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

Limited Overclocking

Antec’s TriCool fan is super-quiet at its lowest setting. Although the CPU and GPU load temperatures I measured were well within reason, though, I chose to test using the more audible medium setting, just to increase airflow over board components. The highest setting was far noisier, conflicting with one of this build’s goals, so I maintained the same middle setting for overclocking, too.

The platform I picked prevented me from increasing processing frequency, but that didn't mean I wasn't going to leave system performance alone. For starters, memory data rate is limited to 1333 MT/s on the Pentium G860, and our kit defaulted to 9-9-9-24 2N timings. The board did allow manual tuning though, and Crucial’s DDR3-1600 modules proved stable set to 7-7-7-24 1N at a stock 1.5 V.

We then shifted focus to graphics. The low-profile Sapphire Radeon HD 7750 ran cool and quiet out of the box with an 800 MHz GPU and memory operating at 4500 MT/s. Topping out in our Far Cry 3 burn test at 59 degrees Celsius at just 41% fan duty cycle, we knew the graphics processor was capable of more.

Using MSI Overdrive, I raised the power limit by 10%, and created a more aggressive fan profile that'd remain quiet during desktop use, but also assure GPU temperatures would remain in-check while overclocking. Cape Verde topped out just below its preset 950 MHz maximum, while the memory soared to 1250 MHz.

I ran a few tests and found that GDDR5 memory overclocking was very beneficial. 3DMark 11's Graphics suite went up over 80 points. More important, frame rates in each of our game benchmarks were up 1-2 FPS at important settings. But considering the small enclosure and my desire for controlled acoustics, no attempts were made to explore unofficial overclocking limits.

Rather, I dialed frequencies back a bit and tested with a 925 MHz core and 1225 MHz memory. At those settings, the customized fan profile ramped up as high as 60%, keeping the GPU from exceeding 60 degrees Celsius. This turned out to be far more pleasing than even our $650 PC's Tahiti-based Radeon HD 7870, as far as noise went.

  • 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