Choosing the Right Parts for a Tiny PC (Featuring Cooler Master)
21 September 2020
MAXIMUM PERFORMANCE FROM A MINI PC
Here we are in late 2020 and ATX is still the dominant PC form factor by far despite almost all core functionality being integrated onto the motherboard. Most PC cases share the same essential design of cases from 40 years ago! With USB capable of handling most additional connectivity and expandability, the majority of people never use more than one slot on their motherboard. So, with that in mind, if you’re just going to add a single graphics card, why not consider a Mini-ITX system? Cooler Master offers a range of cases, components and accessories that help you reclaim your desk space and do it in style, while giving nothing away in terms of functionality or cooling performance.
THE ALL-IMPORTANT CASE CHOICE
Your choice of case will depend primarily on the type of graphics card you intend to use with it (or vice versa). With most cards adopting a twin slot form factor, you’ll want a case that can house a two-slot card. Note that some cards are slightly beyond dual slot width (effectively triple-slot). It’s important to consider upcoming graphics cards as well. NVIDIA’s new GEFORCE RTX 30 Series (codenamed Ampere) range of cards sees some manufacturers adopting triple slot designs for the higher-end models. This means you’ll need a case with three slots, even if the card itself only uses the one motherboard PCIe slot. The Cooler Master NR200 is designed with this in mind. It can take a 330mm length card, meaning the NR200 can easily house a gaming beast without taking up half of your room.
The NR200P comes with a tempered glass side panel, allowing you to show off your build, or even mount a dual-slot GPU vertically with the included PCIe riser cable. Black or white options allow you to tailor an ITX build to suit your style.
Something else to consider when choosing an ITX case is what kind of drive support you need. With the increasing trend being motherboard mounted M.2 drives, there’s generally less need for a load of additional drive bays. Compact cases typically aren’t suited to many 3.5” drives, with this type of bulk storage being outsourced to a NAS or similar solution. Support for 2.5’’ drives is common, but if you’re running 3 or more, you’ll need to make sure your desired case has sufficient mounts. The NR200 supports 1x 3.5” drive and 2x 2.5” drives (plus an additional combo bay for one more of either drive). This will meet the needs of most users.
NO COMPROMISE SMALL FORM FACTOR POWER SUPPLIES
Some ITX cases such as the Cooler Master H100 will accommodate a full sized PSU, but unless you’re reusing an older PSU, the wide availability of highly capable small form factor (SFX) power supplies makes them a better choice for a 2020 ITX build. Cooler Master offer a full range of SFX power supplies that are perfectly suited to a compact build, without compromising on Cooler Master’s reputation for reliability and efficiency. They come with an ATX mounting bracket too. With this, you can mount an SFX PSU in an ATX case. Remember, you can’t do the reverse and squeeze an ATX PSU into a SFX PSU space.
The V SFX power supplies are available in 550W, 650W, 750W and 850W versions meaning there’s an option to suit any kind of mini-ITX build. They’re all fully modular meaning you only plug in the cables you need, minimising unwanted cable clutter, which not only makes your build look clean and tidy, but improves airflow, leading to more efficient cooling. A fan stop mode for silent low load running, the optional SFX to ATX mounting bracket for near universal case compatibility and Cooler Master’s 10-year warranty are cherries on top of these mini but mighty little power supplies.
THE BEST COOLING PRODUCTS FOR YOUR ITX BUILD
Cooling a modern mini ITX build can be done without compromise. A case like the NR200 mentioned above will accept a 240mm liquid cooler, such as this Cooler Master MasterLiquid ML240R or MasterLiquid Lite ML240L V2. Even a high core count CPU can be accommodated with good temperatures, low noise levels and amazing ARGB or RGB lighting effects.
All-in-One (AIO) liquid coolers are well suited to ITX builds due to their low-profile pump head designs. The radiators can be easily placed in the same location as a normal fan. With some exceptions, a 120mm radiator and fan will fit in the space of a 120mm fan, though you should always check the manufacturer’s webpage to make sure your components are compatible while considering additional things like drive bay clearance or other types of obstructions. Most ITX cases, including those from Cooler Master, are designed to accept AIO liquid coolers without the issues of yesteryear when AIOs were not so common.
If you’re not planning to run an overclocked, high-frequency CPU setup, you can always go for one of Cooler Master’s highly regarded low profile air coolers. How about this for something that’s effective and downright gorgeous? The Cooler Master Masterair G100M has a real Roswell UFO aesthetic! It’s a low profile design, meaning it’s well suited to compact ITX cases that may not accept a tower cooler or large AIO radiator. It’s got RGB support and its downward airflow design helps to cool the motherboard’s VRM and RAM modules, both of which can face heat issues in some ITX cases without adequate airflow.
PLAN YOUR BUILD WITH THE RIGHT ACCESSORIES
Cooler Master offer a range of accessories that help you to personalise your build, add functionality or simply make your build easier to... err... build! The NR200P includes a PCIe riser cable, but the same cannot be said of many other cases. A simple thing like this Cooler Master Universal PCI-E 3.0 x16 Riser Cable allows you to show off your graphics card in any case that supports a vertical GPU mounting. Some of the GPU coolers are works of art. Why not show them off? With a choice of 200mm or 300mm lengths, even large cases can benefit.
If you do plan to run a system with several fans, don’t forget something that’s easily overlooked – fan power and lighting splitter cables. Some ITX boards might have one or two ARGB headers, but what if you have many fans and a cooler with ARGB? Consider something like this Cooler Master Trident 1-to-5 ARGB splitter cable or perhaps the Trident 1-to-3 ARGB splitter cable. It’s better to take care of this in the planning stage instead of revisiting it later, avoiding a “D’oh!” moment!
ITX. MINI BUT MIGHTY
If you’re thinking of going Mini-ITX, Cooler Master’s range of products are perfect for the job. Whether you’re looking to build a small and discrete general use PC or a gaming powerhouse, you can do it with Cooler Master cases, power supplies (PSUs), coolers and accessories.
As always, if you need advice on what’s best for your particular build or any Cooler Master product, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at Mwave!