Running the System

Power

All right, time to get this system up and running. The final steps required to do so include bolting on the case lid, which is secured by two screws at the back of the case, which you can see if you look closely at the accompanying photo, and then plugging in the power supply. We've included the PSU in the photo here in part because we think it's important potential users of the STX format understand that the power supply is quite large. This is in fact a 120W unit, meaning it can support any CPU you could possibly install in an STX chassis. But to get this much power out of a fanless, external PSU, it has to be big. We think this is a good tradeoff versus a fan-cooled internal unit, as it makes the overall size of the PC much smaller and eliminates a prime culprit when it comes to system noise. Tiny fan-cooled PSUs are almost universally terrible, in our opinion, and should be avoided at all costs. While it does mean you'll need to find space for the power supply elsewhere in your computing environment, it at least provides flexibility with regard to space, as it's what allows for a powerful, compact base system. And don't forget one more thing: all you need to do is plug in the DC power connector. That's a far cry from the myriad bulky internal power connectors required to install a traditional desktop power supply, including nearly all units used in ITX systems.

Once everything is plugged in, you'll be ready to fire up this system. Because it doesn't have an optical drive, we strongly recommend the purchase of the Windows 10 Flash Drive, which makes OS installation completely painless. In fact, it loads up in under 5 minutes! There are also a few drivers you'll want to download from the motherboard website (in our case, the AsRock website). Note that you can simply stick to the downloads listed as drivers - other applications aren't necessary. Luckily, the system actually ran perfectly well before drivers were installed, likely because Windows 10 had all the default drivers necessary to get it going, but downloading the latest drivers is always a good idea.

With the OS and drivers loaded, you can start using your system. While there isn't much you have to do with regard to tuning this system, we'd strongly recommend you make one change in the UEFI (previously referred to as the BIOS). The default fan profile is just a bit loud, and you can get away with a much quieter fan with this ultra-efficient system. You can either select the "Silent" profile provided by AsRock, or you can go into the advanced UEFI view and set a custom profile. We had our fan maintain 1000RPM until the CPU hit 60 °C, which made it virtually silent.

Now, we know some of you enthusiasts out there will want to seek out an aftermarket cooling solution to customize your STX PC. Here's our one word of advice: don't. We've tested virtually all of the aftermarket coolers that could possibly fit in this system, and none of them are worth using over the stock Intel cooler. That includes SilverStone's NT08, which we found to use a slightly better bearing, but a much higher minimum fan speed. And while Noctua has some expensive, ultra-quiet coolers, including the popular NH-L9i, they don't actually perform any better from a thermal perspective than Intel's cooler, which calls their value into question. In short, you can get the same results simply by turning down the rotational speed of the Intel cooler, a tweak that will cost you nothing but a few minutes of your time!

Final Thoughts

Lit Up

We are really excited that there's finally a new option in the Small Form Factor market. As much as we love the mini-ITX standard, it's actually far larger than necessary for the average home PC, and that's in part because it was developed many years ago, before built-in graphics and high-quality external power supplies were available. What you end up with in the STX form factor is an ultra-compact, ultra-quiet, and ultra-user-friendly system. It's so easy to build that we think just about anyone could do it, given how everything has been simplified as much as possible. We love that all power flows through the motherboard without internal cabling and that all ports are integrated into the motherboard. And one feature we haven't even mentioned yet about this small system is that it's VESA mount compatible, meaning you can affix it to the back of a wide variety of monitors for a truly streamlined setup.

Looking forward, there are just two things we'd like to see change with STX systems. First, we think motherboard manufacturers should include a few more rear-mounted USB ports. As it stands, this system had just four USB ports, one of them being a forward-looking but currently less useful USB Type-C port. With just three USB Type-A ports, users will really have to keep peripherals to a minimum unless they're willing to add an external USB hub. Second of all, Intel needs to work with motherboard manufacturers to finally bring to market STX systems with HDMI 2.0 ports. The adoption of HDMI 2.0 in the computing space has been painfully slow, and it didn't help that Intel promised that the Kaby Lake generation of products that hit the market in early 2017 would support HDMI 2.0, and thus true 4K/60Hz output to TVs, which then failed to materialize. The issue is that manufacturers need to specifically enable HDMI 2.0 (read: pay licensing fees) for the capability to be unlocked. This would truly make STX the perfect home theater solution. Perhaps next year!

We hope you've found this guide useful... perhaps it's even convinced you to make your next PC an STX PC! To get our latest parts recommendations for your STX build, check out our STX Buyer's Guide, updated on a monthly basis!

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