Description

I'm a software engineer. I've been using exclusively laptops for a long time now, and this holiday season I got interested in it would be like to run a Linux desktop with modern hardware. I went with a small form factor because space always seems to be at a premium at my desk, and I like the idea of being able to grab the machine and take it wherever.

I don't do intensive 3D gaming or video editing, so initially I considered using an AMD APU, but then I learned about the huge leap in single-threaded performance going from a Ryzen 5 2400G to a Ryzen 5 3600, and researched low-profile GPUs that would provide dramatically better graphics than an APU, without drawing too much power or taking up too much space.

The goal of this build was to have a desktop that's a refuge from the chaos and flakiness of Windows, a machine that would be powerful enough to just always be snappy. With support for 12 threads, the Ryzen 3600 makes this possible at a very reasonable price point.

This is my first PC build, but assembly was straightforward with no surprises. The case is still en route from Amazon, so I'm currently running the motherboard on its cardboard cradle, with a microswitch wired up to the power pins.

Edit: the case arrived today. Installing the components was a bit tricky, but doable without too much stress. As some reviews have stated, the Silverstone ML09’s hard drive rack leaves little room for cable management. If you’re planning to build in this case and want to use the rack, you will need more flexible PSU cables than the ones that came with my Corsair SF450, or at least some 90° adapters. Cutting your own cables would be the best way to do it. Running cables below the PSU and behind the hard drive rack is helpful, but it only gets you so far.[/Edit]

Fedora 31 "1.9" (current as of 2019-12-15) supported everything out of the box. Wifi worked. Sound came through my HDMI monitor once I selected it in "Settings > Sound." Video performance was acceptable, entirely usable, with the open source Nouveau driver. I installed the proprietary drivers by following these instructions, and the video performance improved significantly (glmark2 benchmark went from about 170 to about 5,000).

Based on this experience, I can recommend all of these components for use with Linux.

Part Reviews

Motherboard

As of December 2019, you have four options for a B450 Mini ITX motherboard: Asus, MSI, Gigabyte and ASRock. The ASRock is the best choice for three reasons:

  1. USB Type-C (missing from MSI, Gigabyte and Asus).
  2. Two Case Fan Headers (missing from MSI and Gigabyte. Asus also has two, but comes with a cost premium).
  3. Two video ports (despite the price premium, Asus only has one).

In addition, I can recommend this motherboard for linux. I installed Fedora 31 and found that wifi and audio worked without any additional steps. I'm using a Gigabyte GeForce 1030 GT video card at 1440p, and this also worked properly with the default open-source drivers (and performed impressively once the proprietary NVidia drivers were installed in the kernel, a straightforward which took about half an hour).

Video Card

Best bang for buck low-profile video card. At present (2019-12-15), the comparable AMD Radeon RX550 board is hard to find for less than $150, whereas you can get this for $80.

This is also the right choice for a Linux rig. Popular wisdom is to go with AMD because they're friendlier with the open-source community, but this worked fine out of the box with the open source "Nouveau" drivers that most Linux distributions ship with, and upgrading to the proprietary Nvidia drivers was a straightforward process under Fedora 31. (This is worth doing, by the way. My glmark2 score went from about 170 to about 5000.)

Case

(Initial review, see update below.) This is one of the best options out there for a slim, mini-itx build with a low-profile GPU and an SFX power supply.

If you prefer brushed aluminum and you don’t mind going with a Flex-ATX, instead of an SFX peer supply. consider the CENA 9001 (available from eBay or banggood.com). I learned about it from this thread on smallformfactor.net — it’s a good one to check out if you’re considering a mini-itx build with a low profile GPU.

Edit - This is still a totally credible HTPC case, but if you’re building a small form factor workstation, there’s a design flaw to be aware of. The ML-09 does indeed accommodate a pair of 80mm fans, and I was pleased to find that the included 120mm slim fan and its bracket are compatible with my Ryzen 3600 and the stock Wraith Stealth cooler, but unfortunately there’s still no really good way to ventilate this system. The problem is that the graphics card throws up a wall between the motherboard and the 80mm fans. I have the 120mm fan set up as intake (augmenting the fan on the Wraith Stealth), so I set up the 80mm fans as exhaust, but they’re really not moving air efficiently with the GPU in the way, and the air gets out in less efficient, noisier ways.

Verdict: three stars. This case technically supports two 80mm fans and a slim GPU, but doing both at once results in crappy airflow. Running it with integrated graphics and no GPU would have good ventilation, but there are better cases if you don’t need a GPU.

Power Supply

Nice unit. The internals seem great, but the modular cables are not the easiest to work with, very stiff. It ships with everything you’ll need, but Corsair could a better job of supplying things that you might really appreciate, like some 90-degree adapters, or a SATA power cable with just one rail for SFF builds like mine. (This is an SFX power supply, right?) The main 20+4 cable is particularly gnarly, lots of stuff crossed over and interwoven at both ends. This is somewhat a consequence of building in a 7-liter SFX case, but I’m sure everyone would appreciate these options. Instead, you get a plastic “powered by Corsair” sticker and a cloth drawstring bag. They did include some zip ties, which is thoughtful.

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Comments

  • 2 months ago
  • 1 point

Hello I have a question. I'm building a similar build with this motherboard. I noticed the the m.2 slot is on the back of the motherboard. Any chance that this would be a problem when I build in an sff case (velka 5 to be exact)?

  • 2 months ago
  • 1 point

I’m not sure how much clearance the M2 drive would require, but in addition to physical clearance, there’s heat dissipation to think about. The M2 pins make a lot of heat when they’re steadily cranking multiple GB/s. This is the reason I went with SATA.

  • 2 months ago
  • 1 point

Ah I see. Thank you for your input!