I had an 15-3570K mid-tower system. I planned to make it a gamer, but this year I'm more interested in graphics editing, so I wanted more processing threads for faster renders.
There were a lot of options, from upgrading the CPU to an i7-3770 to building a budget render box to getting a full workstation. What I decided to do was build a separate desktop for the graphics work. (A workstation by usage, not by hardware, if that makes sense.) Problem solved until I accidentally drank five shots of rum and ordered the wrong case.
Don't get me wrong, the HAF Stacker is a nice case, but it really takes the mini out of miniITX. It's huge! It's only good if you're the kind of person who likes putting things on top of other things. So I ordered a second one. And that's how the final plan came together. I'd build a graphics box in one Stacker and move my main computer into the other one. That gives me a compact working setup and leaves me a spare case and motherboard to sell or build on.
I'm only including one build list. The second computer is pretty much the same, just with the 3570 CPU.
- CPU. AMD would have been a cheaper option, especially as a simple render box, but I'm into quiet, cool, low-wattage systems this year, and Intel has the advantage for that spec. An i7-4770 would have been a little bit faster, but not enough that I'd notice the difference in normal usage. The Xeon performs close to a 3770, but costs about $75 less.
- Graphics cards. As far as I can tell from the internet, I'd get no advantage from a workstation card for hobbyist graphics on a consumer monitor. The 750Ti seemed like a good balance of cost/capability/TDP.
- Motherboard. I'm sacrificing the 3570K's overclocking ability with this motherboard. I never got around to overclocking it before, and I doubt I'll do it now, so I decided to save some money and complication.
- Case. In a way, I like the outcome, since I have two computers in a fairly compact package. Cooling is a mild challenge. The Xeon does fine with a stock cooler in the Stacker, but the 3570 runs about 10-15C hotter than it did in a bigger case, getting up to mid-70s at max load. It's not easy to cool with air, because despite being called a High Air Flow case, it doesn't really let the air flow where you need it.
- CPU Cooler. This case puts the CPU in a sort of "box" formed by the video card, the RAM, the back of the case, and the power supply. It's hard to ventilate. Instead of trying to find a fan arrangement that will work, I'll probably just add a liquid cooler kit before summer arrives.
- RAM. I had 16Gb (4x4) in the original computer and never needed more than 4 or 5GB, so I split the RAM between the new computers.
The rest of the parts were fairly generic, nothing-to-see-here budget choices. In the end, I've got two mainline desktops, with one serving as a separate graphics system so my renders don't interfere with my everyday computing and vice versa. Power usage is low, so the noise and excess heat are low. I still have about $400 left of what I budgeted, so I have room for upgrading these computers or a good start toward building out that extra case.
The first couple of pictures compare two HAF Stackers against an Antec Three Hundred Two. You can see that two Stackers are about the same height and width but substantially longer from front to back.
I can feel some disapproving stares at my cable management. I actually did bundle them in one computer, but the other is still pretty much the way it looks in the pictures. I'm probably going to switch the CPU cooler on at least one of these computers pretty soon, and I'll have to finish that before I finalize the cabling.