The Death of a Gaming Computer

A few minutes ago, I tried to bring the system back to life. Because I use red coolant, when the hastily affixed tubing failed, the system sprayed fluid onto me, my desk, and the closest wall, like arterial blood spurting from an open wound. That was the breaking point, for both the system and myself.

Let me start from the beginning. Some of this I’ve talked about before, but I think I need to go over this again just to give myself a little bit more closure.

At the beginning of September 2020, I decided it was time to start building a new gaming computer in anticipation of Cyberpunk. I built the previous system most of a decade before that, so it was well past time. With everything else going on that year, I needed the new system.

The 30 series of RTX cards were just about to come out, so the timing seemed right. This was before the card shortage hit, so I didn’t know what kind of an undertaking it would be to build this new system.

Like everyone else, I ran into bots and scammers and chip shortages and online stores that liked to bait and switch. I found an online vendor that looked like you could get in line, and months later, they canceled my order only to put up the same card for fifty bucks more.

In February of 2021, I finally found the card for my system, but there was a catch. It came with a water block already on it. To use this card, I needed to build my first custom loop.

I went for it and started reading everything I could on water cooling. I watched a bunch of JayzTwoCents videos. They were particularly useful and entertaining, and I’m still watching his channel on YouTube to this day. It’s good stuff.

My first attempts at getting the loop going succeeded, but in weird ways. I went too cheap on the pump and radiator, and though it kept the card at 60C under load, it looked like hell. The pump and reservoir didn’t fit in the system, so I had tubes hanging out the back. Then after a month or so, the pump died and I had to replace it.

The next pump lasted a little while longer, but still didn’t fit in the case. Noise issues bothered me, and I wound up replacing all the fans. The filter in the second pump melted and destroyed the pump, so I replaced it again.

I started with basic distilled water with an additive, then went to specially bought coolant, pre-colored and ready to go. The newest pump, the XD5 from Corsair, actually fit in my system and looked really good. My gaming system started to look like something to be proud of.

The temperatures started going up, though. Under load, the GPU sat at 88C. Not good. So I continued to tinker.

I bought a 360mm radiator and hard tubing to replace the soft tubing. I learned to bend the tubes and use the new fittings, and again, the system started to look more impressive. My hopes were that the changing in tubing would allow greater flow, and the radiator would grant more cooling capacity. It shouldn’t have been necessary, since there was only one device on the loop. All that work reduced the temperatures about 5 to 6 degrees, but only sometimes. It was still running too hot.

After replacing everything else, I looked at the water block on the GPU. It didn’t have a backplate. It didn’t seem to cover all of the components on the card. In the last rounds of updates and upgrades, I’d taken the block apart and cleaned it, but that had no effect. I decided to replace the block with one from Corsair.

The block arrived yesterday. I took the old block off, installed the new one. Everything seemed fine. I had to bend new tubes because the holes on the new block were about half an inch off from the previous. I anticipated this, and I had the tubing on hand, ready to cut and bend.

Everything fit back together. I added fluid to the system. No leaks. It was ready to hook up and post.

For about twenty minutes, I felt like I accomplished something. The system came right up. Everything looked good. I put the card under load, trying not to hope for too much. I wanted to bring the temperature down 20C so that it would sit in the 60’s again.

I used Valheim as my test app. For some reason, it demands nearly 100% utilization of the GPU at 4K. I ran around on screen, with FPS higher than I’d seen before, and temps lower than I dared to hope for. The temperature never went about 44C.

I did it. I spent all of that money and time and effort, and it finally paid off. I had the gaming system I set out build, satisfying a quest I started over a year ago. With my own hands, I put this beautiful system together, and I was happy. Amazed, and happy.

Then I saw strange artifacts on the screen. Then it went entirely green. Then the system began to hang.

I reset, and the desktop came up for a little bit. But then the artifacts again, and the green, and then nothing.

For a little while, Windows recognized the card but refused to use it. Since I recently upgraded to Windows 11, I thought there was a possibility that the upgrade messed up the drivers, so I completely uninstalled and reinstalled them.

At this point, I knew what happened. During the process of putting on the new water block, I did something to the card itself. Maybe a string of thermal paste from the previous block draped across some components on the card, creating a short. Maybe I touched something I wasn’t supposed to. I don’t know what happened exactly, but as I went through all of the software solutions, I already knew in my heart that this was a hardware problem.

I did a clean install of Windows, installed the latest NVidia drivers, and nothing changed. Windows recognized that the card was there, but it wouldn’t use it. There was a problem with the card and no amount of tinkering with the software was going to fix it.

When I woke up this morning and decided to take the block off again and try to clean the card more thoroughly before putting it back together and trying again. I used a dry brush to remove left over gunk I couldn’t clean last night. I went over the whole card thoroughly. I didn’t see anything burned out. It looked good. I started to build up some hope again.

I told myself not to hope. Hardware problems like this are rarely so easily solved. Yes, I cleaned it, and yes, it looked right, but I needed to keep my expectations in check, because I didn’t want to break my own heart. I’ve been struggling enough as it is lately. Confidence issues. Depression. My faith has been in tatters. I’m tired all the time, thinking dark thoughts more often than light, and I did not want to hope for this because I did not know how I would handle the disappointment.

Faith, hope, and love. While talking to myself, saying not to hope, I thought of Corinthians. Basically, when all else is lost, we still have faith, hope, and love. But my faith is ruined. Hope feels like breathing shards of glass. And love, I don’t feel like I deserve.

When I took the card out to clean it, I had trouble getting the fittings loose. When I put the card back in the system, I tried not to tighten them as much.

I did not dare to hope too much, so I did not spend as much time making sure the fittings were seated as properly as I usually do. I never had a problem with leaks before. Why would I have a problem this time?

Without putting the front glass back on, I put the system in its place, hooked it up, and turned it on. I wasn’t going to have it on for long, anyway. I had no hope of the card coming back to life.

And then the system bled everywhere, as I described in the beginning.

I didn’t log into Windows. I shut it down, then went and sat in a chair, wishing I could cry, but unable to produce even a single tear.

This is a loss. There is a hole in my life. There are many holes, actually. This one’s just the freshest, and its painful because of how much it cost, and how I have no one to blame but myself.

Before sitting down to write this, I cleaned up all the fluid. The system is sitting on my workbench again. I cleaned it as well. I don’t think any of the other components are damaged. Maybe someday, I’ll get another video card and bring it back to life. Maybe I’ll wait and start a different system when there isn’t a chip shortage.

I don’t know. I’m very sad right now. Writing this all out helps. I’m still very fortunate in a number of ways, and I should count my blessings and keep my chin up, and all that. But it hurts, and I think I need to sit with the pain for a little bit before moving on. I need to give myself permission to feel sad about this.

Somewhere out there, someone hates me. I’m the villain in their story, the antagonist whenever I show up in their life. I don’t know who they are, but I hope they find out about this moment I’m going through. I’m miserable, feeling utterly defeated. I hope this low point can at least be the high point of their day.