Building the beast
I started the Ryzen 7 1800X build the same way I assemble all PCs: By building out the motherboard first. That’s much easier than slipping the motherboard into your case first, then adding all the components within the confined space.
Traditional storage is typically one of the last parts I slot into a DIY computer, but when you’re using a tiny M.2 SSD stick, it makes sense to slip it in right up front. Just been sure you don’t slam it while you’re working on the other hardware!
After that, it’s time to install the RAM. You always want to read the manual when you’re adding memory, as performance can be affected if you don’t insert the modules in the correct slots. In this case, reading the manual informed me of the need to insert the Corsair Vengeance LPX modules into the DDR_1 and DDR_2 slots when using two modules. Examining the board itself revealed that the slots weren’t labeled in numerical order, however; moving away from the CPU socket, the memory slots were DDR_4, DDR_2, DDR_3, and DDR_1.
Again: Always RTFM when you’re building a PC.
With the memory securely in place, it’s time for the star of the build to take its place. The Ryzen 7 1700X, like all AMD processors in recent memory, is riddled with dozens of tiny pins on the underside of the CPU. That’s scary! Bending those pins can kill your fancy new processor in a jiffy, so handle it carefully.
If you look at the underside of the Ryzen 7 1800X, one corner features a golden triangle; that matches up with a triangle on the corner of the CPU socket for proper installation of the chip. Do it right and the processor slips right in; do it wrong and the CPU won’t fit. Do it right, then lower and secure the retention lever on the side of the socket to hold the chip in place.
Cooler time! The exact procedure here will depend on which cooler you’re using; stock coolers install easily, while aftermarket coolers often involve more complicated preparation—liquid coolers doubly so. It’s always easier to install your cooler before inserting your motherboard in your case, however.
The Ryzen’d-up EKWB XLC Predator 240 came with an AM4-compatible motherboard bracket preinstalled, though I had to remove the existing mounting hardware on the motherboard to install EKWB’s custom solution.
Again: Read the manual! There are always unique requirements with custom coolers. In this case, when installing the new backplate on the rear of the motherboard, you need to make sure the Predator 240’s full rubber gasket lies between the backplate and the motherboard, and the ribs on the backplate faced outward. You’ll also need to make sure that the included PVC washers sit between the metal mounting hardware and the motherboard itself on the front side.
You have a couple of different options when installing a closed-loop liquid cooler. Some people prefer to install the motherboard, then the large radiator, then connect the two. I prefer to install the CLC on the CPU while both are still outside of the case, then install both in the motherboard. It’s a bit clunkier to handle while you’re slotting the hardware into your case, but it makes installing the cooling block easier—and it prevents the cooling block from potentially flapping around and damaging your precious hardware.
Anyhoo, after the mounting hardware’s in place, apply a pea-sized portion of thermal paste to the center of your processor, because that’s the only civilized way to apply thermal paste. Yank the protective sticker from the cooler’s water block, admire the mirror-finished copper surface, and slowly lower it onto the Ryzen 7 1800X. (The Predator’s hoses are stiff, so make sure the radiator is set aside in a safe position during the process.) Once that’s done, tighten the screws to secure the cooler to your processor.
It’s time to get this stuff in your case—after you install your motherboard’s I/O shield in the rear of the chassis, of course.
This is where the headaches began.
The Corsair Carbide 400C is slightly slimmer than most mid-tower cases, while the XLC Predator 240 is slightly fatter and wider than most closed-loop coolers. I’d intended to mount the CLC’s radiator to the top of the case—the usual placement for these—but between those two measurement oddities, the radiator simply wouldn’t fit, and it was by the most frustratingly slim of margins. There was simply no wiggle room; the radiator always bumped into the memory and motherboard I/O shield. No bueno.
Back to the drawing board.
After examining the case’s available fan placement and reading the EKWB’s manual, I quickly realized there was only one place for the Predator to go inside the Carbide 400C: Mounted to the front of the case, with the loops entering at the bottom due to the cooler’s water flow needs. Making it happen required ripping out the case’s hard drive bay—a potential deal-breaker if you need a mechanical hard drive in your PC, though you likely wouldn’t pair this case with all these water coolers in a real-world build. Fortunately, our Ryzen PC relies on that single slim M.2 SSD for storage. K.I.S.S. for the win!
Unfortunately, placing the EKWB cooler in the front also required me to rearrange every fan in the case for proper airflow. The placement requirements for the Radeon Fury X’s radiator further constrained the cooling possibilities, as it’s an exhaust-only configuration and essentially has to be mounted on the rear of the case, just above the graphics card itself. Also, I discovered that removing the front panel of the Carbide 400C (in order to install the radiator) is a major pain in the butt.
Ugh. I got through it all eventually. Seriously, though, if you’re hoping to recreate a build like this, buy a bigger case, like the spacious Corsair Obsidian 750D ($150 on Amazon) PCWorld uses for its dedicated graphics card testing system.
From there, everything’s relatively straightforward. I save power supply installation and cable management for the very end of a build, as it’s easier to cleanly route your wires after the major hardware’s been set into place. It mattered less in this build, since all those liquid-cooling loops in such a confined space make it looked cluttered regardless. Furthermore, the EKWB Predator’s loops draping down to the bottom of the case made it impossible to use the Carbide 400C’s drive bay cover, making it more difficult to hide the power supply cables at the bottom of the case. Alas.
I didn’t let the less-than-optimal cable management get me down, though. This rig is the unabashedly high-end, relentlessly water-cooled apex of AMD’s PC performance right now, and while it took some work, all this killer hardware fit into a sleek, small case it was never intended for. Giddy up.
Final page: Brief benchmarks