My Office

Now I'm retired, I only use my personal machine. It's mostly for gaming. I've lost count of my Fallout 4 playthroughs and I have also played a lot of sniper elite over the years, though my current obsession is Borderlands 3 (I played Elite Dangerous obsessively for a year, but the thought of doing all that grinding again just makes me nauseous).

The machine is an AMD Ryzen 7 3700X with 32G of RAM. A Gigabyte RTX 2070 Super drives both displays. The motherboard is a Gigabyte Aorus Pro X570. The operating system is Windows 10 Home, I don't need Pro these days as I don't run a domain at home any more. The memory is overclocked to 3600 MT/s via DOCP to maximise performance with the Ryzen's infinity fabric at 1800MHz. The main screen is a 27" 2560x1440 Dell IPS, and the right-hand one is a 24" Dell 1920x1200 IPS rotated into portrait mode for working with long log files and Slack. The downside of this setup is the radically different DPI of the monitors, but since I usually do one-task-per-monitor, that doesn't really affect me much.

The keyboard you can see is the Ducky One2 tuxedo (non-illuminated) with double-shot PBT keycaps and Cherry MX brown switches. I used to have a Ducky One 2 Zero keyboard with blue LEDs, but to be honest, I've had it up to here with light-up keyboards, I'm not buying another one. The LEDs on two of the keys (s and t) failed shortly after the warranty expired. No, it's not some kind of profile issue, they just gradually got dimmer and dimmer until they failed completely. So no more light-up keyboards for me. The mouse is a Logitech G402 gaming mouse, because when my G502 died during lockdown I couldn't buy another G502, not for love nor money. The 402 is lighter than I'd like, but it's OK. There is also a Logitech C270 webcam (one star, would not recommend) installed for conference calls. The speakers are Yamaha. They're old, but I've rarely heard better computer speakers over the years so I've kept them.

The Build

I built the system into a BeQuiet Dark Base Pro 900 Rev 2 case, and the cpu is cooled by a Corsair H115i 280 platinum pro AIO, originally mounted as a front intake... more on that later. Yes, a 280 AIO is overkill for a 65 Watt processor, but I wanted the option to upgrade to a beefier Zen 3 CPU later (maybe a 5900, when you can buy one for a sane amount of money). I replaced the BeQuiet case fans with Corsair ML 140 PWM fans throughout because... RGB. To be honest, I don't know why BeQuiet includes the fans in this SKU, if you're buying a huge glass-sided case aimed squarely at water cooling you're not likely to be wanting the stock fans anyway. They should adopt the same approach Lian Li have taken with the 011 Dynamic: leave the fans out completely and just sell it for less money.

The Dark Base Pro 900 is dead easy to work in, being so big, but the downside is its colossal weight. I made the mistake of building this system downstairs, and practically gave myself a hernia carrying it up to the back bedroom. My only other complaint about the case apart from its weight is its silly remote PSU power hookup. That "feature" is necessary to allow you to modify the case layout, but most users won't use it, and the very short power passthrough cable gave me serious issues with reliable plug-in to the PSU. I couldn't get it to connect reliably at all with the PSU the right way up (fan down), so it sits with the fan facing upwards instead. This has caused its own problems - see the section on evolution below.

The machine is waaay too heavy to move when it's in position, so I put it on a piece of melamine-covered MDF with a cupboard handle screwed to it, so I can pull the machine out with ease to swap cables. This works very nicely for not much outlay, and would also guarantee that the PSU fan had space to breathe by ensuring the bottom intake didn't get blocked by carpet... if the PSU was, y'know, the right way up (sigh).

The downside of using two intake fans and three exhaust fans would normally be a negative pressure setup and a resulting tendency to dust build-up as it sucks air into the case from every available orifice. However the curves I've applied to the fans seem to have balanced out for normal operation, because I don't really suffer much from dust. I would love to say this was by design, but it's just dumb luck.

The system has three internal drives: a 1TB Samsung 970 EVO NVME boot drive, a 500GB Sata SSD for my game library (that seriously needs to be bigger), and a 2TB WD Black spinning drive for bulk storage.

Those fans actually all look the same shade of blue to the naked eye by the way, the camera flash washed out the front ones. I went with the Corsair ML140 magnetic levitation fans throughout because they match the fans supplied with the AIO, but their combination of low noise and decent static pressure is very good (they're actually a hybrid design which can be used in either airflow or static pressure roles). The downside of these fans is they only have four LEDs illuminating them as you can see, so the colour is a bit... uneven. Plus they're Corsair, so you have to be prepared to put up with Corsair's expensive eco-system, its massive amounts of wiring and its proprietary connectors. End of rant.

Evolution of the Design

When the machine was originally built it had three displays and two graphics cards: the 2070 drove only the central display and a 1070 drove the outer two. That's why the eagle-eyed can spot two graphics cards in my picture of the case above. So originally, the setup looked like this:

But the GTX 1070 started interfering with the breathing of the inverted power supply, which caused the PSU fan to speed up to counter the resultant heating, usually after about 15-20 minutes of operation. I didn't really need the left-hand BenQ monitor and its thick silver frame spoilt the aesthetics anyway, so I ditched it, removed the GTX 1070 and used the RTX 2070 to drive both the main and right-hand monitor. This all happened when I lowered the motherboard. Why did I lower the motherboard? Read on...

As stated earlier, the AIO was originally fitted as a front intake, in order to breathe fresh ambient air. But this meant the GPU had to cool itself with already-warmed air, which is not so clever given that the GPU outputs a lot more heat (when gaming) than the CPU. Also the coolant pipes wouldn't reach the bottom of the radiator in such a big case, so the radiator had to be positioned with the inlet and outlet at the top. While not in any sense fatal even in the long term, this could give rise to efficiency problems if coolant permeation happened and the pump had to force water through an airlock at the top of the radiator. It's not fatal, just undesirable (and probably noisy). Airlocks in an AIO are only rapidly fatal if they occur in the pump, a situation which arises if you mount the radiator at the bottom of the case, a particularly dumb arrangement as it places the high point of the loop in the pump, and hence any air present will migrate into the pump fairly quickly. For the record: air is always present in an AIO, because the AIO needs compressible gas to absorb the expansion of the incompressible fluid as it heats up. I think some manufacturers have used expansion bladders to mitigate this issue, but given how poorly some soft plastics age under heat load, I think air is still the better solution. Apropos of which, if you bought one of those AIOs which can be topped up, note that top-up does NOT mean fill: you need to leave some air in there.

So I needed to modify the case layout such that the AIO could be used at the top as an exhaust, rather than at the front as an intake. This change would give me better GPU thermals, and improve the long-term viability of the AIO. However the default position of the motherboard tray in the Dark Base 900 Pro means that a top-mounted AIO will interfere with components on the motherboard. It had to be moved. Moving the board is only possible because the Dark Base 900 is designed with a movable motherboard tray. You can slide the tray between three alternate screw positions, with the top one being the default. I had to move mine all the way to the bottom. That's when the GTX 1070 fans started fighting with the PSU fan... and this is where we came in.

One remaining job is to drag out the dremel, cut an opening in the rear mesh for the power lead, and get rid of the PSU pass-through once and for all. Does my head in, that stupid thing.

Just for giggles, I upgraded the original 16G of basic RAM to 32G of Vengeance RGB Pro SL as you can see below. The colour of the RAM does closely match the fans, but the LED lamp I'm using as a catchlight reflects off the diffusers and makes them look lighter.

What Would I Do Differently?

If I was building this system again now, I think I'd pass on the Dark Base Pro. it has a ton of configurability that I actually don't need, it's expensive, and that dumb PSU mounting just drove me crazy. I did consider the Silent Base 802, using its mesh front panel, but it comes with non-PWM fans, which are basically landfill fodder these days, and correspondingly its fan hub has no PWM support, which is crazy at its price point. A better choice now would be the Corsair 5000D airflow. Damn, that's a good looking case, and still big enough to fit pretty much any hardware. Definitely have to go positive pressure with the 5000D, though. That's a very open design. The downside of both these case options is that neither supports an internal optical drive, but very few cases do these days and you can always get an external USB optical drive.

The system has achieved its principal aim, that of being very quiet. It is quiet even with the front door open, and with the front door closed, it is almost inaudible. Mind you, at age 63, I don't have the best hearing in the world anyway. You whipper-snappers might be able to hear it, but I'm happy. To minimise noise, I used custom fan curves on both the AIO and the case fans. Both the power supply and the video card have semi-passive fan setups anyway. Looping Cinebench R23 multi-core with all 16 vCPUs pegged, the processor peaks at 77C. Gaming at 1440p the GPU peaks at 78C. This is with an ambient in the low 20s Centigrade. Good enough for me.

Anyway, if I had to change anything about my computing setup, it wouldn't be the computer at all. It would be this:

This is a Humanscale Freeedom chair. It should be eerily familiar to you all: for some years now, it has been the go-to office chair to use in television. It crops up all over the place. It was the standard office chair used by Marvel's Agents of Shield, for instance (Phil Coulson gets a headrest - rank hath its privileges, I guess). I bought one because I liked the look of that organic aluminium "exoskeletal" frame. Pity I didn't try sitting in it for any length of time, because it is horribly uncomfortable long-term. The seat is so hard it will give you a numb backside in a couple of hours or less, presumably a mechanism to promote sales of their "technogel" seats. Note: you can't have the technogel seat if you want leather, but you wouldn't want leather anyway, as that makes an already very expensive chair obscenely costly (it manages to be cheaper than a Herman Miller Aeron, but not by much). This the only office chair I have had to use a cushion with, ever. Side note: the linked armrests seem like a neat idea, until you realise this means you can't have the armrests at different heights, should you wish to.



That weird little thing below the middle display is a speedloader, a relic of my shooting days. I used to own a Smith and Wesson model 686 .357 magnum, though I mostly put .38 wadcutter handloads through it to save money (as most .357 target shooters do in my experience). Full-bore handguns like this are illegal now in the UK, though there is an exemption provided the gun is single-shot and has a fixed stock making it more than 24 inches in length, which technically makes it a rifle under UK law.

The shells kept in it are some of those (expended) .38 handloads. I use it as a "think-toy" now: when I need to think, it keeps my hands busy.

For the record: single-action, I am superb. Double-action, I couldn't hit the barn wall the target is hanging on. This is why I never shot competitively.

The desk clock was a gift from Microsoft, when I was in the MVP program many years ago.

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