Installing the Data Drives
We should note something critical here: if you are using a 3.5" drive, you must install it prior to install the motherboard. It will be blocked by the CPU cooler otherwise. We chose not to use such a drive in this build, instead relying on a single 2.5" solid-state drive as well as a 5.25" external optical drive. The optical drive is very easy to install, as it slides in from the front (once the bay cover is removed), while up to three 2.5" drives can be installed at any time along the periphery of the chassis (two on the right side, one behind the front panel). We really like this style of drive mounts for 2.5" drives, as it doesn't waste any space, while also allowing easy access to the drives in the future. The hardest part about installing the drives is actually the cabling, and to use the high-performance SATA ports, you really needed to have your cables installed a long time ago, as we mentioned on the previous page.
Another thing visible in this photo is the power supply exhaust, which lines up neatly with a perforated grille in the Core 500's side panel. The positioning of the power supply dictates that the case has no cool-air intake from the front, but this is a wise choice by Fractal Design, the ability to exhaust hot air is far more important in compact cases. We've seen far too many ITX designs done in due to the lack of exhaust vents, which in turn leads to hot air being trapped inside a case. With a fully perforated top panel and a huge 140mm exhaust fan mounted in back, hot air has nowhere to go but out of this case!
Installing the Video Card
All right, last step before powering this system on: the video card. Compared to every other step, this one is actually pretty easy. Luckily, the Core 500 doesn't fall prey to another failing of many ITX cases: insufficient headroom to lower a card onto the motherboard. You see, to actually install a card, you need approximately 15mm of vertical space to move the card into position and then lower it into the PCIe slot. In some ITX cases, the top crossbar plays havoc with extra-tall video cards. We used the EVGA GeForce GTX 980, which conforms to the standard PCI height (4.4"), but there are many cards out there approaching 5" tall. The Core 500 will work with them, and in fact will probably work with every single video card on the market (update: watch out for cards that are more than two slots wide, though!).
Don't forget to also connect your power leads to your video card at this point. Most high-end cards require to connectors, and that really does mean two; the second one is not optional! If your card has an 8-pin header, you'll need to use a 6+2-pin connector, fitting the 2-pin section in under the 6-pin section and then locking them both into place together.and reset switch leads, along with the hard drive and power LED leads. Most new motherboards ship with a handy connector block that allows you to attach all these leads at once, and then drop it down onto the motherboard's front panel header in one simple step. That header is always in the lower-right-hand corner.
At this point, the build is just about ready to boot. In addition to double-checking your cables (which is no mean feat in a compact case like this!), we'd suggest you also tidy up the cables with zip-ties. While this is more of an aesthetic issue in larger cases, with this build, we really did need to take this step to prevent cables from hitting the fan blades of the case fan and CPU cooler fan.
Our system powered up on the first try (lucky break!), and once Windows was loaded via the DVD-ROM, we were up and running. Well, almost... it turned out that the semi-passive mode of our unique Arctic Freezer i32 cooler tripped up our motherboard's UEFI. It simply would not turn on, and this is a recipe for overheating in the long term. Yikes! We simply installed Gigabyte's Windows-based fan control app (called SVI), ran the fan tuning routine, and we were in business. Phew! While we were at it, we also set the 140mm exhaust fan to run at 500rpm up to 50°C, after which point it slowly ramps up in speed. Doing so keeps air moving through the chassis at all times without making more noise than necessary.
Once everything was set in terms of cooling, we turned our attention to overclocking. We set our RAM to 3000MHz using the built-in XMP profile, and pushed our CPU to 4GHz via the core ratio setting in the UEFI. We could have gone much higher, based on the low temperatures we were seeing (around 60°C at load), but we kept it nice and simple for now. Our GTX 980 sample could hit 1500MHz on the core, 7800MHz on the memory, which we tuned via MSI Afterburner, as always.
You might conclude from the multiple pitfalls we mentioned throughout this guide that we weren't pleased with how this build turned out. Quite to the contrary, we think this is the very finest ITX build we've every put together. At idle, it was absolutely silent, and we do mean silent. It was so quiet that our sound meter simply wouldn't register. That's silent, folks. And it should come as no surprise, given that the power supply, video card, and CPU all shut off their fans at idle, we used no mechanical hard drives, and the single high-quality Fractal Design case fan was set to run at very low speed at nearly all times.
Sure, we had some trouble with cabling, and installing the power supply was a bit tricky, but overall, we just can't think of a better layout for a high-performance ITX system. We've built smaller gaming systems, but they've all had serious tradeoffs in terms of noise, temperature, and component compatibility. As long as you play by the very reasonable rules of the Core 500, you can put together a devastatingly-powerful gaming system that can do double-duty as your home office PC. Unless you have a need for lots of add-in cards or a huge hard drive array, we're not sure why you'd choose anything else. Just make sure you have the patience to put all of this system's puzzle pieces together!
Well, that's a wrap on yet another TBG PC Assembly Guide. If you'd like to read more of our hands-on guides, flip over to our How-To Guides page, and if you're ready to order up some parts to build your very own Extreme ITX System, see our Small Form Factor Buyer's Guides, updated monthly!