Building a silent mini-ITX desktop system

dsc_20160623_201103It has been some years since I’ve last built my own PC and since then I have been spoiled by the convenience and mobility that laptops give. I am also a passionate hobby photographer and I use Adobe Lightroom quite extensively. My old laptop couldn’t quite keep up with a demanding application like Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop and a big catalog of close to 100 000 RAW photos. I was also annoyed with the noise my laptop’s CPU fan was producing.

I started researching the cost for an upgrade and figured out that I will have to pay premium price for the type of computing power that I wanted (approx. 2000 euro) if I am to buy a laptop.

Some 8 years ago, I was working on a video on demand Linux project using VIA EPIA mini-ITX boards. I decided to check how far the mini-ITX boards has come since then and found out that building a small form factor, quiet, powerful system is possible at much lower cost.

It turned out it is possible to have a powerful desktop CPU like i5 or i7 in a relatively small form factor box which can be even passively cooled, meaning there would be no noise produced by rotating fans.

The CPU

The first thing I’ve selected was the CPU – I went for Intel Core i7-6700. My criteria – I want the latest, reasonably priced, no overclocking, so that it can be cooled relatively easy and the system can stay silent.

dsc_20160610_200444
Intel Core i7-6700

I’ve used Intel’s website to check the specs and after some consideration I’ve chosen Intel® Core™ i7-6700 Processor (8M Cache, up to 4.00 GHz) .

  • Launch date Q3’15
  • # of cores – 4
  • TDP – 65W
  • Processor Base Frequency – 3.40 GHz
  • Max Turbo Frequency – 4.0 GHz
  • Max Memory Size – 64Gb
  • Memory Types – DDR4-1866/2133, DDR3L-1333/1600 @ 1.35V
  • Processor Graphics – Intel® HD Graphics 530

The motherboard

The motherboard is important and central component since it connects all components. It has to be solid and usually trying to save on it, can cost more later. I’ve chosen Gigabyte GA-Z170N-WIFI miniITX board based on the Z170 chipset. It is reasonably priced, from a manufacturer with good reputation and has support for the 6th generation Intel Core Processors and on-board WiFi.

GA-Z170N-WIFI miniITX board
GA-Z170N-WIFI miniITX board
GA-Z170N-WIFI miniITX board
GA-Z170N-WIFI miniITX board

Here are some of the specs:

  • Dual Channel DDR4, 2 DIMMs
  • Intel® USB 3.0 with USB Type-C™ – the world’s next Universal connector
  • 11ac 867 Mbps dual band wireless connection + BLUETOOTH 4.2
  • PCIe Gen3 x4 M.2 Connector with up to 32Gb/s Data Transfer (PCIe NVMe & SATA SSD support)
  • 2 SATA Express Connectors for up to 16Gb/s Data Transfer
  • 115dB SNR HD Audio with Built-in Rear Audio Amplifier
  • High Quality Audio Capacitors and Audio Noise Guard with LED Trace Path Lighting
  • 2x Ethernet ports
  • GIGABYTE UEFI DualBIOS™ Technology

A word of caution – be careful with those tiny delicate cpu pins.

dsc_20160610_231131

The CPU cooler

My main consideration about the CPU cooler was that it must be dead silent and of course cool down the i7-6700 CPU. For some time I was thinking to use a fanless cooler, but decided to play it safe. I also did some research into water cooling solutions, but decided not to go into this direction.

I’ve picked up Noctua NH D9L – a dual tower CPU cooler. Excellent design, solid build, super easy to mount thanks to the SecuFirm2™ multi-socket mounting system. The only problem I’ve had was figuring out how much thermal compound is just enough.

Noctua NH D9L
Noctua NH D9L
Noctua NH D9L
Noctua NH D9L

The case

There are many different designs of PC cases for miniITX boards to choose from and indeed, I spent the most time trying to select this component.

My main considerations:

  • should not occupy too much space on my desk
  • should be wide enough, to accommodate CPU heatsink big enough, to allow me to use a low-noise, low RPM fan
  • power supply should be positioned above the motherboard in order not to block access to it
  • enough space to mount a hard disk or two

My choice – Jonsbo U2 Black – a solid, beautiful, black anodized alumium case.

Jonsbo U2 Black
Jonsbo U2 Black

The storage

I am building a fast PC, right? So I need fast storage. HDD is out of question and my logical choice was to go for SSD – I felt like the Samsung SSD 850 EVO 500Gb should give me enough performance over my old 5400 RPM laptop drive. Well, the first time you boot the OS on a SSD it feels lightning fast. Of course, after some time, you get used to it. Anyway, the Samsung 850 EVO did not dissapoint.

dsc_20160611_122001

The memory

RAM is important for the system performance and cheap nowadays . So I took plenty.

HyperX FURY HX421C14FBK2/16 16GB kit (2 x 8GB) 2133MHz DDR4 Non-ECC CL14 UDIMM
HyperX FURY HX421C14FBK2/16 16GB kit (2 x 8GB) 2133MHz DDR4 Non-ECC CL14 UDIMM

HyperX FURY HX421C14FBK2/16 16GB kit (2 x 8GB) 2133MHz DDR4 Non-ECC CL14 UDIMM

The power supply

The last component to choose was the power supply. My considerations when selecting a power supply were:

  • quiet
  • should provide enough power and support future upgrades
  • cable management
  • reasonably priced

I chose be quiet! 400W Pure Power which has the following specs as far as noise is concerned:

dB(A) at 20% load   – 10.7db
dB(A) at 50% load   – 11.2db
dB(A) at 100% load  – 15.4db

The power supply is rated for 400W (450W peak power) which  is more than enough for this build. I used an online power supply calculator to calculate the estimated consumption (~115W in this case).
be quiet! 400W Pure Power
be quiet! 400W Pure Power

The final build

Thanks to the cable management feature of the power supply, I was able to get rid of many unused cables. The result is that the access to the motherboard is not blocked and air circulation is not obstructed. There is enough space for additional storage disk and even for a graphic card.

 

dsc_20160623_201103

Costs

The total cost for the system is 803.06 EUR. Here is a breakdown of the costs per component.

  • CPU Intel Core i7 6700 – 296.57 EUR
  • Motherboard – Gigabyte GA-Z170N-WIFI Intel Z170 – 131 EUR
  • CPU cooler – Noctua NH D9L – 49.90 EUR
  • Case – Jonsbo U2 Black  – 62.99 EUR
  • SSD Samsung SSD 850 EVO 500Gb – 135.81 EUR
  • RAM – 16Gb – 65.89 EUR
  • Power supply – be quiet! 400W Pure Power 9 – 60.90 EUR

Final thoughts

I am satisfied with the build. I am running a dual boot system with Windows 10 and Fedora. Both are blazing fast when booting.

Both Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop are very fast and responsive. Can’t be really compared with the way they were running on my old laptop.

I feel that the built-in graphic card (Intel HD Graphics 530) is enough for my needs. The motherboard and the case both allow an upgrade if needed.

The system is extremely quiet. I did a quick test and ran a CPU benchmark – the CPU temperature reached around 50C

hw_monitor

 

 

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *