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The Kitchen PC
It even weeps when you order pizza

We've given home theater PC setups a few stabs in past system guides, but we'd never tried a kitchen PC. As it turns out, you really can build a cheap machine that'll let you look up recipes, run instant messaging software, and watch DVDs while taking as little space as possible on your kitchen counter. Nothing forces you to put this PC in your kitchen, of course—it'd probably be a nice solution for college dorm rooms and the like.

Component Item Price
Barebone MSI Wind 100 (Intel Atom 330) $149.99
Memory 2GB Kingston DDR2-667 SO-DIMM $19.99
Graphics Integrated $0
Networking Intel 3945ABG mini PCIe Wi-Fi card $22.99
Storage OCZ Solid Series 32GB $94.49
Samsung SH-S223Q $26.99
Audio Integrated $0
Display Acer X193Wb 19" 1440x900 $119.99
Input Logitech Deluxe 660 $26.99
Speakers Creative Inspire 245 $18.99
OS Ubuntu Linux 8.10 $0

Rather than purchase a separate processor, motherboard, enclosure, and power supply, we've entrusted MSI to deliver all four with its Wind 100. This barebone PC only costs $60 more than an Intel Mini-ITX mobo with the same CPU, and it has a tight form factor with room for a 3.5" hard drive and 5.25" optical drive—all useful attributes for building a small, ultra-cheap system like this one.

Speaking of processors, the Wind 100's CPU is an Atom 330 with dual 1.6GHz cores. Don't expect mind-blowing performance, but do look forward to something a little snappier than your typical netbook or nettop.

The Wind 100 takes laptop-style SO-DIMMs, and this 2GB DDR2-667 module from Kingston should complement it well. The $20 price tag is perfect for our budget, and we're still getting lifetime warranty coverage.

Even if you won't end up putting the Kitchen PC in an actual kitchen, chances are you won't want to run a big, ugly Ethernet cable up to it. Since the Wind 100 has a mini PCIe slot, we've added a matching Intel Wi-Fi card. The 3945ABG doesn't support 802.11n, but it seems to have better compatibility with our recommend Ubuntu Linux operating system than newer and faster models. And hey, $22.99 for a Wi-Fi card is pretty darn cheap.

By the way, the 3945ABG doesn't (to our knowledge) come with an antenna, but the MSI makes up for that omission in the Wind 100's accessory bundle. So, you know, don't go thinking you have to jimmy-rig something yourself out of an old soup spoon.

We'd like the Kitchen PC to be as quiet as possible, which is why we've picked a 32GB OCZ solid-state drive to house our operating system and applications. You can probably dump a few MP3s and random documents on there, too, but the 32GB capacity encourages storing more voluminous files somewhere across the network. Still, this drive gets our nod for its low price tag, decent performance ratings, and good user reviews on Newegg.

The Wind 100 barebone doesn't have a 2.5" drive bay, so you'll probably want to tape the drive to the inside of the case. You could get an adapter, of course, but it's not like you risk damaging moving parts in a solid-state drive if the tape comes undone.

What about our optical drive? You can probably track down some cheaper offerings than Samsung's SH-S223Q, but at this point, we really can't imagine why you'd buy a bare CD or DVD drive with no burning capabilities just to save five to ten bucks.

It costs $120. It has a 19" panel size with a 1440x900 resolution. And it has overwhelmingly positive user reviews on Newegg. We think that's pretty much all we need to say about Acer's X193Wb. If you don't already have an old monitor lying around, this should be a fine, low-cost companion to the Kitchen PC.

We could save a few bucks by going with a wired keyboard and mouse, but at $27, Logitech's Deluxe 600 combo doesn't exactly break the bank. Having as few cables as possible cluttering up your kitchen counter is a nice plus, too.

Depending on what you want to do with the Kitchen PC, you may not even need a pair of speakers. If you feel like watching DVDs or listening to music on this system, though, then something like Creative's Inspire 245 stereo set should do the trick. We probably don't need to tell you not to expect thumping bass and crisp highs from sub-$20 speakers, but this is a budget config, after all.

Operating system
Windows is great, but it's not cheap—even if you're shopping for an OEM version. Ubuntu Linux 8.10 is free, by contrast, and it's more than capable enough for a low-powered desktop like the Kitchen PC. We believe Ubuntu should recognize our recommended Intel wireless card out of the box, and it should have no trouble playing back DVDs once you install the required add-ons to the default media player. Ubuntu also comes with a host of open-source apps, including Firefox for web browsing and for spreadsheets and word processing. And hey, not being vulnerable to Windows malware is a definite plus, too.