This is my "small" form factor (read: somewhere in-between) build which will be primarily used for Lightroom/Photoshop, software development, and some light gaming here and there. It is also my first build ever, and destined to be a Dual or Triple boot in the future with some combination of Win10/macOS/Ubuntu.
- Goal of quiet, smaller PC.
- Massive air cooling, because why not. (See "Challenges" for why not)
- ITX because I just can't see needing more PCIe slots, esp. with the Thunderbolt 3 port.
- CPU: 5GHz stable overclock, -2 AVX offset, maxes out at 1.32V.
- Memory: 2x8GiB, 3200MHz, 1.34V.
- Non-AVX workloads: ~60C max (~76W), fans step up but generally very quiet.
- Lightroom building previews: ~68C max. Partial AVX workload.
- AVX stress (Prime95): ~80C (~106W), honestly still fairly quiet but the fans are definitely going. More of a whoosh-ing sound than anything.
I could try going beyond 5.0GHz/1.32V, but it would require more voltage than I want to pump into it (keeping in mind I want to keep this a quiet build).
I wanted a K-series processor so I could both overclock (for productivity) and undervolt (for silent operation otherwise). Once Lightroom is done building Smart Previews it tends to be a fairly single-threaded application,
I went with the i3-8350k as a budget option that fit the spec for,
- Ability to overclock
- Good single-core max speed vs cost (other K-series cost substantially more)
Now, the NH-D15 was chosen simply because it's a huge air cooler with known good performance. I went with air because I didn't want to hear an AIO pump doing its thing 24/7, when at idle/web browsing I can't hear any fans with this air cooling setup. I can hear the Surface Book in the next room before I hear this thing.
Given that it was going to be overclocked, I went for a delid+liquid metal as well. I just did this with a knife after researching the topic excessively in previous months, and it went more or less just fine. After doing it I realized I like the knife method over delid tools simply because no force is placed on the PCB the processor is mounted on.
Chromax vanity plates on the cooler, because vanity and whiteness.
I originally was going to go with an ASUS PRIME Z370-A, but after seeing the ASRock board in ITX format with Thunderbolt 3, I convinced myself to go ITX, but that doing so would require that I need a TB3 port for future I/O expandability.
I really doubt the single PCIe slot is going to bite me for expandability in the future. If so, I can bump to an external TB3 GPU if I actually need the GPU vs. whatever would take its place.
The built-in WiFi/Bluetooth is a cool plus, but not necessary once I move it to the office. It won't work under macOS anyways, and I don't have anything I prefer to run on Bluetooth (esp. near USB 3.0 hubs which effectively jam Bluetooth and 2.4GHz WiFi).
My gosh, don't try fitting an NH-D15 in this case unless you're not a forgetful first-time builder. Because the cooler covers nearly the whole board, everything needs to be in place. Forgot the 8-pin CPU power lead? Take the cooler off, connect power, put back on. Can't reach the top-left mobo screw with the cooler on? Take the cooler off, screw board in, put back on. Forgot to connect the CMOS battery because you took it out when trying to screw the mobo on? You know the drill.
Noob-ness aside, there's one nasty part. The clip for the cooler fan at the top of the case requires fingers smaller and more flexible than my own. This has to go on last (see above), so I connected a small cable tie to it so I could pull on the clip near the exhaust fan area where there's more room.
Wait.., there shouldn't be more room, there should be an exhaust fan there! Take the cooler off, place fan loosely, install cooler. Pull cooler fan clip into place, finally screw in exhaust fan. Phew.
I also had to re-route the power cables a few times. Honestly they're ever so slightly too short, all three. I'm not sure if this is normal. Perhaps the cables with this SFX supply are shorter because they assume you're really trying to build a small PC, not a somewhere-in-the-middle one.
I had one strange issue with the overclock. AVX workloads would throttle down past what the AVX offset implied, as far down as 3.9GHz, even though temps were all within check and HWMonitor reported just barely more power usage than non-AVX loads. Intel XTU saved the day here as I found the Processor Core ICC Max setting, and it has indicators for being Current-throttled as well as Thermal-throttled. I confirmed it was being current throttled and increased it from 100A to 120A after some reading online (apparently most people just set this to the max of 256A?).
My fan setup is not ideal, partly due to more noob mistakes. I have the top "exhaust" currently blocked as the CPU cooler will pull air in from there otherwise (potentially setting up an air loop, and breaking my front/back airflow positive pressure desire).
The front of the case (intake) can fit 2x140mm fans. I read that the extra NF-A15 that comes with the NH-D15 is a 140mm fan. It is not really. It is bigger. Do not make my mistake. So the front has the extra NF-15A (top) and one of the 120mm fans that came with the case (bottom) awkwardly sharing the front intake area. I plan to get 2x proper 140mm fans for the front intake.
The NZXT fans included with the case are definitely louder than the Noctua ones, but not heinously so. They do have a more annoying sound in general. The Noctua just sounds like moving air, but the NZXT ones definitely make a more... fan-like noise? Anyhow, if I'm splurging one day, I'll replace the exhaust fan with something quieter.
A GPU is on the way as well, a Gigabyte Aorus Radeon RX 580 8GB. It won't match the current white/black setup, but it was a good deal. Cooling for this is probably far from ideal. If I find it necessary, I may supplement it with an extra slim fan above the PSU to push some air through the holes in the PSU shroud, up to the card.
Only Windows 10 is currently installed, but I've always wanted a Hackintosh setup. A native Linux experience would also be good, and is what I've used at work for the last 3 years. We'll see what happens. I hate Windows now, it doesn't even "just work" but it made setup and testing of this build much easier of course. I enjoyed using macOS for both home and work (stable UI, but also Linux-like CLI). With either Win or Mac though, I'll miss i3-wm from the Linux side. Much to consider.
Just great. Cools very well (even if only using 1 of the 2 included fans), yet is amazingly quiet. The gentle moving air sounds from the higher speeds don't bother me at all.
Appreciate the fact that this clears the RAM slots on most boards, and that their website lists RAM/motherboard compatibilities.
Great 300-series board for an ITX build.
- Thunderbolt 3 port on an ITX board is great to have for I/O expansion (since it only has one PCIe slot)
- Was easy enough for a first time builder/overclocker to get a stable 5.0GHz w/ an i3-8350k
- Took Corsair LPX Vengeance 3200 XMP profile just fine
- Builtin WiFi works great on Windows, the included antenna seems decent for 5GHz WiFi
- No RAM clearance issues with metioned RAM and Noctua NH-D15
- Only three fan headers, only one of which van variably drive 3-pin fans (but thankfully can). All can drive 4-pin PWM fans well though.
- Bit pricey compared to other Z300-series boards at the time ($290!)
Minus a star for the fan header statement, which IMO is important in a "gaming" board meant for overclocking and thus needing to handle some additional cooling. Perhaps that's harsh, it's really my only complaint other than the price.
Good RAM. No surprises. Just works. XMP profile worked perfect once enabled in UEFI/BIOS. No complaints.
- Wicked fast. Boots, copies, file operations, load times, everything.
- (SSD/NVMe in general) Lower power requirements compared to classic HDD is a plus for low-power-consumption builds.
- (SSD/NVMe in general) You don't even know it's there once installed! It takes effectively no additional space in your build.
There may be better bang for buck NVMe drives out there, but I knew what I was getting with this one and am quite happy with it.
Great little case. Looks good, builds good, feels solid. It's not a true small form factor case, but it is certainly small-ish while being able to fit big parts. Airflow does not seem to be an issue at all.
As a first-time builder, cable management was easy. Some PSUs (e.g. Corsair SF450) may not have cables long enough to be routed ideally, just something to be aware of.
Lots of room to work with. Side panels (glass and metal) are toolless. It can even fit a Noctua NH-D15, though just barely. Liquid cooling is probably more forgiving to the builder in this case, but I decided to go with air.
Keep in mind GPUs may be a bit choked for air if they end up too close to the PSU shroud. It does have holes though, so air can flow.
Top I/O panel is nice for those of us who keep their cases near/on the floor.
No complaints. Definitely recommended.
Fantastic monitor. I use it for photo editing (Lightroom/Photoshop), software development, and some light gaming. If you use i3-wm (or another tiling window manager), a curved ultrawide is just fantastic.
Colour is great. The very side edges are a bit yellow (maybe 1cm), but these are generally for controls in my workflow and not things that need to be colour-perfect and is really only noticeable with white.
The stand is very good, but the display itself can rotate wobble a bit if you have it on a not-so-solid desk. You should probably have such a large monitor on a solid desk anyhow.
Don't get it for the Freesync support, you can read about the limited Freesync range elsewhere. However, it is still a great 100Hz monitor.
The menu is a bit fiddly if you don't have a working input, which made things more difficult than necessary when I was troubleshooting why I wasn't getting anything displayed with a new computer.