Anyone can put together a list of PC parts and tell you to press your luck with them, but here at TBG, we make it a point to actually build as many different PC configurations as possible to make sure that when we give you buying advice, you'll have a positive experience building your PC. Just because parts are compatible doesn't mean they'll actually work together, especially when it comes to building compact PCs. And that's why we continually add new step-by-step assembly guides to our How-To Guides section as new platforms, cases, and components arrive on the market.
So hot on the heels of our High-End Gaming Mini-ITX Guide, we're presenting our Extreme Gaming Mini-ITX Guide. Now, to be honest, this is not our first attempt at such a guide. We tried putting together a similar build back in 2014 using the SilverStone SG08 case back in 2014. While Project ITX, as we called it, looked similar, it wasn't exactly a smashing success in terms of usability. We ran into numerous component compatibility issues, and we also found that the case simply didn't offer proper cooling. So here we are in 2016, with a brand-new case, the Fractal Design Core 500, and the new Skylake platform. While the platform doesn't change things all that much (in fact, this build ends up being just 10% faster than our 2014 build), the case changes everything. That means this build is not only faster, it's much, much quieter, and more efficient too.
The key is that Fractal Design learned from its competitors mis-steps in the "shoebox PC" market, and it wasn't just SilverStone that made them. Cooler Master also had a hot-selling model in its Elite 130, which was good, but not great. The Core 500 adds about 30 centimeters in depth, width, and height versus the SG08, while actually coming in smaller than the Elite 130, and yet beats them both in terms of component compatibility and cooling. While there are still a few hard-stops in terms of what will work and what won't, we think Fractal Design made the right calls on this case, and we'll point out all the important caveats about building in it in this assembly guide. In fact, this system actually ended up running so cool and quiet that we could have put much higher-powered components in and it would still keeps its composure. That, alas, will have to wait until the next generation of gear arrives!
We based this build off of our $1,500 VR-Ready Mini-ITX PC Build Guide, as of March 2016, with just a few tweaks. The biggest change was moving from liquid cooling to a new air cooler from the Swiss-based company Arctic Cooling. We had a hunch it would work perfectly for this build, despite the usual trouble fitting tower coolers into ITX cases, and we got lucky... but it was close! Below you can see all the gear we brought together for this build:
Here are components seen above:
- CPU: Intel Core i5-6600K
- Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z170N-Gaming 5
- Memory: Corsair Vengeance LPX 2x8GB DDR4-3000
- Video Card: EVGA GeForce GTX 980 SC 4GB
- Solid-State Drive: Samsung 850 Evo 500GB
- Optical Drive: Samsung SH-224FB
- Case: Fractal Design Core 500
- Power Supply: EVGA Supernova 650 GS
- CPU Cooler: Arctic Freezer i32
- Operating System: Windows 10 OEM Disc
This system is based on Intel's Skylake platform, introduced in August 2015. It's not necessarily revolutionary, but it did introduce a few new standards to the mainstream PC audience: DDR4 memory and full-speed M.2 solid-state drive slots. For this build, we'll be running 16GB oF DDR4 RAM, but as with all of our ITX builds, we pass on using the M.2 slot. We've tested these slots on ITX builds and find that due to being mounted on the back of the motherboard (virtually a requirement for fitting it within the ITX footprint), the cooling on drives mounted in these slots is beyond poor. We just wouldn't trust our data to be safe over the long haul when using these slots.
As for our other components, we go with the second-best in just about every category, with Intel's top Core i5 processor, Nvidia's high-end GTX 980 GPU, and Samsung potent yet budget-friendly 850 Evo solid-state drive. We've also chosen the largest power supply that can physically fit in this case (it's 150mm long), and while there are much more expensive compact units with more wattage, it would be a waste of money to buy them - you'll never come close to stressing our 650W PSU pick in a system like this.
All right, now that you've heard how we decided on the components for this build, let's see how they all came together!