Why building this?
For quite a long time, I wanted to try new stuff (neat build with leds, all-in-one water-cooling), my last build was assembled 8 years ago and things have changed since then. I had to sell the previous one because I was moving countries on a regular basis, moving with a desktop isn't really practical and I already had my homemade 20TB NAS to bring with me…
On top of that, I have been wrestling with Lightroom on my Surface Pro 4 and despite having the highest specs (Core i7 / 16GB RAM), the performances have severely degraded over the last year thanks to Adobe. They have done a sh__ job with their software (have a look to the forums to make your own mind on this particular topic).
The AMD Threadripper was temping (especially for productivity usage) but I decided to stay with Intel, the brand that I have always been using for my builds. Even with the nerf due to Spectre and Meltdown, it is still insanely fast. I started thinking about this build back in November 2018 and that time, I would have purchased the Core i7 8086K. As I ordered early January, I picked up something a bit more high-end with the Core i7 9700K. Later in January 2019, I discovered that I could ship it back to Amazon in order to get the Core i9 9900K. I user Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut while replacing the CPU. Done deal ;-)
The Kraken series from NZXT are simply gorgeous with their customisable infinity mirror. I chose the biggest that could fit into the case. I had never used any water-cooling before and I thought that starting with an AIO was probably a safer bet. Installing the water-block has been a real pain in the a__! It was not fitting horizontally because of the motherboard layout (RAM modules are too close from the CPU). It had to be setup vertically instead. Installing the various wires (USB, pump, fans, power) requires patience and methodology (which comes first, etc.). Later on, I have replaced it with the X62 version (280mm) and despite what NZXT says, it does fit in the case. I gained 6 degrees on the CPU with a push/half pull configuration.
I saw the CableMod kit used in several builds and it looks fantastic. The installation is far from being easy. In my case, the sleeves tend to be too short (5/7mm) and when you move the water-cooler pipes around, the sleeves will get out of the connectors at the end. The end of the sleeves aren't cut properly as well, which doesn't help during the setup. The hack I found was to use a tiny bit of white cellar tape at each end. As it's under the black connectors, you won't see it.
Same as for the CPU, I wanted to stay into know territories by picking an MSI motherboard. Having a 9th generation processor, the idea was to get the best in class chipset for it (Z390 based motherboard). I chose the ITX format to match the case. One perk of the Z390I is that it has native USB 3.1 support. Coupled with my Samsung T5 1TB for external storage, I would be then able to carry around my photos and lightroom files by directly working on the external drive.
Corsair was one of the only manufacturer to sell some white covered RAM modules. I chose some decent ones in term of performance with Corsair RGB Pro DDR4 3000Mhz CL15 to try overclocking a bit later on. I have max'ed out the memory to make sure Adobe applications would not be limited by that. The Corsair software is a bliss compared to the NZXT one, quite intuitive and stable.
I did not have particular requirements there, just wanted something fast. I picked a Samsung 970 PRO to install the systems and games. My data would go on OneDrive, external drive and NAS via various backup/sync configurations. I had to try several different setup between those 3 sources to find the right balance. I almost wiped all of my OneDrive data while testing. I managed to recover the deleted files and I will definitely be more careful next time.
Heatsink This is something that I haven't foreseen: the Samsung 970 PRO is simply frying in a Mini ITX case. I got some insanely high temperatures: 57°c for the M.2 core temperature and 85°c for the memory modules. This was clearly too high and after looking a few minutes on Internet, I found the EK M.2 NVMe Heatsink in black. I was a bit worried that it wouldn't fit the MSI MPG Z390I because it has "the base" of an M.2 heatsink but not "the end" (half-baked motherboard). After having installed the toy, I'm now down to 51°c for the core and 63°c for the memory modules.
Lightroom doesn’t require much but I had in mind some "retro" gaming as well, old titles like Diablo III and StarCraft II. I have the Xbox One X on a 4K 58" TV for the rest of the gaming. One thing though, it had to fit the style of the build. I have look for white graphic card and I found the Asus one. Initially, I wanted a GTX 1050 with 3GB of RAM but I changed my mind for GTX 1060 with 6GB. I might connect a second 4K monitor soon, better be ready for that.
This was another tiny detail that I wanted to fix. By default, the GTX 1060 Dual from Asus doesn't have a backplate and you can see all the circuits and chips, not nice. Browsing online, I found this company "ColdZero" who's manufacturing personalised backplates. I could have chosen a led one but I thought that it would be too much light in the end. They shipped my stuff from Portugal and in a few days, I had it in hands. Trivial to install.
I wanted a compact build so I went for the NZXT H200i one, a stunning level of finishing touches and details. I debated quite a while about the colour as I chose red/black initially. After a bit of thinking, I realised that the purpose of the leds in a case is mainly to be able to change the colours. This doesn't work well if you already have a bright colour in the case. Black and white would be a better call because the white would follow the chosen colours of the leds.
Once again, I will stick to what I know with a Corsair. I chose a 600W thinking that I might upgrade the graphic card to something better later on. The format is extremely important, SFX is for me mandatory as you do not want to fit an ATX PSU in there… I also bought some white cables to replace the black ones provided with the PSU. Apparently, some of the original ones are too small to fit without an extender. I did not have any problems with the additional kit I purchased from Corsair.
ITX motherboards do not provide many USB header connectors. On the MSI Z390I, there is only a single USB2 and USB3. The USB3 is used for the front panel USB plugs and the other one would be used for the rest. With the NZXT Internal USB hub, I was able to connect all the stuff I had: Kraken AIO cooler, NZXT Smart Device, NZXT Hue+ Device and GeekPi 5" screen.
As it's written already in various posts, NZXT has seriously messed up with their Smart Device. It can only handle led strips OR RGB fans, not both (only one single Led channel). If you want both, you will have to buy another device like the Hue+ one for instance to manage your RGB fans. This means more cables, another USB2 header required, etc. I used the two additional led strips to light the side of the case. At the beginning, I tried to see if the RGB port on the MSI motherboard would be of any help here and it did not (NZXT leds are 5V ones, RGB port is 12V).
RGB Fans Kit
For the reason explained above, having the Hue+ device is mandatory if you want to use both led strips and RGB fans. I managed to find a reconditioned package for the NZXT Hue+ kit. Job done but there is some serious mess with cables at the back. I cannot even imagine people who are putting 3 or 4 hard drives in there on top of what I have assembled.
I have seen this GeekPi 5" display in various builds on PCPartPicker website. It's reasonably priced and driver less. I had to purchase some specific cables with angle connectors to ease the integration in the case and hide them (HDMI slim cable + HDMI 90 degrees connector, mini USB angled short cable). Two challenges with this part: the HDMI cable needs to go out of the case (I have cut a bit the ATX to SFX plate to let the cable through) and the casing for the screen itself.
This was the most fun part of the build: now you have the screen, how to fit it nicely into the case? I found schema for 3D printers where you could basically print an encasing for the screen. I don't like the aspect of such thing, it's rough around the edges and not neat enough for my taste. Instead, I got some plastic angled plate and I started cutting in it. Taking precise measurements, re-cutting sides from the back to avoid having something sloppy and I managed to get the pieces right. With the help of the glue gun and the wife, the frame was ready ;-)
After a few days of use, I realised that it was extremely annoying to wear my headset all the time while at home. Don't get me wrong, I like this headset (Bose QC35 II) but it's not practical at home (limited overall noise despite having a cat, the wife attempting to communicate with you, etc.). I wanted to get some "design" speakers to match my build and after a bit of reading, I found my gem: Edifier Luna Eclipse 25HD in white. It matches perfectly the NZXT case.