Articles: Cases/PSU

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Theory and Practice: Building a Compact PC

As we know, the difference between theory and practice is in reality much greater than you may think it is. Therefore, even though DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 made a very good impression on us, there is one more question to be answered: does it really make sense to try assembling a Core i7 based platform in a compact microATX system case?

The simplest answer would be: yes, you can do it, if you take a big microATX case. For example, Antec Mini P180, which is extremely popular among those users who value quiet operation. Even though it is designed only for microATX mainboards, it is of almost the same size as small full-size system cases. There will barely be any problems with system assembly in it: you can install almost any power supply unit, consider quite a few CPU super-coolers as possible options, shouldn’t have any problems with graphics cards installation (solutions longer than 245mm can be installed at the expense of one HDD chassis), and a 200-mm fan will make sure the system remains cool enough.

However, we were much more curious to check out less trivial configurations. We didn’t dare exploit one of the smallest microATX cases, Antec NSK1380, this time. There is very limited internal space and the CPU cooler cannot be taller than 65mm. Therefore, you won’t be able to assemble a quiet Core i7 based system in it. Besides, the 350W PSU won’t be enough for a powerful graphics accelerator anyway.

Our choice lay between Aerocool M40 and Thermaltake LanBox Lite (these are not the only “cubic” cases out there, but we only had them at our disposal at the time of tests). Although they look very similar, they are still pretty different: the M40 can only accommodate a 140mm PSU, while LanBox is a little longer, so it allows using a little larger power supply units. On the other hand, LanBox has only two 60-mm fans on the back panel cooling its internal space, while M40 is equipped with a single 120-mm fan on the front panel and has three additional spots for 80-mm fans on the back. The latter actually determined our choice for today: Aerocool M40.

The system we used for our experiments was configured as follows:

  • Intel Core i7 920 CPU at 2.66GHz;
  • CoolerMaster Gemin II S CPU cooler;
  • DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 mainboard;
  • ASUS ENGTX295/2DI graphics card (GeForce GTX 295);
  • 3x1GB Patriot DDR3-1333 memory;
  • Samsung HD501LJ HDD;
  • Optiarc AD-5200S DVD±RW burner;
  • Two Thermaltake TT-8020A fans (80x80x20mm);
  • Enermax Liberty ECO ELT620AWT-ECO PSU (620W);
  • Aerocool M40 system case.

As you see, we decided to play big and installed the most powerful graphics card we could find at the time in retail – GeForce GTX 295.

The only difficult choice to make was about the CPU cooler. We gave up the boxed cooler that came bundled with our Intel CPU almost immediately – after the first 15 minutes of tests: it wasn’t efficient enough in quiet mode, and was too noisy in performance mode. After that we tried Scythe Shuriken Rev. B – a new version of the popular low-profile cooling solution that is bundled with LGA1366 retention brackets. Unfortunately, Shuriken also failed: the cooler equipped with its default fan couldn’t cool our CPU loaded heavily in Prime95, so the processor would overheat and enable thermal throttling. We replaced the fan with Scythe DFM952512M-PWM and eliminated critical overheating; however, the CPU packaging still registered 68-70°C temperature, which is more than the acceptable maximum of 67.9°C (according to Intel specifications). Finally we decided to go with an inexpensive, quiet, relatively compact and very efficient Cooler Master GeminII S cooler. It ensured that CPU temperature stayed around 60°C under any workload.

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