Nvidia's GeForce GTX Titan video card has a serious cool factor. It's the fastest single-GPU card on the market, for one thing. And it beats the competition without sounding like a fighter jet or getting hot enough to trigger a meltdown. Finally, at 10.5 inches, it's shorter than the reigning single-card champ, the GTX 690, by half an inch, making the Titan suitable for deployment in small gaming PCs. In fact, when Nvidia launched this card, it specifically pointed out that it was designed for use in small form factor PCs, so we just had to see how things would play out in a Mini-ITX environment. And why stop with the card? We figured we might as well throw in a nice CPU, motherboard, a fast SSD, and some extra cooling so we could dabble in overclocking. Even though we started off with the innocent goal of gauging the experience of building a Titan-based SFF rig, in the end we decided to see just how far we could push this tiny system, and came away surprised by how much performance can be had in a rig with such a small footprint.
With our GPU already decided, we had to figure out which platform to build around, and going Mini-ITX narrowed our choices considerably. First off, there are no LGA2011 motherboards in that form factor, and second, Intel’s new socket 1150 Haswell microarchitecture isn’t available as of press time, leaving just AMD or Intel’s venerable Socket 1155. Because this is a maximum-performance machine, we went with Intel, especially since we wanted to overclock and we know from experience that we can push a Socket 1155 CPU to 4.4GHz. That push necessitated a large CPU cooler and an overclockable motherboard.
To hold it all, we chose Silverstone's Sugo SG08 case. It’s small and tastefully appointed, yet large enough for both our Titan GPU and an aftermarket CPU cooler since its PSU is mounted in the front of the box instead of the rear. There are larger SFF cases that offer more room for fans and wiring, but we wanted to see the Titan sweat a bit, so we went with the Sugo. We also like the fact that it includes a 600W power supply that’s customized for the chassis; a very nice touch that we’ll discuss later on in more detail.
Wrapping it up we chose an OCZ SSD for our OS drive and a WD hard drive for media storage. We went with a slot-fed optical drive since that is the only type this case accepts and we didn’t want the bay to sit empty. Finally, we used a low-profile Silverstone Nitrogon NT06-Pro CPU cooler and Windows 7 Pro.
|Case||Silverstone Sugo SG08||www.silverstonetek.com||
|GPU||GeForce GTX Titan||www.nvidia.com||$1000|
|RAM||2x 8GB Vengeance||www.corsair.com||$100|
|SSD||256GB OCZ Vector||www.ocz.com||$250|
|Hard Drive||2TB WD Caviar Black||www.wdc.com||$150|
|OS||Windows 7 Professional 64-bit||www.microsoft.com||$100|
|Optical Drive||Samsung SN-208DB/BEBE||www.samsung.com||$22|
An Asus P8Z77-I Deluxe is an expensive board, but you are reading Maximum PC, after all. The mobo is loaded with beefy overclocking options, built-in Wi-Fi, USB 3.0 front-panel connectors, and eSATA; it’s just as full-featured as mobos twice its size. Asus manages this feat partly because it added an extension called a “riser,” which holds extra capacitors and other circuitry, effectively extending the board’s size vertically (image A).
We installed the CPU cooler's backplate before installing the motherboard, as the case has no opening behind the motherboard. The heatsink on the north bridge also has a plastic fastener that we needed to push up a little, to make the CPU backplate fit securely against the motherboard. The board's riser card also has two screws that need to be removed, then re-installed after the motherboard is inside.
CPU coolers like Silverstone's NT06-Pro are designed for use in chassis like this, where the power supply is not installed over the motherboard, leaving a bit of room over the CPU for some additional cooling power. This heatsink is oriented parallel to the CPU instead of sticking up like a tower cooler, so it fits into tight spots where tower coolers won’t. To make the NT06-Pro fit, we initially pointed the tips of its heat pipes towards the PCIe slot, but they were actually blocking it slightly, so we adjusted them to face the rear of the case (image B). The CPU fan went on top, blowing air down through the heatsink and complementing the positive pressure airflow from the 18cm case fan right above it. Installation was simple and took only 10 minutes, which included adjusting the orientation of the heatsink. We could have flipped the case fan and used it as an exhaust instead (ideally flipping the CPU fan as well), but this creates "negative" pressure (a slight vacuum), which usually leads to higher temps.
Nvidia's GeForce GTX Titan is basically the star of the show here. The SG08 case can technically fit a GeForce GTX 690, which costs the same as the Titan while outperforming it by as much as 20 percent. But dual GPUs means SLI, and that can be glitchy, which is why people prefer single-GPU gaming. The 690 is also noticeably louder under load than the Titan, and it produces substantially more heat.
To install the video card, we could have gone in from the top or the side. But we chose to go in from the side, at an angle, in order to make sure no cables got trapped below the card. And because the Titan is just 10.5 inches long in a case that can handle 12.2 inches, there was space between the end of the card and the front of the case to hide the power supply cables (image C).
The 256GB OCZ Vector is our SSD of choice this time. You could save money with a Corsair Neutron GTX, but the price difference is tiny against the system's overall price tag. In our tests, the Samsung 840 Pro is a smidgen faster than the Vector, but it’s close enough that the subjective difference between the two is nonexistent. The SG08's drive cage leaves just enough room to slip two SSDs under the hard drive (image D), though we felt compelled to put the Vector in upside-down to orient its SATA cable more comfortably.
A 2TB Western Digital Caviar Black was also installed to give us much-needed capacity. The drive cage is not toolless however, so a screwdriver is required for installation. Also, the Silverstone SG08 can only fit a "slim" optical drive (normally seen in laptops), but the Samsung was only $22. It needs a special combined power and data connector cable, which Newegg had for a few bucks.
The SG08's bundled 600-watt power supply has shortened cables that are specifically designed for the case (image E), so that made our job a little easier. It also has just one Molex cable, and one SATA power cable with three connectors on it, so you can only connect up to four devices. The Titan was a bit of a tight fit, but it was OK, and we had enough space to tuck the power cables away. Still, it's difficult to picture an 11-inch video card fitting inside this case, let alone a 12-incher. While the motherboard power cables are braided, the 24-pin cable is still thick and therefore stiff. It and the 8-pin power cable ended up getting looped a couple of times within the spare real estate we had left. The GPU power cables were unavoidably snug against the top of the SG08 when the case cover went on, though; flat cables would be ideal.
If anything, the biggest wiring problem we faced was with the three SATA cables we used, since they were all standard length. If we had planned better, we would have ordered some shorter cables to help reduce the clutter.
Assembling this build in the order dictated by the layering of components was a challenge. The GPU definitely had to go in last, because the motherboard's riser card obstructs access from the other side of the case. So, once the GPU is in it blocks access to the rest of the motherboard. If we had forgotten to plug in a cable somewhere, we would have had to pull out the GPU to solve the mystery, so it was important to be methodical.
We had to get a little creative with the cabling to get everything to fit. For example, the SSD and its right-angle SATA connector ended up going in upside-down because we were running out of room to thread the cable around the power supply. We went over the PSU instead, as there were several millimeters of space between it and the optical drive tray above. The optical drive also uses very tiny screws (image F), about the size that you'd see on a pair of eyeglasses. The SG08 comes with them, thankfully, but they took a while to insert because the drive tray is recessed (though it uses precut holes for you to align the screwdriver with the screw holes).
With our mini-rig assembled, cooled, and ready to rumble, we were primed to see how hard we could push these components. After all, the SG08 sports a large grill on the side, offering our GPU the chance to pull in cool air, so the Titan has some room to breathe. The case's unusually large 18cm "penetrator" fan blows directly down on the core of the system at up to 1,200rpm, and the CPU has a big heatsink with a 12cm fan that can go up to about 2,200rpm, so we figured cooling wouldn’t be an issue. To our delight, the GPU handled a core overclock of 150MHz and a memory OC of 400MHz without complaints. The Titan did get up to 81 degrees C in our temperature-controlled Lab, which hovers around 20 C (or about 70 F), but Nvidia has told us the Titan is fine up to temps below 95 C. The Titan stayed fairly quiet and pushed almost all of its heat out of the system, too, which was excellent. So as far as the question of a Titan being able to survive in a SFF chassis goes, we’d say it works like a charm, and we can’t see it causing any issues at all in other small cases.
You’re probably surprised to see that this system’s 3DM11 score of 5,571 was within 5 percent of our zero-point system, which boasts a hexa-core i7-3930K overclocked to 4.2GHz and a GTX 690. However, the 690 was not overclocked, and keep in mind the zero-point's GPU scores were achieved with the drivers that were out when it was built in March 2012, so much of the surprisingly small gap is probably thanks to Nvidia's constant software optimizations made since then.
The CPU was a trickier affair. Once you get beyond about 4.4GHz, Ivy Bridge CPUs start heating up dramatically. Taking it to 4.6GHz or even 4.5GHz gave us temperatures we didn't think would be sustainable outside of our air-conditioned testing environment. The NT06's bundled fan is also not particularly quiet once it revs up to about 2,200rpm, and the case fan adds noticeable noise when switched to "high." Even though we thought this little rig might be able to sit in our living room and stay quiet while gaming, we’re left to conclude this particular setup would not be the best choice.
So, the overall system performance was excellent, the build quality of the case was great (though the bundled PSU could use shorter motherboard power cables), the motherboard handled our CPU overclock quite well, and we didn't have to do anything questionable or dangerous to fit everything into the SG08. Overall, we’d say the mission was accomplished. Now, to build a Titan SLI SFF rig.
|Premiere Pro CS6 (sec)||2,000||2,700 (-26%)|
|Stitch.Efx 2.0 (sec)||831||768|
|3DMark11 Extreme||5,847||5,571 (-4.8%)|
|x264 HD 5.0 (fps)||21.1||16.95 (-19.7%)
|ProShow Producer 5.0 (sec)||1,446||1,336|
|Batman: Arkam City (fps)||76||80|
Our current desktop test bed consists of a hexa-core 3.2GHz Core i7-3930K @ 3.8GHz, 8GB of Corsair DDR3/1600, on an Asus Sabertooth X79 motherboard. We are running a GeForce GTX 690, an OCZ Vertex 3 SSD, and 64-bit Windows 7 Professional.