Description

The product of months of sleepless nights researching the conclusive answers to every question about real world performance, value and compatibility.

THE MAXIMUM MACHINE FOR LESS THAN $550 USD

When retired, it will be used as the compact replacement of living room HTPC.

  IT HAD TO:
  1. BE AS SMALL AS POSSIBLE

  2. BE AS LIGHT AS POSSIBLE

  3. BE AS QUIET AS POSSIBLE

  4. BOOT TO A DESKTOP AS FAST AS POSSIBLE

  5. BE ABLE TO GET 60FPS IN ANY GAME AT 1080P

  6. BE AN ATTAINABLE BUILD FOR A FIRST TIME BUILDER

  7. HAVE ON-BOARD 7.1 SURROUND AND OPTICAL AUDIO OUT

  8. BE AS LOW COST AS POSSIBLE, IDEALLY UNDER $500 USD

    STORY:
    

It was time for a new PC. My most recent computer was a base spec 2013 Alienware MX17R4 laptop. Lots of room to play catch-up.

After going through every computer magazine for the last 18 months, I was ready to build a $4,000 Skylake PC with a GTX 980 Ti and every cool peripheral in the book... but then I remembered the scene in 'Limitless' where he gets to his apartment and thought 'saner heads prevail' and decides to clean it up instead of burning it down. I also didn't have $4,000.

After a tremendous amount of research, I concluded that most of the hype was simply good marketing, and many real world tests saw little visible difference in performance (if any) between simpler more affordable parts and the more cutting edge equivalents.

Knowing that I:

  1. Don't care about resolutions past 1080P

  2. Don't care about FPS PAST 60, as my monitor only has a 60mhz refresh rate.

  3. Can't spend more than $600 CDN ($500 USD)

  4. Already own the peripherals I need (Keyboard/mouse/monitor/printer/speakers/headset/mic/DAC)

I set out to determine the highest available performance that could be achieved by determining what the most competitive and currently undervalued parts were. Thus began the true research. The following reviews detail the product of that research.

The final product was everything I thought it could be, and I am very happy with the little beast of a machine that these parts have amounted to.

     DOWNGRADES:

To cut costs, I could have been tempted to do the following: (but didn't because the additional value was too high to decline)

  1. used 8GB ram instead of 16 (-$29) (viable... but $29 is the price of future proofing... and being able to run SW Battlefront)

  2. Used a 120GB SSD instead of a 240 (-$22) (If you NEVER downloaded ANYTHING and only played two games at a time... or one BIG game)

  3. Used a mechanical HD instead of a SSD... actually forget that.... that's a fail... (i.e. considering the trade-offs in performance, power, heat, noise, speed, stability, and 'wow factor'...)

  4. Used a full sized, non-modular, crap PSU ($-60) (but could give new meaning to the term 'Halt and Catch Fire'.)

  5. Used an older model Graphics card (-$65) (at the expense of capable 1080P gaming, thus defeating the point of owning a computer... also would you REALLY skimp on the GRAPHICS CARD?!?)

  6. Used a larger size MICRO-ATX build (-$11 Mobo) (-$15 Case) (but "discretion is the better part of valour.")

Ultimately any of these changes would be like poking a hole in the boat. WITH current specifications, this system has no weak points or bottlenecks (Within 1080P)

      UPGRADES:
  1. Add a 2nd 240 SSD and go RAID 0 for nearly double the storage, read and write speed and boot speed.

  2. Upgrade to a GTX 1080 for max gaming and 4k res performance

  3. Upgrade CPU cooler to allow for a more aggressive overclock (to 4.2 from 3.7) and likely silent operation

With upgrading to a GTX 1080, and an aftermarket CPU cooler with a mild overclock to 4.2 GHz, this rig would compete at the highest levels today, and thus remains an intelligently future-proofed build.

Part Reviews

CPU

It's Quad Core, and I boot in under 20 seconds from power button to desktop. (Win 7) I get over 60 FPS in every game at 1080, and the only bottleneck is the Video card. The extra 'AMD wattage' amounts to pennies over the year, and the extra heat ('extra' relative to Intel that is) is negligible compared to the old AMD CPUs from pre 2009. (Honestly, I had an old PHENOM II 2.5GHz that ran HOT like the metal element inside an electric kettle... never failed once... just ran kinda hot....) WHAT MORE DO YOU NEED?

One star off for noise as the Stock 'Cool and Quiet' is the noisiest thing in the build, and I likely will upgrade to a silent CPU cooler later to address this drawback. Capable as the stock cooler is, it does not permit much (if any) overclocking on a CPU that otherwise is expected to attain 4.2 GHz all day with the correct tweaking.

NOTE: AMD's new APU's with integrated graphics was a redundant expense as I intended to use an external graphics card anyway for proper gaming.

Motherboard

BEST FEATURES FOR THE MONEY.

7.1 support, RAID support, S/PDIF out, Bluetooth 4.0, A/C WIFI, USB 3..0, all at a conservative price. It's up there with the best of 'em. Any feature not found on this board would justifiably be incorporated at a higher price point model.

It is also of special note that this Mobo supports 64G of (DDR3) RAM... not a common feature for Micro-ITX boards. (tho admittedly not cost effective either when limited to two 32GB dimms)

Just a reminder, no on-board video unless using a graphics integrated APU, so post from your graphics card if using an Athalon X4.

Memory

RAM:

Ultimately, the biggest performance difference between DDR3 and DDR4 is in the numbers in computer magazines. Extensive research led me to conclude the following practical truths:

1 There is no practical or observable difference between DDR4 and DDR3 RAM IN GAMING) http://youtu.be/utWnjA4NzSA

2 More than 8GB of ram does not improve gaming performance on most titles.

3 Performance will suffer if the ram is slower than 1600Mhz

4 As long as the ram is 1600 Mhz, there is no observable difference in performance going faster. (but for the same price I bought 1866 Mhz.)

5 RAM IS RAM. Brand doesn't matter. Go cheap.

Kingston has a good reputation as being EFFICIENT and RELIABLE. These sticks are also much more LOW PROFILE compared to the monster heat sinks attached to G.Skill or Corsair equivalents.

Storage

A SSD for the system is a must. The cheap cost and superiour boot speeds and stability make it a simple choice. Mechanical drives are too big and slow... M.2 and PCI-E memory is too expensive and not worth the additional seconds off the boot time or the additional Motherboard cost for a model that supports it.

A 240GB SSD is more cost effective than a 120GB, but jumping to a 480 from 240 still doubles the price.

For maximum value, I would consider running 2X 240GB SSD in RAID 0 for the performance boost for basically the same cost as a single 480 GB. (I intend to make this upgrade next.)

The variance in performance of SSD does not justify the price variations. GET THE CHEAPEST ONE YOU CAN FIND.

As it stands, the single SSD allows me to boot into a desktop from hitting the power button in 19 seconds (Win 7, WITHOUT quick-boot)

NOTE: I am eager to quantify the increase in boot speed once I go RAID 0 after adding a second 240. I expect nearly 90% increase in speeds.

Video Card

I originally intended to recycle an old RADEON 4870X2 (C. 2008... yeah I know) but it had defects from age and heat, so I grabbed a small profile GTX 950 OC ed. from GIGABYTE. I realized from my research that the 950 was basically a down-clocked 960, so I figured that with the right software tuning I could restore the near 960 performance on the hardware. As I'm not intending to buy a 4k monitor at the moment, I'm more than satisfied with 1080P gaming, and this card is a true workhorse~! Also very small, quiet and power efficient.

Benchmarks surprisingly show that it out-competes the R7 370X.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVR2QvBljCI

UPDATE: I have successfully overclocked the GTX 950 to a stable:

Base Clock of 1,289 MHz (VS 1241 MHZ: GTX 960)

Boost Clock of 1,466 MHz (VS 1,304 MHZ: GTX 960)

and a memory clock of 6834 MHz...

with NO other modification (power temp etc)

The 4GB GDDR5 of the 960 does not provide a significant increase in gaming benchmarks, (although would be sorely missed if trying to run 2 cards in SLI) and the GTX 950 runs 30W/25% cooler than the 960.

Case

The Sugo S13B is by far the smallest case I could find. The build was quite manageable, and in spite of its small size, everything scaled down quite nicely. Originally I was able to even fit a double wide RADEON 4870X2 in there... (giant massive brick). Obviously the build is compact, and space is meant to be efficient and maximized, but that's the point of Micro ITX~! That being said, nothing was too-tight or unmanageable. I even originally used a full sized CM600 ATX PSU, and it fit nicely, however there was too little space between the PSU and the CPU fan, causing a tug-of-war which likely resulted in the CPU fan being starved of air. After switching to a SF450 SFX PSU, the additional clearance resulted in increased airflow and reduced CPU fan noise, as well as more room/airflow in the case due to the SHORTER cable lengths~!!

Abandon all your commitments to 'cable management'. (I still wont take off a star for that... it's expected when breaking new territory in the size wars, and they still did a great job... what we really need now is shorter PSU cables.)

Power Supply

the additional clearance resulted in increased airflow and reduced CPU fan noise, as well as more room in the case due to the SHORTER cable lengths~!!

Comments

  • 42 months ago
  • 2 points

I love me a Budget ITX Build, I'll give you 1,000,000+ Because hardly anyone respects how much time people put into their Builds and Descriptions...(Yours was quite a read haha) But Yeah...Welcome to the PCMR!

  • 42 months ago
  • 1 point

Thanks~! I like your 'retro budget sleeper build too'

  • 42 months ago
  • 1 point

I love the vibes in this build. Could this fit an RX 480 or a 390x? If it can then I'll be thinking to show this to mah friend since he needs to make a build for himself, and nowadays other budget builds aren't really like budget builds.

  • 42 months ago
  • 1 point

I'm not sure the specs on an RX 480... but the 390X (277mm) is within 7 mm of what I established could fit the chassis (RADEON 4870x2 = 270mm) It may fit, but it would be a little tight... If not, you may still be able to find the extra space by not using a 120mm fan in the front of the case.

If I didn't need to replace the video card... I would have been under $450 USD... price matching also came in handy when buying retail. (NCIX CANADA)

Thanks for the positive feedback! Good luck with your friends' build~!

  • 42 months ago
  • 1 point

Make sure you get the correct length 390X though... it comes in a longer and shorter variant, only the shorter (277mm) would fit.

  • 42 months ago
  • 1 point

Seems legit. Thanks!

  • 42 months ago
  • 1 point

How could you upgrade the PSU to close that gap the back, and also upgrade the RAM and GPU?

  • 42 months ago
  • 1 point

Regarding the gap:

Good eye! Unfortunately the Silverstone case did not come with an adapter bracket.

Since the case has mountings for a 140mm (or 120mm) behind the front grill, I intend to install a case fan pushing air through and out the back of the case, meaning I wont have to worry about dust etc. going inside the gap against the air pressure being forced out. Additionally, the gap provides more ventilation and less resistance to the internal fans.

The alternative is to put in a full sized ATX PSU, which will fit fine, but the stock AMD CPU cooler fan was literally TOUCHING the exhaust fan of the ATX PSU (CM600) that I originally tried.

Furthermore, if one WERE to use an ATX PSU, I would recommend mounting it with the exhaust fan facing up (so upside down) to take advantage of the ventilation in the top of the case.

Secondly, the use of an ATX PSU would almost necessitate an aftermarket CPU cooler that is LOW PROFILE (40mm or under)

Regarding the RAM:

The board only supports DDR-3 RAM, and as I stated in my build commentary, my research showed that no difference in gaming frame-rates was found in going faster than DDR-3 1600, and there was seldom a visible benefit in having more than 8 gigs (excepting some of the most demanding AAA titles... and the difference was not huge.) Furthermore, no performance (frame-rate) difference was observed between DDR-3 and DDR-4.

IF you need the extra ram for something OTHER than gaming, ie rendering... then you can put 64 GB of RAM in this motherboard if you use 32GB dimms... you can also go up to 2133 mhz on this board... assuming you want to pay the extra cost for both. (For the purpose of this build, there was no reason to incur the extra cost.) OTHERWISE go Skylake i5-6600 with DDR-4 and either 2X SSD in RAID 0 or an M.2/U.2 drive.

Regarding the GPU:

I only bought the GTX 950 as a stop-gap because the card I intended to recycle had problems. My intention was to upgrade to the GTX 1080 when it came out, however with the news about the RADEON 480 RX and its price point... I may decide to go that route instead.

Thanks for commenting~!

  • 42 months ago
  • 1 point

Of course. I am probably going to do this build and I love the size... just want to make sure that gap won't be an issue.

  • 42 months ago
  • 1 point

THANKS!

There is no issue with the gap... it actually helps with cooling and airflow... especially when using a strong (but silent) 140mm fan in front to push air through and out the back gap.

I intend to re-mount the PSU with the fan facing upwards, and moving it to the higher screws, leaving the gap below the PSU for even better airflow and cooling.

  • 42 months ago
  • 1 point
  • 42 months ago
  • 1 point

Yes it would work, BUT the Cooler Master elite 130 is twice the size for the same price. (130 = 20 liters VS SG13 = 11.5 liters)

The benefit I see with the CM 130 is the extra hard drive space accommodating an optical drive and it comes with CM fans

...but that comes by doubling the size of the case.

The Silverstone SG13 can fit 2 SSD and 1 HDD, or 2 HDD if you put a HDD on the bottom... you could also get larger capacity HDD and use less of them. It also accommodates a full-length GPU up to 10.5 inches.

If you don't need an optical drive, or are unwilling to use an external, then I would just install windows etc from a USB. (Otherwise I reused an old CD-R from a Pentium 4 rig I had, and hardwired into the motherboard and PSU with the case open to install windows 7, then I disconnected it and close the case.)

IMO, why DOUBLE the size of the case for those features?

  • 42 months ago
  • 1 point

Um yes probabaly but an r9 390x on a 450w PSU? Haha your funny!

  • 42 months ago
  • 1 point

Why not? The R9 390X only draws 275W (at max load)

Without the GTX 950, this system comes in at 153W, leaving 300W !

Also consider that the PSU is 80 GOLD PLUS, so expect great efficiency.

  • 42 months ago
  • 1 point

153w is that at idle or full load?

  • 42 months ago
  • 1 point

At full load...

95W for the thirsty AMD CPU.

The balance of 57W being attributed to the draw of the CPU fan, and maybe the SSD.

RAM (1.5 Volts), and case/mobo LEDs (< 0.5 Volt?)

  • 42 months ago
  • 1 point

I'll upgrade the psu obviously. Lol.

  • 42 months ago
  • 1 point

What for? You have the headroom.

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