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.

  • 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.