It's been a while since our last proper home theater gaming PC build; as Steam's Big Picture mode continues to develop, and with the impending arrival of Steam's Linux gaming platform, HTPCs now have more big-name support than ever before. This time, I wanted to put together an "enthusiast-class" HTPC, meant for those who want to play games on high resolutions with maximum settings and play around with overclocking, too.
Using several Cyber Monday & remnant Black Friday deals, we're able to put together a high-end gaming computer for relatively low cost. This $1028 HTPC build is best used as a DIY DVR or Big Picture gaming PC (for the likes of Assassin's Creed IV, Battlefield 4, Thief, etc.).
When I set-out to build this one, I struggled for a good ten minutes on one motherboard versus another... and ultimately decided to put together a list of components that I thought would be fun to build, not just functional. This system packs a couple TFLOPs of power in a small box and will run relatively quietly, so let's hit the list!
$1028 Intel Home Theater Gaming PC Build - Cyber Monday, December, 2013
OS & Recommended Extras
Quick note: You'll see in the above list that we've itemized an optional USB DVR. If you're wanting to make your own DVR replacement box, you'll need one of those items in addition to a cable card (from your ISP) and tuner. Call your local ISP office for more information on how to get those. They should be free or very cheap.
EVGA SuperClocked GTX 760 2GB ($260): Referencing our own "best video cards for gaming 2013" guide, EVGA's GTX 760 is easily the best video card in the $200-$300 price-range. EVGA's model of the 760 comes clocked at 1072MHz (BCLK) and 1137MHz (Boost CLK) and is fitted with 2GB of memory, which is our new bottom-line for video RAM. In terms of display outputs, this card is fitted with 1xHDMI, 1xDP, 1xDVI-I, and 1xDVI-D (both dual-link). This means you'll be able to push your display output to multiple TVs or monitors, even at higher frequencies.
The 760 will readily play nearly all major games at maximum settings right now (assuming 1080p). Battlefield 4 will push the card a bit more than other games, but even that will run on near-max or max settings, depending on anti-aliasing and resolution.
Intel i5-4670K Unlocked Quad-Core ($210): Intel's i5-4670K 4th-Gen Haswell processor has a pretty big sale going right now, as far as Newegg goes, anyway. The intention with this HTPC rig is to be an "enthusiast's home theater machine," which means we want the ability to overclock and play around with the components within BIOS. That's a huge part of the fun for me, at least. The K-SKU CPU has an unlocked BCLK and multipliers, so you're free to dabble in overclocking. Check out our Overclocking Primer (beginner's guide) for more information on how to do that.
Corsair H80i 120mm CLC ($70): Being that this is a living room PC, we want to make sure it's quiet enough that your multimedia experience isn't audibly drowned-out by whiny stock cooler. I'm opting for a closed-loop liquid cooler for reduced noise emissions. Because the Kraken X40 is too large for this case, we're going with Corsair's H80i -- a software-controlled closed-loop liquid cooler in a 120mm size; the cooler uses an abnormally large radiator (for improved thermal dissipation), and thus must be mounted at the rear of the Bitfenix Prodigy case we've selected.
The 'i' suffix in Corsair products is indicative of Corsair's software for controlling the device. By installing the software that ships with the cooler, you'll be able to lower the fan speeds and further reduce noise levels.
Crucial Ballistix 8GB 1866MHz RAM ($65): RAM prices are fluctuating pretty heavily right now due to the weekend's sales, but as it stands for this posting, Crucial's 2x4GB kit of 1866MHz RAM at $65 is a pretty solid deal. If you want to save $15, you could grab some G.Skill Ripjaws memory @ 1600MHz instead.
MSI Z87I Mini-ITX Motherboard ($120): Part of building an enthusiast-class system is ensuring we've got basic overclocking functionality. A mini-ITX motherboard has physical constraints that we don't face with an ATX form factor board, and as an additional hurdle, they exhibit greater thermal challenges due to the more packed-in component mounting.
This board hosts built-in wireless and bluetooth features, so if you're connecting wirelessly (as is oft the case with HTPCs), you're in good shape; bluetooth will help with remote controls and other control devices. There are only two slots for RAM on mini-ITX boards, so make sure you're happy with a 2x4GB configuration prior to purchasing RAM (otherwise, go with 2x8GB). The same goes for expansion devices: We only have 1xPCI-e x16 slot, so if you're planning to do video capture, it'll have to be through a USB hub; an audio card would also have to be external, should you want one, though the built-in audio controller is reasonably good for most users.
SeaSonic G Series 550W Modular PSU ($70): A high-quality, highly-efficient, low-noise PSU is a must-have for any living room PC build. When I set out to put this together, I decided that 80 Plus Gold would be my bottom-line certification (>87% efficient). Another requirement was modularity; building in such a small box means we've got very limited room already, so remove all unnecessary cables to improve airflow and reduce dust concerns.
550W will be enough for the 760 + 4670K configuration, though higher-end cards -- should you upgrade -- could demand more wattage from the PSU. Bitfenix's Prodigy needs PSUs to be ~160mm and smaller, so the SeaSonic G Series supply will fit that spec.
SSD / HDD
Kingston HyperX 120GB SSD ($80): With the Cyber Monday sales in effect, Kingston's HyperX 120GB 3K SSD is currently available at $80, down from the usual ~$110 range. The 3K demarcation indicates the number of P/E cycles the NAND can exhibit prior to death, which we spoke about extensively in our most recent SSD articles (LSI announcement & How Overprovisioning Works). Kingston's HyperX SSD has proven to have high endurance in testing, making for a reliable and relatively quick drive; an SSD will greatly improve boot times (speedy boots are necessary for a home theater PC) and reduce operating noise when not utilizing the HDD.
WD Blue 1TB 7200RPM HDD ($55): Marked-down an extra $10 right now, 1TB of storage should be enough to get you started in your HTPC endeavors; if you're the type who rapidly consumes storage for movies/videos/games, consider a 2TB option instead (WD Green, lower RPM, lower power consumption, lower noise).
Lite-On DVD Burner ($18): A simple DVD read/write drive will give you burning and movie playback capabilities, which is all that we need for a basic setup. For anyone running blu-ray discs without an external player, consider grabbing one of these instead (read only, no write).
Bitfenix Prodigy ($80): Hail to the King. Bitfenix's Prodigy is one of the most popular enclosures we've seen at LAN gaming events (PAX, LANFest), and it's for very good reason: The Bitfenix Prodigy's external dimensions measure in at 9.84" x 15.91" x 14.13", making it easily transported, made even easier with handles at the top of the case. Internally, the box can fit video cards up to 320mm in length by removing the top drive cage; radiators up to 240mm can be mounted in the top bay, but will require removal of an external optical drive (hence our opting for a 120mm rear-mounted radiator).
The case ships stock with 2x120mm fans (front/rear), but you'll remove the rear fan for the H80i and can relocate it to the top position (recommended as intake). The Prodigy is available in several colors, including blue, red, green, black, white, and more. Check them all out here.
Once it's all built, you'll have a tiny, clean, well-cooled PC with low noise and thermal emissions. It's a bit pricier than our last HTPC build, but very powerful and, well, quite tiny.
I had a lot of fun building this one! If you need help customizing or have questions about this build, pop on over to our support forums. It's always free to ask a question.
- Steve "Lelldorianx" Burke.