YIDIY: Jack Kramer & Project GEM

GeForce Garage, YIDIY, Interviews

We’re back with another GeForce YIDIY modder profile and this one takes unique to a whole new level. While we were filming in the GeForce Garage lab, a fellow Nvidian brought his little brother by to visit. Meet aspiring modder and high school sophomore, Jack Kramer of Issaquah High School in Washington. Typically we feature professional modders with several years of PC DIY experience under their belt. Yet at 16 years of age, Jack has already been bitten hard by the PC DIY bug.

Jack in the Product Experience Team Lab during his visit to the NVIDIA HQ.

When visiting, he mentioned that he’s a fan of GeForce Garage and has watched every single video we have published. Wow! It’s not often we see the DIY-fire burn so brightly in such a young builder. We knew we had to help kindle that fire and see exactly what this kid could do. We told him, make sure you let us know if you do a really cool mod. That he did!

Project GEM

Component Product
Chassis CaseLabs Mercury S5
Graphics Cards GeForce GTX 980 Ti
CPU Intel i7-5820k
Motherboard ASUS X99-M WS
Memory Corsair Dominator 16GB DDR4
Storage HD: Seagate Barracuda 1TB
SSD: PNY CS11000 480GB
Power EVGA SuperNova 750W G2
Cooling Fans: 5x Noctua NF-S12A
Pump/Reservoir: EKWB
Fittings: Bitspower
CPU Block: EKWB Supremacy
Radiator: Black Ice 260mm
Sleeving MainFrame Customs

So tell us Jack; when did you first get into computers and building?

I first started messing with computers roughly 2 years ago. I had just attended PAX Prime, and after seeing the 4 way SLI, custom water-cooling, volt modding (I had no idea what it was at the time), I decided to take the red pill and join the PC master race. I did some research, asked some questions, got some inspiration, and chose the parts. It took me a while, but I was able to save up the money, and soon bought the components. I remember I was so paranoid I would break the parts that I actually put on latex gloves when handling the PCBs. In a few hours I was gaming away with the stupidest grin on my face, with red case lights lighting up my room and the hard drive humming away. Man, I was hooked.

Project GEM in its early stages.

What was the inspiration for Project GEM? Did you have a focus or concept going in?

I don't like to think there was just one source of inspiration, it was more of a mix of rigs I've seen in the past, crazy mods done at PAX prime, seeing amazing water-cooling loops and crazy mods on OCN. However, if I had to choose one specific inspiration, it would have to be seeing the same style through all the gaming computers out there. Of course, there are exceptions, but for the most part, the style is a very "hidden" look- cables that have had dozens of hours put into the custom sleeving are hidden, or tucked away with very little showing, PCBs are hidden under cheap shrouds, and the watercooling loops are all hardline, and if not custom, AIOs. There isn't really a style where the build is very natural or easy to look at, where the sleeving and vibrant colors are shown off and not hidden, where the PCBs that have had thousands of hours of engineering poured into them exposed and shown off. I really wanted to show off the hard work that was put into modding the case or sleeving the cables, as well as showing off the vibrant greens and browns in the build.

Jack's first attempts at watercooling and sleeving.

We always learn something new with each extravagant build. What things have you learned from the whole process?

I took some super valuable skills away from the build. I had taken wood shop my freshman year, so in addition to the skills I had learned from building my first computer, I had a sense of how I wanted to mod the hardware. However, the skills I learned were only used for a few months on some wood, not on high end computers, so I learned a lot, but also furthered skills I already had:

1) If you're going to do something, do it right.

While I was waiting for the case to arrive (CaseLabs has roughly a 5 week waiting list), I decided to order the sleeving and start on the cables. When it arrived, I was very excited, so I sped through it, not measuring the length of the runs, burning the sleeving when applying the heat-shrink and putting it on anyways, etc. It ended up looking very trashy and poor. I had spent all this cash, invested all this time, I should do this right. I tore apart the sleeving (a couple of times over a few months, actually) redid it, and after a few revisions, it looked amazing. People seem to hate the random pattern on the sleeving, but I was going for a natural look. It's gets old and boring looking at very geometric and symmetrical patters, but again, I'm going for a very natural, free flowing look, not something machined to perfection.

An near-finished version of Project GEM- before Jack got his shiny new GTX 980 Ti.

2) Measure 3 times, cut once.

Many times during the build I had to cut stuff. Cutting off the OEM cable sleeving, snipping the proper heat shrink lengths, cutting new screw holes and lengths for the reservoir mounts, the list goes on. However, I wanted to rush through it, and I wound up making a product that looked worse than the original product, which is the exact opposite of what I was going for. The whole point is to take something that is already amazing, that does its job well, and make it immaculate and do an outstanding job. So, again, it was back to square one- patience, perseverance, and doing a proper job. Measuring three times ensures that there's no way that what you're doing is detrimental to the piece, and will make the build better.

3) Attention to detail

Especially when dealing with electronic components, attention to detail is what will make the computer turn on, or go up in smoke. These components have billions of transistors in them; one slip of the screwdriver, one wrong solder, one piece of conductive debris can make a thousand- dollar paperweight. Whether it was soldering new cables, depinning and repinning the 24 pin, making an EPS pinout, or triple checking the laser engraver adjustments, attention to detail was of the utmost importance. Again, I can't stress how important making sure what you're doing is right, and there won't be any problems.

One of the few things that got laser engraved in this build.

4) Get creative

Being 16 and having limited resources, I had to get crafty to make my build stand out. I am currently taking engineering at my high school, so I have access to the high school 3D printer and the laser engraver. I custom designed the cable combs in CAD, and then printed them out using a 3d printer. This not only allowed me to add a super custom aspect to my build, but I was able to mess with the 3D printer. This technology is amazing, too bad the printers are so expensive. The laser engraver was a bit more complicated and more stressful, but it turned out to be a major centerpiece for the build.

I had to make my build stand out, so I used the resources available to me. If I didn't have these tools, I would've done a stencil mod to replace the laser engraving, and maybe would've made an unrefined and less stellar homemade electric arc furnace and poured aluminum into molds in the shape of the cable combs. There's always a way around problems.

Project GEM's storage, including the laser engraved SSD.

Do you have a plan or rough concept for your next rig?

I don't have a next build planned anytime soon. I recently purchased a cheap laptop for "schoolwork" that just happened to have a NVIDIA GPU in it, so mobile gaming is taken care of, and now that I have this, I don't really NEED another computer. If I was going to build another PC, it would (again) revolve around the case. Most of what you see when looking at the PC is the case, which is why I went with CaseLabs in the first place- yes it was as expensive as a GPU, but the quality, oh my god the quality! I have not once regretted the money I spent on it. With that in mind, I would either build it in the CaseLabs TH10a, or fabricate a custom built case.

I would also want to try a passively cooled computer. There is a big theory where if there are enough rads with a low enough FPI, the air circulating about in the room will be enough to cool the components. It would be a very interesting project, the only noise being from the pumps and the drives (maybe not even drives in a few years). I wouldn't be able to hit any crazy overclocks, but it would be one of a kind for sure.

What aspects and stages of the DIY process did you enjoy the most? Was it selecting the components, finding a good deal, using a dremel…etc?

My favourite part is definitely seeing the finished product. Yes, using the 3d printer and laser engraver was thrilling, and picking the components had this relaxing effect on me (weird, this is the most stressful for some), but after hours, even days of working on the smallest detail of the build, being able to hold the end result in my hands, good or bad, was extremely rewarding.

It's the same as when you finish a paper, or finish tightening the final screws on your new build- seeing the final product is the best feeling. It's a bit different with, say, writing a program- you spend all this time on a project- sweat, blood, tears, went into this script, but not having something tangible to hold is a bit disappointing. Even better, putting all the components that I spent time on, and seeing the whole thing light up, fans spinning and coolant gurgling, is the best feeling in the world.

Keep on building, Jack.

Read Jack's full build log on overclock.net.

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