Jean-François' Feedback:

I was looking for a Mini ITX build guide and this is exactly the thing i was looking for but ..... a n00b question! ....can we plug 2X QHD (2560x1440) in this? ... aren't HDMI maximum 1080p? I don't want to buy the video card yet. So the board needs to be able to handle it. I don't need overclock either ... I don't have budget restrictions. (Just space!) I'm a Dev, i usually run 4 heavy processes (MySQL, Eclipse, Tomcat, and other tools). Hoping it's possible!

The Case

Built: November 2015

As shown above, Jean-François came to TBG looking to build a software development PC that would be powerful, compact, and capable of running dual QHD monitors. That's no mean task! Luckily, we had a few ideas for him. He started with the Extreme Gaming ITX Build, as of October 2015, and then made some modifications to it to reduce noise and increase storage and RAM capacity, as required for his line of work. Below you can see Jean-François' complete parts list.

Component List:

  1. CPU: Intel Core i5-6600K
  2. Motherboard: MSI Z170I Gaming Pro AC
  3. Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws V 2x16GB 2666MHz
  4. SSD: Samsung 850 Pro 512GB
  5. Hard Drive: Western Digital Black 4TB
  6. Case: Cooler Master Elite 130
  7. Power Supply: EVGA 650 P2
  8. CPU Cooler: Thermaright AXP-100R
  9. Thermal Paste: Gelid GC Extreme
  10. Operating System: Windows 10 64-bit
  11. Monitors: 2x ASUS MG279Q

backplate

Jean-François wasn't building a gaming PC, so all he needed was the ability to output to two QHD monitors. He was in luck with Intel's new HD Graphics 530, built into the Skylake-based Core i5-6600K. Teamed up with the MSI Z170I motherboard, it can support one monitor at 2560x1600@60Hz via HDMI 1.4, plus another monitor at 2560x1600@60Hz via DisplayPort. The other special feature of Jean-François' build would be a quiet air cooler, as he didn't need the power (or noise) of a liquid cooler for his stock-clocked developer's box. The problem is that when you go with an ITX system, the first thing to suffer is CPU cooler compatibility. We pointed him to a couple of safe options (the Noctua NH-L9i and Cooler Master GeminII M4), but he decided to go all out and stuff the biggest cooler that could fit in this system, the Thermalright AXP-100R. As it turned out, Jean-François was definitely in for a challenge....

Not going to work!

First of all, the Thermalright bracket wasn't compatible with the MSI motherboard, and as shown in the photo above, Jean-François had to gently saw off some of the bracket to make way for the motherboard's components! But that wasn't even the half of it... he then realized that the cooler would interfere with his tall G.Skill RAM heatsinks in just about every orientation. Have a look at the humorous shot Jean-François passed along of the cooler sitting on top of his RAM! Tall RAM is still in fashion after all these years (we have lots of it!), despite the fact that modern RAM really doesn't run all that hot, especially the new DDR4 sticks required for use with Z170 boards. Jean-François provided the photo below to show exactly how close the fit was once he was finally able to get the cooler mounted: 

Cooler

By the way, Jean-François passed along the following great tips about his thermal paste of choice, Gelid GC-Extreme:

Gelid Extreme ROCKS!!!!!!!!!! But there's a very important detail. Use the [included] applicator to spread the paste only on CPU, not both. Apply the heatsink gradually, VERY important. So the bubbles get out. And at the same time, turn the heatsink a bit. Very slowly, 5 degrees max left and right while applying. So this is a very important part, spreading the paste will cause more bubbles if you apply directly flat. But its better if you apply at an angle gradually flattening in.

Once he got past the cooler installation, things were pretty much smooth sailing for Jean-François. The photo below shows how everything fit in, including his ultra-efficient EVGA 650W Platinum-rated power supply. Note that even a fully-modular unit like this one can fill a small case up with cables pretty quickly. That's why picking a modular model is a must when building small.

The Build

HW Monitor

A couple of other things to note in the photo above: first, there's the silly USB 3.0 front connector cable that's plagued every case since USB 3.0 arrived. Why, oh why must it be so thick?!? Routing that cable is typically the hardest task you'll encounter in a mini-ITX case. More exciting is the SSD peaking out at us from the other side of the case: it's the Samsung 850 Pro, the fastest SATA-based drive ever released. Jean-François also chose one of the fastest mechanical drives on the market, the Western Digital 4TB Black, for bulk storage. He certainly wasn't messing around when it came to transfer speed or capacity!

But all the specs in the world don't matter if the system won't run as expected. Luckily, Jean-François' build passed with flying colors. Have a look at the temperature data he passed along after an extended stress test. His fast Core i5-6600K processor peaked at just 53° C, which is amazing given the tight confines of the Cooler Master Elite 130 case and the low 1050RPM that his CPU fan ran at. Talk about cool and quiet!

In the end, Jean-François ended up with a computer that only he could have created. Impressively-efficient, ultra-fast, and incredibly-quiet, packing in all of the features he needed, and none that he didn't. Sure, it took a little ingenuity along the way, but this is certainly a build Jean-François can be proud of, and that other readers can admire!

Below you can catch one more glimpse of this potent developer's box, neatly cabled and ready to run!

Finished build