WyWyWyWy's NUC Cooling Experiments & (Eventually) Custom Enclosure

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This my attempt of experiments on cooling a very hot NUC, and then build a custom enclosure for it afterwards with whatever cooling method I end up using.

This is going to be a long project with a number of things to try, and most likely a number of failures too.

So the back story - I currently have a work-from-home SFF machine, with a Silverstone SG13 (11 litres), i7-3770, 16GB, two SSDs, Intel PCIe network card. When I built this machine I wanted it to be as small and quiet as possible but at the time NUCs were slow and only supported one drive. I didn't (still don't) need a discrete GPU obviously.

This image below is my gaming PC (white SG13) on top of the work PC (black SG13).



Then it changed when Gigabyte released NUCs with desktop-class CPUs, with one mSATA + one 2.5" SATA. It doesn't have an Intel NIC but it's only 0.8 litres!!

And as if by luck I managed to find a used one for a very reasonable price, because it had a broken case.




This is a Gigabyte Brix Pro with an Intel Core i7-4770R (very similar to 4770), 16GB DDR3L, and two SSDs.

I don't care about the broken case because I knew I'm going to gut it, after reading the complaints of REALLY BAD thermal throttling. The CPU has a 65W TDP and the chipset has about 4W, and this is the cooler that Gigabyte attempted to cool it with...




Well yea it throttles even worse than the reviews say. In Prime95 it gets to 100C after seconds, and with the fan sounding like a hair dryer. Coolers like this are really only suitable for 35W TDP CPUs.

To simplify the testing, I'm going to use the idle BIOS temp with the fan on 100% as a reference to try different cooling solutions.

The stock solution is around 60C in BIOS.

The first step is to replace the TIM. The factory one is actually applied pretty well. Anyway I used the Noctua TIM and gave it a go. The chipset used a stock thermal pad.



Experiment #1 - Replace TIM. Result - ~60C. No difference.

Oh well... Anyway to address the noise issue, the obvious solution is to replace the fan. But it uses a non-standard plug, so I had to cut off the connector of the original blower and do a bit of soldering to make an adapter.



And then I have two fans to try. The first one is a Noctua NF-A9x14 low profile fan that came with the NH-L9x65 cooler. There's no mounting holes so for the experiment I just used rubber bands to strap it on.

Experiment #2 - Stock heatsink + NF-A9x14. Result - ~56C. Cooler and quieter but not that much better really.

The second fan is a full size Noctua NF-A9.



Experiment #3 - Stock heatsink + NF-A9. Result - ~56C. Not sure why it's pretty much the same (both noise and temp) as the slim fan? I was expecting better.

The very slim copper heatsink is probably the limiting factor, so it needs to go.

But before I mount another heatsink on, the soldered nuts (to secure the stock heatsink) needed to be grind off a bit with a Dremel first because they were taller than the CPU by about 0.5 to 1mm.



To balance the pressure of the heatsink off the bare chips, I used 1mm thick neoprene to make a gasket for them. Unfortunately they didn't work well... :( They were a bit too tall so it needed a lot of pressure on the heatsink to make good contact with the chips. I think 0.5mm neoprene would have been perfect but I cannot find any at all. They were promptly removed.



To be continued.
 
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Okay so the neoprene idea didn't work last time, and this time I'm trying a different material... And I'm not sure why didn't I think of it in the first place and went around messing with neoprene sheets.

This is silicon thermal pad in the right thickness (0.5mm) that is more widely available and cheaper than neoprene, and it may (but probably not) help with heat dissipation too.



And yes it works quite well. Recommended for people mounting things on bare die. I may even go and do it to my water cooled GPU in another PC actually.

So I've been quiet since the last update, because I've been trying to think of EASY ways to mount various cooling devices and the bracket making will take me forever. So in the end I bought this to help!



The first "product" from this 3D printer is a set of brackets for a Noctua NH-L9x65 heatsink. The print quality is not brilliant because the printer is not properly calibrated yet (because I got too excited). And the material is PLA not ABS so it's not 100% suitable long term as it can potential soften during high heat, but for testing it doesn't really matter much.



Since there isn't enough space for a proper heatsink, the north bridge at the moment is only cooled by a roughened up small aluminium plate (10x25x2mm), which again is enough for testing with it only dissipating 4W of heat, but for long term use it should be a bigger copper plate (25x25x3mm) really.

Unfortunately the original slim 92mm fan is being used by another project, so it is using a full fat Noctua NF-A9 for this experiment.

And here is how it looks. A bit comical really like a big head on a small child.




Experiment #4 - Noctua NH-L9x65 + NF-A9. Result - ~46C. That's pretty good actually. If I didn't have more cooling devices to try, I'd probably have called it a day and settle with this.

Going to produce more brackets to try different things next time!
 
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I have one of the Gigabyte NUCs too. It's perfect for media applications, but i do notice some throttling as soon as i try to do anything other than watch movies. I like this project and it's inspiring me to try and improve the cooling on my one.

Mine uses a i3-3227U, so only 17W TDP, but i would like to cool it completely passively if possible
 
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Excellent read and I love the whole what if I did this instead, and the ideas you come up with.
 
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Here comes a new challenger.

This is an Asetek 545LC AIO water cooler with a 92mm radiator. This was my original BIG IDEA(tm) when I first got the NUC, because the dimensions are similar to the NUC footprint (102x102mm), which will make enclosure building easy, compact, and tidy.

It's a very unusual AIO in that the radiator is only 92mm, while everything else on the market is at very least 120mm. This 92mm one is popular with the Shuttle community being the only AIO that will fit. It's very difficult to find - only sold by Asetek themselves through Ebay, and only in the US, with a high-ish price tag. Rarer than a hen's teeth.

Unfortunately I haven't had time to 3D model a bracket for it yet, and I happened to have some scrap aluminium bars around that fit quite well, so for this experiment I'm going to easy route. But if one day it turns into a permanent solution then a proper bracket will be made.



Again the north bridge is only cooled by a small aluminium plate for now. I'm reusing the Noctua NF-A9 fan for consistency.

Experiment #5 - Asetek 545LC 92mm AIO + NF-A9. Result - ~39C. Wow that's nice! I don't get how it can have such a big difference to the NH-L9x65 considering the same fan is used? But I'm not complaining! Maybe it just mounts better.

However, playing around with it for a bit, I'm sad to say this solution is a no-go. The tubing is just too long and WAAAAAAAY too stiff. There's no chance of making a proper enclosure for it. :(

There's the possibility of replacing the tubes of course, but the difficulty and potential problems are probably not worth it... Unless anyone can suggest an easy way?
 
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No but if you know the solution works, could you replicate it using more modular components? There's the new(ish) Ion res/pump combo that's quite small (and cheap) or the EK Predator stuff is pump-in-rad but re-plumbable. I suspect the EK is a min of 1x120 but the Ion would let you select what you want - do they do a standalone 1×92 or even an 1×80?
 
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No but if you know the solution works, could you replicate it using more modular components? There's the new(ish) Ion res/pump combo that's quite small (and cheap) or the EK Predator stuff is pump-in-rad but re-plumbable. I suspect the EK is a min of 1x120 but the Ion would let you select what you want - do they do a standalone 1×92 or even an 1×80?

Well watch this space! I still have a lot of things to try!
 
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There's the possibility of replacing the tubes of course, but the difficulty and potential problems are probably not worth it...

I just plain disagree with this. It might be a pain to do, but I'd say that the results are definitely worth it considering you're making your own enclosure anyway.

There are plenty of projects that take AIO coolers and replace the tubing, even with hardline sometimes. How hard could it be? I suppose the risk of introducing leaks is kind of real but it's a risk I think I'd personally take. :D
 
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Entirely depends on whether they have used standard G1/4 threads at the end. If they have, it's dead easy....but I think most don't. It may still be possible to get some sort of connection or tap out to a G1/4 thread....but it certainly takes it out of the realm of the trivial.
 
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The biggest risk is galvanic corrosion, and it's pretty much a guaranteed problem unfortunately. Because the rad is aluminium and the block is copper.
 
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Easy. While you're replacing the tubing, just replace the rad and the block....oh ;)

Edit: I think I just invented the All-in-none :D
 
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Fractal design AIO or beQuiet Silent loop AIO pump (all made by same company), 92 rad 45mm thickness with multi port to fill and custom length tubing.
better pumps and full copper rad and G1/4 fittings :)

on the massive off chance... got a spare water chiller unit ? ;)
 
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So things were a bit of a roller coaster for me, and I'm spending too much time on the 3D printer (also building a new one from scratch...), hence the lack of update.

So firstly, while filling I actually spilled water onto the NUC! I almost cried but then I remembered it wasn't powered on. So I made a sealed rice box with 4 people's worth of dry rice, and put the whole thing in it. My family didn't get to have dinner that evening.

After a couple of weeks I took the thing out, hoping that it's totally dried, and plugged it in and pressed the button... NOTHING. Pressed a few more times, still nothing. Folks, you should see my face when I killed a few hundred pounds worth of machine due to my own clumsiness. So I put it back to the rice box and cried in a corner.

Another couple of weeks went by I was deciding whether to throw it all away, but before that I gave it one more go. And... still nothing. But then a light bulb appeared over my head and maybe, just maybe, the button cell battery is dead (which partly because I was replacing the battery on my car's remote key minutes prior). So I swapped it with a new one, and VIOLA! IT'S ALIVE! Then I quickly finished the rice in the rice box.

This is an Alphacool Esiberg 240 expandable AIO with a 240x30mm full copper radiator, two 1600rpm 120mm fans, and a pump-block-res in one unit. It's an overkill for the NUC for sure but for curiosity sake I had to know how it performs.

It's using the crappy brackets from last time to mount the AIO, which is actually really secure.



Apologies for crappy pics. My office is a total mess at the moment. But I hope you get the idea.

Again the north bridge was only cooled by a small aluminium plate for now. I can't use the Noctua NF-A9 fan on it obviously so I'm using the original Alphacool fans.

Experiment #6 - Alphacool Eisberg 240 AIO. Result - ~35C. Ok this fits with expectation, considering its size. So no surprises here.

This is of course not a practical end solution, but who needs practicality anyway? Next time we need to go BIGGER.
 
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I so can't comment about spilling coolant...not unless you want advice on how to do it well and repeatedly!

What defines success here? ...or are you just testing all the options? Does it need to fit back into the case?
 
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Well yea I'm not sure what the end game is any more. I kind of got distracted a lot along the way so far.

Originally it all started because I needed a bit more desk space, then now it's sort of become a 3D printer building project (album here https://imgur.com/a/cMUvF ). Which of course means that I have even less space, so it may even become a house-extension building project soon...

If I had to say, it's probably to try it with all the kits I have, then pick one and build an enclosure and actually start using the NUC.
 
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This project is not dead. I'm still working on it.

This below is what I was going to put on it to experiment. It's a full EK kit with a EK Supremacy EVO block, PE 240 radiator, and a D5 pump with res.



Unfortunately I couldn't get the water block to fit :( The base of the block is just too fat for the components on the PCB.

So moving on.

This is what I tried next - the previously used Alphacool Eisberg pump/block with a Magicool 92mm copper radiator, with the same Noctua NF-A9 fan from before for consistency.



I believe I bought the very last Magicool 92mm radiator in the UK! And the reason I bought it is that it's a whole lot cheaper than (less than half) the similar-sized Alphacool and Black Ice Nemesis. The construction quality is pretty nice too.

The fittings are EK and the soft tubes are 16 OD 10 ID.

The pump/block unit is now held down with a bracket I designed in Fusion 360 and printed out in PETG. I went through numerous iterations to get the fitment and strength right. The pic above is one of the earlier iteration, and the pic below is the final version.



I used some scrap 3D printed plastic as "legs" for now.

Experiment #7 - Alphacool Eisberg + Magicool 92mm Radiator + NF-A9. Result - ~38C. Pretty much as expected. About the same as but slightly better than the Asetek 545LC.

So this cooling solution is what I've settled with and next I'm going to attempt to build a case for it by 3D printing.
 
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If you want to keep CPU block down, use Silent loop block, alphacool make it and has same mounting :) would have to be filled from rad though or can be done via the block but its small, its also 80% quieter
 
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