How to: Build an Extreme Gaming PC – Cases and Cooling

When it comes to selecting a case for a gaming PC, three factors should always be front of mind: Flexibility, Airflow and Style. The order of these may vary depending on your priorities, but as we’ll see, all three are important considerations in finding the best chassis for your gaming rig.

It’s a Breeze

First, let’s talk about Airflow, as it’s a reasonably simple concept to explain. If you’ve been following this series, you’ll know that the most powerful components generally produce the most heat. Unless that heat is removed from inside the PC (or at least the temperature is reduced in some other way), before long, the computer will become unstable and will most likely power down.

We’ll discuss methods of cooling shortly but as a general rule, ensuring those components have plenty of space around them for airflow is vital to running a stable gaming PC. Fans are used to draw cold air into your PC case, over your components, and/or extract hot air out of the case. To be effective, that airflow needs to be unobstructed. Bigger cases with more internal space can be easier to cool, as there’s more room for air to flow – alongside the sheer size of more advanced components, it’s the major reason larger ATX cases remain popular for gaming machines.


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You’ll find that many PC cases are equipped with pre-installed (or bundled) fans which can be used to propel air around the case. When you’re shopping for a case, be sure to check out reviews of any bundled fans, as well as the case itself, to ensure they’re effective and as quiet as possible.

Of course, to optimise that airflow around the case, you may need to try various positions for fans and other cooling components. The ability to experiment with different locations for larger, hotter components like power supplies and hard drive caddies – big rectangles that can easily block air flow – is also a great idea. That’s where Flexibility comes in.

Larger cases allow more flexibility to position components around the case to maximise airflow. Obviously, the motherboard will need to be positioned in a fixed location, but look for cases that allow flexible positioning of PSUs – at the front or rear of the case, or perhaps in a special compartment that tucks it out-of-the-way completely. Front, rear, top and bottom fan positions are also a great idea – you’ll need to figure out the most efficient way of using airflow to cool your gaming components. Varying the position (and orientation) of your fans can make a significant difference to internal temperatures.

Staying Frosty

When selecting our CPU, I mentioned that “K” class Intel processors (which have the ability to be overclocked) did not ship with bundled heatsinks or CPU fans, like other mainstream processors. As a result, you’ll need to investigate your own CPU cooling solution. This could well be a large heatsink and fan combo, rated for higher speed/hotter running CPUs. But many gamers will consider liquid cooling for better cooling performance.

If you’re now imagining a scary amount of pipes and liquid nitrogen being pumped around your PC – hold fire! While you’ll find the most extreme rigs kitted out with the kind of pipework that’ll put your home plumbing to shame, for most users, a neat all-in-one watercooler is more than sufficient. These are “closed loop” sealed systems that incorporate a cooling block (that fits over the processor), pump, a radiator to dissipate heat, pipes and, of course, the coolant that is pumped around the system. Liquid coolers are available with various radiator sizes, from 120mm through 140mm up to 240mm, 280mm and beyond in larger cases. If you’re going down the liquid cooling route, you’ll obviously need to research the most appropriate size for your case – but, remembering flexibility, also look out for cases that offer flexible radiator positioning.

A top mounted radiator with fans can be used to exhaust hot air from the top of the case (as long as vents are available), ensuring that the heat generated from the CPU isn’t blown back across other components before being extracted by a rear fan. Alternatively, you could front mount the cooler, allowing the integrated fans to be used as the front intake. The options are various and debates rage online as to the best configuration – ensure you purchase a case with flexible mounting options and you can experiment to your heart’s content.

Obviously, there are certain risks associated with any liquid-filled component being installed in a PC. Obviously, read the reviews and discard any models that appear to have a significant/regular risk of leaking, as well as those with failing or noisy pumps. Fan noise can be an issue – particularly on smaller coolers with smaller fans that may need to spins faster for best performance. Again, you may find that you wish to swap out the stock fans for quieter models once you’re build is up and running, but I’d advise getting the PC built and tested before jumping to any decisions.  The same goes for any bundled fans that are supplied with your PC case – while you’ll find many fans out there rated as “silent”, if you go with a good case, you may well find the bundled fans do a good enough job. There’s plenty of time available to test and upgrade if necessary!

Looking Sharp

Advising you on the styling of your gaming PC is a fool’s errand. It’s all down to personal taste, but rest assured if you look around, you’ll find a dizzying array of PC cases on offer. Whether you’re looking for consummate grace or outright gaudiness, a simple black box or stealth-figher inspired beast, it’s all out there. You may want your gaming PC to make a statement – many do – or prefer it to blend into the background. It’s your call.

What I would say is that balance function with form. Be sure to select a case that includes some front or top mounted ports (USB/Audio) which will make connecting peripherals a whole lot easier. If you’re thinking about playing Blu-ray discs, you’ll (obviously) need to ensure there’s a mounting option, unless a USB option is preferred.

Windowed cases are popular with gamers that want to allow a visitors a peek under the hood, but ensuring easy access to your components for upgrades and tweaks is a really sensible option. Otherwise, you’ll be reaching for the screwdriver every time you need to get to the guts of the PC.

If you’re going to have your components on show, be sure to look for cases with decent cable management features. That’s not just about having plenty of space available to tuck cables out-of-the-way, but also plenty of loops for cable ties to ensure the inevitable mess of wires that comprise the modern PC are held securely in place – again, promoting better airflow and keeping your PC looking fine.

My Choice: NZXT H440 Case with NZXT Kraken X61 Cooling

I’m actually going to cheat here a little, as I want to share two picks with you for consideration. Long time readers will know that we’ve completed several builds in the past with Fractal Design cases. We’re big fans of their kit – the company’s cases always look sharp, promote cool and quiet running and are supremely flexible.

The Fractal Design Define R5 is billed as a silent case, with extensive air and liquid cooling support. It’s packed with noise absorbing material to reduce output and is equipped with the company’s flexible ModuVent fan vent covers, allowing greater flexibility during installation. Depending on your build configuration, the Define R5 will support up to eight hard drives and will fit pretty much all modern GPUs.

define-r5

The case includes two Fractal Design Dynamic GP14 140mm fans which should optimise airflow while still maintaining low noise levels. It’s available in a host of finishes, windowed and solid design options and you can pick one up for as little as $90 online. We’ll definitely be featuring this case in a build soon.

However, I’ve opted for an NZXT H440 case for this series. Again, it’s available in a choice of colours, with solid and windowed options on offer (I’ve selected a black windowed model). A special edition design, promoted in partnership with Razer, adds enhanced gamer style for those looking for something a little more aggressive.

 

It’s a mid-tower case, so not too imposing, but offers plenty of space and flexible mounting options for a variety of build configurations. It comes equipped with four NZXT FNv2 case fans: 3x 120mm in front and 1x 140mm in rear as well as an integrated 8-port PWM fan hub. The case is sized to support ATX, mATX, and ITX motherboards as well as GPUs up to 406mm in length.

Like the Fractal Define R5, the H440 includes sound dampening material, but there’s also an integrated power supply shroud (with SSD mounts) which will keep the PSU tucked well out-of-the-way. Cable management support is also extensive, allowing for a tidy build.

Liquid cooling support is also impressive, with 240mm, 280mm and 360mm radiators supported in both front and top positions. That’s important as I’ll be pairing the case with the NZXT Kraken X61 liquid cooler.

 

The Kraken X61 is equipped with a large 280mm radiator, variable speed pump, integrated digital fan control (with an accompanying app) plus twin FX140 V2 performance liquid cooling PWM fans tuned for static pressure. I’m hoping here for a combination of easy installation and highly effective cooling – we’ll see once we get into the build!

That completes our round-up of the internal components that will comprise our Extreme Gaming PC! Let’s recap on the selection:

Motherboard ASUS MAXIMUS VIII Hero Alpha
CPU Intel Core i7-6700K
GPU ASUS STRIX GTX 980Ti
RAM Crucial Ballistix Sport LT 16 GB
PSU EVGA SuperNova 850W G2 80 Plus Gold
Storage Samsung SSD 950 Pro 512 GB
Case NZXT H440 (Black)
Cooling NZXT Kraken X61

Next stop: the build!

Follow the rest of the series online – and grab our Build a Windows 10 Gaming PC eBook for the full guide:

1. So You Want to Build a Gaming PC?
2. Selecting a Powerful GPU
3. Choosing the Right CPU
4. Choosing the Perfect Motherboard
5. Selecting Your Gaming RAM
6. Powering Your Gaming PC
7. Selecting Your Storage
8. Finding the Right PC Chassis
9. Optimizing Gameplay With an Enhanced Display
10. Edging Your Competitors With the Best Controllers
11. Enhancing Your PC With Awesome Audio
12. Building Your Windows 10 Gaming PC
13. Exploring Your Motherboard BIOS (eBook Exclusive)
14. Installing Windows 10 (eBook Exclusive)
15. Configuring Your GPU Software (eBook Exclusive)
16. Overclocking the Easy Way (eBook Exclusive)
17. Streaming Games Around the Home (eBook Exclusive)
18. Broadcasting Your Gameplay (eBook Exclusive)

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7 comments

  1. Here’s a small game PC. Only room left would be for one disk drive.
    Corsair D250D Case
    Seasonic 1250W Gold (Just because I had it)
    Motherboard GA-Z97N-Gaming 5
    (Wireless hardware removed, so H100i would fit)
    Intel i7-4790K 4.4GHz
    Corsair H100I water cooler
    Corsair Vengeance 2 x 8GB = 16GB 1600 memory
    XFX Double D R9- 270 Graphics Card (Length is a limitation)
    512GB SSD Boot drive
    LG WH16NS40 Blu-ray Writer

    My next build will be with a Corsair Air 540 using Skylake parts as soon as the motherboards go to V1.1.

    BTW, in the US all boxed CPUs come with CPU coolers including the “K” version. You may have been referring to the OEM version.

    1. Great build! I was looking at the Corsair H100I too, but decided to stick with NZXT for both case and cooler.

      With regard to the coolers – my understanding is that all Skylake K Series CPUs ship without the stock fan and heatsink. Mine certainly shipped without the heatsink, and I can’t see any version listed with the cooler. This is a change from previous generations, though – your i7-4790K most likely did include the cooler, right?

      1. My mistake, I had no knowledge of Skylake, I should have known better, you do good research. I’ve probably waited as long as I can for Asus or Gigabyte to update their 170 motherboards to V1.1.
        I never use the factory CPU coolers. I’m using two Corsair H100i coolers but I’m going back to the
        Noctua NH-D15. In the past the Noctua was using 120mm fans. I have a new Corsair H110 that just missed fitting.

        Click to open expanded view

        Noctua NH-D15 6 heatpipe with Dual NF-A15 140mm fans

        1. Don’t worry, easily done – I had to do a lot of reading in advance of this series, but there’s so much to get up to speed with, it’s very easy to miss something! 🙂 The ASUS Maximus VIII Hero Alpha we’re using is an update to the Maximus VIII Hero, so I’m hopeful the revision shakes out any Z170 BIOS issues, but we’ll see. The provision of USB 3.1 was the main draw, though.

          The Noctua coolers and fans are first-class for an air cooling solution. I was keen to cover an all-in-one liquid cooled solution in this series, as it’s something we haven’t covered previously on the site. Interested to hear why you’re switching back to air cooling….

          1. I found the water coolers nosier and likely riskier to use. I just purchased two Noctua NF-A14 FLX 140mm fans for my main computer’s H100i. Corsair fans are not known for being quiet, at least the ones that come with their products. Corsair’s AF140 are good quiet fans. I haven’t found them in any of their cases or coolers, just after market parts. When I find the ambition to exchange the fans, I’ll have a good comparison of air vs. water cooling.

            I still haven’t finished your Windows 10 server build. I haven’t been able to get the Intel Rapid Start Technology to pass its test. After several tries I left it alone for awhile. Your instructions are pretty simply. I’ll just start over fresh.
            Richard

          2. I chose the Fractal Design Define R5 Gaming Case for your Windows 10 Server project. It’s bigger than necessary but plenty of room to add onto the three disk drives and M.2 boot device I installed. I don’t have the window side panel so I have better sound proofing. The bottom line is this case lives up to its quiet case advertising.

          3. Fractal Design really made their name on good looks and silent running – I can definitely see the R5 making a great server chassis. The sound proofing they install in the cases is top notch, and of course, with an ATX case, you can afford a bigger motherboard. The Mini-ITX/Micro-ATX boards and cases are awesome, but they can be a little awkward to work with!

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