This article reports an extensive hardware upgrade of a desktop computer. It is very detailed and well illustrated, and reflects that a hardware upgrade is an undertaking and a learning experience. The computer was designed and constructed by the author in 2010. It was designed as a silent computer. The article shows how that objective was pursued again and what results were obtained.
Execution started on 10 July 2017 and final tests ended on 27 August 2017.
Before the hardware upgrade, my desktop computer had the following parts.
The hardware upgrade was motivated by the following problems.
The hardware upgrade was prepared by buying an AMD FX 4300 Black Edition processor , a Scythe Mugen 4 PCGH Edition processor cooler and a Sharkoon S28 Value computer case.
The preparation continued with buying two splitter cables. One splitter cable was necessary to connect the two fans of the Scythe Mugen 4 PCGH Edition to the CPU fan connector on the Gigabyte 970A-UD3 motherboard. Another splitter cable was necessary to connect the two front fans of the Sharkoon S28 Value computer case to one of the system fan connectors on the motherboard. See picture 5 and 6.
The preparation ended with changing the BIOS settings of the Gigabyte 970A-UD3 motherboard. That was necessary because the operating voltages of the FX 4300 Black Edition are lower than those of the Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition. Because the operating voltages of the Phenom had been set manually, they could damage the FX immediately. The Wikipedia was used to find the operating voltages of the two processors.
The hardware upgrade started with marking the hard disks distinctively and writing down at which SATA port which hard disk is connected. (For the sake of caution only.) Consequently, all hardware was removed from the R430 computer case. A wristband to discharge static electricity was used thereby. The reset switch, power switch, power LED and hard disk activity LED were also removed and stored.
The upgrade continued with removing the stock cooler and the AMD Phenom II X2 550. Next, the FX 4300 and its stock cooler were installed on the Gigabyte motherboard. I had not planned to install that stock cooler, but the installation manual that came with the FX 4300 stated that installing another cooler would make a warranty of three years void. Therefore, I changed my plan and decided to install the stock cooler first, so that I could use the warranty if the FX 4300 would prove to be defective.
The installation of the FX 4300 gave rise to the following question. What maximum speed of DDR3 memory is supported? The FX 4300 supports up to DDR3-1866. DDR3-1866 has a data rate that is 40% higher than that of DDR3-1333. Therefore, I started considering an upgrade of my memory modules. Consequently, I bought one Crucial Ballistix Elite DDR3-1866 memory module of 4 GB.
The upgrade continued with an elaborate study of the interior of the Sharkoon S28 Value computer case. The study was about where to install the hard disks and where to put away the power cables that would not be used. I will come back to that subject later.
I decided to install the Scythe SFF21D fan on the bottom first. That fan should help to establish an overpressure in the computer case, so that no air will flow in through the vents in the back. The Gigabyte 970A-UD3 motherboard was installed next. A wristband to discharge static electricity was used thereby. Then the Sony Optiarc AD-7240S-0B optical disk drive was installed in the upper cage. Next, all fans were connected to the motherboard. The Startech TX3 splitter cable was used to connect the two front fans to one system fan connector on the motherboard. These fans could also be powered by the power supply directly, but I like to be able to monitor all fan speeds. Cable wraps were used to bind the cables to the interior of the case. The back fan was connected to the motherboard with the use of an extension cable for 3-pin fans.
After elaborate study of the interior of the computer case, I had decided:
The two hard disks were installed next. Subsequently, the optical disk drive and the hard disks were connected to the motherboard with 3 SATA cables. The cables that come from the front panel were connected to the motherboard next. Much time was spent on investigating how I could reuse the old reset switch, but a good solution was not found. Subsequently, the Corsair VX450W power supply was installed. The power supply was installed in the appropriate place on the bottom and with its back against the back of the case, see picture 8.
The power supply has a bundle of output power cables that leave the apparatus at its front. After a few centimetres, this bundle would go over the bottom fan. That would disturb the airflow above that fan. However, I could bend the main power cable for the motherboard, the power cable for the hard disks and the power cable for the optical disk drive behind the bottom fan. Likewise, I could lead the three superfluous power cables to go the other way around the bottom fan. It was possible to pull these superfluous power cables between the rims of the bottom fan and then secure them to the lower cage with a cable wrap. This resulted in six power cables going to the lower cage without disturbing the airflow above the bottom fan. A seventh power cable was led to go behind the motherboard panel to reach the 12 V motherboard connector.
The ATX power cable and all other power cables were connected. The Sapphire Radeon HD5450 graphics card and the TP Link TL-WDN4800 wireless network card were installed next. Finally, the installation was checked.
The BIOS configuration program could be started. Voltage on the processor cores was higher then expected, however. The configured target voltage for the processor cores had not been set; the configured offset of +75 mV had been added to a new default value instead. That problem was easily solved. The fans that were installed by Sharkoon spun at 1200 rpm. They were too loud for my liking.
GNU/Linux could be started. However, the system suffered from freezes. These freezes occurred when a HD video was played. I tried to resolve this by changing the BIOS configuration, but without success. After a few days of stress testing, it could only be concluded that the system instability was somehow related to rising temperatures of system components. I found that only the North Bridge and the graphics card got hot. After a few more days I found in a book that freezes are the classic symptom of overheating. In the execution, I had noticed that the North Bridge heat sink could be tilted in all directions. I began to suspect that a layer of thermal grease under that heat sink had been torn by holding the motherboard by that heat sink.
I removed the motherboard from the case and inspected the North Bridge heat sink. Thermal grease was used under that heat sink indeed, and it was torn. I removed the old thermal grease carefully and applied a new layer. Then I reinstalled the North Bridge heat sink. I also renewed the thermal grease under the heat sink of the South Bridge and under the heat sink of the graphics card. It appeared that thermal grease was not used under the heat sink of the voltage regulators. A sticky rubber strip had been used as a thermal interface instead. So a problem with heat transport could not be there.
I exchanged the fan at the bottom and the fan at the back, because a 800 rpm fan at the back would reduce noise somewhat. Then I reinstalled the motherboard, the graphics card and the wireless network card. The computer was ready for testing again.
Unfortunately, the system suffered from freezes again.
I found that the video card heat sink got hot the most. Therefore, I decided to replace the Sapphire Radeon HD5450 video card.
In 2012, I had bought an XFX Radeon HD 6450 video card. However, the Radeon HD 6450 chip was found to be unsupported by GNU/Linux at that time. I could have solved that problem by installing a proprietary driver of AMD, but as a dedicated user of GNU/Linux, that was not the way I wanted to go. Instead, I bought the inferior Sapphire Radeon HD5450 video card, which was supported, and I stored the XFX Radeon HD 6450 video card.
The XFX Radeon HD 6450 video card was installed and worked perfectly, but the system suffered from freezes again. That reduced the possible culprits of the freezes to the motherboard and the processor. I removed the AMD FX 4300 Black Edition processor and its cooler and reinstalled the AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition processor and its cooler. However, GRUB (the loader of GNU/Linux) warned that the CPU thermal sensor was unreliable and that its monitoring was disabled. And the system suffered from freezes again.
Then I decided to buy a new motherboard, because the AMD 970 North Bridge could have been damaged by its heat before I had replaced the thermal grease. There was less reason to suspect that the AMD FX 4300 Black Edition processor was defective. I bought an Asus 970 Pro Gaming/Aura motherboard. This is a medium-priced motherboard, but according to a review , its UEFI has as many settings as the Sabertooth, a high-end motherboard of Asus.
Then the Gigabyte 970A-UD3 motherboard was replaced with the Asus 970 Pro Gaming/Aura motherboard. The AMD FX 4300 Black Edition processor and its stock cooler were reinstalled. The Crucial Ballistix Elite DDR3-1866 memory module was also installed. The UEFI was updated to the latest version and all voltages and settings were checked.
The system remained stable now.
The memory module had been automatically set at a data rate of 1333 MHz, which is a JEDEC standard. The memory module was made to operate at a data rate of 1866 MHz for which the module had an XMP (extended memory profile).
Then the UEFI changed the North Bridge frequency and the Hyper Transport frequency from 2400 MHz to 2200 MHz automatically.
When the computer was only running the UEFI configuration program, the processor warmed to 45 ˚C and the motherboard warmed to 27 ˚C at an ambient temperature of 25 ˚C.
The computer was torture tested with Mprime95 during 22 minutes. Mprime95 is a program to find Mersenne prime numbers and can also be used for torture testing. The test used all 4 processor cores at 100% and 1.6 GB of RAM. The first three tests were passed for all four cores. After that, I was fully confident that the system had become stable and that the processor was without defects.
I bought three Scythe SY1225DB12L fans to replace the three 1200 rpm fans that were pre-installed in the Sharkoon S28 Value computer case. The Scythe SY1225DB12L is a 120 mm fan that has dual ball bearings. It spins at 800 rpm and has a sound level of 10.7 dB. Scythe fans have simple black designs, come in a wide range of speeds, are competitively priced and are robust and versatile.
Then the stock cooler of the processor was replaced with the Scythe Mugen 4 PCGH Edition. When the latter was placed on the processor for examination, it appeared that its base plate was not perfectly flat: the heat sink could be canted a little. I did not like that at all, but I could not change the base plate. I could only change my mind about the thermal grease I was going to put on the processor. I had bought a unit of Arctic MX-2 thermal grease, but I decided to use my old Zalman ZM STG2 thermal grease instead: Arctic MX-2 has medium thickness and Zalman ZM STG2 is thick. (The Scythe Mugen 4 PCGH Edition came surprisingly with a small bag of thermal grease, but I preferred to know the identity and quality of what I was going to use.)
It was difficult to attach the two fans that belong to the Mugen 4 PCGH Edition to the heat sink. But the task was accomplished by pulling the clips with a pair of tweezers that have bent tips. (The new Mugen 5 PCGH Edition has new clips that you can pull in place with a finger.) The two fans were connected to the CPU_FAN and the CPU_OPT connector on the motherboard. The Akasa AK-CBFA04-15 splitter cable was not used.
When the computer was only running the UEFI configuration program, the processor warmed to 38 ˚C and the motherboard warmed to 28 ˚C at an ambient temperature of 25 ˚C.
Finally, the fans that were pre-installed in the Sharkoon S28 Value computer case were replaced by the Scythe SY1225DB12L fans. This replacement was combined with an experiment. I removed the Startech TX3 splitter cable and connected the upper front fan to the connector for a water pump. This resulted in the following fan connections.
|CPU heat sink intake fan||CPU_FAN|
|CPU heat sink exhaust fan||CPU_OPT|
|Front upper intake fan||W_PUMP|
|Back exhaust fan||CHA_FAN1|
|Front lower intake fan||CHA_FAN2|
|Bottom intake fan||CHA_FAN3|
The replacement of the fans resulted in an acceptable noise level. The experiment also proved successful: the speeds of all six fans could be monitored in the UEFI configuration program now. Further testing and evaluating are reported below.
After the hardware upgrade, my desktop computer has the following parts.
The hardware upgrade involved the following expenses.
The Asus 970 Pro Gaming/Aura motherboard has 7 multicolour LEDs beneath the South Bridge heat sink that continuously tour a colour circle, and 6 red LEDs that mark the audio paths from the audio IC to the internal and external audio connectors. These LEDs are all on from the moment that the power supply is switched on. When this is seen for the first time, it is amazing.
The motherboard uses UEFI instead of BIOS. UEFI has a graphical user interface, which is a striking and significant improvement.
The motherboard does not come with sufficient information on the UEFI settings to be able to make well informed decisions about them all. The quality of English in the UEFI configuration program is also poor. And Asus has not made available any monitoring or control software for users of GNU/Linux. However, the motherboard has excellent performance figures. It also has two connectors for CPU fans, one for a water pump and three for case fans. And the UEFI has a very extensive collection of settings.
When the computer is running idle, the North Bridge heat sink gets to about 55 ˚C. I do not like that. I did not find reliable information about what is normal and what is high, but someone has written  that most North Bridges can operate to about 100 ˚C. The other heat sinks remain cold.
When the computer is only running the UEFI configuration program, the processor warms to 38 ˚C. With the stock cooler, the processor got to 45 ˚C. This means that the Scythe Mugen 4 PCGH Edition cools much better than the stock cooler.
The computer was torture tested with Mprime95 during 38 minutes. The first four tests were passed for all 4 processor cores. The AMD FX 4300 has a maximum electric power of 95 W and that power is transformed in heat during the torture test. The currents to the processor are delivered by the voltage regulators which have their own heat sink, left of the processor. That heat sink also generates maximum heat. Near the end of the torture test the top of the case was about 40 ˚C above the processor heat sink and about 45 ˚C above the voltage regulators. The air that came out of the rear fan was measured to be 39 ˚C. Ambient temperature was 25 ˚C.
I guess that the two fans of the processor cooler effect a flow of air that the rear fan cannot match. Therefore, I guess that the air that flows through the processor cooler is partly deflected by the back panel and partly flows to the voltage regulators’ heat sink. The voltage regulators’ heat sink then deflects the air both up and down, causing the top panel to rise to circa 45 ˚C.
The Sharkoon S28 Value computer case does not allow for fans at the top of the case. However, one fan may be needed there for an excellent airflow along the voltage regulators’ heat sink. The air output of the bottom fan is considerably greater than that of each front fan. Therefore, the airflow through each front fan is hampered by the front panel. Nevertheless, the computer case has been constructed well, is very versatile and has a dust free airflow.
Using a wet finger, it could be confirmed that air leaves the case through the vents in the back panel. This means that in spite of the rear exhaust fan, the three intake fans sustain an overpressure in the case. And it means that the purpose of the dust filters is not undermined by the rear fan.
Sound measurements (measured with a YFE YF-20 sound level meter):
The 40 dB is the lowest sound level that is marked on the scale of the instrument. Sound levels decrease with the square of distance, and are expressed on a logarithmic scale. Therefore, the sound level at a distance of 100 cm is estimated to be 40 dB – 19 dB = 21 dB. This is 10.3 dB more than the stated sound level of most fans. The difference is caused by the multitude of fans and by the objects that hamper the airflows.
The very low sounding rumble of the hard disks results from that the hard disks are mounted with plastic strips that have rubber grips. These rubber grips prevent the transmission to the case of the high frequencies that are contained in the noise of the head arms, when they move from one track to another. Only when the left panel of the case is removed, these high frequencies are audible. The Sharkoon S28 Value included 14 of the above-mentioned strips.
A hardware upgrade of a desktop computer was completed successfully. The upgrade involved the processor, processor cooler, random access memory, motherboard, graphics card, three fans and the computer case. The replacement of the memory modules, motherboard and graphics card was not planned but worked out very well. The primary objective of the original construction was a silent computer. That objective was pursued again and was approached to 21 dB from absolute silence, invariant of processor load and hard disk activity. The experience that was gained with the original construction in 2010 led to a much greater work speed in 2017. A nasty lesson that was learned was that one should not hold a heat sink to lift a motherboard from a computer case. My knowledge about thermal greases and bearing types of fans was strengthened. The new experience suggests that perseverance can be decisive for a successful hardware upgrade of a computer.
The following links are recommended for further reading.
18 January 2018
On 20, 21, 22 and 23 January 2018 small improvements were made.
On 26 January 2018 picture 13 and its caption were added.
On 1, 2, 8, 9 and 23 February 2018 linguistic improvements were made.
On 14 and 15 February 2018 improvements were made to table 1.
On 23, 24 and 26 July 2018 alternative descriptions were added to pictures 1 to 8.
On 15 and 16 September 2018 alternative descriptions were added to pictures 9 to 13.
On 9 and 10 November 2018 small improvements were made.
On 15 and 17 November 2019 the presentation was strongly improved: automatic text centreing, colouring of background and headers, and caption restyling.
Picture 1 was copied from https://www.ask-corp.jp/products/3rsystem/middle-pccase/r430.html. I regard my use of the picture as fair use (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use).
Picture 2 was copied from http://shop.amd.com/en-us/search/FD4300WMHKBOX. I regard my use of the picture as fair use (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use).
Picture 3 was copied from http://www.scythe-eu.com/produkte/cpu-kuehler/mugen-4-pcgh.html. I regard my use of the picture as fair use (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use).
Picture 4 was copied from http://sharkoon.com/product/1678/16860. I regard my use of the picture as fair use (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use).
Picture 5 was copied from https://www.amazon.co.uk/Akasa-AK-CBFA04-15-Splitter-Cable-Fans/dp/B005FWXWPS. I regard my use of the picture as fair use (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use).
Picture 6 was copied from https://azerty.nl/product/startech/625817/-com-15-cm-tx3-ventilatorvoeding-splitterkabel-splitser-voor-stroom-ventilator-3-pins-interne-stroom-v-naar-3-pins-interne-stroom-m-. I regard my use of the picture as fair use (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use).
Picture 7 was copied from https://azerty.nl/product/crucial/639450/ballistix-elite-ddr3-4-gb. I regard my use of the picture as fair use (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use).
Picture 8 was copied from http://sharkoon.com/product/1678/16860. I regard my use of the picture as fair use (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use).
Picture 9 was copied from https://www.asus.com/be-nl/Motherboards/970-PRO-GAMING-AURA/gallery/. I regard my use of the picture as fair use (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use).
Picture 10 was copied from http://www.sicomputers.nl/scythe-slip-stream-120-db-800rpm.html. I regard my use of the picture as fair use (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use).
Picture 11 was copied from https://azerty.nl/product/arctic+cooling/2431344/arctic-mx-2-thermische-pasta. I regard my use of the picture as fair use (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use).
Picture 12 was copied from https://azerty.nl/product/225965/zalman-zm-stg2-thermische-pasta-grijs. I regard my use of the picture as fair use (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use).