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Old 08-12-2011, 09:11 PM
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Default Blue Galaxis (Audio Workstation in a 650D) Buildlog

This build log describes the process of building a custom audio workstation for one of my best buddies.

He has a MIDI-fied Wersi Galaxis! If you don't know this beast check Google. It's an awesome organ.

For software he uses Ableton Live as well as Native Instruments Komplete 7. Nothing else is used on the machine beside some of the usual tools. So we basically need a number cruncher and lots of memory. The goal is to allow to use physical modeling on all of the manuals the organ has plus room for extras as well as studio quality analogue recording.

In the end we came up with a lot of Corsair products, so I decided to share my build experience with you guys.

We will do the build in multiple phases, so my friend can understand what we are doing in each phase and why. It's his baby so he has to be there for the delivery and seeing it grow up!

Phase 1: Component Selection

This is usually the hardest phase for any custom build. You need to evaluate what are the exact needs of a customer to get the biggest bang for the buck and still have options left. We up- and downsized the machine in various configurations and the result is this:
  • CPU: Intel Core i7 2600K
    I investigated ALL current possibilities for this custom audio workstation. Starting from multi CPU setups up to the recent Sandy Bridge processors. I went through a ton of benchmarks, a lot of calculations and build the basic systems at my preferred retailer. Long story short: The 2600K will give the best bang for the buck at the moment. It's easy overclockable with the Z68 chipset and the internal GPU can be used as well.
  • Motherboard: ASUS P8Z68-V Pro
    For the purpose of this machine no fancy stuff on the motherboard is needed. I checked the usual suspects and the result was the above listed one from ASUS that has everything needed without wasting money on features that will never be used. Also my local retailer sells this one in a bundle with the 2600K and knocks off a few bucks for this combo. In addition the ASUS motherboard comes with some tools for easy over-clocking and UEFI instead of BIOS. Both are a big plus for the average consumer. What is also nice is that one USB port can be powered even when the machine is shut down. Very nice for charging an iPhone for example.
  • Memory: 2 x Corsair Vengeance Blue 8GB Kit
    The motherboard requires dual channel RAM. I went with matching DDR3s from Corsair because I never had any problems with their memory products. I chose the blue Vengeance as they fit the blue color scheme of the ASUS and work nicely together with the Sandy Bridge CPU. More RAM for the build would have been nice, but I couldn't find any decent 8GB RAM sticks for a reasonable price.
  • CPU Cooling: Corsair Hydro H100
    As usual I went with some of the tower CPU cooling blocks first. It's always a gamble if they fit on your motherboard without blocking a RAM slots for example. Initially I chose an Alpenföhn Matterhorn for a change from my usual decision to use Scythe. But my friend didn't really understand why to use an aftermarket cooler at all, especially because they are so pricey. For fun I investigated recent water cooling starter kits and by accident came across the H100, which is kind of a hybrid. It should perform as well as a Silver Arrow or a big Noctua I hope. The H70/H80 weren't an option for this build. Also with the H100 the view on the motherboard isn't blocked by a huge tower cooler. It's a change and I'm really interested to find out how the H100 performs.
  • GPU: None
    We'll go for the internal GPU of the 2600K. Only applications are run on this machine, so it shouldn't be a problem. The CPU shouldn't get too hot either as there is never any real load on the GPU. And if it should be necessary one day a discrete GPU (preferable a passive one for this build) can be added very easily.
  • Case: Corsair Obsidian 650D
    I went through some cases with my friends and we both liked the appearance of the 650D. It is an incredible good case for a clean build. It only has a few drawbacks, like you cannot fit in a Corsair H100 in a push/pull fashion with 4 fans from what I read. Also for expansion cards you still have to use screws. But these are not biggies. IMHO it's one of the best cases out there for a reasonable price.
  • PSU: Corsair AX850
    I usually use beQuiet but because we have a Corsair case, Corsair Memory and a Corsair CPU Cooler I checked what Corsair has to offer in regards to modular power supplies. Result was an AX850. Certainly an overkill, but going silver or lower wattage wasn't a big difference in price. So I went for one that could handle anything imaginable ever being put in this case. This should be future proof for many years to come.
  • Storage for OS: Corsair Force 3 60GB changed to ******** m4 128GB
    These days it has to be an SSD for booting the OS with basic applications. Of course a full SSD system would be perfect, but SSDs are still to pricey. I initially chose an Intel one from the 510 series. I wanted SATA-3. It was too expensive and somewhat large for just the OS, so I let my friend chose one. He came up with a 60GB Force 3, which is a very nice SSD. Hey, Corsair again.

    Update: Because there seems to be still problems with the SandForce chips on the SSD, I decided to go with a ******** m4 128GB using a Marvell chip instead. Just to be on the safe side here.
  • Storage for Data: WD WD20EARX
    This a 2TB SATA-3 driver from WD. I use WDs in my 32TB RAID-6 storage for my media-center and have nothing bad to say about WD drives. Naturally I went for WD in this build as well. It's a Green one and should be very silent. Going for the Blue or Black product line here is an overkill. For audio recording you want a very fast drive. With SATA-3 there should be enough performance even when going for a more silent drive and save a few bucks.
  • Optical Drives: None
    Not needed for this build as there is never the need to put in any DVDs or CDs. Windows will be installed by a USB Thumb Drive and any driver or updates will be downloaded from the Internet anyway. Also the used applications are already present as backed up ISO images on my friend's external USB HDD. So let's save a few bucks here and invest them in cool drinks during the actual build.
  • Audio Interface: RME HDSPe AIO
    For an audio workstation the onboard sound or even some aftermarket consumer audio card will not cut it. They are fine for what most users and gamers do, but when it comes to recording music they all have very bad results. So we need some professional equipment for this build. And RME is always the first choice here. We will add the HDSPe AIO later and first use the current one my buddy has. When the RME is installed he will be in for an awakening. These cards just rock when it comes to professional audio equipment and recording.
  • OS: Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
    What else these days. But I actually discussed OSX with my friend, which I use at home. No need for Win7 Ultimate here as it has nothing more that is needed. But in the actual build, I'll use the Ultimate Version because I have a license lying around that I don't use anymore. So my friend can save some bucks here and better invest them in some drinks and food for both of us.
  • Fan Replacement: Scythe Gentle Typhoon AP-15 120mm and BitFenix Spectre Black 200mm
    Let's be honest. Most stock fans aren't good. They are most of the time simply too loud or don't deliver performance wise. We will replace them in a later step, so my buddy can hear the difference and understand why I planned to replace them right from the start. I'll go for three AP-15s (2 on the radiator, and one on the back exhaust). For the front intake the choices are limited as there are only very few 200mm x 20mm fans available at the moment. I ended up choosing a BitFenix Spectre Black.
  • Fan Control: Future Upgrade (possible Corsair Link)
    I don't like the available fan controls and wait what the Corsair Link will have to offer. If it should be necessary I have an older fan control lying around that can be used until the Link comes out. Or maybe there won't be a need for a fan/light control in the end at all. We'll see...

All parts are ordered and we will start the build next weekend hopefully. Stay tuned.

Coming Up:
Phase 2: The Basic Build

Last edited by Scythe42; 08-20-2011 at 02:20 AM. Reason: updated components
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Old 08-20-2011, 03:14 AM
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Phase 2: The Basic Build

After all components arrived we assembled them without any modding yet. So these are all stock components as delivered. We used absolutely no extras, not a single screw!

Sorry for the bad picture quality but my friend accidentally changed the F settings on my DSLR and the depth of field on the pictures is somewhat limited and parts of the pictures appear blurry.

The components (the RME HDSPe AIO is missing from these pictures, as it was delivered two days later)

Let's start with some constructive criticism on the used Corsair parts. All worked fine and did there job very well, but there is always room for enhancements to make the components top notch.

650D Case:
  • One cm more room before the back panel for easier cable management
  • A bit more height to allow a push/pull setup for the H100. Maybe removing the lowest PCI bracket for that?
  • Screwless mounting of expansion cards.
  • Change all plastic on the outside to aluminum.
  • Eject mechanism for the top SATA port, as disks are really hard to remove.
  • Screwless mounting mechanism for 2,5" drives in the HD mounting cages.
  • Add some "rubber" to the side panels to make them fit really tight to avoid noise caused by vibrations.
  • Add a locking mechanism to the side panels. They are too easy removable by accident at the moment.
  • Back 120mm exhaust fan doesn't report RPMs.
  • Add 8 black washers to be used below the motherboard screws.
  • The white HDD activity LED is way too bright.
  • Drop the fan controller. Four fans can be managed by any decent motherboard more efficiently.
  • Sleeve front panel and stock fan cables for a cleaner look.

As you can see these are all very small issues. I love this case and it will be my standard for the next builds until I come across something better for this price range or an updated "pro" version.

AX850 PSU:
  • Add protector caps to the molex and SATA power connectors. This is really important to avoid transmission of power to the motherboard by accident.
  • Add a molex cable with just one power connector at the top. Usually you have to run one from the PSU to the top and it's a bit annoying to have three additional molex connector in the way on the back of the case.
  • Drop the gimmicky cable bag, better add more assorted cables instead.
  • Add fan power connectors to the PSU.

This was my first time using a Corsair PSU instead of a beQuiet one. I will move back to beQuiet because they offer all the above mentioned things right away. Especially they offer more assorted cables for a cleaner build out of the box. They are a bit pricier though if I am not mistaken.

  • Make the power connector cable a bit longer for easier cable routing behind the motherboard tray. It is just a little bit too short for easy management.
  • Sleeve the cables for a cleaner look.
  • Better quality assurance in regards to the radiator. From what I read nearly all of them come with a few fins bent (mine as well). Not that this has any impact on the proper function but it will create a bad reputation over time and unnecessary RMAs.

I really love this cooler. It will be my standard now. No worries about if a tower cooler will fit or if it blocks some RAM slots. It makes the build look more cleaner and it performs as well (if not even better) than the best CPU cooling blocks I came across. No more ugly Silver Arrow!

Spoiler: The CPU runs a few degrees under room temperature most of the time (unless you really put load on it of course)!

The ASUS motherboard from above.

The motherboard with installed 16GB Corsair Vengeance memory and installed CPU. The RAM is a perfect color match to the ASUS. If there only were 2x8GB Kits available to install 32GB instead of 16GB of memory...

Side view of the 650D case before installing components.

Continued in next post...

Last edited by Scythe42; 08-20-2011 at 04:08 AM. Reason: typos
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Old 08-20-2011, 05:57 AM
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With such a nice case as the 650D the build went very fast. We continued with the case.

First we removed the 200mm fan at the top to make room for the H100 cooler.

Installed SSD and HDD. For the SSD we needed to remove one of pins on the side and screw the SSD in place. Installation of the HDD was tool-less. The plastic HD trays seem to be a little soft at first. But as soon as you put a HDD in one and slide it back into the case it becomes rock solid.

There was no vibration or noise we could hear from the HDD later. But keep in mind, we chose a WD Green. It might be different if you use a WD Black for example. Therefore I cannot really tell you how well the vibration dampening is with high speed drives.

Next the AX850 was installed.

We continued with mounting the bracket for the H100 on the back of the motherboard before putting it into the case. It really has to be tight. Nothing may wiggle or you won't achieve proper cooling. Here we really needed some muscle power and proper tools to make it fit as intended.

About the thermal compound on the H100 pump: We did not even bother thinking about a different thermal compound. The one on the H100 seems perfectly fine as some temperature checks revealed later. Yeah, maybe you can decrease the temperature under full load with a different compound by maybe one degree if you are lucky, but honestly who cares?

About a push/pull setup on the H100 radiator: For fun I tried if it is possible to put this in. With the ASUS motherboard it was impossible. But with such a thin radiator you would only gain 1-2 degree max anyway.

A future H100 (maybe a H110) with a thicker radiator would be nice as there is still a bit room in the case. Then a push/pull setup might make a significant difference. On the 650D you would need some additional radiator screws and mount the pull fans on top of the case and add some nice fan grills to them. This would not really disturb the picture if you are in desperate need of some more cooling power. But we will never go this route as the cooling of the H100 is great out of the box.

But back to the actual build.

Then the motherboard was screwed into place. Very nice here is that the 650D already comes with the nine standoffs preinstalled for a standard ATX board. The middle one doesn't accept a screw but instead has a pin on the top. This makes positioning the motherboard very easy. It's the small things that make a case great.

Next the radiator with the two fans was installed. This took a little bit longer as it was the first time I installed a H100. But the installation instructions that came with it were very clear. Afterwards the pump was put on the CPU and screwed tight.

Then the minimum required power cables were installed, connected to motherboard and the hard drives. Next we connected the SATA cables to the motherboard and the drives. We used the Marvell SATA connector here by accident. Later we switched the drives to the Intel SATA chip, which turned out to be a bit over two times faster than the one from Marvell.

We did not yet connect the front panel and the switches in case some component turned out to be defective. The ASUS motherboard has a power and reset switch on board, therefore there is not even the need to shorten the power switch. Only a CMOS clearing switch is missing. But it is nearly impossible to lock up this board as it does some health checking first on cold boot and corrects settings if needed. This is the famous "double boot" some people are experience because of a wrong setup. Mostly it should be wrong RAM timings or increasing BCLK not all components can handle. BCLK has not only influence on the CPU on a Sandy Bridge board.

You might note that the cabling from the H100 at the top doesn't look clean and somewhat disturbs the otherwise nice build. We'll fix this when we install custom fans by proper sleeving the cables including the power cables from the H100. Some modding is always required on the inside if you want a real clean looking build.

At this point we installed the OS with all the drivers following by firmware updates to give the hardware a decent test and play a bit around with the motherboard and the H100 cooling. I'll skip this for now and continue with the hardware installation. The OS installation with drivers and some tests will be featured in another post.

Front panel and front switches connected and moved the SATA drivers to the Intel controller. The RME audio interface was installed and we are done with the component installation.

As already mentioned some additional sleeving is needed on the top. This will be done later after we installed custom fans and some lighting.

The ASUS motherboard came with a bracket for mounting two additional USB 3 ports on the back. Instead of installing it and routing the USB 3 cables from the front panel through the small hole on the back of the 650D we removed the slot bracket and put the connector directly into the case. It's a bit big with it's cabling though. We'll exchange it to a smaller adapter that sits directly on top of the motherboard connector and converts it to two USB 3.0 ports next time the case is opened. This is not really required but should make the build even cleaner.

We did not bother with the 650D fan controller at all, as the motherboard can handle the front intake and back exhaust fan nicely. The top two fans are managed by the H100 which also reports RPMs to the motherboard. The 120mm back exhaust fan does not report RMPs though.

And now we take a look at the back cabling...

What a mess... But who cares, nobody can see it.

Instead of routing an additional molex cable to the top for powering the SATA bay, we used a SATA power to molex adapter I bought especially for this purpose. This is not required but makes the build cleaner. Oops, we used one additional part that didn't come in the boxes...

Before closing the side panel, we "organized" the cables on the back a bit, so that no power connector could touch the motherboard and we can actually close the case. To be on the safe side here some "dust covers" will be added to all unused Molex and SATA power connectors next time the case is opened.

I'll add some better pictures of the interior and the outside as well as on the closed case probably next week.

Just to let you know:

This machine performs so awesome that it could handle more physical modeling and complex sound filters than we every imagined. And during all this the CPU rarely goes above 1600GHz and stays below room temperature! Here the hyper-threading of the 2600K really shows its advantages when dealing with CPU hungry multi-threaded applications compared to the 2500K. For a gamer hyper-threading doesn't really make a difference, but when you deal with applications it really shows its advantages. We have a dream machine for musicians here!

Part of this low CPU consumption is of course the RME audio interface, which delivery crystal clear sound better than any prosumer or onboard equipment. We haven't tested recording yet, but the RME is professional studio equipment anyway, so it should be perfect. It beats the old Tascam 122L by miles.

Also the integrated GPU works very well. It is faster than I expected. Of course nothing for gaming. But for everything else in a single display application it's perfect. I haven't checked if the 2600K can handle more than one display with the different connectors offered on the ASUS motherboard. Maybe even multi display configuration is possible. We will let the GPU run on its default 1600 MHz speed and default RAM usage. No need for over-clocking here at all.

My friend is so happy with the result!!!

Only thing he has in mind is exchanging the 2 TB HDD to one or more SDDs in future when they are way bigger and less expensive. After seeing the speed of the SDD (Win 7 installation took roughly 10 minutes, booting takes 12 seconds) he now understands why I insisted on an SSD for the OS and basic applications.

We far exceeded our goal with this build. The Sandy Bridge processor and the Z86 chipset really showed how powerful they are. For any builds in the near future I stay with this configuration but only use a different PSU for better out of the box cabling options. If you want to make a gamer box out of this just add two powerful GPUs and you are done.

OS, driver installation, basic overlocking, some UEFI notes and some benchmarking will come up next.

Last edited by Scythe42; 08-20-2011 at 11:19 AM. Reason: added pictures
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Old 08-23-2011, 02:19 PM
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Phase 3: The Operating System

Here are some notes on the OS as well as some "optimizations" we did.

If you have any questions on some part please reply to this thread.

I prepared an USB key with Win 7 Ultimate and slipstreamed SP1, the newest drivers and firmware updates. The Win 7 Installation was completed after 12 minutes. Nice. System Boot Time was 10 seconds at this point.

You should always disconnect all drives except the one you want to install Windows on. Depending on how the drives are partitioned or what was the last boot drive (even if it was not bootable) you might end up with an extra partition on the wrong drive (used for BitLocker on Win7 Ultimate). Therefore just remove the SATA connectors during the fresh install to be on the safe side.

No components in EFI were disabled because I want to have drivers on the system for everything in case my friend decides to change something. Installation and firmware upgrade went smooth and fast except for the Intel SATA controller.

If you update the drivers with the F6 disk make sure you have a device connected to the Intel controller or else Win 7 will BSOD right away. Also for updating the Intel firmware and installation the RST software make sure the controller is in RAID mode or you will get a strange error message that it could not copy driver files.

I went on with some basic tools like CPU-Z, 7-Zip, Virus Scanner (I highly recommend Kaspersky Internet Security), Virtual Clone Drive, the ASUS Tools and some other stuff that was needed.

On the Intel SATA controller booting now takes 18 seconds (measured with BootRacer). There are a lot of startup items on this machine at the moment. And the Intel SATA controller takes a few more seconds for POST than the Marvell one.

Time to do some basic over-clocking. In EFI I selected the performance settings on the main screen, so that I have a good configuration for a start, booted Windows and started the ASUS Over-clocking Tool.

The ASUS utility did some reboots, ran its stability tests and increased the settings until Win7 finally BSODed. The result was nearly 4.8GHz. Nice so far.

I reset all the values that the ASUS utility changed (manual over-clocking is better!) and just increased the CPU multiplier to 45. A 4.5GHz ceiling should be enough for now. The Sandies are so easy too over-clock!

Time to make an image with Acronis True Image Home in case something goes wrong.

This was followed by the installation of all the music software and restoring data from the previous machine. Now testing began.

The machine performed awesome. Even with very complex physical modeling, filters or recording the CPU stayed most of the time at 1.6GHz and only increased its clock rarely. This was way more then I expected. The 2600K with its 4 cores and Hyper-Threading plays well together with proper multi-threaded software. CPU usage was about 20% even for the most complex things and there was still tons of free RAM.

Because of this result I decided not to over-clock the 2600K any further. The 4.5GHz ceiling with everything else set to Auto should be enough. Maybe I do some optimizations here in the future or check how far the chip can be pushed.

Regarding the H100 and temperatures: Ambient temperature was about 30C. While the 2600K was working at 1,6GHz the H100 cooled it down to 26C. Nice, below ambient temperature (see note below!). Some stress test with SuperPi showed that is was going up to 68C at 4.5GHz. Very nice temperatures.

Note: Cooling below ambient temperature is physical impossible with air or basic water cooling. These are just the values the CPU reported back with various tools. These values are not really exact and can have an error margin up to 10C below the actual temperature the CPU is running at. But they are a good indicator how one cooling solution compares to to another one for the same setup.

Now some optimization to the OS and EFI followed. It will not make the Win7 feel any snappier, but why running stuff that is not needed anyway? It just feels better. Also some of the stuff just increases usability in my opinion. I only did what I felt necessary. Win7 usually gets it right and there is no real need for optimization. We are not on stupid XP anymore…

Please note that especially older SSD optimization guides overdo it and you actually come up with less overall system performance….

OK here is what I did:
  • Ran Windows Experience Index (it will actually turn off some stuff that is not needed!)
  • Disabled all unwanted startup items. Especially the ones for on-board components that will be turned off.
  • Disabled all services related to on-board components that will be turned off.
  • Disabled the following services, as they are not needed in the current setup:
    • Application Experience
    • Computer Browser
    • Diagnostic Policy Service
    • Disk Defragmenter
    • Distributed Link Tracking Client
    • IP Helper
    • Offline Files
    • Portable Device Enumerator Service
    • Print Spooler
    • Protected Storage
    • Remote Registry
    • Secondary Logon
    • Security Center
    • Server
    • Tablet PC Input Service
    • TCP/IP NetBIOS Helper
    • Windows Defender
    • Windows Error Reporting Service
    • Windows Media Center Service Launcher
  • Disabled UAC because it is just annoying.
  • Turned off not needed Windows features.
  • Disabled Aero Snap because I find it annoying.
  • Disabled System Restore.
  • Make sure Hibernation is disabled.
  • Verified that Indexing Service is turned off (should be by default)
  • Disabled Drive Indexing for SSD.
  • Verified that TRIM is actually used.
  • Verified SSD Alignment (Win7 should do it correct when partitioning the drive).
  • Checked settings for Large System Cache.
  • Disabled Date Stamping.
  • Disabled 8.3 filenames.
  • Disabled Windows Error Reporting .
  • Disabled Windows Problem Reporting.
  • Configured Auto Login.
  • Turned off GUI Boot (got bored of the animation).
  • Adjusted Power Options to my friend's linkings (High Performance not needed in this build)
  • Disabled Systems Sounds (the RME should stay silent for Windows).
  • Disabled not needed protocols for wireless Internet connection.
  • Disabled Sidebar (anyone actually using this?)
  • Installed CCleaner for basic housekeeping tasks.
  • Moved some of the user's special folders from SDD to HDD (e.g. Downloads).
  • Enabled "God Mode" for easier access to some preferences.
  • Configured the Power Switch to act as a shutdown button if Win7 is running.
  • Turned off Action Center Balloon Notifications (they are just annoying)
  • Configured Windows Update to automatically downloading updates.
  • Ran Power Efficiency Diagnostic Tool.
  • Verified that cleaning the page-file on shutdown is turned off.
  • Disabled Memory Dumps.
  • Disabled Bug Check Memory Dump.
  • Made sure Min/Max for the page file are the same.
  • Disabled LPM for SSD for performance reasons if it is not already disabled.
  • Disabled PLL Over-Voltage in EFI, so S3 can work.
  • Disabled all unused on-board components in EFI.

That's should be all...

Coming Up:
Benchmarks and a ton of better pictures….

Last edited by Scythe42; 08-24-2011 at 06:37 PM. Reason: clarified CPU temperature readings
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650d, ax850, force 3, h100, vengeance

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