Journey to a Silent MicroATX Gamer

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There are over 100 socket LGA1150 micro-ATX boards on the market. Select only Z97 and H97 chip variants and the number pares down to perhaps 30. Chances are, any of them would do fine, but some have refinements that make silencing and high power stability a bit easier. Good fan control systems and extensive BIOS options are foremost. Here's a small sampling of possible options:

  • ASUS Maximus VII - very high end
  • ASRock Z97M - good value model
  • ASUS Z97M-PLUS - good value model
  • MSI Z97M-G43 - good value model

We went this time with the GIGABYTE Z97MX-Gaming 5, which reputedly has improved fan control compared to early Gigabyte outings.

Gigabyte Z97MX-Gaming 5 is a full-featured MATX board.



A CORE i5-4690K (3.9 GHz, 4-cores, 88W TDP), used in our first Mini-ITX Gaming Build, was used for this build as well. For all practical purposes, any of the following processors provide similar performance. IMO, any number of earlier i5-3xxx processors would also work fine. In gaming, it's usually the GPU which sets performance level.

  • Intel Core i5-4690S (3.9 GHz, 65W TDP)
  • Intel Core i5-4670 (3.8 GHz, 84W TDP)
  • Intel Core i5-4670K (3.8 GHz, 84W TDP, unlocked)
  • Intel Core i5-4670S (3.8 GHz, 65W TDP)
  • Intel Core i5-4570 (3.6 GHz, 84W TDP)
  • Intel Core i5-4570S (3.6 GHz, 84W TDP)
  • Intel Core i5-4590 (3.7 GHz, 84W TDP)
  • Intel Core i5-4590S (3.7 GHz, 65W TDP)

Core i5-4690k mounted in Gigabyte Z97MX-Gaming 5


This is somewhat more critical than in many other systems. With the height restriction, all 120mm fan tower coolers are out of the running. The choice is then between smaller 92mm fan tower coolers and 92m~120mm fan top-down coolers. Our instinct favors the latter, but actual experimentation is needed before we can make the best choice. So a list of CPU coolers to try:

CPU cooler options, clockwise from top left: Noctua NH-D9L, Cryorig C1, Noctua NH-C14, NZXT X41, Noctua DH-L12, Phanteks TC-12LS
  • Noctua NH-D9L - New dual-tower 92mm heatsink from an industry leader, a sample of which just arrived in the lab. Compact, good fit.
  • Cryorig C1 - New 14cm top-down cooler, a bit smaller than the Noctua NH-C14, and just 74mm tall with its thin fan. Might be worth trying if the C14 does not fit.
  • Noctua NH-C14 - Massive dual-14cm fan top-down cooler, but just 105mm tall if only the bottom fan is used.
  • NZXT X41 - It's a great AIO water cooler though slightly noiser than ideal. Keep it in the wings in case it proves necessary.
  • Noctua DH-L12 - Top-down model with both 120mm and 92mm fan and 93mm height. It might have too big a footprint and get too close to the back of the graphics card.
  • Phanteks TC-12LS - New small, low profile, top-down cooler with 120mm fan. Might be too small but would fit easily.

(See our Recommended Heatsinks article for a complete listing of all the reviewed CPU coolers.)

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