Note: This is probably overly long, but I like details.
Context & Post-Purchase Justification
I purchased my first custom PC gaming computer from CyberPower in 2011 and it was pretty cool. At the time I was addicted to multi monitor setups for multitasking so I put Eyefinity to good use with 3 19" 1400x900 monitors. The only problem with that was I live in a small unit and my desk took up so much space and looked crazy with all the cords. After that I purchased a better desk with built in storage and some cable management. Since the desk was smaller and had a back I couldn't use my old monitor stand. Thus, downgraded to using just two monitors. Long story short (not really) I've since been obsessing over getting the most functional value out of my computer space while at the same time making it neater. Once I started the seeing the new 34" Ultrawide monitors I new I had to have one and that meant upgrading my PC to handle the extra pixels of WQHD. A mini-itx PC only made the most sense. MAYBE I could even fit it in one of the small shelves of my desk...
The context paragraph slightly covered it. When I decided to make my own PC I new I had to build something that fit these requirements:
- Small as possible for chance to fit within desk storage
- Graphically more powerful than last PC
- Processor had to be at least as powerful as my last desktop build
With the requirements in mind I the smallest mini-itx case I found that could actually be used for anything more than an HTPC was the Elite 110. There are smaller cases, but my issue is most of them are either tall standing up or really wide laying on their side. The Elite 110 and its cube form is the perfect compromise of height, width, and depth. After reading some reviews and looking at prices I decided on the GTX 960 for my GPU. I needed a sub $200 card that came in a small form factor, could support WQHD for general task, at least 2560x1080 pixels for gaming at 30+ FPS and didn't put out too much heat. I know next to nothing about voltages so I selected the CS 450M for my PSU because it was the cheapest PSU that fit the GTX 960's 400w requirement and was at least semi-modular to help with the cable management in the small case. For the CPU I pretty much had to use an Intel chip because (I think) AMD latest's chips are not compatible with the mini-itx spec. I looked at AMD's last gen chips too because the prices were great, but compared to even my old Intel chip they seemed pretty underwelming. I originally was not planning on getting a chip that could overclock to save money, but there were not many chip/motherboard deals for mini-itx at the time. The best deal I found was at Microcenter. The i5 devil's canyon chip was on sale ($189) plus their ongoing promotion for $40 off a compatible motherboard. I went with the ASROCK Z97E because it didn't make sense to not get a Z97 board with an overclocking chip and it was the cheapest Z97 board at my MicroCenter plus had built in wifi/bluetooth. Didn't originally want to do water cooling either for my first build, but I knew a smaller case would be hotter and if I wanted to use the overclocking water cooling would probably be necessary with only one case fan. There was a sale on the Seidon 120M and due to its compatibilty with a lot of different sockets I would recommend it for this case. Honestly, at the time, water cooling scared the mess out me. I strongly believe 8GB of RAM is the perfect amount when considering price/function for anyone who plans to do more than web browsing with their PC. I selected the AData sticks because they had the best price with rebate at the time and a few reviews said the sticks are able to be overclocked. I will probably never over clock the RAM though. I always planned to use the SSD and HDD from my previous build so that's what I did.
Actual Build Cost
- $715.94 (without rebates)
- case - $10
- psu - $30
- gpu - $10
- motherboard - $20
- ram - $20
- cpu coolant - $25
- $600.94 with rebates
- $600.00 for monitor (good deal), but I don't count it in price.
The Build (AKA the part you might care about)
For my first ever PC build I think it went pretty well considering the case size. However, I think the full build took me about 4 hours between watching videos, reading documentation, and putting it together. EVERYTHING worked the first time I booted up...except the monitor of course. I ended up having to redo half of the build because I didn't place the GPU in correctly the first time and although the fan was running somehow the inputs were seated too far in the case. This meant the HDMI and display port couldn't plug in enough to bring a picture to the monitor. Besides that I was well prepared from reading the other Elite 110 guides on PCpartpicker. My plan was pretty much..
- Keep left side of the case clean from cords or other obstructions like the hard drive for best airflow for GPU.
- Place water cooling fan for the radiator on outside wall of the case. This is right behind the power button.
- Meditate, hope, and pray to the gods to get water cooling pipes to fit on the right side of the case under the PSU. This just barely worked. Another build guide said they couldn't fit the pipes under the PSU, but another water cooler was being used.
- Flip the PSU upside down so that the fan is pulling hot air away from the motherboard and processor and out through the back of the case.
- Squish as much cabeling in the front section of the case (to sides of the fan) and on the right side the of case. Since I used water cooling I feel like airflow on the right side of the case where the motherboard is located is not as important.
- Place hard drives at top of case above PSU. Pretty much no where else for them to go.
Words of advice if you use this build
- If you place your hard drives on the top of the case you may want to buy your own sata cables. The ones included with my motherboard were angled and although they fit it would be better to have non-angled sata cables
- If you use the ASRock Z97E-ITX motherboard with this case spend the extra money on an M.2 SSD from MYDigitalSSD just because it will save space. The M.2 Slot is on the underside of the motherboard so I will probably never get to use it because I'm too lazy to take everything out the case for it.
- If cost is not a factor look into an SFX PSU. Particularly one of the SFX PSU's that come with brackets for cases that use a standard PSU. The standard PSU takes up the most space in this case so I imagine this would save you a lot.
- If your PC is too loud (mine was at first), go straight to the fan settings in the bios and create your own rules.
- Using water cooling. It's not that scary and actually pretty easy now.
How it actually works & Conclusion
The build works great and I'm really surprised of the performance. Apparently there was some type of bottleneck in my old PC for my SSD. In all of the benchmarks I ran with this build the SSD performance increased and then it increased again when overclocked the CPU 4.3GHz. I have overclocked the CPU just because I can, but I don't think I will be able to go higher than 4.3 with my chip. The main thing is it takes my chip too much voltage to get to 4.5GHz and even if I increased it I don't think I would want to worry about the cooling required. I found that the GTX 960 just won't be able to push new titles at WQHD resolutions at playable speeds. When playing Witcher 3 at my native resolution (3440X1440) I have to reduce the graphics to medium to get low 20s to barely 30 FPS. When I switch to the next best 1080p resolution (2560X1080) I can play Withcer 3 on high with medium post-processing at 30-44FPS, but I turn of Nvidia Hair works. I don't mind doing 1080p gaming fulls screen as it still looks great on the LG 34UM94-P. I am also running the GPU at stock, so if I have to in a year or two I can try overclocking it for a few more frames. Heat is pretty good. Running the 4.3GHz overclock for an hour at 100% on Prime95 the max temp for only one of my cores was 73c. I might be able to reduce this though because I think I may have too much voltage for my overclock. AND the build fits in my desk storage! Barely, the front quarter of the PC is actually hanging off the ledge, but this is ok because of the Elite 110 is back heavy. That's it. Pictures of benchmarks and desk will be included if I figure out how to add photos.