Small Wonder: How the Colossal RTX 4090 Transformed My Tiny PC

It’s an irony you’d think the world couldn’t fit, especially when it comes to PC builds, but it has. The giant killer is back. The Nvidia RTX 4090, the world’s biggest graphics card is thriving in one of the smallest PC chassis you can get. This isn’t ‘can we fit the unbelievable into the believable’, it’s ‘can we fit the incredible into the conceivable’. Told in three parts, it’s a story of balls, of balance, and the quest for gaming greatness… in small.

The Quest for the Ultimate Small Form Factor Build

The purpose of the quest was to house the biggest graphics processing unit on the market, the RTX 4090, in the smallest case possible, while still getting optimal power. It was daunting, but so was the thought of having to live with a big box in a modest-size bedroom. With some creativity and a heaping tablespoon of stubbornness, that dream started blossoming into a tangible reality. Along the way, there were challenges.

Unveiling the Titan

The Build: A Symphony of Power and Compactness

  • GPU: Nvidia RTX 4090 Founder’s Edition
  • CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 7800X3D
  • Chillers and All: A selected inventory of components for maximum performance in minimum space.

It revolved around this audacious build that started off with the RTX 4090 hooked up to AMD’s Ryzen 7 7800X3D – the ultimate gaming rig. But the hard work was not so much in picking the parts, but in fitting everything in the cramped space of a 10.4-litre case.

The Architectural Marvel: Fractal Terra

The Fractal Terra’s two chambers eliminated the confines of space, and the adjustable spine could squeeze the space for the GPU and CPU cooler by mere fractions of a millimetre. This hand-tailored solution didn’t require a bigger, bulkier box, proving that – in PC builds, at least – you can still have your cake and eat it.

The Tinkerer’s Trial

But really, it took quite a bit of trial and error. My original plan used the Gigabyte B650i Aorus Ultra (F) as the motherboard, partly because its micro-ATX form factor was much smaller (17cm x 17cm) than the traditional ATX form factor (30.5cm x 24.4cm), and I wanted to save as much space as possible. I had forgotten just how important that balance of power and size is; how it takes a single millimetre to sway significantly one way or another. I ended up reworking things, making compromises, and eventually, the build settled into a groove.

Maxing Out Efficiency

Space is at a premium; every addition to the board has to earn its space one thousand times over. So, the low-profile RAM and the offset heatspreader for the CPU (attached with a Thermalright ASF-Black bracket) weren’t just space-efficient; gravity helped thermal efficiency as well, a huge piece of the CPU’s longevity pie.

The Thermal Conundrum and the Art of Undervolting

And, of course, as with all previous iterations of graphics cards, the legends of the RTX 4090’s power consumption are matched only by its heat output. Thus, learning how to master the art of undervolting was key. By tweaking the voltage curves, the system is able to maintain the delicate balance of achieving performance without sacrificing heat or noise – something that is all too common when it comes to small form factor builds.

Taming the Beast: CPU and GPU Optimization

Tiny tweaks to the voltage and power limits on the CPU showed that we could bring the temperature down substantially with zero loss of performance. And an undervolt on the RTX 4090 revealed that it could stay significantly cooler and quieter while retaining its Herculean powers.

The Final Ensemble: A Symphony of Cooling

The search ended with fiddling with fan curves, a precise set of settings that tries to balance noise reduction with optimal cooling. The PC ran as well as it could under pressure — and quietly instead of noisily.

From Dream to Reality: The RTX 4090 in a Small Form Factor PC

It was a journey that helped break some myths, set some standards, and convinced me that, with the right tools and a combination of passion, precision, patience, and dedication, PC gaming can be taken to extravagant new heights, even in a small form factor.

Max's Legacy: A Testament to Ingenuity

Custom water-cooling, on the other hand, seems like a beautifully geeky ode to maximalism in a build that proves you don’t need to sacrifice power to minimise. This is cultural history as much as it is technological achievement. It’s a story about computer nerd culture evolving, and a celebration of gaming creativity.

Beyond the Build: A Perspective on Max

But in the context of this story, Max is so much more than a number or a measure of what’s feasible, or even what’s possible: he is the highest case of efficiency, ingenuity and performance that PC gaming has to offer. And he reminds us, in the most eloquent way I can think of, that the only true limit to human achievement is our own imagination.

In other words, when you’re dealing with the polar opposite of a modular design – a piece of hardware that represents the absolute upper limit of what can fit in a given case – then size isn’t a factor. Scale, on the other hand, is. It’s about your aspirations, your ambition, your fear, your passion. It’s about the incredible sight of a 480W monster, the fastest consumer GPU ever made, taking centre stage in your PC’s world, and it’s about the enormous leap of faith required to tame the chaos and take control. By conquering the small form factor PC, the RTX 4090 challenges the voyagers of the future – dare to dream.

Jun 17, 2024
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