Building the Box
In a typical ATX or micro ATX build, we'd probably install an internal power supply or optical drive first, but neither of those components are even on the list for this build. This system's power supply is external, like a laptop, although there is some internal wiring that we'll need to handle a bit later. And as for an optical drive, this case can't fit one (which is what allows it to be so incredibly small!), but if you'd like one, feel free to pick up an external USB-based DVD drive, such as the new . We didn't need one for our build, but we were loading the OS (Windows 10 Technical Preview) off of a thumb drive. Loading an OS off of an optical drive is definitely more straight-forward.
As usual, locking down the CPU bracket, which we're doing in the photo to the right, is an exercise in courage. Yes, it takes a lot of effort, and yes, you’ll likely feel as if you’re crushing the CPU, but as long as the text printed on the CPU heat spreader is oriented right-side-up and the grooves on either side of the CPU slip over the tabs on the motherboard socket, you’ll be fine. Once the bracket was locked, we attached the Intel fan by pressing in the four push-pin connectors and connecting the 4-pin fan power connector. Next, holding the board by the heatsink assembly, we lowered the motherboard into the case. It’s a tight fit, as this case is just slightly bigger than the motherboard itself, but with a bit of patience, you’ll get it to drop in. One tip here - the motherboard's I/O panel at the back of the case has small tabs above each port - make sure those don't end up being pushed out while you're inserting the motherboard, as they will actually block the ports they're supposed to sit on top of.
In the photo here, we’re in the process of affixing one of the four motherboard mounting screws that came with the case. They are easy to identify by their flat shape, and the fact there are just four of them. We might as well mention here that the one and only tool you'll need to assemble this PC is a , like the one shown in use above. That's it - no need to buy a huge tool set or any other supplies!
Now, things are going to get just a bit messy as we progress towards the last stages of the build. As you can see in the photo to the left, the power supply cabling needs to be inserted into the case’s internal power board and then routed to the motherboard’s 24-pin and 4-pin jacks, as well as the solid-state drive (which we’ll discuss in the next step).
What we’re holding hereis a spare 4-pin CPU power cable. Because the MSI motherboard we’re using only requires a single 4-pin connector, rather than a combined 4+4-pin (or 8-pin) connector, there's one 4-pin connector that goes unused in this build. We'll want to make sure it's tucked out of the way of the CPU fan. You’ll also see that we’ve inserted our Crucial RAM module on the right side of the board. For compatibility reasons, always use a motherboard’s second slot, rather than the first, if you have just one stick. Note that the front panel cabling is stuffed in between the RAM stick and the front of the case, and is therefore pressing against the RAM. This doesn’t look ideal, but it’s really just an aesthetic issue – the RAM will not be damaged.
OK, now it’s time to get that mess of cabling under control. With a little nip and tuck, we’re all set. Note in the picture below that we've also attached the two USB 2.0 cables to the twin USB 2.0 headers (visible just to the left of the silver motherboard heatsink). As mentioned on the previous page, one of the reasons we picked the MSI H81I board is because of these twin USB 2.0 headers, an usual feature for a mini-ITX board, and one that is necessary if we're going to use all four of the Antec ISK110's front-mounted USB ports. The tradeoff (and there usually is one with boards this small) is that the H81I only has four rear-mounted USB ports. This is because only a certain number of USB ports in total can be supported by the chipset.
At this point in the build, we also connected the front panel audio and power leads to the motherboard. For the first time in a very long while, we actually had to crack open the motherboard manual at this stage, because the front panel header is not labeled with "power', "reset", and the like. Maybe this board is just so small that the extra text couldn't be printed on it, but regardless, be prepared to have the manual handy or you're going to be left guessing. We also made sure to check the manual to determine which of the SATA ports were 6Gps-enabled, as a 6Gbps port is required to make the most out of any modern SSD. Higher-end boards may jettison older 3Gbps ports all together, but this board had a few that we wanted to avoid.
The final step before closing up the case is to mount the SSD behind the motherboard. To the right you can see we've flipped this little guy over to show you how that’s done. Looks simple, but this step was actually somewhat tricky. The case's SSD bracket was pre-installed from the factory in the reverse orientation, meaning that the SSD’s power and data ports were facing the wrong way, far out of reach of the cabling visible on the left side of this photo. Luckily, there was an easy fix – unscrewing and remounting the SSD bracket in the other direction, which is what we’ve done here. Once that step is complete, connecting the cables to the SSD is a breeze.
All right, would you believe it’s time to close this little beast up and put it through its paces?