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A (somewhat) Powerful, (very) Portable PC

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June 11, 2012 2:51:28 AM

I'm a Computer Science student at Auburn University, and I'm looking to build a computer this summer. This will be my first homebuilt computer. I've got two constraints:

1) Power: I'm starting to work on AIs that learn, conduct spatial reasoning, etc, primarily using simple game environments as a testbed. To this end, I don't need a powerful video card, just something that can handle the sort of things you do with an HTPC, but I need a generous amount of RAM (8-16 GB), and a powerful processor.

These AIs would need to run for extended periods of time (I'd like to have the option of running the computer for days on end, as needed) to really learn, and the machine will be running out of a college dorm room, so I'd like to keep it quiet so that my roommate and I can sleep.

The components I'm looking at to do this job are:
Core i5 2500K Sandy Bridge:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
OR Core i5 3450S Ivy Bridge:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
I'm not sure if it'd be worth the extra $100 for an i7 or not. I've read that the only real increase in power between the i5 and i7 is hyperthreading, which most programs I'd write wouldn't take advantage of.
2x or 4x 4GB Corsair Vengeance 4GB 1600 MHz DDR3 SDRAM:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...(Desktop+Memory)-_-Corsair-_-20233144
Radeon HD 6450 Silent video card:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
I want a 1TB+ HDD at 7200 RPM and, if there's room in my budget (and case), to use a 128GB SDD as a boot/program storage drive.
I'm looking at an ASUS P8Z77 mATX mobo: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
and then stuff like a wireless pci adapter card to connect to wifi, and a 1080p monitor for lots of screen real estate when I'm working and a blu-ray disk disk drive for watching movies when I'm not.
I also want to get a wireless keyboard and mouse so that I can compute from bed or anywhere else in my room.

I'm on a $1000 budget, but I can push that by $100 or so if I really need to.

Basically I'm looking to make a programming and HTPC that doesn't remind you that it's there.

And then there's my other constraint:

2) Portability: My family live 1200 miles away from my school, so when I go home for Christmas and for the Summer, I fly. 8 months of the year I live in Alabama, and the other 4 I live in Rhode Island. The computer I build has to make that trip and fit inside a carry-on bag. My carry-on is 13" by 18" by 8". I'd be bringing the machine with me on flights between 4 and 6 times a year, so I don't want to have to pay $25 a flight to check it in.
To this end, I'm looking at HTPC cases, specifically:
InWin's BL631 MicroATX Slim Case:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
Antec Minuet 350:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Even from a smaller case I still have the quietness constraint I mentioned above.

So far I've only looked at mATX, and no miniITX cases, because I wasn't sure an ITX board would be as functional or able to handle everything the computer does as well as an mATX board would. Please tell me if I'm wrong!

Any suggestions on the case (it HAS to be under 13x18x8), or improving the build would be GREATLY appreciated. Thanks!

------------------------------------------
EDIT: Here's the criteria from the howto thread to make this easier:
Approximate Purchase Date: As soon as I know that what I'm going to build will do what I need it to do.

Budget Range: Under $1000, including monitor and peripherals although if I need to I can push the limit slightly. Rebates are nice wherever possible.

System Usage from Most to Least Important: Carrying on planes / Running processor-intensive programs quietly and coolly for extended periods of time / watching movies, light gaming, and other normal use activities

Parts Not Required: I got a free copy of Windows, so I don't need to worry about an OS.

Preferred Website(s) for Parts: Newegg is nice for checking benchmarks, and I'll check for places I might be able to get a lower price at sites like Amazon.

Country: United States

Parts Preferences: I'll be happy with whatever does the job I need it to do. The parts I'm considering using are linked to above.

Overclocking: No

SLI or Crossfire: No

Monitor Resolution: 1920x1080

Additional Comments: Case must be less than 13"x18"x8", and I want to keep this machine quiet. Other than that, I want as much power as I can put in it while staying inside my budget. Basically, I want to build a lion in a cat's body.

More about : powerful portable

June 11, 2012 3:29:47 AM

The only thing you really lose with mini ITX is expansion slots, 2 memory slots (maybe), and maybe some onboard USB/SATA ports. They are just as capable/stable and plenty for a typical system. For what you're talking about its perfect. you can use 8GB memory sticks. to still get 16, the only concern is if you'd ever need a another expansion slot for something besides the GPU. so something to consider and might open up some options on cases/boards.

Unfortunately the mini ITX case I really wanted to recommend is 9.84" x 15.91" x 14.13"
Related resources
June 11, 2012 4:31:00 AM

unksol: Thanks for the suggestion, I'll look at some miniITX boards.

FinneousPJ: A little bit. I'm not a very intensive gamer, and the games I do play run just fine on my laptop with its 2.53 GHz dual-core core i3 and integrated graphics. While I probably will pick up a couple other, more demanding games, if it does tax my computer I can take the settings down. My priority is building this rig small, quiet, and then powerful.

Also, I'll fill in that out more precisely.
June 12, 2012 4:57:44 AM

BUMP. Still looking for whatever advice I can get.
June 12, 2012 6:06:30 AM

So your AI programs don't multithread effectively? Because by discounting an i7, that's what you're saying.
June 12, 2012 6:20:18 AM

Draven35 said:
So your AI programs don't multithread effectively? Because by discounting an i7, that's what you're saying.

Reread my post, please. I never discounted an i7, I said that extensive multithreading isn't a requisite for the design of most programs that I would write, and that potential benefit alone isn't enough for me to spend more than 10% of my budget on, and I would need more than just hyperthreading to justify the added expense.
June 12, 2012 10:04:43 AM

Depends how busy each one of your process threads keeps the CPU and how your memory is clocked vs your CPU. Some things benefit from hyperthreading better than others... if your programs do benefit from hyperthreading it is not uncommon to see a 25-50% improvement by using it.
June 12, 2012 7:58:57 PM

Thank you for the suggestion, Draven35. If I have enough room in my budget after everything else, then I'll consider the upgrade.

Best solution

June 13, 2012 6:54:11 AM
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Here's my suggestion with 200 left over for peripherals.

PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant / Benchmarks

CPU: Intel Core i5-3570K 3.4GHz Quad-Core Processor ($189.99 @ Microcenter)
Motherboard: MSI Z77MA-G45 Micro ATX LGA1155 Motherboard ($109.99 @ eCost)
Memory: Corsair XMS 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($89.99 @ Newegg)
Hard Drive: Seagate Barracuda 500GB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive ($58.88 @ Compuvest)
Hard Drive: Mushkin Chronos 120GB 2.5" Solid State Disk ($94.99 @ NCIX US)
Video Card: Asus Radeon HD 6770 1GB Video Card ($89.99 @ NCIX US)
Case: Apex MJ-16 MicroATX Mini Tower Case w/250W Power Supply ($47.98 @ Newegg)
Power Supply: Corsair 430W ATX12V Power Supply ($36.98 @ Newegg)
Optical Drive: LG GH24NS90 DVD/CD Writer ($17.99 @ Newegg)
Total: $736.78
(Prices include shipping and discounts when available.)
(Generated by PCPartPicker 2012-06-13 02:51 EDT-0400)
June 14, 2012 4:30:53 PM

FinneousPJ said:
Here's my suggestion with 200 left over for peripherals.

PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant / Benchmarks

CPU: Intel Core i5-3570K 3.4GHz Quad-Core Processor ($189.99 @ Microcenter)
Motherboard: MSI Z77MA-G45 Micro ATX LGA1155 Motherboard ($109.99 @ eCost)
Memory: Corsair XMS 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($89.99 @ Newegg)
Hard Drive: Seagate Barracuda 500GB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive ($58.88 @ Compuvest)
Hard Drive: Mushkin Chronos 120GB 2.5" Solid State Disk ($94.99 @ NCIX US)
Video Card: Asus Radeon HD 6770 1GB Video Card ($89.99 @ NCIX US)
Case: Apex MJ-16 MicroATX Mini Tower Case w/250W Power Supply ($47.98 @ Newegg)
Power Supply: Corsair 430W ATX12V Power Supply ($36.98 @ Newegg)
Optical Drive: LG GH24NS90 DVD/CD Writer ($17.99 @ Newegg)
Total: $736.78
(Prices include shipping and discounts when available.)
(Generated by PCPartPicker 2012-06-13 02:51 EDT-0400)

Thanks so much! This will be very useful!

EDIT: One last question: I noticed that's an ATX PSU, but an MATX case. Will it fit?
EDIT: I just found the answer to my own question, and the answer is yes. Thanks.
June 14, 2012 4:31:05 PM

Best answer selected by shucks.
June 14, 2012 4:53:36 PM

Yeah, that case seems pretty brilliant for the price. I saved money on the GPU since you mentioned gaming is of lower priority and that enabled an otherwise awesome system IMO. It doesn't say on the Apex site but I think you could fit a liquid cooler on the side slot.
!