Learning experience

Today, I did something that I, in all my 20+ years of building computers, have never done before: I installed a high-end cooler.

Admittedly, I have never seen the need for such cooling, as I don’t believe in overclocking, which is the market that most aftermarket coolers target. Stock coolers, in my experience, have done the job for me in a most satisfactory manner, albeit with a slight bit of noise.

So what has changed? Although my system’s technology is dated, I find myself needing to hold onto it for a bit longer than the geek in me would like, and that is because I am getting ready to graduate from university, and I need to think about how I’m going to pay back the government. That means no Ryzen, no matter how much I lust for it. Besides which, Ryzen compatibility with Linux is not quite there yet, let alone having the money to pay for what will essentially be a whole system upgrade: CPU, motherboard, and memory. Ryzen uses an AM4 socket, which in turn requires an AM4 mobo, and since the platform uses DDR4, I cannot reuse my old RAM (alas!)

That means my FX-8370, while still a beast of a processor, at least for what I use it for, needs to be as cool as possible while under load, because I see myself in possession of it for some time, possibly 5 years or more.

The stock AMD cooler, the Wraith, while a competent cooler in itself, does not keep the processor as cool as I would like. Processor temps under load (kernel compilation) was approaching 60 degrees Celsius. That is a bit too high for my comfort. My system fans were recycled from my old case, and when I replaced those with proper 140mm fans, the temps went down 2 degrees, which is a distinct improvement, but still way too high.

So, researching I went. I had heard of the German manufacturer be quiet!, but I didn’t think much of it at the time, having no need of any of their products. That has since changed.

I went and perused YouTube videos, and came across some reviews of the Dark Rock 3 cooler, and it intrigued me enough to search out some websites to check temps, and it looked like the temps dropped 12-20 degrees C compared to the stock cooler. That was impressive enough for me to invest in the cooler. As it happened, Newegg ran a sale on the cooler; $15 off was enough of an incentive for me to purchase one.

Why would I skip the Cooler Master EVO 212 which, judging by the reviews, is darn near perfect, as such things go, and much cheaper to boot?

Firstly, I think the cooler looks much better, and secondly, it is rated for a long service life, which gives me assurance that it will give good return for investment.

This is a MASSIVE cooler! It’s a good thing I opted for a full-tower case (Fractal Design Define XL R2); otherwise, I wouldn’t have had enough clearance for my side door.

The learning  experience

be quiet!’s documentation leaves much to be desired. It is quite apparent that the majority of people who purchase this cooler do so for an Intel processor, and while the mounting hardware is included for AMD sockets, the included instructions only cover Intel mounting, and that poorly. What I should have done ( 20/20 hindsight, I know!) was to download the AMD documentation (which I did on my phone after my system was disassembled), which is available on be quiet!’s website.

Turns out that a lot of the included hardware was not needed for AMD’s AM3 socket; all that I needed was the backplate, the four mounting screws, and the clamps. After applying thermal paste in 2 rice-sized lines on the CPU, I had to orient the motherboard vertically and hold the cooler with one hand after settling the mounting bracket, which I had to try at least 3 times before I got it right (live and learn, I guess!) on the four screws.

Screwing the cooler in was an experience in itself. You can’t just fasten one screw completely before moving onto the next one; you have to do them a little at a time before moving to the next one. After about 3 rounds of fastening, I was able to settle the heatsink on the CPU securely.

The acid test

I always feel nervous about disassembling my system in this manner, because there is always the off chance that you might miss a connection when re-assembling the components. Fortunately, that was not the case. The only thing which occurred was I inadvertently disconnected the power connector from my primary SSD, which I discovered after turning on my system ( a miracle in itself) and discovering it was booting Windows from my secondary SSD. This, of course, was after I had bolted on the side door. Always a lovely time to discover this.

After reconnecting the power, and adjusting the BIOS options to boot from the primary SSD, I was ultimately successful in getting the system to boot. Now, moving on to the real acid test: Would the load temps be significantly cooler under load? Only one way to find out; a kernel compilation was in order.

Since there was no new kernel release, I went into the 4.12.4 directory (no sense in messing with the current running kernel’s source directory!) and issued a make clean, to ensure a fresh compile (This clears all previously compiled files, to my understanding).

With much trepidation, I issued the command: make -j 9 bzImage. This would stress-test my heatsink sufficiently. To my great delight, the top temp was no more than 45 degrees, 13 degrees cooler than my old cooler. Color me pleased!

So what have I learned?

Just because you have 20 years of experience, does not mean that there are not new frontiers to explore, and this was a definite dip into unknown waters. Didn’t turn out too bad: could’ve been a lot worse (but thankful it wasn’t)


Author: Matthew Miller

I am currently attending Kansas State University, and am pursuing a bachelor's degree in Computer Science. I was raised in a Christian family, and fervently serve the Lord, as it has helped me and my family throughout my life.

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