• Posted on December 13, 2014

My Mini ITX Build Adventure

Long ago I had the idea to build a Mini Computer, a Mini ITX computer. I knew about the drawbacks of such a computer, including a lower processing speed and usually no option for a dedicated graphics card. Being perfectly fine with these drawbacks, I set my sights and goals on a custom Mini ITX computer that would be energy efficient, fit at least two hard drives and be able to run fast enough for my every day work. I came across the AMD Kabini AM1 processors which support onboard graphics, only consume a maximum of 25 watts, and are fairly fast. Once I had the CPU in my cart the rest came easy.

  1. AMD Kabini AM1 2.05ghz Quad Core Processor
  2. 4GB DDR3 1600 240-pin Memory
  3. MSI Mini-ITX Motherboard with AM1 CPU Socket
  4. Computer Case / Power Supply Combo
  5. 80mm Ultra Quiet Fan by GELID

With my order only being around $200, I was happy with myself. After receiving all the packages, all hell broke loose. Assembling the computer went like building any other computer, besides the fact that everything I added to the system hardly fit. I need to mention that I wasn’t adding that much to the system. The only items outside of the motherboard area were a fan, power supply and a 80mm fan.

After adding all the items to the case except the power supply, it was time to add the power supply, or was it? The odd thing was that the power supply that comes with the case only fits when the 80mm fan isn’t installed, even though the case information clearly says it can fit an 80mm fan. Surely they meant it can fit an 80mm fan when you don’t plan on actually using the case. I just said screw it and ripped out the fan (gently) and proceeded to install the power supply and cramming the cables where the fan use to go.

Now that everything that can fit is installed, I power up the system and to my surprise a snake somehow crawled into the power supply. That was at least the only explanation I could come up with since the power supply made the loudest hissing noise I have ever heard from anything electrical. I assumed a few of the capacitors were leaking and threw my arms up in defeat knowing I now have to deal with a person in returns.

Gladly the person in returns answered quickly and was kind and had a RMA number assigned within a few hours. I went to the post office, paid for shipping to their factory and waited for a month to get my repaired power supply.

Having my new power supply, I installed a few components back into the mini computer, spent 2 hours messing around with mounting the hard drives, and then getting really angry on how poorly designed this case actually is. To give you an idea of how bad this case actually is, read the list below of all of the flaws.

  1. External USB ports are upside down - Not that big of an issue
  2. Hard Drive mounting is upside down. A big issue since right angle SATA cables won’t work. The hard drives are mounted to the top of the case (which slides off).
  3. The 60mm fan on the side of the case can’t be used if a motherboard is installed.
  4. The 80mm front fan can’t be installed if the power supply is installed.
  5. The hard drives with the sata connections really close to the edge of the case, and since they can’t be right angle sata cables, you have to use a straight sata cables which keeps getting unplugged and is almost always loose.
  6. The hard drives mount slightly back on the platform making it so SATA cables can’t connect fully to the hard drive and remain loose.
  7. The case doesn’t come with feet. Not that big of an issue since you can buy rubber feet.
  8. Case doesn’t come with enough hardware / screws to actually mount the motherboard.

With all of those above issues with the case, you can now see why it took so long to actually install the hard drives. I kept trying to rotate them around, but the hard drive mount can’t be rotated and if you mount the hard drives in the other direction they don’t mount properly. But I finally came up with a decent setup inside of the case and stuffed the whole front of the case with power cables. I closed up the case using the misaligned holes and screwed it together.

Messing around with the BIOS to get my hard drives to be detected and installing Windows, more issues started to occur. The power supply fan started to operate at 100% even when the computer is booting after being turned off for multiple hours. The power supply just can’t figure out how to modulate the fan speed. I couldn’t deal with the noise and turned off the computer. After a few hours I turned the computer back on to see if it was just a fluke, and it was. The power supply no longer was loud because of how fast it was spinning up the fans, it was loud because the fan was making a mechanical grinding noise now.

The grinding fan noise has happened to fans I have owned before but they are fixed after you stop the fan and start it up again since they stop wobbling or something that causes the grinding noise. In the case of the power supply fan this was not the case, and even worse off the fan hardly moves any air now. The fan is literally stopping every other second and when it’s spinning it just makes a grinding noise and moves no air at all.

And this is where I am currently at. I have a few options I can now do. Sadly I am going to probably have to spend more money. I already contacted the RMA department and hopefully they can actually fix the power supply this time. Fun note, the first time you contact the RMA department they respond right away, the second time they take their time. I am also considering buying a new Flex ATX power supply from a different company, but all of the power supplies appear to be from the same manufacturer and just labeled for various companies. Another option is to buy a PicoPSU which would give me more room in my case to install the 80mm fan and rig up a new way to mount hard drives where the power supply is suppose to go. My final option which I probably won’t do is to void the PSU warranty and install a new fan in it and either wire it to the PSU existing fan connector or to the motherboard.

And this is where my story ends. Hopefully in a few weeks (or sooner) I will have my Mini Computer running. My current plans for the computer once it’s working is to install either Linux or Windows to it and use the computer for web and software development. I will still keep my large computer setup since it’s used for 3D design, Photoshop and various other tasks that require more processing power.