This is a moment that I have been waiting for quite a while and finally having access to the kind of computing power that my work has grown accustomed to over the last several years. The last six months have been a stretch by having to work within the confines of just a laptop. It has been a humbling experience and has reinforced my love and need of the desktop. My corner of the computing world revolves around professional recording and mixing, design work, and WordPress. These are three areas that OS X excels at as well as being compatible with my software. The last cycle of Macintosh desktops have left me wanting more in terms of value for money and overall specification. Hence my choice to keep moving with the world of OSx86 builds. I do think the new Mac Pro’s are promising little machines that finally offer the new generation of components while being to upgrade and service them at yourself. In the long run I would like to get my hands on one that I can lovingly use and maintain for the next couple of years.
I love it when a job starts with a giant pile of boxes! In this case it turned out to be an early birthday present to myself.
- Intel i7 3770K
- Gigabyte GA Z68X UD7-B3
- 16GB Crucial Ballistix DDR3 1600 RAM
- EVGA GTX 760 ACX Graphics Card
- Seasonic 850W 80 Plus Gold Power Supply
- Corsair H60 CPU Hydro Cooler
- Antec Tru-Quiet 120mm Fans
- Antec 302 ATX Case
- Logitech G500s Laser Mouse
- Razer Sphex Mouse Pad
- Apple Keyboard
- Intel 530 240GB SSD – OS X 10.8.5
- Intel 320 Series 80GB SSD – Windows 7
- Intel 320 Series 80GB SSD
- Western Digital 2TB Green Drive
- Seagate Barracuda 2TB 7200RPM Drive
- Toshiba 500GB 2.5″ Drive
- LG Optical Drive
Cooling, CPU, and Graphics
Since the Antec 302 does not include front side fans I picked up a pair of 120mm fans. Their selling point is that the fans mount to the case with rubber grommets and cut down on mechanical noise. All while keeping the hard drives nice and cool.
The motherboard and power supply are mounted. There was an internal debate on whether to mount the power supply with the fan facing upwards into the case or pulling air from the bottom since the case has a bottom vent for the power supply. I did end up ignoring the air vent and had the power supply pull air in from inside the case.
This is the winning candidate for the position of graphics card for this build. It offers plenty of power, good value for money, and will run 2-3 displays when called for.
It was nice to opt for a fan and heat sink design that was different than the standard blower designs that so many cards use.
Enabling Open CL acceleration for Adobe CS6 is a straightforward task. Did I mention it plays video games really well too?
The final cooling setup involves the two front fans pulling in air, a side case fan pulling air in and blowing it at the graphics card. The card in turn expels air inside the case where it is removed by the power supply fan. The CPU Hydro Cooler has an intake fan that blows air over the radiator. The top of the case uses a 140mm fan to remove the rising hot air. So far the CPU idles at ~32°C, ambient case temperature is in the low 20°C range, and the graphics card idling at 30°C. The ambient room temperature is 20-22°C.
I have become a big fan of liquid cooling over the last couple of years. Mainly because of the efforts to build smaller and more practical systems. In the past liquid cooling required a huge degree of internal plumbing and was definitely not a practical endeavour. I have used this particular model in several computer builds in the last two years and so far they have all worked well. The purpose of this machine is to be a quiet powerhouse. In the past I have used 90% rubbing alcohol to clean thermal surfaces. For this build I opted to try out the Arctic Silver Thermal Surface Cleaner and Purifier products. The two came in a set that also included a tube of Arctic Silver 5, which I was also in the market for.
The cooler comes with all the mounting hardware you will need for either an AMD or Intel setup. Pictured above is the Intel specific bits as well as the first application on this CPU. There were more applications as I will later explain.
Cases that feature a large CPU cutout for the mother board are the way to go. Otherwise mounting this cooler would be a pain that requires the motherboard to be out of the case. Here is a before and after of the end result.
The layout of my current house does not make running ethernet cable an easy task and as a result I had to opt for a Wi-Fi solution. After looking around for cards that are compatible in both OS X and Windows and the price ranges I decided to opt for the DYI Wi-Fi card approach. The x86blog provided me with the instructions and components list for the Wi-Fi card. A quick visit to eBay netted me a BCM94322MC Airport card and mini PCIe adapter card.
Here are the parts as they came out of their packaging. The PCIe adapter did not come with any screws and required a little bit of work to make the screws I used work with both the adapter and card. I shaved the holes on the Airport card to make room for the thicker screws.
The Airport Card is nice and snug and the mini BNC antenna connectors are plugged in. Take care to tuck the cables in nicely in order to avoid damaging them with the metal cover. The cover will strip the shielding off the cable. The next steps are to put the cover on and fit the antennas.
For the cover to fit I needed to make a small cut out on the left side near the antenna so that it would not hit the connector. The metal is thin enough for a pair of scissors to easily do the trick. Here is one last shot of the my DIY Airport card nice and happy in its new home.
Hardware choice is the single biggest factor in being able to a achieve a stable and straightforward installation. The reason I pursued this particular Z68X chipset is the native inclusion of Firewire and specifically using the Texas Instruments TSB43AB23 chipset. I do enjoy the large support and install base that firewire audio cards. The ability of these devices to work correctly often relies on the stability and quality of the Firewire controller. Most manufacturers do provide lists of compatible and recommended chipsets. The board also includes a generous amount of USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports, eSATA, and plenty of PCIe and PCI slots.
I grew up building gaming computers and have since then come to see the overlap between a solid gaming machine and how much of the same requirements can go into an audio computer. Both require clean power, generous helpings of CPU capacity, lots of RAM, solid graphics card(s), future expandability, quiet and efficient cooling. These are to name but a few. In the end each person is free to pursue their own design philosophy. This just happens to be mine.
OS X Installation
Now that the hardware part is sorted out we can move ahead and talk about installing Mountain Lion on this machine. The best way to go about this is to research your components ahead of time and to identify any potential problems and their related solutions. It is worth noting that the OSx86 community tends to be amazing about supporting and solving past and present problems. My many thanks to the people and community from TonyMacx86.com What you need:
- App store copy of Mountain Lion (10.8.5)
- Unibeast 3.0.1 – Mountain Lion installer utility
- Multibeast 5.5.5 – post installation utility
Booting into Unibeast for this hardware setup required:
These are the essential options that you need to select to get the system working after you have completed your initial installation. My optional extras are: the classic Chameleon theme, 1080p bootloader screen, FakeSMC plugins. The universal USB 3.0 driver now fully supports my Renesas USB 3.0 chipset to a full 5Gb/s.
Despite the native support for GTX 760 in Mountain Lion I did have to install the Nvidia web drivers in order to have the card correctly recognized in the System Information. Otherwise the card registers as a GK104. This did not appear to have any negative impact on performance, but the GK104 designation did not play nicely with the CUDA activation for the Adobe Suite
Instructions regarding installing the Nvidia web drivers can be found here:
This is a screenshot of my chameleon.plist file. I did not use the darkwake=0 string and only used:
The only task left to is to enable this graphics card for CUDA acceleration in Adobe CS 6. Please check out this link for more instructions.
A crucial post installation item to take care of is TRIM support for your SSD. We have been using TRIM Enabler for the longest time and they have been amazing with updating their software. This utility ensures you will not bog down your SSD into oblivion with old garbage data.
The Z68 board I purchased had been sitting on the shelf for a while and as a result was running an older BIOS version. For my new Ivy Bridge 3770K CPU to work the BIOS needs to be F10. In order to get around this issue I tracked down an older Intel G840 Sandy Bridge CPU to use so that my motherboard can boot in order to flash the BIOS using the Q Flash utility. Since the board features dual BIOS I had to make sure to flash the F10 BIOS across both chips. With both chips flashed I could finally move on to installing software. In the long run this did result in a few applications of Arctic Silver.
Benchmark Results and Conclusion
It is always nice to be able to point at charts and tables and say “Ooh, look, numbers!” It is also important to take benchmarks with a grain of salt. I am happy with these solid numbers and that they do in fact compete with other well built machines. I will take the compliment and move on with my job. Happy with the knowledge that my computer will be able to take whatever I throw at it for the foreseeable future.
Thus far everything works, the computer successfully enters and wakes from sleep, it knows what all of its body parts are, and it is not self aware. It stays cool and runs quietly. The graphics card is hands down the coolest running I have ever seen only reach 52-55°C while under heavy load. I did ask EVGA to email me the BIOS which slow down the GPU’s fan idle speeds to 31%. This machine is even better than my last audio build and preserves all the features that made the last one so stable to use. The Z68 chipset will go down as one of my favourites. Newer is not always better depending on your application. In this case Sandy and Ivy Bridge have been very hospitable places for studio computers.
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Stay tuned for more articles on what life with this work station.
Thank you for reading!