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

Assembling Our Little Budget Box

Assembly

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.

  • ingtar33
    great article. this type of look at how a low end "budget" build handles modern titles was perfect. Loved it. I think you got about the most you could hope for out of a $400 budget. Frankly i can't find a way to make something better at that price point. spot on really. nicely done.

    I do like how most of those games were "playable" on high settings at 1080p with that tiny rig... very cool.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    Nice build, makes me wonder how it would stack up to my old 4.0 GHz overclocked Core 2 Duo office PC. Which gets gamed on occasionally using its HD 6850 graphics card.
    Reply
  • envy14tpe
    Enjoy the $400 build. Kinda hoped for an A10-5800k build to compare to.
    Reply
  • rmpumper
    250 bucks makes HUGE difference. Unlike 2500 vs 1300 systems.
    Reply
  • allanitomwesh
    FINALLY! I agree this whole system builder was almost a fail.
    Also, I can't believe you had a SG05 and didn't build with it,it has an awesome power supply. Again,if you weren't getting a disk drive the V3+ was the smaller, higher quality case than CM 120 ( though they're finished on newegg)
    The obsession with ginormous cards in tiny places made your cases not tiny.Clearly,a more sensible build,like with a 670,would fit in a much smaller footprint.
    The lack of the FT03 Mini is a fail. It's a Mac killing case,and should've been the go to case for the $2500 build, because at that price,my case better look it.
    Otherwise I like that you were at least up to the challenge, and I applaud this last build.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    11047601 said:
    FINALLY! I agree this whole system builder was almost a fail.
    Also, I can't believe you had a SG05 and didn't build with it,it has an awesome power supply. Again,if you weren't getting a disk drive the V3+ was the smaller, higher quality case than CM 120 ( though they're finished on newegg)
    The obsession with ginormous cards in tiny places made your cases not tiny.Clearly,a more sensible build,like with a 670,would fit in a much smaller footprint.
    The lack of the FT03 Mini is a fail. It's a Mac killing case,and should've been the go to case for the $2500 build, because at that price,my case better look it.
    Otherwise I like that you were at least up to the challenge, and I applaud this last build.
    The FT03 Mini would have probably caused the $2500 PC's graphics card to overheat, or caused the graphics card to overheat the CPU. And a 670 might have worked, but then it wouldn't have been a $2500 PC. But please don't let the facts get in the way of your opinion.

    You could say that nobody should even bother spending $2500 on an ITX-based system, or that a system with ITX limitations should never be expected to provide top performance. At least those opinions would make more sense than the stuff you said above.

    Reply
  • brucek2
    My favorite of the builds. Feels congruent to me in that budget, form factor and system capabilities all align to each other and to my personal sensibilities. I could see making a system like this for a bedroom or den.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    11047721 said:
    My favorite of the builds. Feels congruent to me in that budget, form factor and system capabilities all align to each other and to my personal sensibilities. I could see making a system like this for a bedroom or den.
    Or even an office! Really. I might not build one of these for a performance competition, but it looks like a solid alternative to my retired-gaming office PC.

    Reply
  • CommentariesAnd More
    PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant / Benchmarks
    CPU: Intel Pentium G860 3.0GHz Dual-Core Processor ($69.99 @ Newegg)
    Motherboard: Foxconn H61S Mini ITX LGA1155 Motherboard ($49.99 @ Amazon)
    Memory: Corsair 4GB (1 x 4GB) DDR3-1333 Memory ($29.99 @ NCIX US)
    Storage: Samsung Spinpoint M8 500GB 2.5" 5400RPM Internal Hard Drive ($54.99 @ Newegg)
    Video Card: Sapphire Radeon HD 7750 1GB Video Card ($99.99 @ Newegg)
    Wireless Network Adapter: Rosewill RNX-N180UB 802.11b/g/n USB 2.0 Wi-Fi Adapter ($9.99 @ Newegg)
    Case: Rosewill RS-MI-01 BK Mini ITX Tower Case w/250W Power Supply ($49.99 @ Amazon)
    Optical Drive: LG GH24NS95 DVD/CD Writer ($17.99 @ Newegg)
    Total: $371.92
    (Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available.)(Generated by PCPartPicker 2013-06-27 03:06 EDT-0400)

    Some improvements I would like to suggest , Maybe I am crazy , but felt I should do this.
    Reply
  • silverblue
    Even this diminutive little machine would significantly outpace my old Phenom II X3 710, XFX HD 4830 and 4x1GB DDR2-800 (4-4-4-12) for a pretty decent price.
    Reply