Build A Liquid-Cooled Mini Gaming PC For Under $1,000

Posted: Feb 3 2014, 6:59am CST | by , in Gaming


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Build A Liquid-Cooled Mini Gaming PC For Under $1,000

If you go into your local technology store and look at the PC section, most if not all will be standard black towers. However, on the enthusiast scene, there’s a seismic shift going on with many people ditching their large tower cases and opting for shoebox-size ones.

The latest motherboards aimed at gamers and enthusiasts are tiny, measuring just 170mm x 170mm. The format, known as mini-ITX means you can get all the power of a full-size PC but in a vastly smaller package.

In this guide, I’ll be building a $1,000 dollar mini gaming PC using the latest hardware that can play games such as Crysis 3 and Battelfield 4 at high settings and making some recommendations on how to build one for less than $800 too. I’ll be building it step by step too so you can see how it’s done.

Step1 – The shopping list

I’ve chosen eight key components that offer the best value for money for building a mid-range gaming PC. The case is the new Obsidian 250D made by Corsair, who also gets a mention with 8GB of its XMS3 memory, H75 liquid cooler and CX 500W power supply, which are my picks.

I’ve used the M500 SSD made by Crucial for storage. It’s available in several capacities with the $80 120GB model usually being enough for Windows and several games. An SSD will make your PC super-responsive with everything from Windows to games loading very quickly. For the motherboard, MSI’s Z87i costs less than $150 but has all sorts of brilliant features and supports the latest processors.

The most important components to consider are the processor and graphics card. For the former I’ve chosen Intel's Core i5-4670K – a quad core, highly efficient CPU that’s excellent for games and other things besides – in a future article I’ll be looking at how to get more performance out of the processor for free. Sapphire makes some of the best graphics cards on the market but its AMD R9 270X VAPOR-X model stood out as being powerful enough to handle games at HD resolutions plus it’s also super-quiet.

Step 2 – Install the processor

This needs some delicate moves so not to ding any of the fragile pins in the processor socket. Open the latch on the motherboard, insert the CPU so the notches on it and the socket line up then re-secure the latch

Step 3 – Install the processor cooler

The Corsair H75 liquid cooler is easy to install. Simply fit the back plate to the motherboard, secure it with the pins provided, mount the cooler and secure it with thumb screws. Doing it with the motherboard out of the case makes it much easier. You may also need to apply thermal paste to the processor if it isn’t pre-applied.

Step 4 – Install the memory

Our small motherboard only has two memory slots, and you’ll be using both of them with our dual 4GB (8GB total) kit. There’s a notch at the bottom of each module that shows you which way round to mount it.

Step 5 – Install the motherboard backplate

Backplates are included with all motherboards and act to provide a neat surround for the ugly ports at the rear of the motherboard. Fit this into your case’s backplate slot before you mount the motherboard.

Step 6 – Install the motherboard and cooler

The case comes with screws to mount the motherboard – four are needed to secure it onto small mounting standoffs. You can use the rear ports to orientate it correctly. The cooler usually comes with screws to mount it – we’ve installed ours in the side of the case so it exhausts the hot air outwards.

Step 7 – Connect the case front panel connectors

Each case has cables that connect power, reset and activity lights to the motherboard. Use your motherboard manual to find where these are (sometimes they’re labelled on the motherboard itself) and connect the cables.

Step 8 – Connect the case USB ports

Most cases have front USB ports and these need to be connected to your motherboard too. Here we have a USB 3 port connector and this is pretty easy to spot on the motherboard.

Step 9 – Install the SATA cables

Here we can see the installed USB 3 and front panel connectors. Go ahead and install the SATA cables too so you can start installing your storage drives. you may also find it easier to connect these and the power cables too before you install the drives into the case.

Step 10 – Use any tool-free bays

Many newer cases use tool-free drive mounts that don’t need any screws or tools. Our Crucial M500 SSD fits nicely into a mount that can then be slotted into the case in seconds.

Step 11 – Install the power supply

The power supply slots into the case and is secured with a couple of large PC screws – check your case instructions for more information. Be sure to make use of any cable routing holes your case offers to keep your PC tidy.

Step 12 – Connect the motherboard and storage power cables

The motherboard requires two power cables to function. These are the large 24-pin connector and either a 4-pin or 8-pin connector. The storage SATA connectors are short, thin types that connect straight to the back of your storage drives. The PSU should have all these labelled and either it’s manual or your motherboard’s manual usually show you what to connect and where.

Step 13 – Install the graphics card

Our Sapphire R9 270X VAPOR-X graphics card slots neatly into the large PCI-Express slot on our motherboard. It’s pretty easy to find as it’s one of the largest slots going and on our small motherboard it sits right at the edge of the PCB.

Step 14 – Connect the graphics card’s power cables

Our Sapphire R9 270X VAPOR-X graphics card needs two 6-pin power cables so go ahead and slot these into place. Most power supplies include these and additional cables too so tuck any spare cables neatly away.

Step 15 – Install any WiFi aerials

Many small mini-ITX motherboards, our MSI Z87i included, come with built-in WiFi modules and antenna ports at the rear. If you’ll be using the WiFi, connect the antennas at the rear of the case and spread them as shown to get the best signal.

Step 16 – You’re done!

All that’s left to do now is to power up your PC and install Windows. I haven’t included a DVD drive as most people rarely use them with many games and videos stored or streamed online, but they cost less than $20 and are easy to install. You don’t even need one to install Windows as I recently wrote about, and using a USB stick is much faster too.

The total system cost here is around $1,000 dollars but you can make extra savings too. You can opt for a cheaper processor such as a Core i3-4130 and save $100, without sacrificing too much performance. Using a hard disk instead of an SSD could give you more storage and save $30-40, and if you can cope with a little extra noise, the Phanteks PH-TC90LS air cooler could save $50 compared to the Corsair H75 liquid cooler too.

Source: Forbes

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