The 4L case: The future of gaming PCs or too much compromise required?

Discussion in 'Small Form Factor Systems' started by Frazhna, Sep 4, 2018.

  1. Frazhna

    Frazhna Limp Gawd

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    I have noticed a few people expressing a desire for a sub 4L case that allows for a short dual slot graphics card and miniITX motherboard, so I figured I would start this thread as a place for people to talk about it without feeling bad about hijacking some other thread.

    There have been a couple cases that I know of already that have fit this description. The Hutzy, which unfortunately never came to be, and the CustomMOD flex mini.

    I have the CustomMOD case and have done quite a bit of testing in it lately to test the limits of what can be put in it. I’ll post more about this testing later.

    Another case I stumbled upon recently is the zs-a4m. So far I have only seen it on Taobao, but it appears to be almost the same design as the Hutzy, with a couple of differences. The motherboard and graphics card are upside down, but more importantly, there is a little space for a couple of slim fans at the top.
     
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  2. Frazhna

    Frazhna Limp Gawd

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    When I got my CustomMOD flex mini case, I just filled it with some left over parts and a GTX 1050. The version I got was from the 2nd or 3rd batch and I believe it is just under 4L, with almost exactly the same dimensions as the Hutzy ca design. It has been working very well as an HTPC, but the power supply is annoyingly loud when playing games.

    Recently I got a GTX 1080 from an Aorus gaming box. It is unique because it comes with a 130mm fan and no shroud.

    I got the card for my main system in anticipation of switching from an Ncase M1 to the CCD MI-6, but It has not been getting enough fresh air in the Ncase, and it has been thermally throttling. I was worried that this card didn’t have a good enough cooler so I decided to try to put it in my little CustomMOD flex mini and run some tests without the side panels on to mimic an open air test bench.

    Getting this new gpu into the case was very difficult. I had to take the PCI bracket off of the graphics card in order to get it in to the case. I also had to unscrew the PCI slot from the case so that I could get the card in the case and slotted in, then I was able to re-attach the PCI extender cable’s PCI slot to the case. Currently the card is just floating without anything supporting it other than the PCI slot itself. I just don’t have the words to describe how tight of a fit this card is. There were a couple of times that I thought that I just wouldn’t be able to do it.

    The flex ATX power supply I have is only a 220W power supply, so I hooked up an SFX power supply that I had laying around and just let it sit outside the case.

    Vckz0Y2.jpg

    Running tests like this resulted in no thermal throttling, and it was very quiet.

    I used to think that this setup would be the ultimate SFF system if I just upgraded the flex ATX power supply so it could all fit inside the case.

    So I put the side and top/front panels on and ran some tests.

    78IYMTS.jpg

    Running tests like this resulted in lots of thermal throttling and lots of fan noise.

    Taking the top/front panel off and running the tests again resulted in very little or no throttling.

    The “tests” I have been running is just playing World of Warcraft for a few hours. Because that is my main use case for computers that causes any sort of stress to the system, I just stick with that and don’t bother with benchmarks very much.

    I was very excited the first time I saw this type of case design, where the GPU fan and the CPU cooler fans just pull in fresh air from the outside causing positive pressure to force the hot air out.

    At least that’s how it is supposed to work in theory, but with my experimentation here, it seems that there is too much resistance to the hot air that is trying to get out, and so instead of sucking in fresh air, the fan just re-circulated the hot air inside the case.

    So I figure there are a few ways to solve the problem here.

    1. Maybe creating some ducting around the fan could stop the recirculation of the hot air. This could be very tricky and the tighter the tolerances, the better I think it will work. I think I’m going to try and do this with some weather stripping.

    2. Adding bigger ventilation holes on the top and the front could possibly reduce the pressure and allow the fan to bring in air from the outside. This could be done if I felt like cutting up the case. (The zs-a4m already does this)

    3. Adding some exhaust fans to the design could remove the hot air, reduce pressure, and allow the GPU fan to bring in fresh air. (The zs-a4m does this.)

    I have become very interested in the zs-a4 because it already has implemented 2 of the 3 mitigation strategies I think will help the most. I have a similar case made by the same guy (the zs-a4) and the quality is really good. Also, it can come completely apart, so it’s easier to fit things in it.

    Concerning the fan noise issue with the side panel on:
    I think the ventilation pattern on the side panel has a big effect on the fan noise. I probably should have chosen the vent pattern with the bigger holes for a higher %open area.
     
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2018
  3. Boil

    Boil [H]ard|Gawd

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    There is also the venting on the front of the ZS-A4M for the GPU chamber...

    I am bummed that the Hutzy XS fell off of the grid...
     
  4. Frazhna

    Frazhna Limp Gawd

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    I didn’t like the vent holes on the front of the zs-a4m the first time I saw it, but after my experience with the CustomMOD flex mini, I think that vent holes on the front are necessary. I know that the clean front panel look is popular and I like it myself, but in such a confined case, you just have to have the extra ventilation.

    But maybe I’ll change my mind on this after I rig up a fan duct for the GPU......
     
  5. thehack

    thehack Limp Gawd

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    I think 4L is my goal as well. I'd love to design one that can handle a 1080 and a 6 core cpu.

    I think the ventilation design can be massively improved but a layout like custom mod that outlined above is the only way.

    Baby steps. :)
     
  6. rfarmer

    rfarmer [H]ard|Gawd

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    That is one of the things I like about the Lazer3D LZ7, GPU vent holes on all 4 sides. I agree that I prefer a solid front panel but I wouldn't mind some additional ventilation.
     
  7. Boil

    Boil [H]ard|Gawd

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    For GPUs that have their fins running fore to aft, front venting makes sense, get that hot air out of there...!

    But a pair of 92mm fans up top set to exhaust is also helpful...

    The biggest issue, IMO, is the limited space for a decent CPU heat sink...

    The 4L almost demands a Noctua NH-L9-series heat sink, but how well can that handle 6 or more core CPUs...?
     
  8. QuantumBraced

    QuantumBraced Gawd

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    Haha, I feel like this was in response to my post in the MI-6 thread. Thanks very much for starting the thread.

    The case you guys have been referencing appears to be 4.6L. To me, the whole point of this idea is 4L or don't bother. The idea is to create something that is almost NUC-class, truly portable -- would be roughly the size of 3 Hades Canyon NUCs stacked on top of each other except with all the benefits of a full desktop PC. Otherwise as you get closer to 5L, you start creeping into territory where the case is no longer truly "tossable" in a backpack, and then the marginal benefit of adding a bit more volume becomes overwhelming. I believe this is why a case like this doesn't exist, because you get a lot more functionality by going 2-3L larger, but that rationale fails the recognize the value of portable. This isn't a case that will be sitting on a desk non-stop -- otherwise I agree, no one is so space constrained that they can't afford 3 more liters of volume to fit a better GPU, PSU and CPU cooler to go with their high-end system. This would be for portability or people who simply don't need anything bigger.

    I believe there should also be another version of the case, 3.25L which omits the FlexATX PSU and only relies on a 160W DC-DC (like the CM Mini which uses a G-Unique, but to me that's not really viable for a serious commercial product; people could still use it though). Same design, just no basement and no 2.5" support. Then you almost get into MicroSTX size.

    Pretty well, the L9i can cool a delidded 8700K no problem. If you get a good chip and undervolt, you could even bring all the cores up to 4.6GHz. It will be loud under full load (not more than a laptop), but for gaming it won't be too bad. The next generation will have soldered chips at the high-end, so this problem will go away.
     
  9. Frazhna

    Frazhna Limp Gawd

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    So I went and looked up the specs for my CustomMOD flex mini. I got the 2nd version

    CASE FLEX mini 4.1L rev.2
    Specs:

    - Volume: 3.99L (220mm x 181.5mm x 103mm)
    - GPU: length <175mm, height <132mm (Giga 1070 Mini and MSI 1070 Aero ITX compatible)
    - CPU Cooler: up to 39mm (Noctua L9i recommended)
    - RAM: up to 42 mm

    The volume calculation doesn’t take in to account that it isn’t a perfect rectangular prism, so by subtracting the volume of the chamfered top front and back and bottom front edges, it will probably be just under 4L

    I ended up making a duct for my graphics card fan and it still throttles about half the time of the top and front panels are on.
    It seems that the ventilation pattern needs to be increased to a greater %open pattern in order for this case to be able to handle the GTX1080

    As far as throwing it into a bag to take it places: I have done that quite a bit and it works so well. It is such a great traveler.