Edit: See comment section for a condensed version of my description if this one is too long for you.
This is my third build ever, and my last build was 4 years ago. My first mini ITX.
The purpose of this build changed while I was buying parts. The problem is that instead of making a decision about the purpose of the build and then buying all the parts at once, I ended up buying things as they went on sale over a period of several months and kept changing my mind about what I wanted to do with it. The final product ended up being something much different than what it would have been when I started. Overall I think what I ended up with turned out great and still has some room for future upgrades as needed. I feel like the prices I got would be difficult to beat for several of the parts. You’ll see how this build evolved as I go through my part selection if you decide to read it straight through.
Now that it is up and running, I feel that it will be a great build for photo/video editing, moderate gaming (which I’ll explain in the GPU section), and media/entertainment. Also, about 15 years ago I experimented with artistic 3D modeling/rendering a bit. I might try to get back into that at some point. I imagine the software choices have changed a lot since then.
Although they seem to be showing up a lot recently, I think mini ITX builds aren’t quite as common as other form factors, so I tried to include some photos of my build process in addition to the finished build so you can get a better look at the case and motherboard. Near the end I also included a couple of shots showing the finished build with the GPU removed so you can see that this case actually provides quite a lot of open space inside for air.
I debated which way to mount the PSU. As I have it now, it is taking warm air from the case and moving it out of the case instead of taking fresh air from the vents on the top if I were to flip it over. A lot of cases, especially years ago, work like this anyway without any other option so I didn’t think too much about not doing it this way. After I took my build photos I later ended up removing the case’s 80mm fan near the back of the case (which was being blocked by cables anyway due to the motherboard layout) and I think having the PSU mounted this way might help with airflow through the case better, but I haven’t tried doing it both ways to compare. Cooler Master (the case manufacturer) even said on their website and tutorial video for this case that you can mount it either way and they designed the mounting bracket for such. My concern is that since the air from the case will already be warm, it may not be ideal for keeping the PSU itself cool. Any thoughts on this? Obviously it would be a huge pain to flip it over since all my cables are tied down, but if everyone tells me that it’s a major urgent issue, I’ll definitely do it. On the other hand, if flipping it over leads to reduced airflow in the case, I don’t want that either unless my temps stay acceptable. (Also, I read in a product review on New Egg that someone said having the PSU fan too close to the CPU will steal air away from the CPU. I wasn’t sure about that logic so I tried to test that theory. I won’t go into details, but I did the test without removing the PSU by rigging an air diverter/splitter between the PSU and CPU so they could each pull air from different parts of the case and I didn’t notice any significant difference in CPU temperatures under load.)
Note: Two things you may notice in my last photo. For testing to make sure everything worked, I just grabbed my Ubuntu disc and installed that OS. I actually haven’t purchased Windows yet, but will do that very soon because it is essential for running Adobe Creative Cloud software (Photoshop, etc.) and my Windows games. (I actually really like Ubuntu, just not for games and photo editing.) Second thing you may have noticed in the last photo is that I was running off the integrated graphics. Since I don’t have my games installed yet, I temporarily moved the GPU to my old computer so I can use it there until I get Windows and my games on the new build. It’s nice to have the integrated graphics as a backup for situations like that.
Part selection initial plan: When I first started this project I just wanted to build a light-duty machine for web browsing and casual media use. This was to replace a laptop that I have been using for these things that is starting to really show its age. I have another computer, a build I put together about 4 years ago, for photo editing and playing some games. The 4 year old build isn’t the fastest thing around these days (Core 2 Duo), but it's a lot better than my laptop. The laptop is definitely unpleasantly slow, so that’s what I was focusing my build project on at first. For the laptop replacement project, I was going to get an i3 processor and the cheapest big-brand motherboard I could find and simply use the CPU integrated graphics. The reason I didn’t want to just buy another laptop is because that laptop stayed in the same place for years (I never moved it around), so basically a desktop would work just as well, and I was in the mood to build a computer because it has been a while since I’ve done that. Again, if you keep reading, you’ll see that I deviated from this initial plan, and I’m really glad I did because I love my new build now that it’s done!
PSU (Initial thoughts) -- The first part I bought (not counting the monitor which I bought many months ago) was the Corsair 430watt PSU because at the time it seemed perfect for what I was originally going to build (see above paragraph if you skipped it), and the price was less than $20 (after mail in rebate, of course). My 4 year old desktop build has a Corsair 520watt PSU and I was happy enough with it to stick with Corsair again.
PSU (current thoughts) -- after I already had the PSU I later ended up deciding to get a more powerful processor (Haswell i5 and i7 have a TDP of 84w, versus 54w for i3) and I got a dedicated graphics card. I’m now worried that the CX430 is cutting it pretty close. AMD recommends a system with 500w when using the 7850. I did a lot of searching online and found that there are many people using this same Corsair 430watt PSU in a system with the 7850, so that makes me feel a little better. The 7850 only uses one 6-pin power connector and has a TDP of around 130w. I probably won’t be overclocking the GPU either since it will probably run most of my games fine as it is. PC Part Picker is calculating my system at 263w, which is promising, and adding one HDD (which I’m going to do very soon) only adds about 15w more. Because of that I decided to go ahead and use my 430w PSU for now. In a couple years I’ll likely upgrade the GPU, and when I do, I’ll definitely upgrade the PSU at the same time.
PSU (neutral thoughts) -- Obviously a modular PSU would have been nice, however, getting my non-modular cables in this ITX case wasn’t too bad. This particular case is actually pretty spacious for what it is especially if you are not using the vertical drive mounting support, which is removable. Once I add my one additional drive (a regular HDD), I’ll actually be using all but one of the PSU cables, so it’s not a big deal really. When I eventually upgrade the PSU, I’ll definitely go for some type of modular design though.
RAM -- In my previous build I have 8GB of RAM which is typically enough for me. On my previous build if I’m REALLY pushing things and editing a bunch of large photos at once I have seen my usage get up to 7GB, but closing a few photos in the background can easily bring that back down. When I bought this RAM I still hadn’t really realized at the time that I was going to be using this build for photo editing, otherwise I would have considered 16GB, but for most days 8GB should be fine.
GPU -- This is where my part shopping started to take a turn from budget light-duty build to something more powerful. I really wasn’t looking for a GPU (see my paragraph above about my initial plan), but then I accidentally found this Radeon 7850 for $99 (after MIR) and decided to get it. Yes, I know, the 7870 was only $30 or $40 more during the same Black Friday sales, but I really think the 7850 will serve me well for a while. I’m pretty new to gaming. Other than playing Myst in the early 90’s and its sequels, I didn’t play any other computer games until 2011. I have some catching up to do! In 2011 I played “Oblivion,” and in 2012 I played “Skyrim” (and that’s all I played the entire year. I only play a few hours a week and I put 220 hours into Skyrim and didn’t consider myself finished with it until well into 2013.). In mid 2013 I played “The Witcher,” and right now I just started playing “Fallout 3.” Due to some Steam sales, I have a handful of similar games in my account that I haven’t played at all yet. The point I’m trying to make is that I love playing games, but I play slow, and I have enough games in my library that the 7850 will handle just fine to keep me busy for at least a year, probably two years. By then something much better than the current best cards will be out on the market, or the cards that are really expensive right now might be cheaper. I’ve been using this 7850 in my old build since the card arrived a few weeks ago, and it is great! My previous card couldn’t max out Fallout 3’s settings without stuttering, but with the 7850 I can (playing at 1920 x 1200 on my previous monitor). This new build should really perform well for games that utilize more than two cores compared to my previous build (which has a Core 2 Duo), and a few games I own actually do recommend 4 cores. The fans on this MSI 7850 are really quiet too, which is great since I’ll probably keep this computer on my desk.
Motherboard -- I had no idea that mini ITX boards existed until I was randomly looking around on New Egg one day and ran across them. For some reason, I just really fell in love with the design. I also discovered the Cooler Master Elite 130 case at the same time, and I really liked the case which sealed the deal for me to go ITX for this build. Since I’m not a heavy gamer, I don’t think I’ll ever need two graphics cards, and modern boards have pretty much everything built in that I would need, especially this one which has a WiFi/Bluetooth card. In past builds, I typically don’t use the expansion slots for anything critical. My last build was Gigabyte and has been great, so I didn’t mind looking at Gigabyte again. My specific board has the H87 chipset, not Z87, therefore it is not designed for overclocking. I’ve never overclocked in the past nor have I ever felt that it’s something I want to do, so I specifically got the h87 to save a few bucks. (They do make a Z87 version of this board which is about $30 more on average.) Anyone who is shopping for this board, please note: There are apparently two versions of this board (as of the time I wrote this-- December 2013). Revision 1 and Revision 2. If your retailer has old stock, you might get Revision 1. The big difference between the two is that Revision 2 comes with a dual band Wireless 802.11AC card, where the Revision 1 board comes with single band Wireless 802.11N. (both made by Intel) I have no idea when Gigabyte decided to make this switch. Maybe the AC card wasn’t on the market when the board was first designed, I don’t know. The product that was shipped to me is revision 2. I don’t even have an AC router, but it’s nice to know I have that option for the future. (The AC card is backwards compatible with all other wireless types and works great on my home network.)
Case -- The Cooler Master Elite 130 case is pretty nice for the price. It’s mini ITX, but it’s not so small that it’s impossible to work in, and it can accommodate pretty much full size everything (the only exception is that if you do aftermarket CPU cooling, you’ll have to keep the vertical clearance in mind. A lot of people will choose to use a 120mm radiator liquid cooler or some sort of low profile heatsink. I don’t know anything about liquid cooling or other heatsink options, so I hope I said that right.) In my opinion, the Elite 130 is a huge upgrade over the Elite 120 which doesn’t have the mesh-style front cover. I will note though that this case has a small 80mm fan on one side of the case near the rear (see my photos). I actually ended up not using this fan. This fan was the loudest fan on my system and I decided I didn’t need it. Without it the system is very quiet and still staying cool. I’m almost wondering if the 80mm fan was defective because it wasn’t what I considered a typical “loud fan” sound, but more of a clicking sound. Due to the design of my motherboard, it was heavily blocked by SATA cables and the power connector anyway. It was a nice effort by Cooler Master, but I think they fell a little short. I would have loved to have seen another 120mm fan somewhere maybe. This case also comes with a vertical mounting support near one side toward the front for mounting an additional standard HDD or a SSD. I don’t need this so I removed it too which probably helped in cable management. If you want this case, I highly suggest watching the videos on Cooler Master’s webpage for this model because they provide some handy tips.
Case Fan (120mm Cougar Vortex.) -- This was a fan I already owned but was still new in box. The main reason I got this thing out of storage was because I originally thought the cable might be longer than the case's included 120mm fan which would help me route the cable where it needed to go easier, but it turns out that the cable is the same length as the case’s stock fan. I went ahead and installed it anyway though since I had already removed the other one. It’s pretty much completely silent from where I’m sitting.
CPU -- This (and the case) was the last part that I bought which enabled me to finish this build. I got it the week before Christmas and I wasn’t even expecting to get at CPU this soon. Again, I don’t overclock so I wasn’t worried about getting a locked processor. I’ll admit that an i5 would probably work just as well for most of the stuff I do, but I feel like I got a great deal on this i7. If I had not found this deal, I definitely would have gotten an i5 because I probably don’t need an i7 enough right now to justify paying full price for one. When I decided that I was going to use this build for gaming and photo editing, I actually set my eyes on the i5-4670 originally. At the time of my i7 purchase, the i5-4670 was $220 at most places. Well, MicroCenter had the i7-4770 for $250 so I went for it! This was the first time I had ever been to a Micro Center. I didn’t even know one existed in this particular city until last week. I was very impressed. I also bought my case there during that same visit and it too was on sale. I don’t actually live in this city so I won’t be visiting Micro Center every week or anything, but I visit the city about once every couple months (more in the warmer months to go to the Zoo). I have close family that live there and I enjoy the city’s shopping areas and attractions which is why I was in the city before Christmas.
SSD -- I’ve never used a solid state drive before, but my best friend of 25+ years swears it was the best upgrade he ever did to his computer, so I decided I needed one too. I really don’t know much about them, so my goal was to just get one that has great reviews, and try to get it on sale. I looked at various reviews and bechmark articles and such and couldn’t find much of anything bad about the Samsung 840 Pro. Yes, 840 Pro isn’t the most affordable drive out there, but I feel like the price I paid was pretty good (it was already pretty low at New Egg, and I had a “10% off select SSDs” coupon as well.) The 840 Pro has a 5 year warranty, whereas many other drives have 3 year. Now that I’ve been able to use it-- WOW! A computer with SSD definitely feels great. I have a feeling that later on down the road I’ll be getting a larger capacity SSD, especially if the prices come down. In case you didn’t spot it, the Elite 130 case has several places to mount a SSD and I chose the spot on the underside of the 5.25” bay. This allowed me to use one power cable for both the optical drive and the SSD.
Other storage -- As you’ve probably noticed, I don’t have a traditional HDD in there at the moment, but I’ve left room for one (there’s a mounting site on the floor of the case for either a SSD or HDD). I actually already have a less than 6 month old 500GB Seagate drive that I was using for another project that I’ll eventually put in this build. I also have some network storage options on my home network for storing photos and media.
Optical drive -- I thought I might play around with trying to get BluRay movie playback on my computer and found this Blu Ray reader for a good price. I know a lot of people are choosing not to include an optical drive in their builds, but I’ve been going through my collection of hundreds of CDs and making FLAC files and MP3 files of them. Call me old school, but when I buy new music, I buy CDs and then make my own digital copies (FLAC and MP3). The i7 should be great for encoding files.
Monitor -- I haven’t used this for photo editing yet so I can’t say anything detailed about it. I bought it because it is an IPS panel yet was less than $150 due to sale and mail in rebate (which I’ve already received). IPS panels are usually better for photo editing and have nice wide viewing angles. The monitor I’ve been using for the past 4 years is pretty high quality though and cost about 4 times as much, so I won’t be too surprised if this new one falls short unless display technology has changed a lot over the past 4 years. If I end up liking the old monitor better, I’ll just switch them-- keep the best monitor on the best computer for photo editing.
Keyboard -- I think I need to buy a new keyboard. Clearly I like to type a lot.