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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Comment by Luminair
by Luminair on Tue 12th Nov 2013 00:31 UTC
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The constraint is the case. We nerds have been asking for console cases for computers for FAR TOO MANY YEARS and still there are none. So if you want a console case, buy a pre-made system with one. Or wait until assholes get around to selling just a console case.

Your system design at is an inefficient use of money for game performance. The highest game performance per dollar comes from the video card up, and I predict this continues up until the $600 video cards... at least. There is a point where more performance is wasted, but new games are very good at consuming performance.

In other words, everything except the video card should be as cheap as possible, and be attached to the most expensive video card you can afford. The floor for this is pretty low. It may go down to 2-core cpus, but I'd go 4-core without proof 2-core is sufficient, because developers will be using 4-cores at least.

4GB memory is sufficient, and so is a hard drive not SSD. Personally I'd get one 8gb DIMM and an SSD, but not if it meant getting the video card you picked.

That power supply and cpu cooler are utterly ridiculous. The CPU is quiet with a retail heatsink the size of a deck of cards, and that computer will use 175W, not 600W.

Reply Score: 3

RE: Comment by Luminair
by Luminair on Tue 12th Nov 2013 04:34 in reply to "Comment by Luminair"
Luminair Member since:

It's hard to find data this low, but I found some. While the dual-core pentium and dual-core 4-thread core i3 are good value, I think the +4 multiplier overclock you get with ivy bridge (not haswell) i5 with turbobust (not i3) is the most compelling.

By choosing the i5 ivy bridge with the highest turbo speed for the buck, you get your 4 cores and a high speed for a decent price. Example: $200 USD i5-3470 has 3.6ghz turbo for 4.0ghz overclock.

Compare that to the sweet spot recommendation: $200 USD i5-4430 haswell with 3.2ghz turbo and no overclock. That's... not as good.

Compare to the techreport budget option: $130 USD dual core, 4-thread i3-4130 at 3.4ghz. That or even a pentium for $80 could be the king of bang-for-the-buck in many comparisons. But I feel the extra speed and real cores of the 4ghz option above could be JUST worth it.

I'd like to see a real site benchmark the most demanding new games with the best bang-for-the-buck pentium, i3, i5, and i7, then show if there are any obvious or nuanced differences, like more skips / lower minimum frame rates.

I'm biased and trying to find a way for the $200 chip to be worth it compared to the $100 one. My heart says "yes" but my brain says "no" -- that $100 is probably still better spent on the video card.

All the new games are being designed for game consoles which have 8 cpu cores about the speed of an ipad. Each is worth maybe 1.5ghz of an intel cpu.

Fuzzy imaginary comparison math incoming: Let's say the consoles only give the game 6 cores, and let's say intel hyperthread is worth 0.5 of a core. That means a 2 core 4 thread 3ghz intel chip has virtually 2 + (2*0.5) = 3 cores at 2x the speed of the consoles, or 6 console cores worth of speed.

But guess what: you can't even get an intel CPU that slow. The worst you can get is a 3.1ghz i3-2100... which came out in the year 2011. The modern version of that is a 3.4ghz i3 for $130. Really puts the CPU you need for games in perspective. Intel CPUs are so fast that the weak ones walk through games barely trying.

The benchmarks around the web bare this out:

Yet there are some that don't, and those are where I become concerned. I don't want to tell someone to save $80 and then they get half the FPS they should in a new game. Crysis?

I'd get the quad core, but there is a case to be made that it's not needed.

Reply Parent Score: 3

RE: Comment by Luminair
by _txf_ on Tue 12th Nov 2013 11:15 in reply to "Comment by Luminair"
_txf_ Member since:

4GB memory is sufficient, and so is a hard drive not SSD. Personally I'd get one 8gb DIMM and an SSD, but not if it meant getting the video card you picked.

I disagree about that DIMM. You're really bottle necking the CPU by only using one memory channel. 2x 4GB dimms are not that much more expensive than a single 8.

Edited 2013-11-12 11:16 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 3

RE[2]: Comment by Luminair
by Luminair on Tue 12th Nov 2013 19:16 in reply to "RE: Comment by Luminair"
Luminair Member since:

Negative. Not only are you unable to prove that, but you're also probably unable to find the original source of the delusion...

The "dual channel memory kit" thing is a way for memory companies to trick people into buying old, slow, high voltage, low density memory. They obfuscate the real size, selling it as "8GB (2X4GB)". So basically it is a lie. The speed thing is imagined. You can see the increased speed only if you benchmark the memory alone.

Ironically the new AMD HSA announcement just happened, and for their new Kavari chip, dual channel memory may matter in game benchmarks. It can help with onboard graphics systems that use it.

Reply Parent Score: 3