On the surface, this build is a very odd one; I’ve essentially selected a case with rather poor cooling potential, filled it with powerful, yet non-overclockable hardware, and put a lot of money towards building a custom water cooling loop to keep it all from getting fried. The voice of reason would have put everything in a well-ventilated case, air-cooled it all and called it a day.
But I don’t always follow the voice of reason, and I wanted to build something that was not just a computer, but also a work of art that would inspire conversation. Computers are too often generic boxes, with very little to set them apart. Such is not the case for this build. I wanted it to have character; I wanted people that see it to pause and wonder about it for a bit. Something that at first glance isn’t obviously a traditional computer. I was inspired by sci-fi machines that appear old yet powerful, something that would look like it’s out of the movie City of Ember. (Not a great movie, but the setting and visuals were interesting).
It all started with the case, which is absolutely beautiful to behold. The materials are wonderful, and the entire side panels are true windows, made of tinted tempered glass. There is no better case to build a work of technical art in. Unfortunately, it only has two fan cut-outs for the entire case: a 92mm opening at the back, and a 140mm opening at the bottom. This would prove challenging for the cooling setup, but it was workable in the end.
The thermals of the case and cooling system would not be very accommodating to overclocking, so getting an unlocked CPU would not be very useful. I decided on the Xeon 1230v3 because I still wanted the 4-core, 8-thread performance for Lightroom and Photoshop. I found that the Xeon runs at a lower stock voltage than most 4770k CPUs, so I suspect that some of the better binned parts become Xeons. The end result is a very stable CPU that runs at low temperatures, which is exactly what was needed for this build. The CPU is cooled by an EK Supremacy waterblock, which has worked well for me before in other builds.
The motherboard is a rather ordinary B85-based board that supports the Xeon perfectly well, has all the SATA ports I need, and fits well in the colour scheme. Even though the case can fit a full ATX board, I chose a mATX model to leave some space for watercooling parts.
The RAM is rather standard DDR3-1600 CL10. I essentially chose it for its colour.
I was able to get a used R9 290 for $280 in early summer and used it in this build. I could certainly have gotten by with a less powerful GPU, but the price for this one wasn’t too bad, and it’s rather easy to get a full cover waterblock and for R9 290. In this case, I used an EK copper/plexi full cover block. EK also recently released a gold anodized backplate for the 290 that fits right in with the build theme, so I added one in.
Storage wise, I used Kingston HyperX 3k 240GB SSD and a Seagate Barracuda 3TG HDD. The SSD performs very well (similar to the Samsung 840EVO), and came with a free copy of Watch Dogs at the time I bought it. The HDD is rather generic, but has good performance for the price (slightly better than WD Blue in my tests).
The workstation is powered by a Corsair CX600M PSU. It’s a run-of-the-mill PSU, but the entire system uses 500W at the highest possible load (Intel Burn Test and Furmark running at the same time), so it’s sufficient for the task. Typical loading is 200-300W. The black ribbon-style cables do not detract from the look of the build, which is something I was looking for. The CX series are also short enough I was able to route the cables to the back easily. Most 600W PSUs are too long to fit well in the InWin 904.
Cooling wise, I wanted to design a water loop that looks good, and that has the look of technology from another era, even a bit of a steampunk look. I had little choice when it comes to radiators; I had to use what fit in the case. I chose a Black Ice 92mm at the back, and a 140mm Magicool slim radiator at the bottom. Noctua fans were used with both exhausting air from the case. Fresh air comes in the back where the expansion card slots have been removed to fit the reservoir fitting and tubing. There was enough space to mount an EK X-RES 100 on a DDC pump over the bottom fan, but its coolant capacity is rather low. A bitspower plexi reservoir mounted below the motherboard provides added coolant capacity to absorb more heat for temporary processing load spikes. With proper lighting, the clear reservoir is one of the central visual elements of the build.
All fittings are compression-type, with Feser One orange UV-reactive cooling and orange tubing. The coolant provides some very interesting effects depending on the light it is exposed to. Strong UV turns it to a more opaque pastel orange; white light shows a green hue. Combinations of different lighting results in varying coolant colouring throughout the water loop, providing a very interesting effect. The top section is lit with white and UV LEDs. The front has while LEDs while the rear uses an orange CCFL. Finally, a UV LED strip below the horizontal reservoir creates an interesting effect.
The cooling loop works quite well despite the limited radiator surface. CPU temperatures under load are in the 65C range, and the max GPU temp is also in the mid-sixties. These temperatures are similar to what can be achieved with good air-cooling in a well-ventilated case. Considering the limited cooling characteristics of the InWin 904, I’m satisfied with the performance.
Performance-wise, this build makes a great quiet workstation with plenty of processing power for heavy photo and video workloads, as well as occasional gaming. It is also a great conversation piece, and good promotion for my small custom PC design and build business.