Saturday, August 28, 2010

Birthday Build – Catawampus

I tried to figure out how people were attaching the radiator to the case.  I didn’t like what I was seeing.  If you look at this picture;  (easier to see if you click on the image and blow it up from the site it takes you too)

You can see the fans are connected through the case on the far left and right, but are connected directly to the radiator in the middle.  The far right fan would not be connected to the case at all.  All the fans would be at angles putting torque on the brackets.  Ick!! (technical term.) 

So what I decided to do was connect the radiator to the computer cross members, and use nylon spacers for a bit of metal protection and vibration damping.

You can see the 4 screw holes where I now have two screws already inserted.  The problem there is that the mounting kit assumes you going to use screws that go through the fan.  So, I had to run out and find really short screws.  Otherwise, they would puncture right through the radiator.  I’ve heard that a leaky radiator is bad around computers.  So, I opted to get the shorter screws.

Here we go ---- (ignoring fingerprints)

I’ll be using two 140mm fans on top instead three 120s.  I’ll always be blowing into the case instead of out like you would in an air cooled system. 

That’s as far as I’ll get until my replacement fans get here.  I’ve got to work out a mounting system for the Helix radiator and the inverter.  I’ll post something if I get that figured out.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Birthday Build – Helix FTW

You can’t build an over the top water cooling rig without some absolutely essential components that provide absolutely no functionality to the system at all. I think I found the perfect addition.

I bring you the Liquid Fusion reservoir. Technically, it does hold water so it is legal part of any water cooling system. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

So what does it do? Well, that thin tube going directly down the middle is a UV light. The yellow helix is UV reactive. So, you fill it up with water, connect it to the pump and water shoots through it. You then UV treat the water and turn on the light. Instant light show!

In order to use cold cathode and/or uv in your system, you need a power inverter. So, this guy right down here will get mounted somewhere inside the box and have lots of nice shiny things attached to it.

Birthday Build – Water Block, no plunger required

Now that we have a thingy(tm) to push the water into the thingy(tm) that cools the water down, we obviously need something that connects to the thingy(tm) that we are trying to cool down. Otherwise, what’s the point? We’ll eventually have something to attach this thingy(tm) to that actually needs cooling, but that’s quite a few posts from now.

This particular thingy(tm) is also known by it’s far less technical name, Water Block. The idea behind a water block is to attach as directly as possible to the CPU(or other heat producing component). It also needs to be engineered to allow as much heat transfer as fast as possible. Water is then blasted into it to carry that heat away as fast as possible. It acts as sort of a heat sponge, only made of very heavy/dense copper. Copper is kind of the Bounty super picker upper of heat. At least, in a metal that we can actually afford.

Choosing a water block doesn’t really have all of the other issues discussed so far. It’s stuff like;

  1. Does it fit on my motherboard?
  2. Does it work with my CPU?
  3. Does it support the fittings I want to use?

Pretty trivial stuff. So, it was fairly simple to find a “really good” water block that met my requirements.

Meet the Apogee XT

If you click the picture and pull up the one on the web and zoom in, you will see the hole in the middle and the one that’s just a little up and to the right of it. That’s where you screw in the plugs that the hoses connect to.

This is the bottom part. The copper sits on top of the CPU. The black bracket is secured to the mother board and clamped down to keep the block in firm contact with the CPU.

Birthday Build – Pumps are not just shoes for women

In order to get water into the nice fancy radiator you need a nice fancy pump! So, as fate would have it, some kind soul bought me one for my birthday. I have a kind soul, I swear.

Just like the radiator, you have to go through a checklist of trade offs to determine what is the right choice.

  1. How hot are the things you are going to cool. Flow Rate is the measurement that seems to drive how well things cool. The more water you can push through the system, the better it cools.
  2. But, the longer the loop, the more corners the water has to turn and the more restrictions to flow (such as water blocks … next post) the more pressure the pump has to be able to produce to maintain the same flow rate. Biggest, badest pump is the best right?
  3. Not so fast… Due to some strange laws of physics it isn’t always that straight forward. For example if you split the flow in to two loops, you can maintain separate pressures in each loop, allowing a pump to move massively more water than it could in a single loop. In a short loop with minimal impingements, a smaller pump might actually be drastically more efficient. Remember beating the water with the pump actually heats up the water.
  4. Are you going to run multiple loops? The answer for me is yes.
  5. Again with the noise vs power question.
  6. And, a major influencer for me was this question; Is the pump supported by lots of after market doodads to make my water cooling experience more enjoyable?

There is a ton more technical type arguing that I found when trying to pick a pump. But the answer turned out to be fairly easy in the end. I’m going to be running multiple loops and the community has pretty much defacto standardized the DC5 for mid flow systems. So, there are tons of after market products for it. This is actually a Swiftech MCP655, which is just an US distro version of the pump.

Notice it looks a heck of a lot like a fish tank pump. That seems to be where most of the pumps came from in the early days of water cooled PCs. The radiators came from 70s era Chevy heat pumps. I know you were dying to know stuff like that.

Man, am I glad I didn’t try to make a living as a hand model.

Birthday Build – car parts

The first few water cooling bits showed up.

Deciding on a Radiator requires you to decide on several factors

  1. How will it fit in or on the case? Size really matters when you try to mount the dang things.
  2. Do you want low noise, low temps to support over-clocking or a compromise between those two?
  3. How many items in the build are you going to cool with any given radiator? Nothing says you can only have one radiator. In fact, I’ll probably end up with at least two in this thing before I’m done.
  4. How much money do you have, including the kids college fund?
  5. How much money can you borrow from the bank?
  6. How much money can you borrow from your relatives?

I struck out on 4, 5 and 6, so I ended up with a high quality purpose built unit from Hardware Labs. It’s about 16” x 51/2”. It will attach fairly easily (easy is a relative term when it comes to this kind of thing) to the top bracing of the case. If that doesn’t make any sense, don’t sweat it. Pics will follow when I get that far.

This particular model supports the mounting of 3 120mm fans on each side in a push/pull configuration. I decided against the SR1 version of this radiator that is specifically designed for low noise. I debated it as normally my goal is a silent PC. My current PC has heat piped video card, huge fanless block on the CPU. You can’t hear it when I turn it on at all. The hard drives make some noise if accessed at full bandwidth but that’s it. So, it was a hard call to go with a noisier solution. But, an over the top build requires over the top over-clocking, which means the more powerful radiator designed for high pressure air flow.

Ok, enough blah, blah, blah … Here’s what it looks like

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Birthday Build – PSU, Power Supply not Penn State

To build a big, beefy computer system that has lots of peripherals to run, you need a big, beefy power supply that won’t wilt under load.  I read lots of reviews and basically decided to go with a Cooler Master bundle instead of the “best/biggest/meanest PSU” available.  What I ended up with is the Silent Pro Gold 1200W from Cooler Master.  Same company as the case.

Make no mistake this is an excellent PSU.  It just isn’t the absolute pinnacle of PSUs.  However, in the bundle I saved $50.  To get one of the 1200W to 1500W PSUs that were coming out on top of this one in the benchmark reviews would have cost an additional $100 to $150.  That’s a $150 to $200 swing to get a very small improvement in performance that I probably will never notice (hopefully).   Bleh, only two parts and I’m already making budget decisions on a system that itself has nothing to do with a budget.  Oh well, lets look at how this fits into the case.

There are quite a few excellent examples of the “extra mile” features of the HAFX case when dealing with the PSU.  Look below the 1200W label on the bottom right of the PSU.  There are rubber bumpers to rest the PSU on.  This minimizes vibration and gives the PUS breathing space for the fan that is on the bottom of the PSU.

Also, the Case itself is elevated just a bit on sled rails and is vented below the PSU giving additional air flow.  It may not seem like a lot.  But if you have tried to cool a case without these configurations you will appreciate them a lot.

The cases cable routing system sends the PSU cables out the back instead of keeping them in the main chamber of the case. 

Back side view.  This side will be completely covered.  Notice the nice little cable tie islets going up next to the grommets.  Another small attention to detail feature.

Finally the HAFX provides a sliding cover to hide the cables going out the back and to provide a mounting point for reservoirs, pumps or other accessories.  Another nice touch that %99 of cases don’t have.

We now have power.  Next we’ll work on getting the water cooling solution in place.

Birthday Build – A Case for Cases

We have officially begun the Birthday Build. 

I did a long and arduous search for the perfect computer chassis.  Unfortunately, I found out that there isn’t one.  There are only cases that meet some needs, but are weak in other areas.

My list of needs/wants

  • Support Water Cooling well
  • Support New larger XL-ATX motherboards
  • Cable Management
  • Lots of Bays
  • Blingable

What I came up with was the Cooler Master HAF X

The only down side to this case is that it is very industrial looking.  So, it’s more difficult to pimp out this rig.  Notice the side casing has a huge fan on it where you would normally have plexiglass.  That will be something to work on when we get to the bling stage.  The fan is excellent if you going for a completely air cooled system.  And, if you are only water cooling the CPU, this is an excellent addition for keeping the video cards cool with a possibly reduced air flow caused by radiator implementations.  But, if you are going %100 water cooled, you don’t need or want that fan.  Which takes us back to the “no perfect case” problem.  But, as you will see as we build this thing out, the overall feature set of this case is phenomenal.

Looking inside you can see just how spacious the case is.  Notice the bundle of blue and red wires coming through.  That is a great indicator of the cable management features of this case.  There is a recess behind the grommets.  The majority of the cable runs can be hidden behind the plate.  This does two things.  #1: It keeps the cables out of the air flow.  This is very important for high end systems that produce a lot of heat.  #2: It makes the system look really clean when you are going for a good looking system.  Since we are going for both 1 and 2, this case is a great choice.

The case has support for USB-3 and eSATA to the front console.  It has two hot swap bays.  Device cables are very accessible even after installation.  All these things add up to one killer case.

Taylor’s major contribution to this decision is that she really digs the fan that you see on edge at the bottom right of this picture.  It’s the clear plastic piece. To give some sense of the size of the case, that fan is humongous 230mm (9”).  When you turn the case on, it glows red and/or can be set to flash.  BLING!

Birthday Build

It’s that time of year again.  Birthday time.  I don’t blog often, but I thought I’d give it a try for this little project.  Trying to decide what a suitable birthday present is gets tougher as more years pile up.

After much contemplation and a happy coincidence, I’ve come up with a great present!  I’m going to build a rather over the top water cooled behemoth of a PC.  The happy coincidence is that I’d mentioned to Rd (the wife) that I was itching to build a new PC and I’d probably start soon.  I figured I’d better head off that uncomfortable moment when the wife asks what this $200 charge to Danger Den is all about.  Followed by “What the hell is Danger Den?”  

Taylor (the daughter) said “Hey, that’s sounds fun.  Can I help?”  She explained she was in a computer class at school and it was turning out to be fun.  My inner nerd cockles were all fuzzy happy at that point.  I combined all of this into one great present.  I get to build a stupidly powerful PC, with extra bling that has no function other than it’s blingyness.  And, I get to do it with “the daughter.”  And “the wife” won’t stab me in my sleep because of a $500 charge to Danger Den (please ignore the increase in funding expectations created  by going legit.)   Now THAT is a birthday present.

So, over the next few months I’ll take you through the various stages of choosing pieces and parts.  And hopefully have it all fired up before Christmas.  That way I can choose to build a computer for Christmas too! 

Saturday, April 11, 2009


I listened to the last few  Stackoverflow Podcasts where Joel Spolsky started, then continued, one of his patented offhanded attacks on the some corner of the software industry establishment.  And, those just happen to be my favorite thing about the podcast.   In this case it was his extreme distaste for “Architects.”  Or, to be fair, he was more referring to the TITLE of Architect and some puffed up anti-coders who justify their existence through the use of the moniker.

Of course Jeff Atwood pretty much fell in line and agreed with Joel, basically because Jeff see’s the world through programmer goggles(tm). By the way, Jeff doesn’t always agree with Joel, it was just fairly predictable that in this case he would because it favored a programmer centric view of the software world.

So, the question is “Is there a legitimate use for the title Architect, or is it just a trumped up label for programmers who can’t program, and spend most of their day making real programmers lives difficult?” 

I think the answer is another case of … it depends.  I think Jeff and Joel tend to focus on single well focused applications that have smallish teams that can accomplish the business task set before them.  By smallish, I would set the number at less than 75  total people involved with the development process, programmers, designers, CM, testers etc...  In many cases it could be less than 4 or 5. 

In those cases the jobs will have a tendency to overlap, the application and the platform involved will be well understood by the entire team.  The entire application concept across all disciplines will be shared by pretty much everyone to some degree.  In these cases the term Architect is really just the guy who herds the cats along the technology timeline.

So, before I say why I think the title can be a legitimate title in some scenarios, let me provide a high level definition of what I think a few software development titles entail;

  • Architect (Vision):  The person responsible for understanding the past, present and future of an application and it’s outlying dependencies.  How the application fits into the business goals and models of the company.  And, convey that information to both the management to help them make good “forward” decisions and to the development staff to help avoid painting code into corners.  This is NOT the CTO or CIO which are both making strictly business decisions.  This is someone who should be helping those positions make good choices.
  • Engineer(Details):  I always view this person as the worlds most complicated documentation writer.  This person should understand how to document an application so that if the disaster happens the new team can figure out how to get rolling.  Everything from UML diagrams, IDEF docs, specifications, installation documentation, day to day operations process documentation, CM process documentation, coding standards etc..  In other words the engineer is responsible for documenting not only how the software works, but how the team works and how the business interacts with the customer.
  • Programmer(Execution): Realize the operational and functional requirements that support the business goals in code.  And a lot more … but that’s the focus.

So back to the architect.  Although all of these hats can be worn by senior programmers, the size and breadth of some applications can require specialization.  In government development for example, you can have small coding task that are tied to multi-platform, multi-organizational, multi-jurisdiction, multi-policy requirements. 

The code requirements can be very straight forward from a functional requirement standpoint, but the deployment and security implementation rules might be extremely tedious.  Maybe some government agency is looking at a new security infrastructure and want to test it in the framework you are going to deploy into.

In other words, the amount of information one person needs to keep up with about all of the things that impact the life of your application become of over-riding importance.  I know in the government world those outside factors rarely have anything to do with the functionality of the application.  It has to do with managing thousands of applications throughout their life.

In that type of scenario I think an architect is not only valid, it is essential.  You need someone who understands your app out in the world talking with the people making IT decisions at the “family size” level.  Remember that policy is going to be established more or less globally, not on an app by app basis.  Budgets for infrastructure will determine where you need to be targeting your application. 

I could go on and on about the things that an architect needs to do in this environment, but I wanted to finish by agreeing with some additional points Joel and Jeff acknowledged.  If there really is an “Architect” it should be someone with a deep experience pool.  The person should also be cross discipline capable.  There are a lot of business case and policy issues involved with big programs.  Architects need to be able to translate those into functional/technical requirements that programmers can understand.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Is RIA the new Client Server?

I was just working on an old JDK 1.1 based web application that was running on Oracles implementation of Apache’s old JServ. Yes, I get all the cool new bleeding edge assignments. At the same time I was doing a bit of analysis on an upcoming task that looks to be a bit more modern with dashboard functionality, drilldown reporting, pretty pictures and possibly some streaming audio.

What struck me about the old code is how absolutely stripped down the client side of the servlet based web application was. It was completely static content with the most basic request/response paradigm possible. Almost no session data to track, other than a few settings in a cookie. No back button history issues, no controls, no local eventing, no java script, no nothing. Just some good ol’ html input tags inside an html form.

Remember I’ve got eye number 2 mulling over some possible directions we can take for this 12+ year old client server application written with Oracle Forms.

This is what popped into my head. Silverlight, Adobe Air/Flash and JavaFX programming paradigms seem to have more in common with Oracle Forms than the old servlet based web application that I was working on.

So here I am trying to figure out how to “un-clientserver” an application and bring it to the “modern ages” but the client code and environment is going to end up looking very similar to what’s already there. It will have more in common with the Oracle Forms app than the servlet app. SAY IT ISN’T SO!!

OK, here’s the disclaimer. I know the benefits of getting off of a thick client architecture. It just seems funny to me that it’s possible that we’ve replaced something that did what it was supposed to (the old html app) with something that works like the model it was supposed to replace (the client server app).

Here’s some general hot points:

html centric: static data, all you need is the browser, sandboxed, low/burst bandwidth utilization, very deployable, centralized administration, business code is in a single location(ok, maybe that is too idealistic), upgrades happen at the web server not every client etc..

client server centric: have to install and manage the client platform software and drivers and keep them version synched on every machine, heavy traffic, need system level access, business rules are embedded in every client, proprietary client platforms are very difficult to maintain and cause dependency to the technologies that single vendor supports ...

RIA centric: Let’s see, you have to have client side platform software installed and maintained, tons of business logic on the client side for control manipulation, security management and UI building based on user information, we spend tons of time trying to figure out how to get around the browser sandbox for content manipulation and so on. PLUS we are starting to stream BOAT LOADS of data, goodbye thin client….

So, have we really advanced? Or, are we just running around in circles thinking we are covering new ground because the hole is getting deeper on each pass? There are some seriously difficult code maintenance issues that come with a complex client server application. As the client side of RIA applications get more and more sophisticated and event and data management code becomes more complex, are we doomed to paint ourselves in the same corner?

What say you?