Jul 21, 2014

Mini-ITX Computer: GeForce GTX 780, Intel Core i7-4790K, Gigabyte GA-Z97N, and Cooler Master Elite 130.

Over the past few years I have been using a Lenovo ThinkPad X230 Tablet and I have enjoyed the convertible form factor. The one issue with the the X230T is that lacks graphical power--gaming graphical power that is. Without a doubt there have been many graphical advancements in small-form factor systems but they are always behind desktop PCs. Since I desire to develop 3D content and currently cannot depend on any convertible tablet I have chosen to put together a good 3D developer machine.  This post has all the components of the system and could be a helpful guide for those with the thought of building a similar system.


  • GPU: $506 on an EVGA GeForce GTX780 SuperClocked 3GB DDR5
    • The first thing I needed to consider was how much 3D power I wanted.  There are a great number of cards available, and it can be very confusing to decide which one.  I settled for the GTX780 because it's a well-known gaming-class card.  With the card I can run 3D editing tools at the same time run a game engine.  The card also comes bundled with software that allows video capture of the desktop and whatever game or game engine you are running.

  • CPU: $340 on an Intel Core i7-4790K, 4 GHz to 4.4 GHz.
    • I debated with myself whether to get this or the considerably cheaper i5-4690K (3.5 GHz to 3.9 GHz).  I chose the i7 because I knew that I would regret missing out on the faster clock speed and the "future-proofing" that Hyper-Threading brings.  Frankly though, if one is to only do gaming the i5 is more than sufficient, but for developer fellows there is a need for a little more CPU power that the i7 has.

  • Motherboard: $125 onGigabyte Z97N-Wifi Mini-ITX
    • With the GPU and CPU picked now I need to pick a motherboard that can support them.  Intel has a great website with a list of compatible motherboards for the i7-4790K (socket 1150, Intel Z97 chipset).  This motherboard was picked because it was well-priced, includes wifi, and has one PCI-E slot.  The single PCI-E slot is sufficient for the single GPU.  It would be neat to play with two GPUs in SLI, which would require two PCI-E slots, but I think having a single powerful GPU is enough for my needs--also two GPUs would make this rig even more expensive.

  • Power Supply: $80 onCorsair CX Series Modular CX750M ATX Power Supply 750 Watt.
    • First, Nvidia recommends 600 W power supply for the GPU to function properly, which the CX750M is more than capable of supplying.  Second, this is a "modular" power supply--which means that it has a few "essential" cables and then there are several other "optional" cables.  The modularity reduces the number of cables present inside the case.  Depending on your needs the CX600M might be enough, but for my needs (which include a blu-ray drive, several hard drives and ssds) I had to get the 750 watt.  Another good aspect of the CX750 is that the fan is very quiet.

  • Case: $50 onCooler Master Elite 130 with 5.25" bay.
    • The main components have already been chosen and I need a case to house those parts.  Usually I would pick a tower pc, but I want a small foot-print system.  The Elite 130 is a neat little case for this job.

  • RAM Memory: $155 onCorsair Vengeance 16GB DDR3 1600 MHz PC3 12800
    • I think I might have gone overboard with this one... 8GB is generally more than sufficient for the tasks that I wanted to accomplish.  However 16GB can be very useful when running multiple virtual machines.

  • Main Drive: $155 onCrucial MX100 256GB ssd
    • This is not the fastest drive available in the market, but it's way better than a hard drive at random access.

  • Liquid Cooling: $80 onCooler Master Seidon 120M (optional)
    • I have never done liquid cooling before, but this kit is very easy to install.  It's also compatible with Intel LGA 1150.  While not doing 3D work, or anything intense, the kit keeps the computer quiet.  Of course, when intense tasks come up the system will rev up the fan--and there is noise.

  • Operating System: $175 on Windows 8.1 Pro
    • I didn't want to do this... but many developer tools have moved to Windows 8.  So far Windows 8.1 has proven to be running very smoothly.  The tiles have been useless, but desktop stuff is fine.  By the way, after the time testing Windows 8 I have to say that Microsoft has designed this operating system with the sole purpose of selling you more digital goods (there are "suggestions" for music, movies, etc. in many of the apps).  One feature that is very welcomed is that multi-screen support has been improved.

Putting it all together is time consuming, requires patience, and being able to follow instructions.  The majority of the setup can be put together by following the video below.

The video does not cover the connection of cables to the motherboard, and for this you will have to check the motherboard's instruction manual.

 The Seidon liquid cooling unit requires two power connections, which are right next to each other on the motherboard.

 The front panel connectors are always the most fun!  For the audio I used the HD audio one, the other audio cable is not connected.

This is a colorful map that should guide you a bit better than the black & white manual.

 Connecting SATA cables.  The motherboard comes with several SATA cables, but I had some spare red ones.

 The power supply comes with some of the essential cables connected to the unit, and then of course comes with several other cables you will need for the GPU and the drives.  The connectors that I'm holding on the image may be connected and you may have to separate them to plug them into the ports on the board.

 The first time I turned on the system the computer would run for a few seconds and then restart.  My monitor did not show anything.  I began to troubleshoot by unplugging the unessential components.  Eventually I reached the culprit: one of the RAM sticks.  To fix the issue I just swapped them and ensured that the connections were tight.

 It sucks when the build does not go smoothly!  But with enough patience and being methodical the computer is not that hard to build.

 Components back in.

The side panels all placed back on the system... and as you can see I already have dust collecting on the fans... so I should clean the room and go buy a few air dusters for regular cleanup.

The new computer allows me to run many monitors simultaneously.  On the image above I'm using the GeForce's two DVI ports and the DisplayPort.  The DTU-1031 (small tablet on the side) is running through USB.  This computer's processing power allows me to simultaneously edit, run, and record intensive 3D tasks at high resolutions.  Most of the time I only need two monitors, but the third one comes in handy when I need to compare multiple documents at the same time.  So far I'm very happy with the setup, and I'm thankful for the readers and viewers who have coped with the ads that have allowed the funds for this project.

3D Mark Benchmarks
Gloud Gate 1.1 benchmark score: 25954 

Fire Strike 1.1 benchmark score: 9089 

Sky Diver 1.0 benchmark score: 24266

The keyboard, mouse, speakers, and other pieces of the gear I use can be found at:

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