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Building Even Smaller

PostPosted: Thu May 31, 2018 11:57 am
by Phauss
I was asked by some of my mom's friends from work that they would like a computer for everyday tasks. These are people who don't do any gaming whatsoever. So in the interest of treating a computer like an appliance rather than a tool, I decided to experiment a bit.

We need to go smaller.

Let's see just how small we can make a computer while still having something to "build". The idea is to make something appealing to the average consumer, something clean and compact, yet functional. Remember, no gaming hardware required. We're aiming for cheap. That being said, here's the raw parts list dump from Notepad:

60 - case - SilverStone Petit Series PT13 - ... 6811163407
75 - mobo - ASUS H110T/CSM - ... 6813132833
45 - psu - FSP Group Mini ITX / 19V DC 150W - ... BP94VY8108
40 - cpu - Intel Celeron G3930 - ... D7H5NV5723
85 - ram - Mushkin Enhanced Essentials 8GB (2 x 4GB) - ... 1K643C1994
55 - ssd - Silicon Power S55 2.5" 240GB - ... 6820301366
20 - cpu cooler - SILVERSTONE NT07-115X - ... 6835220067

$380 total without OS

I didn't include an OS price because I'm considering using Windows 10 S instead of Home Edition. It looks like there are hoops to jump through if I wanted to go this route, though.

This thing is about as small as they get before you start getting into proprietary formats. You'd be forgiven for confusing this case for a modem. A Mini-ITX motherboard (6.7"x6.7") fits perfectly within the dimensions, and the height allows for a 30mm CPU cooler. This thing is so compact, normal mITX boards won't fit due to height restrictions. You actually have to use a "Thin Mini-ITX" format. Besides that, the case is pretty slick lookin'. Two USB 3.0 ports on the front with a power button. Just the necessities. The top/front of the case is hinges open for internal assembly, too. The case also meets the VESA mount standard, so you could bolt it to the back of a computer monitor or TV.

Mini-ITX is not the smallest form factor you can get, but it is the smallest one with a removable socket. (Sort of. Intel NUC barebones kits sometimes, rarely even, allow for removable processors, but the majority are mobility-type processors soldered directly onto the board.) The "thin" designation means even the memory has a height restriction, and therefore uses laptop memory (SO-DIMM) that installs parallel to the board. Two slots on this board with a max supported memory of 32GB total. This is the cheapest board on Newegg in this form factor, so it's reasonable that it will have an H series chipset. That means less PCIe, SATA, and USB lanes/channels. Not that it matters, though. The case can only fit one 2.5" SATA drive and a limitation of 10 USB devices probably won't be a problem. I don't need to point out that PCIe cards are an impossibility. There is an M.2 port for WiFi connectivity, but I'm a little disappointed that it wasn't just hardwired into the board as a feature to begin with. (M.2 WiFi/Bluetooth card here and antennas here, ~$30 together.)

Power Supply:
You might be thinking what I was when I first saw this case. How the hell do you get a PSU in there? Is it some server form factor 1U rackmount thing? Nope. Just a power brick. The power plug on the motherboard is an Intel designation, not Asus. 150W to be on the safe side. The CPU uses 51W, so it's probably a bit overkill, but whatever.

I decided to go with a Celeron processor mainly for the price. I confirmed my choice when I saw how much the Celeron processors have improved in later generations. For the purpose of this computer, this is perfectly adequate. It uses our favorite LGA1151 socket, so the system can use a 7th-gen Core i7 if we really wanted (though I wouldn't waste my money with the H-series chipset.)

Laptop memory. 8GB DDR4 in two 4GB sticks. Don't really want less than that with Windows 10. Mushkin is a good brand. This is the cheapest kit. Nothing more to say here.

With room for one 2.5" drive, I suppose an SSD is the only way to go, huh? SSD will really help with system performance, too. 240GB seems like enough for the intended user in question, though for $50 more the drive can be upgraded to 500GB. Man, solid state is getting cheaper every day.

CPU Cooler:
I was a bit disappointed that a Celeron processor couldn't be passively cooled with a small heat sink, but I guess that was to be expected. There are two coolers that Silverstone makes that fit the 30mm height requirement. I selected this one over the other (the AR04) because the case specs specifically say that the AR04 won't work for some reason. It looks like a large part of the builds using this case also use the AR04 cooler, though, so I dunno. The rectangular profile of the heat sink looks like it could interfere with the capacitors around the CPU socket (as some reviewers online have mentioned), so I'd rather play it safe and go with the one I selected just in case.

Operating System?
I wish Windows 10 had a "Starter Edition" like Windows 7 had. It was essentially a very light weight version of the OS. (Windows 10 home actually installs features from every version, but those features remain locked until the appropriate license key is applied.) There is a version of 10 called S, though I don't know if "S" stands for "student" or "security", since it's made for both purposes. It's a slimmer version of Windows 10 that naturally has some limitations, the biggest being that it can only run programs obtained from the Windows app store. The advantage to this limitation is that any other software can't be installed, so overall security is very high. (It would be impossible to install malware and bloatware by accident, for instance.) Who cringes when they hear a relative complaining about their slow computer only to find it running 30 background processes? It's also worth mentioning that Chrome and Firefox are not on the Windows store, so the user would be limited to Edge for browsing.

I don't know of an easy way to get Windows 10 S legitimately. ISO's of the OS were distributed to developers using Microsoft's subscription-based Developer's Network, and it's not a totally clean install. That means that S was essentially an "upgrade" to already installed Windows 10 OS's. All Windows 10 versions could be installed with the S version except for the home edition. The only clean installs I know of come from OEM manufacturers that ship the OS pre-installed on the hardware. So the options seem to install Windows 10 S on an already-existing Windows 10 Pro license or find a clean install ISO through other channels. Does the S version require a license? Is it essentially a free OS? It should be, in my opinion, especially since you're forced to by programs from the Windows store, of which Microsoft gets a commission.

Or, you know, I could just install Ubuntu or Linux Mint and call it a day. I don't think that the user, who knows next to nothing about computers, would really appreciate that, though.

In Conclusion:
Can you believe there are motherboards with Q-series chipsets in this form factor? The only notable difference between Q and Z is that Q is the high-end enterprise-oriented line and Z allows for overclocking. You could presumably build a computer in this case with a Core i7 and 32GB of memory and actually have a decently fast computer for things like graphics design, multitasking, or data crunching. The only limitation would really be the power supply. It would be an interesting challenge, for sure.

Re: Building Even Smaller

PostPosted: Thu May 31, 2018 7:25 pm
by Clow
>go to bud's house
>check out his rig
"Where's your tower?" All I see is that external hard drive on your table."

Re: Building Even Smaller

PostPosted: Fri Jun 01, 2018 1:09 pm
by Forb

Re: Building Even Smaller

PostPosted: Fri Jun 01, 2018 6:23 pm
by Phauss
I did mention the NUC form factor, but for the purpose of the build I wanted to see how small I could go with a removable CPU, and therefore an option for CPU cooling. Although they are barebones kits, the vast majority of the CPU's in a NUC are soldered onto the motherboard. I learned this when I built a Gigabyte Brix in 2016 and it still seems to hold true today. You must specify which processor you want with the board and there isn't an option to upgrade it after purchase. There simply isn't enough room for the socket when the locations and heights of other components are considered and aftermarket cooling solutions don't exist.