Building a mini-ITX machine

It’s been a while since the last time I built a computer from scratch. I think it was in 2005. I say that because I remember a buddy of mine wanted me to play World of Warcraft with him and I needed a new rig to do that. Since then I’ve gradually upgraded some components (RAM, GPU, HDDs), but other than that It’s the same build as it was 10+ years ago.

Time for a refresh. Here’s a list of components that I bought for my new rig:

  • Gigabyte Z170N-Gaming5 Motherboard
  • Intel i5-6500 LGA 1151 3.2 GHz Skylake CPU
  • Fractal Design Node 304 Case
  • Seasonic G-Series 550 W PSU
  • 2x Corsair Vengeance LPX 8 GB 2666 MHz DDR4

And here are some parts that I scavenged from my old build to cut down on cost:

  • MSi N630GT-MD1GD3 (NVIDIA GeForce GT630) GPU
  • 256 GB Samsung 840 EVO SSD
  • 2x 2 TB WD 7200 RPM HDDs

The SSD is used for my OS and SWAP partitions, while the two HDDs are set up as a mirrored ZFS pool and mounted as my /home directory.

I chose to go with a mini-ITX build because I had never built one before, but I use to live with housemates who had these awesome shoebox sized rigs that fit on their desktop. They were actually mini-DTX builds, but close enough. Also, I thought it was finally time to get rid of my optical drive, and I really wanted to have USB3 ports as well.

It being so long since I had built a computer from scratch, I did run into some issues. The first thing I did was mount my CPU on the motherboard and pop on the stock CPU fan that came with the processor. I then put the stand-offs into my new case and installed the motherboard. Next I installed my GPU, SSD, and RAM. I only added the OS drive to check to see that everything was working properly. Finally, I added in the PSU and wired the whole thing up.

Installing the PSU into the Node 304 case was kind of annoying, so for the time being I left it sitting sideways in the case. If I had to do it all over again, I would recommend breadboarding your build before putting it in the case. I had issues initially with putting everything on the motherboard all at once. After plugging everything in I turned on the power, and nothing happened. Turns out my issue was #6 on this listing of things to do when your new build has post boot video problems.

I ended up disconnecting everything from the motherboard, putting in only one stick of RAM, and plugging in the DVI-D cable into the integrated graphics on the motherboard. This solved my initial problems. From there I was able to set an XMP profile, which was able to detect the correct RAM frequency properly in the BIOS. Then I was able to put in the second stick of RAM. From there I plugged in the GPU and switched my monitor over to that. At this point the whole build was still spread over most of my desk.

When I tried to start putting things in their place, I noticed that the clearance between the PSU and the SATA-III ports were about 5 mm. There was no way that I was going to get a normal SATA cable to bend in that space. It’s certainly something to think about when putting the Z170N-Gaming5 motherboard in the Node 304 case. It turns out, what I needed was either left-angle SATA cables or mini SATA cables. I bought two of each, and plugged them all in, even though I only need 3, because I don’t want to have to remove the hard drives and PSU just to plug in a single SATA cable. For anyone considering a build with this motherboard and case combination, I recommend the mini SATA cables. They have sufficient bend in so that you can plug them into the SATA port without too much trouble.

After all was said and done, I dropped Ubuntu 15.10 on it and ran Geekbench. My Geekbench 3 score came out at slightly over 3800 for single core performance. Not too bad. I’ll take it!

Written on January 13, 2016