Thursday, March 29, 2007

Adventures in NCIX land

This is to chronicle my attempt to water cool my computer. On Saturday, March 24th, after running Vista with my GPU fan going full blast the whole time (cause Vista is always sending shit to the GPU), I had the urge to finally use the water cooling parts my friend Mark had sold to me.

What I had:

1) A car radiator with 4 120mm fans on it
2) An aquarium pump and reservoir
3) a bunch of dirty vinyl tubing
4) a computer case Mark had modified with shut-off valves on the side

What needed to be done was:

1) Obtain the proper water blocks to put on my CPU and GPU (after all, if I'm going to get this system up, why not cool the GPU too? Plus, part of the motivation was to reduce noise - see my Vista experience.)
2) Consider getting some fresh tubing, or clean the existing stuff
3) Buy a whole whack of miscellaneous parts (Glycol, zip ties, distilled water, etc.)

So, from Saturday until Wednesday I spent some time getting stuff ready. I cleaned some tubing, ran some tests to see how well the radiator worked, and generally got excited to achieve my goal of water cooling my computer.

Some technical specs of my computer:

Pentium D 805, 2.66 GHz., running comfortably at 3.33 GHz. with a Zalman CPN S7900 (Pictured)
Asus P5WD2 motherboard
GeForce 7600 GT

I decided to purchase these two blocks from

Zalman SM-WB4 CPU Waterblock
Zalman ZM-GWB3 VGA Waterblock

Even though NCIX is in Vancouver, their prices are competitive, and I had a good previous experience with them. The experience with them gets interesting later, however.

After receiving my blocks on Wednesday, March 28, I ripped them open and inspected them. I noticed the finish (of the space that will contact the thing to be cooled) on the CPU block was impeccable. The finish on the GPU block was less than stellar, but I'm not one to nit pick about a 0.2C difference in cooling power.

Now the sad news. I measured out some tubing and created a mock-up of the complete system (With blocks -> reservoir -> radiator in that order). After I flipped the switch, everything looked good until... ooo, some water collecting outside the CPU block. Flip the switch back.

It turns out there was a very hard-to-see defect with my CPU block. If you look closely at a picture of it, there are 4 bolts attaching the polycarbonate top to the copper bottom. One of these bolts had not been completely screwed in with my block, and I could see the reason why. The bolt had been completely and cleanly sheared before it had been fully screwed in - what was left was a 100% round socket, which was originally a hexagonal (alan key) slot. The worse part is I would have gladly screwed it in myself, but believe me, there was no doing so. To NCIX's RMA department you go.

Here's where the relationship with NCIX gets interesting. I called them the next day (Thrusday) and talked to a decent guy. He asked the usual stuff (what's wrong, blah blah), and told me I had to ship it back. Fair enough, I think, I probably agreed to something like this in NCIX's Terms and Conditions. I then ask if perhaps I could get them to ship a replacement immediately (I had to put my AIR-cooling fan back on, bah!). He said sure, I just had to purchase the item again and email him the invoice. Fantastic.

I go and buy the same thing, and send him the invoice, noting that I would like to be reimbursed for the shipping (after all, if I had waited the 2 days until they received my item, they would have shipped it back on their tab). Here are the emails back and forth:

I have placed a new order for the product in RMA # XXXXX. The order is Invoice # XXXXXX.
As discussed with a representative over the phone, upon NCIX's receiving of the product of RMA # XXXXXX I will be fully refunded for Invoice # XXXXXX, INCLUDING SHIPPING, as per your Conditions of Sale under the Limited Warranty section:
" shall return repaired or replaced product(s) to Buyer, at its expense via regular ground service within Canada".
This agreement is to speed the replacement of my product.

Hey Mike,
Unfortunately shipping costs are non refundable. Had you opted for a replacement product rather than a refund, a replacement or repaired unit would be returned to you free of charge in adherance to our Terms and Conditions. Free Cross Ships are only avaliable to customers who have purchased ExpressRMA or have a VIP/PP membership with their original order and in such a case is it required that one of our reps set this up over the phone.
Thank You for Your Inquiry,
(Guy's name taken out by me, Mike)
( Netlink Computers Inc)

Hi Guy,
I'm sorry to hear that the refund policy doesn't include shipping.
I feel frustrated considering NCIX's policy on Free Cross Ships wasn't discussed over the phone, nor is it explicitly stated in the customercare/#terms page. When I agreed to apply for a refund in the RMA (and subsequently purchase the item again), I assumed it would be equivalent to a replacement. After all, NCIX basically does the same thing either way - ship a new item to me.
The minor convenience of having the item shipped immediately is not worth $14 to me. Is it really impossible or difficult for someone to authorize the shipping refund? Like I said, had I chosen the replacement option the expense to NCIX would have essentially been the same, so this is hardly lost profit.
I understand your policy dictates you can't refund the shipping. I'm not frustrated with you, or disagree with any part of the Terms and Conditions. I think this request is fair and reasonable, and I would appreciate the effort this simple detail requires.
-Mike Rooke

Hey Mike,
Please note that he Terms and Conditions of sale are current as of 3/30/1999 and are subject to change without notice. We would not have even discussed a cross ship over the phone as it is something offered only to ExpressRMA or VIP/PP partners, this can be viewed if you read a description of these particular policies. Shipping is a third party cost paid to the courier and not NCIX, as such it is quite difficult to refund money we never received. While it may not seem like lost profit it is an extra feature that many customers are willing to pay an extra 3% fee for and it would in a sense demean the purpose of the ExpressRMA and memberships if we were to offer it to all customers free of charge. I have placed a shipping hold on the order so that if you wish to cancel it and procede with just a regular replacement for the RMA we can do so.
Thank You for Your Inquiry,
(Guy's name taken out by me, Mike)

At this point I get the same feeling as though I'm in a flame war, but realize this guy IS helping me, and if I'm quoting the Terms and Conditions, he's justified in pulling out the "we can change this whenever we want" clause. I feel crummy for a while. I reply back:

"I have placed a shipping hold on the order so that if you wish to cancel it and procede with just a regular replacement for the RMA we can do so."
That would be great - please cancel the order and proceed with the the regular replacement RMA. I appreciate your help.

Sounds good Mike.
We have one left in stock so I will head back and hold onto it myself to make sure it goes out the same day yours arrives =D
Thank You for Your Inquiry,
( Netlink Computers Inc)

Then I get an email this evening when I get home:

Hey Mike,
In typing all this up, I realized it was almost more hassle than its worth and there must be some way to work around it. In talking with the accountant, he agreed we would be able to refund you for the shipping charges on the replacement unit that hadn't shipped out, as the carrier had not yet been paid for it and then just refund you the amount of original purchase for the one you are sending back.
Hope this restores your good faith in NCIX =D
Thank You for Your Inquiry,
( Netlink Computers Inc)

It most certainly does, Guy-at-NCIX. Thank you.

More info about the water-cooled system to come soon, including pics!