The Pocket Swiss Army Knife
The little black cube that could
A variety of small-form-factor builds have made their way into past system guides: low-cost desktops, home-theater systems, and even a kitchen PC. The Pocket Swiss Army Knife can fill in for almost all of those and more, thanks to a surprisingly versatile platform and an extremely compact enclosure.
We've laid out a basic configuration with integrated graphics below. If you want to turn the Pocket Swiss Army Knife into anything fancier or more specific, see our alternatives on the next page.
|Motherboard||Zotac GeForce 9300-ITX WiFi||$139.99|
|Memory||Corsair 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2-800||$44.99|
|Storage||Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB||$69.99|
|Sony AD-7590S slim DVD burner||$48.99|
|StarTech slim-line SATA adapter||$11.99|
|Enclosure||Silverstone Sugo SG05-B||$99.99|
|CPU cooler||Masscool 8W501B1M3G||$11.99|
AMD might have a more compelling budget dual-core CPU with the Phenom II X4 550, but Intel's Pentium E6300 isn't far behind in the performance race. More importantly, the Pentium allows us to spring for Zotac's excellent GeForce 9300 Mini-ITX motherboard, which in turn lets us make this system very small, very expandable, and quite powerful.
Our review says pretty much all we need to say about Zotac's GeForce 9300-ITX WiFi motherboardincluding the fact that it earned our coveted Editor's Choice award. To sum up, though, this board manages to cram the following onto a 6.7" by 6.7" circuit board: support for Core 2 processors with 1,333MHz FSBs, very capable Nvidia GeForce 9300 integrated graphics, DVI and HDMI display outputs, 802.11g wireless networking, a 16-lane PCI Express slot, two DDR2 memory slots, two internal SATA ports, and one eSATA port.
There's more, of course, but those are the key elements that help make our Pocket Swiss Army Knife build so versatile.
Incidentally, our search for an AMD motherboard with similar perks proved fruitless. The only contenders we found lacked a PCI Express x16 slotno good if you want to turn this system into a tiny gaming box.
Our staple DDR2 memory recommendation returns here. We could save around $20 by going with two gigs instead of four, but that'd be a little short-sighted. RAM is cheap, and more of it is usually better, especially with Windows Vista. (Speaking of which, you'll want to run a 64-bit operating system to take full advantage of all this RAM.)
We've also carried over WD's 640GB Caviar Black from some of our other builds. This drive is cheap, fast, quiet, and covered with a long warranty. Whatever you decide to turn the Pocket Swiss Army Knife into, the Black is a solid choice.
Hunting down a DVD burner was a tad more difficult, because our selected enclosure only takes slim-line optical drives. Sony's AD-7590S has decent reviews at Newegg, though, and it's one of the cheapest mini-SATA burners we could find. Just don't forget that StarTech adapter in our parts listyou'll need it to connect this drive to the power supply and motherboard.
Enclosure and power
Silvertstone's Sugo SG05-B is perhaps the ideal complement to the Zotac board. In fact, the availability of this case and mobo combination is what prompted us to include this build in the guide.
The SG05 has a very compact design (8.7" x 6.9" x 10.9") fitted for Mini-ITX and Mini-DTX motherboards, and it uses a front-mounted 120 mm fan to provide whisper-quiet and effective cooling.
Silverstone also builds in a 300W passively cooled power supply with 80 Plus efficiency certification. Gamers will even find room for single-slot graphics cards with circuit boards as long as 9". (Head to the next page for our discrete GPU recommendation.)
Considering how quiet the Sugo SG05-B is, we'd rather have a CPU cooler with a little more metal and a quieter fan than what Intel sticks in the Pentium E6300 retail box. That's why we've picked Masscool's 8W501B1M3G, which is cheap, has a copper base with plenty of surrounding aluminum, and features a 90 mm ball-bearing fan that should be reasonably quiet. The fan doesn't have a four-pin header that supports linear fan speed ramping, but since we found the Zotac board's fan-speed control a little iffy in our tests, it's probably better this way.