Description

This is a very compact version of a conventional desktop machine, with a tenth of the volume of a typical micro-ATX minitower or cube. Despite this small size and low cost ($270 with some special sales), it runs most non-gaming apps nearly as fast as the fastest large machines.

Most very small machines are limited by heat issues to using slow low-wattage cpus such as Atom or Bay Trail, or using small and very noisy fans. This machine uses standard desktop socket-1150 cpus up to 65 watts, and is effectively and quietly cooled by Intel's stock cpu cooler.

The InWin case can be mounted on the back of some older, heavier LCD monitors. When loaded, it is too heavy for stable use on lightweight LED-backlit monitors. The case is fun and eye-catching as a tiny separate unit.

Please see my parts reviews for most details. Here are some remaining details on my hybrid almost-stock cpu cooler:

The E97379 cooler that Intel includes with Pentium and other 54watt retail cpus is all-aluminum, with an 80mm fan and 0.17amp motor. For 77+ watt retail cpus needing more cooling, Intel includes a similar E97378 cooler with copper core, same total size, same fan, and 0.28-amp motor. The copper reduces the thermal resistance between cpu and fins, and the faster motor blows more air. I purchased a surplus new E97378 from EBay to get that efficient copper core. I combined that with the slower E97379 motor to limit fan noise at normal and maximum fan-power levels. This was a interesting investment of $9 towards better or quieter cooling, but I don't know if it really mattered. You can skip all that. But please do replace Intel's thick thermal goo by a much thinner application of any brand of thermal grease.

Part Reviews

CPU

The Pentium G3470 cpu has the top performance per dollar of all Intel processors when running typical PC software. Most software does not benefit much from running multiple cores and threads in parallel. The G3470 is cheap, fast, and easy to cool. Its per-thread performance is within 20% of Intel's top cpus costing 5x-10x more.

The $50 price was a brief email sale at Frys.

The Pentium G3470 has two cores of the same Haswell design as Intel's high end Core i7 series. It uses 53 watts at 3.6GHz. The Pentium has less L3 cache than the expensive Haswell chips, which can matter to running some programs with big data. It lacks hyperthreads, but multiple cores and multiple threads are generally useless for most workloads anyhow. The included Intel graphics unit is good enough for non-gamer purposes.

Haswell gets about twice as much done per clock than Bay Trail cores, so G3470's speed is equivalent to about 7GHz for a Bay Trail core, ie 3 times faster than the best 10watt cpus.

The G3470 uses socket 1150, which gives maximum choices for motherboards, cpus, ram, and coolers, with good price competition. And by having a socket, rather than having the cpu soldered directly onto the motherboard (as with Atom and Bay Trail cpus), you actually have all those choices.

The retail version of G3470 comes with an Intel-designed all-aluminum down-blowing cpu cooler E97379 that works reasonably well given its size and weight.

Another fast cheap choice is the unlocked Pentium G3258, when mildly overclocked to 3.6Ghz or so. It comes with Intel's higher-performing cpu cooler E97378 with copper core, that they normally ship only on cpus running 75-100 watts.

A small step up from these, performance wise, is the $140 Core i3-4370 with more cache and hyperthreads.

Intel 's quad-core i7-4790K cpu is 20% faster on single threads but its 88 watts requires more cooling and psu, a bigger case, and $350 just for the cpu itself.

Motherboard

Asrock and this socket-1150 ITX board have a good reputation at NewEgg. This board includes Wifi support and supports the current-fastest version of the PCIe interface, 3.0.

The $70 price was after a $20 mail-in rebate at NewEgg.

I did not use the single PCIe slot, so the PCIe speed became irrelevent. I could have saved $15 by going with a lesser chipset in another Asrock product.

The Wifi uses two steerable antennas that poke out of the rear panel. Connecting its wires was tricky, using the same tiny tiny connectors seen in cellphones. But the performance was great. It made a strong signal at a place in the house where everything else complained about low signal strength and competing networks.

The Z97 chipset is covered by a very small heatsink. Under maximum system load, this became hot to the touch, but not burning hot like on some of my previous builds. Under maximum load, the bios reported a motherboard (chipset?) temp of 41 degrees centigrade. The downwash of cool air from the cpu cooler helped.

The Bios has extensive controls for overclocking. I did not try those out.

The Bios has very nice control over the ramp-up of fan speed versus cpu temp. A windows app made it even easier to adjust that ramp. The default ramp spun my cpu fan faster than needed in my idle system, and had not yet reached max fan speed at the max temps I could reach with maximum load. By tweaking the ramp, I lowered the idle speed and increased motherboard cooling at max loads.

The motherboad's included printed manual is very detailed but is printed in illegibly thin, pale grey type. Unfortunately, no bios info is in this manual, such as which keys to press in the short instant available for that. That info is available in a separate document online and on the included CD. The too-short default time for getting into the bios is adjustable, once you get in.

Getting into the bios was necessary for booting the Windows install from an external USB-connected dvd drive.

Memory

This DD3l ram runs on 1.35v rather than the usual 1.5v installed in most socket-1150 systems. Lower voltage leads to lower power use and lower heat. 1.35v is more common in heat-constrained laptops. I don't know if this made any real cooling difference in my modest 4GB system. But it did remain cool to the touch when the system was under maximum load.

Intel's cpu and chipset documentation at ark.intel.com was not clear to me, on whether 1.35v ram would work. But this specific ram was listed by Asrock as passing their tests on my motherboard, and it has indeed worked.

I have used G.Skill for many years and trust it far more than the no-name companies that match its aggressive features or price point at Frys or NewEgg. G.Skill has an established reputation for meeting the exacting needs of the overclocking community, and of early adopters of Intel's latest designs.

Capacities greater than 4GB are useful in systems dealing with lots of data, but 4GB seems to be quite adequate for most personal systems today.

Storage

I chose this brand, product, and capacity for its low price point, and Mushkin's reputation for great SSD engineering, and to avoid the low-price companies with bad reputations.

Mushkin has designed non-Sata SSDs with extremely high bandwidth and fast random writes. This product is not that; it is a commodity Sata-limited design. But I hope the company has applied its engineering and quality skills here too.

In the low-price SSD market, I avoid OCZ, ADATA, and companies that were unknown 2 years ago. OCZ was once a premium brand in the RAM market, but nuked itself with a series of disastrously bad SSD products. Its brand got acquired by a different company, but I don't know if their new products are reliable.

I initially planned to augment the SSD with a 1TB 2.5" hard drive, but then decided to not bother; 60GB total capacity is fine for now.

60GB was adequate for installing Windows 7 plus upgrades to SP1 (and next to Windows 10). I initially tried using just a 30GB partition, but that was not enough to support the huge patch-update downloads to get from Win7 to Win7 SP1. So 40-60GB may be the lowest practical size for the primary disk for Windows.

Case

This ITX case has a perfect desktop size, in between the too-thin ITX media cases that require low-wattage parts, and the too-large ITX cube cases designed for gamers. It is about the size and shape of a very thick book, with one tenth the volume of a typical micro-ATX minitower or cube. It is tall enough to accept standard Intel coolers for retail cpus, and well enough ventilated to need no other active cooling. It is great for stuffing the essential components of a standard desktop machine into a tiny yet quiet system, with no loss of performance. It costs only a little bit more than the cheapest build, using a near-empty micro-ATX tower.

Most very small machines are limited by heat issues to using slow low-wattage cpus such as Atom or Bay Trail, or using small and hence very noisy fans. This machine uses standard desktop cpus up to 65 watts. It has about 47mm height available for cpu coolers, and so it accepts Intel's stock down-blowing coolers that are 45mm tall. The case is so well ventilated that the fan does not need to push hard to move plenty of cool air around the entire interior at low speed. It's good that the fan makes little sound, because there is only a thin mesh grill between that fan and your ears. You can sort of see inside the system as if there was a smoked glass window, so be tidy with your wires.

Systems built with this case can be mounted on the back of some heavier monitors, or sit separately on the desktop, or be tucked out of sight. But I found it to be too heavy and slightly too large to hang on my newest LED monitor.

There are two versions of this InWin case. The BQ656T.AD120 has an internal 120watt PSU of proprietary size and shape that fits entirely into the case. It has its own little noisy fan and a metal box that channels or blocks air flow. InWin's replacement psu can be purchased online.

The BQS656.DD120 case has instead a laptop-style 120watt PSU in two parts: an external 120watt power brick that sits on the floor that converts A/C to 19v DC, and a small naked circuit board inside the main case. The brick dimensions are 6 x 2.5 x 1.5 inches, AcBell model AD7041. It remained cool during my load test. Contrary to some reviewers on NewEgg, I did not notice any whine when the PC was off.

I chose the external adaptor case, under the theory that less power-conversion heat would be dumped into the case, and the single large cpu fan would be quieter and maybe more effective in cooling the remaining PSU components than the fast little fan inside the AD120 PSU. The external adaptor also reduces the weight when mounting on a monitor.

The InWin case has room for ram sticks with fancy tall heat spreaders. But you don't need them.

The InWin case has room for a short low-profile PCIe card. But you must use the case's knockout port instead of a normal bracket. The card will block airflow from the cpu cooler, so you should pick the AD120.

The case has room for an SSD and for either a slim DVD drive or a second 2.5" disk. I did not need an internal DVD or big disk capacity. If you install a second disk, you'll likely need to buy a splitter for the power wires. SSD and drives are located in a second thin cavity under the motherboard, where they never get hit by the warm air from the psu. They are cooled by natural convection, no fans.

Cooling:

I did not find any aftermarket coolers that would fit and be any quieter or more efficient than Intel's stock coolers. The available alternatives are much shorter, designed for tight 1U-high cases. I think their cramped heatsinks or fans would do less well than Intel's larger (standard) size.

This case's power and cooling handles 54 watt cpus very well. InWin says it supports 65 watt cpus too. At normal web-browsing load, the reported cpu temp reached 38 degrees centigrade, and the motherboard (H97 chipset) reached 36, with the fan running quietly at 1400rpm. This was in a room at 23 degrees ambiant. I could begin to hear the fan sound from 12" away (facing the case's large grill). I then used overclockers' prime95 burn-in test to apply a high load to all cores. This drove cpu temp to 73 degrees and mobo to only 41 degrees, with the cooler fan maxed at 2500 rpm. The sound was low and pleasant; I could begin to hear the low fan hum from 3ft away (on the grill side). The down-blowing cpu fan is effective in moving air throughout the case to keep everything from overheating. The exhaust air from the cooler still felt cool, as did the ram sticks. The chipset's small heatsink felt somewhat hot but not painfully hot.

Most of the waste heat comes from the psu board, not from the cpu, ram, or chipset. The psu heat blows out from the lower end of the large grill. InWin makes no claims about the conversion efficiency of this psu. I think that could be done much better.

The system runs somewhat cooler and with slower cpu fan when the case is lying on its side, grill side up. I think because the psu's waste heat escapes easier. If the grill side panel is removed, temps and fan speed go a bit lower. So even this large grill is somewhat constrictive.

Mounting Options:

The case comes with an X-shaped plastic base that is used either as a monitor VESA mounting plate, or as a stubby pedestal when the case sits by itself.

When not on a monitor, the case can sit with the large grill side facing left, or up. The grill must not be covered; no stacking. When on a monitor's backside, the grill faces away from the monitor.

My completed PC using this case weighs 4.6 pounds. This was too heavy for stable use on my newest LED-backlit 24" monitor, which weighs only 5.5 pounds. The PC's weight and leverage pulled the monitor backward on its swivel, messing with the preferred viewing angle, and sometimes causing it to tip over entirely. The PC did mount successfully on my older 14-pound 24" LCD monitor.

Mounting the PC works better on monitors whose connection jacks are on the bottom, pointing down, rather than on the back, pointing back. And some older monitors lack the needed VESA mounting holes.

The PC can be mounted on the monitor with any of the PC's four smaller sides facing up. After experimentation, I think the best orientation is with the PC sitting the same way it would on a desktop. This makes the PC's back connectors accessible, and makes best use of the case's top cooling vents. If the PC covers some of the monitor's connectors, this may be helped by having the PC's front face upwards. The case is slightly shorter this way; the back connectors face is 3.75 inches below the center of the VESA mounting plate. But this has the DVD tray open straight up.

With a system this small and close, excess lengths of power and connection wires look untidy. I used a wireless keyboard and mouse and a 3-ft hdmi cable, leaving just the power lines to tie up neatly.

Minor Nits:

The DD120's power conversion efficiency seems low to me.

The glowing blue power LED is way too bright. The Asrock mobo utilities include a way to totally disable that LED, but then it is quite hard to know if the PC is on or booting. My alternative was to dim that light with masking tape and black marker. One layer was perfect.

The 19v power cord has a elbow joint where it connects to the case. The cord itself plugs into the elbow joint with yet another friction-fit connector of a different type, and it is too easy for the cord to pull loose from that joint. I've accidentally pulled the plug several times when turning the case around. This problem can also be fixed by tape.

The connectors on the SSD/drive power wires are wider than most of the holes between the main cavity and the rear cavity. The only route for the SSD/drive power wires to that rear cavity, was by looping over the full length of the motherboard. The wires were exactly long enough for that purpose, but I would rather have a wider shortcut hole at the PSU end.

The case came with inadequate documentation for how to set it up; just some faint busy pictures and no words. I recommend this case only for people who have previously built with some larger case.

One reviewer has wished for a dust filter on the main intake grill. I think this would be counter productive. The grill is already a very fine mesh that will snag most dust fuzz. Any filter pad would greatly increase the air drag on the cpu cooler and increase its work and noise. To reach this system's power button and jacks, this system is likely to be placed on top of the desk or monitor, rather than down at the dustier floor level.

Some Alternatives:

The Antec NSK 110 case is quite similar to this InWin case, but it is not practical for power-desktop replacement. Its 90w PSU is not sufficient to run 54watt cpus, and its plastic case and ungrounded grill leak EMI electrical noise.

HP and Dell are now selling tiny complete desktop systems that are half the volume of the InWin case. They use proprietary cooling designs to save space. But they do not offer fast cpus in their current models, probably for cooling and noise reasons.

The Gigabyte BRIX and Intel NUC barebone systems are tinier yet, but cpu choice is again very limited, and they are relatively expensive once ram, ssd, and OS are added. I wonder how they sound.

Summary:

I like how the InWin case is small and quiet but still gives the freedom to pick among standard components for the right personal tradeoffs between speed, cores, capacity, quietness, and price. As a standalone box, it is a winner; I hope to see more cases like this. As a monitor-mounted box, it works only for some older monitors.

Operating System

I had an unused Windows 7 family 3-pack license. Your builds will be $100+ higher for Windows.

All licensed Windows 7 systems that are running Service Pack 1 are eligible for a free upgrade to Windows 10 when that is ready. When I completed the hours-long upgrades to SP1, I somehow did not get the expected dashboard app which invites users to register for the Windows 10 downloads. I found a website discussing that bug, and an easy shell script to jog things. I then got the expected checker and download invite.

Comments

  • 52 months ago
  • 3 points

I would like to inform you, that just because the clock speeds are close, processors outside of the same family will not perform the same or "close". The clock cycles per instruction HIGHLY differs between this Pentium and an i7 4790k. You aren't wrong in describing this as a great processor for the money, but to compare it to an i7 4790k is comparing apples and oranges. 4.0ghz in one family and 3.6ghz in another means nothing. Also, the extra cores come in handy for applications that are built with multi-core processing in mind. I understand this is just an "average user" build not a "workstation", but I'm simply trying to clarify information.

  • 51 months ago
  • 1 point

Would an i5-4460 be a better comparison? It's clocked a little lower, but has a larger L3 cache, four cores, Turbo-boost, and AES.

  • 49 months ago
  • 0 points

Not really. Your still looking at a 4 core processor. You can compare single core performance, but an over clocked g3258 should outrun this processor for less money with your exact other components.

  • 49 months ago
  • 1 point

But I still like it! +1, dude

  • 40 months ago
  • 1 point

an i7 needs a "bigger case" tell that to people using the node 202