Sep 08, 2017 Written by: Geoff_Gasior

Behind the scenes with The Phoenix, Snef's beautiful Rampage VI Apex build

Article Tags: PC Mods

We introduced ROG’s Apex motherboards to raise the bar for performance and extreme overclocking, and their collection of top scores and world records speaks for itself. Somewhat unexpectedly, the boards also developed a following among modders enticed by their unique shapes and customizable looks. So, after raiding the HWBot leaderboards with the new Rampage VI Apex, we gave one to renowned builder Snef for a beautiful rig dubbed The Phoenix. And now we’ve got an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at what it took to create this masterpiece.

Snef mostly maps out mods in his mind, sometimes sketching designs but never resorting to 3D rendering. The X shape and phoenix theme immediately popped into his head when he first saw a picture of the board. “On the aesthetic side, it is one of the most attractive boards I have ever seen, especially with the new X design,” Snef told us, adding that it’s great to “finally see something different.”

The unique silhouette shape is rooted in the original Maximus IX Apex, which defied the straight-edged conventions of the ATX standard with cut-outs for cleaner cabling and subtler backlighting. That attitude is even more pronounced in the angular footprint of the Rampage VI Apex. To let it shine through, Snef decided to make the shape the main focus of the build.

ROG’s monochrome aesthetics provide a neutral foundation that goes with any colors you want. Snef chose Fire Orange for The Phoenix, a fitting accent that reinforces the theme without overwhelming the subtle contrast on the motherboard. The colors match right down to the PSU cables, which are custom made using orange, gunmetal, and graphite Darkside sleeving. Each 16-gauge wire must be measured and sleeved individually for a perfect fit, a time-consuming process that Snef begins before working on other modifications.

Immaculate wiring requires some cooperation from the case, which Snef says is always the hardest component to choose. For The Phoenix, he selected Lian Li’s PC-O11WX and made several modifications, including covering much of the interior in 3-mm acrylic sheeting with painted graphics that accentuate the Apex’s shape. Routing holes pierce the surface only where needed; they combine with PCB cut-outs for extremely tidy cabling, especially for the SATA leads connected to three Apacer AS330 Panther SSDs hidden around the back.

Snef built a custom mount for the graphics card with more painted acrylic along with a Mountain Mods IO bracket and Li-Heat riser cable. Although he initially intended to use our Strix GTX 1080 Ti, its taller circuit board blocked too much of the Apex, so he opted for a lower-profile ASUS Founders Edition instead. Rather than using the reference air cooler, the card wears a Watercool Heatkiller IV block piped into the machine’s liquid loop.

Ornate hardline tubing often dominates custom water-cooled builds, but that masks the motherboard. Snef wanted to avoid “filling the middle” with plumbing that would become the main focus, so he snaked lines along the edges to frame the Apex as the focal point. Precise 90° bends bring fluid to the Intel Core i7-7820X CPU, which sits under a modified Watercool Heatkiller IV Pro Acryl block. Snef also tapped Watercool for the Heatkiller Tube 200 D5 reservoir and paired it with a monster XSPC RX360 radiator and Darkside fittings. After putting it all together, he ran the loop for 12 hours to make sure there were no leaks.

The Phoenix takes a low-key approach to lighting. Instead of putting LED strips out in the open, it diffuses the glow with liquid and backlighting. To create a lava effect for the fiery theme, Snef submerged a white LED strip in the reservoir and spiked the DazMode Protector coolant with Feser orange dye and a shot of Mayhem Aurora Booster silver. A hidden RGB strip also illuminates the graphics mount, and Snef went one step further in the bottom panel, where he built a light box to highlight a carefully cut ROG logo.

All of the custom lighting is powered by Darkside strips and LEDs driven by Aura Sync headers on the Rampage VI Apex. The motherboard also controls a trio of RGB-infused Riing 12 TT Premium Edition fans affixed to the radiator. And it adds synchronized LEDs embedded in the back of the PCB and under the customizable name plates up front. Their softened glow complements the rest of the interior without going overboard.

Although the motherboard supports RGB RAM, Snef stuck to subtlety by painting the build’s 32GB of Apacer Blade DDR4-3200 memory instead. Fire orange licks across the tops of the DRAM heatsinks, highlighting the distinctive single-slot-per-channel design that allows the Apex to hit higher memory speeds than other boards.

Snef admits to being an overclocking noob, but he still got the CPU up to 4.7GHz across all eight cores and 16 threads. “I know I can get way more than that,” he told us, but he’s waiting for a good OC guide to detail all the new options available on the X299 platform. The GPU is overclocked to 2020MHz, a substantial increase over the 1582MHz Boost frequency you get fresh out of the box.

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Although The Phoenix looks like a showpiece, it’s destined for life as a daily driver. “[This] is now my main build, and it will stay that way for a long time,” Snef told us. Gotta admit, I’m more than a little jealous.
 

Article Tags: PC Mods
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