Quiet Mini-ITX Gaming Build Guide #2: NCASE M1 Edition

Do-It-Yourself Systems | Silent PC Build Guides
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COMPONENT SELECTION (Con't)

GPU Cooler: Arctic Accelero Hybrid II-120 - US$115

Alternatives:

  • NZXT G10 Adapter + NZXT X31 - US$25 + US$75


The Hybrid II-120.

With all the components inside the M1 being in close proximity to one another, the key to making it quiet will be getting the heat out as efficiently as possible. The best way to do this is with liquid cooling as it transfers the heat to a radiator at a vent where it is quickly expelled out of the PC with an exhaust fan. The Arctic Accelero Hybrid II-120 performed admirably when we tested it on a factory-overclocked GTX 680, which has a much higher power draw than the GTX 970. As a bonus, both the stock fan and the pump are very quiet compared to most AIO cooling units. The only issue is the chunky backside heatsink which creates interference issues. It's designed to cool the VRMs and memory chips passively but blocks a considerable amount of space above the graphics card.

The best alternative is the NZXT G10 GPU bracket which adapts any water cooling unit with an Asetek design (round pump/base) for video card use. It ships with its own fan to cool the VRMs but unfortunately in our case, the fan would have been positioned on the wrong side of the card. Third party air cooling solutions are certainly feasible in larger, better spaced out cases, but our tiny box is too cramped to make this an effective option.

Radiator Fan: Scythe GlideStream 120-MP - US$12

System Fan: Noiseblocker B12-2 - £14

Alternatives:

  • Noiseblocker M12-S1 - £16
  • Nexus Real Silent - US$12
  • Scythe GlideStream 120-LM - US$12
  • Scythe Slip Stream 120-M - US$10


Scythe GlideStream 120-MP & Noiseblocker NB-eLoop B12-2.

On paper it doesn't appear that we require any case fans but how often does everything go according to plan? The stock fan that ships with the Hybrid II-120 inexplicably died so the PWM model of the Scythe GlideStream 120 will act as its replacement. The GlideStream series is imbued with above average performance and acoustics according to our testing. The heatsink portion of the GPU cooler eventually hit the chopping block as well, so a Noiseblocker B12-2 fan will be used to help cool down the VRMs of the video card. The Noiseblocker is thus far our most efficient tested fan, and while its noise profile is less impressive than GlideStream, we only plan on running it at very low speeds, so it should be drowned out by the rest of the system.

Other members of the GlideStream and older Slip Stream family perform admirably, as does the classic Nexus Real Silent case fan which still holds up even after many years of service as our 120 mm reference fan. European users should take note of the Noiseblocker M12-S1 as a possible alternative as it offers almost as much cooling capability as the B12, but with a much smoother sound

CPU: Intel Core i5-4690K - US$220

Alternatives:


Intel Core i5-4690K.

Intel's superior energy efficiency has us going back to their Haswell processors time and time again. Even if AMD were an option, no manufacturer is currently selling a mini-ITX version using their flagship AM3+ socket. Quad core Haswell deliver excellent all-around performance, both in single and multi-threaded applications/games. An ideal choice is the Core i5-4690K, a quad core chip running at 3.4 GHz (up to 3.8 GHz with Turbo Boost) with an unlocked multiplier for easy overclocking to improve overall performance further. Honestly, any of the 4xxx series would perform similarly in terms of gaming as CPU bottlenecking isn't much of an issue with GTX 970, so which particular model isn't overly important.

CPU Cooler: Noctua NH-D9L - US$57 (MSRP)

Alternatives:

  • Noctua NH-L12 - US$65


The Noctua NH-D9L.

While the CPU is easier to cool and doesn't generate nearly as much heat as the GPU during a gaming session, the tight confines of this case means that everything will run hotter, so a strong performer is ideal. The M1 has a CPU heatsink height limit of 130 mm with the side fan bracket installed (which we need). This isn't bad for a smaller case, but it rules out a plethora of tower models, including many with 92 mm fans like the SilverStone Argon AR02. We initially wanted to use the Noctua NH-C14, a large top-down heatsink, but it's so wide that it interferes with the radiator. Most larger top-down coolers have too large a footprint, while the smaller models may be insufficient.

Luckily Noctua recently released a short tower cooler standing only 110 mm tall due to hit store shelves soon. With its dual tower design, the NH-D9L is essentially a miniature version of their flagship NH-D15, but with just one low-sitting 92 mm fan in the center. While we have yet to test this model, we have no reason to doubt its capabilities given Noctua's track record. The down-blowing NH-L12 is a suitably sized replacement but nothing beats a side-blowing tower to dump heat out of the case, aside from water cooling that is. We could use a second AIO cooler for the CPU as well but it's difficult to achieve a low idle noise level with two pumps running simultaneously.

CPU Fan #2: Noctua NF-A9 PWM - US$18

Alternatives:

  • Scythe Kama PWM 92mm - US$7


The Noctua NF-A9 PWM fan.

As the NH-D9L ships with a second set of fan clips and a PWM splitter, to ensure success, we'll arm it with a second fan. The cooler is equipped with an NF-A9 PWM, so a second of the same model will create a symmetric push-pull dynamic.



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