pokemon Y and challenging myself to get on a treadmill or cycling machine and not get off until I’ve beaten the next gym leader. I wasn’t sure if this was even possible since I doubt the game can be completed in 9 hours, counting the Elite Four and the Champion as a single gym encounter. So probably saying either beating the next gym leader or not leaving until I’ve walked/cycled for two hours. It sounds grueling and I’m sure it might be. I started this experiment yesterday and cycled for about 95 minutes, burning nearly 300 calories in the process. Hopefully my 3DS and I survive.

After each session I’m going to post some stats because, aside from being fun and interesting, they should also help track my progress and keep me motivated. Here’s yesterday’s.

Time: 97 minutes
Calories: 290
Cycled: 9.5 miles
Badges: 1
New Pokemon: 22

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Due to a series of completely preventable events coalescing into a perfect storm of data loss I no longer have any of my website databases. Any posts I’ve written here or on my photography site are all lost to the ether. I guess it’s fine, though, since now I have to get to restructure my sites, something that would have been a lot more daunting with months or years of posts. In the mean time things are probably going to be looking rather default.