Rebuilding The Dream (Machine) (Part 3)

9/8/2012 7:25:53 PM

Building in the bird

8.    Hitting the optic nerve

I attached one of the Blackbird's drive rails to the right-hand side of the optical drive, then slid the drive in from the front until its bezel was flush with the bay and the optical bay cover was able to close (image J). I then attached a SATA cable and another SATA-to-Molex power adapter and slid the drive retention clip closed.

Description: Image J

Image J

The Blackbird shipped with up to two slimline slot-fed optical drives, but the trays were designed for PATA drives and have little panels that com­pletely block the area where a SATA drive would connect. So I'm leaving those empty for now. In the2008 Dream Machine, we put a water-cooling radiator in there.

9.    Cool it!

With the Drives installed and powered, I once again placed the Blackbird on its side, this time to mount the cooler. After applying thermal paste, I gently placed the cooler onto the CPU, with the horizontal fin stack over the RAM (image K). I placed the crossbar over the heat exchanger and mounted it to the bracket with the two included spring screws (making sure to use the AMD-specific ones). Then I attached the two 14cm fans, one to each set of fins. I set the fan on the right-hand side to blow down toward the motherboard, and the one on the left to push cool air through the left-hand fin stack and out the rear of the case. This is especially important, as I've lost what ever mounting bracket originally enabled us to attach a 12cm exhaust fan to the rear of the case. I plugged the fans into the CPU FAN and CPU OPT FAN headers at the top of the board.

Description: Image K

Image K

10.  Mounting the videocard

Last but not least: I mounted the videocard into the top x16 PCIe slot on the motherboard and attached an 8- and a 6-pin power connector (image L). I then bundled up all the rest of the power cables and hid them behind the cover the Blackbird pro­vides for this purpose. Then I double-checked all my wiring and connections, closed the case, and powered up my rehabilitated Dream Machine!

Description: Image L

Image L

I know why the Chromebird sings

Not gonna lie: The new build looks great. It’s certainly one of the prettiest machines I've built to date. Can it compete with our 2012 Dream Machine? Not even a little bit. My rehabilitated Blackbird is a whopping 81 percent slower in Premiere Pro, 54 percent slower in Stitch.Efx, 18 percent slower in ProShow Producer, 47 percent slower in x264 encoding, and 62 percent slower in Batman: Arkham City. That sounds pretty bad until you realize that the 2012 Dream Machine has an eight-core Xeon and the equivalent of four GTX 680s and costs $10,000. So it's over six times more expensive than the Chrome bird (again, not counting the case or PSU), but it's not six times faster. That’s cost savings there.

Against our $2,500 zero-point machine, the Chromebird fares a little better. The zero-point has a six-core Sandy Bridge-E chip with Hyper­-Threading, and its 12 threads absolutely crush the eight I get from my FX-8150, even at 3.8GHz. In the heavily multithreaded Premiere Pro, the zero-point was over four times faster, while in ProShow Producer, the Chromebird was only 24 percent slower. Stitch.Efx is one-third single-­threaded and two-thirds multithreaded, and the Chromebird couldn’t come close to our zero-point there.

So am I surprised or appalled that a $1,500 Bulldozer build can’t beat a rig that costs a thousand dollars more? Nope. Instead, I'm happy that I built what I set out to build: a kick-ass gaming rig that looks amazing and performs well for the price, and a chance for the case from one of our old Dream Machines to live again.

If I had to do it over, I’d opt for a modular power supply and a 3.5-inch-to-2.5-inch drive bay adapter that’d let me use the SATA backplane for the SSD. Blackbird owners’ forums indicate that Icy Dock makes one that works. But I’m happy with the Chromebird as it is, and glad I got a chance to make something beautiful that wasn’t quite as much work as water-cooling this year's Dream Machine. This was almost a vacation in comparison.

1.    Even after four years and a chrome dip, the Blackbird chassis manages to look classy

2.    The Genesis cooler’s weird design helps with overall airflow in a case without many intake fans

3.    Most of the Blackbird’s thermal chamber dividers don’t work with our new GPU and cooler, but the PSU cable cover still fits, for which we’re grateful.


Our current desktop test bed consists of a hexa-core 3.2GHz Core i7-3930K 3.8GHz, 8GB of Corsair DDR3/1600, on an Asus Sabertooth X79 motherboard. We are running a GeForce GTX 690, an OCZ Vertex 3 SSD, and 64-bit Windows 7 Professional.

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