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Small Form Factor Gaming PC

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May 19, 2010 6:13:35 AM

So I happen on a conundrum. I am active duty navy, and will soon be going on an extended underway period. I intend on purchasing/building a high end portable gaming/productivity (video/3d work and rendering) system. Price isn't really a big issue; the stuff I was looking at was in the 2-3k range. Time is an issue, I don't have much to accomplish this all in, and while I have no problem building a system by hand, I don't have the time to do much more than assemble: no time to really tweak/play around with the system once purchased. I am not opposed to using a 3rd party manufacturer, assuming they do good work in a timely fashion. I initially was looking at Sager notebooks, and found myself having a very hard time deciding upon one; none of the systems offered the performance that I really wanted, especially in a size that would work well with the desk it will be placed upon. This is not to say that I have discounted the possibility entirely, but because of the desk I have to work with, nothing larger than a 15 inch notebook will really do. Finally durability is an issue, it doesn't have to be a tank, but the thing may get some little bit of abuse, and will likely be transported in less than ideal conditions.

Thusly, I decided to take a look at some SFF options. The desk I am working with has a small enclosure (about 18" in depth, 9-10" in width and 12" in height) that would allow me to use a SFF box, though with the hardware I am looking at packing into the space, cooling may be an issue. The other alternative is placing the box 4' above the desk area and running cable. Not a huge problem either, and there is more room to work with, but in the interests of easy portability, I wouldn't be looking for anything significantly larger.

I have built many systems in the past, but never a SFF box. The best I can do with a laptop is essentially a mobile i7 and a Radeon 5870m, which isn't exactly the bleeding fast system I am going after. I looked at AVADirect's offerings in the SFF category and was moderately impressed, but I find myself somewhat dubious about the build. I threw an i7, the Radeon 5850, a 2tb caviar, and the 450W power supply together, but I am left with some doubts:

The first is simply power, The last build I put together was an i7 920 with a couple 4870s in xfrie, a 4 drive array and some other features. I used an 850W PS to give a comfortable margin, with this build; 450W seems somewhat sparse, though I am not sure if the new generation of Radeons when combined with the 800 series i7s offer significant power savings over my previous build.

The second is heat, it seems like the box would be a small space heater, even with an LCS for the processor (I am assuming that the small enclosure would make this preferable to an air cooler for purposes of internal airflow, but I am not sure if the durability of these prefab coolers is sufficient to its shipping).

Finally, I am curious about performance. My understanding is that the 800 vs 900 series i7s simply sport a somewhat slower bus speed; I am not sure if this will make a noticeable performance difference for me. If so, are there any other SFF boxes that support the 900 series processors? Further, I haven't built a single GPU system in a while: how will a single 5850 stack up, and do I have any other better performing options with so small a case. I assume a multiGPU solution is out of the question, but is the length/power consumption/heat dissipation of a 5870 going to prevent its use?

So after that diatribe, I guess what I am looking for is this:

Any general build suggestions, from case to processor to GPU or others?

Any good retailers that offer such a build?

Any issues I need to look out for?

And finally, any suggestions on a good smallish (less than 18 inches in width and as thin as reasonably possible), high-res (1080P ish), monitor with minimal footprint/small stand?
May 19, 2010 7:59:35 AM

joedhiggins said:

Thusly, I decided to take a look at some SFF options. The desk I am working with has a small enclosure (about 18" in depth, 9-10" in width and 12" in height) that would allow me to use a SFF box, though with the hardware I am looking at packing into the space, cooling may be an issue.


You might want to look at the Lian-Li V350:
http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/cases/2007/10/17/lian-...

It does fit your space requirements, but it has one design issue, the drive is side loading. Depending on the space and container, you might not be able to use an optical drive you put in there.

There is another Silverstone case that I was looking at, but it might not fit within the space restrictions you specified.

joedhiggins said:

The first is simply power, The last build I put together was an i7 920 with a couple 4870s in xfrie, a 4 drive array and some other features. I used an 850W PS to give a comfortable margin, with this build; 450W seems somewhat sparse, though I am not sure if the new generation of Radeons when combined with the 800 series i7s offer significant power savings over my previous build.


With a 5xxx and Intel 9xx you might be able to work with a good 500W psu. Though X-Fire is bit of a different matter as you'd probably need around 600W just to be safe.

joedhiggins said:

The second is heat, it seems like the box would be a small space heater, even with an LCS for the processor (I am assuming that the small enclosure would make this preferable to an air cooler for purposes of internal airflow, but I am not sure if the durability of these prefab coolers is sufficient to its shipping).


The V350 seems to be able to fit a decent sized air cpu cooler. A whole LCS might not be able to fit into such a small container, you'd probably have something on the outside of your case. And based on your need, it seems better if the whole thing is just one whole solid, compact unit.

You might want to look-up undervolting, usually shaves off 5~10C even with the stock intel cooler.

joedhiggins said:

Finally, I am curious about performance. My understanding is that the 800 vs 900 series i7s simply sport a somewhat slower bus speed; I am not sure if this will make a noticeable performance difference for me. If so, are there any other SFF boxes that support the 900 series processors? Further, I haven't built a single GPU system in a while: how will a single 5850 stack up, and do I have any other better performing options with so small a case. I assume a multiGPU solution is out of the question, but is the length/power consumption/heat dissipation of a 5870 going to prevent its use?


900's should really only be considered when:
1. You need memory bandwidth (triple-channel vs dual-channel)
2. You're considering the hex-cores and might upgrade later.
3. Going with multi-card setup, XFire or SLi.

For gaming, the 800's do the job well enough and have little to no difference with the 900's (given the same clock speed).

The 5850 is able to max out most games today, I think the 5870 is really needed when you're doing 1900x1200, max settings with insane amounts of AA. Also, the 5870 would perform slower than X-Fired 5850's, but it would surely consume a whole lot less electricity and produce less heat.

joedhiggins said:

Any issues I need to look out for?

And finally, any suggestions on a good smallish (less than 18 inches in width and as thin as reasonably possible), high-res (1080P ish), monitor with minimal footprint/small stand?


Assembly on a small case could be a bit of a b*tch as you're constrained with space. Though that's the only problem I could think of now.

* Sorry can't help with the monitor.



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