Project Arctic Flow

A Quick Recap of Arctic Flow

It has been almost 3 months since the last Arctic Flow Build Log, which have been considerably eventful ones to say the least; and at times, quite frustrating. But before we get into that, let me provide a quick synopsis of where we had left things off:

  • Purchased a new desk.
  • Removed the SSD, HDD, and Graphics Card from my old rig.
  • Assembled Arctic Flow with what I had on hand (Case, PSU, Motherboard, RAM, and installed an ‘interim’ CPU: a Ryzen 5 2600 (6 Cores, 12 Threads).

Whilst it felt good to finally to get the ball rolling so-to-speak, the assembled system was effectively a ‘side-grade’ from my previous build. Of course the Ryzen 5 2600 has significantly more multi-core performance than my previous Intel i7 4790K, which is considerably noticeable during tasks such as video rendering. But in regards to single-core tasks, such as gaming, the performance is about equal; if anything my overclocked i7 was marginally faster.

The lack of the planned water-cooling equipment also made the case look and feel quite bare:

Arctic Flow

What to do Next?

Up to this point, purchasing the components had been relatively straightforward to budget for; one major component each month, depending on cost. However, the next two items on my shopping list were fairly large expenditures: an Ultrawide Monitor and a more powerful Graphics Card. Both of these items were going to cost considerably more than my monthly budget would allow, so I would have to put some thought into how best to proceed.

After perusing as many online vendors as humanly possible, I started to question whether I would realistically be able to afford either of those items. I could try and save up of course, but Arctic Flow was already taking longer than initially anticipated; and then in a stroke of luck, a stellar deal presented itself online.

I noticed a monitor was available from a reputable online merchant, but the deal looked too good to be true: half the cost of comparable models! The brand was not one I was familiar with, so I took my time and tried to conduct as much research as I could about the product. Everything checked out, but it was still priced slightly higher than what I could realistically spend in a single month.

To make things worse, it was a limited time deal that I most certainly did not want to miss.

Then it dawned on me.

Funding Arctic Flow

Goodbye Old Friend

After perusing the current used components market, it was evident that the Intel i7-4790K was still a desirable piece of hardware; in fact, most of the old components which were gathering dust could potentially sell for a fair bit. There is no denying that selling all of the items individually would have the potential to make the most cash, but the logistics and time it would take did not suit my limited time-frame; I did not want to miss out on this monitor deal. So I made the decision to put the entire lot up for sale, an almost complete system which was just missing storage and a discrete graphics card (it does have integrated graphics at least, which is suitable for desktop applications).

Whilst there were several enquiries from individuals that clearly did not know much about the components, one young man was extremely interested. I had put the system up for a price that would cover the monitor purchase, even so it was potentially worth considerably more; but the goal here was for a quick cash sale, I needed that monitor in my life.

Long story short, it turned out the buyer studied Computer Science at the same College that I had graduated from, we had actually crossed paths just a week earlier at a presentation I was invited to. He couldn’t be happier that he was purchasing a system that I had personally assembled, and I was equally pleased that it would be going to a good home. After a quick functionality demonstration and a run-down of the components, I helped him load it up in his car and had the cash necessary to purchase the monitor in my wallet.

Come Monday morning, I practically tore the box open with my bare hands; as I could not wait to get it all set up and running.

Arctic Flow Ultrawide

Ultrawide Changes Everything

Whilst there are many different brands of monitors, the panels themselves are actually only manufactured by a handful of companies:

  • AU Optronics
  • CMO
  • CPT
  • LG Display
  • Samsung

Now even so this particular monitor was from a brand I was not familiar with, it was relatively simple to deduce the panel manufacturer due to the specifications. A 35″ Ultrawide with 1800R curvature, 3440 x 1440 resolution with a 100Hz refresh rate (and a FreeSync range of 48-100), and using VA technology rather than TN or IPS meant that this was most certainly an AU Optronics panel.

The same exact panel that is used in similarly sized monitors from brands such as Asus, BenQ, and Massdrop.

Multi-monitor setups are extremely useful, especially for content creators, and I always vowed that I would never regress after using dual-monitors for years; but the 21:9 aspect ratio is an absolute game-changer. There is still plenty of real-estate on the screen for productivity activities, multiple browsers and whatnot, but playing games and watching movies is where it really shines. Honestly, I did not realise just how much more immersive Ultrawide gaming would be.

But it did present a problem in the interim.

Arctic Flow was still using my old Graphics Card, an Nvidia GTX 1060 6GB; which is a fantastic GPU for 1080p gaming and can easily hit a steady 60fps in most games. But at 1440p it starts to struggle, even more so with Ultrawide.

Arctic Flow 1060

It goes without saying that higher resolutions require more graphical horsepower, hence why 4K gaming is unrealistic unless you purchase the best hardware that is available. But 3440 x 1440 is also considerably demanding due to the amount of pixels that are on screen. If we do the math, it makes comparing resolutions in terms of pixels slightly easier to fathom:

  • 1920 x 1080 (16:9) = 2,073,600 Pixels
  • 2560 x 1080 (21:9) = 2,764,800 Pixels
  • 2560 x 1440 (16:9) = 3,686,400 Pixels
  • 3440 x 1440 (21:9) = 4,953,600 Pixels
  • 3840 x 2160 (16:9) = 8,294,400 Pixels

If we consider traditional 1080p as our baseline and express the other values in terms of percentage change (not percentage difference); the results are as follows:

  • Ultrawide 1080p = 33.3% Increase over 1080p
  • Conventional 1440p = 77.7% Increase over 1080p
  • Ultrawide 1440p = 138.8% Increase over 1080p
  • Conventional 4K = 300% Increase over 1080p

Needless to say, the Nvidia 1060 was never going to hit 100fps at that resolution (well, possibly with really low in-game settings). In fact, the 1060 could not even manage to stay in the Freesync range of the monitor; as sure enough, the monitor was recognised as being G-Sync compatible.

A new Graphics Card was desperately needed for Arctic Flow.

Arctic Flow GPU Drama

A Stroke of Luck: Good and Bad

Once again an opportunity presented itself, an online vendor had drastically slashed prices of the AMD RX Vega 56. Now whilst I had originally planned for a Vega 64, I was cognisant that its little brother had the potential to easily match and potentially surpass the performance of the more expensive model. Even more so considering that it would eventually be water cooled, thus mitigating the thermal bottlenecks that plague these GPUs.

To offset the cost of the purchase, I contacted the buyer of my old system to see if he would be interested in grabbing my 1060; effectively reuniting it with it’s old home. Sure enough, we had a deal and I was able to order a GPU that should give Arctic Flow the necessary power to drive all those pixels.

Delivered the very next day, the Vega 56 was immediately installed so I could begin testing. I knew the reference blower would be loud and not very effective, but it would only be temporary until the custom loop would be installed later down the line.

But then things took a turn for the worse.

When benchmarking or playing a game, the system would completely turn off. Not a restart, not a traditional BSOD (Blue Screen of Death); it would just turn off completely. Considering that the system had been working flawlessly prior to the new GPU, logic dictated that surely that the new component must be the problem. There was also some artefacting, so there was definitely something wrong with the card. So I went through the RMA process, and ended up ordering a slightly better model.

Knowing that the return process may take a little while, I borrowed the GPU from my step-daughter’s PC: an old Radeon R9 280 and also ordered a higher-quality PCIE extender, just in case that was causing issues as well.

Arctic Flow Bad PSU

Whilst waiting on the new Graphics Card, I was able to order the Distribution Plate/Reservoir that I wanted to use for Arctic Flow. As you can see above, it fills up the case quite nicely and should look amazing once it is all set up fully with fluid and fittings. The RGB is fully addressable, so once again currently set in ‘Rainbow Mode’ just for display purposes.

The Asus ROG Strix Vega 56 is an absolute beast of a card, and the cooling solution looks fantastic. I decided to go with an Asus card since so many other components of Arctic Flow were also from that brand, and realised I needed a better cooling solution as it may be a fair while before I am able to construct the water cooling loop.

With the new GPU installed, it was time to test everything out. I couldn’t wait to see what kind of performance uplift it would grant and was also eager to start tinkering with undervolting the card, which significantly lowers temperatures and power draw whilst improving performance.

The PC did the exact same thing! It was incapable of finishing a single benchmark, and would shut down when trying to play any games. There was no way that I had received another bad GPU, so what on earth was the issue?

I went through every single component, attempting to troubleshoot what exactly the root issue was. Everything checked out: Motherboard was fine, CPU ok, no issues with the RAM, all the cables worked. Could it actually be the GPU again? I had another sneaking suspicion, but first I needed to try one more test.

So I installed the Graphics Card within the other PC in our household, in an effort to isolate the issue. After 24 hours of stress testing, it worked absolutely fine. This could mean only one thing, I had a faulty PSU.

Sure enough, I borrowed my step-daughter’s PSU and the system ran absolutely fine for a full 48-hour stress test. Whilst the 850W Platinum rated unit should be more than enough for Arctic Flow, it clearly had an issue of some kind that only presented itself once the power-hungry Vega 56 was introduced to the system.

Time for another RMA.

Arctic Flow Asus PSU

Sponsored by Asus?

At the time of writing, I am still awaiting a response for the RMA request for the Aerocool PSU; which is considerably frustrating as well as quite shocking to be perfectly honest. This left such a bad taste in my mouth in fact, that I decided to purchase a PSU from the brand that has become the most prominent within Arctic Flow: Asus.

The ROG Thor is absolutely fantastic, those of you ‘in the know’ will likely be aware that it is basically a Seasonic PSU with a few tweaks; and of course features addressable RGB as well as a display which shows the power draw in real-time. This is most definitely the PSU that I would have originally purchased, but at that time it had not been released; the Aerocool PSU also had the benefit of matching the radiator fans. Needless to say, those fans will be getting replaced as a matter of principle, most likely with the RGB variants of the Vardar fans from EKWB; which in hindsight makes complete sense, the colour parity should perfectly match the waterblocks which will be from EKWB as well.

Needless to say, the power delivery is now spot-on and Arctic Flow is working as intended. The only downside is of course that due to the case that I am using, the flashy side of the PSU faces downwards. This of course means that those ‘extras’ are a complete waste, as they cannot be seen as it stands.

That specific problem is easily solved with a simple sheet of black acrylic:

Arctic Flow PSU

Not only does the system look considerably better standing upon this simple black base, which ties in perfectly with the finish of the desk; the ‘business’ side of the PSU is now reflected in such away that it can be seen in all of it’s glory, albeit mirrored of course.

The Home Stretch

There is still a considerable amount of purchases and of course work planned for Arctic Flow. I would like to purchase new storage, since I am still using the SSD and HDD from my original rig. Then of course there are all of the water cooling components still to buy:

  • CPU/Motherboard Monoblock
  • GPU Water block and Backplate
  • Pump
  • Fittings, tubes, and relevant tools

I also want to give the Asus Halo a try, as I think it would work really well in my office/closet; I might as well go all-in with this Asus malarkey right?

The downside to building as system slowly over time like this is of course the advent of new components. I mentioned in the last log that the plan was to install a new generation of Ryzen CPU when they are released, but it also might be worth considering upgrading the GPU as well if Navi turns out to be a success.

But one thing at a time I suppose. The next goal is to get Arctic Flow actually flowing; as whilst the current cooling is surprisingly effective, it is a far cry from the near silent operation that water cooling can provide. But it could very well be several months before that happens.

As it stands, the system is functioning extremely well and gaming is fantastic. I am able to play The Division 2 at 3440 x 1440 at high settings, and the result is silky smooth. I actually had to apply an FPS limit, as indoors it was in excess of 100fps; whilst outdoors it can drop into the 70s. But with the combination of Freesync and Enhanced Sync (an AMD-specific optimisation of Vertical Sync), it looks fantastic and stutter-free.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a short clip of how Arctic Flow looks so far:

P.S. Yes, of course I bought an RGB chair as well.

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