Disclaimer: I live in Argentina, 1 USD = 20 ARS. Things are pricey here so keep that in mind.
What happened, bro?
My brother brought in the PC I built for him last year, complaining about some BSODs, and how he set his sights on playing more demanding games. I said I was gonna fix the PC and see the issues it had, and that I would provide some upgrade ideas later on. Thing is, deep inside me I hated the thought of him sticking around with an AMD FX chip. It was going to be the Achilles' heel of any upgrade I could throw at this PC... Reminds me of certain devices people own and game on... ¬¬ It was time to get down to business and build my brother a PC I've been longing to do for quite some time.
Unbeknownst to my brother, I started purchasing all the components I wanted to use for this build, starting with the case. Thanks to one of my favourite YouTubers, Mr. Christopher Barnatt, I discovered this weird case by Thermaltake, the ElementQ. It cost a pretty penny, and was used, but luckily, it came with everything and even the PSU, which I would reuse for boot testing older machines that needed diagnosis. Around this case, some peculiar choices would be taken concerning part selection... But first, we needed to clean the case.
Why I hate heavy smokers next to computers
I wish the cleaning procedure was straightforward, but the case showed signs of being used by a heavy smoker: all the dust that it had accumulated was slowly becoming this thick and sooty nicotine sludge. I dunked parts of the case in water and quickly applied WD-40. The PSU was blown several times until it could be at least presentable. I didn't want to store that unit with all the dust inside. And lest we forget the smell. Since the case was black, no yellowing was visible and after a coating of Isopropyl Alcohol and WD-40, it looked pristine. So, let me introduce you to the rest of the components and some backstories.
What did I choose and Why?
Of all parts listed here, only the CPU and the CPU cooler were purchased used:
- Processor: Intel Inside Core i3-6100 (Skylake). Before the G4560, there was this i3. It wasn't cheap, but with its 4 threads of superior IPC, it could smoke even an 8-threaded FX chip, and you had a reasonable upgrade path. I picked this instead of the G4560 because I wanted to have the AVX 2.0 extensions for any productive task my brother could think of doing that needed that extra Instruction Set. Plus it was USD10 more expensive than an already overpriced Pentium G4560 in Late 2017/Early 2018.
- Cooler: Noctua NH-L9i. Needs no introduction whatsoever. I might hate the almond and cream-coloured fan, but it's a compact and superior cooler. And keeping an i3's temperature in check is a piece of cake for this cooler.
- RAM: 8GB Crucial DDR4-2400Mhz RAM. Two sticks of 4GB, and not of the Ballistix variety. They were overpriced for simply a heatspreader. I could've gone with a single 8GB stick, but whatever, I like symmetry in my RAM configuration.
- Motherboard: GIGABYTE H110N. Only cheap ITX Intel motherboard I could find. Lacks WiFi + BT, but no worries, the Internet connection in my brother's house is so dismal that he'd have to think twice before even attempting to do anything with Wi-Fi. Really loving this board, it's simple, and tastefully designed. Plus 5 years of warranty from GIGABYTE Argentina.
- GPU: Onto the main event. I bought the two most exotic GTX1050Ti cards out in the market, and this is one of them. Since the ElementQ only takes 1-slot cards, I was originally going to pick a GT1030, but felt that wasn't my style (Thank $DEITY I didn't, a Ryzen APU is already much better). So I bought the only full-height, single-slot GTX1050Ti on the market, the Inno3D GTX1050Ti 1-Slot Edition. Also offered by ELSA in the JDM. Best of all, the colour of the GPU shroud matched the overall colours and style of the ElementQ. Scored this deal right before the Cardpocalypse.
- HDD: WD Blue 1TB Drive. Bought a new drive, stuck with the older one that was featured in the original FX build, I already had a customer to stick that drive into (lol). Can't say much, it's an amazing HDD for the money, you can't go wrong. Would've loved to put an SSD here as well, but there were some space constraints, plus I was ripping my pockets quite severely by this point, it would've been an unconscious move.
- PSU: GAMEMAX DX-ATX (GS)-300 SFX 80PLUS Bronze PSU. The only certified SFX PSU available in retail stores in Argentina. I could've imported the ST30SF v2.0 by SilverStone, but adding shipping and taxes, I was paying close to what it cost me to buy a Corsair SF450. This PSU had enough Amperage on 12v Rail and with 300W, close to Office Prebuilts, I knew I was alright.
- Case: The aforementioned Thermaltake ElementQ. Fun fact: It's not made by Thermaltake, it's a rebranded case, sold under different brands. In fact I have another one that's too similar, but didn't use it because it lacked ventilation holes on the GPU side
The ever-lasting love/hate relationship between Mini-ITX and a tall boy with big hands
Prepping this case isn't the typical set of steps you can follow with, say, a traditional tower. This case requires you to re-think the process. So, I started with the HDD. I need to fit some special railings and install it beside the motherboard location. A weird drive mounting location, but once I filled the other spots and bays, it was a sensible mounting location.
Then I moved on with the motherboard, CPU, cooler and RAM. Straightforward process, save the mounting of the Noctua SecuFirm screws. I think a plastic backplate would do wonders, but I kinda get that adding that would bump with any nearby resistors and Tantalum capacitors.
The next step was fitting the motherboard inside of the case and
cursing like a grumpy Hillbilly grandfather getting aggravated by the nigh-on impossible task of plugging in the Front-Panel connectors and ziptieing them... Here comes a new challenger!
I bought a 3.5" front bay with two USB 3.0 ports, to supplement the existing 2.0 ports in the case and to increase the amount of USB ports without resorting to USB hubs. Fitting this wasn't a problem, but this negated any chance of adding a second HDD down the line, or an SSD. I would need to change the bay for a more complex bay with adapter, with an SSD bracket behind the USB ports, like the one Mr. Barnatt used in his ElementQ build. Another issue already apparent, was the issue of the entanglement of cables from the PSU that wouldn't have a place to be tucked into, which will be aggravated with the final addition (which you cannot see in pictures). But before that...
The PSU was next, all I needed to plug in was the ATX, 1 SATA and the EPS 4-pin connectors. No, the GTX1050Ti doesn't use a 6-pin header, and the PSU lacks one such connector anyway. Thanks to the included Velcro-strap, I made a tight jumble of the remaining cables, so as to guarantee airflow. I left a SATA connector semi-loose, because next up, was a DVD drive. Yes, indeed, a SAMSUNG SATA DVD Drive, which would occupy the lone 5.25" front bay and make things tighter than a Nun's snatch/ your sister's jeans/the corkscrew at Laguna Seca.
Now the finishing move was in... The Inno3D GPU. It seated nice and easy in the only PCI-E slot in the motherboard, quite the cozy fit. Once all was done, I put the single panel back on and test-fired the PC.
Your typical software installation
Nothing quite like updating the BIOS, installing Windows, some apps, Overwatch (what my brother plays most of the time), Steam, and then optimizing the OS. Going from 768p Low gaming to Mid/High 1080p gaming was the achievement unlocked with this build. I felt happy and fulfilled once the build was done, and presented to my brother as a surprise. Stubby, short, compact, it manages to look quite impressive. The 1080p TV this PC outputs to is sitting on top of the PC, freeing up some desk space and making the setup look clean at my brother's house.
There are very few builds I feel proud of doing, and this is one of them. Not only the reasons behind the build, but also the end result. Many friends tell me I should dedicate to selling Boutique ITX PCs, since I would make a pretty penny off that business. Problem in Argentina is that there's no market for ITX SFF solutions unless you go the corporate route. PCs are very commoditized here, people want the expandability and when it comes to entertainment, the HTPC market here is non-existent, as people would rather play on a videogame console, or have a DVR or a Chromecast and watch content. HTPCs are an unborn breed here and it's sad, because even that lack of ITX market is further made worse by the lack of availability of ITX parts at most distributors and retailers here. It is an egg and chicken situation as well. Since I started building SFF PCs, I fell in love with the ITX format (or the M-ATX format for that matter, too), and swear by it because of the added difficulty in putting things together and the end result being so unobtrusive, clean, sleek. I hope one day I live to see the ITX format or any smaller formats and standards take off locally (sounds like it would take many years, but I say it this way because I don't plan on living too long).
Hope you liked this write-up, thanks for the feedback and see you soon.