Need to build a mini PC

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Need to build a mini PC

Postposted on Tue Jun 24, 2014 2:00 pm

I've been out of the game for sometime now. Need some recommendation for a mini PC that'll be attached to a 30" TV set for watching movies and soap operas (not by me). Requirements:

1. has to perform well at 1080p so I'd prefer at least an i3
2. has to be able to house a single 2.5in SATA disk (don't want to buy mSATA drives with several disks laying around)
3. USB 3.0 would be nice
4. good wifi setup
5. proper hdmi connector
6. runs W7 well
7. ideally under $350 as a barebone (have disk and RAM already)

I've been looking at a few machines: NUC was out because of the idiotic mini-HDMI port. I also think newer models don't have 2.5in drive capability anymore, right? Gigabyte Brix has lousy wifi on some models but that's addressable. But the mSATA-only was a deal killer. Zbox was out because people kept complaining in reviews about lag on cheaper models.

Right now I'm leaning towards a used 2011-vintage Mac Mini. OS X is absolutely redundant here and I'm a little reluctant to buy a 3 year old system so I'm still very open to suggestions. Thanks.
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Re: Need to build a mini PC

Postposted on Tue Jun 24, 2014 2:09 pm

I think the Brix has 2.5" SATA support plus mSATA. The Zotac E~series might work, too, as it's a newer product line.
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Re: Need to build a mini PC

Postposted on Tue Jun 24, 2014 2:49 pm

I found the discrepancy. Brix supports only mSata while BrixS supports a 2.5in drive as well.
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Re: Need to build a mini PC

Postposted on Tue Jun 24, 2014 2:54 pm

Depends on which brix you're looking at. The ones with room for a 2.5" might be a bit noisy for a living room box.

What sort of RAM do you have already? desktop or laptop stuff?

You could do this:

Antec ISK 110 $80
Core i3-4130T $135 (pricey, but low TDP, great for a small case like this)
ASRock H97M-ITX/ac $95

That gets you to $310. The ISK 110 has room for two 2.5" drives and if you've got desktop RAM it'll fit in there. Plus the i3-4130T comes with a low profile heatsink that'll fit in the case.

You've got HDMI, USB 3.0, 802.11ac wifi, and optical audio out, too, if you want it.

[edit]

I feel the need to point out that a regular i3 will work too and could save you $10 / get you a faster CPU and onboard GPU, but I'm not sure of the height of the stock heatsink that comes with a regular i3. If it'll fit, that's also an option. The extra power draw wouldn't matter - the ~80W PSU in the ISK 110 would be able to handle it just fine (I ran an i3-530, motherboard, ram, SSD and 2.5" HDD off of one of Antec's 65W PSUs for a couple of years without issue, and it was a "casual use" type of system, too).
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Re: Need to build a mini PC

Postposted on Tue Jun 24, 2014 3:18 pm

I have laptop RAM only (sodimms) so anything that uses desktop RAM is out. I'd prefer an already built machine with the smallest foot print. Would i3 be enough to run all of the stuff I need? This is going to be used by my mom who is not a very demanding user as long as soap operas run well. If I was going to build a machine for myself I would start with an i7. :)
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Mini PC

Postposted on Tue Jun 24, 2014 3:44 pm

This should be just what you need and quite cheaper than you thought.
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Re: Mini PC

Postposted on Tue Jun 24, 2014 4:42 pm

windwalker wrote:This should be just what you need and quite cheaper than you thought.

Only if all his 1080p materials can be hardware accelerated. I have not seen anyone doing any tests on those oddball codecs that require CPU decode yet (mainly because the test materials may not be legit to begin with).
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Re: Need to build a mini PC

Postposted on Tue Jun 24, 2014 5:52 pm

A desktop class i3 would be plenty enough to do what you want it to do. But if you've got SO-DIMMs and you want to use those, you're getting into strange motherboard territory. There aren't a lot you could build yourself that use them, except for some of those thin mini itx boards. But those would probably require you to add an 802.11ac card, get some antenna, and overall put in more effort than needed for a system of this class.

You could always sell the SODIMMs on ebay and buy desktop RAM. :)

Otherwise, your requirements (price, 2.5" drive, wifi, standard HDMI) really limit your options. There's this Gigabyte system, but if you're unsure about the laptop class i3, then you're getting out of your price range - $400 for their i5 brix with room for a SATA drive and $540 for the i7 version.

I think the i5 option would work nicely, but it'd stretch your budget further than you've indicated you'd like to go. There's tradeoffs everywhere. :)
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Re: Need to build a mini PC

Postposted on Tue Jun 24, 2014 6:50 pm

Pretty sure I found what I was looking for. It's the Brix labeled GB-BXI3H-4010. Note the H in the label. That means it supports 2.5in SATA drives. It's an i3 that takes sodimms. Only issues is that wifi card I believe but it's replaceable. The kit costs about $330 total on Amazon.
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