The last time I built a computer was around ten years ago. I built it with the help of my dad while I was still in high school as a machine I could take with me to college. We put in a Q6600, 4GB DDR2, and an 8800GT. I haven’t upgraded or replaced the computer since then. When we built it my focus was more on gaming, but since then I have dropped gaming and use this computer solely for my hobby of photography. With programs becoming more hardware intensive, and cameras ever-increasing megapixels this machine is definitely showing it’s age. It’s hard for me to justify a $1000+ build for a hobby, but I was able to source nearly all the parts and money I needed for this build through birthday and Christmas gifts this year. With that in mind I wanted to make sure I was getting the most bang for my buck with a sole focus on photo editing. That being said I did a lot of research and found some great articles/videos that helped out a lot with me part selection. You can definitely build a cheaper rig, and you can also definitely build a more powerful rig, but I am really happy what I ended up with.
One area that I did spend a slight premium for was in regards to aesthetics/silence. I really want a small and silent machine. Something I could leave out on a desktop and enjoy. My case selection hits on both small and aesthetically pleasing (while also actually being fairly cheap), but it’s known to have poor airflow, so I made sure to invest in quality fans and plan out my cooling thoroughly (more on that below).
Part Selection: TLDR: i7 8700, 1050Ti, 16GB DDR4, Crucial MX300 NVMe M.2, Etc…
Case: Raijintek Metis Classic – Black – This case is small, which was important to me. I also really like the aesthetics of this case. Its biggest downside is cooling. There is a new version out with vents on the top for the GPU, but it also has a windowed side. I’m going for a more understated look, so I do not want the window (and prefer to avoid the top vents for noise). The owner’s club over at overclock.net and completed builds on PCPartPicker were super useful and helped me a lot with planning out potential airflow. Upon receiving this case I can say that it really is very nice. I was actually blown away by how good it looks in person, and the quality of the exterior panels. There’s really not a lot to this case, so there isn’t much to complain about, but I can say that I am very pleased with my decision here.
CPU: Intel i7 8700 - Intel’s 8th gen CPUs are killer for Lightroom and Photoshop. Performance reviews focused on photo editing are hard to find, but Puget Systems puts out some great articles. I found the articles below particularly relevant for my usage. Lightroom seems to prefer faster core speed over more cores, however, comments via Adobe developers on some of their forums seem to point to Adobe working hard to improve Lightroom’s multi-core performance. So I think in the future this will change and higher core-count will be an advantage. That gives the 8700 and advantage over the 7700 that isn’t immediately seen. Additionally, I had no intentions to overclock (mostly because I didn’t want the extra heat generation in this small system, but I also don’t enjoy the process or potential stability issues). With that in mind the 8700 vs 8700k shows a very minimal performance difference when you look at their turbo-boost performance. So I saved some money and less heat by going with the 8700, for little-to-no performance loss (at least that’s the hope).
For those looking to shave even more cost an i5-8600k looks like it would be a pretty minor performance hit, so that would be a good option. Also, if you’re doing any video work than Ryzen starts to make a lot more sense and you can save even more going that route (better sales and no need for a CPU cooler, cheaper MoBo).
GPU: EVGA 1050 Ti – The articles below from Puget System makes it pretty clear that the inclusion of pretty much any graphics card will make a significant performance bump. However, what’s interesting is that how strong that GPU is doesn’t really have a massive impact. With that in mind, and the fact I don’t intend to be pushing any games on this, I opted for a pretty basic GPU. One thing I did want to make sure of was that it was blower style and did a good job of exhausting everything out the back. I didn’t want that warmer air recirculating through the system. This card has a full shroud extending all the way to the exhaust ports, so that seemed optimal to me. I don’t expect this card to be under heavy use, but the area of the case it’s in will not be well ventilated. I am going to avoid drilling any holes in the case top for aesthetic and acoustic reasons, if possible.
Memory: Crucial Balistix Sport 1x16GB DDR4 2400 - I opted to go with 16GB because a lot of people seem to agree that unless you’re consistently working on ultra-resolution files 32GB isn’t necessary. I did however go with 1x16 instead thinking that it would make upgrading to 32GB in the future simpler/cheaper. At first I thought there may be a performance hit going single channel, but the article below from Gamers Nexus shows there’s really not a difference. Additionally, the video from LTT lead me to not be super concerned with RAM speed, so I just picked one of the cheaper 16GB sticks available.
Storage: Crucial MX300 525GB NVMe M.2 SSD - After checking out the Puget Systems article below it became clear to me that storing my RAW files on an SSD wasn’t critical. All that matters seems to be storing the programs and catalog on the SSD. I already use an external 6TB Raid 10 setup, so I didn’t need a ton of internal storage, just enough for programs, my music collection, and other misc. I looked at how full the HDDs on my old machine were and decided 500GB would be a good fit. For those with less storage needs than me a 250GB drive should save you a few bucks. You could also save a few bucks by going SATA instead of NVMe with no hit to editing performance. I opted for NVMe primarily for faster boots and generally snappier performance in other day-to-day operations.
MoBo: ASRock Fatal1ty Z370 Gaming-ITX/ac – I put all of the above parts on to a fairly high-end mother board. You could certainly save a few bucks here, but I opted for this one for connectivity and anticipated future needs. This motherboard had the best USB 3.1 (Gen 1 & 2) support of the available options, and I really like that it has a Thunderbolt port (I anticipate using this in the future). It also has 3 individually controllable fan ports
PSU: Corsair SF450 - My case accepts a full ATX PSU, but as noted by tons of people, a SFX PSU makes building way easier, cable management way easier, and more room for airflow. There aren’t a lot of SFX PSU options out there, but research led me to chose this because it’s got stellar efficiency, which will cut down on excess heat, helping me keep this PC as silent as possible. Additionally, it has a semi-fanless operation, and many have noted the fan to be nearly silent even when operating (though similar builds on PCP note the fan rarely turns on anyway). So this was a winning part to help me meet my goals of silent operation. Additionally, going with a SFX allowed me to do a case mod that adds an exhaust fan, greatly helping out with airflow. Because I wasn’t using a ATX PSU, I needed an adapter bracket so I got the Silverstone one. I prefer it over the corsair model as the Silverstone version has some ventilation holes for passive venting.
If you are looking to save cost then going with a semi-modular ATX PSU would be a good option. This would not allow you to do the same exhaust fan mod as me, but that would be less critical anyways, as the larger fan on an ATX supply may exhaust enough air as-is. You also wouldn’t have to buy an adapter bracket.
CPU Cooler: BeQuiet! Pure Rock – Honestly, I found the CPU cooler to be one of the harder parts to decide upon for this build. I found the resources over at Tweaktown to be great for reviews and comparisons of performance and noise. There are a few budget priced (around $30) tower coolers, and then some single rad AIO to choose from. I was originally leaning towards AIO, but eventually decide the complexity added to the build and additional cost just wasn’t worth it compared to some of the better performing tower coolers available. As mentioned, this case has a height limitation and the Pure Rock just meets that. Additionally, it’s rated for way more than my 8700 should be putting out, so all that overhead will help keep things cool even with the low fan speeds I hope to be running at and it’s well reviewed for noise output anyway.
Case Fan #1: BeQuiet! Silent Wings 3 120mm PWM – Similar to choosing the CPU cooler, I found this decision to be one of the harder ones for this build. That is primarily because I struggled to get good review data of fans. My intended cooling setup is to use the rear fan for intake, which flows through the CPU cooler and then out via a small side mounted exhaust fan. Using this as an intake meant I was looking for a high-airflow style fan, and I wanted silence, as well as preferably black for aesthetics. Lots of people love Noctua, and this seems like the perfect role for an NF-S12A, but I found instances of people agreeing the S12A’s performance was underwhelming. Whereas, many people recommended the Be Quiet! Silent Wings, and based on the stellar CPU cooler performance on Tweaktown I felt confident going with a case fan by them as well.
For those looking to save cost this fan can be omitted and the stock one provided with the case used. I have not tested it for noise, but at this case price I wouldn’t expect anything special. A note on the stock fan: the marketing images for this case show the fan with bright orange blades, in reality my case came with an all black fan.
Case Fan #2: NoiseBlocker Multiframe 80mm PWM – I performed a non-obtrusive case mod to add an 80mm fan as a side exhaust. I was looking for a PWM controllable fan, with decent airflow, near silent acoustics (hard for an 80mm fan, I know) and I definitely wanted something black, as this will be the most visible internal part of my system through the vent holes. There aren’t a ton of high quality, silent 80mm fans out there. Noctua does make the NF-R8 Redux PWM, but I decided on the NoiseBlocker. I can’t remember the specifics of why I chose the NB, maybe because it had rubber mounts. I don’t think there’s a huge difference between the two; they have equivalent RATED dBA and CFM.
For those looking to save cost you can omit this fan with some thermal tradeoffs.
Peripherals – I already owned all these
Monitor: Dell U2515H
External Storage: Mediasonic ProRaid 4 Bay enclosure setup with 3TB drives, for a 6TB Raid 10 setup
Mouse: Logitech MX Anywhere
Keyboard: Logitech K800
Build Log: After thoroughly reading the overclock.net owner’s club posts I was mentally prepared for an arduous build inside this tiny case. A few people suggested they recommend removing all panels from the case while building, that includes both side panels, the top, and the bottom. I took this advice and actually found the build very easy, because after removing those four panels there’s very little in your way. Additionally, my use of an M.2 drive meant I didn’t have to worry about mounting a drive and routing power + data cables to it. So, I would reiterate the recommendation to remove all panels, also M.2 drives really add to ease when it comes to this small case.
I started by laying out my ESD mat and getting my MoBo out. I first installed the M.2 SSD, followed by my RAM stick and then the CPU. No issues so far. At this point I plugged in my CPU cooler’s fan into the appropriate fan header and installed the CPU cooler. Some reviewers of this cooler say its hard to install, noting they had to hold things as they turned the MoBo over, etc. I followed the provided instructions didn’t have any of these issues. In the instructions they tell you to install some rubber o-rings on the posts that travel through the board. These o-rings serve the purpose of holding the backplate in place as the board is moved around prior to the installation of the tower itself. Certainly, installation was not so intuitive that the manual can be omitted, but reading the manual and following the instructions led to a fairly painless install for me. To finished the cooler’s install I clipped on the fan to the tower, so that it would pull air from the rear of the case over the cooler.
At this point I switched over to the case. I removed all the side panels as well as the top and bottom panels. I then removed the stock fan from the rear of the case, and installed my BeQuiet! SW3, as an intake. I then popped in my MoBo’s I/O Shield, seated my system onto the case standoffs, and bolted it down. Next up I installed the GPU. Being a short style GPU there is ample room up top when using this card. I also plugged in my rear case fan here. I connected my PSU and peripherals to do a system test and ensure it would POST, which it did without issue.
Now gets to the part where I can start doing my custom modification. This begins with finishing the install of the PSU. To do so I installed the ATX-SFX adapter bracket (to do so requires you to remove the feet from the case to reach the screws with a screwdriver). I installed the bracket oriented such that my PSU will be shifted as close to the front of the case as possible. I then lined up my PSU on the bracket, with its fan oriented towards the system, not the front panel. The bracketry I am using to install my side vent fan is two pieces. One is a simple L bracket with two holes in it. The second is a piece that holds the fan, which also has slots that line up with the holes on the L-bracket. These slots allow me to shift the fan up and down along the L-bracket to adjust its position higher or lower in case I couldn’t line the L-bracket up perfectly. Prior to getting all my parts I created a to-scale drawing to determine how big the bracket could be, and where I should put it to maximize airflow through the existing ventilation holes on the side panel. I took a risk and went ahead and had a machinist I know make the bracket before I even did any assembly on my system, as at the time I was still waiting on lots of parts to arrive. As you’ll see though it fits like a charm. See images for what the brackets look like. A note of caution, I am not certain if CPU locations are 100% standardized with the ITX format or not, but if the CPU on your motherboard is shifted even a CM from where it is on my MoBo my bracket may need to be modified slightly to work, as it could interfere with your cooling tower. See images of assembled system to see what I mean.
To install all this I first mounted just the L-bracket. But to determine where I needed to mount it I installed the fan bracket on L-bracket and determined where I could physically install without interference with other components. Once I determined that I marked out with pencil the outline of the L-bracket. I unbolted the fan bracket from the L-bracket and got out some Locktite epoxy that bonds metal. I mixed this on to the face of the L-bracket and held it in position for about a minute, until the epoxy had set enough to hold the bracket in place. I allowed this to complete setting for about 10 minutes and then installed the fan bracket with fan. I ensured that the fan bracket was slid down as low as it could go to maximize the amount of the fan that could blow through the side panel holes. This was the last of my parts to install.
Now I just did a little cable management. There really wasn’t much to do here, as you can see. And overall there is actually still quite a bit of free space over top of my PSU. I bolted back on the side panels and called the build complete.
Overall I found the build process very simple, and with my component selection I really only had a few cables to manage, so this was easy to do in a clean way. I am very happy with my case selection, there are only a few cases available smaller than this one, most of which cost significantly more. Additionally, at this size it’s a surprisingly capable case when it comes to component compatibility. Aesthetically I am really happy, especially because it looks far better in person then in images. I am also very happy on the silent operation side of things. My raid enclosure with 4 HDDs inside it is now noticeably louder than my PC, which is essentially inaudible.
Fan Profile Tuning:
The first thing I did after the build was update my BIOS, install Windows 10, and updated drivers. I then worked on fan profiles. I used ASRock’s Fan-Tastic tuning utility and performed a “Fan Test” on each of my three fans which allowed me to create a table of % PWM to fan RPM. I then correlated the RPM of each fan to airflow using the datasheets for each fan. At this point I turned all fans down to a very minimal setting and ramped up each fan individually, making note of how noticeable the noise levels were at each 10% PWM. I put all this together to generate fan profiles such that all three fans are operating at a similar airflow (with the intake being slightly higher for positive pressure). I am operating at my highest airflow profile that retains silent operation until around 60 degrees on the CPU, at which point I steadily ramp up all fans (still maintaining similar airflow through all fans which explains the different ramp rates for each fan). The ramp continues until all fans eventually reach 100% at a CPU temperature of 85 degrees. You can see all this in my excel screenshot. This at least provides me an intuitive starting point, which I can further tune over time after more usage, if needed.