Case: This is giving me the most headaches... After spending many hours on reading reviews of your invaluable suggestions I narrowed the list down to these cases (in order of preference from top to bottom):
* Fractal Define Mini
* Silverstone Sugo SG10
* Silverstone Grandia GD07B
* Silverstone Temjin TJ08-E
* Bitfenix Prodigy
* Lian Li PC-V354B black
Except for the GD07B and PC-V354B they all support CPU coolers >160mm. Since all of those cases are big and really, really, really horribly ugly I am favoring the Fractal Define mini and the Temjin TJ08-E. Those at least have a *somewhat* understated look and get great reviews at SPCR. So most probably it will be one of those 2 cases.
I also like the TJ08-E and Fractal design, although the define mini imo is still the old version they haven't revised it yet, like they did with the ATX version R4 or the ACR MIDI R2, both of them use 140mm fans and can fit 170mm coolers like the monster twin towers, while the Define Mini will use 120mm fans and 160mm clearance for cpu coolers, still great selection, but overall but i would prefer to go with R4 even if its ATX.
If you go with TJ08-E know that the frontal found is loud, specially at 12V (1300rpm) its to me noisy, using the switch on the side, you can drop it to 900rpm where it is still very noticeable, so you will need to undervolt it further, in my experience around 600rpm starts becoming decent, around 400rpm its totally inaudible. So either chose a motherboard with good fan control on 3pin fans, like Asus FanXpert2, or get a Zalman Fanmate 2 for undervolting it.
PSU: I am now a bit smarter about the passive PSUs... Will check out the semi-passive ones, the Sea Sonic Platinum Series 660W ATX 2.3 (SS-660XP2), the Enermax Platimax 500W ATX 2.3 (EPM500AWT) and the Enermax Platimax 600W ATX 2.3 (EPM600AWT) look especially attractive to me.
If your budget allows, i would go with , Kingwin Striker STR500
or Rosewill SilentNight 500
(same psu just rebranding), been reviewed by SPCR on two ocations and came out with editors choice, should be more than enough to power your planned PC, if you are fan of seasonic then consider Seasonic X520
or if you feel they are too expensive, and want something slightly cheaper, Seasonic X650
GPU and gaming: I agree that you need a lot of VRAM for hardcore modding and maxing out Skyrim with texture packs etc. But that is what I have my main PC for. On the big screen I want to do *some* not *so* serious gaming. That is why I am considering the MSI N760 TF 2GD5/OC Twin Frozr Gaming: It is supposed to be fairly competent and quiet.
I think its a great chioce, all the reveiws are placing it as very quiet GPU.
Audio codecs: My plan for now is to transfer audio via HDMI and play it back through the TV. At a much later time I will own a proper AV receiver and speakers - those will be connected via SPDIF. I was under the impression that in this case the onboard codec would not matter that much.... Am I wrong?
To what i used to know, you do needed a soundcard to live encode a game signal to be send via spdif, like Dolby Live or DTS Connect, all capable on the new on board sound. But recently i have seen users say that via HDMI the PCM signal is understood by a receiver and you do get multichannel output, with that said, i haven't tested my self so idk for sure if this is real or under what condition, but i would try first the HDMI if doesnt work then i would go with live encode.
Mainboard: In the past years I had Gigabyte boards and because of minor pet peeves want to try something else. I do NOT need PCI not eSATA - will only connect the components listed in this thread + 2 wired Xbox controllers + Logitech wireless keyboard dongle. So I am favoring an ASUS board because of the fan controls. Unsure wether a full size ATX board would be preferable to a Micro-ATX one (just need enough space to plug in the GPU and cooler onto it)? So here is my current list:
* MATX - ASUS Z87M-Plus (90MB0EF0-M0EAY0) [Audio: 7.1 (Realtek ALC887) ] or ASUS Gryphon Z87 (90MB0EH0-M0EAY0) [Audio: 7.1 (Realtek ALC892)] or ASUS Z87 Maximus VI Gene (90MB0E10-M0EAY0) [Audio: 7.1 (ASUS ROG SupremeFX)]
* ATX: ASUS Z87-Pro (90MB0DT0-M0EAY0) or ASUS Z87-Plus (90MB0E00-M0EAY0)
If you plan on running FanXpert2 then i would go with ASUS motherboard. If don't want to run extra software, then my suggestion is to go full pwm fans and MSI motherboard, i just did a build and their bios on pure fans was better, it has % and temp, so while its not as complete, i was able to drop the TY140 to 700rpm on pure bios and does ramp up when the temp reaches 55C, so ended up pretty decent. But asus faxpert2 should give you better control at the expense of some cpu resources used to able to run it. But since you are not overclocking, i would look into H87/B85 motherboards, Asus has some options there that should save some $$$, like for example ASUS H87M-E LGA 1150 Intel H87 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 uATX Intel Motherboard $99
(if the picture is accurate, it still has FANXPERT2 printed on the motherboard).
SSD: I took your advice and am currently speccing the Samsung SSD 840 Pro Series 128GB, 2.5", SATA 6Gb/s (MZ-7PD128BW)
If 128gb is enough for you go for it. Personally i feel its better 256gb size for overprovisioning and for growing with it, and the speed of the ssd is fully achieved in 256gb while its a little lower on the 128gb size, not perceivable in my experience.
HDD: Yes, I want a mechanical drive in there because I do not want to stream movies over my network from a NAS. So it is a tie between the Western Digital Caviar Green 3000GB, SATA 6Gb/s (WD30EZRX), the Western Digital Red 3000GB, SATA 6Gb/s (WD30EFRX) and the Seagate Desktop HDD.15 4000GB, SATA 6Gb/s (ST4000DM000). Unfortunately I have not read any meaningful reviews of these harddisks which also consider noise levels and compare them. Will also look into decoupling!
Would be ideal to access it form the server via your local network, as this will make all the hdd noise stay on the server and not on your pc, specially as more movies are stored you can grow your server and not increase the noise on your living room, etc. But if you dont want that then go with WD Reds 3tb, out of what you have on your your list, only one reviewed by SPCR.
CPU + cooler: I do not wish to overclock at all! That way I fried my trusty old Athlon XP 2500, may it rest in peace!
Undercloking may be a possibility but my first concern is being as noiseless as possible. That means the cpu cooler must be quiet and fit into the small case together with the gpu. Will try to find a reliable comparison of the HR02 and the NH-D14.
Both were reviewed by SPCR, and both the editiors choice. The Noctua with 2 fans should be able to cool slightly better, but its more expensive and the fans are not pwm. For CPU its up to you, but you are going for a Z87 motherboard, so if you dont plan to overclock, might aswell look into B85/H87 chipsets, and none K CPU, there are lots of options out there.
RAM: Pardon my ignorance but would be the advantage of using 1.35V DDR3-1600 Ram? Also: I only found a set of Mushkin 8GB (2x4GB) - dunno how reliable those are.
First pick the motherboard, then check the manufacturer for PDF on approved memory, Asus is decent for this, you can see a list of memory they have tested, and just grab whatever brand/price/size you prefer out of that list. The 1.35v memory will have a very small impact on the PC consumption and will operate at lower temps, but with things like CPU, GPU, Monitor, the difference on the memory its also nill.