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Build It Yourself: A Mini-ITX Gaming System For Just Over $500

Build It Yourself: A Mini-ITX Gaming System For Just Over $500
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Low-cost, low-power, small form factor PCs are popular right now. With Intel’s Ivy Bridge architecture available in the low-end Pentium family, you can now build a living room gaming PC with discrete graphics to beat any modern console for just over $500.

Low-cost, low-power, small form factor PCs are popular right now. With Intel’s Ivy Bridge architecture available in the low-end Pentium family, you can now build a living room gaming PC with discrete graphics to beat any modern console for just over $500.

We’ve seen how AMD’s Llano-based APUs stack up against Intel’s Sandy Bridge-based Pentiums in Better with Time? The A8-3870 And Pentium G630, One Year Later. That story generated quite a big of feedback, much of it asking how Intel's Ivy Bridge architecture might fare. Today, we’re putting together a new build with an Ivy Bridge-based Pentium at its core.

Of course, simply building an entry-level gaming PC on a budget is a pretty tired topic, so we chose to tackle a more formidable challenge. Could we fit a budget-oriented configuration inside a mini-ITX chassis? Would it still accommodate an optical drive for us to install all of our favorite titles? Might there be room for the hard drive needed to house those games? Perhaps most important, is there room in a cheap mini-ITX case for a discrete graphics card able to deliver smooth, stutter-free frame rates? Surely, we couldn't expect something so specific to also look good, right?

Falcon Northwest showed us what a boutique builder can do with months of R&D and aspirations of supporting high-end hardware in Meet The Tiki: Core i7-3770K And GeForce GTX 680 In A Mini-ITX Box? This isn't the same thing though, our goal here is to tackle small, attractive, and inexpensive. Although that seems almost impossible, we promise you it's doable. You just need to track down the right parts. A high degree of manual dexterity helps, too.

Finding A Good Deal On A Mini-ITX Case And Power Supply

I lost a lot of hair trying to find the right mini-ITX chassis and power supply. There simply isn't much out there to choose from, much less with a bundled PSU around the $60 price range. Our power supply choices were between the TFX form factor and a picoPSU, so we had to choose between output and size. We calculated that we'd need no less than 120 W, which is actually quite a lot for a picoPSU, especially given the limited selection in that product segment. If we went that route, our choices would have cost about $140 for a case, the picoPSU, and a notebook power brick. Too expensive, we decided.

What remained were cases with bundled PSUs. Generally, they lack the level of quality we're willing to accept, they're larger than what we want, or they come with older, much less efficient power supplies. After a mission of online shopping and calling around to various vendors, we finally discovered a gem of an enclosure featuring an integrated TFX power supply and selling for about $60. Could it be the chassis we were looking for all along?

Display all 11 comments.
  • 1 Hide
    mi1ez , 7 February 2013 19:35
    Are the PSU and graphics card not fighting for air?
  • -1 Hide
    markiz , 7 February 2013 20:24
    This is what I've been waiting for, thanks!
  • 0 Hide
    oliverstirling , 7 February 2013 23:07
    Considering that a rig of this nature is probably going to see use as a HTPC would be nice to see some noise measurements under varying load scenarios. Would be interesting to see what kind of temperatures this build generated under idle and load conditions as well
  • 0 Hide
    mahatmacoat , 9 February 2013 16:19
    Does anyone know of a UK supplier for this kit?
  • 0 Hide
    andieshandyhandies , 19 February 2013 02:19
    I can find a Foxconn case which looks the same but only 150w PSU in UK. But I am going for no Graphics. 32.40

    On fleabay

    mobo 55.10

    I3-3225 109.73

    80gb SSd Intel 320 80GB Best reliabiltiy. Write cache backup power. 119.17

    WD 500gb sata2 5400rpm 48.18

    Xigmatek Praeton 12.56

    SN-208B 17.94


  • 0 Hide
    Aabech , 23 February 2013 03:44
    I found this article very interesting, and decided to give it a go and build one of my own. I got an i3 3225 and the Sapphire low-profile 7750 plus the rest on the shopping list.

    A few days gone by, and I'm not overly happy with the result. I find it way too noisy and warm.

    The PSU and 7750's fans are very noisy. I went with preferred performance setting in ATi CCC, I took on FIFA 13 on lowest detail in 720p. The game was alright smooth, but both fans kicked in at max speed, and after 10-15 minutes of gaming, the GPU core temp was at 90°C, and my ears couldn't stand the noise.

    Idling, the 7750 doesn't say much, but give it just a bit of work, and it will be too much (the placement right on top of the PSU doesn't help). And again, the PSU, even at idle, makes more noise than my old full-size desktop tower with a 600W PSU, highend graphics and 4 case coolers :-(

    I guess the problem is, that if you do anything but stream Netflix and use Writer or Word, etc, the noise will drive you crazy! I had hoped for just a little glimpse of gaming, but the graphics card placement, combined with the noise from that and the power supply just isn't satisfying for me.

    My solution will be to get a cheap, but solid, ATX (Fractal Core 1000?), install the motherboard with everything on it and invest in a proper graphics (7850 2GB?), and then hide the Chieftec and 7750 far, far away.

    The Chieftec could come in handy in a future project, or maybe as a light PC for my parents.
  • 0 Hide
    Aabech , 23 February 2013 21:32
    For now I have just un-mounted the side, turned the case upside-down and put the PSU on top of the case. Ugly but the noise has been reduced severely
  • 0 Hide
    andieshandyhandies , 24 February 2013 16:24
    Hi,

    I am interested in this small case system.
    As a fast loading and performing luggable with bluetooth keyboard, tv and monitor at each house I use.
    Can you use a Android tablet as a main monitor for elsewhere?
    Fed up with slow old laptop.

    But with no graphics card or gaming.

    I3-3225 for the HD4000 built in graphics.
    Ozek Vertex 4 128GB SSD
    WD 500GB Velociraptor

    Will it run cool enough for:
    Web browsing
    Wordpress PHP SQL development
    Astro image processing
    with one of these sharing HD TV source.

    Cheers. Andrew.
  • 0 Hide
    andieshandyhandies , 24 February 2013 16:28
    Cheapest UK supplier I have found for the case
    http://www.systo.co.uk/chieftec-fi-01w-200w-itx-fi-01w.html
  • 0 Hide
    andieshandyhandies , 24 February 2013 17:02
    Also what about memory.

    Are 1.35v or 1.5v significantly different?

    Is it a case of being able to buy memory which can do both and then the MB settings?

    Does memory with heat sinks on make any difference to running temperature or reliability?
  • 0 Hide
    grumbledook , 25 February 2013 18:53
    AabechI found this article very interesting, and decided to give it a go and build one of my own. I got an i3 3225 and the Sapphire low-profile 7750 plus the rest on the shopping list.A few days gone by, and I'm not overly happy with the result. I find it way too noisy and warm.The PSU and 7750's fans are very noisy. I went with preferred performance setting in ATi CCC, I took on FIFA 13 on lowest detail in 720p. The game was alright smooth, but both fans kicked in at max speed, and after 10-15 minutes of gaming, the GPU core temp was at 90°C, and my ears couldn't stand the noise.Idling, the 7750 doesn't say much, but give it just a bit of work, and it will be too much (the placement right on top of the PSU doesn't help). And again, the PSU, even at idle, makes more noise than my old full-size desktop tower with a 600W PSU, highend graphics and 4 case coolers :-(I guess the problem is, that if you do anything but stream Netflix and use Writer or Word, etc, the noise will drive you crazy! I had hoped for just a little glimpse of gaming, but the graphics card placement, combined with the noise from that and the power supply just isn't satisfying for me.My solution will be to get a cheap, but solid, ATX (Fractal Core 1000?), install the motherboard with everything on it and invest in a proper graphics (7850 2GB?), and then hide the Chieftec and 7750 far, far away.The Chieftec could come in handy in a future project, or maybe as a light PC for my parents.


    Just use the interated graphics (more than good enough for light use), sell the 7750 and swap out the psu for bequiet's tfx one for the 7750 cash (maybe you have a bigger selection of tfx psus, if so read some reviews. The bequiet one isn't completely quiet, but miles better than the stock tfx psu I had). This should rescue the pc :) 
    The LP 7750 itself does handle 1080p gaming, but it needs much better airflow than this model of case gives.
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