Exclusive: AMD's amazingly tiny and powerful Project Quantum dissected!

We tear down this little, liquid-cooled, two-story PC to find out what makes it tick.

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Going inside

Enough with the buildup, let’s get inside this rig. Project Quantum features two compartments. The top integrates a 180mm radiator, a pump, and a unique reservoir. A fan sucks in air through the open center section and pushes it up through the radiator and out the top. You can easily get inside by removing four screws at the corners.

topoff Gordon Mah Ung

With the lid removed, you can see there’s a single large 180mm radiator on top, along with the pump and reservoir.

An unconventional PC

While the radiator and pump appear off-the-shelf, the reservoir is built just for Project Quantum. In the past, having a small run of custom reservoirs would be too cost-prohibitive, but the 3D printer revolution has changed everything. This tank is clearly 3D-printed, as is much of the hosing.

Parts of the hose are rubber, but the main lines that carry the liquid between the top half and the bottom half are 3D-printed in hard plastic. I’m not sure why AMD didn’t just use conventional hosing, but I suspect the company was concerned the tubes would folding or crimp, cutting off the flow. But then, maybe it’s just because this is an unconventional PC.

3dprintedtankagain Gordon Mah Ung

Here’s a better shot of the 3D-printed reservoir AMD made for Project Quantum.

A view of the backside

Flipping Project Quantum around to give you a better view: The LiquidVR logo is prominently displayed and reminds you of Project Quantum’s original purpose: to showcase AMD’s VR program. The round port on the lefthand side is where the power supply goes.

One way AMD saved space was to move the PSU outside of the case. This meant a lot of tricks internally, but an external power brick on a desktop case isn’t unheard of, nor a bad idea. It gets the heat from the PSU out of the system and lets AMD run a much larger unit. Unfortunately, AMD didn’t make the brick available for this autopsy, but from pictures I’ve seen of it, it’s very hefty and I suspect fairly high wattage. 

One of the limiting factors on system performance in a small-form-factor gaming machine today is getting enough power to run all the hardware. Power supply maker Silverstone, for example, made a big deal earlier this year about its 700-watt PSU that fits into micro-towers. 

projectquantum back Gordon Mah Ung

Here’s a shot of the back of Project Quantum. Note the LiquidVR logo.

Bottoms up

While the radiator, pump, and reservoir are all located on top, the bottom holds all of the electronics. To get inside it’s just four Phillips-head screws, and off comes the aluminum panel. The bottom half and the middle are aluminum, while the top is molded plastic.

With the bottom panel removed, you can see every single square inch of Project Quantum is put to use. Yes, that’s an AMD Radeon SSD, which is a rebrand of an OCZ SSD. Why AMD got into the SSD business (and memory business too) I’ve yet to figure out.

On the bottom is a Fury X card. As far as I can tell, it’s pretty much a stock Fiji XT card. I know, you were expecting a dual Fury X card, which AMD made a point of saying was inside Project Quantum at E3. I tried to get a dual-Fury X Project Quantum for this autopsy, but AMD wasn’t going to play.

bottomoff Gordon Mah Ung

AMD uses every square inch of the Project Quantum.

Conspiracy theorists unite

I know that’ll inspire the tinfoil-hat conspiracy theorists to say AMD never based any of the Project Quantum machines on a dual Fury X, and they faked the Apollo Moon landing too.

While I have nothing to contradict that theory, there are plenty of logical reasons why Number 5 isn’t a dual Fury X machine. The most obvious one is that AMD didn’t say all Project Quantum machines were dual Fury X-based. Even if only one Project Quantum were dual-GPU, that’d be enough. And because a dual card won’t ship for another few months, it’s unlikely AMD would leave its upcoming hotness outside its control.

fijixt over 290x Gordon Mah Ung

By putting a Fiji XT chip with its HBM memory over a Radeon R9 290X card, you can see just how much space AMD saves with the stacked HBM RAM.

There’s one other bit of evidence that led me to wonder whether this was the original GPU. The serial number of the system is 5, and several of the components were marked ‘5,’ too. But oddly, the Fury X in the machine above was marked ‘4.’ Maybe AMD just pulled out the dual card to keep it a secret longer?

Here’s an image Anandtech.com grabbed at Project Quantum’s E3 launch. The motherboard pictured here is roughly 9 inches long, but you can see the chips are closer together and it should fit, just barely, into the Project Quantum chassis. 

dualfiji2 anandtech.com

Anandtech.com grabbed this photo of a dual Fiji XT card at E3.

Getting the Fury X out of the machine is surprisingly easy. I removed several screws and pulled the tensioner that held the card to the water block. Then I just flipped out the entire assembly, including the PCIe right-angle adapter. If you look closely at the GPU, you can see the ‘4’ written on it, which suggests it came from Project Quantum Number 4. 

justanotherfiji

In this shot of the Fury X, it appears to be a stock card and is marked ‘4.’

A lot of Coke cans died for this

The card interfaces with this massive aluminum water block. Like the case, it’s all custom. Water flows through this machined aluminum chunk to cool the GPU and, on the opposite side, the CPU. It’s actually a pretty clever take on liquid cooling. In most small-form-factor machines I’ve seen that come close to this in size, it’s either a liquid-cooled GPU or CPU, but not both.

By sandwiching the water block between both, AMD is able to cool both with minimal space and hoses. It is, however, still a massive chunk of aluminum. I was also surprised No. 5’s was aluminum. Videos AMD showed of Project Quantum machines previously had water blocks made of copper. which is a better thermal conductor but also more expensive, heavier, and harder to work with.

The water block seems to solve the dual-GPU mystery, though. Marked '5,' this block is clearly designed for a single GPU. A dual-GPU version would require its own custom-designed water block. Again, conspiracy nuts, the only thing this proves is that Number 5 wasn’t a dual setup. 

waterblockgpuside Gordon Mah Ung

The water block is all custom and a massive honking chunk of machined aluminum. 

Here’s a view of the same water block from the other side. It’s a single unit that’s sandwiched by the CPU and the GPU. Cooled liquid from the radiator flows through channels milled out of the water block. These little legs mount to the motherboard itself.

Read on...was that an Intel CPU we just saw? Say it ain't so!

waterblock Gordon Mah Ung

Here’s the entire water block lifted out of the machine.

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