HTPC Component List
HDPlex H3.S case with IR receiver /remote and internal 80W power supply $280 + shipping
Zotac H67-ITX motherboard $130
Intel i3-2100 CPU $130
OCZ 120 GB Vertex Plus SSD $100
4GB RAM $40
Windows 7 Home Premium 32bit - I had an unused license
Total $680 w/o a Windows license
Here are all of the goods laid out before assembly:
My objective was to build a new HTPC that would act as a client for SageTV. This has become more important since SageTV stopped selling their extenders - they have also stopped selling client licenses but I have a spare client license and there is a hope that they will make client licenses free at some time in the future. I also wanted the PC to be able to play Netflix and other online services and I may use it for other media player UIs like Plex or XBMC.
As a proof of concept I wanted to try to make a totally silent HTPC. SSDs have started to become more prevalent so that way easy - the harder sound sources to eliminate are the fans in the case, power supply and CPU cooler.
HDPlex has a very interesting concept where they use the case as a large heat sink. A copper block is mounted as a CPU heat sink and you connect heat pipes to this copper block and then connect them to the Aluminum case. The heat pipes go right over the PCI slot (which is orange in the photo) so you couldn't use a discrete video card - but the Sandy Bridge video performance is fine for an HTPC. Here is a closeup of the heat pipes:
The build of this PC encountered a problem right of the bat. The motherboard had some surface mount components (see photo below) that interefered with a plastic screw holder that goes on the underside of the mobo that holds the CPU copper block in place - these screwholders have a diameter larger than the white circles on the mobo. I had to take a dremel and trim this piece of plastic so that it no longer sat on the component. It seems that this problem is not unique to this mobo as others have had the same problem with other mobos.
The rest of the build was very straightforward although it is rather tight in the case to screw in pieces like the power plug holder.
The case has enough room for a 3.5" hard drive - which I don't requrire so this case has lots of empty space for my purposes. In an ideal world HD Plex would make a similar case that is quite a bit smaller - big enough to fit an ITX mobo and not much else. You can use an external power brick and a mSATA hard drive.
Here is a photo of the completed assembly (note the Wifi card in the mini PCIe slot in the lower left corner of the mobo):
How is the performance?
It is a pretty fast system - it feels very zippy but it is a new install and they tend to be better performing. Playing back 1080p video files only get the CPU up to about 8%. The system is usable in about 32 seconds from a power off state. The Windows Experience Index is 4.7 - the weakest link is the Desktop Graphics for Windows Aero. The CPU gets a score of 7.1.
Is the 80W power suuply enough?
After ordering the system I started to get a wee bit worried about power consumption as the CPU is supposed to draw a max of 65W so I was worried that the mobo+ SSD might put me over the 80W rating but that doesn't seem to be an issue?
How is the cooling?
Under no load the temperature reported is about 31 degrees. To really stress the system I ran Prime95 for several hours. The temperature started rising quickly and eventually got up to about 80 degrees. I don't know that I would want to run the PC this hot all the time but even at this temp it seemed to be oeprating OK. I think I should be ok unless I use this PC to do lots of video reencoding that would really stress the PC.
What would I like to change?
As you can see in the photos this mobo has built in Wifi via a mini PCIe card. I don't need Wifi as I will have wired ethernet - therefore it might be fun to use this slot for an SSD instead. The only issue is that mSATA is becoming the standard for small form factor SSDs and it is not compatible with mini PCIe. You can buy specific mini PCIe hard drives as replacements for netbook drives so I may try that if I am feeling adventurous. Note that Zotac now has a mini ITX mobo with a Z68 chipset that can use an mSATA device in the miniPCIe slot.
Here is the look of the final assembly. The case gives a very clean look with only a small hole in the centre for the IR sensor. The switch is on the top left of the case and is very discreet. There are no annoying blue LEDs visible. I have included the remote control that came with the case in the photo but in its final place I will use a Harmony remote.