Feel free to post! Slowly updating this thread now!
I've always been a computer nerd and I suffer from upgradetitus but luckily I don't aim for flashy LED lights or for massive e-peen anymore. Instead, I've been facinated by small ITX systems which run cool and quietly whilst being just enough for the job and not being too underpowered or overpowered.
I decided on a project to shrink the size of the computers in the house this year as big, clunky ATX powerhouses were unneeded and small is the new big.
For myself, I've been pretty busy with life and uni so I don't game anymore and don't do any intensive tasks on the CPU so I've been trying to look for the right mini ITX case for the whole year now but I've been unable to find something but I thought I'd post my journey through ITX cases for people to enjoy (or run away from!).
I did contemplate getting something like a Mac Mini or a nettop but the price of nettops and lack of upgrade paths for a Mac Mini put me off them. Tbh, I reckon I could just buy a Mac Mini and get used to using OSX and call it the end there, but I actually like searching for the right case and watching how technology changes and upgrading. I guess it's just the nerd within me. I was actually very close to buying a Mac Mini due to the form factor and the price (surprisingly enough it's actually been cheaper than all the nettops I've seen but that's probably because it uses mobile chips rather than the full desktop chips but it would have been enough power for me along with the 6630M).
I'm going to tell you now that this thread won't be in chronological order at all but I'll try to at least make it relatively coherent and organised.
Fast forward to June 2012. I've just finished my exams, I've just broken up with girlfriend, the only thing I can do is get absorbed into my hobbies, which meant photography and gaming. I saw Diablo 3 on sale at Tesco (well £27 isn't really a "sale" but yeah..) and ordered it and as I played Torchlight a few years back, this refreshed the experience as I've always been a RPG type fan (especially MMORPGs - but they're the biggest timesinks in the world and I'm too old for that now!). However, I had upgraded to a 1440p monitor, meaning I could only get Diablo 3 running on 20fps. Very doable, but when it went into some of the more graphically demanding places, that dipped to 10fps which was not tolerable anymore.
That meant it was time to build a budget summer gaming computer! (Well I guess it's an excuse lol).
I saw a thread on the case in these two places (here and here) and decided to go for it as it looked VERY good for a case at only a little over £30 and combined it with some other bargains that I had seen and then picked up the rest of the gear for the build.
Budget Summer 1440p Gaming Build + Short Ace Ecco 250 mATX review:
Built in July 2012.
So hardware list first:
Case: Ace Ecco 250 mATX Case (CCL)
CPU: i3 2100 (eBay)
Motherboard: Asus P8H61-M PRO (PC World)
RAM: 8GB Samsung Green DDR3
SSD: Kingston HyperX 240GB SSD - £99 (Thanks to MrNeil's excellent spot!)
Graphics: MSI GTX460 768MB Cyclone OC (eBay)
PSU: XFX Core Edition Pro 450W (eBay)
CPU Cooler: Xigmatek Thor's Hammer (eBay)
Accessories: Xilence 120mm Fan (Sapient Computers)
You may notice that the hardware list and the hardware inside the photo don't match up and this is because I made changes through the build. I also sneakily photoshopped the PSU in as it came much, much later.
I originally started with a Celeron G530 (photo shows a Pentium box as I took the wrong box to photo!) but switched to an i3-2100 as I felt the G530 was bottlenecking the graphics card. It didn't help that the G530 only supported up to 1066Mhz speeds either which was not something I realised until I looked at the spec sheet after getting the i3-2100 and realising that I could finally set the memory to 1333mhz, I thought I had a faulty CPU!
Well first up, the case, Ace Ecco 250:
Very simple case that somehow looks quite elegant to me. Probably the minimalist look. On the other hand, it teases at me as I feel it lacks a little something on the case but I'm not sure what. I guess it's a love hate relationship with this case.
When I first pulled it out of the box, I was a bit confused as to why there was a DVD blanking plate missing and came to a conclusion that it must have been to cut costs as I couldn't find it in the accessories bag or in the box. We'll see later that it wasn't the case.
At first I thought that having the PSU at the top isn't very good, but I think it's all part design. Having it at the bottom would mean that the PSU intakes air through the base, and that would produce noise. Having it at the top probably also allows for the airflow to go straight through from the front to the back as the case isn't very deep.
I'm really surprised that for a case this cheap and small, it still manages to hold 3x 120mm fan with 2 on the front and one on the back.
Here's the case with the two HDD brackets taken off:
Didn't quite set the contrast/WB on my camera correctly so I was missing a lot of details (I only shoot JPEGs) so I photoshopped it a bit and tried to get the details back, hope the photos aren't too bad!
Each bracket is slotted into the bottom of the case and then screwed in with a small screw at the bottom and two thumbscrews at the top. There are handles to hold the bracket as it may get a bit heavy as it supports either 2 x 3.5" HDDs or 3x 2.5" HDDs. There are lots of rubber grommet things included to reduce the vibration from the hard drives, once again brilliant for this price!
The accessories include all the screws you could ever need (I assume so anyway - unfortunately I don't have 6x 2.5" HDDs and whatever else to fill up the PC. They've also included 4x red right angled SATA cables which is pretty rare as SATA cables are usually bundled with motherboards. I won't complain about freebies though! There are even more extra rubber grommet things too in the accessories bag. There's also an instructions sheet informing you on some of the steps to build your PC.
Apologies for the out of focus photo. The case features a tool less design for the 5.25" drives and PCI slots but my brain was malfunctioning and I failed to realise how to open the PCI slot and brute forced it, breaking the tool less mechanism. Technically, it doesn't affect it as you do screw into the PCI slot anyway to further tighten the tool less mechanism but I still felt stupid after breaking it. I may super glue it back on one day but not sure if it's worth the hassle.
Remember the missing drive cover? Well when I pulled off the front panel I found it! I found it mildly amusing that it managed to fall down inside of the case, during shipping, between the front panel and the actual case.
The front panel is quite well design, the buttons aren't stuck to it so the front panel comes away without the risk of ripping cables as there's nothing attached to the front panel. It's pretty much empty as it's simply to allow air to enter the case. It's pretty much the only place for the air to enter too so fortunately there's a metal mesh over the fans to prevent dust from entering. Unfortunately though, the case only comes with one 120mm fan preinstalled to the back and to install a front fan, one would need to remove the mesh which is slotted into 8 slots (2 on each side) which is a little fiddly to fit back in. You can't install the fan from the inside of the case so you can't avoid this step unless you decide to go fanless. I decided to install one Xilence 120mm fan as I'm a cheap skate and didn't want to order another one. I was also unsure of the noise levels of the fan so didn't want to risk building a machine that sounds like a plane on take off.
Fortunately the fan is relatively quiet when tuned down via motherboard fan settings and it still pushes enough air (I planned to go fanless for the CPU cooler). One annoying thing about the Xilence fan is that it has both the 3 pin header along with the 4 pin molex connector wired together so it's rather messy inside the case as 4 pin molex connectors are pretty fat but I guess one can't complain when it's pretty much the cheapest fan at only £3 delivered.
The preinstalled fan is another story though, on normal speeds it's definitely audible and on lower speeds there's noticeable motor whine. Luckily with the case on the floor it's almost inaudible over ambient sound levels though.
The walls of the case (this means the two side panels, the roof of the case, the floor of the case and partially the back of the case have a layer of sound insulation, which is probably why the PC is so quiet regardless of load levels for me.
The quality of the case is superb for this price and I didn't see or meet any sharp edges at all. I recall reading that the paintwork on the case was poor and that it scratched easily somewhere but I feel it's excellent, perhaps I've just not had a premium steel ATX case yet to notice the difference and I didn't scratch the paintwork at all or feel that it was poorly coated. The front plastic bezel is also very strong and doesn't bend under strength.
Now onto fitting the hardware....
Here's the motherboard, the Asus P8H61-M PRO. Got it on a special offer from PC World at a brilliant price and it, along with the case, is pretty much the sole reason that I decided to do this budget build. The board supports SATA3 but as the H61 chipset itself doesn't support SATA3, it meant Asus had to add their own SATA3 chip and they did so with an ASMedia® ASM1061 controller to provide 2x SATA3 ports. I've run some SSD tests and unfortunately the controller is nowhere near as fast as Intel's controller but it's comfortably over SATA2 speeds so it's better to have it than to not have it. It's almost equivalent to SATA2.5 IMO. I could have bought a more expensive motherboard with a native SATA3 controller, but the SSD is plenty fast enough for me anyway. Surprisingly I haven't had any problems either which is odd considering it's not a native SATA3 controller combined with a SF SSD.
The board also has a button/switch to overclock the integrated graphics but as I had a discrete graphics card, I didn't test that function. The BIOS allows for most settings but it refuses to boot with memory speeds that aren't support by the CPU, no matter the voltage or timings. This was rather frustrating when I was trying to run 1333mhz and 16000mhz before I realised the G530 didn't support them and I got stuck on a black screen and had to manually reboot the computer to get it out of the black screen.
Here's the cooler:
A full size 120mm fan tower cooler that unfortunately doesn't come with any fans as it's aimed at the fanless market. It does come with fan mounts for up to two fans for push pull config if one chooses to go that route. As it was an old cooler, I wasn't sure if it supported socket 1155/1156 but the seller told me it was newer stock and so it was refreshed with support for the socket. When I received the cooler I was happy to see that there was a sticker mentioning the support and opened it immediately to take a look at the accessories.
However, there was only one bracket that supported socket 1366 and socket 775. I then looked at the supplied pushpins..
Xigmatek were lazy. They didn't bother to make a backplate for socket 1155/1156 and decided to just make pushpins instead... I'm pretty sure most of you hate the pushpins as much as I do if not more so I won't tell you how terrible they are.
Installing of the pushpins to the cooler was relatively simple and only required four screws.
I fitted a 140mm fan (Thermalright TY-140) just to test the fan mounting system and it wasn't too hard, it was more fiddly than using the simple wire clip mounts though. Here the fan mounting system it uses includes little rubber tabs that fit into the fan hole and then slide onto a slot in the cooler, reducing vibration from the fan onto the cooler.
Well here's the cooler setup on the motherboard, looks pretty dominating!