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Thread: My new mini-itx baby (NCASE-M1)

  1. #1
    Pseudo-Mad Scientist Whiternoise's Avatar
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    My new mini-itx baby (NCASE-M1)

    Hey chaps,

    Finally overhauled the old desktop. I needed a PC that has a fair amount of grunt, but was also portable and ideally quiet. Mini-ITX ticks most of the boxes for size and functionality since I don't need SLI/Crossfire. I code a lot for work, but it's mostly CPU-bound stuff though we're looking at CUDA in the future.

    I specced up a build that should last me another 7 years, enjoy!



    The main problem was choosing a case. Initially I looked at the Hadron Air, but it's got a weird angled base which looks like it's easy to knock over. A big issue with current ITX cases is that most of them are, frankly, huge. There seems to be a split between HTPCs and gaming rigs, the former too small and the latter too large.

    The next problem is power supplies. There are a few semi-fanless SFF units, like the Silverstone SFX500-LG, but the reviews are mixed. Lots of reports about the fans clunking when the PSU transitions from passive to active cooling. Basically once someone makes a good SFF power supply with over 400W that's silent and fully modular, I'm game.

    I settled on the NCASE-M1 in the end because it's still pretty small and it's ridiculously customisable. It's not cheap, at around $180 (I paid £25 import duty on it too), but it's a very nice bit of kit. You can fit a full ATX power supply or a full length graphics card. It's even designed to fit a 240mm radiator somehow. Essentially whatever type of small system you want, you can build.

    The other components:

    Motherboard:
    ASUS ROG Maximus VIII - can't really beat it for specs
    CPU: i7-6700K at stock clock
    Cooler: Noctua NH-D9L
    RAM: 16GB Corsair Vengeance (not sure on the timings, but nothing special)
    PSU: XFX XTS-460W fully passive and modular
    GPU: GTX 750Ti KalmX (passive)
    HDD1: old 256GB SSD I had lying around
    HDD2: 1TB magnetic
    Fans: Noctua 92mm PWM on the rear and 2x 120mm Arctic F12 PWM intakes on the base
    Keboard/Mouse: Logitech 750 solar keyboard, Logitech M705
    Speakers: Audioengine A2 with ghetto stands
    Screen: 24" Dell IPS

    The new things are the case, fans, motherboard, CPU, RAM and PSU. I went for the -K because I'd like the option of overclocking later and it's a little bit faster than the 6700.

    As you can see from the pictures it's quite a tight fit. The NCASE is a beautiful piece of hardware, but a total arse to build. Everything must be screwed in, this is probably due to how customisable the layout is. Once everything is installed, maintenance is quite easy because all four panels pop off with studs.



    The motherboard was easy enough and there's loads of room for the cooler. The NH-D9L has a 90mm square footprint which is fully compliant with the LGA1151 keepout zone. Height is fine too. The only problem was the mobo backplate. It's got some weird metal covered foam and it was a tight squeeze into the cutout in the chassis. I'm not sure if it's poor tolerance on ASUS' or NCASE's part, but other users have said similar things. There's also a poor design with the reset/power buttons because they don't stick out far enough and foul on the backplate so you can push them by mistake. They're the two circles next to the LED readout. Otherwise it's a nice board and well laid out.




    You can see it's got pretty much all you'd ever need - 4x USB3.0, USB3.1 A+C, ethernet, WiFi/BT, HDMI, optical audio, blah blah. There are a further two USB3.0 ports on the chassis. I've covered the water cooling holes with some 1" rubber blanks from eBay - the originals were designed to poke pipes through.



    I had the 750Ti from my old rig. It's a crazy card. Power usage is very, very low. It's fully passive and can run games up to about Far Cry 3 on full at 1080p. I don't really do up to date gaming, still working through my Steam back catalogue. The passive cooler on the GPU is basically flush with the case, perhaps 1 mm clearance.

    The PSU is easy enough to fit in, but cable routing is a challenge. The XTS power supplies have flat flex cables which is great because they stuff well. Behind the power supply is the SSD, not screwed in because I couldn't figure out a way of doing it while simultaneously mounting the mechanical drive behind the front panel. Oh well. The bottom fans went in first and both have grills to prevent cables fouling the blades. The idea is that one fan can deal with the GPU if it gets toasty and the other can handle the PSU.



    I nearly got away without needing a Molex cable, but the fan card required it. The other big advantage of the 750Ti is that it doesn't need external power, it's fine with just the PCIe bus. That saves a cable. Otherwise the Motherboard and CPU power cables are shoved round the back. The front USB cable and audio cables are less tidy because it's hard to hide them. The USB header isn't very secure and any significant sideways force pops it out. The audio header is fairly short too, going into the onboard sound card and there isn't anywhere to hide it. Other cables are routed up through the front of the case where the optical drive would be.

    An SFF power supply would make things a lot easier, I should point out. It would be fitted 90 degrees with respect to the ATX mounting bracket and gives you enough space for the full length GPU and a hard drive cage. I happened to pick up the XTS for cheap and it is fully passive and fully modular, no coil whine either. Maybe in the future I'll switch to SFF, but this works for now.

    I bought the model with the optical drive slot, so at some point I'll have to figure out how to keep both hard drives and install a blu-ray drive too.

    The keyboard mouse combo is mostly so I could use a single USB port. The mouse has a decent battery life and the keyboard charges with the room light so should last forever.

    All the fans are PWM and are individually controlled using ASUS' extension card, which adds another 3 headers in addition to the one on the board. The card is the thing covered in duck tape next to the power supply. It comes as a bare PCB with mounting holes, but I have no idea where they imagine people are going to attach it. The easiest solution seemed to be to cover it in tape to insulate it and squeeze it at the top. You can also plug in a couple of thermistors, one is included with the motherboard. I use this to monitor the PSU temperature and you can trigger fan speeds from it. Note the extension lead to route the mains from the back of the case.

    The extension card is good, but you can only control it using ASUS' AI Suite which crashes a lot in Windows 10. It's annoying because the hysteresis is poor and sometimes the fans spool up and down repeatedly (even though they're supposed to take 255 seconds to spin up).



    Temperatures are generally good. The fans are turned off most of the time. I was careful with this case, because airflow is pretty poor. However, the 750Ti is such a lightweight that it barely produces any heat even at full load. The PSU thermistor, too, rarely hits above 35. The main problem is the motherboard chipset which pushes 65 if the fans are off. The processor is usually happy mid-40s, if I load it the temps go up to mid 60's. In 'panic' mode with all the fans at maximum, I can keep the CPU down at around 50 under full load, though that sounds like a jet is taking off. I'm thinking about swapping the bottom fans for something more quiet, perhaps a couple of Noctuas. The F12s have good reviews, but they drone a bit when they spin up.

    All in all I'm very happy. Under general browsing, the only real noise is the mechanical hard drive - I'm waiting for the price of the 0.5TB drives to drop a little bit more...

    Hope you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed building it! Wait.. no, I don't
    Last edited by Whiternoise; 01-03-2016 at 03:20 AM.

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    DDY (01-03-2016)

  3. #2
    Bows out! CAT-THE-FIFTH's Avatar
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    Re: My new mini-itx baby (NCASE-M1)

    Shiny!


    Those despicable Elk,stealing the pond weed!

  4. #3
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    Re: My new mini-itx baby (NCASE-M1)

    Liking it here!

  5. #4
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    Re: My new mini-itx baby (NCASE-M1)

    nice bit of kit

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