Dream Machine 2017: we build the ultimate $18,000 gaming PC

We give you an insight into the many troubles that we encountered when putting together this year’s truly titanic Dream Machine.

This is not a build for the faint-hearted.

The dream realized

Dream Machine 2017 took a lot out of us. It was a mammoth task that took three months to plan, and over five days to build and shoot, driving everyone involved to the brink of insanity. 

Figuring out how the loops were going to operate, in which direction, and how the tubing runs were going to fit together was testing. Couple that with the modding of the panels to allow for the pass-throughs, the careful cable management to ensure the CPU power reached, making sure the fans fell into place, the blocks were installed correctly, and everything else was a success, and it was incredibly draining.

We’re not afraid to admit when we make mistakes, and when it comes to the finer pursuits, such as liquid cooling and case modding—of which there was a lot this year—we still have much to learn.

Tubing runs can always be cleaner and tidier, but it was the DIY aspect of the modding that really caught us off guard—mounting the reservoirs and the pass-throughs in particular. 

Using the correct drill bit to get through that aluminum is imperative, as is using the right technique. We certainly could have been more precise. Working with the steel panel behind the reservoirs also proved tricky.

If we did it again, we’d make sure that the pass-throughs below the GPU were better marked and separated, to make them more parallel, that the reservoir mounting in the back of the steel plate was cleaner, and that the tubing runs in the back of the chassis consisted of soft tubing, making it easier to route the tubing, tidy the cables, and be safer to transport.

That said, being flexible helped. There are 86 separate fittings in this build, in all sorts of combinations. The CPU block, for instance, uses two extension fittings at the base of the two G1/4-inch threads, followed by two 45-degree rotary fittings on each side, then a hard compression fitting on the end, to create an extended 90-degree fitting, with a bit more height to give some wiggle room with those top two tubing runs. 

Additionally, we used a combination of 45-degree fittings with unused pass-through fittings to connect two lengths of tube at the back of the motherboard tray, to enable us to run the loop from the uppermost radiator to the CPU pump at the bottom of the chassis.

And, of course, finding some way of mounting the hard drives in the back of the chassis (potentially on the back of the reservoir tray) would have been far nicer than our solution, which was to mount them on the included Phanteks mounting trays, on the right, slightly above the bottom radiator at the front of the case. 

We removed them for the photo shoot, but it’s certainly possible to run them like that, forsaking a touch of airflow over that bottom radiator.

Naturally, this isn’t where our story ends. We’d tested the CPU, memory, hard drives, and GPUs outside the chassis, before we liquid-cooled them, but the one thing we hadn’t done was test the motherboard. We just didn’t have the time, as it arrived on the day of the build—so, after all the tinkering, building, and filling of the loops, on first boot we received a memory error, implying that we either needed to change the memory channels, or reseat them. 

Less than ideal, given what our setup entails. In short, using the two T-blocks at the top of the chassis, we attached a ball valve, drained off the CPU loop, removed the memory blocks, reseated the memory, and the problem was solved.

Such are the potential setbacks of hardline liquid cooling.

That said, all in all, it’s a phenomenal build. On the next page you'll see our benchmark results that show just how powerful this machine is, and it’s certainly a beauty to behold. 

Combine those looks with sub-50 C temperatures and minimal noise, and it’s hard to argue with just how nice a system it is. The big question is, where do we go from here?