Description

Built a gaming machine over Christmas after a 10-year hiatus. The goal of this build was to have the smallest and quietest machine that could still reasonably kill some games. The budget I was shooting for was $1,000.

Lessons Learned

Having not built a computer in a decade, there were some fruitful lessons that I learned with this build. The most unexpected issue I had stems simply from the small size of the Node 304 case. It's an exceptional case — beautiful and well-built; however, no amount of mental planning prepared me for the exact order of steps required to assemble a computer inside of it. The small space made it incredibly difficult/impossible to route certain cables after the fact. For example, the CPU 12V, USB 3.0, system fan, and CPU fan plugs are all inaccessible with the mobo I selected with the cooler installed. If I had to do it all over again, here are the build steps I would have followed.

  • Install the CPU, cooler bracket, and memory outside the case.
  • Install the assembled mobo in to the case.
  • Mount the CPU cooler but hang it the radiator outside the case.
  • Install the PSU and route everything but the case fan and CPU power cables.
  • Install the GPU.
  • Route the remaining cables and cable manage.
  • Install the radiator.

Conclusion

I'm extremely happy with the end result. The system barely makes a peep unless the GPU has been cranking for quite a while. Otherwise, it would be difficult to tell if the system was on without the power LED. It's tiny, minimal, and has tackled everything I've thrown at it with ease.

Updates

  • Ended up purchasing an ASUS Z87I-DELUXE to replace the Gigabyte GA-H87N-WIFI after experiencing some overheating issues. Review pending.

Parts to Review

  • Motherboard
  • Storage
  • Video Card
  • Case
  • Power Supply
  • Operating System
  • Mouse
  • Keyboard

Part Reviews

CPU

Upgraded to Haswell at the last minute to squeeze a little more life into my build and because holiday sales at the time made the extra price negligible. Went i5 because I don't plan on doing anything but gaming on this machine. Might overclock a bit, might not – grabbed a K model just in case. Works perfectly. No complaints.

CPU Cooler

First time using a water cooler. The H90 provides serious overkill for my use; however, holiday sales at the time made the extra price negligible. The supplied instructions were terrible — I had to watch a couple online videos to ensure that I was installing it correctly. Other than that though, this cooler is fantastic. The design is stylish and the tubes are easy to maneuver. The pre-applied thermal compound was a nice touch. This thing is scarily quiet and keeps my CPU nice and cool.

Memory

Was planning on 8GB of Crucial Ballistix Sport when a good friend offered his barely used 16GB of G. Skill. The heat sink styling is pretty garish for my tastes, but it's hard to argue with the performance of these sticks. They work perfectly and dissipate heat adequately.

Storage

Had a Pro Series picked out and then the EVOs went on sale during the holidays. The much lower price outweighed the performance trade-off. This drive is fast and reliable. Being incredibly physically light, it was also a breeze to install. I ended up hiding it in the front of my case with some strong velcro! Even the included Samsung software is well designed and offers some nice configuration and optimization options.

Comments

  • 69 months ago
  • 1 point

Great build. Must be a killer system!

Has your storage expanded? I'm planning a very similar build w/ an ssd and 4TB hdd.

Looks like you had no issues with the GPU length and psu size?

Thanks so much for your tips after building. I'm coming off a long hiatus myself.

  • 57 months ago
  • 1 point

It's been a year and I still love this machine!

Surprisingly, I haven't had to increase the storage yet. I only use it for gaming and, thanks to Steam Cloud, I simply install and uninstall games as I play them.

I didn't have any issues with fitting the GPU/PSU; however, I understand your fear and did a lot of research myself before purchasing. There was more than enough room to route cables around and over the PSU.

I checked out your profile, but didn't see any completed builds! Did you give up on the dream?

  • 69 months ago
  • 1 point

Also, what are your thoughts on the H90 and watercooling in general with the node 304? I'm thinking air but if it's quieter or more efficient (temp or space wise) that may be a better choice.

  • 57 months ago
  • 1 point

The Node is small. There is only ever so much air inside it and it can really only move in one direction — front-to-back or back-to-front, depending on how you setup your fans. So, I would think it would be pretty easy to get either solution working well.

I intake from the front of my case, push that through the radiator, and exhaust it all out the back. The benefit of the watercooler here is that it essentially removes my CPU temps from the equation — so all of my case fans only have to worry about ambient heat. This means they never crank so that particular combination of parts is nearly silent. That doesn't guarantee a silent system though because you've still got to worry about your GPU if it's got a fan on it. The Node has a vent on the left side which handles extra exhaust from your GPU. So, your GPU won't affect your case temps too much, but it does nullify the noise benefits of the watercooler a bit when it's cranking.

Overall, I imagine that my system is quieter than it would be with a heatsink on the CPU because I have fewer fans cranking at all times. It's also just pretty cool to have a watercooler in your PC. ;)

So, in my opinion, you should go the watercooler route when:

  1. You can afford it.
  2. You like quiet things.
  3. You think it's cool.