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Build Log: "The Mini" Featured

In preparation for RESPAWN LAN at the end of March this year, we decided to build the most compact gaming rig we could but still give it enough grunt to run anything in 1080p with high to ultra settings. ADATA chipped in with 16GB of XPG V3 DDR3 Memory and a 256GB SX900 SSD for good measure.

The brief was simple, "Space will be limited for this one so keep it small guys". No problemo, we had the right case, motherboard and cooler options for this project. In the past, we have used the Node 304 on a few occasions and we'd already decided to use a Fractal Design Node 804 in the Minecraft Tribute system so we thought we'd give the Thermaltake Core V1 another run. The Core V1 also has a small desktop footprint so from a space saving perspective it was just what we needed.

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The parts we used in this build were

  • Intel i5-4670K overclocked to 4.4GHz @1.29v
  • Gigabyte Z97N Gaming 5 Mini ITX motherboard
  • Noctua NH-D9L CPU Cooler with NT-H1 Thermal Compound
  • ADATA XPG V3 16GB(2x8GB) DDR3 RAM
  • ADATA SX900 256GB SSD
  • MSI GTX 760 HAWK GPU
  • 7200RPM 750GB Mechanical Hard Drive
  • Thermaltake Core V1 Mini ITX Chassis
  • Fractal Design Integra M 750W Power supply
  • Red Cable extension Kit

The ADATA components blended in really well with this build and performed a treat. Although not as widely available as other brands of memory, the XPG V3 is worth hunting down if you're modding or going for a specific look in your build. We had a 16GB 2133MHz  kit that came with a spare set of interchangeable fins. The memory has a higher profile but the fins (red and gold) can be easily swapped for aesthetic purposes. In our situation the red matched the Gigabyte Z97N Gaming 5 motherboard perfectly but it's important to note that these removable fins can be painted to contrast better with the black 'fixed' heat spreader. The SX900 256GB SSD also meant the system was very snappy and our games loaded fast for the event - after all, gamers are not known for their patience and we didn't want to have any "Level Loading Rage".

First we started with the case and as usual, we ripped all the panels off so with the Core V1, that meant the front, both sides, the roof and the floor panels. Next we installed a Fractal Design Integra R2 PSU, chosen because it's semi-modular and 14omm long, it gave us enough space to conceal extension cables for our power. Airflow is important in any rig but a mini ITX is less forgiving.

Next we installed the Gigabyte Z97N Gaming 5 Mini ITX motherboard and looked at our CPU cooling options. I had planned to use the Cooler Master Nepton 120XL for this project and mount the radiator in the front of the case but the tubes were a little too firm to make this idea work and would have prevented the roof panel from going on. The hosing from an alternative all in one cooler would have been more likely to kink and would have created more clutter that I was comfortable with. The challenge here was to create a feeling of spaciousness and clear airflow in a very confined space. With the All in One water cooler ruled out, we had to go to plan B. We had already established in the Core V1 review that 120mm tower CPU coolers wouldn't fit and there was no way I was going with a flat 120mm cooler having selected the taller profile ADATA XPG V3 memory. This led us to the new Noctua 92mm coolers with the low profile and small CPU socket footprint. In the end we chose the NH-D9L cooler over the NH-U9S model because we liked the look of it better. Both are able to tame a 1.29v 4.4GHz overclock on our i5-4670K CPU so it came down to looks in the end. This also meant that gamers at RESPAWN LAN would be able to see more of the memory and the motherboard without the CPU cooler getting in the way.

Due to the stacked dual chambers of the Thermaltake Core V1 and the fact that we used a shorter 140mm modular power supply in the Fractal Design Integra R2, we had a little room to use the more flexible power cable extensions and we had some red ones handy. These were routed as subtly as we could manage around the case and then hooked into the power supply in the bottom chamber. The design of the case and length of the MSI GTX 760 HAWK Video Card meant that the PCIE power cables could run behind the front panel and not even enter the main part of the chassis so that kept the cabling right out of the way.

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View with the bottom panel removed. It's tight but we can still control chaos to a certain extent here

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The view from the top shows how much unobstructed airflow we were able to achieve here. Also note the PCIE cables that were routed through the front panel and right out of the way.

 

We had a standard 7200RPM 750GB mechanical hard drive and when mounted on the side, it looked pretty boring so we looked at our options and decided to paint it. I have no idea what the impact of doing this will be in the long term with regard to thermals but don't expect it to be ideal - so if you do this, do it at your own risk. We masked up the sides and base of the drive before giving the top of the drive a quick coat of grey primer, then a light white spot for the skull, then we applied a carefully cut mask and hit the drive again with some matte black. I've seen better aerosol art but it sure looked more interesting that the manufacturer label.

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It was a last minute decision but one of those moments where we looked at the build, shrugged and thought "why not?"

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Installed and ready for some Gaming Bad-Assery..

 

This next point is a really small detail but we thought it worth mentioning because someone did actually pick it up on the day. For my own convenience during the build process, I replaced the stock small Philips Head screws that attach the drive trays to the chassis of the Core V1 with thumbscrews. If you do buy the Core V1, I'd highly recommend this change because it makes mounting and removing the drives A LOT easier.

Whilst I could have mounted the SSD in the provided SSD mounts on the drive trays, it would have looked ordinary as the bottom of the drive would have been on display and I didn't want to have to keep answering "What SSD did you use?" so I used 2 strips of 3M double sided tape to mount the SSD facing out for all to see.

IMG 0943
This shot was taken during staging, before we got serious with our cable management and cosmetically altered our hard drive. Note the ADATA XPG V3 RAM and how the Noctua NH-D9L draws air across the fins. Also note the space around components in a small chassis.

The build didn't take long and it wasn't hard to keep neat thanks to a few well-placed zip ties. Airflow was surprisingly unobstructed and despite using a 92mm cooler on a serious overclock, the CPU stayed at very reasonable temperatures and our ADATA XPG V3 DDR3 RAM stayed cool to touch. Granted that we had the side panels off for the LAN event, but the airflow was still there when we reached in to test it.

Windows 8.1 was the operating system of choice and we ran the small but grunty unit through the following titles:

  • Minecraft
  • World of Warships Closed Beta
  • Battlefield 4
  • Battlefield Hardline 
  • H1Z1
  • Stranded Deep
  • Far Cry 4
  • and a few others

All titles played really well at 1080p on this system and it had the smallest footprint of our 3 showcase builds. Even though we managed to have 16GB of RAM, a decent overclock and solid performance, the end result still had room for improvement and capacity to upgrade.

It would be easy to substitute a more powerful graphics card like a GTX980. The Gigabyte Z97N Gaming 5 motherboard has everything a gamer could want with AC WIFI, ALC 1150 sound platform with SoundBlaster Cinema and most importantly 5xSATA 3 ports so you could use the 4 drive mounts in the Core V1 and still be able to jam another SSD in the case with some creative use of 3M tape.

We were really happy with all of the components we used in this system and wouldn't hesitate to use any of them again. I'd like to throw out a big thank you to Thermaltake, ADATA, Gigabyte, MSI, Fractal Design and Noctua for the review samples that we used in this build - it was a fun and rewarding project.

With a base platform like our concept build, there really isn't a lot of benefit in going large these days so jump on the Mini ITX bandwagon today.

 

Last modified onSunday, 12 April 2015 10:30
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