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Featured Rig #4 - "Ex-Box One S PC" by Aaron Howe
Titan Rig’s fourth Featured Rig has arrived!
This time around we have an amazing rig from Redditor Aaron Howe (/u/Draelren). Aaron has managed to pack an entire liquid-cooled PC inside what was once a gaming console, and it looks awesome!
Builder: Aaron Howe
Case: X-Box One S console
Motherboard: ASRock Phantom Gaming X570 ITX/TB3
APU: AMD Ryzen 7 4700G
Storage: WD Black SN750 1TB
CPU Block: Bitspower ASRock X570 ITX/TB3 Monoblock
Reservoir: Alphacool Eisstation 40 DC-LT
Aaron’s choice of case is inspired, and his execution is incredible. Built inside the chassis of an Xbox One S console, this PC is packed in tight but still manages to look amazing. Custom water cooling with the help of a Bitspower monoblock and one of Alphacool’s odd-sized radiators and tiny ceramic pumps really sets this machine apart.
I was able to talk with Aaron about his build at length. Good stuff ahead!
Thanks for sharing your creation with us Aaron! I’m a fan of big cases myself, and this project of yours reminds me why. To my eye this looks like the end result of an incredible amount of work and patience, and it shows!
Does this project have a name?
Yes! I call it the Ex-Box One S PC, which the ‘Ex-Box’ part came from my previous LAN rig I had built, which was the same rough concept of this, but was air cooled, and was in an Xbox 360 actually.
I forget where the name exactly originates with my old build, but someone made a comment about it being an ex-Xbox or ex-box or something, either on Facebook or Reddit, and I was like “OH! YES! THAT!” and I just kind of ran with it.
Maybe someday I’ll come up with a more anthropomorphic name for the computer.
No! This is perfect!
What do you primarily use the Ex-Box for?
It’s my LAN rig for when I go more mobile with my gaming. I live near Portland, Oregon and every year there’s multiple LAN parties near me (at least pre-pandemic there was), PDXLAN was the main one I take my machines to, but there are also smaller ones such as GNW Lan around.
Occasionally I’ll use the system at home to game on also. My main computer is primarily a workstation, so it has applications, drivers, and various tweaks to its system for productivity, server management, and the like - that some games just DON'T get along with. It’s a Threadripper paired with an RTX 3070, and yet Conan Exiles won’t even launch properly on it due to some software complication that I haven’t bothered to track down yet.
If I find myself unable to play something in particular with the 4700G’s internal GPU, the motherboard has a TB3 port, and I have a Razer Core v2 to hook up a graphics card externally to the system if I ever need to.
How long have you been building PCs?
I got started with PC’s at around 12, and built a few with my stepdad, but eventually branched off into coding and visual effects / 3d modeling. I took a decent long hiatus from hardware until I was actually in my mid-20s around 2013. I then became addicted to PC hardware, building systems just for the fun of it to see how it would perform, tearing it down and then going and buying more hardware. Eventually I became a hardware reviewer for a few years, and I do miss that job sometimes actually. I’d love to get back into it someday. Just the thrill of getting your hands on something early and getting to play with it, and push its limits, is always a fun time.
I’ve since turned into doing commissioned PC builds for various locals looking for one-off unique systems. In the past 8 or so years I’ve built nearly five to six hundred systems either for professional use at work, personal use, or for friends and family.
How many water cooled rigs have you made? What got you into water cooling?
This was actually my first water cooled build! I’ve been wanting to jump into the art for a while now, but never really had a reason to. What got me wanting to do this particular build as water cooling, was because my last one was air cooled - I thought I’d try my hand and see what could be done in an Xbox chassis with water.
Looking around the internet back in 2018 when I started this project, there was no AIO option for something using a 50mm radiator, dual 50, or triple 50 like would fit in the chassis. So I knew it had to be custom.
Some friends were definitely pushing me to do it and were wanting me to do custom loops for their systems as well, so I just jumped right in on that idea to get experience.
How did you learn to build a custom water cooling loop?
A LOT of research actually. I’ve watched channels on YouTube like JayzTwoCents for years, and he’s always kind of been known for having water cooled builds; so I looked through some of his videos. Then I went to online forums, Reddit, Facebook groups, you name it. I looked at loop theory and what might need to change with such a small loop vs a more traditional one.
I learned to drive a manual vehicle the same way actually. I knew what car I wanted, went online, and then just went and did it. Same here, knew what I wanted, bought the parts, did it.
Some of us just learn better by doing – I know the feeling.
What were the deciding factors in your choice of brands/parts for this rig?
A lot of the deciding factors were down to form factor.
Going into the project I already knew from previous experience that there is no way to fit a GPU into the chassis, while also maintaining an internal power supply, not to mention the radiator, pump/res, and the other water cooling parts. So I knew I HAD to get the best iGPU processor possible. At the time the 5700G wasn’t even announced yet - the best available was the 4700G, so that’s what I went with.
The motherboard that I wanted had to have great aesthetics due to the window I had planned, I wanted it to have TB so I could rock an external dock, it had to have m.2 support, and I wanted a little bit of RGB. Plugging these options into Newegg only popped up with a single search result. I had my answer. The ASRock Phantom Gaming X570 ITX/TB3. A super unique motherboard for AMD’s AM4 socket, but yet uses Intel mounting holes.
Due to the AM4/115X weird mounting solution, I went through buying a few different blocks and trying out a few different solutions, none quite seemed to look, function, or fit right. Eventually settled on Bitspower’s monoblock for the X570 ITX/TB3. It was made for the board, provided appropriate cooling, and looked great when paired with the rest of the water cooling components.
The internal power is supplied by a 400W DC-ATX unit from HDPLEX, and the external power brick is a 330w laptop charger by Dell, made for their Alienware laptops. I wanted an internal power unit to keep the external cables to a minimum; and I had used their 250-watt version in my old Ex-Box 360 mod - so I knew it was from a company that had great attention to detail and would fit my needs.
The two main cables for the HDPLEX iPSU were custom done for me by some friends, the 1” 24-pin was donated by Heath from Tek by Design, and the 8-pin EPS was done by Michael over at MB Custom Sleeving, both great guys, and I was happy to have their work in my build.
The pump and res combo pairing of the Alphacool DC-LT 2600 and the Eisstation 40 DC-LT were kind of my only choices at this sizing. Literally nothing else would fit. However, that hardware combination required me to run an Alphacool NexXxoS XT45 50mm Dual radiator, instead of their triple 50mm radiator, just so I had a place to put the pump and res combo.
The fittings were a mix and matched set just based on where I knew the tubing would need to go, and what would fit the space required. Most everything came down to millimeters of spare room, if any at all - and the majority of planning was just down to figuring that out.
I imagine a build like this comes with more than its share of obstacles. Did you run into any that you hadn’t planned for?
Ha! I think I just went over some of that actually. Aside from finding out bits of hardware were too big, bulky, or incompatible for some reason with something else that I had to change from my original plan along the way, I think the biggest other obstacle in the build was with the internal framing.
My first few versions were all done with aluminum framing and cold welding / epoxies. With the added weight of system components and trying to build the rest of the system, it kept breaking apart. After trying a few different methods for joining together the frame that I wasn’t satisfied with, I decided to design a frame and 3D print it. Having gone to school for multimedia arts and game design, I was able to put some of my experience there to use in this project.
Over the course of a few months I tested 7 different iterations of the frame, each time refining where I needed extra support, where needed cut outs, and what needed to be thinner to allow for cables to pass through. In the end I believe I had all of the kinks worked out, and I feel it turned out pretty well.
For the Xbox One S chassis, underneath there is a lot of spare plastics for rigidity, or for the optical tray, or for clips used for the internal hardware in places - most of those got shaved off, or merely cut away.
The bottom of the casing also had a large hole cut in it, roughly 8” x 11” tall to allow for the glass panel to display the internal hardware.
Are you happy with the look/sound/performance of your new rig, and is there anything you would have done differently?
Yes! I’m absolutely blown away by it every time I look at it. The pictures do NOT do it justice, at all.
As far as doing things differently, yeah, I probably would have done a bit more thorough research on how I was going to get the pump/res to work, so I wouldn’t have had to go through buying so many different items to try to make it work.
I’m actually also working on doing a revision now for it, using EK’s ZMT in black, instead of their EK-Clear, which started to turn yellow on me after a few months of use.
Any advice for the aspiring water cooler?
Yes! Don’t be afraid! You can do it! Spend a bit of time up front and try to get a grasp of what you want to do, and what you want it to look like, then do it!
I love the glass panel on the front of the machine – tell me about how you pulled that off.
So the glass panel is actually just a simple, like, $2.18 cent piece of glass from Home Depot. Required no cutting actually and slipped relatively easily in place. The pieces I have holding it in place are mirror clips designed to just go on a wall for a wall mounted mirror.
Not all the time does a mod need to go with the highest tech answer, sometimes just simple uses of everyday materials can go a long way to providing a decent aesthetic.
The base with the USB ports is obviously not stock – how did you put this together?
That unit actually is the Insignia brand, which is one of Best Buy’s brands. It’s like Costco and Kirkland kind of. It’s designed for the actual Xbox One S from Microsoft, and I tried plugging it into the PC to see if I could find drivers for it to have it be functional, but it kept coming up with results that weren’t appropriate for the device and trying to look it up by its bare hardware_id met with no great results either. I eventually ended up just hacking off the USB cable that plugs into the back, so it wouldn’t just be flopping about uselessly.
In the end it provides a really nice sturdy base for the PC, as well as brings the radiator up off the table for some additional ventilation.
Thanks for taking the time to give us a look into the creation of this tiny masterpiece, Aaron! You’ve certainly shown that SFF and custom water cooling can work beautifully together.