Installing the CPU
There isn't a whole lot of prep involved in a building a system like this, as you don't need to worry about installing a power supply or routing cables through the case, so we're going to jump right into CPU installation. If you've ever built a PC before, this won't be in the least bit challenging, but for readers new to the process, we're providing the photos below. We've noted the critical elements to look out for with yellow arrows.
In the left photo, you can see the notches on either side of the CPU, that match up with tabs in the socket. Additionally, you should make sure the gold triangle is in the lower-left corner. To lock the CPU into place, you have to fit the socket cover under the bolt, and then swing down the wire handle and slip it under the locking tab, both marked with yellow arros in the right-hand photo. Note that this process always feels particularly dangerous because you're putting a lot of pressure on the CPU, but as long as it's lined up correctly, you can't do any damage. This is the way Intel designed it.
Installing the CPU Cooler and RAM
We're using the stock Intel cooler here, and on the last page, we're going to share our thoughts on why we chose this route. Here we'll just mention that the cooler locks into place with what are called "push-pins," and you'll want the four posts in the position shown in the photo (locked), rather than the unlocked position. The posts have a non-descripts curving arrow on them, and what this arrow indicates is the direction to unlock. We really wish that Intel designed this with something a bit clearer, like the words lock/unlock or install/remove. In any event, you'll probably want to hold the motherboard in your hand and watch as the push-pins emerge out the back of the board to make sure they are in fact locked in place. Without sufficient force, they can slip right back out, which will lead to a cooler that isn't properly mounted. That's not a recipe for system longevity!
Also shown in the photo here are the two add-in cards we're using, the Samsung M.2 SSD and the Intel M.2 WiFi/Bluetooth card. Note you actually don't need to use any M.2 cards, as your storage can come via 2.5" drives, and you can either use the motherboard's built-in wired Ethernet, or you can use a USB-based WiFi adapter. But we think most builders of STX systems will really enjoy the streamlined design of M.2 cards. We'll discuss the installation of these cards in a moment, but first, let's talk about the other "cards" you'll find in this system, namely the memory sticks.
Note that this platform uses DDR4 memory, and as we mentioned on the previous page, it can support up to DDR4-2400-rated modules. Honestly speaking, standard DDR4-2133 will run almost as fast as the DDR4-2400 kit we used, due to the latter's slack timings, but you can buy high performance DDR4-2400 like HyperX's Impact series. As with all memory modules, DDR4 SODIMMs, designed primarily for laptops, can only be installed in one direction. You can see that the label should be facing the CPU. You should also double-check, of course, that the notch in the module matches up with the tab in the SODIMM socket. While we used dual 4GB sticks to give us 8GB of total memory, the sky's truly the limit with this system; DDR4 SODIMMs are available in capacities up to 16GB, meaning you can equip this tiny system with up to 32GB of RAM, although that's more than 99.9% of users will ever need!
Installing the WiFi Card and Antennas
This step is technically optional, but we're guessing that most buyers of an STX system will want to take advantage of the platform's ability to utilize compact internal WiFi cards. This is in part because they're really slick, but more importantly, because an STX system is a system that can go just about anywhere, meaning it's probably going to be placed somewhere out of reach of a Ethernet cable. And take note: most STX motherboards will only have four USB ports (one being a Type-C port), meaning these are going to be in high demand. Using one up for an external USB-based WiFi card isn't going to be ideal.
We're going to go on record here and tell you that this guide was actually delayed by several days because we made a mistake. Yes, it's true, we goofed up! We purchased all the internals for this system at retail, and we followed the auto-generated advice on Amazon with regard to the correct antennas to pair with the Intel 7265 M.2 WiFi card that we knew was compatible with our motherboard. And guess what.... that advice was dead wrong! Indeed, there are actually two nearly-identical standards out there for WiFi antennas, and in photos on the Internet, they'll look identical. You have to dig into the specs to really know what you're getting, because they are most definitely not interchangeable.
It all comes down to the size of the connector that attaches to the WiFi card. These are technically referred to as micro RF coax connectors, and the two sizes used in PCs are MHF-4 and MHF-5. Because MHF-5 connectors were used for PCIe-based WiFi cards that have been around for several years, they are far more common on retail sites. But it's the smaller MHF-4 connector that's utilized in newer M.2 (NGFF) WiFi cards, and that's what you'll need. The fact that few if any antennas specify what standard they're using is a bit mind-boggling, so to be very clear, we're using the Porjet NGFF antennas, the connectors for which are shown below, along with our Intel 7265NGW M.2-based 802.11ac WiFi card.
The interesting thing about this standard is that it's so tiny that it's nearly impossible to install by hand. You're really going to need a small pliers to snap the antenna leads onto the card's dual connectors. As much as we tried to do it with our fingers, it was all for naught. There was no way we could apply enough force. We were a bit concerned that using a pliers would damage the card, but the leads snapped in instantly with just a slight amount of force applied via pliers, so there's little chance you'll damage the card as long as you have the leads and connectors lined up properly.
The next step was to attach the antennas to the case. The fact that the SilverStone VT02 is even compatible with antennas is a bit of an undocumented feature - it's not meantioned anywhere on the SilverStone website or even in the manual. Once we had the case in hand, we realized that there was a good chance it could support screw-in external antennas, so we gave it a go... and it worked! Have a look at the photos below to see exactly where the hidden punchouts are for the antenna mounts.
Yup, a perfect fit! You'll probably want to use the end of a screwdriver to dislodge the punch-outs, which are held on by a thin layer of bonding agent. We couldn't quite do it with our fingers alone.
In this last photo, you can see the M.2 card installed in the slot. Remember, this motherboard has two M.2 slots, and they are stacked one on top of the other. The lower slot is designed exclusively for WiFi cards, so if you're installing a WiFi card, you'll need to so it before you install an M.2 solid-state drive. One thing that's a bit challenging about the use of M.2 cards is that standard screwdrivers cannot be used to secure them. You must use a jeweler's-type screwdriver to affix the tiny screws. We figure this is a worthwhile investment if you don't have a set, as they have plenty of uses outside of the PC area. Another thing to keep in mind that goes hand-in-hand with small screwdrivers is that the screws are really easy to lose. The motherboard comes with two, one for each slot, and you'll want to handle them very carefully, making sure to build your PC in a workspace where you'll be able to see them if they fall out of your hands while installing them.
In the end, we're pretty impressed with this cutting-edge WiFi solution. It's ultra-compact, and as we'll discuss a bit later on, it performs extremely well. The only challenge is that with stacked antenna mounts, as used on the VT02 case, the two antenna can't both be positioned vertically because they'll obviously collide. For that reason, we ended up swinging one into a horizontal position.
OK, now we're ready to get the rest of our components installed. Turn to the next page to see how it all comes together.