7.5. Final Words
We built this system as a "pocket battleship"small, but with more power than many systems twice its size. Even the entry-level Core 2 Duo processor we used is faster than about 99% of the processors that were sold at the time we built this system. The integrated GMA 3000 graphics adapter provides excellent display quality and sufficient 3D graphics power for Windows Vista and many games. With 2 GB of memory, this system handles everything we throw at it with a whole bunch of plombs.
Still, there are some upgrades we'd consider making. None are essential, but all would be useful.
First, although the integrated graphics are more than good enough for most purposes, we could easily upgrade this system to support moderately intense 3D games by adding a midrange PCI Express video adapter. We'd choose a passively cooled video card (for low noise) that drew as little current as possible (to stay within the limits of the 300W NSK1300 power supply). If we installed a video card, we'd also install the Cyclone Blower to provide additional air flow.
Second, as we've begun working more with camcorder video, we've come to appreciate the presence of a FireWire port. The Intel D946GZIS does not provide FireWire, but it would be easy enough to install a $15 FireWire card. If we did that, we might also upgrade the hard drive from 250 GB to 500 or 750 GB to provide more space for editing video footage.
Third, cooling. Like most SFF systems, this one runs 10°C to 15°C warmer than a typical desktop system with similar components. The stock Intel CPU cooler is reasonably efficient and quiet. At idle, it runs at 1,860 RPM. At that speed, although it is the loudest system component, it is still nearly inaudible. Under load, the CPU temperature increases, as does the CPU cooler fan speed. Under heavy load, the fan runs as fast as 3,360 RPM, which is fast enough to produce a noticeable whine.
One possible solution might be to install a premium third-party CPU cooler, such as a Thermalright or Zalman unit. Either of those might reduce the CPU temperature by as much as 5°C and would also be quieter than the stock Intel CPU cooler. The problem is that these third-party CPU coolers are typically quite large. As Figure 7-48 shows, there is very little room in the NSK1300 case for an oversize CPU cooler.
Figure 7-48. Clearance between the top of the CPU cooler and the bottom of the power supply
Antec provides another possible solution. The NSK1300 includes a bracket that allows you to mount a standard case fan on the side of the power supply. (Two of the four mounting holes are visible at the right-front edge of the power supply in Figure 7-48, with a third partially visible at the rear.) Substituting a large, quiet case fan for the stock CPU fan allows you to move lots of air at a relatively low fan speed, which reduces the noise level and improves cooling.
With or without these upgrades, we think the SFF PC is an excellent choice if you need a compact system that can fit just about anywhere. It's attractive, fast, reasonably quiet, and provides the same level of functionality as a typical mini-tower desktop system. It's an ideal system for a dorm room, the kids' bedroom, or as a secondary system. For that matter, many people would find it ideal as a primary system. With two PCI and one PCIe expansion slots as well as a video card slot, this system could easily be upgraded to function as a media center system. Finally, its compactness and portability make it a good "luggable" system for times when a notebook just isn't enough computer.