Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sat 9th Nov 2013 18:44 UTC

The recent news, pictures, and reports about the prototype Steam Machine got me thinking. Since the SteamOS platform is a simple x86 computer, without the kind of restrictions that regular consoles come with, you can simply build the prototype Steam Machine today. However, the big issue is that Valve has done some magic to make sure that the hefty processor and videocard are properly cooled in the tiny prototype enclosure.

For years now, I've been looking for a way to build such a powerful PC in such a tiny package. The problem is that building such a small, powerful PC yourself is not easy - especially not for someone like me, who doesn't have the time to keep up with the honestly irresponsibly large amount of options available in the processor, videocard, cooler, and case markets. It's a mumble-jumble of version numbers, and in the case of video cards, cooling designs, card lengths, and god knows what else.

So, I have a simple question. Say I want to build a small, powerful gaming PC like the Steam Machine prototype, using off-the-shelf parts, for a reasonable price (I would say EUR 600-800). It needs to be properly cooled and as silent as possible, and it needs to be a small console form factor - so a small, horizontal case. Building a powerful, cool gaming PC in a tower is easy. Building it small and console-like, however, is not.

So, if you were to build something like that, which components would you pick? I might - no guarantees! - take up the advice given here and actually build it, if I can justify the spending. Even if I don't - it seems like a nice exercise for the PC builders among us. The laptop, smartphone, and tablet explosion has pushed custom PC building to the sidelines, but I still think it's an incredibly fun and satisfying activity - and if you're good enough, it is, most certainly, an art.

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Small build
by chandler on Sun 10th Nov 2013 03:34 UTC
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It's not quite in the right form factor, but here's the mini-ITX build I put together last weekend:

* ASRock Z87E-ITX
* Core i7-4770K
* Crucial 16GB DDR3 1600
* Cooler Master Elite 130 case (similar to the classic Shuttle cases)
* Cooler Master Seidon 120M closed loop liquid cooler
* Cooler Master V700 ATX PSU
* MSI Radeon 7870 OC
* Samsung 840 Evo 250GB
* Toshiba 3TB HDD

You could definitely put together something similar within your price range if this form factor works for you.

Of those components, the noisiest at idle is actually the HDD; I'm actually thinking of pulling it out. Otherwise it's pretty darned quiet at idle, once a reasonable fan profile is configured. The liquid cooler has a definite whir/click to the pump, but there are quieter models out there. I would say the liquid cooling kit is essential as there's not a lot of vertical room for a CPU cooler, and smaller coolers tend to not cool as well or use smaller fans that can be louder. The PSU is actually very quiet until it's stressed. I would be reluctant to go to a fanless PSU in this configuration as the PSU's fan helps to draw warm air out of the case.

I would love to put together a truly fanless system some day, but it seems to be relatively uncommon, and even when using heatsinks it's important to have some airflow over the case.

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