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MiniNIX - Dirt cheap Linux box

by michaelgat

21
20 Comments

Details

Date Published

Oct. 13, 2015

Date Built

Oct. 11, 2015

CPU Clock Rate

3.2 GHz

CPU Temperature While Idle

31.0° C

CPU Temperature Under Load

62.0° C

Description

Had a bunch of parts lying around including the processor, memory, drive and a bunch of fans. The idea was a cheap box to run Ubuntu Linux. I knew I wanted something small, therefore likely a Mini-ITX format, and had to be LGA1150 to accommodate the Pentium CPU I already had available. Basically went with what was more or less available, cheap and could work together. I went through several iterations of speccing things out and this is what I came up with. The only major "oops" came from the Intel OEM CPU cooler that I decided very quickly to abandon in favor of a Noctua low-profile cooler.

A secondary goal was to make the thing fairly easily upgradable should I find myself spending more time in the Ubuntu environment than I currently think. Since it's an H97 board, that criteria is pretty much already met, as I can swap the Pentium for any of the lower-powered LGA1150 CPUs quite easily and could even go for a hotter one by swapping to an AIO cooler. And of course, the most likely upgrade would be a modest GPU that this board and case can also handle.

The SG13B case is pretty tight. If you want to use more than one 2.5" drive, you MUST keep the PSU less than 150mm at the largest and depending on where the cables emerge from the PSU, 140mm is better. The Corsair I chose fits the bill, as do Silverstones' own ATX PSUs. Corsair was cheaper.

The other parts, well they just pretty much work. It's a simple machine with no complex stuff on it.

Stressed the CPU pretty thoroughly and was quite pleased to not exceed 62C on a hot day. For the most part temps linger in the 30s to low 40s.

Currently plugged into an ancient 17" monitor I keep around for troubleshooting. Eventually I'll get something better when I see it on sale.

Photos:

1) The pile of stuff, most of it still boxed though some of it's been sitting around for a while.

2) Initial motherboard assembly.The goal was to keep it as cheap as possible with nothing extraneous, so I started by using the Intel CPU cooler. Then I ran it up to speed and changed my mind. Getting a more expensive one is not in the spirit of the thing, but glad I did.

3) Motherboard assembly with the Noctua NH-L-9i cooler in place. It very precisely fits the maximum dimensions allowed by Intel's CPU spec.

4) Motherboard assembly.

5) Motherboard assembly. Wireless AC card is visible towards the bottom.

6) Board and basic connectors fit in quite nicely.

7) Board and basic connectors. Fan also visible.

8) Add the PSU and it starts getting really tight inside really fast.

9) PSU above motherboard from opposite side.

10) PSU in place, overhead view.

11) This is where you can see how tight the space is between the PSU and the tray that holds either a single 3.5" or two 2.5" drives. There is also a space for a 2.5" drive on the bottom of the case. If you choose a larger PSU or larger front fan (there's room for a 140mm), then you have to do without the upper drive tray.

12) Another view of the tight spacing between the PSU and drive tray.

13) The blue LED ring on the Themaltake fan nicely complements the power indicator, which comes in the form of a blue bar at the very bottom of the case. The HDD indicator is a red section at the center of the power indicator. All very nicely done. I generally go for simple and clean with no case lighting or other accessorizing, but this somehow suits the case really well. It won't be terribly visible under my desk but I like the overall look. Not many more options for cosmetics in a case this size.

14) All done and installed, with my NAS now sitting on top of it and UPS right beside it all.

15) Very pleased with the thermal performance. Obviously this isn't a high-powered CPU but is rated at 65w so should be comparable to other similarly-powered CPUs. I'd recommend against the higher powered ones in any compact case, but with this performance you should be able to get anything up to an i7 "S" version to run pretty well.

Part Reviews

CPU Cooler

In the Silverstone SG-13B case there's very little space for any sort of a fan-based cooler and the manufacturer recommends an AIO water cooler for higher-power CPUs. I'm running a 65w CPU so figured I could get by with a decent air cooler and of the ones that fit the NH-L9i appears to be the best of them. It very precisely fits the space allowed for in the Intel specs and unlike some others does not presume there will be any surrounding space on any side for the odd heat pipe or other appendages. It's a perfect 95x95mm square just like it's supposed to be.

Thermal performance is fantastic for such a small cooler and it's reasonably quiet as well. I torture tested the CPU and temps maxed out at 62C.

There are better coolers if you have the space, but if you don't, this is arguably the best you'll find and it's pretty much guaranteed to fit.

Motherboard

Board is decent. The Wireless adapter that is included is pretty poor. It appears to be a bad copy of the older Intel 3160 with maximum AC connection speed at 433 mbps on a dual-band setup. If it matters, it could be swapped out for an Intel 7260. Mine is running on a wired network so it's isn't an issue but it is one reason this board is cheap compared to others. One point deducted for that, but can't really complain much given the price.

Case

I love this little case! Was originally thinking of the even smaller SG05, but this one came up on special and the ability to use a standard ATX PSU rather than an SFX model made the overall value more compelling.

The downside to the choice of an ATX PSU is that it's really tight in there. You're extremely limited as far as CPU coolers and thus really should consider this case only for lower-powered CPUs, unless you want to cram a small AIO water cooler in there (which is possible). Frankly, if you're running a CPU hotter than 65w you really should opt for a slightly bigger and better ventilated case.

Silverstone says to limit the CPU to 140mm length if you plan to use the upper drive tray and they're not kidding. You might be able to get away with 150mm if all the cables are pretty low down on the PSU but it'll be really tight. I used a Corsair semi-modular model that works well. Modular is good on these smaller cases because you only need to worry about space for the cables you are actually using. If you want to try to make a bit more space, you could consider an SFX PSU with an adapter plate that would allow more room. Silverstone makes a nice modular one but you do pay more for those.

A single 120mm fan gets decent airflow through the case. There is a full-length vent grille on the left side where a GPU would go, so anything instlled there should be mostly sucking in air from the outside. There are also vents on the right side and on top. The PSU mostly sucks in air from the top and exhausts out the back. All nicely laid out.

Minor annoyances: you have to remove the front cover to get at the intake air filter, which requires you to take off the case cover first. That's a total of eight screws which is a bit of a pain for a filter cleaning. The built-in standoffs for the motherboard are not as solidly attached as I'd like. Managed to get one of them spinning in place (it seems to be riveted) and resorted to JB-weld to permanently fix it. My bad for cross-threading a screw that caused it, but still should not have moved that easily. Reset button is a "straighted paper clip" type rather than a real button. Always one of my pet peeves. Still, all these amount to only a one star deduction. For the money it's hard to beat in an ultra-compact case.

Power Supply

Nice PSU with unusually smal dimensions (140mm depth) that works well in cases with tight internal clearances. No major complaints. It looks good, installs easily and is more than adequate for a low/mid powered workstation.

Only one issue. The SATA power connectors are all "L" type. This makes it virtually impossible to use them if the HDD is mounted flush against the side/bottom of a case where there isn't always a cutout for the cable/connector. I was able to make it work, but it really would be nice to have one of the power cables offer straight power connectors. As it stands, if flush-mounted HDDs are something you're considering, you'll probably an extender, or better yet just buy a PSU with cables that work in that situation.

Case Fan

Decent fan, not too loud, especially if run at 80% (1200RPM) or less. As you get closer to the top speed it does begin to howl a bit, but that's to be expected at this pricepoint. LED ring makes for a really nice accent.

Comments Sorted by:

malcar11 3 Builds 2 points 37 months ago

Nice selection of parts. I like the mini-itx format. Congrats!

Caroline.

gugu96 19 Builds 2 points 37 months ago

Hurray for semi-modular psu!!

sometimes I wonder if Noctua holds a patent on that poopoo color combo that defines their excellent fans.

michaelgat submitter 4 Builds 1 point 37 months ago

I think it could probably be considered "trade dress," but a color combo is not patentable.

In my opinion, a modular or semi-modular PSU is a requirement in any smaller case, including many of the Micro-ATX models.

tejadam868 1 Build 2 points 37 months ago

YESS I love RIINGs. I ended up picking up a 3pack of their RGB models just because of the glow.

michaelgat submitter 4 Builds 1 point 37 months ago

It's not the quietest SP fan I've ever used (Noctua wins there, hands down), but so long as you don't run it at top speed it's fine. And in this case the look is great.

tejadam868 1 Build 2 points 37 months ago

Yea noctua takes the crown with quiet cooling, I just wish they had different options. I usually run them at the low speed so its fine for me.

michaelgat submitter 4 Builds 1 point 37 months ago

I think Noctua are intentionally the ugliest things possible with no lighting or other decoration options. It's like they're saying "if you care about something besides airflow, noise and reliability, we're the wrong company for you."

tejadam868 1 Build 1 point 37 months ago

haha. yea they should change their slogan to "for windowless cases"

ultracrusher 2 Builds 2 points 37 months ago

Looks like mine i just finishes nice job

th3legitbeast 1 point 37 months ago

If I don't plan on Overclocking, should I get the G3250 instead of the G3258 to save some cash?

michaelgat submitter 4 Builds 1 point 37 months ago

From what I recall, they're pretty much identical other than the ability to overclock. If you're not overclocking (and I would not recommend it in a space and ventilation constrained small-format case!) I don't think there would be much difference. Agree you should look on eBay.

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SNESchamp 1 Build 1 point 37 months ago

Sugo cases are amazing so +1. How are the chip's graphics for Linux? If I may ask, what tasks are you doing with Ubuntu?

michaelgat submitter 4 Builds 1 point 37 months ago

Graphics are "meh" even on an old 1280x1024 screen. Got a newer 1080p screen sitting at a client's office and have a feeling it'll be "less than meh" once I get that set up. In which case I'll shop around for an inexpensive consumer-grade, non-gaming GPU a GT 740 or similar

michaelgat submitter 4 Builds 1 point 37 months ago

As for Ubuntu, can't you see my Python window in the last photo? So far that's all I've got running on it. Also have been using it for email when I'm busy doing other things on my primary workstation. I'm going to use it for some testing and frankly, just to re-familiarize myself with Linux in general. I'm pretty rusty and it's something I am running into more and more at work these days so it's nice to have a cheap box to play around with, knowing that if I screw it up I can just reinstall and not lose anything important.

As with anything else, I expect my uses for it will expand to utilize what's there. For now, mostly pretty vague "do a bit more work in a Linux environment just to keep from getting rusty." Which is part of the reason I kept it compact and as cheap as practical.

Jtridin 1 Build 1 point 37 months ago

Finally some one explains their pictures

michaelgat submitter 4 Builds 1 point 37 months ago

My second build here and the second where I annotated the pictures. It's the old college newspaper editor in me!

I do wish the site was set up so you could just put a caption directly on each photo.

Jtridin 1 Build 1 point 37 months ago

Good idea!

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michaelgat submitter 4 Builds 1 point 37 months ago

Extremely limited options in modular or semi-modular PSUs that aren't deeper than 140mm. Silverstone of course makes theirs, but it's double the price. Seasonic is 160mm, which won't fit the case with the upper drive tray in place. I looked at a handful of others, but few manufacturers make PSUs that aren't at least 150mm deep. That's one of the downsides to such a small case.

Online tests of the Corsair show it having no difficulties meeting voltage specs, and given the current max power consumption is about 125w, I'm really not especially worried about its ability to handle the load. Even if I add a GPU, this will never be much more than a 200w workstation.

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michaelgat submitter 4 Builds 1 point 37 months ago

As rolfejc said, not modular.

That's the downside of smaller mini-ITX cases. You are limited in the components you can use effectively and some of the necessary options (modular/semi-modular) make the options more expensive. The Antecs are nice PSUs, but I'd have the whole front section of the box right behind the fan crammed with cables.

For the ~120w I'm currently using, just about anything I put in is going to be loafing along. Even if I add a modest GPU, I'd still barely be breaking over 200w with everything fully loaded.

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michaelgat submitter 4 Builds 1 point 37 months ago

Fortunately I've got it set so it's sucking in air from the top not from the inside of the case, so will hopefully be able to handle the heat reasonably well. Was aware of the issue, but at present even at full blast it's probably only using 120w or so. With a modest GPU (which is as much as I'd put in this box) it would likely not pass 200w, so still under 50% utilization for this PSU. Sure, if I were running a more powerful gaming GPU that would be an issue, but probably would not have built it this way to begin with if I thought that was something I might do.

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