I’m coming to you live from a small apartment in Brooklyn, NY where the PCs are free-range, organic, artisanal creations. My goal was to have something that I could use exclusively for gaming at 1440p – for everything else, there’s a Mac. The PC should be as quiet and as small as possible while still supporting that goal.
So what’s goes into an artisanal personal microcomputer?
Can we do some real talk? This needs to be said: there are a lot of ugly cases out there. A lot of refrigerator-sized ones, too. While looking for something that was both small and not ugly, I decided upon the Node 304. It turns out to be as good as everyone has said and I’m quite happy with it.
These things suck. Power supply designs haven’t changed in decades, and it’s so disappointing. They are about four times as large as they should be and routing the absurd cables for the motherboard (two of them! inches think and impossible to bend!) ended up being the hardest part of the whole build.
The good news is that this particular model is efficient enough and its fan has no discernible noise. I’m not sure if it turns on at all during use.
I’ve been out of the PC game for many years, and selecting a motherboard felt like throwing a dart at a board full of ridiculous model names. I needed built-in WIFI and this particular model fit the case and seemed sufficiently modern. In hindsight, the CPU is located ideally, allowing for clearance between the CPU cooler and everything else inside.
CPU and Cooler
IDGAF about over-clocking, but the i5-4690K was cheaper than its locked counterpart at the time of purchase.
The concept of a CPU cooler was a new one for me. I’ve heard good things about these Noctua folks, specifically that their designs were efficient and quiet. The size of the NH-U14S just about made my heart stop when I unpacked it – I thought there was no way it was going to fit, but it does. Just.
The cheapest 8GB stick at time of purchase. Before you write a letter to the editor, yes I know about dual-channel memory. I plan to add another stick later.
The cheapest 240GB SDD at time of purchase. After using my Mac with solid-state storage, there was no way this was going to have a hard drive. If you’re building a system in 2014 with a spinning disk.
This arrived last of all the parts, and after I had assembled the rest of the system. I was totally convinced that it was going to collide with the PSU cables and connectors right up until I seated it into the motherboard. Turns out there is just enough clearance and all is well.
I have run some benchmarks (see below) but haven’t spent enough time gaming on this system to really have a good opinion on the graphics quality. For someone who has been making due with a seven year-old MacBook Pro, things are looking good. I do notice some “coil whine” when the card is under pressure. However I play games with headphones on so this isn’t much of a problem.
My photos were taken with the idea that others may observe how I ran my cables – hopefully the photos are clear enough. Here are a few notes on what went where:
- The HD Audio, front panel, and USB 3 cables originate in the front lower right corner (same corner where the PSU connections lie).
- HD Audio cable goes along the bottom of the case and sneaks over inside the gap between the bottom-front of the video card and the case.
- The front panel cables route around the bottom of the PSU and their slack is tucked into the gap between the PSU and motherboard.
- The USB 3 cable is way thicker than it needs be (and is actually two cables in one?) and is stupid and goes around the video card, up to the cross beam, and then back down to the mobo.
- The fan controller resides on the back top right corner. The fan cables are tucked inside the top right rail. You can spot the zip ties in the photos.
- The SATA cable actually goes around the top of the CPU cooler and then hooks around to the SSD with a 90º plug. I originally had this going between the CPU cooler’s heat pipes, but the high temps gave me pause. I was rather pleased with how this turned out.
- The motherboard power cables are also stupid (see above). They run up the PSU, along the front case fans and get stuffed in the storage bracket. The CPU fan and CPU power cables do a little dance because they are stupid and I’m trying to keep them away from the heat sink.
I got the ASUS 1440p monitor in anticipation of this build. I've had no issues with it.
You're looking at a Herman Miller Sayl task chair. Some might scoff at including a chair in a computer build, but I encourage you to think about how much time you actually spend at your desk. The chair you sit on directly impacts your health and should not be overlooked.
The Wirecutter has some options for great chairs. I use a Sayl at work and liked it enough to purchase for home use. Herman Miller has a sale just about twice a year (summer and winter) and I bought mine from the friendly people at Smart Furniture.
In the year I've been sitting at it it has been good to me.
Eventually I will upgrade my desk to an adjustable height sit/stand desk. They are a bit more expensive, but if you divide their cost by the number of hours you plan to work alongside them, I think you'll find it quite reasonable. After all, sitting is the new smoking. Take care of yourselves, friends!
In the end, everything fit and functioned. I’m happy.
- I find myself surprised by how quiet the machine is. While there are no moving parts, I still expected the fans to be louder than they are. The computer is not silent, but you have to be near the machine and actively listening for the noise it makes to hear the fans. This... pleases me.
- 1440p is great and I encourage others to join in on the higher resolution fun times.
- SSDs are the way to go. I can go from the PC powered off to a desktop in about twelve seconds. What’s stopping you?
I'm curious to know what you all think. Please feel free to chime in with some critique.
As a thanks to the others who have posted their builds and given me some shoulders on which to stand, I have made a donation to Charity:Water, a PCPartPicker favorite. Thanks to all for the information you have provided.
- CPU Idle: 26°C
- CPU Load: 44°C
- GPU Idle: 29°C
- GPU Load: 58°C
- 3D Mark: 9257