High-End HTPCs/SFF Gaming PCs v3.0

| September 28, 2011 | (8)

HTPC: Home-Theater Personal Computer | SFF Gaming PC: Small Form Factor Gaming Personal Computer

Is this the right type of PC for me?

If you’re looking for a small-factor PC, to watch TV or DVD/Blu-Ray disks, play video games, listen to music, etc., you’re at the right place. If this is not what you’re looking for, check out our other Computer Systems instead.

The main case recommendation. The LIAN LI PC-V354 Micro-ATX cases line-up, available in Black (PC-V354B), Red (PC-V354R) and Silver (PC-V354A). Rest assured, if you don’t like these cases, there are also six other alternatives, for a total of nine (9) cases to pick from.

About Hardware Revolution’s High-End HTPCs/Small Form Factor Gaming PCs:

Imagine a relatively silent, reliable and powerful HTPC/Gaming PC in a compact and attractive case.

Furthermore, imagine that you can overclock the CPU and GPU to your heart’s content, without overheating nor much noise.

Who said that you can’t have a powerful highly-overclocked PC, that’s not noisy, in a small case? ;)

Hardware Parts Recommendations

  1. Recommended Components are in Bold.
  2. Suggested Alternatives and Upgrades are in Italic.
  3. All Parts are interchangeable/compatible with each other.
Components
(Click to jump to detailed section.)
High-End HTPCs/SFF Gaming PCs Price
$1789
Motherboard ASUS Maximus IV Gene-Z Z68 Micro ATX $170
CPU Intel Core i7-2600K 3.4GHz Turbo:3.8GHz Quad-Core HT 95W $315
Video Card
Vid. Playback
PNY XLR8 Liquid Cooled GeForce GTX 580 + CPU Cooling $560
RAM Corsair DDR3 8GB (2x4GB) 1600MHz
Corsair 16GB (4x4GB) DDR3 1600mhz
$48
$118
Storage SAMSUNG EcoGreen F4 HD204UI 2TB SATA II 3.5″
Hitachi Deskstar 3.5″ 3 TB SATA III
Crucial M4 128GB SATA III 2.5″ SSD
Crucial M4 256GB SATA III 2.5″ SSD
$80
$120
$185
$388
Optical Drive ASUS 24X SATA DVD Burner
SAMSUNG 12X Blu-ray Reader 16X DVD/48X CD Burner SATA
LG Black 12X SATA Blu-ray Burner
$20
$55
$80
Case LIAN LI PC-V354B Black Aluminum MicroATX
LIAN LI PC-V354A Silver Aluminum MicroATX
Lian Li PC-V354R Red Aluminum MicroATX
LIAN LI PC-A04A Silver Aluminum Micro-ATX
LIAN LI PC-A04B Black Aluminum Micro-ATX
Silverstone TJ08B-E Micro-ATX, Mini-ITX Aluminum/Steel
NZXT Crafted Series Vulcan
Fractal Design Define Mini Black Micro ATX
LIAN LI PC-V600FR Red Aluminum MicroATX
$140
$140
$170
$110
$110
$99
$70
$100
$200
Power Supply Seasonic X650 650W 80 PLUS Gold Modular $110
Cooling CPU Water Block: Included with Video Card
4x(Four) COUGAR CF-V12HP Vortex 120mm
Lian Li PT-FN06 5.25″ 4xFan Controller+2×2.5″ Drive Cage Black
Lian Li PT-FN06 5.25″ 4xController+2×2.5″ Drive Cage Silver
Free
$76
$40
$40
Sound Card Creative Labs Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium
HT | OMEGA eClaro 7.1
ASUS Xonar D2X
Asus Xonar Xense + Sennheiser PC350 headphones
$85
$185
$200
$292
Networking 10/100/1000 Mbps LAN
Rosewill 802.11b/g/n 300Mbps Wireless USB2.0 5dBi Antenna
AZiO BTD-V201 Bluetooth Adapter
Free
$20
$13

Suggested Accessories

Suggested Accessories
Company, Model and Main Specifications
Price
Keyboard and/or mouse:
Logitech M515 Couch Mouse
Logitech K750 Solar Keyboard
ADESSO WKB-3200UB Wireless Keyboard w/ Optical Trackball
VisionTek Candyboard Wireless Mini Keyboard & Trackpad
nMEDIAPC HTPCKB-B Wireless Keyboard with Track Ball & Remote
Logitech diNovo Mini
Logitech diNovo Edge
TV Tuner:
AVerMedia AVerTV Hybrid Volar Max USB 2.0

$47
$80
$56
$75
$80
$121
$130

$65

Computer Builds FAQs:

I often get questions such as:

  • Who are you to tell me which parts to choose?
  • Can you suggest me a step by step guide to build a computer?
  • Why should I build a PC instead of buying one in a store?
  • And many more…

1. Find the answers to these questions here: FAQ: How to Build Your Own Computer

2. Is this your first build? Here are 10 Quick Tips for 1st Time Builders to start with.

3. PC won’t start? Read Help me: Why won’t my newly assembled PC start or boot?

4. Visit our forums here, where you can join our helpful community and ask questions.

Hardware Parts Recommendations, Detailed Version

Motherboard:

ASUS Maximus IV Gene-Z LGA 1155 Intel Z68 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 Micro ATX Intel Motherboard$170 – ASUS Maximus IV Gene-Z Z68 Micro ATX

I picked this motherboard for the High-End HTPC/SFF Gaming PC build due to its variety of ports on the back, as well as its oustanding power delivery circuitry, which will allow you to overclock the CPU to your heart’s content.

It includes Lucid’s Virtu software, which allows you to use the integrated GPU on the Core i7-2600K to convert video using Intel Quick Sync technology (which has its pro and cons), despite the fact that you’ll be using a dedicated video card.

Another interesting thing about the motherboard is the included ROG connect cable, which along the “RC Tweak It” application, which allows allows overclocking and BIOS adjustments on-the-fly from another system.

Ports, expansion slots, features, what’s included in the box, etc.

Ports on the back: Eight USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, two E-SATA ports, one PS/2, HDMI output, Gigabit LAN, 8 Channels audio and Optical S/PDIF output on the back.

Expansion slots: On the board itself, you have two PCI-Express 2.0 16X (Single at 16x, Dual at 8x/8x) slots and one PCI-Express 4x slot.

Other connectors/features on the motherboard: Four four pins fan connectors, two SATA 6.0Gb/s, four SATA 3.0Gb/s, one USB 3.0 header, two USB 2.0 headers, Start/Reset buttons, LED debug and various voltage measurement contact points.

Included in the box: Motherboard, six SATA cables, a SLI cable, ROG connect cable(see the note above) manual, CD with drivers/utilities and I/O backplate.

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CPU:

Intel Core i7-2600K Processor 3.4GHz 8 MB Cache Socket LGA1155$315 – Intel Core i7-2600K 3.4GHz- 3.8GHz Turbo Quad-Core + HT 95W

High-end HTPC/SFF Gaming PC means a high-end CPU.

Except for a few limited cases, the Core i7-2600K is the most powerful desktop CPU on the market. Equipped with four cores running at 3.4GHz + Hyper-Threading, it can handle up to eight threads.

Simply put, it will convert videos and run video games like no other CPU.

Best of all? This is the multiplier unlocked K version, which allows you to overclock it to your heart’s content.

With the outstanding liquid cooling that this build is recommended with, reaching 4.5GHz+ should be too hard. Talk about power in a small case ;)

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Video Card:

PNY XLR8 VCGGTX580XPB-LC-CPU GeForce GTX 580 (Fermi) 1536MB 384-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Support Video Card with CPU Cooling$560- PNY XLR8 Liquid Cooled GeForce GTX 580 + CPU Cooling

The Geforce GTX 580 is the fastest single GPU video card on the market. How’s that for high-end? That’s not all though.

Factory overclocked

The reference GTX 580 has frequencies of 772MHz, 1544MHz and 4008MHz, for the core, shader and memory respectively.

This GTX 580? It runs at 857MHz, 1714MHz and 4214MHz. In other words, it is quite a bit faster than a reference GTX 580.

Hot and noisy video card? Far from it.

Now, you’d think that this factory-overclocked video card must run hotter than the reference card and that it must be way too noisy right? Nope, far from it. See, it is equipped with a all-in-one liquid cooling, which allows it to run at much lower temperatures and much lower noise level than the reference card.

Included CPU Water Block:

On top of that, it also includes a CPU water block to cool down your CPU, meaning that your CPU will be running cool and that you’ll be able to overclock it a lot, without adding noise to your system.

Talk about an ideal solution for a HTPC/SFF Gaming PC that you want to run quiet, without sacrificing performance nor overclocking potential!

The liquid-cooling system is already filled and sealed, installed on the video card, so you simply need to attach the CPU water block (which comes with thermal paste pre-applied) to your CPU and attach the radiator to the case back spot for a 120mm fan. It is a fairly simple installation, that does not require messing around with liquid in any way.

You’ll note that the video card still has a fan, but seeing as it doesn’t have to cool down the GPU, it can run at much lower speed, meaning that you won’t have to worry about having a fan that sounds like a leaf blower in your system.

Also note that you’ll have to remove the bottom hard drive cage from the recommended case. Still, with “only” the top hard drive cage, you still have space for three 3.5″ hard drives + two 2.5″ drives. If you need more than that, check out the alternatives recommended cases.

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Video Playback/Decoding:

Glossary:

3D Video:

  • MVC: Hardware acceleration decoding MPEG-4 MVC (Blu-ray 3D video codec)
  • MVC (CPU): Same as above, but with decoding done by the CPU.
  • 2D to 3D (CPU): Converting 2D SD isn’t very demanding, but converting 2D HD content is much more demanding on the CPU.
  • Frame Packing: One of the main 3D video format by HDMI 1.4a, for full-quality 3D movie playback.
  • SBS(H)/TAB/CB: Side-by-Side (Half), Top-and-Bottom and Checkerboard 3D formats, in order. The two first are main 3D video formats by HDMI 1.4a, used for broadcast contents. SBS(H) is also used by some Blu-ray 3D. CB is used by DLP 3D HDTVs from Mitsubishi and Samsung.
  • 720p 120Hz AFS: 720p 120Hz Alternate-Frame Sequencing 3D video format, used by several 720p DLP 3D projectors.

2D Video: 2D Video playback by the video card/driver.

  • AVC/VC-1/MPEG-2: Hardware acceleration of decoding AVC/VC-1/MPEG-2.
  • 1080i60: Vector adaptive (AMD) or equivalent deinterlacing for 1080 30fps interlaced content.
  • 1080p60: Hardware acceleration decoding 1080 60fps progressive content.
  • 23.976Hz: Proper 23.976Hz refresh rate support for movies.

2D video madVR: 2D video playback by software decoder – madVR (Worth a look!)

  • 1080p24: 1080 24fps progressive content.
  • 1080i60: 1080 30fps interlaced content
  • 1080p60: 1080 60fps progressive content
  • SD: Standard Definition content.

Feature comparison:

√ means that this feature is supported and/or that playback will be smooth.
√ High CPU % means that playback is relatively smooth, but that it may skip a bit due to high CPU usage %.
X means that this feature is not supported and/or that playback won’t be smooth.

Type of Video Type of Decoding Core i7-2600K
Geforce GTX 580
3D Video MVC
MVC (CPU)
2D to 3D (CPU)
Frame Packing
SBS(H)/TAB/CB

720p 120HZ AFS





2D Video AVC/VC-1/MPEG-2
1080i60
1080p60

23.976Hz



2D Video madVR 1080p24
1080i60
1080p60

SD



As you can see above, the High-End HTPC/SFF Gaming PC support every feature and will smoothly playback pretty much any content.

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RAM:

Corsair Vengeance Low Profile 8 GB PC3-12800 1600mhz 240-Pin DDR3 Dual Channel Memory Kit SDRAM CML8GX3M2A1600C9$48 – Corsair DDR3 8GB (2x4GB) 1600MHz

4GB is really inexpensive and will ensure smooth video playback, especially with Blu-ray disks, where 2GB could cause shutters.

8GB is hardly more expensive and is preferable to ensure smooth video playback along with Windows and background applications such as a game, an anti-virus, web browser, backups, etc.

Also, games are starting to take advantage of more than 4GB and this trend will only continue in the future, which is why the High-End HTPC/SFF Gaming PC come with 8GB of RAM.

Besides, considering the small price difference between 4GB and 8GB, it’s an inexpensive way to ensure that your PC will be future-proof.

Alternative

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Storage:

Samsung Spinpoint F4EG 2 TB SATA2 5400rpm 32 MB Hard Drive HD204UI/Z4$80 – SAMSUNG EcoGreen F4 HD204UI 2TB SATA II 3.5″

Seeing as this is an HTPC, I went for “green” hard drives that spins slower at 5400 rpm.

That allows for lower noise, lower power consumption and lower heat dissipation.

No worries though, 5400 rpm is still plenty fast enough for video playback, even at 1080p.

As for the OS boot time and program/game loading times, don’t worry: The build also includes a SSD.

Alternatives

Regarding RAID:

The recommend motherboard does feature hardware RAID. Getting a second identical hard drive to run RAID 1 in order to have redundancy and to be able to recover from a hard drive failure is a good idea, considering that you’ll probably put your valuable media collection on this PC. The rest of the build is ready/compatible for a second hard drive.

I’d recommend that you read the Have a Backup System that you can rely on! article and that you implement a solid backup solution, especially if you have a lot of content that you wouldn’t want to lose ;)

Crucial 128 GB m4 2.5-Inch Solid State Drive SATA 6Gb/s CT128M4SSD2$185 – Crucial M4 128GB SATA III 2.5″ SSD

For this High-End HTPC/Gaming PC we’re going with one of the, if not THE fastest SSD for booting times and for gaming, according to this Tech Report’s article.

It’s also highly reliable, as opposed to certain OCZ SSDs.

Alternatives:

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Optical Drive:

Asus 24x DVD RW Drive DVD-RAM/ R/ RW 24x 8x 16x (DVD) 48x 32x 48x (CD) Serial ATA Internal OEM DRW-24B1ST (Black)$20 – ASUS 24X SATA DVD Burner

This drive is able to read and burn CDs and DVDs. Silent, compatible with all major formats including DVD-RAM.

The recommended motherboard included six SATA cables, plenty enough for all your devices, so no need to worry about that.

Also, seeing as DVD Burners often go out of stock, here are a two alternatives that you can use to replace the standard DVD Burner. All are SATA based.

  1. $22- LITE-ON Black 24X SATA Black CD/DVD Writer
  2. $25- HP Black 24X SATA 24X CD/DVD Writer – Retail

Upgrades:

If you’d like to watch BluRay movies or TV shows, this $55 – SAMSUNG 12X Blu-ray Reader 16X DVD/48X CD Burner SATA will do the job. However, note that it can only read Bluray disks, not burn them. On the flip-side, it can burn DVDs and CDs without any problem.

If you want the ability to burn Blu-Ray disks as well, then the $80 – LG Black 12X BD-R 2X BD-RE SATA is what you want.

Regarding Blu-Ray playback:

As far as I know, you still require a specific software to playback Blu-Ray disks on a PC.

Based on various reviews and feedback on various forums, PowerDVD 11 3D Ultra is the software that I recommend to you.

It is fully compatible with Windows 7 and shouldn’t give you any problems.

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Case:

LIAN LI PC-V354B Black Aluminum MicroATX Mini Tower Computer Case$140 – LIAN LI PC-V354B Black Aluminum MicroATX

Also available in Silver or Red.

Built with the usual quality that you can expect from LIAN-LI, this case is available in three different colors, anodized on vertically brushed aluminum, giving it a very nice finish.

It comes with many great features, such as front USB 3.0 ports, a front SD card reader, a fan controller and more!

Going with different case fans:

While the stock case fans are fairly silent, they move very little air. Also, they are very bright, not something that’s desirable for everyone. We’ll be replacing the two front fans (the top fan will be removed to make space for the liquid cooling radiator) for two much better fans. See the cooling section for more details on this.

Fan controller:

This case includes a fan controller, which allows you to control up to four fans. How convenient, considering that this build does feature four fans (Two front fans + two fans on the radiator).

A few notes regarding installation:

  1. The radiator for liquid cooling needs to be installed on the back 120mm fan spot. In order for it to fit, you’ll have to remove the top 140mm case fan.
  2. You’ll need to replace the case front cases by the ones that you bought. This requires you to remove the hard drive cages to get access to the front fans.
  3. For the video card to fit, you’ll have to remove the bottom hard drive cage.
  4. Make sure to hook up the front fans and the radiator fans to the case’s fan controller.
  5. The sound card should be installed in the motherboard PCI-Express 4x slot.

Case alternatives:

All the cases below are fully compatible with this build, including with the liquid cooling radiator.

Silverstone TJ08B-E

LIAN LI PC-A04A

LIAN LI PC-A04B

NZXT Vulcan

Fractal Design Define Mini

LIAN LI PC-V600FR Red

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Power Supply:

SeaSonic X Series X650 Gold ((SS-650KM Active PFC F3)) 650W ATX12V V2.3/EPS 12V V2.91 SLI Ready CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS GOLD Certified Modular Active PFC Power Supply$110 – Seasonic X650 650W 80 PLUS Gold Modular

One of the highest quality power supply available on the market, the Seasonic X650 will have no trouble handling this build, even with you overclocking it.

It will do so while being fairly silent and while being highly efficient (80 PLUS Gold).

It’s a modular power supply, so you only have to attach the cables that you actually need, making for less of a mess in the case. Also, it’s a fairly short unit, meaning that it will give you a bit more space to work with when assembling the PC.

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Cooling:

PNY CPU Liquid Cooling CPU Water Block: Included with Video Card

The CPU Water Block is included with the video card.

This outstanding liquid-cooling setup will ensure that your CPU will be running cool and that you’ll be able to overclock it a lot, without adding noise to your system.

The liquid-cooling system is already filled and sealed, installed on the video card, so you simply need to attach the water block to your CPU (The water block has thermal paste pre-applied to it) and attach the radiator to the case back spot for a 120mm fan. It is a fairly simple installation, that does not require messing around with liquid in any way.

COUGAR CF-V12HP Vortex Hydro-Dynamic-Bearing (Fluid) 300,000 Hours 12CM Silent Cooling Fan with Pulse Width Modulation$76 – 4x(Four) COUGAR CF-V12HP Vortex 120mm

Included in the recommended buying list are four Cougar CF-V12HP fans.

You’ll be using two of them to replace the case two front fans, in order to improve the case airflow, without increasing noise.

The two other fans will be used to replace the two fans on the liquid cooling radiator, which are way too noisy for what we’re trying to achieve here.

Why these fans? Why not $5 a pop fans?

1- Reliability. These fans use Hydro-Dynamic bearings, which will last much longer than cheap Sleeve bearings, meaning that your fan won’t fail after a few months/a few years.

2- Noise/Airflow/Air Pressure Ratio. Cheap fans can output a lot of airflow, sure. However they also emit a lot of noise by doing so. These fans can emit as much airflow with less noise or more airflow at an equivalent level of sound. Also, these fans offer a good level of Air Pressure, which is crucial to cool down the radiator used to cool your CPU and GPU.

To consider for other cases: Fan Controllers

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TV Tuner:

$65 – AVerMedia AVerTV Hybrid Volar Max USB 2.0

The motherboard has several expansion slots, but they will be either be occupied or covered by the video card and the sound card.

However, nothing stops you from using this USB TV Tuner if you wish to watch or record TV. Note that it is optional and that its price is not included in the build because not everyone wants or needs a TV Tuner.

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Sound Card:

Creative Labs SB0880 PCI Express Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium Sound Card$85 – Creative Labs Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium

While the motherboard does include pretty good integrated onboard sound, it’s still integrated onboard sound and while that’s acceptable for a Budget or Mainstream HTPC/SFF Gaming PC, when you’re dropping this much money, you’ll definitely want the best when it comes to sound quality.

Alternatives:

While the Creative Labs Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium is a great sound card, it might not be up to the your standards and it may not offer features that you’re looking for. This is why I also recommend three alternative sound cards that are compatible with the rest of the system:

Pick the one that suits your needs.

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Networking:

Free: Integrated 10/100/1000 Mbps LAN

Onboard standard Mbit LAN connection

Upgrades:

Wifi:

$20 – Rosewill 802.11b/g/n 300Mbps Wireless USB2.0 5dBi Antenna

This is a capable WiFi antenna if you want WiFi.

Bluetooth:

$13 – AZiO BTD-V201 Bluetooth Adapter

This is a Bluetooth adapter if you want Bluetooth.

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Accessories:

$51 – ADESSO WKB-3200UB Wireless Keyboard w/ Optical Trackball

This is the least expensive input option at $51. For that price, you get a keyboard that features a numpad, an optical trackball, a scroll-wheel, two buttons for left and right mouse buttons “clicks” as well as many multimedia buttons.

$80 – nMEDIAPC HTPCKB-B Wireless Keyboard with Track Ball & Remote

If you want everything the ADESSO has, plus a remote, get this.

$40 – Logitech M705 Marathon Mouse

With a rated battery life of up to three years, this is a good input device if you want to use a basic mouse without worrying about too much about battery life. Works great with the Solar Keyboard.

$60 – Logitech K750 Solar Keyboard

With a good ThinkPad like key feel, and potentially infinite battery life, this is a good input device if you want a basic keyboard without worrying at all about battery life. Works great with the Marathon Mouse.

$121 – Logitech diNovo Mini

This is a high end, small form factor input device for your HTPC. It connects via Bluetooth(included dongle), has a mini keyboard, and a touchpad.

$155 – Logitech diNovo Edge

This is a high end, full size input device for your HTPC. It connects via Bluetooth, has a full size keyboard, and a fancy touchpad.

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Recommended operating systems:

The operating system cost, if there’s one, is not included in the total cost. The two reason for this are:

  1. The budget only considers hardware.
  2. You may be able re-use a previous license, go with an open-source OS such as Linux or , if you’re so inclined and are aware of what you’re doing, use torrents.

If you decide that you need a need OS, here are some recommendations:

Windows 7

Despite Linux gaining more and more support, Windows still is the platform of choice for compatibility at the moment. Considering that you’ll have 4GB of RAM or more, along with a dedicated video that also has memory (512MB or 1GB), you’ll need a 64-bit version, as 32-bit is limited to 4GB of memory for the entire system, which is not enough now, nor in the future if you decide to upgrade.

Windows 7 is by far better than Windows Vista, looks better, more functional, less annoying, consumes less resources and brings DirectX 11 to the table.

Three Available Versions:

  1. Windows 7 Home Premium: The basic edition, with all the looks, most of the functionality and DirectX 11.
  2. Windows 7 Professional: If you want the virtual XP mode, you’ll need at least the Professional edition. Also required if you want to backup to a network, using the built-in backup mode in Windows.
  3. Windows 7 Ultimate: To help protect data on your PC and portable storage devices against loss or theft with BitLocker and to work and switch between 35 languages.

OEM vs Retail:

The OEM version allows you to only install it once on a computer. You cannot transfer the license to another computer in the future and you do not receive support from Microsoft. It’s the same type of license you get when you get Windows on a desktop or laptop that you buy from Dell, HP and such. It’s less expensive, but gives less flexibility. Ideal if you intend on keeping your computer for many years.

The Retail version is the full version, which allows you to transfer the license to another computer in the future and you can call Microsoft if you need any form of support. Ideal if you intend on upgrading/changing your computer down the road.

Other than that, you get the same features on both, only the license differs. The price between the two differs obviously.

OEM Versions:

  1. Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit OEM – $105
  2. Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit OEM – $140
  3. Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit OEM – $175

Retail Versions:

  1. Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium Retail – $184
  2. Microsoft Windows 7 Professional Retail – $275
  3. Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate Retail – $292

Linux

A lot of people these days boots more than one OS. Linux is a wonderful choice: powerful, cool, and cheap. Take your pick of distributions and have fun! For Fedora, Ubuntu, Debian, Slackware, and Mandrake, try Distrowatch.com, Cheapbytes.com, LinuxQuestions.org or one of the many others.

While Linux does not offer the wide compatibility of Windows with video games, gaming on Linux is still possible, through projects such as Wine, Cedega and Crossover. For more on the topic of Linux Gaming, I invite you to read this excellent article from AnandTech: Linux Gaming: Are we there yet?

Cost: Free

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Conclusion

Your feedback matters!

Remember, we design these builds to be helpful to you! The best way for us to be helpful to you is for you to let us know how to improve these articles, by offering your feedback (Comments, suggestions, reactions, opinions, etc.) below in the comment section.

What do you think of the High-End HTPC/SFF Gaming PC v3.0? I’m personally thrilled about how much power and how much overclocking potential we can now achieve in such a small case, while still getting a near silent build! What’s your opinion? Would you recommend or would you want to try a different part? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

Next update to the High-End HTPC/SFF Gaming PC:

I will not be updating the High-End HTPC/SFF Gaming PC for a while, as I have several articles (laptops, tablets, Gaming PCs, Workstations, etc.) in the pipelines that I want to invest my time on.

Mind you, if there some major product launch (e.g. new video cards line-up, new CPU line-up), I’ll update this post if necessary.

If you have any questions/suggestions/ideas regarding what should be updated, make a thread over at our forums here.

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Computer Builds FAQs:

I often get questions such as:

  • Who are you to tell me which parts to choose?
  • Can you suggest me a step by step guide to build a computer?
  • Why should I build a PC instead of buying one in a store?
  • And many more…

1. Find the answers to these questions here: FAQ: How to Build Your Own Computer

2. Is this your first build? Here are 10 Quick Tips for 1st Time Builders to start with.

3. PC won’t start? Read Help me: Why won’t my newly assembled PC start or boot?

4. Visit our forums here, where you can join our helpful community and ask questions.

Budget vs. Mainstream vs. High-End HTPCs:

Here are the pros and cons of each system, to help you figure out which one is best adapted to your needs:

Budget HTPC
The Silverstone ML03B, the main case recommendation for the Budget HTPCs.

Budget HTPCs: $300 – $500

Perfect for an inexpensive, low-power, silent machine dedicated to media playback, based on the AMD Bobcat processor.

Pros:

  • Very low power consumption
  • Flexible: can browse the web, play flash games, view photos, and do any other basic task
  • Cool: with low power parts, an efficient power supply, and good ventilation, this HTPC stays cool
  • Silent: quiet fans, power supplies, and motherboards were picked
  • Small size: either a slim tower or a shoebox size
  • Capable of 1080p content playback
  • Low cost: Starts at $310

Cons:

  • Limited CPU power: Although faster than netbooks, this features a dual-core AMD E-350 and is not recommended for a workstation, audio and video encoding or conversion or an hybrid gaming machine.
  • Limited upgrades: The CPU is embedded, so you can’t upgrade it. You only have a single PCI-Express 16x slot, running at 4x, limiting your options.

Mainstream HTPCs/Small Factor Gaming PCs v3.0: $600 – $1100

The main case recommendation of the Mainstream HTPC/SFF Gaming PC: The LIAN LI PC-Q08 line-up of cases, available in Black (PC-Q08B), Red (PC-Q08R) and Silver (PC-Q08A).

Pros:

  • Strikes a good balance between performance and power consumptionAs much performance as possible in a Mini-ITX case
  • Can be used for gaming with Tier 4 or 5
  • Good mainstream computing power

Cons:

  • CPU and GPU are both adequate but not exceptionally powerful, as they are limited by space and power constraints

High End HTPC/Small Factor Gaming PCs v3.0 (This article)

The main case recommendation. The LIAN LI PC-V354 Micro-ATX cases line-up, available in Black (PC-V354B), Red (PC-V354R) and Silver (PC-V354A). Rest assured, if you don’t like these cases, there are also six other alternatives, for a total of nine (9) cases to pick from.

Pros:

  • Maximum performance when it comes to gaming, audio/video encoding or conversion
  • Only HTPC with (major!) overclocking potential, without sacrificing silence

Cons:

  • The highest cost of the three HTPC builds
  • The highest power consumption of the three HTPC builds

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Category: Home Theater PC

About Mathieu Bourgie: HR Founder - Computer expert with over 14 years of experience in building, fixing and modifying PCs. Over the years, I’ve developed a passion for PC hardware and now I enjoy helping others build their own PCs! In April 2008, I launched Hardware Revolution and ... Read more at my about page .

  • Peter Sbirakos

    Terrific website Mathieu, thank you for producing!

    I’m wondering if there’s been any progress in updating the High-End HTPCs/SFF Gaming PCs article from v3.0?

    Thanks
    Peter

    • http://www.hardware-revolution.com/ MathieuB

      Peter,

      We’ll be updating the SFF builds in May, we’re simply waiting for Intel’s Ivy Bridge CPUs to come out. With their lower power consumption, they’ll be ideal for SFF builds.

      Thanks,
      Mathieu

      • Peter Sbirakos

        great stuff mate, thanks!

        • Peter Sbirakos

          No progress?

          • Peter Sbirakos

            Bump!

  • ninjacut

    Mathieu, don’t need separate sound card but want Ceton Infinity Tuner card in its place. Any issues you foresee above

  • cb

    Was looking forward to that update.. ah well. Seems to have gone kinda dark since the anniversary announcement. Hope all is well.

  • Peter M

    Very good article, but I wonder why you recommend a sound card, saying “because it is for a top system, put a sound card it”. Should you not base the recommendation on the speakers/audio system used?

    If it is for a “top HTPC”, you’d think that it will be connected to a good quality Hifi system. In this case, the best will be to pass the digital audio signals to the Hifi amp for decoding. A good sound card is simply waste of money in this scenario and will not give any advantage.

    If someone connects eg analogue amped speakers to a HTPC, by all means, put in a good sound card with good quality analogue outputs. But again, in this case the user should decide based on his overall setup.

    A new amp will be able to decode all the new codecs that come with Blueray etc.