This build was meant to run a wedding venue's business (www.WeddingOnTheGreens.com). My hope was for it to be a small, stylish, powerful computer. I think those boxes are checked, and I hope you like it.
As always, I look forward to your feedback. Pictures are above. Below is a write up on considerations for anyone who is interested in specifics.
InWin 901: Z170 m-ITX (4-core) for Wedding on the Greens
This computer will be the main, day-to-day repository for an all-inclusive wedding venue in Southern California called "Wedding on the Greens." They are great, and you should check them out if you or anyone is getting married in the area . . . but back to the computer.
Other than basic business documents, the business has a huge storage need due to having in-house photography, which uses LIghtroom and Photoshop (a CPU-bound workload). They wanted the fastest and best of everything while saving money where available. They also wanted somewhat of a showpiece so that the machine can look nice for clients when doing paperwork and such in the main business area. These considerations led me to select the InWin 901, to max out CPU within reason, and to build a very robust storage solution.
Here we go.
The In Win 901 is a work of art once it's all together. Pictures on line, even my own (and I'm a photographer) don't do it justice. The thing is just so impressively built. It's heavy, solid, and employs enough space efficiency to fit everything necessary for a very well-equipped machine. Plus it's super small.
The final case choices came down to the In Win 901 and the Lian-Li PC-05s, but the Lian-Li case was too big and cost twice as much - plus the business owner liked the look of the In Win 901 better. So I went with it. Obviously, building in a tiny case with a lot of hardware is challenging because it requires precision, and it can be maddening, but that's just part of the territory. I knew what I was getting in to, and so should you if you decide to go with a similar build.
Other than price, the criteria for a power supply unit ("PSU") were a reputable brand with good power efficiency, a little more power than necessary, and (most importantly) a fully-modular design. That led me to a hand full of PSUs, but the HX 850i was on sale - good enough. Don't remember exactly what I got it for, but I remember it being about 50% off, and it's an 80+ Platinum PSU. The fully modular thing was necessary because there's not enough room in the case for any extra cables. Also, the digital software controls worked with the fan and lighting controller I got (see lighting section for more on that).
Finding a motherboard was a bit of a search. I needed a m-ITX motherboard with the latest chipset and overclocking support, and I wanted to have Thunderbolt 3. Unfortunately, there are no m-ITX boards with Thunderbolt 3, so the next best thing was standard Type-C connectivity. That brought the choice down to a Gigabyte board (GA-Z170N-Gaming 5) board or an AsRock board (X99E-ITX/ac).
The Gigabyte board was for the mainstream Intel chips with at most four cores (Z-170), and the AsRock was for the extreme Intel chips (X-99) withsix, eight, or even eighteen (18) cores. It turned out that Lightroom - the main program Wedding on the Greens uses - does best with the fastest cores possible, and adding more than four cores didn't really help as much as a higher clock rate. That's because, each time you add a core, they all need to go a little slower because the chips can only handle so much electricity at once. So I went with a 4-core setup over the 6- or 8- core setup, which also saved a lot of money.
The chip I chose has four of the fastest cores you can get. I got the Intel Skylake i7-6700k and overclocked it to 4.6 Ghz in this little machine with no thermal throttling at all. It actually runs Lightroom faster than another machine I have running a 6-core i7-4930k at 4.2 Ghz, which is impressive because the 4930k is a much beefier chip.
Pro tip: Look up every benchmark for your specific software before deciding what to buy. Some programs can't use additional resources very well, and Lightroom is one of those programs. Everything else the business does with this computer - from hosting files on the network, scheduling regular backups, internet, to documents, etc. - is no problem for the i7-6700k at all, so getting more than that wouldn't have helped anything else either. It should keep the machine relevant for the life of all parts in the machine.
I just got the most RAM possible at the fastest speed I could find. That landed me on a 32 GB kit of two 16 GB sticks running at 3000 Mhz - damn! It was a pretty good price too. Stuff is nice. Just stuck the XMP profile in, and it ran at full speed no problems.
The video card had to be short (i.e. m-ITX compatible). This was for cooling purposes. Even though a full sized card would have fit, installing one would have blocked the case's only air intake. I originally was a little too ambitious and had a 780 ti in there, which was egregious overkill and a total waste of money. I even put my Titan X in for a test run just to say I did that (you'll see the 780 ti in the pictures). . . Back to reality, though.
I just needed a mid-range Nvidia card because of Adobe compatibility with Lightroom and Photoshop. It came down to the GTX 750 ti and the GTX 950. My preference was for the 750 ti because it was more than fast enough for Lightroom and Photoshop, but it was also very cool and required no power plugs (the case makes running power plugs very difficult). In the end, though I went with the 950 because it has DirectX 12 support, and that would allow the graphics card to remain relevant for longer. Yes, running the wires was a pain, and the 950 both uses more power and produces more heat than the 750 ti, but it was a good trade off. The power supply has the power, and the cooling was sufficient to handle the 950 - done.
Storage is the backbone of the business. The computer actually has four drives: (1) a Samsung 950 Pro M.2 NVMe SSD, (2) a Samsung 840 EVO, (3) a Segate 6 TB HDD, and (4) another Segate 6 TB HDD.
The M.2 drive was an easy choice for the system drive. It's (by far) fastest consumer drive, and coincidentally also one of the smallest drives, available as I write this today. Lightroom catalogs (at least when they are very large) need the best random read and write performance possible. There was no other choice. The Intel 750 was too expensive and slower in the relevant benchmarks - not to mention too large to fit.
The 840 EVO was a spare drive the company had but didn't use, so I just threw it in for medium speed storage.
The mass storage was really important, though. Brides rely on the company's mass storage to deliver photos of arguably the most important day of their lives (i.e. the wedding). This reality made me decide on installing a RAID 1 array - the biggest one they could afford. I knew that if a storage drive dies without RAID 1, then everything that hadn't yet been backed up would be lost. Who wants to tell a bride that her wedding photos are gone? Um, nobody! But with the RAID 1, a drive failure wouldn't devastate a bride or turn into bad Yelp reviews. I went with two 6 TB drives because 8 TB cost about three times as much, and 6 TB would be enough space for a about six months of weddings. That way the business won't run out of space even if they get lazy about backing up to the server for longer than than should.
Cooling is one things that makes this particular build unique. It was important because small boxes lack airflow, and they also wanted to not hear the machine running at all.
Finding the right CPU cooler was also a challenge because the In Win 901 has only a 92mm exhaust. I knew I wanted water cooling because an air cooler would have been too big and also would have hidden all of the beautiful aesthetics behind the glass side panels of the case. But if you look at all of the water cooled In Win 901 builds (at least the ones with all in one liquid coolers), they have this ugly radiator tacked onto the back of the case. That wouldn't have been okay because the business owners wanted the computer to be pretty and presentable to clients. It turns out that some of HP's (ugly) in house cases use a water cooler on a 90mm hole, which is not standard at all. So I tracked down that Asetek makes the cooler, but they could only sell directly to HP because of a contract (i.e. they won't sell directly to consumers like me and you). However, Asetek will sell you one through e-bay. I guess it's a loophole in the HP contract or something? In any case, it's the only all in one liquid cooler that can fit inside this case - done!
Then I got Noctua fans all around for the case with Demciflex filters, and I installed a Corsair fan controller (see lighting section for more on the controller). I set the fans to run as low as possible while still preventing the CPU from thermal throttling. That was that. Now you can't hear the machine even while running Prime 95, and it can maintain 4.6 Hgz while running 100% CPU usage - very impressive if you ask me :-D
The company put so much money into these fancy parts, but the case's tinted black window made it too dark to see inside. So lights were the solution. I got the Corsair Commander Mini, which is a slim little device that kick ***. It comes with four wire thermometers that you can place at key points in the case, and it also controls up to six fans in addition to RBD LED lights. It also can control any other Corsair link device, so I used it to control the PSU as well. I highly recommend getting one if you care about this kind of stuff. Without it, I would not have been able to tune the airflow and noise of the computer's cooling. My favorite part is that everything is controlled through software, so you'll never have to touch the machine to make an adjustment. Software lets you do all of the cool things with lights too, like pulsing different RGB colors or whatever you'd like. I played with all the options for at least four hours, so I'll leave it at that.
This case fits a slim optical drive, like you usually see on a laptop. It installed like an old Nintendo cartridge, or just a large stick of RAM. There's no wires to run at all. Just slide it in (that's what she said!). Wedding on the Greens needed an optical drive because brides often request to get the photos on a CD, DVD, or Blue Ray (if they buy photos and videos that won't fit on a standard DVD). The drive was cheap and it works pretty fast.
That's it! I hope you enjoyed reading if you made it this far.
Happy building everyone!