The Itch

In one of my previous posts I described my main machine. It’s the best workstation I’ve ever built for myself, providing the best of all possible worlds: it’s quiet under normal utilization, decently quick during video encodes, provides great gaming performance, and runs anything I can throw at it. What’s unique about this machine is that it’s the first airflow-focused build I’ve run in over ten years. The Fractal Design Torrent case has large openings on the front and bottom for air intake, and comes equipped with two 180mm fans in front and three 140mm fans on the bottom. Interestingly, the power supply compartment is at the top of the case, which I hadn’t seen since before 2010; however, it’s a bit more modern than cases of that vintage, in that the power supply is hidden behind a shroud and has ventilation holes, so the power supply has access to the air drawn into the case by the other fans.

The CPU is cooled by a Noctua NH-D15. This heatsink is absolutely enormous, almost comically oversized, but provides a lot of cooling power and stays quiet due to its large fans. In general, large fans are quieter because they have to spin at lower RPMs to move the same amount of air as smaller ones. Back in the day we primarily used 80mm fans, which are still used but very rare; the largest fan I’ve seen used in a case is 200mm, but that was in the Thermaltake Core V1, which is mini-ITX only.

While large diameter fans do tend to be quieter than smaller ones, they still get loud when they’re running at full tilt. Adjusting the fan curves in the BIOS is probably the best way to keep that noise in check; the Silent preset on the Gigabyte X570 Aorus Elite is perfect for this, but the tradeoff is that the CPU runs hotter on average. Given the size of the NH-D15 this isn’t too big a deal.

That brings us to the title of this post. I am happy with the performance of this machine. Upgrading to the Ryzen 9 5950X would reduce performance in gaming but increase it in video encodes, but I play games more than I encode videos. The Ryzen 7 5800X3D is the best gaming performer on the AM4 platform, but the reduction in thread count would decrease media performance. Therefore I don’t believe swapping the CPU would make me any happier. Increasing my machine’s RAM beyond 64GB wouldn’t do much. The GPU is the newest component in the rig and I have no desire to swap it out. I’ve upgraded the audio by using a Schiit Audio Fulla DAC. That leaves one thing: the case.

Every now and then I like swapping my machine’s case to keep it looking fresh, and to scratch that “I want to build a new computer” itch, without spending thousands of dollars on new components. At least, that’s what I’d have to do at this point — the only GPU I’d want to upgrade to is the Radeon RX 7900 XTX, which isn’t even out yet; upgrading the CPU would require going to the AM5 platform, which would require a new motherboard and DDR5 RAM.

Enter the Fractal Design North. That thing was announced four days ago, but the black version with the mesh side panel looks perfect for my workspace. It’s significantly smaller than the Torrent, which is nice because that thing is enormous. However, I’d also like to liquid cool the PC again, as simply lifting and shifting the mainboard with the NH-D15 attached doesn’t seem like it would be satisfying enough. So now we wait — I don’t believe the North is available anywhere at the moment, and I have research to do for the liquid cooling. That research is actually not as straightforward as I thought as it could lead me to sticking with the Torrent and building a custom loop. Alphacool makes a 2x180mm radiator and a waterblock for the reference RX 6750XT, which makes a building a custom loop an appealing challenge as well. Decisions, decisions.