"I'm doing some hardware for your boss, it looks like." The Finn fished a pack of Partagas from a pocket and lit one. The smell of Cuban tobacco filled the room. He crossed to the worktable and glanced at the Ono- Sendai. "Looks stock. Soon fix that." -William Gibson, Neuromancer
I built this for one purpose: to explore the brave new world of "virtual reality". Originally I was going to buy a Syber Vapor console style computer for my VR deck, but decided that I wanted to build my own, even though it ended up being significantly more expensive this way (mostly due to a sale at cyberpower).
Case: I settled on the Node 304 because it was a good compromise between level of difficulty of build, thermal characteristics, and small size. I also considered the Lian Li TU200b but it would have been more difficult to work in, and was difficult to find a few weeks ago, and probably would have run hotter. The 304 is a nice case with good thermal characteristics and a handy fan control switch. I did have to RMA the psu extender that comes with the case, but Fractal Designs sent me a new one quickly. There are a few things that I don't like about the case. Despite its size, it doesn't really have the feel of something designed for portability. For example, the vent pop out rather easily if you are moving it around much. Another thing about it is that the PSU chords come into contact with the GPU backplate, which is mostly just a result of having a huge GPU in a small system. This isn't really a problem except possibly for thermal flow if you are overclocking. One solution to this would be to get a SFX PSU, but these tend to be lower wattage and less reliable, so either way, overclocking your GPU in this case may be somewhat challenging.
GPU: I considered going with the Zotac Amp! Extreme version of the 980 ti but I realized that it was too wide due to its extra large heatsink and fans. The EVGA Classified version that I selected is about as large a GPU as you can fit in this case without risking damaging either the PSU cords or the card. You can actually see the motherboard sag in a picture above :). It is a bit fiddly to get in and out but not too bad. The EVGA classified version seems to overclock fairly well despite the thermal limitations imposed by a small case. I am able to get it up to about 1460 mhz. I would be curious to see if a blower style 980 ti would fair better thermally. This card is very quiet with the fans not even turning on for most games under stock settings.
PSU: The 750 watt cooler is the smallest of its power rating, and it may be the only 750 watt cooler than will enable a 980 ti sized GPU in the Node 304. It may be overkill, but you know what they say about cheaping out on PSUs. This PSU was making a scraping sound when the fan turned on, and it took me a while to figure out it was the psu fan that was making the sound because it only turns on under very high loads. When I took it out of the case and reinstalled it, it stopped, so there must have been something that was brushing up against the fan.
Cooler: I copied the user "paintedcow" for the cooler selection, and I like the performance. It's very quiet, and I am able to overclock to 4.6 ghz at least (I haven't tried higher) with the temps staying below 70 on realbench.
Conclusions All in all, it was a fairly easy build, though the size makes it a bit more difficult, which means you will want to put things together in a logical order. Don't wait to plug in the tiny front panel power switch/hdd light/pwr light pins till you have everything else connected, like I did.
Though this chip struggles to differentiate itself from the 5820k when both are overclocked, the z197 is the more economical chipset for gaming purposes. I'm able to overclock to 4.6 ghz easily on air.
The motherboard has been good. It supposedly has high end audio including discrete DAC and headphone amplifiers, and although I am not extremely impressed with the quality when it is driving my high end planar magnetic headphones, it's probably better than my macbook's sound card. I had to update the motherboards BIOS in order to drive my ram at the advertised 2800 mhz.