Insane $12,000 RGB Water Cooled Xeon Workstation Build

So… I need a PC Refresh

The video that launched my YouTube channel was my workstation build back in summer 2016. It had 2 Xeon E5 2660 v4 CPUs with 14 cores each. That’s a total of 28 cores and 56 threads. Almost 3 years on it’s still epic – a Ryzen Threadripper 2990X beats it but not much else does.
It’s been an awesome build, but one thing has really annoyed me. The noise. The GPU in particular is noisy even on idle and I wanted something quieter.
I’m moving to Costa Rica in a few months’ time and decided I want to rebuild my system before I go. As well as making it quieter I also want to buy any high-end equipment before I move somewhere where shipping becomes much more expensive.
I’ve considered loads of options – ranging from BeQuiet-based builds to passive GPUs and just modifying what I have. Then I got a little carried away after helping a friend install his first water cooling loop and I’ve spent around £2,500 on new components.
I realised there are three things I need for my system. Gaming graphics, RGB and water cooling. Everything else is still great. These aren’t the things you’ll normally see in a workstation build designed for highly parallelised development and virtualisation workloads. It should be fun, but I’m also hoping my noise levels go down in the process.
Since 2016 I’ve already done a few upgrades that aren’t included in the £2,500 upgrade. I swapped the SSD to a Samsung 1TB 970 Pro, I’ve added an extra 72GB RAM, removed the sound card, added some Noctua case fans, switched my Razer mouse for a Kensington trackpad, replaced the Razer keyboard with a Das Keyboard Professional, added some Kef Egg speakers and Sennheiser 598CS headphones and added a 27” Dell Ultrasharp U2715H monitor.

 

Component Selection

I’m replacing the case with a Phanteks Enthoo Luxe grey tempered glass model in grey. I have the standard Enthoo Luxe at the moment but no longer have the original shipping box and want it for my move. Admittedly, I also want tempered glass and more shinies. It’s one of the few cases that supports an SSI EEB motherboard without modification so it was an easy choice. I love my existing Enthoo Luxe and hope the glass is as good to work with.
For graphics I’m going almost top-end with an RTX 2080. Not a TI but already far more than I can justify for Solitaire and Minesweeper. It’s certainly a step up from the 960. I’m going with an EVGA XC Ultra Gaming with a factory overclock. I didn’t want to go bargain basement and I got a great deal on the card at £700 with 12.5% off its retail price.
The water-cooling is all going to be EKWB. I’m going with the EK Vector for the GPU and 2 Velocity CPU blocks. These are going to be paired with a EKWB 420mm radiator, pump, reservoir and fittings as well as Mayhems ultra-clear tubing and their blue Pastel fluid. I’ve gone for everything in a Nickel / acrylic combination and added the backplate for the GPU. To make things shiny everything has RGB in it apart from the fittings. I’m going to do a separate post and video talking about my water-cooling choices separately and go into more detail in my loop – for now we’ll just focus on it being shiny.
The airflow is going to be taken care of with 3 Shadow Wings 2 140mm fans for the case and 3 Noctua NF-A14-PWM chromax.black.swap static air pressure fans for the radiator. I chose these combinations for their very low noise levels. I’m pairing all 6 fans with Phanteks Halos 140mm RGB kits to make them shiny and a Phanteks RGB controller. I’m curious how well the Halos work so will delve into them in another video as well.
Before I move I’m getting rid of my NAS and switching to just SSDs and cloud storage. That means I need some more storage in my system. I’m adding a 1TB WD Blue M.2 SATA drive for bulk-storage and a 970 EVO 500GB for a second boot drive that will run Windows just for gaming. With a 2080 I don’t think I can justify Wine on Linux for games.
I’m also adding even more ridiculous RGB with RGB RAM covers, RGB NVME cards and yes, even RGB ATX and GPU power cables. I figured if I’m going to jump on the RGB bandwagon I may as well do it whole heartedly.
Add do that some thermal paste, mounting brackets, braided and sleeved cables, a SSD heatsink, RGB controller and bits-and-bobs for the water loop and you’ve got another £2,500 of parts. That takes the total value of the machine up to around £8,800 – or close to $12,000.
This should be a fun build. I’m really excited to jump in. I’ve never built a water-cooled system before. I’ve helped a friend with a water-cooling kit but never done anything more complicated than that. I’ve also never tried to coax a non-RGB motherboard into the world of RGB nor have I ever owned a graphics card that was even remotely good. The last time I had a leading graphics card was in 1997 and Unreal feels like a long time ago.

The Build

This was one of the more difficult builds I’ve undertaken. It took so long to get the system where it is now. Before kicking off the build I decided to test the GPU and to benchmark it. That’s where the problems started – after swapping my GTX960 for the RTX 2080 the GPU started showing weird glitches in Windows and freezing. I initially thought it was a problem with drivers, ran DDU and reinstalled but nope the weird glitches kept appearing randomly. After a complete reinstall of Windows everything looked fine, so I was ready to begin the install.
I soon realised I’d forgotten to buy some things. I bought the Shadow Wings 2 non-PWM fans by mistake for the build and I also didn’t buy enough components to install the drain for the water-cooling loop. In the end I’ve just managed to make it work without these.
I’ll be releasing a separate post about some of the components and the water-cooling itself, so I won’t give a blow-by-blow account here. All in all, the process wasn’t too difficult – but the GPU did take a long time for me to strip and rebuild with water-cooling components.
The main problem came with the case. I soon realised that despite by best intentions everything wasn’t going to fit inside the case. The best thing to do would have been mounting the reservoir at the bottom of the case – but I didn’t have a suitable mounting bracket and even if I did then it would have interfered with the GPU location. The top of the reservoir would have touched the GPU.

I have two full 16x slots in my system and the GPU is in the bottom-most one. It doesn’t fit in the top one as the length of the card then interferes with RAM and I can’t move the ram as I have to use a specific slot order.
This meant I only had one option – completely stripping my case and modifying it a little to make room for the reservoir. I had to remove the HDD cage and loads of the internal metal supports. Phanteks do provide some instructions but they mention about 15 screws. I removed probably 50 in the end. I finally decided to mount the reservoir against the front of the case where one of the 140mm fans was and I moved the fan to the bottom instead.
After all this I wasn’t able to use the PSU shroud and I lost a lot of space inside the 5.25” bays where I’d normally hide a mass of cables. This made tidying the build a nightmare as there were so many cables from the different LEDs.
The LEDs were made worse by having two different 5V controllers blow up and the Phanteks controller just not working with anything I tried. In the end I just went with a cheap £10 controller from Amazon for the 5V addressable lighting and ran all the 12V lighting directly from the case’s RGB controller. The Lian-Li Strimer cables have their own controller.
Finally, the radiator didn’t fit so I had to place it above the top of the case and then saw an amount of plastic off the case lid to get it to shut back on. It means the fan grille on the lid is no longer held in place but it’s all back together.

The Results…

It looks amazing. I know how a machine looks doesn’t make it run any better, but I’ve never really spent the time on the looks of a machine before and I’m so happy I did here. It was definitely worth the extra money to make this thing look as good as it does. It makes me actually laugh whenever I come into the room and I think it’s looks now match its underlying power.
For benchmarks I ran tests with the GTX 960, tests using the RTX 2080 on air as well as tests with the water-cooled loop. I measured temperatures, ran the 3D Mark Time Spy benchmark and performed a couple of really simple benchmarks in World of Warcraft with everything on max settings. I know that WOW is incredibly difficult to benchmark as it’s usually CPU-bound. For that reason, I tried a couple of fairly repeatable tests just to get a finger-in-air indicator of performance.
On air the CPUs were sitting at 55 degrees under load. This decreased to just 38 degrees once the water-cooling loop was installed with idle temperatures not much above room temperature.
The GPU is a different story. There’s no surprise that the 960 did worst overall. It got just 2491 in TimeSpy, struggled to get 30 FPS running around Orgrimmar in WoW and on the flight path never really mustered more than 35 FPS whilst running at 60 degrees. The 2080, on air, achieved 8885 in TimeSpy, 70 FPS running around Orgrimmar and a whopping 120FPS during the flightpath without being much hotter at just 63 degrees.
Things then get weird once we go to water-cooling. The Cinebench score decreased by 700 to 8127. Whilst the Orgrimmar WoW test remained at 70 FPS, the flight path framerate dropped to just 90 FPS. Looking in to the temperatures reveals why – the GPU is running at up to 83 degrees under load which is not good!

So, it looks as though my thermal paste application was insufficient for the GPU. That means I need to drain my water-loop, remove the GPU, dismantle the plate, re-apply some paste and then rebuild everything. Urgh.
At the moment I’m doing no gaming and don’t stress the GPU to more than 40 degrees so I’m not going to do this urgently – but I am going to have to do it before I head over to Costa Rica.
I guess the question is was it worth it? Well, I wanted to reduce noise, have better graphics and make my system look good. The noise level is definitely down, the 2080 is, for £700 unsurprisingly, a much better performer and my system looks amazing. To get the most out of this system I do need to do some overclocking. I’m going to have to try and overclock my Xeons again as well as sorting the GPU out and overclocking that. Once that’s done the water-cooling will feel like it was more justified.
I had a lot of fun with this build. It was painful at times. It took me almost 3 days of work to get the whole system built, cable-tidied and tested. I’ve got to be honest – mostly I love how good this system looks now. I think some hard-line tubing will improve it in the future but think my RGB-desires have finally been filled.
So, I now have a Dual Xeon with 28 cores, 56 threads, 104 GB RAM, an RTX 2080, 3.5TB of SSD storage, 2x 25” Dell Ultrasharp monitors, 1x 27” Dell Ultrasharp, a Das Keyboard Professional, a Kensington trackball and Kef Egg speakers. All of this dressed up as a Christmas light display. Honestly, as a kid I never imagined computers would become this ridiculous as I got older. The raw power I could have grasped but getting to the point in time that people cared enough about computers that they wanted them to look good is something I’d have struggled with.

Components

Core Components
Xeon E5-2660 V4: https://amzn.to/2RDEgbS
Asus Z10PE-D16-WS Motherboard: https://amzn.to/2GaBNoj
EVGA RTX 2080 XC Ultra Gaming: https://amzn.to/2RCZEOP
16GB DDR 2400 ECC RAM: https://amzn.to/2Bli5lB
Samsung 970 Evo 500GB NVME: https://amzn.to/2TzRqJ6
Samsung 970 Pro 1TB NVME: https://amzn.to/2t2tylz
WD Blue 1TB M.2: https://amzn.to/2S87ViF
Phanteks Enthoo Luxe Tempered Glass Gray: https://amzn.to/2BkPoVR
Corsair HX750i PSU: https://amzn.to/2GaSRKS
Noctua NF-A14-PWM chromax.black.swap 140mm: https://amzn.to/2BhYZg4
be quiet! Shadow Wings 2 140mm: https://amzn.to/2HS34h3

Water Cooling
EK CPU Block: https://amzn.to/2Tr3Kv6
EK GPU Block: https://amzn.to/2SeoQjS
EK GPU Backplate: https://amzn.to/2Dihn99
EK Fittings: https://amzn.to/2S5ZNzf
EK Drain Valve: https://amzn.to/2BifB7G
EK 420mm Radiator: https://amzn.to/2t6r8lQ
Mayhems Pastel Blue: https://amzn.to/2D6MEM1
Mayhems Ultra Clear: https://amzn.to/2GaCYEf

RGB Components
Phanteks Halos Lux: https://amzn.to/2RHXqha
Lian Li Strimer ATX: https://amzn.to/2G8CcYr
Lian Li Strimer 8 Pin: https://amzn.to/2Dcqtnt
EZDIY-FAB SSD PCIe: https://amzn.to/2G9RJY0
EZDIY-FAB RAM RGB: https://amzn.to/2HS4jgd

Full Spec: https://uk.pcpartpicker.com/list/y9R3GG

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