Update: Since this article was originally published, we've put together an Extreme Gaming ITX Assembly Guide profiling an ITX build that's faster and quieter, while being just a bit bigger. Check it out if you're after the ultimate ITX experience!
So, if you know even a little about building PCs, you’ll realize right off the bat that the title to this article is meant to be a bit tongue-in-cheek. Building small, building fast, and building quiet are goals totally at odds with each other, so the real goal here is optimization. How small can a system be and still be blazing fast? If you’re lucky, you also get something’s that’s quiet, at least most of the time
This article is not meant to be a build guide, but rather an exploration, because pushing the mini-ITX format to its limits, as we do here, is rife with challenges. Furthermore, in the world of ITX, just about every case really warrants its own dedicated guide. Our Small Form Factor Build Guides provide plenty of options that will be relatively straight-forward to build and will perform well. But none of them will offer the combination of extreme speed and incredibly compact dimensions that you’re going to see on display with Project ITX. In fact, Project ITX is always evolving, and while we originally published this article in August 2014, we returned to it a year later to bring you some major updates and further impressions on what it takes to build small and fast. Feel free to skip to the last page of this article if you just want to see the latest incarnation of Project ITX.
Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy ride!
We started out Project ITX with three goals:
- The case had to be under 8” tall, because we needed it to fit on our AV rack. That meant the 8.1” tall CoolerMaster Elite 130 was out of the question (and frankly, it was too long as well). That also knocked out the even bigger BitFenix Prodigy and other similarly-shaped ITX cases.
- The case had fit our fire-breathing 10.5”-long EVGA GTX 780 Ti, because we were going to be gaming at 4K, and that’s just how it was going to be. So Silverstone’s ultra-small Sugo 05 and Sugo 06 models weren’t going to work. [Update: Silverstone's new Sugo 13, however, would work in this regard.]
- We wanted to try going with a fanless CPU setup using a big Cooler Master GeminII S524 heatsink, which measures 105mm tall without a fan. That pretty much knocked every other ultra-compact case out of contention, except one…
At least on paper, the Silverstone SG08B-Lite could work. At 8.7" wide, 7.5" high, and 13.8" deep, it's very, very small. But did Silverstone really create ITX nirvana in the SG08? We aimed to find out!!!
Next, we had to settle on the rest of our parts. We weren’t so much operating on a budget here as we were operating within space constraints. We selected the new Intel Core i5-4690K based primarily on its improved thermal interface material, which we hoped would allow it to run at full-bore without overheating. That was particularly important because we weren’t just going to go with a quiet CPU cooler, we were going to go passive. And to wrangle that big passive cooler in, we needed just the right motherboard. We went with the ASRock Z97E-ITX motherboard because its CPU socket is located at the very top edge of the board, making it the only motherboard on the market that would allow the use of the GeminII cooler in an ITX case. In fact, it came within about a millimeter of not working.
Also, no open-air video card capable of pushing 4K resolution was going to see the insides of this ITX system. The case's airflow just wasn’t going to be sufficient. That meant all of AMD's best Radeons were off the list. Instead, we went with the EVGA GTX 780 Ti, using the externally-exhausting reference cooler from Nvidia.
Finally, we wanted a modular power supply, because cable clutter is not our thing, and we knew that for this build, we'd only use about half the cables provided on a standard PSU. But alas, Silverstone threw a wrench into the plans right from the start. Despite listing “compatibility” with 12”-long video cards, the SG08 actually only allows this if you use a 140mm non-modular power supply. That was a trade-off we were not willing to make. So we went with a 140mm modular unit from Corsair and prayed it would work. Turns out it would take more than praying to get this thing to fit....
Here’s the final parts list:
- CPU: Intel Core i5-4690K
- Motherboard: ASRock Z97E-ITX/ac
- Video Card: EVGA GeForce GTX 780 Ti 3GB (later upgraded to the EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti 6GB)
- RAM: G.Skill RipJaws 2x4GB DDR3-1866 (later upgraded to Samsung 2x4GB Extreme Low Voltage DDR3-1600)
- Hard Drive: Seagate 1TB 2.5" SSHD (later upgraded to the Corsair Force GS 240GB)
- Power Supply: Corsair CX500M (later upgraded to the EVGA Supernova 650 GS)
- Optical Drive: Asus External USB DVD Burner
- CPU Cooler: Cooler Master GeminII S524 (discontinued, current model is the Cooler Master GeminII S524 Ver. 2)
- Case Fan: Scythe S-Flex 120mm (later upgraded to a Rosewill Hyperborea 140mm to reduce temperature/noise)
- Operating System: Windows 8.1 (later upgraded to Windows 10)
- Keyboard/Mouse: Logitech K400
- Game Controller: Microsoft Xbox 360 Wireless Controller for Windows
- Display: Samsung UN55HU8550 55" 4K LED TV
A couple of final notes before getting into the build. We went with a Seagate hybrid hard drive because top-end application speed wasn’t as important as having a large amount of storage in a very small space. It turns out that a large SSD would probably have been a better long-term solution, as will be discussed later. Also, because the SG08 doesn’t come with any pre-installed fans, and because we weren’t crazy enough to think that a system with these specs would run without any fans, we pulled a trusty Scythe S-Flex fan from our parts box. The S-Flex is no longer available - too bad, as these fans were worth their weight in gold. Oh, one last thing – we weren’t going to bother with an internal DVD burner, especially because this case requires a very expensive slot-loading model. We simply used our external Asus model to get everything loaded up. Turns out we weren't going to have space for an internal burner anyway once we were done modding this thing anyway...
Are y'all ready for this?!?