Description

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“I can’t go much longer,” my 4-year-old laptop sadly admitted, “I can’t run the latest games like BF3, SF2, and GRO OBT. I overheat when playing LoL at half CPU power, and my Turion X2-ZM87 has spent over 2,000 hours in the 90-100C range.” With that said, it promptly delivered its 8th BSOD to prove its point. “I’m going to need a much more powerful PC, but something that’s light and portable,” I muttered. I booted the laptop and urged it to last me however long it would take me to find a new PC.

I journeyed to the Palace to implore Daimyo Tiger Mother for a new computer; she demanded 5 symbols of achievement. I promptly donned my Math Team t-shirt, equipped my trusty violin, and scored 7 medals, plaques, and certificates. She was impressed by the swift manner with which I obtained them. Yet, in her infinite wisdom, she forbade the ordering of parts until Graduation, which was a month away. “Very well,” I thought, “This should give me adequate time to create the perfect PC.”

First, my laptop and I traveled to the forest of ATX. The PCs there were mighty rulers of the gaming market, huge muscular beings. I asked around for smaller rigs; a visitor advised me to go to the jungles of mATX. The men of mATX were almost as strong; the biggest of them were 10x20x20 and 40lbs. “These are still too big! But if this is as small as they go, I’ll snag one,” I sighed.

I approached a small white case with handles and asked him if he could fit an 11-inch graphics card and what features his mATX mobo came with. “I am no mATX!” he cried. “I am the mightiest of the ITX!” I was taken aback – what was an ITX? The PC introduced himself as a Bitfenix Prodigy, come to visit from the island of ITX. Despite their small size, they could fit 12-inch GPUs and large CPU coolers. I promptly traveled to the isle of ITX, whose people were small and few for lack of food.

Upon arriving on the island, I could not see any inhabitants. One inhabitant, a green Prodigy, came out of the grass and talked to me about the few other ITX cases around the island. There was the Elite 120, which was one of the lightest but could still fit 13-inch GPUs; however, he was known to be very hot for lack of proper exhaust. Then there was the Silverstone, which had everything to be sought for but demanded a hefty price for his services. As I was wandering ITX Island, I almost tripped on a case that I had not seen nor heard, for it was hardly audible and barely visible. It introduced itself as the Ninja 304 – err, I mean the Fractal Node 304. Although it was a mere 8x10x15 and 10 pounds, it could fit 13-inch GPUs, 160mm PSUs, full-sized CPU coolers, and 6 HDDs while leaving enough space for 3 hydrodynamic bearing fans for superior cooling. And thus Ninja’s Shadow was born.

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Ninja’s Shadow is my attempt to build an ultra-portable, ultra-quiet, low-profile, all-purpose college computer for a mere $1000. I’ve extensively researched each component for a month and picked parts that I felt best fulfilled my needs. Since the PC will be moved a minimum of 30 times over its lifespan, I spent a great amount of time researching mATX and ITX cases before picking this one due to its sturdiness as opposed to a cumbersome Prodigy or a cramped Elite 120. The PC is half the size of a standard mid-ATX tower and only 20lbs but still fits a full-sized CPU cooler and a decent GPU. This rig is meant to last me ~7 years or however long it takes me to get a PhD in Math, factoring in an expected GPU replacement in 4 years along with necessary RAM upgrades or PSU replacements.

A little commentary on the parts. I love the CPU and it actually stays really cool with its heatsink/fan in the case considering all the air it receives was passed through a hot component prior to reaching it (HDD, PSU, GPU). The Zalman cooler did NOT fit the case; part of it extended over the PCI 16 slot. I had to clip a bit off the side to make it fit. The mobo was pretty expensive but I love it and it came with free RAM so I can’t complain; only problem is that its wireless loses connection every once in a while. The RAM is ok but it really helps with the low profile. The SSD is so darn fast and very light; in the future, I might just ditch the HDDs and throw in another SSD to lighten up the weight. If this was a gaming-only rig, I would have dropped it and gotten a $400 GPU. The GPU is awesome and turbos very well, but it would have been smarter of me to get a single-fan self-exhaust GPU like an EVGA to keep the heat out of the inside. Non-modular PSU does its job and is very silent, and it fits with the long GPU. The external OD was my only way of installing windows via a CD and it did its job, so I’m pretty happy with that. And the case was wonderfully designed with front-to-back airflow; wiring was a pain with the ITX case's non-existent wire management so I ended up stashing all the unused cables next to the PSU/GPU to avoid obstructing airflow to the CPU.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with how this sub-$1000 rig turned out. I can hardly hear the 7 fans inside unless I crank it on max and turn the case fans up; then it sounds like a wind tunnel but keeps everything under 40C. It’s very easy to carry around and sturdy feeling at the same time. And I apologize ahead of time for the terrible picture quality due to living in an Asian family that has no use for a high-quality camera other than to record the occasional violin performance. I will post load temperatures once I download and run a few games. Temps posted are with a room temp of 30C, clock speeds are the highest I'm willing to take this little guy without risking anything. Although idle temps start in the low 30s, they crawl their way up to low 40s over a few hours as the PSU starts to build up heat. Video card takes air straight from the side vent and never breaks 40s.

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Comments

  • 80 months ago
  • 4 points

Quite Possibly The best thing I have ever read. ( I have read a lot )

  • 80 months ago
  • 3 points

Love the way you tell the story lol. Good build. Btw was this built before the 700's came out?

  • 80 months ago
  • 2 points

I actually sat around and let the 700s came out. I'm a previous-gen buyer, hence the absence of a 700 or Haswell. I find that it's much more cost-efficient.

  • 80 months ago
  • 2 points

I guess... But the 760 ($250) kills any card in that price range. I see why you didn't get Haswell, though.

  • 80 months ago
  • 2 points

For the price I got the 660 for, a 760 would have been a 45% price jump for 20% increase in performance. Not too appealing.

But yea, the 760 looks like a pretty good option for mid-200s if I didn't have the 660 already.

  • 80 months ago
  • 2 points

Tim from over at TimmyTechTV on Youtube is doing a similar build with the same case I believe. Though he's opting to get a modular PSU. I think if you get the chance you ought to swap out for a modular PSU as well. Not just for looks either; less cables in your case taking up space will result in better airflow and thus cooler temps all around.

  • 80 months ago
  • 1 point

Considering it doesn't block my airflow, I'm pretty content with the way the cables are tucked away. I may consider a modular PSU once it gets time to start replacing parts, thanks for the tip.

  • 80 months ago
  • 2 points

Nice build. Been looking at this case for a build for my folks. Was concerned about the absence of an optical drive. May look into it again. Up vote.

  • 80 months ago
  • 1 point

Thanks for looking! I had some thoughts about the lack of an OD especially with the initial OS installation. It was actually really easy to set the BIOS to run from the OD and install all the OS/drivers, and it's really neat how that extra internal space increases airflow so much as opposed to an Elite 120 build that has terrible airflow on the front because of the OD. EODs are pretty cheap and replaceable at the cost of a USB port, though this has 6 in total.

I would highly recommend this case.

  • 80 months ago
  • 2 points

Does the front fans still pull enough air with the front door closed ? (One of the main reasons don't like the Fractal Define R4 :P) Nice description and good build ! But can I ask why did you went with a 256gb SSD ? You put the games you play them most on it with your OS ?

  • 80 months ago
  • 2 points

The front fans look like they're doing surprisingly fine given the small amount of clearance. There's a gap on the bottom and top of the door for them.

As for the SSD, I figured my current HDD usage was around 120-150gb so I could pretty much fit everything on the SSD, whereas getting a 128gb would force me to spend more time reallocating things. Also, a 256gb is much faster than a 128gb. And no, I put most of my games on the HDD.

  • 80 months ago
  • 2 points

Nice little build right there ! Too bad you didn't wait for the 760 though, a tad more expensive but well worth the price considering it's the equivalent to a 7950 or a 670. Neat cable management and good parts !

  • 80 months ago
  • 1 point

Thanks! And as for the GPU, I didn't want to pay more than $200 for a part I knew I was going to replace in ~3-4 years, and I'm not much of a high-res high-gfx gamer anyways.

  • 80 months ago
  • 1 point

Oh okay, thanks for the explanation ;). I know I'm annoying but why not a used 660ti for the same price ? :p. And again since it was said before, you told that story truly nicely ;). I've been practicing violin since I'm 3, care to share some performances ? ;)

  • 80 months ago
  • 1 point

660Ti is about mid-high 200s, which is way above the price I got a 660 for.

And I suck at violin, lol. I want to go into music composition and conducting instead of a performance minor.

  • 80 months ago
  • 1 point

Way above ? How much did you pay your 660 ? 150$ ? 100$ ? Ohhh, that is some nice aspirations my dear, I wish you good luck.

  • 80 months ago
  • 1 point

$175 for the 660 OC version, which isn't bad considering 660 Ti is 15% better but $75 more.

  • 80 months ago
  • 2 points

Cables don't look too good inside, then again, where else is there to put them? That story was hilarious. I'm easily amused, but that was just awesome. Anyways back to the build, looks like a pretty good rig for what it's being used for. Small, quiet, pretty affordable. Nice job!

  • 80 months ago
  • 2 points

Thanks! And yea, the management isn't that great in the box. The best I could do was to keep them on the side to maximize front-to-back airflow.

  • 80 months ago
  • 1 point

That was hilarious!

  • 80 months ago
  • 1 point

10/10 would read again.

Also, awesome build!

  • 80 months ago
  • 1 point

Awesome story.

  • 80 months ago
  • 1 point

Nice and Sexy build, I approve Conner. c: Btw you can download Soldier Front 2 on Steam, add me on Steam plis, and if you don't have it atm download ASAP. :3 Steam ID is legoboii99. .__.

  • 80 months ago
  • 2 points

no steam :3

SF2 hab doe. You know the IGN.

  • 80 months ago
  • 1 point

noob WAI u no has STEAM =c idk how to add in SF2 I just dl'd it cz ik u got it and I saw it on steam. .__. :3 plis go download steam =D

  • 77 months ago
  • 1 point

I might build another mini build in the Node for a HTPC.

  • 77 months ago
  • 1 point

Oh yes ...of course I love your build and your choices.

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  • 80 months ago
  • 1 point

7x7. Sadly, it leaves no room for 660 SLI, which would have been a cool upgrade. CPU and PCI 16 are too close to each other too.