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Thread: HTPC Build - MiniX-Sized

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    jim
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    HTPC Build - MiniX-Sized

    I've only built one PC in my time, my main rig (although it's been in and out of the case more times than Houdini, and sometimes mystified me as much too), so when it came to this miniature PC I thought I'd catalogue my experience, especially as people seem to be looking more and more to an HTPC at the moment. Also because the poster who mentions his choice of vehicle in his username reckoned it would be a good idea, to save him some money he doesn't need to spend, and also save him getting his fingers sliced off when he builds an HTPC in the semi-near future. Consequently, I aim to slice off no more than one finger during this build. Anyway...

    After discovering the virtues of streaming media about a year ago, I formed a picture of my future PC network. First in was a Tranquil SQ-A5H Windows Home Server to take fileserving duties over from my main desktop, but it was never quite perfect. The PS3 is fairly poor at recognising video formats, so all sorts of complicated transcoding and remuxing is required, which then requires complicated software on the server - when all I wanted was to share a folder. Add onto that the fact that fiddling around with high quality video on an Intel Atom is not something you want to be doing on a regular basis, and the rubbish PS3 media browsing GUI, and I decided that an HTPC was the answer.

    It needed to be

    • Silent
    • Cool
    • Small
    • Compliant with my current setup
    • Fast enough to play 1080p video
    • Reasonably priced
    • As reponsive as a DVD player


    So it had to be Mini-ITX, and was going to have to be a low power processor. For it to be responsive, and quick to resume from sleep, I really wanted to squeeze in an SSD if I could afford it. It also needed a motherboard that would support Optical Out and HDMI from the off, as an external graphics card was a big no.

    After several different build designs, it came out as the following:


    http://shup.com/Shup/267804/IMG_2157.jpg

    Compucase 8K01 (Inc 120W PSU) - £46.99
    J&W Minix 780-SP128MB - £99.88
    AMD Phenom II X3 705e 2.5 GHz - £92.63
    2x2GB SODIMMs - £73.60
    Scythe Mini-Kaze 60mm Case Fan - £6.05
    Corsair X32 - £104.56
    Silverstone NT07 LP - £15.22
    Samsung Slimline SATA DVD Drive - £29.36
    Scythe Twin 2.5" Drive Mounter - £4.08
    AKASA AK-CB050 SATA cable for slimine opticals - £3.98
    Keysonic Wireless Keyboard and Touchpad - £24.66
    Speedlink SL 6399 Remote Control - £6

    Total of: £507

    I'll explain a bit more about the individual components as I go through the build. Particular credit here goes to eBuyer, who only 13 hours after I ordered my Phenom, had it appear at the front door.

    On with the build...
    Last edited by jim; 21-02-2010 at 03:44 PM.

  2. #2
    Pre-Cambrian nibbler's Avatar
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    Re: HTPC Build - MiniX-Sized

    That mobo is tiny... couldn't you save a bit and get an athlon II and maybe a 64gb ssd from kingston?

  3. #3
    jim
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    Re: HTPC Build - MiniX-Sized

    Quote Originally Posted by nibbler View Post
    That mobo is tiny... couldn't you save a bit and get an athlon II and maybe a 64gb ssd from kingston?
    Athlon II wasn't much cheaper in the end to be honest, it was a matter of pounds and I was struggling to find an X3 at any of my normal retailers so I thought I'd just run with the Phenom. The SSD again was a case of what was available at the time - capacity isn't really an issue because I'm never going to use even the 32GB on the Corsair, just a case of price and availability.

    I started building it last night anyway, just waiting to get home so I can get the pictures sorted and find the notes I made

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    Seething Cauldron of Hatred TheAnimus's Avatar
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    Re: HTPC Build - MiniX-Sized

    have you considered a pre-built?

    I spent a LOT of money last year building up an Micro-M2 completely silent passively cooled no moving parts machine.......

    Then for the living room i bought one of these:
    http://www.ebuyer.com/product/172708

    and the damn thing plays 1080p just like ringing a bell.

    Comes with wireless mouse + keyboard too, license of win7, and is very very quiet, the fan speed management works.

    Its not the fastest thing, but with the nvidia graphics does 1080p without breaking a sweat. You could even save money and go for one with less RAM.

    So re-cap ticks all the boxes, is very small and VERY cheap
    throw new ArgumentException (String, String, Exception)

  5. #5
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    Re: HTPC Build - MiniX-Sized

    Make sure that you try to undervolt the CPU too as this should help improve power consumption.


    Those despicable Elk,stealing the pond weed!

  6. #6
    jim
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    Re: HTPC Build - MiniX-Sized

    Definitely going to have a crack at undervolting, the quieter and cooler it is the better

  7. #7
    jim
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    Re: HTPC Build - MiniX-Sized

    Case

    Started work on the case first - it's a nice quality case, but at £50 for something so small you kind of expect quality... given the expense of the mini-itx market I don't think that's guaranteed however. Considering its size it is quite heavy, but that's partly a result of the PSU. Having said that, it certainly won't be giving you any problem unless you're 2ft 6.

    It's got a good even finish on the painted metal, and no sharp bits inside so no complaints there at all. Three screws removed and a bit of wiggling and the side's off, then you can get cracking. This is really where you realise how small this stuff is compared to your typical ATX form factor. The remote control is a pretty typical size, so it shows how small everything is.


    http://shup.com/Shup/267805/IMG_2159.jpg

    The HEC PSU is miniscule, although at just 120W it doesn't need to be huge. It's got a little 40mm fan in the back by the looks of things - I've heard it can whine a bit so that's probably the reason. There's nothing unnecessary here - you've got two standard motherboard power cables, one SATA power cable, two four-pin molexes - one of which is presumably for the optical drive, and a little 4 pin fan cable.

    As for the case, USB and audio front panel headers so nothing special there, although useful if you need to plug in a small wireless receptor or headphones, along with power LED, HD LED and the power switch. No reset switch, but it's hardly a big deal.

    Motherboard + CPU

    Being my very first time installing an AMD CPU, this was a surprisingly good experience to start off with compared to Intel socket 775. Undid the four screws on the bracket around the socket, and then just lifted the entire thing off. Very easy


    http://shup.com/Shup/267809/IMG_2160.jpg

    After that the backplate, which again came off very easily... a little bit of glue but it quickly peeled off. Then it was a case of getting the Silverstone NT07 on - it was pretty much the same process in reverse. The backplate had a sticky surface, so it held itself to the bottom of the motherboard whilst I got on with attaching the cooler. That was spectacularly easy, compared to my usual experience of socket 775 where the backplate keeps falling off mid-attachment and makes me wish I had three hands. In went the processor, again a very easy experience with the processor clipping in firmly and giving me no concerns. Another point to AMD. The amount of thermal paste supplied with the cooler was a bit pathetic, a sachet smaller than your average silica gel pack... but I couldn't be bothered to dig out the Arctic Cooling MX-2 so I put it on - on the plus side, no having to worry about having the wrong amount. Then on went the actual cooler - again very easy, four screws and job done. The fan cable is just about the right length, tucked it into the gaps around the cooler because the holes on the cooler don't actually go right through - so no opportunity to cable-tie it in place. Still, it's short enough not to cause any problems. The fan completely dwarfs the motherboard, and it really is very small in reality.


    http://shup.com/Shup/267814/IMG_2161.jpg

    RAM

    I knew I was going to get really annoyed at some point during the build - and here it was. The manual states that you should first attach the CPU and cooler, and then put the RAM in. Fine. Except of course, these are SO-DIMMS. So it wants you to put them in at a 45 degree angle, and supplies a helpful blurry image of a RAM stick going into the slots with no CPU cooler in place. I don't know what you think, but that ain't 45 degrees:


    http://shup.com/Shup/267815/IMG_2164.jpg

    Anyway, after a fairly large amount of pressure and coaxing it eventually went in. It's a bit deceiving, because they don't "click" like normal DDR2 does, once it's in you need to raise the angle up to 90 degrees to make it click - and it doesn't look like it's properly inserted into the base.

    Optical Drive

    This is quite easy at first - just push the slot cover through, and then push the drive in from the outside. Once it's in, grab some miniscule screws from the pack provided with the case, and get screwing. Problem is, they're absolutely tiny, so are the gaps, and it's quite challenging to say the least. If you haven't got a magnetic screwdriver, I'd say you'll probably struggle to do it properly - although one of them is easy enough to get in and will probably do the job. I sorted out three of them, and have no idea where the fourth is meant to go. Three will be enough though, so job done. The only slightly annoying thing is that the drive leaves a 2mm gap in the slot at the front of the case... I suppose it's inevitable, but it is a little bit annoying.

    Hard Drive

    Now it gets fun... this case has a 3.5" hard drive slot. Allegedly. It's quite clearly under the DVD drive, but there's no way of getting a drive in there - I was preparing to stick my SSD to the case with double-sided tape until I figured it out. There's no manual with the case so sometimes you do need to do a bit of guesswork.

    If you look at the case from the top, you'll see that the optical drive caddy, the non-existent hard drive caddy and the central strut are all part of the same unit. If you unscrew these three screws:


    http://shup.com/Shup/267845/IMG_2172_highlighted.jpg

    You can then remove the entire thing, and flip it over. I could now get on with the 2.5" Corsair SSD and the mounting kit. This is a fairly simple job - take four of the screws with the mounting kit and get cracking. Remember that you're going to flip over the entire unit to put it back into the case again, so ensure you've got the SATA and power connectors where you want them. I got it wrong, but I couldn't be bothered to fix it so it'll stay like that . It's easier to turn the drive than the screw at first, since it gets very fiddly. Anyway, once it's done, it should look roughly like this:

    (By the way, if you'd like to see where my girlfriend set fire to the carpet with her straighteners, look towards the top of this shot )


    http://shup.com/Shup/267846/IMG_2168.jpg

    Then next up you can sort out the mysterious caddy. If you look, it has two hooks on each end. These slot into the very small screw holes at either end of a 3.5" drive, so if you slide the drive onto them and then hook it in, it should be fairly firmly held.


    http://shup.com/Shup/267848/IMG_2171_highlighted.jpg

    You'll then have one screw on this side in the middle to attach, plus two more on the other side. Once you're done, you can flip the finished article back over again and then reattach it to the case.

    I would highly recommend getting the 3.5" mounting kit for this case - the lack of consistent holes to put screws through on the standard caddy means that any kind of DIY suspension system would probably be quite difficult to implement well - not impossible though.

    If you're being sensible, you'd probably do the hard drive first, then fit the optical drive. I didn't know at first, but it would have been a fair bit easier!

    That's it for now, I'll see what more I can get done tonight and then post the results up tomorrow.
    Last edited by jim; 21-02-2010 at 03:45 PM.

  8. #8
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    Re: HTPC Build - MiniX-Sized

    As one or two people noticed, this all went a little bit wrong - all assembled and ready to go, but no video output at all. No matter what I did, I couldn't get anything out of it on any port.

    Thanks to Shadowmaster, Behemoth and $cupa I got a few bits together and did some testing - processors worked fine in another board, a different PSU made no difference, putting the RAM sticks in independently didn't change anything... so I concluded that it must be the board at fault.

    Off it went to Linitx, and they informed me that it was working fine - no problems at all. Back it came again, with a BIOS update, but still nothing. I spoke to them on the phone, and they couldn't really think of much more to try, but very kindly offered to take back my entire PC (including parts bought from Scan) and test it all through in order to find the faulty component. In combination with the fact that I was neither charged a "Not-found-faulty Fee" or a fee for the return postage, I'm extremely happy with Linitx, and would add my word to PeterB's in endorsing them .

    Luckily though, it never came to that - I suddenly remembered that I had a couple of Crucial SODIMMs in my laptop (see sig) so I gave it a go as a very last option. And of course, it worked! I then swapped the Corsairs into the laptop, and it boots perfectly. Presumably then, Corsair RAM is incompatible with this board - I'd never thought that RAM compatibility was genuinely an issue myself, but clearly it is...

    Both of them are 4GB, both the same speed, so I've just left it as is. A surprisingly neat solution that I wasn't expecting in the least!

    Nonetheless, on with the build then

  9. #9
    jim
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    Re: HTPC Build - MiniX-Sized

    Final Assembly

    Note: all of these pictures are from before I swapped the RAM over - it looks exactly the same though so I haven't rephotographed

    It was mainly little jobs from here on out, as you'll see. The SSD was spun around (despite me saying earlier that I couldn't be bothered) because the power lead wasn't long enough to reach it. On the plus side, it does mean I've done the job properly, so I'll live with that. Then the motherboard was placed in, with the strut and drive assembly removed - four small screws and it was securely in place. Also at this point went in the small fan, again a very simple installation with three screws to hold it in place. Then it was just a case of routing cables. With a pack of red cable-ties in hand, courtesy of the local bargain shop, I began sorting out the airflow.

    It's very difficult in a case like this to do a good job because some cables - for instance the ATX 20-pin - are just huge in comparison to the form factor... heck, it looks big and cumbersome in my P180! The vast majority of cables went underneath the drive assembly, due in most part to the 2.5" drive - with a 3.5" drive in there it would've been a very different situation I suspect. That took care of most of the excess, and allowed me to keep cables away from the motherboard - it was a bit of a tight fit in some cases, particularly the 20pin ATX which only just fits through the gap between the motherboard and the drive converter. There is also a bit of a mess behind the power supply, but with a load of spare cables that's almost inevitable.


    http://shup.com/Shup/283863/IMG_2175.jpg

    The main issue I foresee here is that the extraction fan I've installed is mainly pulling air through this channel underneath the hard drive. With a standard 3.5" magnetic drive I imagine that would help to keep temperatures low, but in this build I can't help feeling it's going to barely make a difference. The vast majority of the heat is exhausted by the CPU fan, straight through the mesh on the side of the case and out - there will probably be very little stuck underneath the SSD. And with that amount of resistance, and a 60mm fan, I don't think it's going to be doing a lot of pulling either.


    http://shup.com/Shup/283864/IMG_2176.jpg

    The main thing I want to keep cool is the northbridge, which scaryjim warned me could get a little bit toasty, but J&W's solution was bundling a little 40mm fan that goes straight on top of the heatsink. However, it's clearly an afterthought, with no method of holding it on provided. There were no gaps where I could use cable-ties either, so after dismissing the idea of getting the glue out, I'm just being optimistic. The 60mm fan could have helped here, but in its current location I don't think it's going to make the slightest bit of difference.


    http://shup.com/Shup/283861/IMG_2174.jpg

    When all bolted together and ready to go:


    http://shup.com/Shup/283865/IMG_2177.jpg


    http://shup.com/Shup/283866/IMG_2179.jpg

    After that, I plugged in the keyboard USB receiver, and booted up the machine. Turned on the keyboard using the switch, pressed delete, and into the BIOS. I was a bit worried about BIOS support/drivers for the keyboard, so I'm very happy with that as things stand. Then, a quick run through the BIOS. Legacy/unused interfaces were disabled, drives were put into AHCI mode, and then I installed Windows - a breeze with the SSD, I went away for a few minutes and came back to find an OS.

    Initial reports are that it does seem fairly snappy, albeit not groundbreaking. Part of the problem is that using an IR keyboard with patchy reception, and a touchpad (spawn of the devil) means that nothing ever feels "quick". The boot time is good though, I barely see the Windows 7 boot screen for more than a few seconds, and opening up typical programs is almost instant. The only difficulty is that since most of my documents are stored on the server, disk access times become less relevant - the lag of ethernet is far beyond any modern hard drive. Nonetheless, I think it will be useful for media browsing since a lot of the library data will be stored locally - the instant-on aspect is really what I wanted the SSD for. As much as possible, I want to forget that there is a computer and an operating system running behind the media front-end.

    Next update: software
    Last edited by jim; 21-02-2010 at 03:46 PM.

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    Re: HTPC Build - MiniX-Sized

    hi donno if its just me but none of the pics are showing

  11. #11
    WEEEEEEEEEEEEE! MadduckUK's Avatar
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    Re: HTPC Build - MiniX-Sized

    Quote Originally Posted by richy19 View Post
    hi donno if its just me but none of the pics are showing
    nope not just you - hosting problem
    Quote Originally Posted by Ephesians
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  12. #12
    jim
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    Re: HTPC Build - MiniX-Sized



    I'll have a whip round and rehost them, it's not the first time this site's given me grief.

    I have a feeling it only loads the images if you view them directly first, then you get them off the cache - which is why I can see all of them.

  13. #13
    Senior Member Pob255's Avatar
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    Re: HTPC Build - MiniX-Sized

    Well they are working fine for me, the system look great

    For mounting a fan for the northbridge, you could try screwing it on to the panel over the top of it.

  14. #14
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      • 128GB M.2 SSD + 1TB HDD
      • Graphics card(s):
      • Radeon R5 230
      • PSU:
      • Battery/Dell brick
      • Case:
      • Dell Inspiron 5570
      • Operating System:
      • Windows 10
      • Monitor(s):
      • 15" 1080p laptop panel

    Re: HTPC Build - MiniX-Sized

    Quote Originally Posted by snootyjim View Post
    ... The main thing I want to keep cool is the northbridge, which scaryjim warned me could get a little bit toasty, but J&W's solution was bundling a little 40mm fan that goes straight on top of the heatsink. However, it's clearly an afterthought, with no method of holding it on provided.
    Is there any way you could attach the fan to the venting holes in the roof of the case so it's pulling some air in from above (well, beside, if you're going to have it vertical, of course) the case and down towards the northbridge heatsink? There looks to be a fairly extensive vent directly above the motherboard...

  15. #15
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    • kellyharding's system
      • Motherboard:
      • Asus P5Q-E
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      • Graphics card(s):
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    Re: HTPC Build - MiniX-Sized

    Looks a nice system. In regards the ram installation, reminds me of old SIMMs back in the day! they had to be put in at a slight angle and then clicked into place iirc,

    I need to get on and put my HTPC together, though it is a mATX case/board as I've little money so reusing what I have (got the case for £5 at a car boot sale of all places!), but it should do the job nice enough, just need to get a geforce 8xxx series card for it sometime (linux has good support for the decoding on these cards apparently).
    Desktop P5QE C2D E6550 4G DDR21066 Antec 300 480GTX
    MacBook Pro 2.2Ghz 10.9
    Acer 7738G Linux Mint
    Server P5Q-E C2D E6550 4G DDR2800, RAID5, Antec 900


  16. #16
    jim
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    • jim's system
      • Motherboard:
      • Asus Maximus IV Gene-Z
      • CPU:
      • i5 2500K @ 4.5GHz
      • Memory:
      • 8GB Corsair Vengeance LP
      • Storage:
      • 1TB Sandisk SSD
      • Graphics card(s):
      • ASUS GTX 970
      • PSU:
      • Corsair AX650
      • Case:
      • Silverstone Fortress FT03
      • Operating System:
      • 8.1 Pro
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      • Dell S2716DG
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      • 10 Mbps ADSL

    Re: HTPC Build - MiniX-Sized

    Quote Originally Posted by scaryjim View Post
    Is there any way you could attach the fan to the venting holes in the roof of the case so it's pulling some air in from above (well, beside, if you're going to have it vertical, of course) the case and down towards the northbridge heatsink? There looks to be a fairly extensive vent directly above the motherboard...
    Yeah that might be an option actually. Most of the venting holes lie directly over the CPU cooler obviously, but there's definitely a bit of overhang towards the rest of the board - and thus the NB. It could get a bit complicated though - I don't know how much clearance there is. Certainly not a massive amount, and if I was going to do something like that I'd probably go with a bigger fan so I can run it at lower RPM.

    It's certainly a bit noisy at the moment though, so I'm going to do a bit of tweaking and monitoring with HWMonitor and Speedfan or similar, and see if I can make any progress - keeping the NB temperatures in mind particularly.

    If not, I think I'll pull it apart and completely rethink the cooling. We'll see

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