Quiet Mini-ITX Gamer Build Guide

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A quiet system in a smaller form factor is our followup to the Quiet ATX Gaming Build Guides (the first here, the R5 version here) posted in the last couple of weeks. Jumping straight into component options, the big question is, "Which case?" This is the single most important choice when planning any quiet/silent PC, and it becomes increasingly important with smaller cases. This is because airflow in smaller cases is usually more restricted than in larger ones, while hot components are packed together more closely. A small case needs very good ventilation, yet there is less space in which to put ventilation holes, and almost no space for any noise blocking panel liners. In general, it is much harder to achiever low noise with hot small systems than with larger ones. It's ironic and unfortunate because smaller PCs usually get placed closer to the user, most often atop the desk where its noise has a more direct path to the user's ears.

You cannot usually expect a small system to achieve the same level of ultra low noise as a larger one like SPCR's Fractal Design R4 and R5 ATX Gaming Systems if similar components are employed. The R5 revision of the ATX gamer was able to stay at a smooth and near-silent 17 [email protected] even at full load. However, our first mini-ITX Gamer actually betters those systems at idle (admittedly by only a dBA), and comes very close at load, running virtually identical heat-producing components: A GTX 980 video card and a Core i5-4690K CPU. Yes, this is another high performance gaming rig.


CASE: Many were considered seriously, and a handful were provided by suppliers in time for us to examine firsthand before making our decision. The smallest mITX cases were ruled out simply because they generally could not house the larger VGA cards and CPU heatsinks being considered. Most of the prospects are some 30 litres or larger in volume, which makes them almost as large as standard ATX cases.

nCase M1 is petite 12.6 liters, very attractive, cleverly designed, pricey at US$190 before shipping and taxes (including duties in many cases), and truly a limited edition product. We are about the only hardware site to have reviewed the nCase and we have a sample on hand. Try as we might, we could not turn it into a SPCR-quiet serious gaming rig. One final cooling solution is on its way, but until it arrives, the M1 is out of the running.

Silverstone Sugo SG07 is a larger breadbox style case but still small compared to most gaming-oriented mITX cases at under 15 liers. It also tackles a foot-long video card, ATX PSU, 2 SSDs and a HDD, and features a 180mm fan. The Sugo SG08 and Sugo SG08-LITE are newer version of the same case. Combined with Silverstone's 600W SFX 80+ Gold PSU, these could be formidable gaming cases.

Fractal Design Node 304 is the largest breadbox style case considered here at 19.5 liters, with room for up to 6 HDDs, dual 92mm intake fans and 140mm exhaust fan, a standard ATX PSU and a 165mm tall CPU cooler. Ditch two of the HDD bays and a video card nearly a foot long can be accommodated. Our review did not explore its gaming potential but we believe it could be a good performer with a hot VGA card.

Silverstone Sugo SG09 is a crafty marriage of breadbox and mini-tower style of just 23 liter volume that manages to fit up to Micro-ATX boards, full length graphics cards, multiple SSDs and HDDs, ATX PSUs, and a 180mm cooling fan. The Sugo SG10 has a more attractive brushed aluminum fascia, a sample of which we're awaiting.

Bitfenix Prodigy has become one of the most popular cases for gamers using mini-ITX boards. Even if you exclude the extra height of the top and bottom handles, the Prodigy takes up nearly 31 liters. But its interior layout allows the use of tall CPU tower heatsinks, graphics card over a foot in length, a standard ATX12V PSU and still have room for a couple of SSDs or HDDs. It's also priced modestly at ~US$80 and a pethora of customization features like colored facis and handles are offered. Unfortunately, Bitfenix did not get us a sample in time for this guide.

Corsair Carbide Air 240 is a cube-style 33-liter micro-ATX case with side-by-side separate thermal zones that struck us as innovative and inventive. No limit in PSu size, room for lots of SSDs and HDDs. The catch is that the height of both VGA card and CPU cooler is limited. This excludes the big, quiet, heatsink-equipped ASUS Strix GTX 970/980 and equivalent MSI GTX 970/980 cards, as well as all 120mm fan tower CPU heatsinks. We have a build in this case that's very close to complete, but it still requires some tweaks to bring the acoustics in line with our standards. No go for this round.

In the end, availability and style won out: A sample of the ROSEWILL LEGACY W1-S was already on hand, and despite its 31 liter size, its style is strikingly similar to the nCase M1. The basic configuration is like the Bifenix Prodigy, with the interior divided into two levels, the upper 3/4 (roughly) for the motherboard and drives, and the lower quarter for a power supply and cables. It is large compared to traditional mini-ITX systems without discrete VGA cards, but the footprint is only marginally wider than the classic breadbox style small PC.

Shrink it >50% and the Rosewill Legacy W1-S could be an nCase M1 subtitute, at least on the outside...

...except from the back, where a 14cm exhaust fan resides. This case has room enough for big CPU coolers and at least a 2-slot VGA card.

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