As our apartment currently does not have enough space for a proper desk to put a desktop PC, but I desperately needed a machine to replace my close to eight year-old MacBook, this is the compromise budget build. It's attached to a 720p TV and I will likely access it via remote desktop from my work laptop for some light personal "office" stuff (bought a new ac/Gigabit-LAN router to go with it). The main uses will be Home-Theater stuff (movies, music, pictures) and, for now, light indie gaming (mostly 2D stuff like Stardew Valley or adventure games and "Walking Simulators" that are still enjoyable with a lower framerate). I want to get a graphics card at some point, but prices are just too messed up right now anyway. I'd be looking at a GTX 1050 Ti or RX570/580, I think these cards would make the most sense.
The main idea of the build was to lay a solid foundation on which the machine can grow. With a limited budget, I tried to open several upgrade paths. So the case is Mini ITX, but spacious enough for larger graphics cards, a number of hard drives, and even water cooling. The motherboard has all of the I/O I wanted for a HTPC incl. USB-C, which is probably going to be nice to have in a few months/years time. The main SSD is supposed to stay in the rig as long as possible, I'd like to avoid reinstalling Windows too often. The RAM is easily upgraded with a second stick of the same type and runs at the highest speed the motherboard supports already. The cooler is supposed to keep things a bit more quiet than the stock fan, especially with a possible upgrade to an i5/i7 in mind. The power supply is a bit shorter than usual, which is helpful for GPU airflow in this case, and 450W should be enough for most upgrade paths (of course, a 1080 may be too much, but with that kind of money on the table a new power supply should not be the problem). The Pentium is just incredible value for money right now and may make it unnecessary to upgrade the CPU for at least a couple of years. As I am not 100% sure what day-to-day use of this PC looks like, I tried to keep these options open.
This was my second from scratch build ever, but the last time I worked on a proper desktop PC was in 2003 or something. So, it's been a while, but it was still a breeze to get things up and running. I encountered no problems at all, the system posted right away, everything fit together nicely, and the case actually makes cable management doable in such a confined space. The biggest issues were:
- getting anything done in the upper left corner of the board, the space between case and CPU cooler is small
- the thick "sleeving" on the non-modular cables of the power supply, I just cut open and peeled back the shrink tube and zip-tied the individual cables together on the back of the case, pushing the mesh down a bit
- the SATA power cable has to be bent pretty harshly in order to fit in the back of the case while plugged into a drive
- the motherboard came with one straight and one 90° angled SATA cable, but if the angled end is used on the board, it blocks another SATA port (not important here as the case could not fit that many drives, but a bit annoying
- the M.2 slot at the back of the motherboard is just a bit too low and is barely, if at all, accessible through the cutout in the case, I may have to disassemble everything to install an M.2 drive
- while I can use two LED strips, the Nanoxia is noticeably better (whiter white, brighter, more accurate colors) and the colors never match
- the SSD still has not arrived, so I have not been able to finalize the build and install all the software
- the motherboard has two HDMI outs and one is the "main" one, the other does not show the BIOS
- I had to set the correct memory profile (XMP or something) in the BIOS so the RAM would run at its max frequency
- the front audio and front USB headers are in the lower left part of the motherboard, which is not a problem without a graphics card, but accounting for that already made it clear that this is a terrible position; the cables now reach across the entire width of the board and especially the USB cable is incredibly stiff, it will be difficult to tuck this between the CPU cooler and the GPU's backplate... and it just makes all of the cable management look bad, which is unfortunate
The case is great to build in and looks perfect for a living room PC. Unfortunately the window scratches easily (I bought it used). So far the keyboard/trackpad combo has been incredibly convenient for TV use.
Prices are usually for a used part off eBay incl. shipping. The motherboard is the biggest deal here, but includes credit card loyalty rewards, so the price is not quite fair. Only the CPU cooler, motherboard and power supply are new.
Thanks for reading, comments are welcome, especially if you have suggestions what I should upgrade next.
Edit: I got a Gainward GTX 750 Ti Golden Sample for 45€ off eBay and with that the machine is finally able to run at least modest 3D titles. I also figured out that my remote desktop compromise set-up would require an NVidia card as Game Streaming via GeForce Experience is far superior to any other streaming system (even Steam's solution) and with Moonlight it's device independent. I can now stream almost any game in very decent quality to my laptop. For regular remote desktopping, I use Splashtop, though. It's just more versatile. Wanted to let people know, just in case someone is looking at a similar streaming system.