Description

After about a year and a half, this is the first iteration of my previous build, Invictus, to actually fully work and be satisfactory in all areas for me. Yes, it's a long story (and you can skip the below paragraph if you don't want to hear it).

The first iteration, which you see in the above link, was ultimately a failure due to the Intel stock cooler. Running Prime95 produced a near-instant emergency shutdown, and even real-world usage conditions (playing GTA) ran temps to about 85C at maximum fan speed, which was intolerably loud. Thinking it was a defective CPU or cooler, I exchanged for another 7700 at Microcenter, and got a different 3.5" HDD (Seagate Barracuda) while I was at it because I also found the P300 intolerably loud (as you're going to find out over the course of this story, my tolerance for PC noise is way lower than I assumed when setting out). The second 7700 and cooler proved to have the same issue, and the Barracuda also proved to still be too loud, so I decided to upgrade to a 7700K and Z270 motherboard, get a beefier air cooler (Cryorig C7), and downsize to a 2.5" HDD (Seagate Barracuda again). In a shocking turn of events, I also found both the C7 and the new HDD to be too loud, so I decided to go watercooled (Corsair H75) and SSD-only (WD Blue, which you still see in this build). Either for good measure or for reasons I don't remember anymore, I also decided to change the motherboard I had used in the first 7700K build, an ASRock Fatal1ty Z270-ITX/ac, to a Gigabyte Z270N-Gaming 5 (but not the same one that you see in this build; keep reading). Whilst building this iteration, I ran into a small but deal-breaking issue: the H75's backplate encroached on the M.2 SSD mounted on the rear of the board to the point that you could either have the SSD or the cooler installed, but not both. I chose the cooler, and simply booted Windows off of the second SSD for a couple weeks, but ultimately decided that that was a stupid solution and I would have to try another iteration. However, at this point in time (about May or June of 2017) I was still using an iPhone 4 and was in need of a competent smartphone, moreso than a gaming PC. I returned the Z270N, sold off the H75 and 7700K, gave back the 980 to my best friend, and bought a Galaxy S8+, which I am still using today. I then shelved the PC project for about a year, give or take, due to a combination of lacking funds and being too busy. When I came to the point of being ready to get back into it, I realized that a majority of my previous issues stemmed from trying to shove that much hardware into that little space without having the skill or noise tolerance to do so, so I offloaded the SG13B and the parts from its builds that I could not reuse onto my best friend and bought the Nano S that you see here. However, I also realized that given my available funds, I was going to have to temper my performance expectations, so I bought my best friend's 7600K and 980 off of him for the prices that you see in the list (ironically, the same 7600K that came out of his own build when I sold him my 7700K earlier). I rebought for the Nano S what I had dumped or sold off (including a Noctua U12S, which you don't see here because I got the Kraken X42 for Christmas), and got underway. Here comes my final and most recent ******. In order to save a little more cash, I got a used motherboard from Amazon Warehouse, an ASRock Z270M-ITX/ac ("Like New," if memory serves). When I had finished the build, with this motherboard, it booted and lit up but did not display out of the GPU. Embarrassingly, whilst troubleshooting, I ripped the physical PCIe slot out of the motherboard and thus was forced to send it in as a return and hope for the best. Thankfully, it went through, and I purchased the board you see here, which worked fine on the first try - meaning that Amazon sold me a dud and my ripping the PCIe slot out was actually fortuitous, if still stupid. (Very interestingly, almost exactly the same thing happened a few years ago while assembling this build - the build didn't work, I was trying to troubleshoot and separated the PCIe slot from the board, I successfully got a return through, and in the rebuild it turned out that the motherboard was the issue all along. Same brand and everything. I'm sure it's nothing more than coincidence but I'm still not buying an ASRock board for the foreseeable future.) In any case, after changing boards, I finally had a fully working PC that was quiet enough for me, and less the CPU cooler, that's what you see here. Incidentally, I moved across the country about a week later, and you have no idea how damn grateful I was when I got my PC out of the moving truck in one working piece.

The SSD is mounted like that because I didn't want to dig out the manual to find out how to do it properly. It's 100% secure despite how it looks.

The cables behind the back panel look like that because I can still get the back panel on and I don't see them.

The photos suck as per always.

Discussion on specific parts and why they were chosen can be found in the part reviews section. All parts are listed for the price they were bought at, approximated if I couldn't find the exact record.

Load temperatures were taken after 1 hour of Prime95 and Furmark, ran simultaneously, with all case fans slaved into the Kraken's fan controller on "Quiet" mode.

If you would like more pictures of the build from any angle with which to plan your own build, or you have any questions, please do feel free to ask.

Part Reviews

CPU

It works, but in 2019, that's about it. The era of 4-core, 4-thread gaming CPUs has come and gone, and it's not like they're unusable now, but you can expect micro-stutter and CPU bottlenecking in many modern games, especially if you don't overclock it at least mildly.. Plus, it's not soldered to the heat spreader, so the thermals are garbage no matter what cooler is on it, unless you delid.

CPU Cooler

I really thought I wouldn't be able to say that a $115 140mm AIO is worth the money, but it is. As used on a 7600K at 4.4GHz allcore, putting out about 75W of heat at max load, it is SILENT, not only at idle but even after running Prime95 for more than an hour. Granted, this is with a Noctua fan that tops out at 1200RPM and it comes with a temperature of about 80C under said stress test, but that's still impressive (and very useful to me). You might say that any air or water cooler can do this with the right fans and fan profile, but here's the important bit: you can use a temperature curve based on liquid temperature, which means that the fan and pump speeds go up nice and gradually, don't react to sudden spikes in CPU temperature, and aren't affected by bad CPU thermistors or bad thermal capacity of the CPU itself (e.g. Intel's thermal-pasted heat spreaders). And yes, I have tested, and my idle and load temps are both roughly the same when using a liquid temp-based curve as they are when using a CPU temp-based curve. What's more than that, with low-voltage fans and the right amount of splitters, you can slave all your case fans into NZXT's software with just this one cooler, making them all that quiet and nicely reactive AND able to be controlled in Windows rather than jimmying with BIOS fan controls.

Beyond those functionally attractive qualities, there's the obvious aesthetics, which 100% live up to the hype. The infinity mirror pump head and its massively customizable LEDs are simply unmatched by anything else on the market right now and you do not get tired of looking at them.

Motherboard

I like Gigabyte as a brand, as their BIOSes and build quality both tend to be a cut above. However, this motherboard has one very unexcusable issue, one that I've docked two stars for and that I even popped open my back panel and the hell that lurks underneath to show you. The lone M.2 slot, located on the rear of the board, is so close to the CPU cooler screw holes that even a marginally large backplate is likely to conflict with an M.2 SSD. Notably, the Asetek AIO backplate, which is shipped with the two most popular series of water coolers in the world (Corsair's Hydro and NZXT's Kraken), does this, which you can see in my photo. It is possible to use a large backplate and an M.2 SSD at the same time, as I've done, but the backplate will be applying force to the SSD, and I have a hunch that that can't be at all good for CPU temps or SSD longevity in the long term.

If you are positive that you will not use an M.2 SSD, or that your CPU cooler's backplate will not conflict and you will not upgrade your CPU cooler, I heartily recommend this board. Its BIOS is pleasingly intuitive, it is built and laid out well, its LEDs are tasteful and easily customizable, its onboard audio is good, and it has robust power delivery and power delivery cooling.

Memory

It's RAM. 16GB dual channel at 3000MHz/CAS15 with a heatspreader seems to get the job done and I got it at a reasonable price. However, its design doesn't pay much mind to being viewed from the top (as you will see it when installed in most PCs), so if you can find something with more attention to top-down aesthetics for a similar price and with similar specs (provided you care about that), I would go for that instead. It should also be noted that it is taller than base-spec RAM, at 42mm, and will potentially conflict with some old-school or very large coolers.

Storage

After using this as my boot drive for a period of time, I can say that I don't find an NVMe SSD to be worth the money for a gaming build (although I can't fault the drive itself for my poor selection). It is not significantly faster at booting, loading games, or pretty much any tasks I do regularly than a good SATA SSD. However, that being said, this is a good NVMe SSD, posts its advertised speeds as installed, and is snappy for what I'm doing.

It should be noted here that unlike many other types of hardware, a heatspreader is very much worth it on an M.2 SSD, especially if it's an NVMe drive or if your motherboard doesn't have an effective M.2 drive cooler. My best friend owns an NVMe SSD without a heatspreader (Intel 600p) in a well-ventilated case, and that drive throttles under even moderate usage while this drive stays steady and performing at about 65C regardless of what I throw at it (and that's without ventilation).

Storage

A competent mid-range SATA SSD, good for your boot drive or for secondary storage. WD's SSD software is somewhat useful, but beyond that it's not exceptional in the category, so I would only recommend it if its price is good.

Video Card

Still trucking four years on. Quiet, if not silent, under normal load and can maintain about 80-100fps on most modern games at 1440p and medium settings, which is duly impressive for a GPU that came out in 2014 and cost then what a midrange GPU costs now. Also, as good a place as any to note that EVGA's build quality and customer service is more than true to the hype.

Case

A very well-built and very intuitive case. It takes the accepted ATX mid-tower and deletes all the space and features not needed for a single-GPU build with mild to moderate cooling hardware, retaining all the ease of building in the process. It is also very well noise- and dust-proofed, looks great (especially if you enjoy a more understated aesthetic), and does support a wide range of hardware considering its size and the minimal building skill required (up to a 280mm AIO or 240mm with a long GPU installed, GPUs up to 340mm, ATX PSUs).

That being said, like any ITX case, some forethought is required. Using a long GPU and an AIO at the same time will necessitate removing the top panel, which looks ugly and can introduce dust. Using a GPU longer than 315 mm will necessitate moving the front fan(s) from inside the case to inside the front panel cover, which will reduce their efficiency and increase noise. Using an ATX PSU is possible, but it will mildly choke your GPU's airflow and may not fit if your GPU is thicker than 2 slots (even if it only has a 2-slot bracket). Also, a PSU longer than 160mm will render you unable to use the big cable management hole next to the PSU, which will probably look awful. This may seem like a lot, but compared to other and smaller ITX cases, it's practically a cakewalk and will give you a durable, quiet, well-cooled, good-looking build if you put the time in.

Power Supply

No complaints. There was less competition in the SFX PSU space when I bought this than there is now, and this unit thus isn't as exceptional, but it's also certainly not any worse. It delivers high-quality power at the advertised wattage and efficiency (per Jonnyguru, an excellent PSU review site you should be using if you aren't already). It's pretty quiet, even if the advertised "fanless" mode doesn't work all the time. It feels well-built and will look good in most builds, if your case lets you see it. One thing that should definitely be noted is that the pack-in cables are exceptionally short, which is a positive for most people (less cable clutter) but a negative for me (the pack-in ATX cable actually didn't reach in the Nano S). This gave me an incentive to buy nicer sleeved cables, but that's also money you don't necessarily need to spend, so make sure that the cables will reach in your case of choice if you're not planning on buying replacements.

Case Fan

Noctua quality without the coffee look at an acceptable price. There is just no equal for being noiseless or near so and still performing damn well/being well built, especially when mounted on a radiator or cooler. The fact that this one comes in a 1200rpm max, down from the standard 1500rpm, is further helpful if your fan control of choice works by percentage and you don't need the top-end capacity of the faster version.

Case Fan

I'm not particularly a fan of the fact that they gig more money out of you if you don't like the coffee color, especially considering they don't pack in the same accessories with this model as with the coffee-colored variant, but it's still mostly worth it. The best build quality and noise-to-performance ratio, as long as you don't mount it on a cooler.

Monitor

The best monitor you can get at or under $400. G-Sync makes a big difference to game smoothness and quality, especially if you're not able to hold high or consistent frames, and the extra 21Hz (from the standard 144) is very nice for low-spec competitive games such as CSGO. Moreover, the small size means that the quality of 1440p really comes out, more than it would with a 27" of the same resolution. It's also built pretty well and has endured being moved around frequently as well as being in the back of a moving truck for 6 days. If I had to make one complaint, the colors are mildly washed out, but that's more than excusable considering what you get for the price.

Keyboard

The best-kept secret of the peripheral market, in my opinion. For $80 or under, you get real Cherry MX switches (Red, Blue, or Brown), six macro keys (programmable on the fly), a braided cable, full aluminum construction, and dedicated media keys plus a volume roller. The keycap font is also quite tasteful, unlike most gaming keyboards.

Mouse

A very good pick if you have smaller hands but like to use a palm grip and find full-size mice (such as the Logitech G502 or Razer Deathadder) too large. Surprisingly for the price, it has 3 RGB LED zones with extensive customization, and an on-the-fly DPI changer with 5 customizable levels.

Headphones

Probably the best gaming headset one could get in this price range. Sound and build quality are both excellent, mic quality is passable for a headset-attached mic, and it's very comfortable and can be worn indefinitely.

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