Upgrading a WHS Server
For quite some time now I have been wanting to upgrade my main WHS box. Not so much in terms of CPU or motherboard but rater the case, CPU cooler, and the power supply. Ever since I upgraded my server 2008R2 with the Fractal Define R3, I have been toying with the idea of upgrading my main box with Define XL. I was fortunate enough to get one for my birthday so I decided that I would take the plunge and upgrade all these key components at the same time. You might wonder why I wanted to upgrade these particular items. Since I am using my WHS for converting video (MyMovies/Handbrake), I found that Handbrake was thrashing my CPU and heating things up with the stock cooler. Although the stock cooler is fine for most WHS needs, it does not quite cut it for Handbrake. Converting 2 or-3 Blu-Ray movies can max out your CPU for 5-6 hours. As I live in California, the ambient heat in the room can be a bit on the high side and running your CPU at max for that period of time made me very uncomfortable. Secondly, I wanted to replace the case as I was looking for better air flow and better cable management. My old case was a Lian-Li A70 which I love, however it became increasingly difficult to work on due to the drive configuration. Lastly, I wanted to replace my power supply. Years ago I used Thermaltake 850 multi-rail power supplies in many of my builds, about 4 in total. Since then 3 of 4 have failed and this was the only one still working. Rather than risk damage, I replaced with a Cooler Master 600 with modular cables.
The EVGA Superclock CPU Cooler
When searching for a CPU cooler, I wanted to keep the price under $50 and get something that not only cooled, but would do it quietly. In my research, I stumbled across this EVGA unit and I must say, so far I am very impressed. The construction quality is outstanding, it’s quiet, and as is very effective at keeping my CPU cool. Couple of caveats, it is “HUGE” so you have to make sure it will clear your memory sticks. As you can see from the pictures (see case pictures below), I would have a problem if I was using four sticks of memory. Did I mention it was big… The only other complaint (although minor) was the hokey way the fan clips on. It works, but it is very flimsy. Good thing the included fan is very smooth and spins relatively slow so the mounting does not cause any issues. Lastly, I could do without the glowing red LED’s but hey, no one is going to see the inside any how.
This is the temperature readings after 30 minutes of stress testing. Temperature was no longer climbing after about 10 minutes and as you can see, it is barely warm. The cooler does a great job in managing the temperature and the fan is barely audible.
Fractal Define R3 XL
Since I had pretty good luck with the Define R3, it seemed natural that I would try its big brother the XL. Let me first say that besides being huge, this thing is downright heavy. Empty it weights in at 17.95 kg (39.57 lbs.). Add the power supply, drives ROM, etc., and you have some serious weight to move around. Much of the weight seems to be in the side panels. Other than moving it around, working on this case is dream. Cable management is pretty awesome and there is plenty or room to attach sata cables, something that has been an issue with some of the Lian-Li cases I have used in the past. The other thing I like is the use of 140mm fans front and rear. One complaint is that like the R3, they do not include a second fan in the front so I had to move the rear fan and install in the front, and use a different fan for the rear. Absolutely silly for a case like this to not include the fan. The other complaint I have is that although the overall construction is pretty good, there are some annoyances. For starters, the side panels are a bit sticky and require a bit of work to remove. The front cover for the fans is flimsy so you have to push the top and bottom at the same time to open it up. The most annoying thing was the bottom shelf which rattled a bit after putting all the drives in, forcing me to add some shelf support to stop the noise. In the grander scheme of things, it is a great case and overall it is well built, but don’t expect the same build quality as the high end Lian-Li case. That said, I still like this case better because despite the slight flaws in construction, the inside layout is a homebuilders dream. As with most cases this size, be prepared to use an extension cable on CPU connector as many power supplies are not long enough to go out the back and up and over to the CPU. I used an 8 inch extension and had plenty of slack.
Now that is all said and done, I am very pleased with the build and the upgrades. I can now convert all the movies I want without concern of CPU or case heat. Because of the ample drive trays, I now have room to add lease two more 3T drives. If the need arises, I could move the 3x2T to empty 5.25 bays and technically add three more on top of that but I do not see that happening anytime soon. If you are looking for some upgrades or considerations for your new builds, with the exceptions of the caveats I stated, I would not hesitate to recommend either of these products.