The ongoing chip shortages have rendered graphics cards rarer than weapons-grade uranium, and probably just as expensive. We had explained how things are most likely going to get a lot worse before they get better for PC gamers. However, we had also provided a solution to the GPU shortage in the form of the Zotac Zbox Magnus One mini PC.
The SFF (Small Form Factor) gaming PC has proven itself as the veritable saviour of the chip shortage.
It packs in an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 graphics card, 10th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, and platinum grade SFF power supply in a petite 8.3-litre case—all for the price you’d otherwise have to pay for just the graphics card on its own.
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And the best part is that the Magnus One is always in stock.
The Chink In Zotac Magnus One’s Armour
Unfortunately, the otherwise perfect SFF gaming powerhouse exhibits the one problem plaguing every space optimised gaming platform—CPU overheating. The stock cooling fan neither has enough thermal mass, nor adequate airflow to keep the Intel Core i7 10700 processor from thermal throttling.
This causes micro-stutters and frame-pacing issues while gaming, as the overheating CPU can’t keep up with the powerful GPU. That’s especially bad for high refresh rate gaming, which is extremely CPU dependent.
But considering the fact that we wholeheartedly recommended this product, we have also come up with a definitive solution. Read on to find out how we have harnessed the power of 3D printing to prevent the Magnus One from overheating.
The Noctua NH-L9i Isn’t a Viable Solution
Before we delve into the actual solution, let’s take a look at a widely recommended fix. More importantly, why that is a massive waste of time and money. Many Zotac Magnus One owners at the LinusTechTips Forums have destroyed their mainboards trying to install the Noctua NH-L9i low profile air cooler.
The Noctua air cooler isn’t officially compatible with the Magnus One and requires voiding the warranty to remove the backplate. And even then, it is impossible to get the correct mounting pressure dialled in. This has caused many to inadvertently bend their mainboards and short out components in the process.
On paper, the low profile Noctua air cooler sounds like the ideal solution. But even when you somehow manage to mount it perfectly, that only leads to a moderate reduction in fan noise. CPU thermals remain the same, or even deteriorate in some cases. That means, your Magnus One will continue to thermal throttle and cause micro-stutters and frame-pacing issues while gaming.
How do we know?
Because we figured out a way to mount the Noctua NH-L9i without removing the backplate or voiding the warranty. We could’ve ended the overlong research and development process right there, written this guide, and called it a day.
However, it’s pointless spending five grand on a risky solution that does nothing to mitigate thermal throttling. But what if we told you there was a way to liquid cool the CPU to significantly reduce temperature and improve framerate, and all for roughly the same price as the Noctua NH-L9i?
The Zotac Magnus One Doesn’t Like Being Liquid Cooled
Liquid cooling the Zotac Zbox Magnus One is easier said than done. Unlike Dr Who’s Tardis, the 8.3-litre chassis on the Magnus One has to obey the rules of Euclidean geometry. That makes it impossible to fit even the smallest 120mm AIO (All-In-One) liquid cooler inside the chassis.
Zotac has made the Magnus One this space-efficient by incorporating bespoke mainboard and PSU designs that leave no extra expansion headers. A typical AIO cooler needs at least one fan header, one pump header, and a SATA power connection. The Magnus One has only a single fan header and no conceivable means to power the AIO pump.
You can’t use most off-the-shelf AIO coolers in the Magnus One without the risk of dangerously overloading the single fan header, in addition to being forced to take a soldering iron to the custom SFF PSU.
Arctic Liquid Freezer II To The Rescue
We will be using the Arctic Liquid Freezer II AIO cooler to liquid cool the Zotac Zbox Magnus One for a very good reason. Because it is absolutely the only off-the-shelf product that allows us to do so with relative ease. The Liquid Freezer II not only happens to be the best performing product in its segment but it’s also manufactured by ARCTIC GmbH.
And there’s a good reason why that’s important.
Arctic is a privately held company that seems to be run by PC hardware enthusiasts, as opposed to its many publicly-traded competitors that only serve to appease the board of investors/Mammon. Because virtually every AIO liquid cooler in the market uses Asetek’s patented pump design, they are collectively hobbled by the same crippling need for multiple headers for the fans, pump, and power supply.
Fortunately for us, Arctic has taken the pains to conduct actual research and development. Enter the Arctic Liquid Freezer II—a bespoke AIO liquid cooler design that flips the proverbial bird to Asetek’s criminally undeserving AIO pump patent. Arctic has categorically defeated the patent troll with some brilliant engineering on the Liquid Freezer II.
The PC cooling expert’s in-house pump design is so efficient that it just needs one lousy fan header to power the pump as well as the radiator fan. The Liquid Freezer II even seems to mock the competition by throwing in an extra fan to blow air over the CPU VRM to underscore its power efficiency further.
And it isn’t merely frugal with power consumption either. The Arctic Liquid Freezer II squarely beats the competition at both performance and power efficiency, while being priced on par with the Noctua NH-L9i in India. You couldn’t ask for a better AIO CPU cooler.
Modding Zotac Magnus One Chassis Using 3D Printing
It is downright impossible to fit the Arctic Liquid Freezer II AIO inside the Magnus One. Therefore, mounting the radiator outside the chassis is the only viable option. We went about that by chucking away the metal side panel and designing a brand new one as a means to mount the radiator.
The radiator sticks out from the CPU side and rests on a mount attached to the side panel. This isn’t the most space-efficient design, and we could theoretically have mounted the radiator either on the top or oriented vertically alongside the side panel to reduce the overall footprint.
Unfortunately, thick radiator tubing’s stiffness and length (or lack thereof) makes it impossible to achieve any of those space-efficient radiator orientations.
But on the bright side, this design at least works with the natural direction of heat convection.
The radiator mount allows the fan(s) to be mounted in push or pull (or even both simultaneously) configurations. The design is also flexible enough to be compatible with 120mm fans of any make or model. The radiator is secured to the mount by a separate part that clamps to the radiator hoses. This makes our design impervious to any unforeseen future revisions made to the Liquid Freezer II.
The stock side panel is a sliding fit mechanism, which is incredibly difficult to get right as a 3D printed object. Fortunately for you, we have put in more than 250 hours in design, CAD modelling, and 3D printing to perfect everything over multiple prototypes. If your 3D printer is dialled in and dimensionally accurate, the 3D printed side panel will be a perfect fit and exhibit even tighter tolerances than the stock metal side panel.
But don’t sweat it even if your 3D printer isn’t perfect. We have designed the side panel to be a five-part affair that has been optimised for printability using proven design principles.
Furthermore, the channels that clamp the side panel to the chassis are three separate pieces. This gives you the flexibility of using washers between these components to add some gap in case the fit is too tight for comfort. It also makes it easier to reprint parts if something were to break over time.
Print Settings & Recommended Material Choice
We recommend printing this Zotac Zbox Magnus One mod in either ABS or PETG filaments. Although PLA is easy to print for beginners, the material has a low heat deflection temperature that causes it to melt owing to the heat generated inside the chassis. Worse yet, PLA also has a tendency to creep (deform) under mechanical stress. This will cause the 3D printed side panel and radiator mount to gradually sag and loosen over time.
It also helps to calibrate your 3D printer to get the best results. If you are up for it, this is arguably the best, most comprehensive 3D printer calibration guide available on the internet. Perfect results are guaranteed to those who follow it.
Refer to the labels in the gallery below to familiarise yourself with the models and their associated filenames.
All 3D models in the STL files have been properly oriented to the build platform by default. You are advised to open the STL files and print the models without changing the orientation.
The largest part, which is the side panel, has been designed to fit on the 235x235mmm build platform found on popular 3D printers such as the Creality Ender3. However, you may have to disable brim and even skirt options in your slicer software to maximise the build platform area.
But don’t fret if your printer cannot fit the side panel. We have also included a two-part version that works without any need for glueing. The final assembly consisting of the channels and radiator mount naturally hold the two halves of the side panel together.
Meanwhile, here are the recommended slicer settings:
- Nozzle Size: 0.4mm
- Wall/Line Width: 0.4mm
- Perimeter/Wall Count: 4
- Layer Height: 0.2mm
- Top Layers: 6
- Bottom Layers: 6
- Infill Density: 40%
- Brim: Yes
- Supports: No (with the exception of radiator clamp, which requires supports)
Required Tools & Hardware
At the bare minimum, you should ideally own and know how to operate a 3D printer, or at least have access to a means of 3D printing. That could either be a friend with a 3D printer, or a commercial 3D printing service such as this one, where you can simply upload the STL files and receive the 3D printed parts in the mail a few days later.
Please note that the hardware used (machine screws) is either a BHCS (Button Head Cap Screw) or SHCS (Socket Head Cap Screw) variety depending on their location. SHCS hardware is generally better at being resistant to stripping. However, two screws must be of the countersunk or flat head cap screw (FHCS) variety in one particular location for clearance purposes.
The recommended hardware can be fastened with hex screwdrivers. We don’t advise using slotted or Phillips head screws due to their propensity to strip easily, and their inherent incompatibility with blind holes. You will learn about the importance of the latter during the course of assembly.
Here is a list of everything else you will need:
- 3D printer, or access to 3D printing service
- 3D printing filament (ABS or PETG Recommended)
- Ball-end hex driver for blind screws
- Soldering iron with B2 (Conical) tip
- Flush cutters
- M4x12mm SHCS (5 Units)
- M3x10mm SHCS (5 Units)
- M3x10mm BHCS (6 Units)
- M3x8mm FHCS (2 Units)
- M4 heat set inserts (5 Units)
- M3 heat set inserts (13 Units)
Prepping 3D Printed Components
We will start off by prepping the 3D printed parts by installing brass heat-set inserts. These are essential for adding strength as well as durability to the load-bearing components, while also making disassembly and reassembly easier. Because the brass inserts are designed to melt their way into plastic parts, you will need a soldering iron with the B2 (conical) tip for the purpose.
The heat-set inserts can also be heated on an external source (such as a stove or butane torch) and then inserted into place, but that method is trickier and hence not recommended. Heat the soldering iron to approximately 265°C if you are using ABS 3D printed parts (or 245°C for PETG). Place the heat-set insert into position, paying attention to the orientation of the 3D printed part, and bring the soldering iron tip onto the insert from above.
Wait for 8 to 10 seconds to let the insert absorb heat, whereupon it can be pushed down into the part with relative ease. If this requires excessive force, the insert might not be hot enough. Clean the tip with flux and solder to improve heat transfer. Just be sure to wipe clean all solder before proceeding.
The heat-set insert must go perfectly straight into the intended hole, with the top surface sitting flush with that of the plastic part.
Refer to the images alongside to install heat-set inserts into the side panel and radiator mount. Allow a cooldown period of at least five minutes before screwing fasteners into the inserts.
Start off by inserting five M4 heat-set inserts into the inside of the side panel. Pay attention to the image above to orient the part correctly. If you are still unsure, it is the side of the panel that will not rest flat when laid across the floor. The location where heat-set inserts are to be inserted has been highlighted by orange circles.
Divert your attention to the plastic protrusion highlighted in blue above. Melt a single M3 heat-set insert into it from the end highlighted in orange.
Now you may flip over the side panel and push eight M3 heat-set inserts into the highlighted locations.
Thereafter, position three M3 brass inserts into the radiator mount in the highlighted locations.
Flip the mount over and install a single M3 insert into the corresponding hole illustrated in the image above.
Inspect the internal threads within the inserts for any molten filament that may have seeped in. If that’s the case, you can either scrape it out with a pointed metal object or simply screw in a fastener to push the molten residue out the other side.
The section highlighted in grey allows the 3D model to be 3D printed without the need for support material. However, it must be removed before proceeding further. Use a pair of flush cutters to snip it cleanly off the 3D printed part.
Assembling 3D-Printed Components
With the 3D printed components prepped with heat set inserts, we are left with the relatively easy job of putting the individual parts together. Let’s start off with the primary component to which everything else is attached—the side panel.
Fasten the top, bottom, and front channels (green) onto the side panel (grey). The 3D-printed channels have been labelled appropriately to make assembly easier. The notch begins at the bottom of the side panel. Use this as an orientation aid.
Orientating the channels is easy because the text labels face the side panel. Align the channels to the side panel such that it forms a narrow gap between the two components as illustrated in the image below.
Use six M3x10mm BHCS to fix the top and front channels to the corresponding locations in the side panel. The two screws used for the bottom channel, however, must be of the M3x8mm FHCS type to avoid clearance issues.
Refer to the image below to confirm the location of the FHCS hardware.
Flip the side panel around and align the radiator mount (red) to it, as depicted in the illustration alongside. Use five M4x12mm SHCS to fasten the radiator to the side panel.
Ignore the yellow radiator clamp for now. We will get to it later.
This is where you need a ball-end hex driver to fasten the two blind screws for the radiator mount. Click here to read more about how these drivers work.
Consult the Arctic Liquid Freezer II manual for instructions on how to install it in the Zotac Zbox Magnus One. Be sure to orient the AIO pump/block assembly, such that the 30mm VRM cooling fan faces the rear of the Magnus One chassis. Refer to the image above for clarification.
Slide the 3D printed side panel and radiator assembly into the chassis, just like you would do with the stock metal side panel. The radiator hoses should fit through the cut-out in the side panel.
If your printer is dialled in, the side panel will fit perfectly. If not, the modular channel design allows you to tighten or loosen the screws to ensure a perfect fit.
Install the top hat and use the stock thumbscrews to secure it in place.
Manoeuvre the Liquid Freezer II radiator such that the radiator hoses are routed from under the radiator mount and come up through the notch at the rear.
You can now rest the radiator onto the mount. The screws sticking out the radiator fan should slot into the corresponding sockets in the radiator mount.
With the radiator resting flat and flush on the radiator mount, use the radiator clamp (orange) to secure it in place. Use three M3x10mm SHCS to fasten the two parts together.
This leaves us free to install the final piece of the puzzle—the covering plate. This should slide into place without any effort. Fasten it onto the radiator mount with an M3x10mm SHCS.
You Now Have A Liquid-Cooled Zotac Zbox Magnus One
And, just like that, you have liquid-cooled the Intel Core i7 10700 processor on the Zotac Magnus One. Thermal throttling will now be a thing of the past. Depending on your thermal paste application (read best practices here) and ambient temperature, your CPU should hover in the low 60°C range even with demanding games.
This means consistently higher framerates with significantly improved frame pacing. That’s a fair price to pay for a slight increase in the overall footprint. What’s more, having a radiator on the outside makes cleaning and maintenance easier.
Meanwhile, we will leave you with some glamour shots of the fully modded Zotac Zbox Magnus One for your viewing pleasure.
Acknowledgement: Although the author of this article is responsible for the design and engineering effort, creating CAD models of something this complicated wouldn’t have been possible without the generous help and expertise of Chandraveer Mathur.