My last experience with a small form factor build was with an Antec Aria Micro-ATX case back in 2004. The thing worked quite right... power problems, heat problems, etc. When I built my last desktop in 2010, I just wanted a lot of power for the money, so I went with the traditional Core i7-930/Radeon 5850 in an Antec 300 chassis. It's still quite the machine, but after adding a second 5850, the thing consumes a LOT of juice (~620W under load).
For my next build, I wanted a machine that would fulfill several roles:
1) HTPC in my living room
2) Spare gaming machine when I have friends over
3) Portable machine for LAN parties.
For this build, I wanted the form factor to be so small as to require compromises. The SilverStone SUGO SG-05B is a great case, but with an ATX power supply and room for a full-length, double slot video card, the only major compromise is the inability to SLI. I wanted something smaller. The Alienware X51 was quite inspiring. I really liked the decision to go with a 90 degree riser and slim chassis. For what I wanted to do, however, I wanted the ability to build and upgrade the machine myself and I didn't want something flashy like the Alienware.
I looked for slim cases designed with a 90 degree riser in mind, and all the ones I found were micro-ATX, no mini-ITX to be found.
So I started looking into a half-height video card. HTPC video cards have gotten much better in recent years, the PowerColor 5750 struck me as the first mass-market half-height card that could game fairly decently. (Yes I know about AFOX and it's crazy low profile 7850). More recently Sapphire released the 7750 low-profile, and after reading the reviews, I decided it was the card to build the system around.
For the case, I decided to go with the [url="http://www.streacom.com/products/fc8-evo-fanless-chassis/"]Streacom FC8 Evo[/url]. Going with a PicoPSU-powered machine required compromises, but ultimately, I wanted a very small machine, so compromises were to be expected.
I opted for the newly released Ivy Bridge Core i3-3220T. With a 35W TDP, I knew passive cooling wouldn't be a problem. A dual-core 2.8 GHz chip isn't a barn-burner, but I knew it would be enough to handle the vast majority of games (I agree it will probably choke on big SC2 battles).
Motherboard was a tougher choice, as the FC8 is somewhat picky about motherboard layout. Streacom to their credit publishes a list of comparable motherboards, but almost all the motherboards were H67 based and I wanted a newer H77 motherboard. I picked the Asus P8H77-I as it had good reviews and the features I wanted.
For power, I bought the PicoPSU 160W and a 192W AC adapter (a poor decision).
8 GB of RAM and an old 500 GB hard drive I had laying around and I was in business.
Streacom FC8 Evo Case
8GB G.Skill ram
Sapphire 7750 low profile
Hitachi 500 GB hard drive.
After receiving all the components, I put it together on my bench, just to verify everything was working correctly. After installing Windows 7 and "Testing" Tribes: Ascend, I was pretty pleased. Still though, I had a major problem, the 192W AC Adapter I purchased, used a Mini-DIN 4-pin connector, and the FC8 has a cut-out for a 5mm barrel connector. So I purchased a 120W AC adapter with a 5mm barrel connector and a Kill-a-Watt meter.
The results of power testing were excellent:
Simultaneously running Prime95 and Furmark the machine consumed 110W while stress testing. Pretty impressive for a machine that runs Tribes:Ascend at 1080p with everything maxed out.
Pulling <100W under normal usage, meant that I could switch down to the 120W AC adapter, which solved the power connector issue.
This was the most challenging computer I've built, and I've probably built ~10 machines. It was challening because of two main reasons, one, certain tiny oversights by streacom when designing the case and two, the heatpipes.
Right off the bat, I encountered a problem, removing the top cover requires unscrewing two screws that are located in between the heat sink fins. ALL of the screwdrivers in my fairly well equipped tool kit were either two short or two fat to reach the screw. After trying to kludge something together for about 20 minutes, I broke down, walked to the hardware store, and bought a long thin magnetized philips head. That helped quite a bit.
With the case off you can see the drive assembly held in place by 4 small screws:
After removing the drive assembly you can see the case connectors. I was a bit miffed to learn that neither Asus nor Streacom included a USB 3.0 internal connector cable... I will have to add that at a subsequent date:
The Intel CPU heatblock:
Asus mobo with Intel chip installed:
Installing the Heatblock mounting nuts:
Installed the mobo in the case:
the passive cooling assembly, 4 heat pipes and an aluminum block. Don't forget the Arctic Silver!
The top piece to the heat block. In a minor design oversight, the springs are "coiled" the wrong direction. When you tighten the screws, the edge of the spring catches on the inside lip of the screwhole and it shaves a small amount of aluminum. That wouldn't happen if the springs were coiled the other way. Or alternatively a small washer in between the spring and the heat block would also do the job:
Be liberal with the TIM:
Getting this whole thing copacetic was hard. Heatpipes required some bending and tweaking to get everything together:
The view from the side:
With that done, the rest was a snap. Installed the Sapphire 7750:
Installed the hard drive and assembly:
From the Rear:
CPU Temperature under Prime95 load:
The GPU gets very hot under Furmark (as is to be expected for a convection cooled case):
Under normal circumstances the fan barely spins, and while playing a graphics intensive game the GPU gets to about 82C. 82 C under load is enough to make the little fan on the 7750 work pretty hard. That makes it by far the loudest component in the system. Adding a very small case fan to pull hot air out of the case would radically lower the temperature inside the case, meaning that the 7750 fan wouldn't need to work as hard.
Can anyone recommend a very small, very quiet , low wattage case fan? I've got a free molex connector as well as the CPU and Chassis fan motherboard headers. I'm thinking something like the "AcoustiFan™ DustPROOF Quiet Computer Case Fan - 60mm" from Quiet PC.
I'm happy with how the build went. I was very concerned that cramming a 7750 into a convection cooled case was going to end with letting magic smoke out, but so far so good.