Build It: Half-Height Gaming PCs For The Living Room

Half-Height Build #2: Go Wide!

We didn't give up on PowerColor’s Radeon HD 5750. While an Xbox-sized enclosure might not have been a suitable home for this card, a standard home theater chassis shouldn’t present a problem.

Enter Moneual’s MonCaso 312:

This is an elegant half-height case by any standard, and the beauty of it is that the enclosure accommodates any micro-ATX motherboard and standard ATX power supply. In addition, it comes with a stylish HTPC remote worthy of any living room.

As before, we needed to make a decision about the platform. Ideally, we’d choose a Core i3 or Phenom II for this low-power gaming machine, but since we weren’t planning on this second build, we had to make due with some of the parts around the lab. We chose an older Socket AM2+ board, Gigabyte’s GA-MA78GM-S2H.

Experience shows us that there is no real performance penalty in shifting from DDR3/AM3 back down to DDR2/AM2+, so this board is fine for our needs, even if it's a bit aged. The only restriction we noted was a 95 W TDP limit on the board. And without a 95 W Phenom II on hand, we chose the 3.1 GHz Athlon II X4 645 CPU, a true quad-core processor that should be a good complement for the Radeon HD 5750. We had 4 GB of dual-channel 800 MT/s Wintec AMPO DDR2 memory to round out the platform.

This capable HTPC gaming build wouldn’t be complete without a Blu-ray drive, so we included the Lite-On iHES 208 8x internal Blu-ray reader and DVD/CD writer.

You might assume that the full-width MonCaso case would promise an easier installation experience than the tiny mini-ITX Wavy case, and for the most part you’d be right. Everything proceeded smoothly until the optical drive installation—unfortunately, the iHES 208 encroaches on the CPU’s territory. This made it impossible to install the low-profile Cooler Master Vortex 752 CPU cooler we lined up for this build. So, we settled for AMD's bundled retail cooler.

Speaking of cooling, this is the one concern we had with the MonCaso 312: it didn't include any fans at all. We went with an Antec SP-400 power supply that was the only source of airflow for the case, but with an optical drive installed and the cables attached, the PSU’s air intake is restricted. The MonCaso 312 accommodates three tiny 40 mm fans above the motherboard I/O panel, but these should not be optional.

The final component is the hard disk, the same 750 GB Western Digital unit we used in the first build. The drive cage near the motherboard interferes with the long PowerColor Radeon HD 5750 card, so we had remove it and use the hard drive cage on the right.

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  • Poisoner
    This is an interesting article and goes a direction where nVidia has no way to compete.
  • nevertell
    I'd mod a case and mount my videocard horizontally.
  • dirtmountain
    Good article and an interesting read. You can get a half height GTS450.
  • fatkid35
    awesome article. i love small pc's! my silverstone sg05 is modded with a 600 watt psu and 6870 stuffed inside.
  • shovenose
    the antec sp-400 has issues! it has lousy fuhjyyu capactiros that fail even just sitting there. i suggest you find a different psu!
  • cleeve
    shovenosethe antec sp-400 has issues! it has lousy fuhjyyu capactiros that fail even just sitting there. i suggest you find a different psu!

    I've been using this one in my main HTPC for a couple years now at least. Haven't had any problems.
  • Mr_x
    Typo on Test Systems And Benchmarks
    AMD Phenom II X4 705e isn't it x3???
  • carlhenry
    that's weird, a 160w power supply powering up a 5570? (and you also intended to slap in the 5750 there?) did i miss something?
  • dEAne
    Looking for a case like that is next to impossible - but for a 160W wow I never have though of that, it gives me another idea. thanks tom.
  • Th-z
    Thanks for the article. I have a question, where do you find quality small PSU? If you want to go as small as you can, one would need to use small PSU. But it seems they are scarce in terms of wattage selection and brand, no where comparing to standard ATX PSU.

    Many small mini-ITX cases do include a small PSU, but what if you want to mod the PSU, or the included one breaks down? Falling back to standard ATX PSU would have to use a bigger mini-ITX case.
  • Onus
    Lian Li makes some very nice mini-itx cases that are not limited to half-height cards. I have a GTX460 in my PC-Q08R, using the ECS mobo that Tom's included in a value roundup of LGA1156 boards.
    Too big? The PC-Q07 only has a single slot for the video card, but that would take the single-slot HD5770 that XFX makes: . Both cases will take a full sized ATX PSU; I would suggest a modular one, such as the 550W Antec Truepower New I am using in mine.
  • skora
    Forget small and make an aquarium mineral oil HTPC with fake fish and all.
  • ethaniel
    You should try some PCI Express risers next time, see if there's any performance penalty by using them...
  • Onus
    By the way, I found this article very interesting. Anyone can build a tower that is a reasonably competent gamer. "Smaller, quieter, less power" don't get the attention they deserve; these are ways to differentiate a PC.
  • fozzie76
    I wonder if your mini-ITX wavey case has fewer square inches then my Silverstone SG05? Yes the wavey is shorter, but it's also wider and longer, so which really has the smaller footprint?
  • fozzie76
    Tom's really needs a modder on staff. Are you all afraid of dremel's and wiring your own plugs or something? You could have totally shaved down that plug and made it fit! Mini-ITX systems take work and hours of modding. SFF systems take lots of time and love. Link to my baby below.. Mini-ITX SG05 with an i3-530 capable of 4.4ghz (currently at 4.0), a Corsair H50, 4gb of crucial tracer, a HIS IceQ 5770, modded a window and an UV light kit. Had to mod the CD bezel to get the H50 in also. Just give them a little time and don't be afraid to void some warranties!
    Link to by baby
  • K2N hater
    Don, maybe you could get a good video card with passive heatsink and try to build a silent (or really quiet) box? I'm after a new gaming PC but I'm tired of noisy fans and huge cases...
  • wiyosaya
    PoisonerThis is an interesting article and goes a direction where nVidia has no way to compete.

    dirtmountainGood article and an interesting read. You can get a half height GTS450. [...] 6814261078

    There are also plenty of half-height NVidia GT 430s out there
  • mister g
    We're talking about how the 450 can somehow fit in an HTPC and still work with the small PSU, of course 430s are available in low-profile form their the lowest 400 series card available.
  • scook9
    Antec has a few great cases for this purpose.....

    Personally, I went full height and have my "gaming" htpc in a Fusion 430 Black

    That case takes full height cards and full ATX power supplies. I have a 4890 in it with a Corsair HX650 and an Asus P5Q-EM with a Q9550. You could easily get one of the x58/p55 motherboards that supports SLI/CF too to get some considerable power into that footprint