Over the last few months I scribbled out some ideas and plans for a few different build projects and this little guy was the first to unlock the coveted 'Completed' achievement :)
I'm a fortunate guy who lives in a very fortunate time. Most everyone on this site can say the same, to one degree or another. With commoditized technology and a little bit of disposable income, people build gaming rigs that blow away what NASA used to launch spaceships 25-years ago. So, with that little preamble, let me be the first to admit most of my problems (with this build and in general) are some of the best a guy could want - First World Problems.
The Story ... And Some Backstory
A while back, I decided to bulk up Nadia and put it in a big beefy case with lots of cooling, tons of horsepower, and video muscle for days. I went with the NZXT Phantom (red) and since that case reminds me of Maximillian from Disney's "The Black Hole", I named it Max. Once I got it all fitted out, it was impressive. Such an elegant, unrepentant beast. And I didn't like it. It felt forced. Dammit. Yup, it was very clear - I was much more interested in a small, unassuming killer.
While I could probably expect to use the RAM, drives, & CPU, the rest was probably destined for some yet-to-be-determined future project. And it was back to the drawing board for Nadia's upgrade. ITX was clearly where I was heading.
There are plenty of decent to pretty nice ITX cases out there, but nothing was really getting me jazzed up enough to pull the trigger. The M350 got me VERY close, but wasn't quite it. Not for Nadia anyway (though it did stay on my radar and may just make an appearance somewhere in the FWP series :)). Then I came across the Streacom cases. I really liked the overall look, the diminutive size was almost unbelievable, and Streacom does some very slick stuff for cooling in some of their other cases. I was sold.
Skipping ahead a bit, I gathered the parts for Nadia's replacement and ran into issues with the new case. Most notably, it was virtually impossible to fit a 3.5 HDD and 2.5 SDD inside the chassis. I did it, but it was very tight. Given the design of the case, cooling options are very limited and it would have been an unnecessary risk trying to keep all the parts happy and cool. Plus, I realized it was very possible that I was building two different systems and just didn't know it yet.
I found another option to finish the Nadia upgrade, but it left me with an idle Streacom chassis. There was nothing wrong with it and, to be honest, I didn't want to return it even if I could. I liked the case and would at some point find the right situation for it.
Fast forwarding again, when the G3258 came out I got pretty set on wanting it. It's just such a BAMF of a chip considering it can be had for less than $70, is overclockable, and has onboard video. When the videos and reviews started coming in any remaining doubt was erase. I would have a G3258. As it turns out, I would have two.
I already had a LGA 1150 build and could easily pop the G3258 in there and start playing. Of course, that left me with the FWP of having an unused 1150 CPU. There are worse problems to have. I ordered the G3258 and started dealing with another common FWP - waiting. For some reason, and I can't remember what it was, I jumped back on Newegg to check something out about the chip. Possibly to see what onboard it had or just to re-read some of the glowing feedback, who knows. Well, when I did, imagine my surprise when I noticed a little headline & image claiming "2 Item Combo". You could get the G3258 and a Gigabyte GA-H81M-DS2 mobo for a total of $80. Basically, you're getting the mobo for $10. SMH. How did I miss that? That board would be just the fix I needed for the recently displaced Haswell. So I bought the combo (my original chip purchased had already processed & was either packaging or shipping). I fully realized I would still have an unused 1150 chip in one form or another. But whatever. The mobo was $10!! And no rebate; I suck at following through on rebates.
The chips came in within a day or two of each other, I updated the BIOS on my existing 1150 machine, popped in the G3258, and got it to 4.2GHz with ease. I was able to get between 4.3 and 4.7, but not stable enough for my tastes. In fact, I even ratcheted it back to 4.1Ghz just to keep it a little conservative. You know, for overclocking the $70 chip by a full 1GHz. Put the new mobo in an available case, added the necessities, popped in the old (too soon?) Haswell. BAM! that system was online and purring. Sweet. I shelved the 'extra' G3258 and went on with life.
Sometimes, Newegg can be cruel. They plant ideas in my head. Case in point, I got an email about a bunch of special, once-in-a-lifetime deals. Of course I clicked on it; I never know what awesome stuff may be out there that I didn't even know I needed. This particular siren call had an mSATA drive. And not just any drive - it had a Samsun 840 EVO 1TB mSATA. Holy crap. I usually just see tiny mSATA drives like 32GB or 64GB, maybe the occasional 128GB or 256GB. And the prices are usually pretty stupid. But I do love the tiny nature of the drive. Well, the 1TB drive really wasn't much more than what you can expect to pay for a 500-ish GB regular SSD. It would almost be irresponsible NOT to grab the deal. So I grabbed the deal. And an image started to form of what I would do with the Streacom ...
I decided I wanted a reasonably powerful, yet tiny, build for the Streacom, and it would welcome the homeless G3258 sitting on my shelf. It would also be my first mSATA build. And I wanted wireless. 802.11ac, in fact. And USB 3.0 inputs and header. And minimal wires/cables. Everything obviously also had to fit on a Mini-ITX LGA 1150 board. Given my requirements, narrowing down the list of viable candidates was very easy.
Pretty much everything pointed to the GA-B85N Phoenix-WIFI. The reviews were very solid and the biggest complaint seemed to be low number of fan headers. Not a problem for this build. Leaned on Newegg again and made the purchase. Since it was going in the Streacom, I was going to need to get a 24-pin Pico PSU module. No problem. Found one on ebay for under $20. Also ordered an appropriate external power supply ($10) on Amazon. Suffered through the FWP of waiting as parts trickled in before I could fully assemble the build.
Now, I had seen mSATA drives, but only in online images, so I guess I just really hadn't thought much about just how small it would be in the really real world. That thing is ti-ny. It's about 1/4th the size of a 2.5" drive or about 1 1/2 times as big as a SD card. I included an image comparing a standard 3.5" drive, a 2.5" drive, the mSATA drive, an SD, and a microSD. The miniaturization is just crazy.
FINALLY, everything came in and I could finish the build. Since the Pico was the last piece to arrive, I already had the rest of the project built out just waiting to be powered up. I originally had a single stick of 8GB RAM in the build, but the riser was tall enough to interfere with the Pico, so I swapped in a couple sticks of LP 8GB I already had on hand. Fit perfectly and even helped tie together the whole 'let's get smaller' motif.
With everything plugged or snapped in, it was go time. Pushed the power button and ... Rita exhaled :)
I love it. I love the case, I love how snappy the system is, I love how inconspicuously ruthless it is. I even love that without updating any drivers, the WIFI worked immediately. Simply amazing. Just really happy with how it all came out. It included a very circuitous and indirect path, but that's what happens sometimes. And since this was more expressionistic than some other projects, I just see the detours as little layers of character that add to the lore of the build itself.
It may not be the most balanced rig on the planet or this site, who knows. But, in its own way, it is. Sometimes balance is a more subjective attribute than what specs portray. Afterall, these rigs, these machines, they're not just computers; they're our hot rods. They're our Mustangs, our Corvettes, our MG's, our Porsches, and our Jeeps. If we just wanted to get around town, we'd all still be driving a Dells :)
Edit: I also realize there is some functionality in the mobo that isn't currently getting used. The simple truth is I change stuff up and out a lot, so it is very possible that 3 weeks or 6 months down the line I decide I want to to use this mobo for something else. If that does happen, I've got the extra features to work with :)