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Assembling Our Little Budget Box

System Builder Marathon, Q2 2013: The $400 Spirit Of Mini-ITX


Our modest array of components takes up so little space that I couldn't help but think putting everything together was going to be a piece of cake.

I unpacked Antec's ISK300, along with the included hardware kit. Newegg hasn’t updated its specifications yet, but we received the now-common version with front-panel USB 3.0 ports and, thankfully, an adapter for motherboards like ours with USB 2.0 headers. Until those specs get finalized, there is no guaranteeing older stock isn't kicking around in a warehouse somewhere, though.

Prepping the case required very little effort. The wrap-around lid is held in place by three plastic-coated thumb screws, while another trio of screws secures the removable drive tray. With all wires tucked aside, I attached four threaded standoffs, popped in Foxconn’s I/O shield, and secured the motherboard. Intel’s low-profile boxed cooler would leave plenty of room above it once the drive tray was reinstalled.

My heart started racing a bit when it seemed that the PCI Express slot was 1 mm out of spec, and that the graphics card wouldn't drop into place. A closer look revealed the problem to be a slight bend in the ISK300’s structure at the lower thumb screw. The screw appeared to be over-tightened at the factory (I couldn't remove it by hand). For some reason, the rear slot sheet metal wasn’t flat, pressed in slightly towards the PCIe slot at the edge of the enclosure's lid.

Quick attempts to straighten the sheet metal by hand proved futile. Instead, I loosened the motherboard and offset it a tiny bit so the graphics card would drop in without force. It actually took a little patience to position just right. There's even some risk involved; a slightly offset motherboard may ground out to the case and fail to boot.

The other problems I encountered also involved the graphics card and case. Horseshoe-shaped mounting tabs on Sapphire’s low-profile bracket wrapped too far around the slot screw, so I had to trim off a good eighth of an inch to allow the ISK300's hinged clasp to flip into place. Without that modification, the graphics card would have been forced up towards the processor and sat crooked in its slot.

The system booted up just as I expected it to, and was 100% stable through my testing.

The USB 3.0-to-2.0 adapter cable was a bit bulky. Otherwise, cable management wasn’t too bad. Routing data and power cables up to the hard drive went smoothly, although I imagine I avoided a big headache by using a single 2.5” drive, rather than populating all available bays.

There’s not much else you can do aside from stuffing the power supply's cables back into the case near its slotted vents, though care should be taken to preserve airflow. On the other side, the enclosure’s exhaust fan has a very short power lead that needed to run to our motherboard. If you pick a different platform, it's possible you'll need a three-pin extension cable to make the connection.

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