Strip Your PC Naked
Most computer users (you know, the sane ones) will never open their PC's case. A few may take the initiative to upgrade their video card or add an extra hard drive--and if you're reading this, you've likely done at least that much. But some seriously hard-core PC freaks spend about as much time tweaking their hardware as they do using it. For obsessive upgraders like them, normal desktop enclosures simply don't cut it. In this section we'll explain how to join the ranks of the truly insane enthusiasts by moving your rig into an open-air test bench.
Bleeding Edge vs. Bleeding Fingers
Open test benches--usually made from a few pieces of glued-together acrylic--provide several advantages over the boring old PC enclosures you're accustomed to seeing. Having quick and easy access to components becomes a necessity for extreme tweakers who push their systems to the limit through overclocking, as well as for users who constantly swap out parts. Also, placing the system in an open-air environment can greatly improve its operating temperatures and increase performance by allowing more overclocking headroom.
The risks that come with a test-bench setup are potentially disastrous. Since all of the hardware is exposed, the possibility of physical damage to your computer--and serious injury to you--increases exponentially. Let's face it, accidents happen. And moving from a normal, enclosed case to an open test bench is a little like stepping out of an amored car, stripping down to your skivvies, and hopping on a motorcycle. The margin for error decreases to nil. Curious children or pets should not be allowed to venture near the computer and its naked parts.
Choose Your Weapon
So you think you're ready to enter the world of the extreme PC modder? Luckily, you have a couple of good ways to set up an open-air test bench. If you have the time and the tools, you can build your own custom tech station with dimensions and features that fit your needs, using any old materials you have lying around; for ideas, see how one determined modder did it. For people who want to get in on the action quickly, a couple of well-designed test benches such as the HSPC Tech Station or the Danger Den Torture Rack are available for purchase. We recommend the Torture Rack for its sexy acrylic design and its ability to house water-cooling loops (see the next page) right out of the box.
Location, Location, Location
Now that you have a killer tech station sitting on your desk, component placement is vital to achieve superior results. Set the motherboard on the top level for easiest availability. You can install gigantic CPU heat sinks without the hassle of removing the motherboard or working in an enclosed case. You can position additional fans quickly to help cool down the system during your grueling overclocking sessions. Place all other parts, such as the power supply and hard drives, out of the way on the lower level since you won't access them much.
Max It Out
Using a system installed on a test bench can be dangerous, but the benefits can definitely offset the risks involved as long as the computer remains in a controlled environment. With this setup, you can tweak to your heart's desire and overclock until you've squeezed every last clock cycle from your PC.