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
Member since:

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.

Reply Score: 3

RE: Small build
by Wondercool on Sun 10th Nov 2013 13:24 in reply to "Small build"
Wondercool Member since:

+1 for this. Similar build here:

This is from 18 months ago:
- Case: Silverstone SG05BB-450 140 euro
- RAM 8GB 40 euro
- CPU cooling (fan) 10 euro
- Motherboard ASRock Z68M-ITX/HT 100 euro
- CPU Intel Core i5 (sandy bridge) 180 euro
- GPU ADM 6870 150 euro
- 64Gb SSD 80 euro
The case comes with a 450 watt PSU, enough for most modern GPUs.

This is around the 700 mark, depending on shipping and if you need keyboard, mouse, screen and disks. I had most of them.

It plays all games HD on almost the highest settings fluently. It's small enough to fit in a suitcase (I shipped it like that on a 12 hour flight!).

Building it was tricky as there is almost no room left for the 3.5" disk. In the end I used a 500gb 2.5" laptop disk for the data.

I would build a similar PC these days, except I made one big mistake: the noise level of the GPU is way too high.I would research my GPU better and/or I would find a watercooling solution for the GPU.

IMHO the biggest problem in making the PC smaller is the 11" length of the graphics card. I wish the motherboard makers + GPU makers could sit together to make some sort of joined up device without losing the performance.

Edited 2013-11-10 13:35 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 3

RE[2]: Small build
by chandler on Mon 11th Nov 2013 01:01 in reply to "RE: Small build"
chandler Member since:

Well, the "joined up device" would be integrated graphics, which has its own substantial tradeoffs. Maybe Kaveri will finally get the formula right, but I'm not holding my breath.

The other option is of course a gaming laptop running with the lid closed...

Reply Parent Score: 1

RE: Small build
by modmans2ndcoming on Sun 10th Nov 2013 16:56 in reply to "Small build"
modmans2ndcoming Member since:

Just send the fluid out to an old car radiator :-)

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE: Small build
by Ultimatebadass on Sun 10th Nov 2013 22:36 in reply to "Small build"
Ultimatebadass Member since:

For a gaming PC you could do better (assuming paying same money) trading off that i7K for a i7 or high-end i5 and a better graphics card.

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[2]: Small build
by chandler on Mon 11th Nov 2013 00:58 in reply to "RE: Small build"
chandler Member since:

For sure - this is an all purpose gaming/development/virtualization workstation for me, and I'm likely to upgrade the video card sooner than the CPU anyway. The 7870 was actually an impulse purchase as I was just going to move my 6850 over, but at $140 after rebate it seemed too good to pass up. I also tend to play more CPU-bound strategy games than GPU-bound shooters.

All the components in my build were purchased at my local Microcenter, which has the best price by far on the 4770K ($280) and a $30 combo discount with a K-series part and any compatible motherboard. Had I bought the system at Newegg, I would have ended up with the i5-4670K for essentially the same amount of money.

Reply Parent Score: 1