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

Half-Height Build #1: Say Hello To My Little Friend

PowerColor’s half-height Radeon HD 5750 is a dual-slot card, so, in theory, all we should have to do is find the smallest half-height case available that can accommodate two half-height expansion slots. While this sounds simple enough, it turns out that mini-ITX cases with two half-height expansion slots are quite rare.

A great deal of searching lead us to In-Win, a case manufacturer that offers an eclectic selection of product configurations. In-Win has a number of half-height PC cases, two of which feature dual expansion slots: the Wavy and the Diva. While the Diva is extremely pretty and colorful, it does not appeal to this reviewer’s gender in name or in form. We choose the Wavy.

The Wavy is a small case: 264 x 112 x 230 mm compared to the Xbox 360 Slim’s 270 x 75 x 264 mm--definitely in the same league as the console, although the Wavy is a little thicker. The test sample that In-Win supplied comes equipped with a 160 W power supply. The Wavy (with its power supply) can be purchased at In-Win's Web store: There is a new model with a 180 W power supply in development, but either way, we’ve run into our first major snag: this probably isn’t enough juice to power the system including PowerColor’s half-height Radeon HD 5750.

Let’s set that issue aside for a moment, though, and move on to motherboard choices. When small is the name of the game, mini-ITX motherboards are the way to go. For an ultra-low power gaming machine, our wish list includes a Mobile Core i7 CPU like the -640M or the -920QM. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of Socket G1 mini-ITX motherboards available, and we couldn’t find one at retail with a x16 PCIe slot for the discrete graphics card.

In fact, there aren’t a lot of mini-ITX boards with 16-lane PCIe slots at all. In the end, we chose Asus’ M4A88T-I Deluxe, a mini-ITX board with all the bells and whistles including in integrated wireless LAN card and AMD's 880G chipset. This board supports AMD’s Socket AM3 interface and laptop-style DDR3 SO-DIMM memory.

Speaking of memory, we chose Mushkin Enhanced Essentials 4 GB (2 x 2 GB) SO-DIMM DDR3-1066 (PC3-8500) dual-channel kit. This should provide excellent performance in conjunction with low power usage. The motherboard automatically set this RAM to run at 1333 MT/s without incident.

We’re also using AMD's Phenom II X3 705e processor for this PC because of its relatively low 65 W TDP, triple-core architecture, and 6 MB L3 cache. The 2.5 GHz clock speed is a little lower than AMD's higher-end Phenom II chips, but that's one of the compromises we need to make in order to dip under the enclosure's 160 W ceiling.

With a Western Digital Black 750 GB drive added to the mix, we’re ready to put the system together. Squeezing the mini-ITX motherboard in the Wavy case isn’t as simple as we assumed it would be, but a little careful wiggling gets the board seated properly. At this point, we dropped in the PowerColor Radeon HD 5750.

Correction: we tried to plug in the half-height PowerColor Radeon HD 5750; it's too long to fit inside the Wavy case. The height is fine, but the back of the card extends about an inch too far for this case, and is blocked by the power supply.

PowerColor’s card may have been the raison d'être for this build, but that wasn't going to stop us from going the distance and finishing it up. We used the half-height Radeon HD 5570 instead. It's naturally not as fast as the Radeon HD 5750 when it comes to games, but it can certainly handle 720p, and might be able to pull off 1080p at reduced detail settings.

The Radeon HD 5570 fit like a glove and the rest of the build came together nicely. The cramped space presented us with a couple of more unpleasant surprises, but nothing we couldn't handle. We were forced to cut the plastic retaining clip off of the four-pin motherboard power cable because it interferes with the case fan, and we couldn't use a full-sized internal optical drive because it would literally smother the CPU fan. Ideally, a slimline optical drive would provide the space we need to give the CPU some breathing room, but for our purposes, an external drive did the trick. We used Asus’ SBW-06C1S-U 6x external Blu-ray writer to complement our build--a convenient choice, since it requires no external power. The drive runs off of the power drawn from two USB ports.

Our smallest HTPC build was ready to go. But what about the half-height PowerColor HD 5750 that had to be abandoned?

Create a new thread in the US Reviews comments forum about this subject
This thread is closed for comments
Comment from the forums
    Your comment
  • 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