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Build It Yourself: A Mini-ITX Gaming System For Just Over $500

Build It Yourself: A Mini-ITX Gaming System For Just Over $500
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Low-cost, low-power, small form factor PCs are popular right now. With Intel’s Ivy Bridge architecture available in the low-end Pentium family, you can now build a living room gaming PC with discrete graphics to beat any modern console for just over $500.

We’ve seen how AMD’s Llano-based APUs stack up against Intel’s Sandy Bridge-based Pentiums in Better with Time? The A8-3870 And Pentium G630, One Year Later. That story generated quite a big of feedback, much of it asking how Intel's Ivy Bridge architecture might fare. Today, we’re putting together a new build with an Ivy Bridge-based Pentium at its core.

Of course, simply building an entry-level gaming PC on a budget is a pretty tired topic, so we chose to tackle a more formidable challenge. Could we fit a budget-oriented configuration inside a mini-ITX chassis? Would it still accommodate an optical drive for us to install all of our favorite titles? Might there be room for the hard drive needed to house those games? Perhaps most important, is there room in a cheap mini-ITX case for a discrete graphics card able to deliver smooth, stutter-free frame rates? Surely, we couldn't expect something so specific to also look good, right?

Falcon Northwest showed us what a boutique builder can do with months of R&D and aspirations of supporting high-end hardware in Meet The Tiki: Core i7-3770K And GeForce GTX 680 In A Mini-ITX Box? This isn't the same thing though, our goal here is to tackle small, attractive, and inexpensive. Although that seems almost impossible, we promise you it's doable. You just need to track down the right parts. A high degree of manual dexterity helps, too.

Finding A Good Deal On A Mini-ITX Case And Power Supply

I lost a lot of hair trying to find the right mini-ITX chassis and power supply. There simply isn't much out there to choose from, much less with a bundled PSU around the $60 price range. Our power supply choices were between the TFX form factor and a picoPSU, so we had to choose between output and size. We calculated that we'd need no less than 120 W, which is actually quite a lot for a picoPSU, especially given the limited selection in that product segment. If we went that route, our choices would have cost about $140 for a case, the picoPSU, and a notebook power brick. Too expensive, we decided.

What remained were cases with bundled PSUs. Generally, they lack the level of quality we're willing to accept, they're larger than what we want, or they come with older, much less efficient power supplies. After a mission of online shopping and calling around to various vendors, we finally discovered a gem of an enclosure featuring an integrated TFX power supply and selling for about $60. Could it be the chassis we were looking for all along?

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Top Comments
  • 31 Hide
    zooted , February 7, 2013 3:45 AM
    Would be nice if they included benchmarks, but overall a nice review.
  • 23 Hide
    FormatC , February 7, 2013 3:55 AM
    @xkm1948:
    I have a "Zero dB PC" as one of the next projects, complete based on a AMD APU (A10 5700). We should stay a little parity, all last Mini-PCs were AMDs ;) 

    @zooted:
    The performance of a HD 7750 is wellknown and this little card is in the most cases the slower part. This is from the other project:
  • 19 Hide
    xkm1948 , February 7, 2013 3:26 AM
    What about putting in an APU instead?
Other Comments
  • 19 Hide
    xkm1948 , February 7, 2013 3:26 AM
    What about putting in an APU instead?
  • 15 Hide
    JOSHSKORN , February 7, 2013 3:40 AM
    That case almost looks like a Wii.
  • 31 Hide
    zooted , February 7, 2013 3:45 AM
    Would be nice if they included benchmarks, but overall a nice review.
  • 4 Hide
    A Bad Day , February 7, 2013 3:47 AM
    We have Mini-ITX gaming mobos that support OCing and 120mm closed loop water cooling...

    I demand a proper Mini-ITX case from the manufacturers!
  • 23 Hide
    FormatC , February 7, 2013 3:55 AM
    @xkm1948:
    I have a "Zero dB PC" as one of the next projects, complete based on a AMD APU (A10 5700). We should stay a little parity, all last Mini-PCs were AMDs ;) 

    @zooted:
    The performance of a HD 7750 is wellknown and this little card is in the most cases the slower part. This is from the other project:
  • 9 Hide
    sempifi99 , February 7, 2013 4:04 AM
    If I did not already have more desktops than I am currently using I would definitely consider building something like this...
  • 0 Hide
    bak0n , February 7, 2013 4:25 AM
    That was my basic setup until recently when I upgraded the cpu from a i3 2100 to an i5 3570k. The GPU from the 7750 to a 7870 and the case to a prodigy which supports larger cooling fans and dual slot GPU's. The lower frame rates or settings turned down wasn't cutting it for games like borderlands 2. But if you are into games like LoL the recommend build will be more than enough.
  • 3 Hide
    DjEaZy , February 7, 2013 4:55 AM
    xkm1948What about putting in an APU instead?

    ... my first idea too...
  • 11 Hide
    jestersage , February 7, 2013 5:02 AM
    Beautiful! Love it! Mini ITX System Builder Marathon, please.
  • 6 Hide
    jestersage , February 7, 2013 5:03 AM
    I also found this bit thought provoking -

    Quote:
    Overall, you should see good performance right up until the platform reaches its limit. Then performance will fall apart completely.


    Something to keep us readers grounded on reality.
  • 5 Hide
    palladin9479 , February 7, 2013 5:45 AM
    DjEaZy... my first idea too...


    The A10-5800K would be slower then a 7750 GDDR5 even with DDR3-2133 memory, though it would definitely be cheaper.

    What Toms was doing was combining SB/IB's better performance at single player timed games with a very specific dGPU. The dGPU is doing most of the heavy lifting which lets them get away with a weak CPU in single threaded environments. Since the purpose was to create a pseudo "console" then it'll work.
  • -5 Hide
    grumbledook , February 7, 2013 7:01 AM
    These tfx psus are typically noisy so I seriously doubt you'd hear the stock cooler over it. I sure haven't with my g850 in a similar itx chassis (In-Win bp655) with 2 different ones (got a 300w bequiet tfx psu to replace the overtly noisy one that came with the case. Much better but still audible).
    Why no mention of how loud the gpu is under load?
    Also, "no gaming pc is really complete without an optical drive"..... just no.
  • 4 Hide
    The_Trutherizer , February 7, 2013 7:56 AM
    The A10 6800K should dual nicely with this graphics card. I dare say it will be a better option then.
  • 12 Hide
    emad_ramlawi , February 7, 2013 7:57 AM
    Good work, can i please know the temps inside the system, like the AMD 7750 on Load and idle and the CPU as well, why no temps page
  • 8 Hide
    crisan_tiberiu , February 7, 2013 8:03 AM
    photonboyLaptop instead??

    i was thinking on building a htpc /gaming PC and i was thinking to get a laptop aswell...but lets see, the only thing that you win with a laptop is mobility. In a htpc you can upgrade the video card with newer solution, you can upgrade the CPU (you can alwas insert an i3 there when prices are lower), the htpc is silenter, you can add SSD +HDD ... so the HTPC wins by far. The laptop is doomed, you will trow it away in 4 years (@ 500$, you will trow it away in 2 :) )), and @ 500$ your best deal in a laptopis the intel HD graphics orthe nvidia gt 610 witchboth are crap...
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