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Hardware Thread, Budget HTPC/Steam Box Spec in Technical; As we're now all PC gamers in my house, I decided that I finally had a damn good excuse to ...
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    LosOjos's Avatar
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    Budget HTPC/Steam Box Spec

    As we're now all PC gamers in my house, I decided that I finally had a damn good excuse to build a gaming capable HTPC.

    I don't have the budget to build an all out beast but I think I've specced up a decent rig with a good upgrade path for my 600 budget. Already have a Win7 licence for it, a PCI-e wireless adapter (won't need this right now as it'll be wired, but may need it when we move house) and wireless KB/M and we all have our own wired Xbox pads to use with it.

    The plan is to run XBMC in Win7 with a link to Steam Big Picture - there is no intention for this machine to be used for anything else as we already have my main rig for general use and my daughter also has her own PC in her room now - this one's purely for entertainment.

    Please take a look at my spec below and let me know what you think. The one thing I've been obsessing over is the CPU - I've gone the Intel route despite the fact that AMD offer theoretically faster CPUs at this lower price point, but I think an i3 will stand up for the next 12 months at which point I should be able to upgrade to an i5 if necessary and this is why I decided on Intel - there seems to be a better upgrade path. As the other two machines in the house are also 1150 based, it means that when I upgrade any of them, I can roll out a small upgrade to the other machines too.
    The spec:
    Case - Silverstone Grandia GD05 Desktop HTPC Case
    PSU - Corsair Builder Series CX 430w Modular '80 Plus Bronze'
    Mobo - Gigabyte H87M-HD3 Intel H87 (Socket 1150) DDR3 Micro ATX
    CPU - Intel Core i3-4130 3.40GHz (Haswell) Socket LGA1150
    RAM - Avexir MPower Yellow Series 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3 PC3-12800C9
    HDD (may add in a boot SSD later, for now I feel a SSHD offers a decent balance between cost/performance/storage) - Seagate SSHD 7200RPM 1TB SATA 6Gb/s 64MB Cache
    ODD - OcUK Value 4x BD-ROM
    GPU - Gigabyte Radeon R9 270X WindForce 3X OC 2048MB

    Any suggestions on where I could improve this rig without tipping the 600 mark? This currently comes in at 595.92 - can't get much closer than that!
    Last edited by LosOjos; 13th January 2014 at 07:40 AM.

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    Gatt's Avatar
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    LosOjos (13th January 2014)

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    3s-gtech's Avatar
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    Your posted spec looks just about perfect for your needs, it's a good balance of power and value. At 1080P your R9 270X should do okay, perhaps a few settings will need knocking down on AAA games but it's highly capable. Your CPU is fine - you could go with AMD (perhaps an A10 6700) and skip buying the GPU altogether. Gaming/system performance would be markedly lower, but you'd save 150 or so.

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    LosOjos's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 3s-gtech View Post
    Your posted spec looks just about perfect for your needs, it's a good balance of power and value. At 1080P your R9 270X should do okay, perhaps a few settings will need knocking down on AAA games but it's highly capable. Your CPU is fine - you could go with AMD (perhaps an A10 6700) and skip buying the GPU altogether. Gaming/system performance would be markedly lower, but you'd save 150 or so.
    Yeah I did think about that but decided to put the money in to a decent GPU (the R9 270 is better than the GTX560 in my main PC and that handles everything I play well enough for me at 1080p - not ultra in all games but more than adequate for me). The main thing that was pulling me towards an APU was the option of building the whole thing in a tiny ITX case, but the case above will fit nicely under my AV amp and actually looks quite similar too, which pleases the missus.

    Just out of curiosity - is the general consensus that AMD APUs are better than Intel ones?

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    zag
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    Gaming PC != HTPC

    I use an Haswell NUC for my new HTPC running xbmc. Its got no fans and is the size of a pack of cards

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    3s-gtech's Avatar
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    AMD APUs are better as a complete package IMO (at the same price point I may add, a low end AMD APU is inferior to a high end Intel 'APU') for CPU/GPU/computation together, but in many performance scenarios Intel wins outstandingly. Where AMD makes sense is for low cost systems with decent all-round capability. No point in even bringing the FX line into it, they just get trounced.

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    LosOjos's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by zag View Post
    Gaming PC != HTPC

    I use an Haswell NUC for my new HTPC running xbmc. Its got no fans and is the size of a pack of cards
    I know that traditionally an HTPC is a small form factor machine decidated to media, but this will be something of a hybrid. It's likely to see equal use between movies/streaming and Steam. I suppose a better name for it then would be an HEPC (Home Entertainment PC)

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    LosOjos's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 3s-gtech View Post
    AMD APUs are better as a complete package IMO (at the same price point I may add, a low end AMD APU is inferior to a high end Intel 'APU') for CPU/GPU/computation together, but in many performance scenarios Intel wins outstandingly. Where AMD makes sense is for low cost systems with decent all-round capability. No point in even bringing the FX line into it, they just get trounced.
    That's what I suspected. I used to insist on AMD back in the day, then after a few years break where I didn't build a single PC, came back to find that Intel owned the market. I wonder where things went wrong for AMD? The old Athlon range used to whoop Pentium for gaming (though Pentium did have the upper hand for multi tasking even back then). Now it seems that AMD are lagging behind in all aspects but their APU, and that's probably thanks to buying out ATI a few years back...

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    sonofsanta's Avatar
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    Things went wrong for Intel AMD once the Core 2 line came out, and it's only gotten worse for them since then - they've more or less stood still on performance as Intel have made them irrelevant on that metric.

    I reckon it's about spot on as spec goes. At this end of the CPU scale, and for gaming, AMD or Intel doesn't really matter, and the spec you're at is more than enough for gaming TBH. I would say that AMD is generally better for the upgrade path - Intel release a new platform for each generation whereas AMD tend to have more in the way of new CPUs slotting into old mobos, but that i3 (or an A8+ AMD chip) will be plenty fine for gaming, GPU will make far more of a difference to how games run. The Intel chip is less power though, so should run cooler and hence quieter - which is relevant given where this box will live.

    In short: i3 fine, don't worry about the i5 upgrade later IMHO.

    Good PSU, good case, always nice when someone doesn't need telling to invest in that area

    Also, on the GPU front, Overclockers have another R9 270X for 15 cheaper this week: HIS Radeon R9 270X IceQ BOOST 2048MB GDDR5 PCI-Express Graphics Card [H270XQ2G2M]
    Last edited by sonofsanta; 13th January 2014 at 10:50 AM.

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    @Gatt - how did you find Aria PC? Never heard of them before but I might give them a try later. I've put my machine together on OC, Scan and eBuyer so far looking for the best fit. Overclockers wins at the moment as they have the Guardia case I want and the saving I make on that over alternative cases elsewhere allowed me to go from a 270 to a 270X. I'm limited as to where to buy from as it'll be a finance purchase.

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    LosOjos's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sonofsanta View Post
    In short: i3 fine, don't worry about the i5 upgrade later IMHO.
    Yeah I am hoping the i3 will be just fine, there won't be a lot of multi tasking going on and AFAIK, there are very few games that take advantage of more than 2 cores.

    Quote Originally Posted by sonofsanta View Post
    Good PSU, good case, always nice when someone doesn't need telling to invest in that area
    I learned the hard way not to skimp on these! Really chuffed with the case here actually, it'll fit perfectly with my AV amp (to be fair, that's what it was designed to do). I really rate these Corsair CX series PSUs too, you can tell some corners have been cut to get the price down compared to their CS range but they're fantastic for the price, haven't had a problem with one yet.

    Quote Originally Posted by sonofsanta View Post
    Also, on the GPU front, Overclockers have another R9 270X for 15 cheaper this week: HIS Radeon R9 270X IceQ BOOST 2048MB GDDR5 PCI-Express Graphics Card [H270XQ2G2M]
    I did notice that but haven't heard of HIS so dodged them TBH - are they OK? Another mistake I've made in the past is buying the cheapest version of the GPU with no regards to manufacturer - had a fair few PowerColor units turn up DOA! (That was a few years back, they may have improved now)
    Last edited by LosOjos; 13th January 2014 at 11:02 AM. Reason: Grammar fail.

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    It has been pretty interesting, when you factor in cost and forget the ultra high-end stuff (400+ on a CPU is pretty niche really). As an overall summary of the last seven/eight years, you can say that Intel have held the CPU performance crown. If you boil it down a bit, AMD have had some compelling products - their APUs (starting with Trinity) have mixed a decent enough CPU (especially the Trinity line, using Stars instead of Bulldozer CPUs) with a capable GPU, at a strong price point. The platforms are usually good value too, with cheap motherboards.

    The Phenom II line traded blows with Core 2, and bested it, when Core 2 was still kept on as the mainstream after Nehalem (Core i first gen). AMD were producing fast quad and hexa-cored CPUs for the same price. Clock for clock they were down, but in threaded work they were superior. So much so, that I still run a Phenom II X4 in my work machine, and see no need to replace it.

    What really knocked AMD about was Bulldozer, and its poor reception and relative performance (plus it was mega-hyped). The architecture has been massively improved since, and hopefully Kaveri (mixing Steamroller with GCN) will start to make this shine. Sadly though, AMDs performance line CPUs just don't have the same appeal - I can't think of a single scenario where I'd spec an FX AM3+ system over a Haswell one.

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    sonofsanta's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LosOjos View Post
    I did notice that but haven't heard of HIS so dodged them TBH - are they OK? Another mistake I've made in the past is buying the cheapest version of the GPU with no regards to manufacturer - had a fair few PowerColor units turn up DOA! (That was a few years back, they may have improved now)
    I've never owned a HIS but I've seen them mentioned for a long time, and there's plenty of reviews of this particular card (one, two, three, plenty of others about) so I wouldn't be overly concerned, personally - but then we all have our own foibles and preferences with regards to brands (personally I don't like XFX these days), and peace of mind may well be worth 15.

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    Gatt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LosOjos View Post
    @Gatt - how did you find Aria PC? Never heard of them before but I might give them a try later. I've put my machine together on OC, Scan and eBuyer so far looking for the best fit. Overclockers wins at the moment as they have the Guardia case I want and the saving I make on that over alternative cases elsewhere allowed me to go from a 270 to a 270X. I'm limited as to where to buy from as it'll be a finance purchase.
    I've pretty much always used Aria and I find them great - I did have a look at Overclockers when speccing my new PC, but stuck with Aria as they seemed slightly lower in price.
    Depends on what you're looking for TBH..

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    LosOjos's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gatt View Post
    I've pretty much always used Aria and I find them great - I did have a look at Overclockers when speccing my new PC, but stuck with Aria as they seemed slightly lower in price.
    Depends on what you're looking for TBH..
    They do seem to be decent prices and I like their "Buy now pay later" scheme (would rather do that than pay finance), just a shame they don't seem to have a suitable case. This one would be perfect if it wasn't for the half-size expansion slots: https://www.aria.co.uk/Products/Comp...roductId=53237

    That said, the BitFenix Phenom is a possibility for another space in my setup, I'll have to measure it but I think this will just fit (seen a few others this size that would fit but the USB were on top, wouldn't have been able to use them): https://www.aria.co.uk/Products/Comp...roductId=58069

    EDIT: well after rebuilding specced around the BitFenix Phenom ITX, I realised there's no space for an ODD which is something of a deal breaker since I want it to play Bluray - then again I'm not sure how "integrated" I could make BluRay playback in XBMC... still have some thinking to do.
    Last edited by LosOjos; 13th January 2014 at 11:58 AM.

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