Description

I completed/published my water-cooled NCASE M1 build last month: https://pcpartpicker.com/b/qFYTwP. This was pretty cool, but at the end of the day, 240mm slim rad was not sufficient to cool my i7-6800k and 1080 Ti with overclocks. So I decided to rebuild in a larger/more flexible (but still mITX) case that supports "standard" front/top rads, res/pump mounting, rear cable routing, etc.

I also picked up a full set of Corsair ML 120 Pros in the process. I swapped out blue corner caps on all the fans to match my build aesthetic. These caps are notoriously difficult to snap on and off, so I included a picture to demonstrate an easy method I found for removing them with a butter knife. BE AWARE the RGB versions of this fan have lower static pressure and lower RPM (1600 vs 2400) than the standard ML 120 Pros -- that's why I went with only 3x RGBs along with 2 of the regular, but more powerful variant.

Another major upgrade I picked up is the Bitspower monoblock for my (rare) X99 mITX mobo, which finally helped me keep the VRM/chipset temperatures at a manageable level (this was a problem all throughout my ownership of this board, see my product review for details). You can see in one of the pictures that the plexi actually snapped over one of the threads when I over-tightened the screw, so that sucked for a $170 monoblock, but there are still 2 other screws holding it down and everything is working ok...

This case does still have some significant space constraints, and at least for me cable management is a mess. :) My build benefits from the Zotac 1080 Ti Mini's smaller footprint, however. One note about the case is that a top rad with fans will probably create issues with RAM clearance (that's why I had to remove my Ripjaws V heatspreaders and replace them with low-profile, generic alternatives).

The one upgrade that’s still on the table for me right now is probably more storage space. I’ve been using the 500gb 960 Evo for a while, and I’m constantly having to clear old games to make room for new ones. No fun. I was thinking about 2x 2~5tb HDDs in RAID 0? Never tried that before, but seems like a decent next step after doing some research?

I think that's about it, but you can read my part reviews, previous build logs with extensive notes, or feel free to ask if you have questions.

Thanks!

Part Reviews

CPU

This CPU seemed like the best buy for me after performing some extensive research in late 2016/early 2017. At the time, Intel's main consumer line did not offer more than 4 cores/8 threads, but I felt that 6 or more cores would be important for future proofing, and I knew I wanted this CPU to last me at least a few years.

That being said, if I had to do it again I would (and will going forward) stick to a more frequent upgrade cycle with top-end consumer products, e.g. i7-8700k and similar. This is because some of the problems I have had have been rare and hard to find support for. Intel + the mobo manufacturers spend more time, resources, and visibility in supporting the mainstream market. The customer base for these HEDT chips is smaller and so support has just been more limited overall. That's why I would recommend, and personally will be, sticking to mainstream consumer parts in the future.

See my review of the ASRock X99E-ITX/ac mobo as well for additional details.

Motherboard

The only mini-ITX X99 board that was created. so props for that I guess. It looks like ASRock has maintained this position with a one-of-a-kind X299 mITX board too, so I do appreciate them catering that that market niche.

Some positives include lots of BIOS options, tons of USB 3.0/3.1, M2/NVMe support, native BIOS RAID setup, 3 PWM fan headers, etc. On the other hand, as you will see commonly mentioned in professional reviews, the board only supports dual channel memory. Additionally, the narrow ILM limits CPU cooler compatibility. It does come with a mounting bracket that lets you use many common AIOs, however. For example, I used an H105 that worked quite well. Another curiosity is the general board layout, with the RAM and 24-pin slots on the top, instead of on the right side like most other boards. Definitely something to keep in mind when choosing cases, cables, peripherals, etc.

Just to note, despite it not being mentioned in any press releases, I do see that ASRock finally released a BIOS/microcode update on 4/10 to patch this board for Meltdown/Spectre. I could only find 1 forum post from someone who tried this on their X99E-ITX/ac, however, and they reported (unsubstantiated) that it froze and bricked the board. To be honest, it isn't even worth it for me to try at this point, so I'm not going to bother.

The biggest problem, though, has been unmanageable chipset temperature without strong active cooling, which can be hard to provide in tiny SFF builds. For a VERY long time, I was so frustrated with the low results and seeming instability of my i7-6800k overclock, until I eventually identified a pattern of MOTHERBOARD heat prior to shutdowns. Very recently, I finally dropped a monoblock into my custom loop that covers the VRM and chipset, along with the CPU: https://www.bitspower.com.tw/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=173_254_257_264&products_id=4090. It turns out my suspicions were correct, because this dropped ~ 15C off my chipset temperature under load, and finally my freezes/bluescreens stopped, and my overclock is stable (i7-6800k only at 4.0 Ghz / 1.275v). So if you can even find this board these days, be prepared to drop another $170+ on an (equally rare) monoblock, or some other kind of strong, active chipset cooling solution.

So with all of that being said, this board seems to be virtually unavailable as of May 2018. Maybe you can find one on eBay, and pick up that monoblock by emailing Bitspower to inquire about backorder (like I had to). If you are desperate for a Haswell- or Broadwell-E mini ITX setup, well you don't really have a choice now do you? But at this point, you could probably pick up an i7-8700k and a Z370 board for the same price or better. You'll get way better performance and infinitely more compatibility that way. Which pretty much makes this a dead product now, along with the X99 chipset that it supports!

Video Card

Drool dude. All the power in the palm of my hand. Whereas most third-party designs seek to increase cooling capacity, the goal of this card was to be the smallest 1080 Ti possible. What that means is that it doesn't perform too well in the cooling department, however.

Check all the reviews online and you'll see that it easily hits its thermal limit (84C by default I think?) and throttles the clock speeds to compensate. I can confirm my card performed exactly in this manner, unfortunately (gaming at 1650 ~ 1750 Mhz clock speed vs. 1900 ~ 2050 or so possible with proper cooling).

Note that this isn't exactly terrible for a 1080 Ti, in fact its exactly the same way the Nvidia reference designs perform. But who wants to pay for the best videocard on the market, then see the clock speeds throttle!?!? This is what led me to attempt water-cooling in the first place.

Case

Wow, I love this case! A fair deal larger than my NCASE M1, but still a very small form factor. I think this is about the smallest you can get in a case that provides a "standard" kind of PC layout (normal fan/rad mounting options, cable management, etc.). Be careful to get low-profile RAM sticks if you plan to use a top radiator, because you will probably have clearance issues.

Power Supply

This thing has treated me fantastically for almost 1.5 years now. Rock solid and quiet. 600W is more than enough for any possible single-GPU build. I'm running a 1080 Ti (250W TDP) + 140W TDP high-end desktop chip. I don't think it's actually possible to put any more power than that behind those 2 components, but even overclocked I don't go too much beyond 400W, according to my Kill-A-Watt.

Case Fan

Strong, powerful, quiet, these "magnetic levitation" fans are sort of all the new rage. Comparable to the Noctua NF-F12 iPPC 2,000 RPM PWMs (I struggled to choose between the 2). BE AWARE the RGB versions of this fan have lower static pressure and lower RPM (1600 vs 2400) than these standard ML 120 Pros. I went with only 3x RGBs along with 2 of these, the regular, but more powerful variant.

Case Fan

Smooth colors with lots of options, patterns, etc... when it works. I have had nothing but trouble with Corsair Link and/or iCue so far, however (the Corsair RGB software). May just be user error, but I am not exactly a slouch, and I have seen the same problem repeated in multiple forums. Software starts failing to notice the Lightning Node Pro, thus I lose control of the fans, and I've only been able to fix it so far by opening back up my case to manually reset the Lightning Node Pro with a paper clip. Total pain in the ***, deducting a star for this consistent frustration.

BE AWARE the RGB versions of this fan have lower static pressure and lower RPM (1600 vs 2400) than the standard ML 120 Pros -- that's why I went with only 3x RGBs along with 2 of the regular, but more powerful variant. I came very close to buying 2 more of the RGBs before I just happened to notice the different specs on the product page. Deducting another star because they do NOT advertise this clearly at all.

Custom

I am not exactly a radiator expert, but as I understand it different fin densities are designed to perform best at different fan speeds (e.g. higher density is best at cooling, but only if your fans have the speed and static pressure to keep up). I picked this slim (30mm) rad for my build after reading this very informative article from Extreme Rigs: http://www.xtremerigs.net/2015/02/11/radiator-round-2015/.

Custom

Preliminarily, doesn't take a lot of temperature off normal usage, but took up to 15 ~ 20C off full load while stress testing the drive. This led to better results in CrystalDiskMark too. Not to mention it has a certain aesthetic that I happen to really like. Not a bad way to spend 20 bucks!

The instructions say to use the 1mm thick thermal pad above the drive and the thinner 0.5mm pad below. According to many Amazon reviews, however, since the memory modules are taller on the top/back of the drive, it’s better to use 1mm on the top half near the M2 port, then 0.5mm on the back half towards where you score the drive in. Apparently this will reduce stress on the board when mounted. I did it this way personally and it works fine (see my pictures for an example) — take that for what you will. :)

Custom

Not really made for DDR4. Doesn't actually cover the full memory modules once installed. I also don't think heatsinks are very important for RAM in the first place. They have a nice look though, are super cheap, and low profile. Worked exactly as expected/intended.

Comments

  • 17 months ago
  • 3 points

more storage sounds like a good investment here, but I would suggest that you go for something like two 4tb drives in Raid 1 instead of Raid 0 because Raid 0 stripes the data across the drives and because the types of drives you suggested are mechanical I don't suggest that because of the chance of failure and complete loss of data or headache of waiting for data recovery.

Wonderful build here and tremendous effort with the Ncase build I'm sorry that the temps didn't work out. However, that being said, this system is wonderful and is a terrific successor to the original.

  • 17 months ago
  • 1 point

Thanks for the advice and the kind words. Enjoyed checking out your builds as well!

[comment deleted]
  • 17 months ago
  • 3 points

Nothing in this life is free, brother. I work hard as **** for what I’ve got.

[comment deleted by staff]