I built this machine to replace a 9 year old HP AMD Phenom 9550. I needed something faster for photo editing and wanted something snappier in general No games, no overclocking. I just want a fast, steady workhorse.
For perspective, I built my first system in the 1980s, and I worked in desktop support when we still diagnosed and replaced parts in corporate desktops. But ... it's been 15 years since I have done that in any significant way. A lot has changed, which left me pretty nervous about turning my investment into a brick.
I splurged a little on the CPU and memory - maybe more than I need right now. For a general benchmark of what I wanted, I compared CPUs on CPUBenchmark. I wanted more horsepower than an I3 but couldn't justify the hundred dollar jump from I5 to I7. The I5 7600 gets me from a PassMark of 2556 with my old CPU to a mark of 8234 with the I5 7600. The price difference between Kaby Lake and Skylake CPUs/MBs was negligible, and reports suggest about a 10% jump in performance between equivalent chips in the two generations. So I went for the newest Intel offers. The H270 based MB, 16 GB of DDR4-2400 RAM and the M.2 PCI-e x4 SSD should also add considerable speed to the rest of the system. I used a 430W PSU (ATX 12 v. 2.2) I bought several years ago and just had sitting on my shelf, and I reused one of the hard drives from the HP for secondary storage. I think I'll be happy with the on-board video, and I don't anticipate needing internal expansion slots.
For size, then, I opted for a mini ITX without an internal optical drive. I wanted a smaller case than I have now, one that would fit the cube-shaped niche in my desk with more than 2" of free space above and beside the computer.
The Thermaltake Core V1 Mini ITX was very easy to assemble. I imagine every mini-ITX system is a tight fit, but I had no real problems assembling and tidying up the system, even with a 160 mm non-modular power supply. All 4 sides of the cube come off with thumb screws. The HD mounts also come off with thumb screws. A huge 200 mm fan pushes air through the system. I still haven't decided whether to add the 2 x 80 mm fans in the rear, but so far I don't see the need. I have the rig in a 13x13 cubby, so I put the mesh panels on the top and one side, and shoved the window side against one wall of the cubby. So far, air flow and temps are acceptable but I haven't really pushed the system.
There aren't a lot of 200 series mini-ITX MBs on the market yet, and I was a little leery of being an early adopter. The ASROCK H270M-ITX/ac offered a lot of features that matter to me for a very reasonable price. Lots of USB ports on the rear. Multiple digital video outputs (2 HDMI, 1 DVI). M.2 slot on top of the motherboard. Two ethernet jacks and built in wifi. I only use stereo speakers, so basic sound is fine with me. The build quality looks good and everything is working as expected - now.
My first hiccup came when I installed the CPU. This was my first experience installing a modern processor, but after a close inspection of the chip and the socket I didn't really have any problems seating the chip correctly. I am using the stock cooler with the pre-applied thermal paste. Note that it is paste, not tape. Don't touch it. It smears!
I initially had some problems getting the pins to seat properly in the cooling fan holes, but I eventually manipulated them to my satisfaction. But then I realized that the CPU fan wire didn't really have a good path the the fan header on the MB. I decided to remove the fan and reinstall it in a different orientation, and hope that the thermal paste would still adhere properly. The fan pin that didn't want to go in then didn't want to come out, and it took some work to extract it. I reoriented the fan and had better luck this time getting the pins to insert and lock correctly. I crossed my fingers and hoped that I hadn't messed up the thermal paste. And the new orientation put a small plastic wire-retaining hook on the fan assembly in the way of the memory. I wasn't using the clip, so I just used a pair of pliers to snap it off.
First Lesson - Check the fan orientation relative to the MB fan header before installation.
After that, the assembly seemed to go well but my heart sank when I put power to the system. Power on and stayed on. Lights on. Fans on. Hard drive spinning. But nothing on the display at all. And nothing seeming to be going on with the USB ports. I didn't know if I had damaged the CPU or if I had installed something else incorrectly or if I just had a bad component. I used another machine to search the internet for troubleshooting hints with these symptoms. Someone suggested re-seating the memory, so that was the first thing I tried. I removed the memory, and reinstalled it. I pressed down this time until I heard and felt a click. I turned the computer back on and it worked.
Second Lesson - Push down on the memory until you feel the click.
Overall, it was a relatively easy build and I'm very happy with my part selections.
UPDATE 2/9/17: I replaced the stock 200mm 3-pin case fan with a Noctua 140 mm PWM fan in order to reduce fan noise. The stock fan was fine and moved a lot of air - a lot more than I needed, really - and it ONLY ran at 800 rpm, no matter what voltage the motherboard applied. That sounds slow, but not so much for a 200 mm fan. Even though the 140 mm fan moves less air, I was able to mount it high in the front of the case and inside the frame so that it blows more directly over the motherboard. I chose to run the fan at just over half speed at idle, and the motherboard temps went up from about 27 C to about 29 C. I could speed the fan up at idle, but I'm not worried about the extra 2 degrees. The PWM fan profile is set to increase speed as needed under load.
Works great for me. I don't overclock. Still very speedy! About a $100 cheaper than the low-end I7, but with about 80% of the processing speed. CPUBenchmark shows the Kaby Lake I5 7600 about 10% faster than the Skylake 6600. Most of that is probably attributable to the higher speed (3.5 GHz v 3.3).
The stock fan is fine, but other fans appear to have more secure methods of mounting to the motherboard. You have to be careful to get the pins inserted and locked correctly. And since this was my first build in more than a decade, I didn't know that the stock cooler comes with wet thermal pasted pre-applied to the bottom of the heat sink. It's messy; be careful.
A very full featured and well laid out mini ITX motherboard for about $110.
I was leery about choosing a 200 series motherboard, since there are so few of them on the market. I was afraid that manufacturers were rushing immature products to market since the Kaby Lake desktop processors just started shipping this month. So far, however, it's working great.
Using the H270 chipset, it supports both Kaby Lake and Skylake Intel processors. It comes with 2 HDMI and 1 DVI ports, 6 USB 3.0 and 2 USB 2.0 ports on the rear, with headers for 2 more of each. It has gigabit Ethernet jacks, built in WiFi and Bluetooth. It does not support the USB 3.1 Gen 2 standard or Type C USB connectors. Not a deal breaker for me. I do wish it had 2 chassis fan headers in addition to the CPU fan header, but it only has 1. The built in audio and video are more than adequate for my use. The most demanding app I use is photo editing, and with a fast CPU Photoshop is zippy.
I especially like that the M.2 SSD port is on TOP of the motherboard, not on the bottom as is so often the case. It supports both SATA III and PCIe x4 M.2 SSDs.
The memory slots are rather close to the CPU socket. I installed a I5 7600 with stock fan and G Skill memory with heat spreaders. It all fits, but there is no spare room between the memory and the CPU fan. I had to clip an unused plastic wire guide off the CPU fan to make it work.
All the headers are well situated near the front of the board, except for the case front panel audio header. It was no problem in my set up, but the audio cable does have to run from the front of the case to the center parts of the rear half of the motherboard.
I really like this case. First, it fits my need. I wanted something that would fit into an Ikea "box of open cubes" type shelf unit. The opening on each cube is 13" x 13" (H x W). The Core V1 is under 10.9" x 10.2" H x W. Fits perfectly with enough open space for ventilation. Shoved inside the cube, everything is staying at a nice 25-27 C at idle.
The quality is of good quality. The metal is light but more than sturdy enough to sit on a shelf. The parts all fit well. The front panel connectors and switches all functioned as expected. The fit and finish are good, and it is an attractive case.
Top, bottom and both sides come off with thumb screws. The top and sides are all interchangeable. You can put the windowed panel on top or either side. (Thermaltake sells replacement window panels for this case. I wish they sold replacement vented panels. I don't need the window.)
The easy access made assembly a breeze. There is enough internal space that my 160mm non-modular PSU worked great. The excess cables tucked neatly on the side of the PSU, and I could route and tie the cables together to permit good airflow through the case.
To improve air flow, I put the windowed panel on one side and installed the two ventilated panels on the top and the other side. I pushed the windowed side of the case against the cubby hole wall to encourage airflow out the ventilated top and side.
I did not install the optional (not included) 2 x 80 mm fans in the rear of the case. Between the 200 mm front fan (included) and the fact that my older model PSU draws air through the case and the natural ventilation built into the case itself. I have no heat issues.
Using the stock 200mm fan, the stock CPU fan and my older PSU with 2 x 80 mm fans, it is not a dead silent case. It still sounds like a computer in operation.
UPDATE: UPDATE 2/9/17: I replaced the stock 200mm 3-pin case fan with a Noctua 140 mm PWM fan in order to reduce fan noise. The stock fan was fine and moved a lot of air - a lot more than I needed, really - and it ONLY ran at 800 rpm, no matter what voltage the motherboard applied. That sounds slow, but not so much for a 200 mm fan. Even though the 140 mm fan moves less air, I was able to mount it high in the front of the case and inside the frame so that it blows more directly over the motherboard. I chose to run the fan at just over half speed at idle, and the motherboard temps went up from about 27 C to about 29 C. I could speed the fan up at idle, but I'm not worried about the extra 2 degrees. The PWM fan profile is set to increase speed as needed under load.
This PSU works fine in my application, but it is an older design with one 80 mm fan exhausting at the rear and another 80mm fan intake on the opposite end. That means it sucks air through the case, unlike the more modern design that can bypass case air altogether. The PSU fans are audible when you are sitting right beside the computer, but not loud. And it's a non-modular unit with fewer SATA plugs and more large 4 pin plugs than many people might want.
Good packaging and instructions inspire confidence! And it does what I bought it to do, which is run quieter than the stock 200mm fan in a Thermaltake Core V1 Mini ITX case. The stock fan was fine and moved a lot of air - a lot more than I needed, really - and it ONLY ran at 800 rpm, no matter what voltage the motherboard applied. That sounds slow, but not so much for a 200 mm fan. Even though the 140 mm fan moves less air, I was able to mount it high in the front of the case and inside the frame so that it blows more directly over the motherboard. I chose to run the fan at just over half speed at idle, and the motherboard temps went up from about 27 C to about 29 C. I could speed the fan up at idle, but I'm not worried about the extra 2 degrees. The PWM fan profile is set to increase speed as needed under load.