Behind-the-Scenes: How We Built the 2008 Dream Machine!


Dream Machine 2008 Revealed: Part One , Part Two , and Part Three

We've given you the gear.  Now take a trip into the Maximum PC Lab with an exclusive Web-only look at how we constructed this year's Dream Machine 2008--the fastest PC you can buy, hands-down.  Be there for all the heart-wrenching fluid leaks!  The painstaking storage decisions!  The bits and pieces we had to break just to achieve our Dream Machine...dreams!

If you have yet to check out what we packed into this rig, be sure to catch up on our first , second , and third looks at the actual parts of this over-customized rig.  Speaking of, we know that we promised to reveal the fancy secret hard drives we used, shown below:

Unfortunately, the non-disclosure date for these drives has been bumped back by two weeks as the request of the manufacturer.  Feel free to speculate in the comments as much as you'd like: we've seen plenty of back-and-forth about whether these Photoshop-blurry drives are standard magnetic drives, SSDs, nuclear-powered , et cetera. Are they Western Digital's rumored 20,000 RPM Velociraptor drives? Have we added some Photoshop trickery to make them look like a number of drives we could be using?  Find out in two weeks!


Left: Gordon looks happy as a clam as he prepares to open the box containing the custom-chromed chassis of the Dream Machine 2008. You'll note the box is on the floor.  That's because the HP Blackbird 002 case weighs close to a metric ton as-is, and chroming it seemed to pack on the poundage to absurd levels.  Rather than risk a broken back, Gordon wisely decided to chop the box from a safer height.

Right: We had to snap off the case's optical-drive rail locking tabs just to be able to fit our water cooling reservoir into the chassis.  In doing so, we broke the entire mechanism.  But all the optical drive needed was some way to wedge into the five and one-fourth-inch bay.  It didn't matter that the rails didn't exactly lock into the chassis as they used to just as long as the entire contraption of optical drive, drive rails, and mounting guides created enough of a wedge to lock the optical drive in place--which it did.  We were happy.

Left: Nothing fancy to report on this one.  It's just a beautiful shot of our glimmering chassis. Had we shot it horizontally, you could have turned it into a jaw-dropping desktop wallpaper. But we didn't.  Sorry.

Right: Dave and Gordon carefully move the preassembled water-cooling loop to the Lab bench.  We opted to test the entire plumbed system prior to attaching it to actual electronics.  This was a lesson learned from last year's Dream Machine, when we killed an entire motherboard the first time we fired up the rig.  Word to the wise: no matter how tightly you have those fixtures screwed into place, it's well worth your time to test the entire system when it's not near thousands of dollars of expensive equipment.

Left: This backplane of SATA connections would prove to be our undoing at first.  If you recall, the positioning of Western Digital's Velociraptor hard drive doesn't fit with any standard hot-swap configuration.  Unfortunately, this meant that we were unable to use these speedy drives for the Dream Machine 2008.  And believe us, we tried every possible situation--even contemplating the removal of this backplane entirely--just to get the drives the work.  But at the end of the day, we opted for ease-of-use over speed.  The backplane stayed and we went looking for a new pair of speedy hard drives...

Right: As noted earlier, Dave is attaching the HP Blackbird's drive rails to a new optical drive.  It took both him and Gordon approximately 20 minutes to figure out the exact orientation of the rails that would match case's internal mounting.  As it turns out, they were right with their first configuration--the drive just needed a bit of wedging to get inside the case.  We don't often recommend elbow grease treatment when building a machine, but it was just what The Doctor ordered this time around.

Left: Gordon takes a look at the Skultrail motherboard we used on this year's machine.  That's not an apprehensive look on his face.  He's just contemplating the raw power that two Intel QX9775 processors will bring to this year's mega-rig.  You'd also be correct in suggesting that he's considering just how the EATX motherboard will fit inside of this chassis.

Right: Gordon struggles to wedge this oversized motherboard into the Dream Machine's chromed case.  It was a tight fit, but we were barely able to make this motherboard work.  We didn't end up blocking any critical ports, although we did make for some tough cable management situations later when we attempted to route the case backplane's SATA cables to the side-facing inputs on the EATX motherboard.

Left: The Corsair FB-DIMM memory we chose didn't come with much passive cooling, so this ended up being one of the few times we ever saw the top of the memory without a huge fan accessory on top of it.  Take our word (and burnt fingers) for it: these little guys get H-O-T hot.  That's twice as hot as normal hot, for those keeping score at home.

Right: We're unsure of what calculations Gordon was writing at the time of this picture.  Are they the secrets to his 4 GHz overclocking success?  Something having to do with cable management?  A mental layout of the case's front-panel connections?  A quick game of Lab Soduku?  We might never know.

Left: With the motherboard in-place, Dave slaps the water-cooling configuration back into the dream machine and attaches the D-TEK FuZion v2 blocks to the CPUs.  Even given the smaller room to work with in the HP Blackbird 002 case, the water cooling was a lot easier to configure than last year's monstrosity.  You might recall that we ended up cooling both the videocards and the CPU on the Dream Machine 2007.  Next year, Dave suggests we just dunk the entire thing in oil and call it a day.

Right: Gordon rests his hand on the heart of the beast, a custom power supply from PC Power and Cooling . Before we built the Dream Machine for-reals, we measured out the exact cable lengths we'd need to be able to connect all of our devices without having too much extra.  The company then shortened or lengthened the leads depending on our specifications--just one way we killed extra case clutter without having to resort to twist ties.

Check out 12 more pictures on Page Two!

Behind-the-Scenes (Page Two)

Left: A perfect example of the "too many chefs in the kitchen" problem that plagues geeks and their friends.  Gordon and Dave were just super-excited to get their respective sections of the Dream Machine up and running.  When time's an issue, sometimes you just have to work like a pit crew on a rig.

Right: This is an artsy picture of the hard drive holders.  There's no back story behind this one--just simple, easy-to-use hard drive holders  We packed the Dream Machine full of five drives, and while we don't anticipate removing them anytime soon, it's nice to know that we could do so in mere seconds.

Left: If you look super-closely, you'll note the secret hard drives we promised we wouldn't reveal until two weeks from today.  Just kidding.  You can't see squat.  Dave is holding over three terabytes of raw storage power in his oversized hands, however.  Jealous?

Right: Gordon slides the first of the Dream Machine 2008's many PCI-based devices into place.  We would end up swapping the configuration multiple times before we achieved the best aesthetic combination of two videocards and one soundcard.  Luckily for us, the case fit our two giant ATI 4870x2 cards while still leaving a little bit of room for cable management.

Left: Gordon carefully slides the power supply into place.  Given the tight fit between it and the location of the Dream Machine's coolant pump, we actually decided to use the mess of cables themselves to secure the pump into place.  Once we slid the power supply all the way in, there was absolutely no way that pump was going to move, period.  We'd normally recommend using some kind of adhesive or screws to attach the pump to the case.

Right: Speaking of cables, here's the rat's nest on the dream machine's right side.  Gordon would eventually use a lot of tape and twist-ties to get this secured, but the formidable task only grew worse and worse as we continued to add, tweak, and connect various new electronics to the rig.

Left: We fired up the machine and, curse our luck, found a leak in the water cooling setup.  Or rather, a leak found us.  We immediately powered down the machine once we noticed the drip-drip-drip of coolant onto the rig's sensitive internal electronics.  As is typical with custom PC building, Dave is starting to disassemble his hard work to troubleshoot the leaky problem.

Right: We were pretty sure we had the leak nailed down, but we wanted to triple-check that we had fixed the culprit.  We came prepared  with various paper towels and napkins to prevent any stray fluid from hitting the case's expensive internals this time around.  "Be prepared" -- sage advice for the Boy Scouts, Scar the Lion , and water-cooling enthusiasts.

Left: As luck would have it, we fixed the first leak only to create a second.  Gordon busted out the flashlight so Dave could get a closer look at the source of the dripping.  A CPU waterblock was to blame this time.  And given the closeness of the tube clamps to the base of the block, we had no choice but to remove that portion of the loop if we were to have any chance of sealing the leak.

Right: Gordon gives Dave a helping hand.  While we don't recommend clamping your tubes too tightly to the nozzles of your water block, we know that it's difficult to tell exactly when your hose is properly fitted.  We decided to push, and push, and push some more until we were confident that a tighter seal would be absolutely impossible.  But our macho arm strength paid off.  This was the last leak we would ever see on the Dream Machine 2008.

Left: With the rig up and running, the scope of what we had built finally began to come together.  The blue LED fans attached to the radiator give the rig's internals a lovely blue glow.  We still decided to install three blacklight cold-cathode tubes to accentuate the effect towards the rig's lower half.  The difference of the lights is subtle, but we love having the clear fluid transitioning in and out of a glowing blue state.  It looks neat even though you'll never see these differences unless you actually pop open the case's side door.  We're sticklers for detail.

Right: Gordon seals the right side of the Dream Machine 2008 with a loving embrace.  Unlike typical cases, the HP Blackbird 002 chassis comes with a number of screws for keeping the right side panel attached and in-place.  This makes sense, as HP does a fantastic job with its own cable management.  Unless something breaks--or unless you're chroming and customizing a case of your very own--you'd likely have no reason to pop open the cable-hiding side of your rig.

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