After a long hiatus from system building, I wanted to build something that would challenge me to pack as much performance as possible into a tiny package. When I found the Fractal Node 202, I just knew that it was the perfect platform for this build. The original intent was to use a small form factor GPU and water cool the CPU for maximum effect but I later reconsidered this idea because it would've involved cutting the bracing in the middle of the case and the only GPU that would fit next to a 120 rad was the R9 Nano. While the R9 Nano is a great performer, the high price and the limited upgrade path was a no go for me.
CPU - Some might call me crazy for putting an unlocked i7 in such a tiny build but I just had to have it. As you'll read below, managing temps wasn't easy and the cooling options are severely limited for those who are looking for performance CPU's that are 90W TDP and beyond in a build this small.
CPU Cooler - After searching for a high performing low profile cooler, the two that stood out to me were the Scythe Big Shuriken Rev.B and the Thermalright AXP-100r. The problem was on paper, neither of these coolers were supposed to fit in this case as Fractal claims that the max cooler height allowed is 56mm. A little more researched showed that while Fractal was right, removing the filter under the top cover of the case allowed me to gain several additional millimeters of height. And let me tell you that AXP-100r was a tight fit (see the pics) but I can assure you that it will fit and cools the 6700k @ 4.4Ghz without breaking a sweat. Also, I had to use a dremel tool to shave a little material in one small area due to interference with the chip-set heat sink mounting screw. (see the pics) After I checked that the back plate would clear the screw, I touched up the exposed metal with black paint and carried on with the cooler installation.
It's also worth noting that the mounting hardware is seriously beefy. As in I couldn't bend it with my bare hands if I wanted to kind of beefy.
Motherboard - I have to give credit to Kylie at Awesome Sauce Network for turning me on to this motherboard. The specs, looks and connection locations were a great fit in the Node 202. There are only a few mITX motherboards out there that had the kind of overclocking features that I wanted and this one has nearly all of the features that I'm used to seeing in a full size ATX motherboard.
Memory - Not much to say here. I've always had good experience with Kingston products and this 2x8GB kit has worked well in this build.
Storage - The Samsung EVO SSD is just simply awesome! My PC can go from "off" to "desktop" in under 25 seconds. Programs load super fast and even my game load times are a fraction of was they used to be.
Video Card - Admittedly, the GPU in this build is a GTX 1070 Founders Edition straight from Nvidia but I didn't see it in any of the searches on the website. That said, any of the board partners Founders Edition cards are going to get the job done. FYI...MSI Afterburner with custom fan curve is your friend. ((Doom 2016 at Ultra/Nightmare settings yield 100+ FPS. Flipping awesome!!!))
Case - The Fractal Design Node 202 makes this whole build even more awesome in my opinion. I have heard several criticisms about building in this case and I can honestly say that for the most part they are true. I too was nervous when it came time to remove the bottom cover from the metal frame of the case. The clips seem fragile at first but once you get the hang of it and start from the back clips near the IO access, it comes apart without too much trouble. Just be careful to clear the front IO connections when pulling the metal frame away from the bottom cover. The other criticism involves the filter configuration requiring the aforementioned tedious bottom cover removal anytime you want to access the filters. Also, when the case is in the vertical position, the top vents do not have any such filters. All filter woes aside, I say if you don't want to deal with all of that, just remove the filters and take a can of air to the case a couple of times a year and you'll be fine. Ultimately, I couldn't be happier with combination of smart internal layout and subtle visuals. Definitely primed for a understated performance monster!
UPDATE - I forgot to mention that the case fans are Fractal Venturi 120x25mm which are the high static pressure models. Since there's filter material on the intake and the GPU about 10mm away on the exhaust side, I wanted to make sure that air flow wouldn't be a problem. Also, it just so happens that the intake fan nearest the front I/O panel lines up perfectly to directly feed fresh air right into the GPU fan inlet. I did some testing and found that while gaming, the GPU does operate 2-4C cooler with the intake fans in use, which also keeps the GPU fan a little lower on the fan curve. It's like a ram air intake for my 1070!
OS - Windows 10 PRO 64 because of reasons. Enough said there.
Throughout the course of this build I was continually surprised by how easily things progressed. The cable management seemed complicated at first, but with a little trial and error, even that was a breeze. I had suspected from the beginning that temps would be an issue with this build and to some degree I was right. When overclocking the CPU a was able to achieve 4.6Ghz stable at 1.35v (88-92C when stress testing) but opted to run at 4.4Ghz at 1.25v (78-84C when stress testing) for better temps during daily use.
As this build is still new at the time of this writing, I'm really looking forward to seeing what this little power Node can do. I'm really loving this small form factor build and I hope you do too. Please feel free to leave comments to ask questions, leave feedback or just say hi and I'll respond as quickly as possible.