Here at The Tech Buyer’s Guru, we're all about Small Form Factor PCs. That's why we publish our Introduction to Building a Small Form Factor PC, updated monthly, which happens to be the most popular such article on the Web. And to keep ourselves and our readers up-to-date on all the comings and goings of SFF PCs, we keep in constant contact with industry leaders in the case, motherboard, power supply, and cooler markets, which represent the four components most critical to building a compact computer.
So it was with great excitement that we had the opportunity to preview for our readers SilverStone's new VT02 STX chassis at CES 2017. We had known about the new STX format for a while, but until this year, STX really wasn't a viable option for most PC builders, in part because of the very slim selection of cases, as well as their tendency to be too small to fit standard Intel or AMD CPU coolers. Well, all that has changed with the VT02, and we were on SilverStone's case (literally and figuratively!) since January 2017 to make sure that we got a sample of the VT02 as soon as it hit U.S. shores. Behold, the SilverStone VT02 in all its STX glory!
Of course, it's not enough to have a good case; you also need viable processors at pricepoints that make sense for a compact PC. And Intel delivered in a big way this year with the introduction of the Pentium G4560 in February. Never before has anywhere near this much computing power been available for under $70. With its 3.5GHz clockspeed and Hyperthreading technology, it's more than a match for any office or home theater task that you can throw at it. The final piece of the puzzle is storage, and this is where the massive shift from 3.5" hard drives to 2.5" solid-state drives and then to M.2 solid-state drives has made a huge difference. Thanks to the growing availability of excellent M.2 drives, you can now practically ignore any physical barriers to installing a fast SSD in a small system. That's because M.2 drives fit right into the motherboard and require no drive trays or cables whatsoever. This, folks, is a major boon to SFF PCs!
With that introduction out of the way, let's move on to the full parts list for this build:
- CPU: Intel Pentium G4560
- Motherboard: AsRock H110M-STX
- SSD: Samsung 960 Evo 500GB and Samsung SM951 256GB
- RAM: Crucial 2x4GB DDR4-2400 SODIMM
- Case: SilverStone VT02
- Power Supply: SilverStone AD120-STX
- WiFi Card: Intel 7265 WiFi/Bluetooth Combo M.2 Card
- WiFi Antennas: Porjet 2 x 6dBi 35cm M.2 (NGFF)
- Operating System: Windows 10 Flash Drive
A very special thanks to SilverStone for shipping us a sample of its VT02 case as soon as it hit the U.S. market, along with the AD120 power supply that's a natural match for it. The rest of the parts used for this guide were purchased at retail, which we bought specifically to publish this guide. We believe this will be the first and likely most detailed STX assembly guide on the 'net. You can support future articles like this by using our links whenever you buy technology-related items!
A few things to take note of in our parts selections. First, we tested not one, but two PCIe-based M.2 drives. The Samsung 960 Evo 500GB was used for photography and our initial testing, but we eventually swapped it out for a Samsung SM951 256GB drive, which in our testing is just as fast, and a much better pick price-wise for a system of this caliber. It has half the capacity but all of the speed, and our bet is most folks will be happy with that trade-off. Also take note: SATA-based M.2 drives needs not apply - the AsRock board we chose does not support them! And while it does support up to two SATA-based 2.5" drives, we chose not to test any in our system.
You may ask why we used the AsRock board if it couldn't support low-cost SATA M.2 drives. Well, the answer is simple: it's the only STX board currently on the market that's guaranteed to support the new Pentium G4560, and this was critical to us, because the G4560 is so far and away superior to anything else that has come before it in the budget price category that this build had to begin and end with it. No other CPU would do. And yes, we did confirm that the AsRock H110M-ITX, which was released long before the G4560, does indeed support the G4560 out of the box, thanks to a firmware update that AsRock pushed out way back in September 2016, with just such uses in mind.
Another thing we'll note is that we used DDR4-2400 memory, which no previous Pentium processors could support. Because no manufacturer has yet released an STX motherboard based on a circa-2017 chipset, we are stuck with the H110 chipset, which technically did not support DDR4-2400, because the Pentiums available when it was released were limited to DDR4-2133 (the CPU is what ultimately determines DDR capability). Again, AsRock has fully updated this aging motherboard to allow the new Pentium and DDR4-2400 memory to work properly together.
One last thing: we are being very specific about the wireless card and wireless antennas to use with this build. Most antennas that look like they're made for this system will not work. We learned that the hard way by purchasing an incompatible set. Our loss, your gain - now you don't have to make the same mistake! The issue is that most modular antennas on the market today were designed for older PCIe-based wireless cards, while the one we need to use here is an M.2-based card. Confusing? Yes, but we've got you covered, so no need to spend a lot of time fretting about which ones to use.
OK, with all that out of the way, let's move on to the building process!