How to Build a Small Gaming PC
This small gaming PC isn’t as wee as our Wee Ass-Kicking Machine, but it kicks more ass
Way back in December 2010, we built an awesome Mini-ITX gaming PC dubbed the Wee Ass-Kicking Machine. It featured a Core i7-870 CPU, a GeForce GTX 460 GPU, 4GB of DDR3, a 1TB hard drive, and a 120GB SSD—all crammed into a Silverstone SG07 chassis not much larger than a shoebox. The total cost? Around $1,600 (at the time).
It’s, uh, been a while since then, though, and I thought it was high time we built another Mini-ITX gaming PC. This one’s not quite as small, but it’s got a lot more oomph. We’re using the BitFenix Prodigy, which has room for a full-size ATX PSU, scads of hard drives, and even a 240mm radiator (if you swing that way), while still being small enough to be lugged around by its convenient carrying handles.
Let’s See What Fits
The Prodigy is roomy for a Mini-ITX case, but that still means it’s a bit of a complicated build. Here’s what I had to do.
6. Add the Cooler
Take the all-in-one cooler and one of the 12cm fans, as well as four of the mounting screws and four washers. Run the screws through the washers, through the mounting holes at the back of the case, through the fan (making sure it’s oriented to exhaust out of the case), and into the mounting holes on the radiator. Attach the pump unit to the CPU with the socket ring. Turn to tighten, alternating in an X pattern.
Take the other fan, positioned to blow air through the radiator out of the case just like the first, and install it on the side of the radiator. Plug the fans into the included Y cable and into the CPU_FAN header, and plug the pump unit into the SYS_FAN header near the SATA ports (image G).
7. Route the Power
Now is a good time to route some power‑supply cables. Bring the 8-pin and 24-pin ATX power cables and one PCIe cable around the front of the PSU to the right side of the case. Route a SATA power cable along the left side to the hard drive bays, connect one port to the hard drive, then terminate it at the SSD, leaving the middle port for a future second drive (image H). Route the other SATA power cable along the bottom of the case, up the front panel, and into the routing hole just above the optical drive. Pop the top fan filter off and route the cable above the optical drive and plug it in (image I). Route SATA data cables from the blue 6Gb/s SATA ports to the SSD and HDD, and route one from a red 3Gb/s port to the optical drive.
8. More Routing
Disconnect the HD_Audio cable from the side panel and connect the motherboard end to the mobo, as the port will be impossible to access once the GPU is in place. Run the 24-pin motherboard power cable through the front of the PSU casing and into the port on the motherboard. Run the 8-pin through the cutout toward the rear of the casing (image J) and plug it in. At this point you can reattach the top hard drive cage if you want; I’ve left it out to improve airflow.
9. Attach Front-Panel Connectors
Plug the USB 3.0 header into its place below the radiator (image K). Connect the front 12cm fan to a 3-pin-to-Molex adapter and connect that to one of the Molex adapters. Re‑attach the other end of the HD_audio cable to the left side cover (image L) and put the cover back on the side, pulling the front-panel headers through toward the GPU slot and plugging them in.
10. Install the GPU
Unscrew the expansion‑slot cover plate and the expansion‑ slot covers, and remove them. Install the GPU, making sure the 8-pin ATX power cable can still reach its plug. Replace the cover plate and secure both it and the GPU with the three thumbscrews (image M). Run the PCIe power cable through the same hole as the ATX power cable and plug both 6-pin plugs into the GPU. Secure the PSU plate to the chassis with its four thumbscrews, double-check your wiring, and close the case back up. Screw the Wi-Fi antennae into their posts on the I/O ports.
Firing it up
The first thing I did with the mini machine was boot into the BIOS and do a simple multiplier overclock on the CPU. I left the stock voltages and bclock the same but cranked up the turbo multipliers on all the cores to 44 for a single core, 43 for two cores, and 42 for more. This gave me a nice, stable conservative overclock of up to 4.4GHz for single-threaded tasks. The MSI GTX 670 is factory‑overclocked, so I resisted further overclocking in an attempt to keep the noise from its fans down.
Against our zero-point, the mini-rig loses in every benchmark save ProShow Producer, where its high clock speeds are more important than the zero-point’s 12 threads. But our zero-point has a hexa-core CPU , a dual GPU, and costs a lot more money—and it’s not nearly as portable. For the price, we get a hell of a lot of rig in a small footprint, and we even get carrying handles. Besides, the fast CPU and GPU on this baby mean that it’s still blisteringly good.
The downside of Mini-ITX is that you only get one PCIe slot and two RAM slots, so you’ve got to be judicious with your build. The good news is that this machine still has room for all the essentials and no wasted space, while still being upgradeable. We’d gladly build into the Prodigy again, and we’re pleased we can build a kick-ass (and luggable) rig in such a small package.