Brainstorming a silent (1-fan), brickless APU HTPC with a modded GPU heatsink

Valantar

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Jan 20, 2018
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To avoid making this as much of a wall of text (and pictures!) as possible, I'll be splitting this into a couple of posts. Tl;dr: I want feedback on my ideas for building what's in the title, both on my proposed cooler and how to build a case. Post 1 will focus on the idea/use case and cooler.



I've been playing with an idea for an HTPC build for at least a year now (it's still quite a while away from even potentially being realized, so no rush!), but I've decided I need some feedback/help in going forward, as I'm a bit stuck. The situation is this: in time, I want to move my current NAS/HTPC build (in a Fractal Node 304) out of the living room to full NAS duty and build a small, silent, light gaming-capable HTPC. A GPU is out of the question both due to price, utility (I really don't need it, the actual amount of gaming done on this will be small, and I can use Steam in-home streaming for anything demanding), size, and noise (vs. size, at least). I'm quite sensitive to high-pitched noise, so small fans are a big no-no. Its main use will be video playback, streamed or played off the NAS. It's also worth mentioning that I'm not willing/able to spend a fortune on this, and saving money/not spending too much is definitely a factor. Otherwise I'd just buy an S4 mini or something

For now, with what's available, the Ryzen APUs look like a good fit. I'll likely not be buying/building anything until the next generation is out, though. Choosing between the R3 and R5 (or their next-gen equivalents) is tricky, though. The performance difference isn't huge, and the price/perf favors the R3, but I like to keep my hardware for as long as possible, so I like to buy as fast as I can to make it last. As such, the additional $60-ish might be acceptable. Other specs are really not interesting; it'll have a suitable motherboard (the ASRock X470 ITX looks nice currently, but if something cheaper comes along with the right features, I'll take it), some RAM and an SSD. For a PSU, I've been going back and forth but for now I've landed on getting the HDPlex 160W AC-DC+DC-DC combo pack - it seems like good quality and a decent price, even if the ">80% Efficiency" is sad compared to (impossible to obtain in Norway without egregious import taxes) Mean Well EPP-series.

Now to the interesting part: the cooling. I have two old Arctic Accelero S1 GPU coolers lying around from back when I had Crossfire Radeon 4850s ten or so years ago.

Being rated for <150W GPUs passively, I'm thinking one of these should be able to keep an overclocked 65W APU (pulling 100-120 from what I've heard) cool if I put a 140mm fan on it, no? The S1 is a rather large heatsink with four hefty heatpipes and a copper base, after all. I also have a Noctua NF-A14 FLX lying around which should be an excellent companion. The cooler is large, about 22cm wide and 14cm tall, so (depending on CPU socket placement) it'll overhang the sides of the motherboard, and of course block the PCIe slot (not that I was going to use it, except maybe for one of those Silverstone remote power buttons). It'll also require a case "big" enough to fit it alongside the motherboard, with a 140x25mm fan stacked on top, plus the PSU and some spare room for a power switch and USB ports (I'm estimating around 25x25x12-13cm including wood or similar case panels). Picture is the cooler "test fit" on my Biostar X370GTN inside of my NZXT H200i (couldn't be bothered to pull the motherboard), with the cold plate centered on the CPU. It fit, but not with much room to spare.


The first issue with this is of course clearance, as the cooler is designed to lie almost flush over a GPU. Since I have two and no use for these otherwise, I decided I could sacrifice one for experimentation's sake. But lo and behold, the heatpipes bent quite easily. RAM clearance is fine over my TridentZ DIMMs, which makes me hope clearance is okay for the DC-DC PSU too. It looks weird, and the bend will affect airflow, but I think I can live with that. This turns into quite a tall cooler, though, especially with a 25mm thick fan on top. Some very rough measurements place it at around 7cm from the motherboard. With lower profile RAM I could bend it down quite a bit, but that would likely require snipping out some fins to clear the plug-in PSU (hopefully I wouldn't have to bend a heatpipe out of the way, that would be tricky).

I'd have to fabricate some sort of mounting mechanism to fit into the am4 backplate, but that should be doable, even with my limited skills and resources in terms of metalworking. My thinking for now is a rather simple metal rectangle that I can screw through into the threaded holes on the cooler's mount (see below), and some holes further out corresponding to the AM4 mounting holes where I can put a bolt or threaded rod and nut through. This ought to make for a secure mount, at least.

The cold plate is smaller than an AM4 heatspreader at 30x30mm, but I'm hoping that will be enough.



The cooler can also be mounted "backwards", by the way, at least on the Biostar board. Might alleviate any PSU clearance issues, but it would make plugging in CPU power, front panel audio and anything else close to the rear I/O a pain without removing the cooler. It could also interfere with any thick case material surrounding the rear I/O, but I can of course remove the black plastic shield on top of the cooler.


So: is this feasible? Do you think it would work for cooling an overclocked R5-2400G (and provide sufficient airflow for everything else in the case, including the PSU)?
 

smitty2k1

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Dec 3, 2016
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Sounds like a great project! Too bad the Mean Well is so expensive for you. I just got done doing a project with the Mean Well in a Realan case using the very cheap $22 Realan DC-ATX power board. I assume you already tried to source the Mean Well RPS-200-12-C too? (same as the EPP but with aa grounde housing) I guess all in all it was still pretty expensive because I had to source the wires, connectors, and crimp tool.
 

Valantar

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Jan 20, 2018
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Sounds like a great project! Too bad the Mean Well is so expensive for you. I just got done doing a project with the Mean Well in a Realan case using the very cheap $22 Realan DC-ATX power board. I assume you already tried to source the Mean Well RPS-200-12-C too? (same as the EPP but with aa grounde housing) I guess all in all it was still pretty expensive because I had to source the wires, connectors, and crimp tool.
I didn't know of that PSU, but sadly it isn't carried by the only domestic retailer I know of here in Norway that sells Mean Well. And thanks to being outside of the EU and pretty much everything else, anything exceeding a cost of NOK 350 (including shipping) triggers a 25% import VAT. That wouldn't be so bad if the shipping companies didn't charge an additional $15-20 for customs processing on top of this.

Hold up. Unlike the EPP-200-12, Mouser is willing to ship this to Norway. With free shipping, even! Heck, even with the VAT and processing fees, that shouldn't exceed 750-800 NOK. That's acceptable, considering it'll give me better efficiency (and less heat) than the HDPlex, and in a smaller unit. The HDPlex bundle would be 1200-1300 NOK (USD 108 =~885 NOK *1,25 for VAT=1106, plus ~150 for processing), so it'd be cheaper too (I'd avoid VAT on the DC-DC unit). I have been looking at either this or this for the DC-DC part. Are those similar to yours? I have an ATX crimp tool and some spade connectors for the power socket, so all I'd need would be some strands of wire, a few internal connectors and a C14 socket, right? That should be doable. Hm. You've got me intrigued now. Good thing I'm not buying anything any time soon, I suppose :p
 
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aquelito

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Feb 16, 2016
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Nice project, I always loved how versatile this cooler is !

It can cool passively my 1050 Ti but a Ryzen 2400G is a whole other beast.
GPU are much easier to cool than CPUs, especially if it's a 65W quad core :)

Might work with a fast fan !
 
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Valantar

Shrink Way Wielder
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Jan 20, 2018
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Nice project, I always loved how versatile this cooler is !

It can cool passively my 1050 Ti but a Ryzen 2400G is a whole other beast.
GPU are much easier to cool than CPUs, especially if it's a 65W quad core :)

Might work with a fast fan !
Wow, that was an impressive bend. I'm glad I won't have to go that far!

And yeah, GPUs are kind of ideal for cooling - the power draw is evenly spread across the die, and you have direct-die cooling to boot. While CPUs have all the power draw concentrated into rather tiny spots, and have thick IHSes on top. Yay. Still, as I said, the cooler is rated for GPUs up to the Radeon HD 6870, which was a 151W card (twice the TDP of your 1050 Ti). Thus, I'm hoping it'll be okay. I forgot to mention it, but I've been considering delidding the APU and relidding with liquid metal ust to make sure I can cool it without too much noise. I'd like to avoid that cost, but if I have to, I'll do it. It'll be cheaper than getting a good, quiet SFF cooler anyhow.

My fan is this: Noctua NF-A14 FLX 1200rpm. At 1200rpm (unobstructed, I think, so a bit less in real life) it moves 115,5 m3/h (68 cfm). I'm hoping to run it far slower than that even under full load, but I'll let it crank up under load if need be. Of course I'll be sorely tempted to buy a new fan once the 140mm version of the new NF-A12x25 comes out, considering how good the 120mm is, but I'd rather spend that money elsewhere.
 

smitty2k1

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Dec 3, 2016
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I didn't know of that PSU, but sadly it isn't carried by the only domestic retailer I know of here in Norway that sells Mean Well. And thanks to being outside of the EU and pretty much everything else, anything exceeding a cost of NOK 350 (including shipping) triggers a 25% import VAT. That wouldn't be so bad if the shipping companies didn't charge an additional $15-20 for customs processing on top of this.

Hold up. Unlike the EPP-200-12, Mouser is willing to ship this to Norway. With free shipping, even! Heck, even with the VAT and processing fees, that shouldn't exceed 750-800 NOK. That's acceptable, considering it'll give me better efficiency (and less heat) than the HDPlex, and in a smaller unit. The HDPlex bundle would be 1200-1300 NOK (USD 108 =~885 NOK *1,25 for VAT=1106, plus ~150 for processing), so it'd be cheaper too (I'd avoid VAT on the DC-DC unit). I have been looking at either this or this for the DC-DC part. Are those similar to yours? I have an ATX crimp tool and some spade connectors for the power socket, so all I'd need would be some strands of wire, a few internal connectors and a C14 socket, right? That should be doable. Hm. You've got me intrigued now. Good thing I'm not buying anything any time soon, I suppose :p

That's cool! Glad that one works. Here is what my Realan power board looks like, it is NOT the plug in type like your links, but those should be fine too. My case came with this board and had dedicated mounts for it, so I just upgraded to the higher power version.

Here is a link to the forum post that got me started with the Mean Well. It has parts lists you will need. The Mean Well EPP-200-12 is the same power supply minus the housing as I mentioned earlier and so all parts are compatible. Thanks to @Thehack for getting me started on the 12v lifestyle.
 

Valantar

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That's cool! Glad that one works. Here is what my Realan power board looks like, it is NOT the plug in type like your links, but those should be fine too. My case came with this board and had dedicated mounts for it, so I just upgraded to the higher power version.

Here is a link to the forum post that got me started with the Mean Well. It has parts lists you will need. The Mean Well EPP-200-12 is the same power supply minus the housing as I mentioned earlier and so all parts are compatible. Thanks to @Thehack for getting me started on the 12v lifestyle.
Thanks for the tip :) I've been in that thread before, discussing the difficulty of getting the EPP-200-12 here in Norway, but it seems you've solved my problems. Of course I also noticed there's an RPS-400-12 which does 250W with convection cooling and is only a little larger and more expensive. That would be overkill for anything without a GPU, but it sure does get my imagination going. That could almost power my main desktop with a custom water loop and a Fury X ... Oh well.

Anyhow, thanks for reminding me that that thread has all the connectors and everything listed - even if I won't be ordering from Digikey, it's useful to have them there.

As for the DC-DC units, does anyone know if these Aliexpress-sourced ones are safe and stable? On the one hand, you have the stupidity of thinking that Chinese no-name OEM engineering is somehow always bad, but on the other, these sites are known for selling fakes, knock-offs and various refurbished or recycled components (power bricks and phone chargers being the worst offenders AFAIK). I suppose it's harder to mess up DC-DC conversion than AC-DC (at least at these low voltages, and you're not risking running 240V into your components or fingers), but I'm still not entirely comfortable letting something of possibly dubious quality (and possibly lacking European safety standards) live in my living room.

When it comes to the form factor, I've looked at Realan's cases before, so I remember seeing that style of power board earlier. I think they sell them (or at least very similar versions) separately on AliExpress too. I'd very much like to avoid running a 24-pin cable, though, as that'd be a challenge in a small case like this (or at least a lot of work cutting and crimping a custom-length cable). Still, I might have to go that route if it turns out to be too difficult fitting the plug-in type below the cooler.



On an entirely different note, does anyone know any decent tutorials/"get started"-guides for designing simple case models in Sketchup or other free utilities? I've toyed around with this briefly, but I can't really make sense of it. So far my sketches are all pencil-and-paper (which I know how to use!) which doesn't look quite as good (and I'm not patient enough to make sure everything is to scale ;) ).
 

smitty2k1

King of Cable Management
Dec 3, 2016
915
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Thanks for the tip :) I've been in that thread before, discussing the difficulty of getting the EPP-200-12 here in Norway, but it seems you've solved my problems. Of course I also noticed there's an RPS-400-12 which does 250W with convection cooling and is only a little larger and more expensive. That would be overkill for anything without a GPU, but it sure does get my imagination going. That could almost power my main desktop with a custom water loop and a Fury X ... Oh well.

Anyhow, thanks for reminding me that that thread has all the connectors and everything listed - even if I won't be ordering from Digikey, it's useful to have them there.

As for the DC-DC units, does anyone know if these Aliexpress-sourced ones are safe and stable? On the one hand, you have the stupidity of thinking that Chinese no-name OEM engineering is somehow always bad, but on the other, these sites are known for selling fakes, knock-offs and various refurbished or recycled components (power bricks and phone chargers being the worst offenders AFAIK). I suppose it's harder to mess up DC-DC conversion than AC-DC (at least at these low voltages, and you're not risking running 240V into your components or fingers), but I'm still not entirely comfortable letting something of possibly dubious quality (and possibly lacking European safety standards) live in my living room.

When it comes to the form factor, I've looked at Realan's cases before, so I remember seeing that style of power board earlier. I think they sell them (or at least very similar versions) separately on AliExpress too. I'd very much like to avoid running a 24-pin cable, though, as that'd be a challenge in a small case like this (or at least a lot of work cutting and crimping a custom-length cable). Still, I might have to go that route if it turns out to be too difficult fitting the plug-in type below the cooler.



On an entirely different note, does anyone know any decent tutorials/"get started"-guides for designing simple case models in Sketchup or other free utilities? I've toyed around with this briefly, but I can't really make sense of it. So far my sketches are all pencil-and-paper (which I know how to use!) which doesn't look quite as good (and I'm not patient enough to make sure everything is to scale ;) ).

I think if you buy the Realan DC-ATX power supplies from AliExpress you will be safe. Realan is also a Chinese company selling fairly cheap stuff so I doubt that they would be 'fakes.' I've got limited experience with Realan besides my one case and power board, but I'm pretty happy with them and other users here and on AVS Forum seem to be happy with their products also. I have no experience with AliExpress.

That said, the 250W board you linked earlier is missing specifications related to the output on that product page. The 150W Realan model does have the output amperage listed and it matches what is on the Realan website. 72W on the 12V rail may be cutting it for a powerful APU setup. @Thehack would probably be able to tell you more based on the specs listed on that product page.

Also, the 400W Mean Well PSUs are a fair big bigger than the 200W model. 5" x 3" is a lot more than 4" x 2" when it comes to SFF. Furthermore, the 300W/400W units need to use the larger C14 AC power connector into the case as the small C8 style is not rated above 250W (At least here in the US).
 

Valantar

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Jan 20, 2018
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I think if you buy the Realan DC-ATX power supplies from AliExpress you will be safe. Realan is also a Chinese company selling fairly cheap stuff so I doubt that they would be 'fakes.' I've got limited experience with Realan besides my one case and power board, but I'm pretty happy with them and other users here and on AVS Forum seem to be happy with their products also. I have no experience with AliExpress.

That said, the 250W board you linked earlier is missing specifications related to the output on that product page. The 150W Realan model does have the output amperage listed and it matches what is on the Realan website. 72W on the 12V rail may be cutting it for a powerful APU setup. @Thehack would probably be able to tell you more based on the specs listed on that product page.

Also, the 400W Mean Well PSUs are a fair big bigger than the 200W model. 5" x 3" is a lot more than 4" x 2" when it comes to SFF. Furthermore, the 300W/400W units need to use the larger C14 AC power connector into the case as the small C8 style is not rated above 250W (At least here in the US).
Yeah, I know there's a major difference in a case this small with an extra inch in two directions; discovering the 400W version triggered more of a "oh, I can have some fun with this down the line" type of thought. Neither want nor need it for this project!

I looked around a bit, and even (what looks like) the manufacturer's site for that 250W model doesn't even provide a datasheet. That's not what I'd call promising. I suppose it would be interesting to buy one and see if it blows up under load (or if not, what power it can handle) but I neither have the money nor equipment do do that.

As for plug type, I was planning on using a C14 socket (those seem to be easier to come by in various configurations), but I hadn't considered just how much smaller C8 sockets are. Hm. Another thing to consider.
 

Thehack

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I would not use C8 sockets. I only recommend C6 socks to ground your system.

I would recommend you use Mini-Box 150XT for 12V units, at least until next year, where I can release a full range of 150W to 400W units.
 
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