We all know what the many benefits of building a PC are, but occasionally we overlook some of the factors that keep our PC in check and keep us smiling. Airflow and cable management can certainly improve how we build and maintain our systems, and even having a basic knowledge of the two can make all the difference in creating a rig you truly admire through the years & upgrades. So, why should you care about airflow, and what’s all the fuss about cable management?
Case in point: my friend Thomas. He’s always playing the latest games, editing surf videos, or hanging out with his BF3 clan. He never has to worry about his GPU not running a Crysis 2 or Skyrim type of game, and he’s never concerned about a lack of hard drive space.
But when I took a look at Thomas’ machine two weeks ago, I had one of those teeth-grinding, stomach-unsettling moments. In one word, yikes. Check out the dust buildup on the fan filters (see our Facebook gallery) and, much worse, on the PSU itself! And what about that “rat’s nest” of cables?
This isn’t a knock against any of the components (after all, he reps Antec a little here, too) but rather an acknowledgment that Thomas did well in PC Neglect 101. He has to run his PC open-panel so that he has enough cooling for his components, and I guarantee he’s not proud to show that off.
So I decided to help Thomas build a computer with plenty of included airflow and more than enough room to neatly arrange his components and keep dust (and dog!) to a minimum.
I set my friend up with an Eleven Hundred, but this case was a little different from the retail model. It came from one of our earlier projects and had been stripped of both the top 200mm and rear 120mm fans. In addition, the windowed side panel had been replaced with a P280 side panel layered with polycarbonate to reduce noise. So what could we create from this altered chassis? Let’s have a look!
Recognizing the case was bare of cooling components, I gathered some 120mm case fans: two TriCool™s for front intake and an aesthetic touch, two TwoCool™s on the left for internal air intake, and one TwoCool Blue LED intake fan to mount on the motherboard-side panel to cool the back of the CPU. I killed two birds with one stone by upgrading the rear exhaust setup to a KUHLER H2O 620, making CPU operation during gaming less strenuous.
I did some preliminary work for Thomas by installing the fans and paying particular attention to cable management. By taking my time and installing them more than once, I found out that even the orientation of the fan can make a difference in cable routing. Looking at the internal TwoCools, you can see I rotated the fan frame 90 degrees counter clockwise to provide a more flush option for cable management and to show less wiring inside the chassis. This virtually does nothing to airflow, but it adds up when you add in more parts and present your build.
I won’t show every step here but again refer you to the Antec Facebook gallery for a more thorough look.
Airflow fo sho!
Thomas had an interesting mix of components for us to work with. Though his processor and motherboard were from a generation or two ago, he was running an EVGA GTX 570; knowing this, I expected future upgrades in his future and decided to build accordingly.
Remember, he used to run his PC with the side panel off. As you may have experienced before, that’s a potential dustaster…er, disaster. Besides, there’s one other entity to consider here. <wait for it…> OMG A PUPPY!!! This is Latte, quite possibly the sweetest canine around. You wouldn’t want to see her stick her nose in a beautifully assembled PC and cause damage to herself — or worse, the PC!
So I had to provide enough internal airflow to convince Thomas and his pooch that running a closed-panel computer would be just fine for his GTX 570. Two front intake fans + two internal intake fans should definitely handle the job. And when that AMD CPU is working hard during long Old Republic or Diablo 3 sessions, it’s got plenty of backup with a backplate cooling fan and one of our handy KUHLER H2O 620 water coolers.
Tangled up in Cable Management
Like most builds out there, the most difficult step in assembling this computer was cable management. If you want your build to look clean and neat, I think you have to keep cable management in mind throughout your entire building process. We certainly took this approach!
Developing an effective cable routing strategy for the four-year old EarthWatts power supply was quite the puzzle. We took advantage of the Eleven Hundred’s bottom cable routing hole to tuck away most of the cables initially. Next, we moved onto the routing holes along the right side of the motherboard tray. Plugging in the 24-pin connector and 6+2 PCI-E connector were fairly straightforward, but the 8-pin motherboard connector was quite the conundrum!
No matter the power supply’s orientation, we could not get the 8-pin to fit without showing it in its not-so-dainty entirety. We nearly achieved a successful routing through the holes on the right side, but alas, no dice. So I decided to take a dangerous approach and stick the 8-pin behind the motherboard. For the sake of one’s motherboard, don’t try this at home unless you’re nearing a mobo upgrade. But I gotta say, once it’s plugged in, it looks clean; you can’t even see the motherboard’s bulge.
Moving onto the hard drive cabling. Now this was interesting to say the least! Thomas still uses his laptop hard drive and won’t part ways any time soon. On top of that, he uses quite the conspicuous (and archaic) yellow IDE cable for his DVD drive. There was no way around this one unfortunately. As for his thick, brightly colored SATA connectors that mysteriously make me think of cherry Airheads, I wrestled them down with a couple cable ties to cut down on their bulkiness inside the chassis. We would have routed them differently to tuck them behind the chassis more, but we couldn’t get them to fit to connect to the HDDs and at this point, our grommets were building up with cables. At the end of the day, we’re not afraid of the visible wiring given the non-modular PSU and some of the large and awkward cables we had to work with.
Perhaps the easiest part of routing the cables came behind the motherboard tray. Usually, you have to spread your cables along the back of the motherboard tray and even tie them down on the hooks in order to fit the panel back on. With the Eleven Hundred, even with a non-modular power supply, we could be as lazy as we wanted! As you can see from the picture, we mostly lumped all the wiring from the different routing holes together and secured them with a couple zip ties. Thomas fit the panel back on with a firm push but without a resulting “cable bulge” you would normally feel from the outside. Okay, so we could have dragged some of the wiring and fastened them down with the motherboard tray’s hooks, but Thomas was anxious to get this done while his GPU drivers were still current!
So there you have it! Given the assortment of cables and components, I’d say Thomas and I did a great job making his build more presentable, better cooled, and primed for upgrades in the future. His three HDDs have plenty of airflow from the front. Our KUHLER H2O is quietly operating and will do a great job aiding the CPU even when it’s on its last legs.
We still have a problem with the top 200mm fan grill exposed, but perhaps we can start a modding project and take full advantage of every nook & cranny of this machine. Let’s not forget the P280 side panel which, while not the most important feature to a quiet PC, will reduce some of the noise and make a good addition aesthetically.
Now Thomas has the gaming PC he’s wanted all along. He’s got the same performance from his GPU, RAM, and PSU, but he’s now more likely to get that level of performance even further down the road. With a little help from Antec and its products, you can create your perfect PC (or close enough!) that will put you, and even your four-legged friend, at ease.
With the Antec blog, I’m Nick Pinkerton. Hunt Well.