This is my first build using a Mini-ITX motherboard and case. I wanted something that was small, silent and really powerful for my productivity and gaming needs. As I live in India (it's about 40c here right now!), I had to make a few compromises on certain parts based on availability and price. I've also included stats and benchmarks for this build at the end. Here's my rationale of choosing the parts.
Choosing the Parts
The highlight of this build is the case. This needed to be slim, yet be capable enough to house good components without compromising performance.
The two cases I considered for this are both from Silverstone: Raven RVZ02 and Milo ML08.
I finally went with the ML08 as it comes with a top handle and has a uniform symmetrical front panel layout, which I personally preferred compared to the RVZ02.
The great part about this case is that it supports a full sized graphics card. It also has separate chambers for housing the motherboard/PSU units, and the graphics card allowing heat from these components to be isolated within their respective chambers.
Since I am planning to overclock the CPU at some point of time, I went the Intel Z170 chipset supporting Intel's 6th Gen (Skylake) CPU.
For this build, an M.2 slot was mandatory as I wanted to completely avoid SATA power/data cables within this case (although the ML08 supports 2 x 2.5 inch drives).
I also needed at least 6 USB ports at the back panel due the to the number of devices I'm going to connect eventually.
There are many Mini-ITX Z170 boards out there, but the two that currently satisfy these requirements are: ASUS Z170I Pro Gaming and ASRock Fatal1ty Z170 Gaming-ITX/AC
Both these boards come with 8 power phase design, an M.2 slot, and have 8 back panel USB ports. They also support USB 3.1 which is an added bonus.
I went with the ASRock board as it was easily available where I live. It also has a USB 3.1 Type-C port as a bonus which is not present on the ASUS board.
With the Z170 chipset selected, the obvious choices were the unlocked Skylake CPUs. The i5 6600K and the i7 6700K.
To be honest, I do a lot more productivity stuff these days compared to gaming (5 years ago, it was the opposite :D).
So, a CPU with hyper-threading makes more sense to me today, and I chose the i7 6700K.
Choosing a slim case does prevent the maximum clearance for the cooler (58mm clearance is all that you get for this case).
Although there are many good low profile coolers out there, the only one that was available where I live was the Silverstone Argon AR06.
If I had a better choices, I would have probably chosen the Cryorig C7 or the Noctua NH-9Li.
Still, the AR06 is a very decent cooler from the temperatures I've been noticing.
The installation of this cooler was a bit tricky as it doesn't come with a back-plate and needs to be secured from the back of the board after installing the heat-sink assembly onto the CPU.
As the Z170 Mini-ITX boards support a max of two DDR4 DIMM slots (with max. 32 GB), I wanted a 1 x 16 GB DDR4 kit and have the option of adding another one in the future.
But, it was impossible to get a 1x kit where I live! I always found them in pairs or quadruplets. So I just decided to max out with the cheapest 2 x 16 GB kit, which was the GSkill Aegis series.
The prices for DDR4 RAM have gone down considerably and I only had to spend 5% more over the overall build price to get a 2 x 16 GB kit compared to a 1 x 16 GB kit (which I couldn't find anyway).
I hate mechanical drives with a passion :) This is the sixth desktop I've owned in my life so far and there has never been a hard disk that hasn't failed at some point of time or the other.
The other thing I wanted was to avoid SATA cabling altogether to keep the wiring as minimal as possible in this compact case.
So, M.2 was the answer and I went with the Samsung 850 EVO 500 GB SSD. For additional storage, I already have external backup drives.
Graphics Card: All I needed was a good graphics card capable of 1080p gaming with silent and power efficient operation.
A younger version of me would have craved for a 1440p or 4K capable card like the 980 Ti and cheaped out on the CPU and RAM/SSD capacity to make up for the higher priced graphics card. But, like I said before, my priorities have changed and my gaming needs have come down somewhat :)
So I went with the ASUS STRIX GeForce GTX 970. Being a GTX 970, it provides great performance with low power usage. But what really makes the ASUS STRIX special is the 0dB fan operation mode which ensures that the cooling fans don't turn on until the core temperature exceeds 67c. This makes the card completely silent during idling, browsing and light/moderate gaming. Even during heavy gaming (when I was playing Witcher 3 @ Ultra), the fan speed hovered between 40-60% which was still barely audible.
A quick note on installation on the ML08 case: The STRIX card is taller than most other GTX 970 cards (although it's length is a bit smaller). To fit the card, you'll need to remove the small bracket which is near the two PCIe slot covers on the back panel of the case. These brackets are at all four corners of the case that bind the front/back panels to the center piece of the case. Removing one shouldn't really affect the stability of the case. You'll also not be able to use the graphics card bracket that comes with the ML08, which is recommended if you keep the case in the horizontal position.
A good 450/500W SFX fully modular power supply was all that was needed to power this system.
There were some good choices here, but again keeping silent operation in mind, the one I chose was the Silverstone SX-500-LG 80-plus Gold rated SFX-L PSU.
This is slightly longer than a normal SFX PSU which allows it to have a 120mm fan as compared to an 80mm fan found on other SFX PSUs. This translates to silent fan operation. It also comes with a fanless mode which ensures that the fan only turns on beyond 45c.
Being fully modular proved to be a good advantage in this small case, since I could wire up on the motherboard end first and then connect the other end to the PSU.
Keep in mind that there have been reports of this particular PSU's fan making a rattling or galloping noise. However, I've been lucky enough not to have experienced this so far, or my hearing is bad :)
Ambient temp: 38-41c where I live
CPU core temps: 38-45c idle, 75-85c on load
GPU core temps: 50-60c idle, 70-77c on load (Fans are off at idle)
Power Draw (from the wall):
Idle: 35-70 W
Load: 230-240 W (when playing Witcher 3 @ Ultra)
3D Mark Fire Strike Scores:
Overall Score: 10231
Graphics score: 11746
Physics score: 13266
Combined score: 4429
Crystal Disk Mark Scores:
Sequential Read (Q= 32,T= 1): 549.990 MB/s
Sequential Write (Q= 32,T= 1): 519.433 MB/s
Random Read 4KiB (Q= 32,T= 1): 367.299 MB/s [89672.6 IOPS]
Random Write 4KiB (Q= 32,T= 1): 357.305 MB/s [87232.7 IOPS]
Sequential Read (T= 1): 500.811 MB/s
Sequential Write (T= 1): 489.727 MB/s
Random Read 4KiB (Q= 1,T= 1): 41.803 MB/s [10205.8 IOPS]
Random Write 4KiB (Q= 1,T= 1): 128.569 MB/s [31388.9 IOPS]
Although I don't have a sound measuring device, I'll just add my personal experience so far.
Idle, light usage, light/moderate gaming: Can't hear a thing! The only fan that spins is the CPU cooler fan at around 1000 RPM. This is only barely audible if I stick my ear to the side of the case.
Heavy usage/gaming: The graphics card fans are not audible when at 40% fan speed and barely audible at 60% fan speed.
Overall I'm very pleased with how things turned out with this build. It fits my requirements and budget and the build process was pretty smooth.
I would love to hear your comments and suggestions for this build. Thanks for taking the time to view this!
PS: The pics were taken from my phone camera which is average and I'm not a good photographer either :) I'll upload better pics very soon.
This is the most feature-packed Z170 Mini-ITX board. Perfect for overclocking, has an M.2 working in either SATA/PCIe x4 mode, USB 3.1 Type A + Type C and 6 x USB 3.0 ports on the back panel. It's UEFI BIOS is pretty easy to use with lots of nice features.
Super quiet. Fans don't turn on until the core is 67c. Max temp is 77c @ 60% fan speed which is still barely audible (where I live, the ambient temps are 38-41c).
Slim and stylish looking. Easy to build in it. Open air design and has very good quality dust filters on both side panels. Comes with a handle for carrying it around with ease.