Building a PC, Part IX: Downsizing

Hard to believe that I've had the same PC case since 2011, and my last serious upgrade was in 2015. I guess that's yet another sign that the PC is over, because PC upgrades have gotten really boring, to be honest. It took 6 years to muster up the initiative to get my system fully upgraded!


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://blog.codinghorror.com/building-a-pc-part-ix-downsizing/

As https://smallformfactor.net/forum/threads/2080ti-sff-build.12045/ tells you, the smallest case to fit a standard SFX PSU and a 2080 Ti is not the Dan A4 but the Velka 5 at 5.7L.

You mentioned you want a truly powerful system but I am surprised you don’t go for AMD Ryzen processor, wouldn’t it gives u more bang for the bucks? I got a Ryzen 2700 build (also SFF) about 2 years ago, then few months back just build a Ryzen 3900 for 12 cores/24 threads, very happy with it. If I am not wrong for same # of cores Ryzen has lower TDP as well which make cooling, esp SFF build, easier. Just my experience with Ryzen so far … no regret :slight_smile:

It depends what your goals are. For a server I think more cores is almost always the better choice these days. I’m more interested in maximum IPC (and high clock rate) than I am a huge number of cores.

That said, if you spend all day encoding videos, or compiling big projects in source code, the more cores but less overall speed tradeoff might be the correct one. And AMD is a lot closer on IPC now than they were 2 years ago, as well.

That is interesting, there are a few notes on the build though:

  • Highly recommended to connect a USB + ethernet hub to a rear USB port to eliminate all motherboard cables
  • Incompatible with integrated IO shields
  • Requires LiHeat 300 mm D Type PCIe riser for graphics card support

That sounds a bit ominous to me?

I’m not sure you can physically build a smaller standard mini-ITX system than the DAN A4 SFX, at least not without custom parts!

There is also this thing, but you can’t use a full size PSU or GPU

http://nfc-systems.com/s4-mini/

And this one

And this one

There are a few motherboards which have their I/O shields integrated, which is against the ATX standard and MUCH larger cases struggle as well https://rog.asus.com/forum/showthread.php?105681-Maximus-XI-Code-Z390-will-not-fit-my-ATX-case&p=743932#post743932

I am well aware of the NFC case and a lot more and – you’d be too if your zealotry towards Discourse didn’t stop reading you from the wonderful https://smallformfactor.net/forum

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If they want to survive and thrive, they need to be on Discourse :pray:

I’m still going with the Velka 5 not fitting what I said… because, and I’ll highlight for emphasis

I’m not sure you can physically build a smaller standard mini-ITX system than the DAN A4 SFX, at least not without custom parts!

Custom parts puts you in a weird place. I like that the Dan A4 SFX does not require any custom parts at all. Here’s my original review of it from a different forum in April 2018. This was a build for my son so he could become a Fortnite pro :wink:

This case really is a marvel – it is exactly right for a full sized GPU, SFX PSU, and mini-itx mobo. Just enough space to work in without it being a knuckle-busting pain. And so nicely thought through in every detail. Even the manual is IKEA level clear!

For such a small case it is surprisingly clean inside even with a rushed build like mine where I spent almost no time obsessing over cable cleanup. The split brain “GPU side” and “mobo and PSU side” design works well, and we’re on V2 so the initial problems have been ironed out. It has bays for two 2.5" drives as well (one on the bottom, one on the front), but I used the single M.2 SSD slot on the back of the mobo – not visible in the pics, obviously.

My only minor complaint, and it is very minor, is that it would be better to find a SFX power supply with shorter cables, there’s a fair bit of smushing excess PSU cables under the PSU there. Plus I went ahead and wired up the second 6-pin power connector even though the 1070 Ti I put in there, doesn’t need it, as well as the SATA power connectors too. I figured better to keep those extra PSU connectors in the machine just in case, I’ll lose them if they float around my office.

I even took thermal pics of that build

Note that I was not going for maximum power like I did with the Streacom DA2 for myself… but two giant fans is a complete fantasy on the DAN A4 SFX … that said, you can wedge a 92mm thin fan in the front bottom, which I did do.

Here’s a Velka build video.

What is going on here?

What is UP with people using SATA drives on these builds? Seriously folks. Come on.

Apparently there’s a Velka 3 as well?

That build looks literally painful, very tight.

Honestly, I’d be interested in even smaller builds. The Nintendo Switch got me thinking of it is viable yet, to build a portable PC-gaming tablet yet.

Two years ago I was considering to build my own PC, but in order to replace my laptop at the time I had the choice between buying another laptop, building TWO PCs for two locations with all the synchronization and software costs that come with it, or a highly portable PC – where the use of public transport meant that anything much larger than a 17" workstation laptop would be unviable. End result was that I got an Acer VX15 laptop after all, since even using external power supplies to cut down on the size, weight and internal heat production of the computing package proved hard.

I wonder if meanwhile parts akin to laptop internals are available for custom builds? Back then, especially getting the thickness down below 4-5cm was near impossible.

That experienced left me quite impressed with the Switch; The gaming performance is great, especially considering that the fan is barely audible under full docked load, even when standing right in front of me. (Fan noise was one of my original motivations for moving away from laptops.)

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Except if you’re running a database server which benefits more from a higher clock speed rather than just throwing cores at it.
I’d take a Xeon Platinum/Gold over any other CPU for my database workloads.

I use my machines mostly for development and don’t need a powerful GPU, just lots of CPU and RAM, and fast storage. I just bought two HP EliteDesk 800 G5 with an i7-9700K and an i9-9900K. Those are 95W TDP processors in an absolutely tiny 1 liter chassis that’s a marvel of engineering, replacing the already fairly small HP Z200 and Z230 SFF workstations I used previously. The second one (I haven’t received it yet) even has dual M.2 NVMe slots.

Here is Geekbench on the i7-9700K, fastest machine I own:

https://browser.geekbench.com/v5/cpu/1826503

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How are the acoustics with that small case? I would happily take a bigger case for a quieter build. I also tend not to put the absolute most powerful parts in partly for noise and partly for cost.

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Those USFF “Mini” or “Tiny” enterprise designs are pretty amazing; basically a decent laptop, minus the screen, in a smaller but thicker footprint. However, they just don’t have the cooling capacity to run flat-out continually. I have a oldish Lenovo ThinkCentre M92p Mini with an i5-4570T (2 HT cores, 2.9 base, 3.6 turbo), and it’s great for browsing, watching, and even light or retro gaming, but under significant loads (compiling or endcoding or folding@home), it throttles because of temperature quite quickly. And that’s with a 35W CPU! With a full 95W CPU, that fan will be going full blast quite quickly and it’s going to throttle very soon after. Yes, you have more cores, but there is just no way it’s taking advantage of the turbo clocks of those [unlocked] K CPUs for more than a few seconds before being slowed down to keep from overheating. Combined with the fact that it’s pretty rare to find those type of machines with a [non-enterprise] BIOS/UEFI that supports changing the multipliers, seems like putting a K series CPU in it might be kind of a waste.

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Did some downsizing myself a while ago, maybe the insights are relevant to you folks. :slight_smile:

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@codinghorror could you include the motherboard you used? I didn’t see a reference to it in the post.

Will you be forthcoming with benchmarks and temp under load as well?

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It’s not operational yet, but the use-case will be running parallel compiles for hours, so I will be able to report fairly quickly how it compares with the Z230 it replaces.

Was the fact the 3D-printed case not metal and thus not acting as a heat sink a problem?

Not at all. Even in relatively warm environments (well above 20°C) the components don’t appear to get unusually hot. The fans and the AIO are doing a good job moving the heat.

Yes, sort of. There are mobile class CPUs with reduced TDP and mobile class GPU modules. It can be tricky to source these however.

Right but who is actually running a live production database server on their desktop, doing thousands of queries per second? I think this is a bit of a fantasy. The more realistic scenario is compiling code or running unit tests. And even then, guess what we found with Discourse (Ruby)… the fastest boxes are all Intel i9-99xx!

Above is the post spec test, which is considerable at 10+ seconds of runtime.

Here’s my i9-9900ks Geekbench result for what it is worth.

That is the question, it depends how much the fans spin up. Right now I notice the video card (2080 RTX Ti founders edition) most of all – but it is unclear why the video card would suddenly decide to spin up to full 5000rpm?! I’m still looking at that. The 120mm and 140mm fans are fairly quiet; I may put a reducer on the 92mm fan (included with all Noctua fans) to keep it going slow as it tends to have a higher rpm due to its size I suppose:

Now that I look at this, it is interesting that the system fans are barely spinning up under load. :thinking: I guess it takes a while for system temps to raise enough.

Also @mrus your custom build is amazing. You’re right that the 860 QVOs get real weird (160mb/sec or lower) once you fill the internal caches. It’s almost like a fancy solid state tape drive :rofl:

@gortok I find motherboards are kind of interchangeable and not super interesting. I used the Aorus Z390 Pro WiFi on the DA2, and I am planning to use an Asus Z390 for the next DAN build.

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I’d hope no one is running production loads on their desktop :-).
Perhaps my remark was a bit off-topic but as a DBA, SQL is on my mind ;-).

Anyhow, I did test it myself by comparing workload running on a VM with 8 ‘slow’ cores compared to one with 4 fast(er) cores. The latter was the fastest even though it was 3 generations older. We’re talking about 2.5 vs 3.2 ghz here.

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