- Thermal paste for the CPU heatsink
- PSU orientation
- Cable management
- Performance optimization
Thermal paste for the CPU heatsink
Remember that, like the New Computer guide, this is only for Intel CPUs. That’s not to say that you may not learn a thing or two about thermal pastes, but some of the guides will trip you up if you follow them for guidance.
Choosing a paste
Assuming you bought a heatsink for your CPU, which you totally should, you will need to stick it to your CPU using thermal paste.
As far as product is concerned, don’t worry about getting the right paste; only worry about getting a bad paste. Just get any of the most popular ones, because good thermal pastes all do about the same. Check this paste benchmark—and note the 62°C-truncated x-axis to make the differences seem bigger. Or this paste review by Nerd Techy.
Picking the right thermal paste is a dumb thing to worry about, and it’s not like it’s an irrevocable decision. Fussing over bringing down your temps 2°C with a particular brand of paste is something you concern yourself with by the end of min-maxing your setup, not the start.
You generally shouldn’t worry about when to reapply paste; they last for years and years.
For a general overview of thermal pastes, check out Tech Expert.
Applying a paste
Short answer: make a pea-sized dot, put your heatsink down and wiggle it a bit to distribute the paste evenly. Too much is better than too little.
Longer answer is better served with videos in order of usefulness:
If you keep googling this, you should only pay attention to the people who actually benchmark the different applications; JayzTwoCents grades them based on distribution without testing the temps, which is a poor empirical approach that leads to bad advice.
I always thought the PSU fans were supposed to point up, and anything else was a weird hack. Imagine my surprise when that was possible with my beQueit Dark Base 900 case.
I picked my Seasonic Prime PSU for many reasons, one of them being the convenient labelled connectors:
You’d think that was the right way to orient the flipping PSU then, but if you looked at the other side of the PSU, you’d see the branding being upside-down. In other words, it’s not unheard of to orient a PSU fans-downward.
There may even be an advantage to this, to hear NZXT explain it:
If your PC case has some sort of grill below where the PSU sits, then you should install your PSU so that its intake fan is facing towards it. In other words, your PSU’s fan will be facing downwards. The reason for this is so the PSU intake fan will suck cool air into the unit from outside the case.
If your PC case does not have a vent for the PSU’s fan, then you should install the PSU with its fan facing upwards. The fan will be facing the rest of the components on the inside of the case; it will be pulling air into the PSU from inside the PC case. The air might be warmer than the cool air outside the case, but it will still be maintaining airflow.
Never install a PSU with its fan facing towards a solid panel; without proper airflow, the PSU has no way to cool itself, and it will burn out quickly. RIP PSU.
One gets the impression that beQuiet really, really want you to orient the PSU a certain way, and they certainly are aware of Seasonic’s design, since they manufacture beQuiet’s own brand of PSUs.
Linus Tech did an informal test, but keep in mind that the result depends on the case design:
Good news is my temperature and airflow should be much better now. Bad news is the labelling on my Seasonic PSU might be the most useless feature ever.
Airflow vs static pressure
Air goes in, air comes out. As such, fans serve as either:
- Exhaust (push)
- Intake (pull)
Warm air rises so you’ll usually find exhaust fans situated high up in your case.
On top of that, airflow has direction so you don’t want too much obstructing its path.
Furthermore, there are two general types of fans:
- Static pressure (SP)
- Spreads and dissipates air
- Used for heatsinks and radiators
- Pulls more air and makes more noise (ie pulling)
- Airflow (AF)
- Focuses air
- Pulls less air and makes less noise (ie pushing)
It’s a shame Jay doesn’t talk about noise level in the video, though.
Jay uses multiple means of fan control for his 12(!) system fans:
As long as I am not using a radiator (for watercooling), I think I’ll just personally go with an AF fan. I like Rammy’s explanation when considering whether to use an SP fan for pulling through a dust filter:
When fans refer to “unrestricted” airflow, they don’t usually mean things like mesh or dust filters as these are an incredibly common case feature these days. It really just means where you aren’t trying to push air through a radiator, against a component or without a proper intake/exhaust.
Given that Corsair bundles the case with variants of the AF140, it seems pretty clear that they believe it's the best choice, and based on the data available, I'm inclined to agree.
Finally, it’s really important to make sure you are comparing things fairly. Corsair’s data for comparisons does not use fans set to a consistent speed or noise target. Across the board the AF fans run slower and quieter so even though they might produce similar CFM figures, they are doing it far more efficiently. In a real world scenario where you’d probably fiddle with fan speeds to make noise levels more liveable, this is hugely significant.
Since Corsair came along with their ML (MagLev) Pro fans, the SP vs AF distinction is slightly looser; the MLs are sometimes referred to as hybrid fans. However, the linked test also shows the choice of 120mm vs 140 is situational, so you’ve still got some head-aches ahead of you:
Stats according to KitGuru:
|Power draw (A)||0.299||0.276|
Note this part of the review, too:
The fans hit an average of 541 RPM at 3 V before shutting down, and even here it was inconsistent among the 4 samples. Restarting voltage once shut down was between 3.4–3.6 V for the various samples. As with the ML120 fans, aside from the shorter range of operation, there are 2 other reasons why you may not want to do voltage control: (1) the LED brightness will be affected for the LED models, and (2) the MagLev bearing will not work well lower than 8-9 V with the bearing not levitating as it should. Without long term testing at lower voltages, I can’t say what the effect of this will be but I do not want to find out for myself and neither do I recommend you do so either. Please- stick to PWM control here.
Another note of importance- users of the SP120 PWM fans may have noticed that there was a control issue wherein more than 3–4 fans on some PWM headers resulted in a shorter range of speed control, especially so on the lower RPM end. I mentioned this in my review of the SP120 Quiet Edition PWM fans and I have some mixed feelings as I report a similar PWM implementation here. Corsair is sticking to one set of PWM specs (Intel PWM specifications rev 1.3) and some other companies to another (this is partly also why the Laing D5 PWM pump has some issues with some motherboard PWM fan headers) and this will not help the consumer much. I have 4 fans here and all 4 fans on the same header took the min RPM from 372 to 455- not bad, but still not the same as a single fan. I can’t say what the addition of more fans to the same header will do so please be aware of this. It will affect a very small fraction of customers, but let it not be a surprise. Stick to 2--3 fans per header and you will be better off. Corsair recommends sticking to 1 fan per header.
I’m just using the ML Pros as an example. Performance at low RPM is not the same as performance at all RPM. Have fun finding the fans that work for you.
The variables you want to consider based on fan model less than fan type are:
- Size (120 vs 140mm)
- Airflow and static pressure
As for features: PWM support, LED/RGB, and general aesthetics.
You also want to evaluate your fans’ performance during all of low, mid, and high RPM since they’re unlikely to stick to either unless you’ve got some elaborate multifan setup like Jay. In other words:
Noise/Temperature/AF/SP per RPM, eg
500 RPM: x dBA, a C°, foo CFM, etc 1000 RPM: y dBA, b C°, bar CFM, etc 1500 RPM: z dBA, c C°, baz CFM, etc
And remember that this isn’t necessarily a linear curve, especially since some noises are more pleasent than others, even at the same decibel level. Some report a “ticking” noise with certain fans for instance. Here is what Silent PC Review had to say about the noise profile of the AF140, strong emphasis mine:
The AF140 Quiet Edition started off pretty well, sounding mostly smooth and turbulent at full speed. At 900 RPM, it was much of the same with the addition of a low pitched buzzing. At 700 RPM, a hum developed, and at 550 RPM, it started to click as well, but only at close proximity. It’s not a terrible sounding fan per se but like the TwoCool 140, its acoustic character is more desirable at higher speeds. The tested fan was one of two samples. The untested sample sounded marginally worse, imbued with an underlying buzz at high speeds.
Like the 120 mm version, the AF140 Quiet Edition is more proficient at cooling than delivering a nice sound. Fairly good performance was had at every tested speed except 550 RPM.
Yes, you read that right; the noise profile gets more annoying at lower RPM (and decibel level).
Check out their test result table as well as the audio recording on the last page of their review. This does not appear to be the experience of JayzTwoCents who has the same fan, so maybe it’s a quality assurance issue that was fixed since the initial review from 2013. Some fans may also only make certain noises when placed horizontally. You can also try loosening the screws on the ML140 Pro which works for some.
Always remember to factor in what RPM you plan on running your fans at on top of everything else. Some companies even offer RPM-specific fan models!
It’s not so much about which specific fan you need as much as when you need it. Try to think of it that way.
“Air goes in, air comes out”, but the ratio of this also matters. We describe this equation as three types of pressure:
- Intake > Exhaust: Positive
- Intake < Exhaust: Negative
- Intake = Exhaust: Neutral
Some people describe these values in terms of the number of fans—ie quantitatively—but this disregards—qualitative—factors like fan size and RPM, and obstruction. For instance, your intake airflow is certain diminish if you use fan filters or close the front door of your case. So think about this in a broader sense that combines the quantitative and qualitative, and don’t be lulled into a false sense of security just because your fans add up in a certain way.
So what are some general pros and cons of the different types of pressure?
- adds control of intake airflow origins
- reduces dust since you can add filters to the controlled airflow origins
- reduces control of exhaust airflow
- reduces control of hot air and thereby cooling
- adds control of intake airflow origins
- reduces control of intake airflow origins
- adds dust since air is pulled in from all sorts of holes and gaps
- improves control of exhaust airflow
- improves control of hot air and thereby cooling
- reduces control of intake airflow origins
On top of this, remember it’s not just your case fans cooling your computer; your GPU and CPU also use fans, heatsinks or watercooling.
Also ask your questions about whether there’s a lot of dust or shedding animals in the room, and what kind of air you pull into the computer. In some ways it’s very simple, but in others, it can get, well, pretty hairy.
Go with positive pressure. Neutral is not likely to happen, which is good because you wouldn’t want that anyway.
Fan control and noise
You probably don’t want your fans to operate at 100% all the time. Instead, you want their speed to be determined by the temperature in your case.
Fans need the following:
- 4-pin (PWM)
- Power supply
- Software (motherboard)
- Hardware (built-in case controls)
Of the three connectors, only the motherboard option offers automated fan control. You will also want 4-pin, which supports PWM, the proper means of automated fan control. More pins, more features, makes sense, right? Furthermore, your motherboard needs to support PWM.
The fan connector section of your motherboard might look something like this:
There are four connectors on my old-ass motherboard:
“CHA” being “chassis”, as in the computer case.
A lot of cases have sets of rear and front fans, but some also come with additional fans, which means our two chassis fan connectors don’t cut it.
To address this, you can get either
- PWM splitter, cable (y-splitter) or hub
- Collective fan control
- Fan controller
- Individual fan control
From NZXT’s knowledge base:
Q: Why Can’t I Control Individual Fan Speeds On The GRID+?
A: The GRID+ uses a single channel power control so it is unable to control each fan individually. This is a feature we are considering adding in the next iteration.
Fan cables and headers come in 3- and 4-pin versions. More below.
In searching for a splitter, I came across this Swiftech 8 Way PWM Splitter. Part of the description reads:
We generally recommend to use the “CPU_Fan connector of the motherboard, because most motherboard manufacturers usually allow a greater range of adjustments on this particular connector. PWM capable connectors must necessarily be 4-pin, but not all 4-pin motherboard connectors implement or enable the PWM signal modulation by default. Please carefully consult your motherboard documentation in this respect.
Here is the illustration they show on the product page:
Note that the illustration tells you to plug the CPU cooler into the port labelled “CH 1”, which is the only one reporting a device RPM signal to the motherboard. Other splitters label this port “RPM”.
If you revisit my motherboard’s fan connector chart—though you may have to view the full image by clicking it—you’ll see that the only connector with PWM is the CPU_FAN.
All of this is pretty much the opposite of intuitive, and I didn’t figure it out until after I got my dumbass beQuiet Dark Base 900 which ships without automatic fan control—because beQuiet seem to try to hide the fact or something.
Last, and perhaps most important: plugging too many fans to your motherboard may kill it. Make sure you motherboard can handle all the volts your throw at it.
The main question you need to ask yourself is how many different speeds you want your fans to run with. The second is whether you have enough juice to power all your fans.
When looking for a basic fan controller, check out Phobya who tend to have some for less than $10.
Hardware fan control
Either you control your fans through hardware or software—or both, especially if you have a lot of fans or few fan headers on your motherboard.
Modern motherboards tend to come with their own fan control in BIOS.
There are a lot of peripheral fan controllers.
Most of them are meant to reside in the front bay of your case with a full-on display of RPM and temperatures that you can tweak with physical dials for each fan group.
Other fan controllers, like Corsair’s Commander Pro, reside in the back side of your case next to your drives where most of your cable spaghetti is managed. Such a fan controller is tweaked with software.
If you have an ASUS motherboard, check out their fan extension cards.
Software fan control
- Mobo software
- Third party
- Corsair Link, for a fan controller like Corsair Commander Pro
- “How to Auto-Control Your PC’s Fans for Cool, Quiet Operation”
- “Advanced Fan Control”
- “SpeedFan: A Guide to Universal Motherboard Fan Control”
I am mainly concerned with dust due to my allergies, but it should go without saying that your fans won’t operate at full capacity if they’ve got half a sweater’s worth of dust and dirt in them.
To quote from my setup post:
Since there’s a central place of air circulation, there’s an opportunity to capture the dust before it enters and leaves the computer, helping both the computer and the occupants of the room.
For some reason, many computer cases don’t come with so-called dust filters for the fans.
Computer fans tend to have a diameter of 120mm or 140mm, so get a filter for either of those sizes.
Here’s what I got and fitted to my Dark Base 900 case—it was the only I could find, so it’s not a product recommendation:
Note that the linked fan filters don’t come with any screws.
A lot of fan filters don’t actually fit the fans or the back of the case, because their bezels are too large—which I of course only found out after receiving my shipments. I have some more on this in my post about my setup.
Magnetic fan filters also don’t work with aluminium cases—just like any other magnetic component like, say, a wi-fi adapter.
- “Control Your Computer’s Fan Speeds for Better Performance When You Need It, Silence When You Don’t”
- “Need to know how many fans my motherboard can support”
- “The Different Ways Fans Connect to Your PC”
Some motherboards like ASUS’s Maximus series have heatsinks, or “shields”, for M.2 drives. Supposedly, these shields will generally end up making drives hotter by trapping heat, so consider just taking them off before you begin installing components in your motherboard; the heatsinks are difficult if not impossible to remove with the components installed.
There’s cable management inside the case, and there’s cable management outside the case.
If you want a general idea of how to approach cable management, check out this timelapse playlist of per-case cable management. Remember that you can slow down the playback speed in desktop browsers to help you with the details. There may even be a video for your case.
Hardware Canucks have an excellent primer:
Jay’s is excellent, too:
cableorganizer.com gives you a good idea of what tools are available.
Broadly speaking, you should move your cables from your components through the “chassis cable slots” AKA “rubber grommets” between the motherboard and the drive bays and the corresponding component to plug it into. This will hide most of the cables behind the cable slots. Just make sure the cables don’t bunch up too much behind or you won’t be able to put the case back on. This is why you want to use cables as short as possible. See below.
Beside the grommets, be sure to take advantage of the brackets on the back of (most) motherboards by the grommets with a cable tie or velcro strap to easily group cables. I said easily, not effortlessly. Decent cases should come with their own velcro straps; if you have to get your own you’ll have to get ones that aren’t too short nor thick. Mine for beQuiet Dark Base 900 are 20cm×1.3cm (7.9”×0.5”), but the size of and distance betweeen brackets might obviously differ between vendors.
Finding these cables is surprisingly difficult, so you may have to hit up case vendors for them. I could only find these loop straps on Amazon US that were thin enough to fit:
- 15cm×1.2cm / 6”×0.47”
- The title says the width is 0.5”, but the product description says 1” to order this at your own peril. Maybe they’re measuring by the loop head which you won’t run through the brackets anyway.
For information on how to manage the cables outside the case, check out my own setup.
As for cable management inside the case, the general idea is to hide cables on the backside of the case or at the top out of sight and mind.
The main advantages of cable management are probably
- Ease of use, installation, troubleshooting
In order to fit the cables in the back and put the case panel back on, you’ll want
- Drive ports facing the back (obviously)
- Short cables
- Angled SATA cables
- Except for the backplate SSD mount where you’ll want a straight one
Generally, you’ll have to manage these cables:
- Fans and heatsink
Then there’s the smaller stuff like your chassis (CHA) cables and so on, but they’re usually very thing cables that don’t clutter things.
Expect your GPU cables to be some of the most unmanageable ones due to how thick and long they are.
Never buy third-party cables that go into your PSU; you need to make sure the cables you get are compatible with your PSU so you don’t fry your components.
I’d rather not repeat the things I’ve said about my setup, so check out the cable management section of my setup if you’re feeling curious.
For your PSU, you can also buy a so-called “PSU shroud”. Corsair even sell them on the cheap for their PSUs themselves. If you’ve mounted your PSU with the fan face up, obviously don’t get a shroud that blocks the exhaust.
Making a shroud yourself isn’t too difficult, and it’s pretty damn cheap. Basically, just cut and bend some acrylic paper. Or better, probably cut the width first, then bend, and then trim the length.
You can even use cardboard as the guy in the last video.
ASUS has something called Aura, which is their RGB lighting system. They’ve also got something called “Aura Sync” for synchronizing the lighting of different components in your computer.
The problem with this is that it’s not some universal standard supported by a wide selection of products—which I guess is convenient if you want to coerce consumers into buying only your brand of products. As such, the concept isn’t super persuasive.
These motherboards have an RGB (or LED) header to plug your RGB/LED strips into to customize and synchronize your lighting.
Sometimes you want the looks of the LED lighting, and other times you just want the convenience of some lighting to help you see your motherboard for diagnosis and further customization, like this ASRock Z270 Gaming K6 Fatal1ty model.
I don’t like the neon hell of motherboards, but this soft lighting (at 2:55) is pretty cool and lets you revel in your work. The lighting stays on when the computer is powered off for your convenience. This is a killer feature.
Cable sleeving lets your customize your cables with thicker, braided cables, but more important, colours. Like watercooling, this can quickly get very expensive, and it’s something you can always do at a later time.
You can either sleeve them:
You can also consult Lutro0’s Frequently Asked Sleeving Questions”
Sleeving cables yourself is a lot of work and somewhat complicated, so you can also just buy the pre-sleeved cables directly from stores like
Like any customization, some people find it tedious while others may find it to be the most rewarding part of it. To each their own. No one says you have to buy all the cables at once; maybe buy a few parts and see how it works for you. If it doesn’t, then you won’t be much poorer and frustrated for it.
NB! ONLY USE CABLES YOUR PSU SUPPORTS; use the wrong custom PSU cables, and your system will get fried:
Always save the cables that came with your PSU somewhere.
SSD and GPU plates
If your SSDs are visible, you can easily mount a 3D-printed plate to them:
Get them as 3D-printed resin, lasercut metal, or something else entirely; a simple sticker gets the job done, too. Maybe give it a shot yourself if you have your own 3D printer.
Or just go it yourself:
I don’t plan on doing any watercooling so I won’t be doing a guide on it.
EKWB have a terrific “How does liquid cooling work”.
There’s a good video about EKWB’s custom loop configurator which selects parts to purchase for your specific setup:
You check out the configuration EKWB recommend for my build where the only customization I’ve made are
- Which components I want cooled: CPU, GPU, not RAM
- Hardness of tubing
- Just go soft to start with
- Silence vs overclocking potential
I think I screwed up the reservoir and pump part, though.
There’s a bit in this Linus video about the pros and cons of hard vs soft tubing worth considering:
EKWB’s kits section is very useful for seeing the different options side by side.
Beside the cooling benefits of watercooling, it can also contribute significantly to the distinct look of your rig with the right tubing and coolant colour:
The components you generally want to watercool are:
You can also watercool your
In order to cool your GPU, you need to funnel coolant through it. This requires a water block compatible with your specific model. In my case, I got a Palit GTX 1080 GameRock Premium. Fortunately, EKWB1 have released a water block compatible with this very model: the EK-FC1080 GTX JetStream. What this also means, of course, is that you will have to buy a new water block, whenever you get a new GPU.
Watercooling your CPU is a lot easier.
Crystals can be used to refract your lighting. Check it out:
Broadly speaking, CPUs and GPUs ship with a speed and voltage that meet some temperature and power limit. These should work in most worst-case scenarios for computer setups. If you want them to do more, you’ll increase their speed and, to allow further speed, voltage. This happens at the expense of higher temperatures and power draw.
You should only seek overclocking advice from people who really know their stuff. It’s a lot simpler and safer to overclock these days than it used to be, so be thankful you won’t have to mess with BCLK nor figure out what it even is in the first place. Be sure to use an overclocking guide specifically for your CPU (or CPU architecture).
In doing research for when I had to do some overclocking myself, I saw a lot of people who had “managed” to overclock their CPUs, bragging about a higher clock speed. Unfortunately, they had achieved this almost by accident by arbitrarily turning knobs and levers in BIOS only to declare victory as the desired clock speed could be seen. There are a million ways to go about overclocking, many of which can fry your computer components. I recommend knowing what the constants and variables are after doing your own research.
Some things to keep in mind:
- What is the maximum temperature you want your CPU to run at?
- And how much fan noise can you tolerate?
- Do you want to turn off power-saving features for some measly improvements?
- Is your CPU cooler up for the task?
- What about thermal paste?
- Silicon lottery means you can’t compare results and maximums with others.
I had to overclock my ancient CPU to be able to run basic games with 60 FPS, because I wanted to wait for the next Intel CPUs to come out. Make sure you have an actual reason to overclock if you’re already getting the performance you want. You can always overclock later.
Common wisdom says you shouldn’t overclock beyond 1.35V, but [Gamer Nexus] cautions against going beyond even 1.30V. And even then you aren’t guaranteed to be safe.
To repeat what I said, a lot of people like to think they know how overclocking works, but don’t. And when you get overclocking wrong, really bad things can happen to your computer. And if you’re not sure what you’re doing, just keep your voltage at a maximum of 1.3V for now.
Another thing some people do to get more out of their CPU is delidding:
There are caveats, and Intel probably know what they are doing, as der8auer points out in “The Truth about CPU Soldering”:
Stop hating on Intel. Intel has some of the best engineers in the world when it comes to metallurgy. They know exactly what they are doing and the reason for conventional thermal paste in recent desktop CPUs is not as simple as it seems.
Micro cracks in solder preforms can damage the CPU permanently after a certain amount of thermal cycles and time. Conventional thermal paste doesn’t perform as good as the solder preform but it should have a longer durability—especially for small size DIE CPUs.
Stuff like this is why I don’t try to mess with too much, even though people on the Internet tell me “it’s totally fine, dude”.
That said, Intel seem to be slacking off with its most recent i9-7XXX series and there are big improvements to be had by delidding. Rather, though, just don’t buy CPUs made this poorly instead of voiding your warranty and potentially bricking your CPU.
Update: Intel’s Coffee Lake series has particularly bad TIM, and users can reduce the temperature by a crazy 20°C by delidding. Weigh the pros and cons for yourself and watch this in-depth run-down:
The “WB” in “EKWB” stands for “water blocks”. ↩︎