Here at The Tech Buyer's Guru, we have a thing for Small Form Factor PCs. That's why we've put together an entire section of our buyer's guides dedicated to them. But sometimes knowing which parts to buy isn't quite enough, as SFF PCs take a bit more patience and problem-solving to build as well. And when you want to really push the limit, there are lots of things that can get in your way: clearance issues for CPU coolers, power supplies, RAM, and video cards, along with airflow issues that can bring an ultra-high-end build to its knees. That's why we've created this step-by-step guide.
To be frank, this isn't our first attempt at putting together a guide like this. Back in 2014, we built Project ITX, which was supposed to be the ultimate guide to building a high-end gaming machine in a tiny box. We ended up having some major power supply fitment issues, however, so that project ended up being more of a cautionary tale than the true last word in ITX builds.
What have we changed this time around? Well, we're sticking with more parts that are guaranteed to work together, and we're using the latest iteration of Silverstone's ITX case design, the Raven RVZ02, which is new and improved in just about every way versus the older RVZ01, as well as many of Silverstone's shoebox-style cases, which always had significant limitations due to their form factor.
So let's get right to it then. Here’s our complete parts list:
- CPU: Intel Core i7-6700K
- Motherboard: Asus Z170I Pro Gamer
- Video Card: EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti 6GB (for benching) and Sapphire Radeon R9 290 Tri-X 4GB (for fit only)
- RAM: G.Skill 2x8GB RipJaws DDR4-3000
- Solid State Drive #1: Samsung 850 Evo M.2 500GB
- Solid State Drive #2: Samsung 850 Evo 500GB
- Case: Silverstone Raven RVZ02B-W
- Power Supply: Silverstone SX500-LG
- Optical Drive: Samsung Internal Slim DVD Burner
- CPU Cooler: Thermalright AXP-100 Muscle (due to compatibility issues, we strongly recommend the SilverStone AR06 instead)
- Operating System: Windows 10
Below you can see just about all of our parts selections prior to diving into the build:
A couple of notes before getting into the build. Silverstone is known for making markets for its own SFF gear. We applaud them for finally ditching the requirement of a slot-loading optical drive with the new RVZ02, which has previously been mandatory with nearly all of its high-end ITX cases. But being under 4" thick, the RVZ02 still requires one of Silverstone's unique SFX power supplies, and we chose the extended SFX-L model, which was basically designed for the RVZ01/02 series. That means it's (almost) sure to fit, but it's also a bit expensive, being a limited-production item with a very niche market. Luckily, based on previous testing, we know that the 500W it has on tap is more than sufficient to power this build. The other major limitation of the RVZ02 case is CPU cooler height; at 58mm, clearance is very tight. One of our favorite compact coolers, the Noctua NH-L9x65, was ruled out based on a 65mm height, and while Silverstone's own AR06 would just barely fit, we wanted to try something with a bit more cooling power. We turned to Thermalright for its AXP-100 Muscle, which comes in at 58mm tall despite packing in a big 100mm fan, making it the largest cooler that would theoretically fit. We'll see soon enough whether our gamble paid off!
OK, that's all for the introduction, ready for the main event?!?