How to build the ultimate mini gaming PC

A celebration of the best components of 2017

2017 has been an incredible year for components with nearly new releases every month. Just looking at processors alone, we’ve saw the introduction of AMD Ryzen, AMD Ryzen Threadripper, Intel Core X and Intel Coffee Lake in these last 12 short months. To celebrate such a stupendous year of new PC parts, we set out to build the ultimate gaming PC featuring the best components of the year.

Our mission guidelines were simple. First off, all the major components must have been released within the last two months. Secondly, our goal was to build a system capable of supporting a QHD (or 1440p) ultra-wide monitor while being as small as possible, which of course meant creating a Mini-ITX system. 

Lastly, we wanted to build a showcase rig dressed to the nines with custom sleeved cables from Singularity Computers and enough RGB lighting to make our eyes roll in sheer bliss (or just epileptic shock).

CPU: Intel Core i5-8600K

AMD Ryzen might have been on the top of our minds throughout the year, but in the end Intel Coffee Lake stole the show at the very end. Not only did Intel kick up the core count on its latest processor, the chip maker proved it can do more with fewer cores than AMD Ryzen.

With all of this in mind we picked out the Intel Core i5-8600K as it's our top pick as the best CPU for gaming. We could have easily socketed in an Intel Core i7-8700K instead, but as a gaming focused build the 8600K offers more than enough performance to maintain top frame rates. If we ever need the extra processing power for streaming and video editing, we can easily overclock the chip to the same, if not higher, frequencies as its bigger brother.

GPU: Nvidia GTX 1070 Ti

The Nvidia GTX 1070 Ti was easily our favorite GPU of the year. It practically offers the performance of a Nvidia GTX 1080 at a price that’s just slightly north of the Nvidia GTX 1070. It’s also the perfect GPU to drive 1440p (or QHD) gaming experience at 60fps or higher, which is exactly what our gaming monitor is capable of.

Motherboard: Asus ROG Strix Z370-I Gaming

When we decided upon a Mini-ITX build, the Asus ROG Strix Z370-I Gaming instantly popped into our mind as the only motherboard we could use. It’s the most stylish miniature motherboard on the market with massive heatsinks for the extreme performance we require. Despite its size, this Mini-ITX motherboard also supports up to M.2 PCIe SSDs and everything else we’re plugging into this PC.

Memory: G.Skill Trident Z RGB

Throughout the year we saw multiple manufacturers attempt to integrate RGB lighting into memory, but G.Skill was the first to do it with their Trident Z RGB. When we laid our eyes on the RAM’s beautifully blended colors and soft lighting it was love at first sight. We opted for a 16GB (2 x 8GB) and 3,000MHz kit, as it was the perfect capacity and speed for our gaming purposes.

Cooling: DeepCool Captain 120EX RGB

Keeping this RGB train rolling, we chose the DeepCool Captain 120EX RGB as our all-in-one liquid-cooler solution. It might come from a lesser known company than Corsair or Cooler Master, but this AIO performs just as well and has its own unique steampunk-ish styling.

Power supply: SilverStone SFX Series SX600-G

SFX-power supplies have come a long way since they were first introduced as tinsy 400-watt internal power bricks. The SilverStone SFX Series SX600-G packs an impressive 600-watts of energy capacity at an astonishing 80-Plus Gold rated efficiency. 

That should be more than enough energy to power our rig and even give us a little overhead for overclocking. While our PC case can support up to a SFX-L power supply – of which SilverStone produces an 800W unit – we didn't want to risk bending our power cables that are going to be under enough stress as it is.

Storage: Samsung 960 EVO, Samsung 850 EVO SSD, WD Blue SSD

For our storage we knew we had to go with an M.2 PCIe SSD for our main drive. To fully take advantage of the speed NVMe storage offers without breaking the bank, it became evidently clear that an 1TB Samsung 960 EVO SSD was our best option. 

To back it up, we also tacked on an 1TB Samsung 850 EVO and 1TB Western Digital Blue SSD to provide all the additional storage we would need for our extensive Steam libraries and other files.

Case: Phanteks Evolv Shift

The Phanteks Evolv Shift stole our hearts when we first saw it as a prototype at CES 2017 and we really fell in love with it at Computex 2017. The aluminum case provides us with all the hardware support we need for a full-sized graphics card, multiple SSDs and the massive collection of cables that are a part of our ambitious build. Then the tempered glass sides are also perfect for display off all the parts and RGB lighting in our showcase rig.

Fans and lighting: Corsair LL fans and Corsair LED Lighting PRO Expansion Kit 

To complete our fully RGB-ified build, we needed lighting strips and fans – a field in which Corsair is king. Not only are Corsair’s Light Loop (LL) fans the best looking in the industry, they also provide decent static pressure and are incredibly quiet even while spinning at maximum speed. Considering our motherboard only has three total fan headers, it made sense to also add a Silverstone fan hub to our build list.

To complement all the rainbow lighting from the fans, we also added on four of lighting strips courtesy of Corsair’s Lighting PRO Expansion Kit. This way we could illuminate every corner of our gaming PC and show off the components in multi-colored splendor.

Power cables: Singularity Computers custom sleeved cables

Last but not least, we wanted custom sleeved cables and thankfully Singularity Computers fully delivered on our dreams. Though these are easy enough to build on your own these days, the company had a much more diverse inventory of sleeving than us and not to mention expertise in this field. As to not conflict with our extremely RGB-focused build, we chose to go with a monochromatic pattern for our custom sleeved cables.

How we built it

Putting together a pretty list of parts for our ultimate mini gaming PC is one thing, but building it is a little more difficult. We’re going to quickly go over some of the things you’ll have to prepare yourself for an ambitious build such as this and tips on how manage it for yourself.

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Measure twice, build once

When building a PC this small, you’ll have to spend a decent amount of time planning everything out and we literally spent months plotting everything out for our ultimate mini gaming PC. This involves triple-checking the dimensions of each part, mentally building the PC ahead of time and really having a complete picture of how everything will come together.

All this pre-planning comes especially in handy when you actually start building the PC. Working in a small case such as this might change the order of parts you install, as we began the build by attaching all the cooling elements and power supply first rather than last as with a traditional mid- or full-tower case.

And even with all the planning ahead of time, we ran into a few hitches. For one thing, we had to uninstall and reinstall the RAM multiple times to get at other connectors we missed. We also wished we could have installed our liquid-cooler’s radiator backwards, but the pipes would have run directly into the graphics card hanging overhead.

Mess-o-cables

If you think your rear-panel is rat’s nest, here’s a look at all the wires coming out of our RGB accessories and hubs. Thankfully, our pre-planning prepared us for this and we were able to hide everything behind the rear panel on the PC case. Still our work here isn’t done yet, and we’ll be taking a second pass to neatly tie everything off.

The Phanteks Evolv Shift also had a smaller than expected internal cable routing area, which made it impossible for us to hide more than a single sleeved cable inside the chassis.

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The payoff

For all of our pre-planning struggles and the sheer elbow grease it took to put the all of the side panels back in place, turning on our ultimate mini gaming PC made up for all the trouble it was worth. 

To see everything fit together and all fire up successful on the first try was a triumph for us. And to bask in all the RGB lighting and the gaming performance makes the victory all the more sweeter.