Linux desktop build, SFF of some sort

I’m trying to decide what to get for a new desktop. Seems like a standard form factor like mini-ITX would work best for future proofing, but having trouble finding a combination I like. Last desktop has lasted me many years, and I want to get many years out of the next one too.

Lots of brain dump below as I was trying to clarify my thoughts and options.

I’m primarily interested in mini-ITX options, but nothing is decided. I probably will take a while to solidfy a preference and things are always changing.

Thanks for any help.

  • old desktop

    • Lenovo Edge 15 Laptop
      • intel i5-480m, 1st Gen, arrandale
      • 8GB, maxed out
      • expresscard34 slot
        • USB 3.1g1 5Gb/s, 2 ports
        • doesn’t seem the be enough PCIe bandwidth to support 2x 5Gb/s USB
        • 7.5 years old
      • can’t boot from eSATA
      • have to remove external monitor from top of laptop to power up
      • recently started thermal overloading
        • often at 90C
        • sometimes crash @105C
        • disabling boost and limiting CPU to 2GHz and fan full still not good enough to control thermals all the time, and noisy
        • cleaned dust and reapplied thermal paste, no difference
        • fan exhaust not hot
        • heat pipe maybe not conducting well
      • crashed too many times, now using older worse laptop
  • new desktop uses

    • linux desktop
      • browser
      • spreadsheet
      • terminal sessions, local/remote
      • minor software / scripting
    • no games, no AI, so integrated GPU is cheap and acceptable
    • KVM
    • docker
    • kubernetes
    • LXC/LXD
    • windows dual boot, maybe a couple of times a year for obscure software that requires physical windows box
  • reuse

    • monitors
    • Samsung 860 EVO 500G for boot device
      • can get M.2 NVME later
      • bulk storage over NFS
  • minimum

    • 6 cores, 12 threads
    • 16GB RAM
    • probably not overclocked, or maybe just the RAM, depends
    • dual monitor
      • currently VGA + HDMI
      • support 2x HMDI/DP
      • maybe support laptop panel too if laptop
    • USB 3.1g1 5Gb/s, 2 ports
  • maximum

    • CPU 65W TDP
  • want

    • 8C/16T or more
    • 32GB, maybe 64GB, ECC
    • integrated graphics
      • cheaper
      • less power
      • don’t need discrete GPU, no gaming, no AI
    • Thunderbolt
    • USB 3.1g2 10Gb/s, 4 ports, A & C
    • eSATA
      • maybe via extra card if mini-ITX
      • maybe USB-eSATA dongle
      • Port Multiplier support is occasionally useful
      • Have express-card with PM support, but nothing has express-card anymore.
    • case with structural integrity to support a monitor on top
  • form factors

    • laptop
    • mini-ITX
    • OEM tiny cases
    • micro-ATX
      • don’t really want get this big
      • may as well put a GPU in the server, but want to be able to crash and burn the desktop without impacting the server or polluting it with package install/uninstalls.
  • laptop

    • i7-8750H 6C/12T
    • con: thunderbolt often only bundled with NVidia GPU
      • don’t want the expense or power penalty of discrete GPU
  • mini-ITX

    • case

      • ~InWin Chopin
        • pro: small, 3 litre
        • con: blocked expansion slot
        • con: top mesh can’t hold a monitor, would need a shelf
        • probably need replacement low profile fan, maybe Noctua
      • haven’t found any similar size cases I like
    • AMD mini-ITX not may options

      • 2400G seems best I can get with graphics
        • only 4C
      • 2700 8C
        • no graphics
      • MBs, in the past ASUS has apparently supported ECC
        • ASUS ROG Strix B450-I
        • ASUS ROG Strix X470-I
        • Gigabyte B450 I Aorus Pro
    • Intel

      • i7-8700 only 6C
      • i7-8700T 25W but can’t find anyway
      • MBs
        • ASRock H370M ITX/ac
        • ASUS ROG Strix H370-I Gaming
        • MSI B360I Gaming Pro
    • RAM usually only 2 slots, 16GB/slot, max 32GB

    • Thunderbolt

      • Usually can’t find on mini-ITX MB
      • Can’t find after market TB card with low profile
        • Still seems to require some kind of MB connector
  • OEM tiny desktops, approx 1-1.5 litre

    • Usually i7-8700T, 6C/12T max, 32GB max, 25W TDP
    • Lenovo Thinkcentre M920 Tiny
      • Thunderbolt advertised but not purchasable (yet?)
    • HP Elitebook 400 G4
    • ASRock Jupiter, but can’t find in AU
    • ASUS ~VivoMini VC65-C1, 2 litre
    • con: expensive compared to mini-ITX

So, I started specing this out for you, but there’s a few things here that stand out as issues.

First, why are you looking for ECC with your workload? Are you going to be serving content that has to be 100% consistent at all times? From the description it doesn’t sound like it, and you may be better served with non-ecc ram. It also opens your options up quite a bit. The memory controller for Ryzen is on the CPU itself, so, with few exceptions, you should get ECC support from them (I know MSI’s B450 itx board is one of the exceptions).

Second, you’re looking for thunderbolt, so now AMD’s off the table since ZERO AMD boards support thunderbolt (even via PCIe add-on). Wendell did a video on this if you’d like to take a look:

Third if you want 65w or under you’re stuck with either a i7-8700(non-k) or an AMD 2600. The 8700 does have built in graphics, so there’s some upside for you. If you went with AMD, you could get something like an rx 550 that runs off pure PCIe slot power, and wouldn’t really increase power consumption all that much.

This wish list is long, slightly confusing, and has some choices that are mutually exclusive which makes any advice a bit difficult.

Thanks for the reply, and for the video link.

Yes, I realize there are conflicts between the options. I am undecided exactly which mix will ultimately float my boat.

I have the minimum section, which I suppose you could call needs, and I have wants, but just because I want something doesn’t mean I get it, various things will get traded off.

ECC is nice, and if I go AMD it is something I would consider depending on price.

Thunderbolt is also nice, but also hard to get, but having 4 PCIe lanes extended outside might be particularly useful in the future, or it could just be a waste of time and money. Looked at the video, very interesting, I won’t expect TB to show up for AMD any time soon.

I think the CPU side of things is actually the easy part. Finding an acceptable enclosure seems to be the limiting factor, and will drive architecture to some degree, and I’ll need to fit into the case. While I would like AMD, Intel seems to be the winner with (cpu+video) TDP, especially given the Chopin PSU is only 150W, and significant discrete GPU will probably tip the system over the threshold. Another case with a different power supply might be different, but I would prefer an eSATA PM card over a discrete GPU.

Intel i7-8700K wasn’t worth me looking at it, too hot, and too expensive, and I’m not even sure I would look at it unless I was overclocking, which I’m not.

AMD 2700 seems like it is 65W TDP, but maybe you are saying that if I need to add an external GPU I need to target a reduced TDP? AMD 2700E seems to be 45W, but I haven’t looked at it as yet, so no idea as to availability.

Intel NUC 8 Enthusiast Kit NUC8i7HNK


  • 65w TDP chip
  • 2x thunderbolt ports
  • 2x intel nics
  • Vega IGP
  • USB 3.1 gen 2 port
  • 2x M.2 NVMe slots


  • only 4c/8t
  • no eSATA
  • 2 SODIMM slots max 32gb ram. Also no ECC
  • not gonna be able to put your monitor on it
  • No expansion cards

All I can find with limited time for now, may post back later when I’m free

This plus a egpu chassis like the Razer core for expansion would be doable and the Razer core if you feel like moding can have a vesa mount put on the back would take up about as much space as a qbx kaze itx chassis (I own both a kaze and Razer core v1)

Integrated graphics on AMD on linux … don’t. Most of my systems are running Ryzen chips today and they are phenomenal but the APUs are trouble. Also the APUs don’t support ECC.

The usual:

small / powerful / quiet

Pick two.

Especially if you want the machine for the long run I would advice against SFF. There will be upgrades in the future. And you are paying out the ass for mITX to restrict that. That is just not a good idea.

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@noenken Found your Ryzen/Vega laptop PCIe Bus Error thread, painful, and I understand where you are coming from saying avoid Ryzen APUs. New hardware pain was what I thought I was avoiding given we are up to Ryzen 2, but need to wait a bit longer for APUs it seems, although it seems APUs are inconsistent with my greed for cores/threads anyway.

I hear what you are saying re mITX restricting upgrade cycle compared to say mATX, but I’m trying to fit into a restricted space, which is why the monitor is on top of the current laptop which is on top of a motherboard box to give me the appropriate elevation. I was planning on either replacing the laptop with a new one, or getting a case 100-120mm high that I could use to support the monitor, and expose some USB 3.x ports, or getting one of those really small cases and maybe mounting on the back of the monitor.

I supposed a mATX case like Silverstone ML03 would work, a bit wider and deeper than I would prefer, but at least it gives me 2x front USB3.x ports, unlike the ML04 which hides them behind a panel. Hopefully the cross brace in the ML03 would be strong enough to support the monitor. Can’t say I’m sold on the ML03 at the moment, just a the first one I found that might fit if mATX.

While I was considering mATX cases I then considered what would happen if I replaced by current two monitors, horizonal & vertical orientation with something like a 40" TV screen. In that case I probably would not want the case under the monitor, would probably have to move it to the side and vertical mount, which would conflict with the the power/comms/etc there.

@2bitmarksman I already trawled thru the NUCs, but definitely want at least 6 cores and would like 8. I could do the eSATA with a USB adapter. TB is nice. Interestingly everyone seems to want to use for eVGA, while I’m more interested in docking/connectivity/storage, and I really don’t like the prices of the external enclosures, like the Razer Core as mentioned by @anon57598049, but I suppose that is at least an artifact of minimal demand. While the Kaze mITX case looks very nice, permanently combining it with an eGPU case effectively bulks it out enough for me that I may as well get a small mATX case.

2x SO-DIMM is almost a given with NUC/mITX although I did notice an X299 mITX board with 4x SO-DIMM, but I don’t want to go to that CPU range/price point. I suppose mATX does give me more options for RAM too, since 4x DIMMs in a MB is relatively easy to get, and I could buy 2x16GB now, and get 2x16GB later if I needed it, or maybe it would DDR5 time by by then, and it would be MB CPU RAM upgrade time again.

Given mATX, AMD 2700, I then need to get a GPU, I think I have an old nVidia 700 series GPU that I used to use for mythTV, probably enough for linux desktop dual monitor until I can understand the current options. If I got an Intel 8700, I could use the IGP.

When looking at mATX I again think about power. My old/current laptop was using a 65W power adapter. InWin Chopin came with a 150W power supply, and a 65W CPU build would top out close to that limit. Expanding to mATX and discrete GPU will use more power again. All putting more pressure on my UPS.

I did find what seems to be an AU source for, maybe rebadged Clevo, laptops, which seems I can get 8750H, 32GB, no windows but not much cheaper than name brand laptops, but might allow me more configurability.

As usual, when trying to spec an upgrade, it feels like I’m going round in circles biting myself in the back with all the conflicts :slight_smile: Just as well I have an even older laptop I can use until I find a solution I like.

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the statement

is understandable but not the intention of my first comment. i was commenting about a nuc egpu combo. not the kaze+egpu combo i can see how my comment got confused as such.
using a intel based system itx and egpu for nongpu pcie uses eg. capture card, esata controller or what not. i have yet to test anything not gpu related on my core v1 but that is a possibility maybe

Yes, using an external TB case for SATA or other PCIe expansion was I was thinking, and reparsing you comment, I see that you were saying the same, not to add to the Kaze.

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Eluktronics is another boutiquet shop for rebranded clevos as well

If you get overclockable CPUs you should also be able to underclock/undervolt them to reduce power consumption as well. Ideally would be able to set this up in the BIOS, but don’t have access to hardware to test (7th/8th gen cpus)

I’ll think about a mATX build for the moment, rather than smaller or laptop. Current build list:

Low profile Silverstone ML03B mATX case, would be interested in similar, as plan to put monitor on top.

I already have 860 EVO for storage, I can always get M.2 later.

I already have the dual 3.5/2.5 hotswap in 5.25 slot, so good use for the 5.25 bay in the case. Unfortunately the MB only has 1x dual USB 3.0 internal connector, so don’t get to connect the USB slots on the hotswap bay.

I already have an nVIdia GT610 passive, but I need to find the low profile bracket in my spares box. Power is about 30W IIRC. I also have an GT7200 passive, but I think I removed it from my old mythtv box because it not longer had driver support, or I needed better video playback support and picked the GT610. Haven’t had a mythtv box for a while now. I also considered a 1030 2GB, or a 3x miniDP Quadro 2G, both seemed to be about 30W too, but since I had the GT610 it seems like it is worth using rather than buying another. Not sure what I would use if I wanted AMD equivalent.

Not sure about the memory, 3200 CAS 14 would be nice, but not sure it is worth the price premium over CAS 16. I’m guessing these are Dual Rank, Gskill website doesn’t say in specs… Also unsure what would happen to memory speed if I was to add another 2 sticks for a total of 64 later on, are the memory speeds going to back off as suggested by the ASRock MB doco, or should I be able to keep speed at 3200?

IIRC 2700 comes with Wraith Spire, but it is too close to the 70mm cpu / top-of-case limit, so went with the small Noctua. Would have preferred the extra cooling of the next size up Noctua, but again too tall. Possibility could add 2x 80mm case fans if thermal problem.

Power supply looks interesting being fanless, and power draw should be solidly mid range. Might have a look a look at some semi-fanless too, since sometimes ambient is 40C, and that might strain fanless.

It’s unlikely you’ll be able to keep 3200 for 4 sticks if you get a less than average chip. Should be able to manage 2933 at least, so you can tighten the timings to make up for it at that point (or should be able to anyway). Also with ambient temps of up to 40C, I’d say go with a bit of extra cooling.

Yes, depends on the memory lucky dip as to how fast I can go, and still don’t understand enough about memory timings/ranks/topology and how it will interact with a normal linux desktop / kvm / zfs / non-gaming workload, despite watching and reading what I can find.

40+C in summer is an occasional issue, will keep thinking on this, still looking for a better case. Might also consider 600W+ semi fanless PSU instead of fanless, so there would be some headroom for dealing with hot weather. Unfortunately Silverstone seems to have a virtual monopoly on SFX-L, and I would prefer a SFX-L 120mm PSU fan turning slower than a SFX PSU 92mm fan turning faster, and the pricing matches.

I’m going to be busy for the next few months, wont have time to manage a new PC build. It seems like I may as well wait and see what the Ryzen 3700 looks like before I spend my money, or wait for the 2700 to get a nice drop in comparison.

Or get really greedy and see what a 2950X would come down to, but I think form factor, power envelope, and price I am willing to pay will preclude this option. One thing Intel does have is plenty of options that AMD just doesn’t have the volumes to penetrate, yet, or in the near future.

Depending on how much you’re willing to spend, you could get an S4 Mini and power brick for a small ITX system. Not From Concentrate over on youtube has plenty of vids on them and on setting up the pico psus.

Also SoC boards may be worth a consideration:

Yes, supermicro makes some nice boards, but the Xeon D boards are out of my price range. I have a Xeon E3 server system with a supermicro board, and I wish I was smarter and went for an E5 system and spent the extra $400 on CPU/board at the time. But it is not time to refresh the server system yet, hopefully it can tick away for another 2-3 years.

Rumor mill on Ryzen 3600 / 3700 CPUs looks interesting, with X570 chipset also looking interesting. Looking forward to some more details in the new year.

You might want to check out the Seasonic SFX 650W PSU. It comes with a 0 rpm mode and won’t spin up until needed. I think Seasonic is a top grade PSU manufacturer.

Indeed. In fact quite a few silverstone PSUs are seasonic units.

I like Seasonic. My current server PSU is IIRC an original M12, but when I wanted to find extra modular cables I couldn’t get them. Not happy, but that was many years ago now, and the PSU is still working fine, just has too many after market cable splitters installed for my taste.

Seasonic SFX 650 is SFX-L format, 120mm fan, similar to some of the Silverstone ones. I was always going to cross check Seasonic before I purchased another PSU given the M12 I am still using, and have been looking at the Seasonic units last year. IIRC they are expensive, but good toys are often expensive.

I was reading some of the power supply reviews on JonnyGuru and it was interesting where the actual insides come from.