30 centimetres, by 30 centimetres, by 10 centimetres. That's how big this 4K-friendly, Intel Core i7-toting, dual SSD-booting, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 SLI-ing gaming rig is. The only problem? The case itself cost more than the $US3500 of high-end PC components inside. Built for an Australian hardcore PC enthusiast and engineer, it's a prototype for what could well be the smallest 4K gaming PC that money can buy.
This particular PC build was shared on Reddit and Twitter by Protocase, the Canadian company that created the prototype small form factor enclosure. Despite containing Intel's most powerful consumer-grade CPU — the overclockable Core i7-6700K with a not-insignificant 90 watt TDP — and not one but two top-end Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 graphics cards, the machine is smaller than a couple of stacked pizza boxes. It's almost smaller than a particularly chunky gaming laptop.
With the CPU air-cooled by a super-low-profile Noctua L9i, the PC is built on the micro-ATX form factor, using an Asus Maximus VIII Gene motherboard and a 32GB complement of Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 RAM. It uses a Samsung 950 Pro M.2 SSD, which plugs directly into the motherboard for faster speeds and less cable wastage, and a larger Sandisk Ultra II 2.5-inch SSD for bulk data storage. These are all impressive pieces of PC hardware.
It's the graphics cards that are the biggest ask in any small machine, though, and the two GTX 1080s are custom-mounted on PCI-Express risers and moved to the rear of the motherboard tray — where they have dedicated custom-drilled air intakes through a clear acrylic side panel. Three 90mm fans at the front of the case draw fresh air in. The 700-Watt power supply is, after the case, the most customised part of the gaming rig, with a 700 Watt FSP PSU altered to fit the one-off form factor.
Importantly, both the CPU and GPUs are able to draw in cold air from outside the case, according to Protocase. The "as small as possible, yet elegant and functional" design apparently does a very good job of keeping operating temperatures down despite the power-hungry components inside. And, of course, you have to remember that this is a machine that can handle some serious computational load, whether it's high-res gaming, video editing or general-purpose number crunching.
Built for Australian IT consultant Lukasz Dyjakon, the case is functional first, but has a straightforward kind of beauty to it. Prototype design, metal and acrylic manufacturing came to a total of $CAD4025, eclipsing even the $CAD3500 spent on the internal components, but Protocase says that Dyjakon plans to approach "a number of high volume manufacturers" to gauge interest in a mass-produced model for the mainstream. I know that I'd buy one if it ever made it to market.
From Protocase: "Today, engineers who design custom PCs and electronic devices understand that the more powerful a computer is, typically, the larger it will need to be in dimension due to the cooling requirements that are needed for the hardware components. Inside a standard computer case, it’s usually the graphics card and CPU that are craving cold, fresh air, and this is compounded by the fact that in a typical design, the two are close together."
"The case is designed so that the 2 hottest components in the case, the CPU and graphics cards, are separated and have access to fresh air directly from outside the case. As you can see from the photos below, the CPU is accessing fresh air from the left side of the case, and the dual graphics cards are accessing fresh air from the right side of the case."
It's a nearly identical setup to the PC I'm running here at Gizmodo, and I can attest to its flawless performance for high-frame-rate 4K and VR gaming. It's also all extremely conducive to overclocking, although the small form factor means exhausting all that extra waste heat would be a big ask. It's small enough to be taken onboard an airplane as carry-on luggage, which has to be its crowning glory. Sure, you won't exactly be able to plug it into the in-flight entertainment monitor in the back of the seat in front of you, but you'll be able to do some serious gaming at your destination. [Reddit / Protocase]
Full system specs: CPU: Intel 6700k Cooler: Noctua NH-L9i CPU Fan: Scythe Kaze Jyu Slim 100mm Motherboard: ASUS Maximus VIII Gene RAM: 32GB (4 x 8GB) Corsair Vengeance LPX 3200 MHz GPU: 2 x nVidia GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition SSD1: M.2 SanDisk 950 Pro 256GB SSD2: SATA SanDisk Ultra II 1 TB Fans: 3 x Noctua NF-B9 PWM Power Supply: Based on FSP 700 Watt Platinum with braided cables. Other Cables: Custom Riser & SLI Cables Front Panel I/O: 4 x USB 3.0 and HDMI pass through for VR headsets.