SilverStone SG13B ITX Case Review
Here at The Tech Buyer’s Guru, we begin every case review by noting that we really like reviewing cases. In fact, we’ve reviewed more PC cases than any other tech product. While big changes in other areas of PC technology get lots of press, the equally-important changes in case design often get overlooked, despite the fact that they might have a greater impact on your overall user experience. And our very favorite area of case design is in the Small Form Factor area, with our top-rated SFF cases becoming featured picks in our popular Small Form Factor PC Buyer’s Guides.
Anyone who’s followed the SFF market for the past decade or so has inevitably come across the name SilverStone. The Taiwan-based company has done more to develop the SFF market, and particularly the mini-ITX market, than any other manufacturer. SilverStone developed a loyal following with its original miniature shoebox-style case, the Sugo SG05, released back in 2009, and went toe-to-toe with Apple in terms of sleek industrial design with its high-end FT03-Mini, released in 2011. But tastes change, and SilverStone works hard to keep up with consumer preferences. One of the biggest drawbacks of the SG05 is that it couldn’t fit video cards larger than 9.5″ without modification. That was the standard size of midrange Nvidia-based GeForce cards like 2010’s GTX 470 and 2012’s GTX 670, but few cards are released at that size today. The standard is now most definitely 10.5″, so SilverStone had to adjust to a changing marketplace. And that’s exactly what it’s done with the SG13 we’re reviewing here. Essentially, the SG13 is an SG05 that’s been hollowed out to allow bigger components to fit (this applies to both video cards and power supplies), while eliminating compatibility with a specific piece of gear that just isn’t all that commonplace today: the optical drive.
So how does this “factory mod” work out in the end? Is the SG13 the perfect case for a high-end ultra-compact PC? Read on to find out!
We’d like to extend a special thank you to SilverStone for providing a review sample of the SilverStone SG13B ITX Case.
Description and Features
Let’s start with the specification that really sets the SG13 apart: size. It’s just 8.74″ wide, 7.13″ high, and 11.22″ deep, with a total volume of just 11.5 liters. That makes it the smallest ITX case from any major manufacturer that can fit a high-end video card. For some PC builders, that will be reason enough to choose it!
But let’s take step back. When it comes to building a Small Form Factor case, component selection matters, and this is particularly true when building a system in the SG13. While SilverStone’s specs for the case suggest you can equip it with an ATX power supply, a 140mm liquid CPU cooler, a 3.5″ hard drive, and a 10.5″ video card, combining more than a couple of these items together will lead to a PC building nightmare. It simply won’t work. We think the most critical aspect of the SG13’s design is the ability to fit 10.5″ video cards, so we’ll let that be our starting point. We wanted our Titan X Pascal in the build, and everything else would have to make way. That meant no 140mm radiator up front, indeed no 140mm fan at all. Furthermore, we chose not to use an ATX power supply, which as we’ll show a bit later is really the right move for this case.
With those considerations in mind, here’s the list of components we used to put it to the test:
- CPU: Intel Core i7-7700K
- Motherboard: Asus Z170I Pro Gaming (current version being the Asus Z270I ROG Strix)
- Video Card: Nvidia Titan X Pascal 12GB (current version being the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti 11GB)
- SSD #1: Samsung 850 Evo 500GB
- RAM: Corsair Vengeance 2x8GB DDR4-3000
- Case: SilverStone Sugo SG13 (thank you to SilverStone for providing this review sample)
- CPU Cooler: SilverStone NT06-Pro (thank you to SilverStone for providing this review sample)
- Case Fan: Arctic F12 PWM 120mm
- Power Supply: SilverStone Strider SX700-LPT (thank you to SilverStone for providing this review sample)
- Power Supply Bracket: SilverStone RL-PP08B ATX to SFX (thank you to SilverStone for providing this review sample)
- Operating System: Windows 10 Flash Drive
This is a very high-end build, and we’re guessing that most builders who choose ultra-high-end video cards like the Titan X Pascal (or the similarly-fast GTX 1080 Ti) will think they need to spend a lot on their case too. Well, as it happens, there’s only so much you can spend on a compact ITX case – there’s nothing remotely as small as the SG13 available for more than $100, and most cases in the size class are around $50 to $70. Note that the SG13 is both the smallest and least expensive of the widely-available shoebox-style cases.
There’s not too much to say in terms of features. You’re basically getting a vented metal box to hold your components. The SG13 has just the basics when it comes to front-mounted connectors and switches. You get standard 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks, two USB 3.0 ports, a LED drive activity light, and a power button. Similar to many of its other recent cases, SilverStone has not included a reset switch. This isn’t a serious omission, as the power button can always be used to shut off the system, although some users may lament its omission. What you can’t see in the photos on this page, but will be evident later in this review, is that SilverStone has included downward-facing blue LED accent lighting. We frankly had no idea this case even featured LED lighting until we finished our build and powered it on, so you too will have to wait to see what it looks like! We’re a bit surprised SilverStone hasn’t made this obvious in its marketing, as we think most potential buyers would want to know about it (and many would view it as a positive).
As can be seen in the photo below, the case is really quite simple, with just a mesh intake filter added as an embellishment. We’ve provided this “exploded” view to show you exactly what comes in the box (minus the vented metal exterior shell). The ATX power supply brace helps support the weight of heavy ATX PSUs, but we didn’t use it, as we equipped this build with an SFX-class unit. One thing we should note about the SG13 is that it’s made of pretty thin sheetmetal. We were surprised that when we placed it on a level surface, the floor of the case would pop and flex under little more than the weight of the components inside. In the end, we don’t think this hurts anything, but it does go to show that inexpensive materials were used.
All right, now that we’ve covered the basic description and features of the SG13, let’s see what it’s like to actually build up a system in this case.
The first thing you’re going to want to do when building a system in this case is to install a front fan. We chose the excellent Arctic F12 PWM 120mm due to its high quality and low cost. While the case has mounts for 140mm fans, as we mentioned on the previous page, using them essentially renders use of this system with a high-end video card nearly impossible. In our opinion, builders should just stick with a 120mm model.
The next thing we did was get our power supply ready. Again, we’re not sticking with the “stock” layout here, skipping the “opportunity” to jam an ATX unit in this case and instead choosing a compact SFX-L model, in combination with the unique SilverStone RL-PP08B ATX to SFX bracket. This will allow the use of a much bigger CPU cooler, and generally improve both airflow and the build experience tremendously. Honestly, you couldn’t pay us enough to try to assemble this system with an ATX PSU in it! Interestingly, even the SFX-L unit seemed pretty big inside this case, and it’s really no surprise when you realize that the SG13 chassis is simply an evolution of the SG05, which was designed around diminutive SFX power supplies.
We’ve taken SilverStone to task before for creating markets for its own components, such as seemingly overzealous incorporation of SFX power supplies and slot-loading optical drives, but for the SG13, we believe SilverStone probably could have stuck with the SFX or SFX-L standard without raising any concerns. There are plenty of competitors in the SFX market at this point, so buyers wouldn’t feel like they were being locked into just a handful of option. Furthermore, it would have allowed users to choose an SFX-class unit without requiring an add-on adapter (which as far as we know, only SilverStone sells). Perhaps we’ll see a switch back to SFX in the next iteration of this case!
As you can see below, the slim profile of the SFX-L power supply allows us to use a relatively tall cooler (the 82mm-tall SilverStone NT-06 Pro), which is most definitely the tallest cooler that will fit. We positioned the power supply with the fan facing down, so that exhaust heat could blow up into the power supply and out of the system. As only half the heatsink is covered by the power supply, some heat will also be exhausted out the top of the case. Note that if we had used a true SFX power supply, it would only have covered about 1/3 of the heatsink.
We were actually surprised at how much work it took to route the cables even with all the extra space afforded by using a smaller PSU, and the reality is that if you use an ATX power supply, we think it will be incredibly hard to affix cables to 2.5″ drives mounted up top, as the cables would run right into the front of the power supply. As far as we’re concerned, there’s just no reason to bother with a big power supply, even if you don’t care about fitting the tall cooler in that we used.
Next up is the video card. This is where things really get fun! You see, this case is so short that you can’t install it by the traditional methods: from above or from the side. Instead, you must remove the front panel and install it from the front of the case. That is really quite unusual, and we’re betting most builders will attempt to drop it in from above first, only to realize that’s entirely impossible. Again, keep in mind that the SG13 uses the same chassis as the SG05, which was designed around 9.5″ video cards. Such cards could indeed have been installed in the traditional ways, but a 10.5″ card actually sticks out the front every so slightly. If you look really closely at the photo below, you can see the pointed shroud of the Titan X Pascal protruding from the front of the chassis. Luckily, the SG13’s front panel provides enough extra space to fully enclose the video card.
You have a few options when it comes to mounting hard drives and SSDs. First of all, there’s a single 2.5″ drive mount at the bottom of the case. We chose not to use this one, as it would make gaining access to the drive harder, and cabling a flush-mounted drive is always far from optimal, as thick cables can be hard to position up against a flat panel. We instead chose to use the dedicated drive tray. As you can see, we’ve mounted a single SSD in the accompanying photo, although for the final build, we did indeed put a second SSD in there just to confirm that everything would fit (it did!). You can also attach a single 3.5″ drive to the flip-side of this tray, which we did not attempt. We’re just not big fans of cramming huge 3.5″ drives into compact cases! Note that if you think you’re going crazy and seeing metal bend before your eyes, you’re not: this tray came out of the box with a slight bend, which made affixing it to the case frame a bit more difficult than it should have been.
From above, you can see how this all fits together. Note how close the SSD power and data cables come to our compact 130mm-long SFX-L power supply. Using a 150mm-long ATX power supply would be a major pain!
On the next page, we’ll discuss our impressions of the case from a performance and aesthetics point of view.
First off, all you readers who’ve been anxiously awaiting a peak at the SG13’s undocumented LED lighting that we mentioned on the first page now have your chance. Here you can see the blue LED accent lighting, revealed in all its glory. We actually really like it, and the way it reflects off the white Arctic fan we installed is pretty cool in our opinion. In fact, we think the SG13 looks quite handsome, much more so than we thought it would based on its “dimpled” front panel. Somehow, as odd as it looks in photos, it just works in person. Photographs accentuate the textures, whereas in actual use, the panel looks a lot less distracting, especially when it’s not sitting in direct light.
In assessing the SG13’s performance, it’s important to keep in mind what this case is, and what it isn’t. It is incredibly small, about as small as a case can be and still fit these components and provide the airflow that it does. What it isn’t is an ultra-high-performance chassis. It’s not so much because there’s anything wrong with the design, or really anything that spending more money can get you. It’s just really, really small, and that limits how much breathing room components can have.
The good news is that our Titan X Pascal ran wonderfully in this system, thanks to the tremendous amount of fresh air it has access to. In addition to a fully-ventilated side panel, the SG13 has a very breathable front mesh panel, and of course the option to add a 120mm fan, which we did. That fan sits alongside the video card (remember, the video card is actually practically inside the front panel), so it blows air behind the card, but that air isn’t going to waste; the back of any high-end card, especially one as power-hungry as the Titan X Pascal, actually gets really hot, so the fan serves to cool this area of the card. For comparison’s sake, we ran the Titan X Pascal in another ITX case, the slim SilverStone RVZ02, and the card ran really hot and loud in it. We love the RVZ02 for HTPC applications, but its lack of active cooling and its much more limited ventilation make it far less suitable for an ultra-high-end setup. We’ve tested a lot of ITX cases, and we’re pretty certain that there isn’t a single case that will keep a video card cooler than the SG13.
The bad news is that we found that even with the large cooler, a Core i7-7700K is going to have to be run pretty close to stock speeds. In truth, we’ve found that the 7700K basically behaves like an overclocked Core i7-6700K, which is to say Intel didn’t perform any miracles with its the “Kaby Lake” generation of processors; it simply upped the clock speeds (and voltage). A stock 7700K will run at 4.4GHz or 4.5GHz at full load using over 1.2V, depending on your motherboard, and we don’t think you can feasibly run one above about 4.7GHz in this case, at least not on air cooling. Yes, you can go with a liquid cooler, but then you’re going to sacrifice cool intake air to the video card. We’d rather take it easy on the CPU overclock in exchange for higher boost speeds and overclocking potential on our video card, but for builders who are more interested in productivity performance than gaming performance, a liquid cooler may be in order.
Whenever we’re vetting a new case for potential review, we always take a look at photos of the rear panel. This gives us a good indication of the layout of the case, along with some clues to how it will perform. In the photo here, you can see the SG13’s rear panel once component installation was completed.
From this photo, we think it’s pretty clear just how “optimized” the SG13 is. There’s practically no way SilverStone could have fit the internal components any closer together. Keep in mind that we’re using an SFX-L power supply and an offset adapter to free up some more breathing room inside the case. If you were to use an ATX power supply, which we do not recommend, the power supply would literally sit just above the motherboard, forcing you to choose a CPU cooler that’s 61mm or shorter. The inherent problem with this setup is that all CPU coolers of that size will pull air from above and push it down towards the motherboard. Placed just under a power supply’s casing, the CPU fan will get practically no air. We’ve spoken to SilverStone about this design element, and they suggested that a 120mm liquid cooler is their recommended choice for the SG13. While that is certainly an option, it also requires a lot of diligence when it comes to routing coolant tubing, and throws off the balance of CPU and GPU cooling, as we’ve mentioned. Given that GPUs tend to suffer more temperature-related performance loss than CPUs (other than when you’re really slamming your CPU), we believe our air-cooling approach provides the best overall solution.
Given its very reasonable asking price of $40, the SilverStone SG13 is a real winner. No, it’s not perfect: higher-quality sheetmetal would add some solidity, and the inclusion of a front fan and SFX PSU bracket would really make it a better overall package. But none of these issues is all that significant. In the end, what the SG13 represents is the pinnacle of simple, effective Small Form Factor design. It isn’t fancy, but it doesn’t have to be. The SG13 is ITX distilled to its essence; a smart, straightforward design that works, pure and simple. SilverStone offers its fair share of high-cost, ultra-premium cases, but thankfully it isn’t neglecting PC builders who just want excellent engineering at a great pricepoint.
As of our publication date, the SilverStone SG13 is available starting at $39.99 shipped as reviewed, or a few dollars more for white or pink (!) models, which makes it among the least expensive ITX cases on the market. Frankly, we think anyone contemplating a Small Form Factor build should at least consider the SG13, which we believe is among the very best ITX cases on the market. If you’d like to build your own PC using the SG13, check out our recommended parts selections in our Small Form Factor Buyer’s Guides, updated monthly!