Here at The Tech Buyer's Guru, we've made it our mission to deliver the very best advice for builders of Small Form Factor PCs. That means we do more than just put together lists of components that might work together. We make it a point to actually build as many different SFF configurations as possible to make sure that when we give you buying advice, you'll have a positive experience building and using your PC. We also publish a monthly SFF PC Update to keep readers informed of the latest developments in the market. And in our Gamer's Bench articles, we explore unique aspects of building and running gaming PCs, from the impact of various GPU cooler types to the importance of multi-core capabilities in modern games. When we get lucky, we can find ways to combine these two areas to help SFF enthusiasts optimize their gaming systems.
Which brings us to the subject of this article: running the most power-hungry GPU ever released by Nvidia, the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti, inside an SFF system. Ever since this GPU was released, we've had readers asking whether they could use it in a compact system, and we've truthfully stated that we just didn't know. The airflow requirements of a 250+ Watt GPU are enormous, and until we had the opportunity to test one out, we couldn't say that it was a good match for an SFF build. But we surely intended to find out!
The first thing that had to happen was for a compact RTX 2080 Ti card to actually be released. While the RTX 2080 Ti was "launched" in September of 2018, broad availability was delayed until November, and the first batch of cards consisted almost entirely of oversized models that just wouldn't fit in any ture SFF cases. In theory Nvidia's own Founders Edition model could work, but it has been unavailable essentially since launch. Once we could actually locate a compact RTX 2080 Ti from a third-party manufacturer in stock (we got ours direct from EVGA as soon as it became available), we then had to decide which case we'd test it in. While we've seen a plethora of custom SFF cases hit the market in the last few years, promising to be the smallest, coolest, quietest, and easiest to build with, but the honest truth is that they always fail to deliver, and they are also always exorbitantly priced, which is a bad combination when it comes to delivering a positive user experience. That's because you can't just say "I want all of the above" - going with an SFF machine means making some compromises to reach your goals. That's why instead of going with one of those cases, we chose the SilverStone SG13. At just under 12 liters, it's incredibly small. Yes, there are smaller gaming-centric PC cases out there, but now, they sacrifice so much in the name of being the "smallest." From our point of view, going smaller than the SG13 means making life very difficult for yourself.
With that said, the SG13 is itself fairly limited, supporting just a single 120mm case fan and requiring a video card that's no more than 10.6" long. As it happens, that's exactly how large the EVGA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti Black is, which means we didn't have an inch (or even a 10th of an inch!) to spare. Read on to find out how this combination of a big-bore engine and ultra-compact chassis worked!!
From a layout perspective, this system is quite similar to our $1,500 Ultra-Compact Mini-ITX Gaming PC Buyer's Guide as of February 2019, but with a few tweaks. Below you can see all the gear we brought together for this build:
- CPU: Intel Core i7-7700K
- Motherboard: Asus Z170I Pro Gaming
- Memory: Corsair 2x8GB Vengeance LPX DDR4-3000
- Video Card: EVGA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti Black 11GB
- Solid-State Drive: Samsung 860 Evo 500GB
- Case: Silverstone SG13
- Case Fan: Scythe Kaze Flex 120mm PWM
- CPU Cooler: SilverStone NT06-Pro
- Power Supply: SilverStone SX700-LPT
- Operating System: Windows 10 Flash Drive
As of this writing, our recommended $1,500 ITX system uses a Core i5-9600K and an RTX 2070. Our test system of course features an RTX 2080 Ti (which costs about twice as much as the RTX 2070), and to ensure we had ample power for this GPU, we bumped the power supply up to a 700W model. The CPU and motherboard we're using are from an older generation, but the 7700K is generally equivalent to a 9600K in terms of gaming performance (it's a quad-core with Hyperthreading, while the 9600K is a hexa-core without HT). For storage, we go with a fast SATA-based SSD and 16GB oF DDR4 RAM. Our cooler of choice is the SilverStone NT06-Pro, which as you can see from the photo above fits like a glove in this system, assuming you don't try to use an ATX power supply (which basically means you can't fit anything else in the case!). SilverStone designed the SG13 to accommodate ATX units in order to appease system integrators selling off-the-shelf systems, as they have lots of spare ATX PSUs sitting around, but we would never recommend that a DIY builder actually build up an SFF system with an ATX power supply... that completely defeats the point of building a small PC in the first place! All told, the budget of this system came to just over $2,000 including the operating system.
Above you can see our EVGA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti Black mounted in the SG13, and like the NT06-Pro CPU Cooler, the Black fits like a glove (which is a nice way of saying it's absolutely the biggest card you could possible use!). You actually have to remove the front panel and insert it through a cutout in the chassis, as installing it from either the side or the top is impossible. Once we had the card in (and powered up with not one but two 8-pin PCIe power cables!), it was time to button up our chassis and see how this system ran with a beast of a GPU spitting out heat like no GPU that's come before it!
Flip to the next page to find out how it worked!