“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.
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.