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Customised CAPS build report


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Here is a report detailing my experiences of building a customised CAPS. Hopefully this will benefit others who are thinking of also building a machine for themselves - or at least provide some entertainment :) Before I start I would like to thank all those that helped me on these forums, especially Hifidelit and also Larry from HDPLEX; and of course Chris for blazing the way.

 

This project started with the demise of my last CAPS (CAPSv2) which I had purchased ready made a few years ago. For some reason a chip or 2 on the mobo fried, so I either had to replace the mobo or start a whole new build. I had been very happy with the sound of the CAPSv2, though there were one or two things that I had been thinking of improving anyway. The first thing was an issue I had been experiencing with some kind of electrical "noise" in the system. This had manifested initially in a very high pitched noise from the internal beeper (fixed with a drop of glue), and then through the VGA video output with some kind of flickering/banding effect on the monitor. No matter what I tried, I couldn't fix the video issue. So I was keen to have a clear video display and ideally with a digital output rather than VGA. The second issue was power - the CAPSv2 was never meant to be a powerful machine, though the lack of power was often noticed with things slowing down, even browsing through my music collection. So I decided to go for a new build.

 

After doing a fair bit of reading and research, as well as getting help from these forums, I settled on the following build:

 

Case: Streacom FC5 Evo WS

 

There were a few reasons that I went for this case. I wanted something a bit larger than my old Origen M10 case, to give a little more flexibility inside. It was a better size on my music rack. It was a fairly solid all-aluminium case and looked pretty good too. The heat dissipation properties as reported were good - it uses a heat block over the cpu with 4 copper pipes fixed to the side of the case. The FC5 Evo is a re-designed version of the original FC5. There is now a further update called the Alpha, though the improvements were not substantial enough for me to justify the extra cost (see below). There are not many alternatives in this area; HDPLEX seems to be the main alternative, and there is A-Tech Fabrication also though these are hard to find in Europe and more expensive. What cinched it for me was a reasonably priced unused FC5 Evo that I managed to find on Ebay.

 

Mobo: Asus Z97 Gryphon

 

The mobo choice was probably the hardest for me, as there seems to be little information about in terms of choice for an audiophile build. The Streacom site lists a number of motherboards that are suitable, though the list looked a little outdated. The FC5 case has the benefit of accepting both mini-ITX and micro-ATX motherboards so that widened the search a bit. The Asus Z97 Gryphon ticked the boxes for me, and there are companies online (e.g. CooltechPC) that report successfully using it with the FC5 case. It's a micro-ATX board and is LGA1150 compatible.

 

CPU: Intel Core i7 4770T

 

This chip offers the combination of high power with a relatively low TDP (45W). It is quad-core 2.5GHz with 8MB of L3 cache, and has integrated Intel HD 4600 graphics. I know it is quite powerful for a music PC, but - I wanted to use the Roon software which is quite graphics-intensive (Roon recommend a reasonable spec), and I might also use the machine on occasion for light gaming (emulation), for which the Intel integrated HD 4600 should suffice.

 

RAM:

 

Fairly standard choice here I think with the Crucial 2 x 4GB DDR3 1600.

 

SSD:

 

I'm using the same SSD as in my CAPSv2; the OCZ Vertex 2 60GB.

 

Power:

 

HDPLEX linear PSU 100W (with 160W VA R-core transformer), with HDPLEX 160W DC to ATX converter.

 

Accessories:

 

SOTM SATA noise filter (as used on previous CAPS). 24" Asus ProArt monitor from previous build. PCIe firewire card with PCIe flexible riser card.

 

 

Building the machine

 

Here is how the build went, along with some pictures.

 

The motherboard, boxed:

 

a313pc.jpg

 

The Streacom FC Evo case:

 

5kpm9y.jpg

 

The inside of the case, with the power button chip on the left and the USB3 card on the right

 

2qmdzy0.jpg

 

The mobo with the armour:

 

2woiu7l.jpg

 

The mobo without the armour:

 

58z01.jpg

 

Notice the heatsinks which cover the VRMs. I was a bit worried that these would interfere with the cooling pipes.

 

The CPU in the socket:

 

2110v91.jpg

 

The cooling block on the CPU; heatsink is definitely in the way of the pipes:

 

wr1gft.jpg

 

Another view:

 

295esgn.jpg

 

So my initial thought was to try and bend/mould the heat pipes over or around this heatsink. I got a few longer heat pipes to allow this and some pipe benders. Unfortunately, this process was a lot more difficult that I had thought. The heat pipes are quite bendable in the areas where they are straight, though at the parts where they are already bent or twisted, they are extremely difficult to bend by hand. From this pic you can see that there was a bit of bending to do, especially as the ends had to remain flush with the respective heat sinks:

 

10n5etg.jpg

 

Ultimately, this did not go well:

 

doanpd.jpg

 

So, what I had to do was remove this heatsink. From what I had read online, this heatsink is not necessary and the temperatures tend to be pretty low without it on. It was fairly easy to remove with a few screws. So, with the heatsink removed, here is the mobo in the case with the heat pipes in position as a dry run:

 

bhd73k.jpg

 

All fits quite well now. With the heatsink removed, fitting the cooling system wasn't too difficult. I applied a thin layer of thermal paste to the CPU, fitted the block (which also had thermal paste in the grooves), fitted the pipes to the block and fitted the other end of the pipes to the case (also with thermal paste between the pipes and the case blocks. With the thermal paste, cover and connecting screw in place:

 

2nb7z14.jpg

 

Another view:

 

snm3yv.jpg

 

Now for a slight break and a fast forward. I connected the rest of the things up; the 2 RAM strips were in place, the power supply hooked up - 19V output from the HDPLEX linear PSU going to the internal DC to ATX converter with the 24-pin from the DC to ATX going to the mobo and the 4-pin to the extra CPU power slot. Power button from the case hooked up to the mobo. SOTM SATA noise filter in place and powered via 5v rail. All external connections hooked up.

 

So with some trepidation, I prepared to fire up the system for the first time. Part of me wondered if it might not start, and.....it didn't. Damn. What happened was that one LED lit on the mobo, but nothing else; no POST, no BIOS beep, no output to the monitor, nothing. The LED that lit was the power standby LED, and it was a constant green. No other onboard LEDs lit or even flashed.

 

This is where a fun week or two of troubleshooting began. I learnt a lot and a went through most of the basic suggestions that I came across; checking all connections, checking compatibility of the components, checking the CPU was sited properly with no bent pins, trying the RAM in the different slots, updating the BIOS, resetting the BIOS, removing all components, breadboarding, trying different video outputs etc etc. Frustratingly, nothing whatsoever made any difference. On discussion with Larry he thought it might be the DC to ATX that was fault, so sent me a replacement one...though same problem.

 

When I spoke to PC-people about it, they all laughed at my PSU and said that 100W was far too low powered and that most machines use at least 500W and more if it's a powerful machine. I explained that it was just a music server with SSD and no video card though was still advised by a number of sources that the problem was likely the power. So, I bought a cheap 500W standard ATX power supply, and hooked it up. No difference. Damn. Looking into it further, I wondered if it was because the cable going to the PSU power slot was 4-pin though the receptor was 8-pin. I tried an adapter; no difference. I noticed that the mobo didn't seem to have any internal beeper and thought great - maybe if I connected up a beeper then I would at least get a BIOS error code. I got a beeper, connected it up and...no beep. Not even a squeak. On further discussions I was advised that the extra PSU I had tried was possibly too poor (it was only £15), so I bought a better and more powerful Corsair one to test. No difference.

 

By this stage I thought that it must be the mobo or the CPU that was faulty, though had read that this was fairly uncommon. I returned the mobo as faulty and received a replacement, hooked it all up and....IT WORKED!! Hallelujah. At least, it booted to BIOS. So must have been a faulty mobo. I wondered if I might have damaged the first one in any way, but I didn't see any damage to it. Anyway, on with the build; all hooked up with the new mobo (with mobo heatsink removed):

 

331int3.jpg

 

The DC to ATX:

 

foymu.jpg

 

And ready to go:

 

2nc46mc.jpg

 

So, with everything connected including the SSD which had been freshly formatted and ready for a new Windows installation, I go for the first-time power up, planning to install Windows off a USB drive. Power on....boots to BIOS. SSD not recognised. Pooh. Turn the machine off, check the connections, power on again...same problem. Hm...why isn't the SSD being recognised by the BIOS? I'm thinking that it's probably a power issue, and hook up the external ATX power supply to the SSD, rather than the 5v rail from the HDPLEX PSU. And...BIOS sees the SSD! Great. But...something wrong with the HDPLEX linear PSU? On discussion with Larry, I checked the 5v PSU output with a multimeter, which was fine at around 5.07v, and checked the end of the molex cable (which was connected to the PSU via another adapter cable, which showed a voltage fluctuating between around 0.1 and 0.2v...so likely a problem with one of these cables. Larry sent me a replacement, I hooked it up, tested it, and...5.07v! Great. So, hooked up this cable to the SSD via the SOTM filter and fired up the machine again and...STARTS! Woohoo.

 

So installed Windows 10 from USB flash drive (developer preview). But, during the installation process, the SSD disappeared from the BIOS again on occasion. I read up on this but couldn't find a reason. All the cables seemed to be connected properly. It only seemed to occur on restarting the system - the system never just failed, or the SSD never stopped working when the machine was running. So I figured it was something to do with the startup process. A restart of two usually fixed it. So I managed to continue on with the installation. Windows 10 installed fairly easily, and the PC was hooked up via ethernet, though the internet connection was extremely temperamental. The default homepage of Bing.com loaded each time, and the search brought results, though hardly any webpages would load. One or two would, some were very slow and then without pictures, and some just timed out. I couldn't suss this at all and wounded if it might be some bug to do with the preview. After trying a few things I decided to do a reinstall with Windows 8.1 Pro 64bit.

 

Windows 8.1 installed OK, and I went on to install and update the necessary drivers, install a few apps and disable a few services. I installed Roon and began scanning my library...finally we are getting there :) -

 

1zdcjmr.jpg

 

Hooked up the DAC via firewire cable, installed the DAC drivers, set the DAC in Roon...hit play and....ahhhh. Music. So the story has a happy ending.

 

There are two outstanding issues that I am still working on. One is a slight transformer hum. On discussion with Larry (great customer service), he sent out another HDPLEX linear PSU in case there was a problem with my existing one. Same hum/buzz though. I've put the PSU on separate rubber isolation feet though same problem. You can hear it just the same if you pick up the unit. It's not loud by any means - though easily heard with the ear a foot or two away from the PSU, and once you hear it, you can continue to as you move away from the PSU. The listening position is around 12 feet away from the PSU though I can just about detect it from there. So currently I'm getting some longer cables so that I can shift the PSU into a cabinet that's next to the hifi rack. I've already tried the unit in there and I think that pretty much makes the noise undetectable from the listening spot. The second issue that I'm still working on is that the SSD still intermittently disappears from the BIOS on starting up the machine. More often that not it starts fine. I'm not sure what I'll do about this. So a work in progress, but I'm very happy with it now, with a noticeable improvement in sound on my previous setup too.

There are 2 types of people in this world - those who understand binary and those who don't.

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have you tried the ssd without the sata filter to see if that is causing the temporary dropouts?

 

i just realised i got sent sata 2 sotm filters instead of sata 3.. the power filter side is completely different.. hope mine run ok on sata 3 ports. they have the data side filtered as well though... going to have to attack it carefully with a hacksaw!

 

you certainly ran into one problem after the other though, glad you got it sorted in the end.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I did try it without the filter, and still the same dropouts. I also updated the firmware, and no difference.

 

It's funny, the drive never fails once the compute has booted up into Windows - it only ever seems to fail/not appear when powering up or restarting the computer.

There are 2 types of people in this world - those who understand binary and those who don't.

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Yes, main problem just now is intermittent boot failure of the SSD. Been reading around but don't know what's causing it. Have cloned the drive in case of failure.

There are 2 types of people in this world - those who understand binary and those who don't.

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I can't point you to exactly where I read this, but there was/is an issues with some SSD's and the SOtM sata filter which incorporates the data through the filter (even though the data isn't filtered). The newest version is power only connection for SSD's.

 

A small note is now included referring to issues and recommnding older versions for std disc hdd's only.

SOtM - English | SATA filter II & III

 

I have 2 std units like yourself so have bought a newer version 3 for my latest alteration to my server.

 

Whoops. I didn't read all the posts and see this has been pointed out already. Disregard.

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The point of the article I read which it seems the sotm page sort of confirms, is that there are some known issues between sata3 SSD's and the old all-in-one type filter. They have changed the filter and they recommend using the older style on spinner hdd's.

 

It could be anything ultimately and the only way to problem solve it is go back to basics on the computer then work through the system testing/stress testing components until resolved.

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I've got a similar problem with an Asus p9d-i server board and have never used the SOtM filters. I've replaced every component possible and tried several ssd and different bios versions, a change from a Pang sata cable to one supplied with the board seemed to fix it for a couple of weeks but then it failed again.

 

During testing with Ed (EuroDriver) we were trying different hardware and comparing it with a Pang board and clock and it worked fine all day but looped on boot and stalled on boot and issued a couple of chassis intrusion errors - all very strange and it worked fine when it loaded the OS and always does.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ive got 3 hard drives over 2 computers and they are all samsung pro SSD's.

 

The audio pc has an asus p9d-i server board and the SoTM filter works fine in that pc.

 

control pc has a supermicro serverboard.

 

the OS hdd does NOT work whatsoever with the SoTM filter but the music hdd works without fail with the SoTM filter.

 

so very odd.

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ive got 3 hard drives over 2 computers and they are all samsung pro SSD's.

 

The audio pc has an asus p9d-i server board and the SoTM filter works fine in that pc.

 

control pc has a supermicro serverboard.

 

the OS hdd does NOT work whatsoever with the SoTM filter but the music hdd works without fail with the SoTM filter.

 

so very odd.

I'm putting forward a theory here rather than anything I have tested ...

 

It is possible that the SoTM is somehow delaying the hardware recognising the drive connected via the filter. At startup this causes time outs and the OS not loading. When connected to a secondary hard drive there is sufficient time for the drive to be recognised, also if the drive is recognised there is never an issue later as once its recognised, well it's there until you reboot.

 

There can be just fractions of a micro-second difference in he delays but that could be sufficient to recognise sometime and boot and not boot other times.

 

Just a thought...

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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its just odd to me that the audio pc boots fine but not the control pc!

If that was in response to my suggested reasoning... then the fact the Audio PC is a Asus board and the Control PC is a Supermicro would quite easily explain it. When I'm talking about delays I'm talking minute fractions of seconds so the different board would likely have different thresholds before timing out.

 

As I say I only put this forward as a possible explanation (to both you and the OP) rather than having done any testing...

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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Very interesting. I did try without the SATA filter at all, and was still experiencing the same problem however. I will try it again to be sure. It's funny, I doesn't happen each time on startup - just intermittently. Probably around 50% of the time.

There are 2 types of people in this world - those who understand binary and those who don't.

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I would suggest replacing the OCZ Vertex 2 which is a SATA II SSD with a SATA 3 SSD.

 

It could be that the SATA II drive is not fast enough to respond to the mobo during boot up. The Z97 mobo is designed around SATA 3 but has SATA II compatibility for data drives.

 

I have had good success with Samsung 850 on ASUS P9 and Gigabyte H97. However Hifidelit's ASUS server board did not always boot from the Samsung EVO and went into BIOS more than once before finally booting

Sound Test, Monaco

Consultant to Sound Galleries Monaco, and Taiko Audio Holland

e-mail [email protected]

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There are issues using those old vertex 2 ssds with modern hardware. The are roughly detected only 50% of the time when booting with modern motherboards. Give it some time and they will probably die on you too.. Just get something more reliable than those drives already, as they themselves are the problem.

Yay!

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I am using Samsung 850 pro and also used Samsung 850 evo SSDs and no SOtM and similar problems to the op (not 50% of the time though as it's more intermittent) with the Asus p9d-i server board, works flawlessly when it does boot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Very interesting. I want to build something similar, have a asus x97a atx mainboard, intel i7 4790k and the 500gb samsung ssd, very close to your build. still unsure on the case, since i live in a hot country and maybe a bigger case would be abetter idea

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  • 5 months later...

Just realised that I hadn't concluded this thread. I swapped out the SSD for a Samsung 850 Pro, and everything seems to be working fine now. So thanks for all the input :D

 

My current issue is finding a way to connect USB devices at the other end of the room. I have discovered that there is a maximum cable length for USB. I tried an active repeater USB extension cable, but it doesn't seem to work when plugged in to my USB hub. But at least I'm booting and getting music no problem now though!

There are 2 types of people in this world - those who understand binary and those who don't.

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  • 5 months later...

Final update (if anyone is interested), 6 months further down the line. System is working fine. No problems with booting. System is plenty powerful for Roon with a large library. System is silent and temperatures remain within normal limits despite removal of one of the VRM heatsinks. No audible hum from the HDPLEX linear PSU which is in a wooden cabinet. The issue with USB cables was satisfactorily resolved by using 4m cables (which I understand is about the maximum for USB) leading to a USB hub.

There are 2 types of people in this world - those who understand binary and those who don't.

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