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)

Motherboard: ASUS Z97I-PLUS - US$150

Alternatives:


The ASUS Z97I-PLUS

The motherboard isn't usually a factor in gaming performance as long as it has a full-sized PCI-E slot, but it's still not a component that you want to skimp on. With this build, we don't need a ton of features but it should be noted that we're going to have four fans in total, and our configuration prevents us from using almost all the available drive bays.

The ASUS Z97I-PLUS is just what the doctor ordered, a mini-ITX board with three controllable fan headers and a M.2 storage option on the back of the board. The ASRock Z97E-ITX/ac is the only other Z97 mini-ITX model we could find with an M.2/mSATA option.


Layout with fan headers highlighted. Controllable headers marked in green.

The three fan headers are capable of both PWM and DC (voltage control) so it doesn't matter what type of fans are used. Fan speed behavior can be configured in the UEFI BIOS or via the ASUS Fan Xpert utility and each individual header can be set to react to any of the onboard temperature sensors, making it a more dynamic system than most. The only negative is the headers are located near the I/O panel so they're difficult to reach once the CPU heatsink and motherboard has been installed. We suggest connecting the fans before securing the board to the standoffs.

SSD: Kingston M.2 2280 240GB - US$160

M.2 Alternatives:

2.5-inch SATA Alternatives:


Kingston HyperX 3K 240GB.

Solid-state storage may be the most significant advance in the last decade for silent computing. With no moving parts, they generate zero noise, but also have ridiculously low latency, resulting in fast loading times. As games continue to grow in complexity, having an SSD becomes increasingly advantageous. A 240~256GB model should be considered a starting point; with Windows and a few triple-A gaming titles installed, a smaller drive could be filled close to capacity. Also, with ever increasing memory density, fewer dies are needed, which can mean fewer read/write channels being used and slower performance for SSDs of lower capacity.

The way we have the cooling setup in the system leaves limited storage options as there is only one official 2.5 inch drive mount open at the front of the case, next to the radiator. An M.2 drive, the Kingston 2280 240GB, is a budget model with a Phison controller that doesn't have the horsepower to take advantage of the extra bandwidth provided by the form factor, but when it comes to differences in loading times between various SSDs, we're usually talking about fractions of a second. Tucked on the backside of the motherboard, this choice leaves the remaining 2.5 inch bay free for a mechanical hard drive if cheaper high capacity storage is required.

RAM: Kingston HyperX Genesis Kit 2x4GB 1866MHz DDR3 - US$95

Alternatives:


HyperX Genesis memory kit.

Precisely what RAM is used as system memory is not critical, although other web sites have identified DDR1600 to DDR1833 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 of money unless you have a specific need for it, and RAM is one of the easiest things to upgrade later in a system, if you really need it for some new application. We 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. Kingston HyperX RAM has been solid for us, and it sports lower profile heatspreaders that don't get in the way of big heatsinks.



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