Description

Having built five systems for my business circa 2003/2004, I was overdue for a new project. My previous systems functioned for 9-10 years processing orders, Photoshopping and gaming before their XP operating systems hastened retirement. Now that I've closed my business the computer' focus is now on gaming, surfing and university projects. With frame rates down to 25 FPS at low settings on my favorite game, my aging 2012 Dell i3-2120-based 790 SFF Optiplex 32-bit 4 Gb (won in a promotion, but hey, it was free) along with its wimpy w/GTX 720 is showing its age. The time has come to research, catch up with the times, and build a system that will make my gaming adversaries tremble with fear!

My primary game of choice is World of Warships. This game is a little unusual in that it demands more from the CPU than it does the graphics card. Not super-demanding but also not benign, either, WOWs needs a moderately powerful system to run at its highest levels but there are budget considerations I have to live within, as well. The old Dell had spoiled me into an attachment for a small form factor so mini ITX was my system size of choice. I settled on the Fractal 304 case and the efficient Corsair SF 450W PSU. I also love the idea of an M.2 NVMe boot drive. The ASUS Z270i ROG STRIX packs two M.2s and is heralded for an easy-to-use BIOS and was received for $181 delivered w/tax included. Two sticks of 8 Gb each of DDR4 3000 Corsair RAM on sale for $103 add the muscle to the MB.

Finishing-up the build I decided, after nearly two months of back-and-forth, on the i7-7700K aided by the EVGA 1060 SC as recommended by Tech Deals on YouTube. This pair should enable solid top-tier gaming for at least a couple of years, at which point, the video card and RAM can be upgraded for continued high end contests for the remainder of this build's projected 6 year life.

UPDATE 3/26/2017--First boot and Windows 10 installed successfully. Download and installing of software in fully swing. First game played--this machine is fun!!

UPDATE 3/27/2017 WOWs (low-medium settings) with on-board graphics only; Intel Integrated Graphics: 100% usage, Memory 1.8 Gb; FPS: 30; CPU: 18% usage, 50C temp; RAM Usage: 4.5 Gb;

UPDATE 3/28/2017 WOWs (Max Settings) with EVGA 1060 SC w/6 Gb VRAM; 1060SC: 69% usage, 61C temp, 2.4 Gb VRAM used; FPS: 75; CPU: 27% usage, 60C; RAM Usage: 4.2 Gb;

UPDATE 3/31/2017: Motherboard has failed. I have a pulsing amber light on the MB but nothing else. Dead. RMA requested. It was fun while it lasted.

UPDATE 4/19/2017: Received new motherboard from SuperBiiz and installed. Computer now working flawlessly.

Part Reviews

CPU

I ended-up reluctantly purchasing essentially the best processor for the home consumer available in March of 2017, as I received a little more tax refund than expected, among other things. Ultimately, the Tech Deals guy's opinion swayed me from the i5 7500 to this CPU. The base rate is 4.2 GHz compared to 3.4 for the i5 7500, which is quite a difference even if OC is never used. In the long run, I probably won't miss the extra $150 bucks and one can easily argue that one is a better value than the other, or vice versa.

CPU Cooler

Based on thousands of reviews, this cooler is overwhelmingly considered a fantastic value by countless enthusiasts. I was really torn about going with this or an H90 water-cooled unit. I figured if it didn't work out, I'd only be out $30 before switching to H2O.

UPDATE 3-26-2017 CPU temps are 40-50C in World of Warships using low detail settings and on-board Intel HD Graphics--Still waiting for the arrival of the 1060 GPU.

UPDATE 3-28-2017 CPU Temps stable at 60C with World of Warships on maximum and 1060 card installed. No need to OC at this time.

Based on early returns, there appears absolutely no reason to spend any more money on cooling. This easy-to-install $30 cooler is a best-seller for a reason. The 212 EVO operates virtually silently and is keeping the stock-clocked CPU at 60C which is right-down-the-middle. The Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO is an inexpensive, simple, and elegant solution to temperature issues. Start here first.

Motherboard

I chose this motherboard amid a number of cheaper options for several reasons. Most of my other successful builds, even though the newest was completed 10 years ago, were done on higher-end ASUS motherboards and all lasted the life of the systems. Buying a cheap motherboard is truly a false economy and spending an extra hundo or so will pay dividends daily for the life of the system. A direct selling point was its dual M.2 drive slots, something unique to all the other 1151 itx motherboards. Finally, I found a $10-off coupon online that clinched the deal for my first purchase from SuperBiiz for $181 delivered incl. tax.

The Z270i Strix comes with a CPU mounting tool that is surprisingly useful. The tool allows for perfect alignment of the CPU, minimizing any chance of damaging it during installation. This tool holds the CPU so one's greasy fingers don't touch it and it actually gets installed permanently in the MB along with the processor.

My case has one exhaust fan and two intake fans. The Asus Z270i Motherboard only has three cooling headers: case, cpu, and AIO pump (not unusual for small boards). This necessitates buying a 3-way splitter to run all three case fans together from the MB.

POSTing and entering BIOS did not go well initially. My trusty ACER monitor showed no signal for the first half-dozen of attempts but eventually the BIOS screen appeared. Entry into the BIOS was still intermittent but eventually became consistent after about an hour of fiddling. Once Windows 10 was installed, the machine booted consistently every time. Boot times are about 20 seconds from the NVMe drive.

On board sound of this board is very rich and satisfying. Even my high-end Bose speakers made for average noise on my old Dell. This new board features 8-Channel high definition CODEC audio, however, and the sweet Bose have now been unleashed as the booms of my guns and explosions of my impacting shells are very satisfying, as is the in-game music and ambient sounds.

UPDATE 3/31/2017:  Motherboard failed after one week.  
UPDATE 3/31/2017:  RMA application sent to SuperBiiz.
UPDATE 4/3/2017: SuperBiiz demands pictures of MB socket before issuing RMA with warning that any damaged pins would void all warranty.
UPDATE 4/4/2017: Pics sent to SuperBiiz. Fifteen-day RMA issued w/shipping at my expense.
UPDATE 4/5/2017:  Unit Priority Mailed back to SuperBiiz (only 90 miles away).
UPDATE 4/14/2017: Emailed SuperBiiz for RMA status--no response.
UPDATE 4/19/2017:  Replacement MB arrived unannounced from SuperBiiz.  MB is now installed and performing flawlessly.

Memory

Offered at Newegg for a great price of $103.53US delivered, this DDR4-3000 was cheaper than its -2400 cousin. The low profile works well in this mini-ITX build. I was going to go with 32 Gb and been done with it, but got talked out of it by forum posters and the low price of these two sticks. Gaming at maximum settings I've not seen more than 8.6 Gb in use at any one time so far, so 16Gb appears to be plenty as of March 2017. Low profile heat sinks only add about 1/8" to the height and the Cooler Master 212 CPU fan easily clears them.

Storage

Super fast boot storage for a reasonable price. Purchased directly from MyDigital for $107. I should probably have purchased the 480 Gb model for $80 bucks more. My MB has a second M.2 slot, so if needed, a second drive can be added in about a minute.

Video Card

Picked-up on sale at B&H for $239.99 with no tax and free ground shipping. Choosing the 1060 was a long and anguished decision. The last time I built a system, GPUs didn't exist. I may be a bit biased but I feel today's GPUs are way, way, way overpriced for what they do, but you have to have a good one if you want to play games. The GPU also depreciates faster than any other part of the system. My new system will have a 6-year life but the plan is to replace this card in a couple of years. The 1070s and 1080s were quickly written-off as beyond my means or willingness to buy. The 1060 and 1050 ti represented the best value for the money.

The 1060 6Gb won the nod as it was nearly double the speed of the 1050 ti. The 3Gb 1060 version was also under consideration but it has one less core and many games will now overflow 3 gigs of VRAM--along with a HUGE performance penalty when that happens. Tech Deals on Youtube liked this particular EVGA brand card because of its superior processor, heat sink, and compact design, which gave it the nod over its close competitors.

The 1060 SC arrived after a week from B&H in good shape. It installed simply into the slot and a quick trip to the EVGA website allowed for the very easy downloading of the latest driver. Interestingly, the Fisher-Price style basic screen upon boot up with the new card became crisp and professional during the downloading process which took a couple of minutes. The 1060SC (combined with the i7 7700k CPU) allows for maximum settings on World of Warships and an FPS of 74-75, utilizing about 60-70% of the GPU processing capabilities and consuming about 2.5 Gb of the six available VRAM. Temperature without OC is a steady 60C. Love it! Top quality.

Case

I chose the Fractal Design 304 Mini ITX because of its intelligent layout, easy access to internals, and simple good looks. The case has removable drive holders which greatly enhance a clean interior and unobstructed airflow when absent. Since my only storage is an M.2, the drive bays are not needed. My only gripes are the case's PSU mount includes only three holes instead of four with one in each corner. Also, the case cover can be tricky to put back on. Very open design allows for lots of room comparatively for an itx case. I was able to hook-up all the connections and fit the RAM before installing the CPU and its cooler in the case--plenty of room to work. Truly a delightful building experience.

The 304 comes with its own built-in manual fan controller operated by a small three-position switch on the back. The attached pig-tail is removable if this switch goes unused, it's worth noting. Obviously, setting the fans profiles to operate based on temperature from the MB is more desirable than manually operating this switch.

Power Supply

The Corsair SF450 fits wonderfully in the Fractal 304 despite raising a PCpartpicker compatibility red flag. Simply buy a Silverstone adapter and you're all set. Don't use the Corsair adaptor because it is centered and your PSU will be "floating" in air instead of sitting on the bottom filtered intake where you want it. The small PSU eliminates possible conflicts between its modular plug-ins and a long graphics card. This is a solid, heavy PSU and is packaged beautifully. It definitely gives the builder a feeling of quality construction, flat cables, and it works to perfection.

Custom

Needed to make a small form factor PSU fit in the 304 case.

Comments

  • 32 months ago
  • 2 points

Absolutely wonderful start. My Recommendations for parts would be as follows: The ever so popular Pentium 4560. Low price, Hyper Threading, good all around performer. The ASRock H270M-ITX/ac Mini ITX LGA1151 Motherboard. On board wifi and a slot for your boot drive. A GTX 1060 or an RX 470, a lot of different people will have an opinion on this one but either will be fine, the RX 470 will save you some money though and as for the RAM I'd say you'd only need 8GB, any brand would be fine but I would look for 1 8GB stick for upgrading possibilities and no more than 2400MHz as the board won't support it. Good luck, hope this helps!

  • 32 months ago
  • 2 points

Thanks for the input and positive vibes!

That motherboard is definitely a finalist. The GTX 1060 is also a lock. I might hit the CPU and RAM a little harder.

Great minds think alike!!

  • 32 months ago
  • 1 point

i would also recomend the g4560 unless you want to bump it up to an i5. do not get the i3 under any circumstances since it doesn't make sense budget wise. Id personaly recomend an i5-7400.

  • 32 months ago
  • 1 point

Thank you for your response. I'd be surprised if a new G4560 had any performance advantages over my existing i3-2120, a processor which has been absolutely bulletproof. The bottleneck in my current Dell system is the worthless GT 720 video card and the motherboard where the bus to the video card is limited to 35 watts, all pushed along by an archaic 32-bit operating system.

  • 32 months ago
  • 1 point

Nice.

  • 32 months ago
  • 1 point

unless your going for super high end gaming, i would go for a 1050ti or a 1060 3gb

  • 32 months ago
  • 1 point

Yes, good point, I'm leaning heavily in that direction . . . come on tax refund!

  • 31 months ago
  • 1 point

"what is the 3 to 1 pigtail" cable called for the fans?

"The 304 comes with its own built-in manual fan controller operated by a small three-position switch on the back. The attached pig-tail is removable if this switch goes unused, it's worth noting. Obviously, setting the fans profiles to operate based on temperature from the MB is more desirable than manually operating this switch. Buying a 3-1 pigtail to combine and plug the fans into the single MB header is the only way to go and Newegg has them for about 6 bucks.

  • 31 months ago
  • 1 point

thanks very much, I ordered the MB but have not gotten it yet. I read about the potential problems with the fan. Thanks VERY much for replying Seatopen :)

  • 31 months ago
  • 1 point

My motherboard failed shortly after I connected the three fans into one. I don't think that was the cause but holding off just to be sure, may be prudent. The ASUS board's case fan is wired to feed up to 1 amp and I don't think three fans use that much. I was previously running two front case fans connected together and the third fan running off the AIO pump--this works with no problem other than the rear fan has a fixed speed of about 1000 rpm.

  • 30 months ago
  • 1 point

Update the pictures!

I like this parts list!

  • 27 months ago
  • 1 point

you could build for that money a gtx 1070/1080 beast with i5, beautiful case, 16 gigs ram, 3 tb barcuda 7200rpm hdd...

[comment deleted]
[comment deleted]
[comment deleted]