Master PC builder and tech expert JJ Guerrero from ASUS swung by the studio to build up a killer system using the new ASUS Strix Z270i Mini ITX motherboard, a NZXT case, and a bucket of RGB accessories.
We wanted desktop performance in an ITX build with no compromises when it comes to performance, hardware, or cooling. This case is on the larger size of mini ITX, and we chose it with the conscious goal of being able to have an open view into the build and a direct line of sight to all the lighting.
The result was the Mini RGB Manta Build, and we were not disappointed. If you want to learn more about the build, watch JJ putting it together here:
It all starts with the case. Here we have the Manta by NZXT, an unusually curvy mini ITX case with more room for cable management when compared to some of the competition. Just because it’s small doesn’t mean the build has to be a pain, right?
This case is pretty slick, with curved steel panels that bring a modern sensibility while providing plenty of room for full-size GPUs and PSUs. We went with red here because we wanted to mess around with color, but it’s also available in white, black, and a windowless version.
One potential issue with SFF builds is airflow and temperature. We didn’t want to sacrifice performance due to size, so we want a full size GPU and a powerful CPU. That means thermals are a concern.
One of the reasons we went with the NZXT Manta is that there is a serious focus on airflow and cooling. This little guy supports a single large 280mm liquid cooling unit, plenty of room for fans, and some of the most advanced cooling options for a mini ITX case.
Plus, it looks awesome, so this case was a no brainer for our build.
Build List: Mini RGB Manta
We replaced the two front fans with the cooler for optimal airflow, and because we wanted to go full RGB with this build. We went with two 140mm NZXT Aer RGB Fans in the front, two at the top, and a 120mm fan in the back to keep things cool.
Once we had the case selected, it was time to start putting the build together. We knew we wanted Z270 which allows for overclocking the CPU and DRAM, so we went with the ASUS Strix 1151 mini ITX Z270I gaming. This is a remarkable board and capable of some full-size performance. That’s what we’re looking for with this build, so in it went.
It might be a small board, but it’s big on features. It’s the only mini ITX board with two M.2 slots, so after we installed the board we popped in two Kingston Hyper X PCIe SSDs in RAID-0, one in the front and one on the back of the board. That’s the sort of high performance functionality we’re looking to explore with this build.
In addition to the M.2s, we have a full complement of SATA too, so we hooked up two Kingston HyperX Savage 2.5 inch SSDs for another 2 TB. That’s a LOT of storage in a small space. We’re all about it.
We also want speed, so for the CPU we went with an i7-7700K Kaby Lake Quad Core Unlocked CPU. This 7th gen beast of a CPU is already pretty solid, and we haven’t even started overclocking yet.
But we will.
The PSU is hidden by a shroud for cable management purposes, but it’s kind of a shame because this unit is a beast. The Seasonic Prime series 850 Watt is just about everything you could want from a power supply, and due to the design of the Manta case there were no issues with it fitting. This PSU is fully modular and has an optimized fan profile, so it’s silent under the majority of loads.
We weren’t kidding around when we said we went all out for LED. Even the G Skill Trident Z DDR4 3600 RAM is all glowy, and though it isn’t currently supported by AURA, they’re working on it. We dropped in two 8GB DIMMs for now; we can always add more later.
Last but certainly not least, we went with the ASUS Strix 1080 for a graphics card. The Strix is a top of the line GPU, and one of the most popular. The board and the case both support full size GPUs, which is definitely critical for what we’re trying to do here.
Keep It Light
Our primary focus for this project was performance, but there’s no reason it can’t look awesome, too. Like it or not, RGB is here to stay, and we weren’t about to shy away from it just because our build is on the smaller side.
To keep that Kaby Lake CPU sufficiently chilled, we released the Kraken. In keeping with the RGB and NZXT theme, the Kraken X42 AIO liquid cooler was an easy choice. Not only does the 280mm cooler work like a charm, it’s also got that lovely, mind-melting infinity mirror effect, and more RGB than you can shake a tentacle at.
Speaking of lights, we’re actually running two separate software suites here. On main duty is ASUS’s Aura software, which is the most powerful of the bunch. That’s keeping the Mobo, Gladius mouse, the Claymore keyboard, the GPU, and the LED strips all in sync. On case fan and cooler duty is NZXT’s software suite, Hue+. Between the lights on the board, the GPU, the lights on the fans, the RAM, and the CPU cooler, this thing looks like a bag of skittles exploding, and it’s awesome.
As robust as the Strix ITX board is, we did have a limitation when installing the HUE+ RGB controller and the Kraken. There’s only a single USB 3.0 header, as well as a USB 3.1 header, on the board, and we needed two USB 2.0 to connect both. To solve the issue we used a USB 3.0 to USB 2.0 adapter and NZXT’s USB 2.0 internal hub to get everything working. Minor inconvenience, but a build is no fun if it’s TOO easy.
The reason we’re on board the RGB train is because we’re all about options. Want a solid color (or two) to go with the theme of your rig? No problem. Want a crazy rainbow disco like what we have here? Done. Want to be able to switch them all off before bed? Can do. The nice thing about software-controlled lighting is that you can completely change the look of your build with the click of a mouse, and though it does add some cost, for a lot of people it’s worth it. If you’re super interested in temperatures, you can also utilize the RGB to reflect heat load with the AURA software, so it’s definitely more than just pretty lights.
After putting in a few more LED strips for even more diffusive light and some meticulous cable management courtesy of the Manta’s progressive design, we were ready to turn this sucker on and see what it could do.
Once we stopped gaping at the pretty lights and marveling at the lack of noise, it was time to see if we won the silicon lottery with our CPU.
One of the reasons we went with ASUS for this build was their exceptional overclocking software. Fear not, you can, of course, still tweak clock speeds manually in the UEFI, but if you’d prefer simplicity, you can do it via software execution from the OS. It’s far simpler, and it gets you a baseline number even if you do want to do some further manual tuning later.
So what did we get to? Using the ASUS overclocking utility, we went from a base frequency of 4.2 to 5.0 GHz across all cores, which is a solid number. Considering this is a mini ITX board, we’re actually quite pleased.
Our goal here was to create a killer build using high-end hardware on an ITX board that would fit in a smaller case. The question we wanted to answer was whether it was possible to get a stable, cool, good-looking system without sacrificing performance.
I think it’s pretty clear that we succeeded.
Our Manta Red RGB build looks awesome in it’s RGB glory, and the performance is great. Our overclocking experiments were met with resounding success, and we’ll be sad to see this build (and JJ) go.
Eat your heart out ATX, ITX is now a viable alternative. We’ve proven that big things DO come in small packages. Next time, we’ll see if we can go even smaller.