Journey to a Silent MicroATX Gamer

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GPU COOLERS

Continuing with coolers, it is time to consider GPU coolers. It's almost certain the little cooler on the Zotac GTX 970 will not be able to cool the GPU quietly enough in our tight space. A search through our own sample shelves turned up a dozen or more VGA coolers that we've reviewed over the years. Alas, the vast majority are incompatible with the latest VGA cards, and an even larger percentage have simply disappeared from the market. There's no point for us to transform some old product into a cooling marvel when you can't get one.

Arctic still offers VGA coolers in many sizes, with mutiple or single or no fans, in a wide price range. They are very clearly focused on achieving better cooling and lower noise. Virtually no one else is offering any VGA coolers at all. The few that do only offer one or two models, generally "dreadnoughts" that introduce their own size and shape constraints (yes, they make the VGA card too big to fit in our Corsair Air 240).

So let's examine some Arctic options, then:


Arctic Accelero coolers, clockwise from top left: Hybrid 2-120, Twin Turbo 2, Extreme IV and Extreme 3

The above photo was taken long after the system was finalized and tested. The Accelero Extreme 3 and Accelero Twin Turbo 2 only arrived the day before this article was posted. Only the Hybrid 2-120 and Extreme IV were on hand when this system was first being developed. The Twin Turbo II would have been excluded anyway because its unnecessarily tall dimension does not allow it to fit in the Air 240.

  • Arctic Accelero Hybrid II-120 - AIO watercooler with 120mm fan and big passive backplate heatsink
  • Arctic Accelero Twin Turbo II - Dual-fan cooler
  • Arctic Accelero Extreme IV - Long 3-fan cooler with big passive backplate heatsink
  • Arctic Accelero Extreme III - Long 3-fan cooler

Our first choice among these would have been the Extreme III, as it has the benefit of a huge heatsink and triple fans without the big passive back heatsink on the Extreme 4 that intrudes into the space for the CPU cooler. It's also only a bit wider than the Zotac 970 PCB.

Both Hybrid II-120 and Accelero Extreme IV sport a 1" tall, large heatsink that fits on the trace (back) side of the PCB. It is meant to priovide good cooling for VRM and RAM components on the graphics card, and to add additional stiffness so the card doesn't bend under the weight of the heatsink. But the backside heatsink intrudes into valuable CPU cooler space. You'll see that we jumped some hoops to ensure this backside heatsink did not interfere with CPU cooling.

STORAGE

This is a pure gaming rig; we're not even going to consider high capacity storage, you know a NAS works great. Instead, we'll stay with a half terabyte 2.5 inch SSD, which is plenty of room for the OS and a handful of even the most space-hogging games. They start at just $200, so...

  • Samsung 850 EVO 512GB
  • Corsair Neutron XT 480GB

There are probably a few others which could go on the short list. We opted for the high value, excellent performing CRUCIAL MX100 512GB.


Our review showed the Crucial MX100 512GB to be a great value.

POWER SUPPLY

The Corsair Carbide Air 240 has a separate compartment for the power supply which usually means a fanless PSU is a viable option. But because the PSU is positioned sideways, which is not as convection-cooling friendly, a fan-cooled PSU would be a better option. Knowing that our Silent Mini-ITX Gaming system with a GTX 980 drew just 270W AC at full load, we knew a quiet 500W model would suffice, but PSUs under 500W are scarce these days. As usual, the highest efficiency 80+ Gold or Platinum are preferred for their lower thermal contribution as well as energy savings. Among the models considered:

  • Enermax Revolution X't ERX430AWT 430W - Looks like a nice 80+ Gold unit, despite the bleh name/number. Partially modular output cables.
  • Rosewill Fortress 450W - Possibly a fan-cooled version of the Platinum 80+ 500W passive I reviewed very positively. All cables attached.
  • Seasonic SSR-450RM - Otherwise known as G450, a higher power version of the nice G360 I reviewed a while back. Partially modular cables.

We went with a sample already on hand: A SEASONIC SSR-550RM (G550), somewhat higher power than really needed but close enough.


Seasonic G Series 550W semi-modular 80+ Gold PSU was used.

MEMORY

Precisely what RAM is used as system memory is not critical, although other web sites have identified DDR1600 to DDR1866 as the sweet spot, somewhat dependent on the particular game. Within this clock speed range, small variations in timing have minuscule effect on overall performance. 8GB is more than sufficient for any single game and general purpose multitasking. 16GB is a waste unless you have a specific need, and RAM is one of the easiest things to add later to a system, if you need more for some new application. Two DIMMs are ideal as it allows for dual-channel operation, while limiting the chances of getting a bad stick. Memory is one of the most common components to fail over time, so the fewer the better. We also recommend choosing a brand with a good lifetime warranty and to avoid models with overly large heatspreaders as they can interfere with larger CPU coolers. The Kingston HyperX Genesis 2x4GB 1866MHz DDR3 RAM has been solid for us, and it sports lower profile heatspreaders that don't get in the way of big heatsinks.

Alternatives:

  • Kingston HyperX Fury 8GB Kit (2x4GB) 1600MHz DDR3
  • Patriot Viper 8GB Kit (2x4GB) 1866MHz DDR3


HyperX Genesis memory kit.



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