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Build your own Steam Box - Components

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click to enlarge

These concerns are somewhat moot, however, since the EMC-600SL doesn't seem to be available for sale in the UK. That's a shame, since it adds the significant cost of shipping (not to mention the delay of UK customs) to an already hard-to-find case. We'll have to find an alternative for our build.

Still, now we know what components made up that mystery machine, we have a strong base from which to start building our own Steam Box.

The Components
  • Motherboard: Zotac Z68-ITX Wi-Fi Supreme - £180, from Overclockers.co.uk
  • Graphics: On-board Nvidia GT 430
The bottleneck for this build is certainly that GT 430. It's an entry-level GPU from 2010, so it's pretty anaemic by today's standards. Then again, we're not going to be using this box to play ARMA 2 or Battlefield 3.

We're building a box for sofa games, most of which are still developed with the seven-year-old hardware in current consoles in mind. Take a glance over the list at Futuremark's game requirements checker and you'll find that the GT 430 is actually adequate for a huge back catalogue of modern games. It'll even run Skyrim.

The CPU and RAM

Still, it does mean that the other specifications look pretty overkill by comparison. 8GB of RAM seems particularly indulgent given that, even now, few games ship with 64-bit or large address aware executables that can use more than 3GB. In the sort of games this system will be playing, we're simply not going to notice the benefit of much beyond 4GB. While RAM is pretty cheap these days, there's no point in purchasing an extra 4GB that will simply sit unused for almost all of its life.

Equally, the i7 CPU in Coomer's Steam Box is unlikely to be stressed by keeping up with the GT430. The i7-2600S can be had for around £225 at the moment (from Scan.co.uk), but an i5-2400S will set you back only £152, and again, you're unlikely to notice a real-world performance drop from going with the cheaper of the two. For my build, I went even cheaper (by a mere £8) and opted for the slightly faster i5-2400; that, however, was almost certainly a mistake, as we'll see later.
  • RAM: Corsair CMSO4GX3M1A1333C9 4GB DDR3 Laptop Memory - £12.75, from Amazon (sold by Base)
  • CPU: Intel i5-2400 - £144, from Amazon
But, if you're trying to replicate this build, you should almost certainly stump up the tiny extra cost for an Intel i5-2400s - £152.58, from Scan.co.uk. It's worth noting at this point that the Zotac motherboard uses two SO-DIMM memory slots for its RAM, rather than the larger, more common DIMM slots. That limits the choice of RAM to those sticks usually sold online as "laptop" memory. The board also has a maximum RAM clock speed of 1333MHz (or PC3-10600, as it's sometimes - confusingly - called). The Corsair memory selected above is what I used, and meets these requirements nicely.

The Case

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

As I said before, Coomer's Habey EMC-600SL isn't an option in the UK, and its power supply is "too puny" anyway; we'll need to find something else. There are plenty of Mini-ITX cases on the market, and many of them have dimensions small enough to take advantage of the space savings made by opting for on-board graphics. Not many of them supply the kind of power we need, however.

With the components selected above (and particularly with my relatively power-hungry i5-2400), we're probably looking for a PSU that can shift 200W at least.

Antec make a range of Mini-ITX cases that are comparable in size to the Alienware x51, with a smallest dimension of 96mm (3.8"). Unfortunately, they're intended for HTPCs with rather less gaming capability than our machine, so they come with difficult-to-replace integrated PSUs that top out at an inadequte 150W.

Antec also produce the 200W PSU. Supplying a maximum of 168W on its two 12V rails, it ought to be just barely up to the task of powering our parts, but its standard TFX form factor means that it can easily be replaced if we run into problems down the line. Perfect.
  • Case: Chieftec FI-01B - £62.83 from Amazon
Drives

Coomer probably used an mSATA SSD like this one to save on space, but at £150 for 120GB that's an expensive option. The Chieftec FI-01B has room for a standard 3.5" HDD and an externally-facing slimline optical drive, so let's take advantage of that.
  • Seagate Barracuda 500GB 3.5" SATA 6Gb/s 7200 RPM - £58.78 from Scan.co.uk
  • Samsung SN-208BB/BEBE DVD Writer - £16.78 from Scan.co.uk
Note that slimline optical drives use different SATA connectors to normal drives. To connect this one to the Zotac motherboard and the case's PSU, you'll need an adaptor like this one.

Total cost of components: £480.72

Now we just need to put all that together.