Up until maybe a year ago I had never done anything more then replace the RAM out of a computer. Within the last year I have built two HTPCs and one Windows Home Server, and I have had the itch to build another PC. I decided this time around I would build a mini-itx HTPC based around the Intel Core i5 (Clarkdale) platform. The main reason why I decided to build around the Clarkdale platform is that it is the first of its kind to support HD Audio bitstreaming without a dedicated card (such as the ATI Radeon 5xxx GPU). The goal of this build will be as follows:
- Size - the smaller the better (you heard that right guys)
- Price – keep under $500
- Noise – quiet, I am not operating an airport out of my house
- Video Playback – must handle all types of content, including my Blu Ray rips, streamed from my Windows Home Server
- Bitstream HD Audio (DTS-MA / TrueHD) to my AVR from standalone mkv/m2ts files
- Intel Core i5 650 CPU – $149.99. I got a great deal from Micro Center, otherwise I would have purchased the Core i3 530 CPU.
- Zotac H55ITX Mini-ITX Motherboard – $144.99. An alternative would be the Intel DH57JG Mini-ITX motherboardwhich was just released (I probably would have purchased the Intel since it is $20 cheaper had it been available when I purchased the Zotac)
- G.Skill 2GB (2 x 1GB) DDR3 SDRAM – $64.99.
- Western Digital Caviar Blue 500GB 3.5″ Internal Hard Drive - $55.99. I ended up replacing with a 2.5″ drive as although a 3.5″ drive could fit you would lose the spacing for a ROM drive.
- Antec ISK 300-150 Mini-ITX Case – $99.99. I ended up spending more on a case then I planned. I was originally planning on going with the Apex MI-008 Mini-ITX case which would have saved $60.
- Windows 7 x32 Operating System – no cost, already owned a license
- AVS Gear MCE Remote – $21.42. I have no intention of using the remote but instead wanted the USB IR Receiver that comes with it so I can use my Harmony Universal remote.
- Scythe S-FLEX 80mmCase Fan – $29.98 (2 fans at $14.99/each). I decided to replace out the stock case fan
- Artic Silver 5 Thermal Compound – no cost, already had from previous builds
- A magnetized philips screwdriver – comes in handy, especially when working in tight spaces.
Total Cost – $567.35. This came in slightly higher then my $500 budget, mostly because I decided to splurge on a case, I went with the core i5 instead of the core i3, and I replaced the case fans. Had I not made these changes my build would have come in at $427.37.Also, I believe I paid a slightly higher price for the Zotac motherboard as it was just released and is the first Mini-ITX motherboard that supports core i3/i5 to hit the market.
Motherboard, RAM, CPU, Case, and a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon
The give you a sense of size, the Antec case can easily accommodate “Dumpy Dumpy” as my son calls it
With the lid removed you can see the case and psu fans along the right side. On the top towards the front of the case is the housing for the hard drive (2 x 2.5″). The hard drive plate can be removed, and right below is a slot for a slim Rom Drive.
The left side of the case is open and where most of the wires will be fished through.
To get ready to install the components the top frame is removed. You can see once again the case fans at the back right of the case. Towards the front of the case is the PSU. The bracket for the case fans and the PSU easily slide out if you need to work with (Hint, if you plan on making any changes to either the case fans of the PSU now is the time to do it as once you get all the components in space gets tight very quick)
Here is the Zotac motherboad unpacked. You can see 6 sata ports (not useful for an HTPC but would be very interesting to build a small Windows Home Server with this motherboard). There is a PCIE x16 slot to add a discrete card. To the left of the RAM slots you can see the wireless card which connects to the back panel.
Here is a view of the rear panel, which includes - 1 x PS/2, 1 x DVI, 1 x HDMI, 10 x USB 2.0, 1 x eSATA, 1 x Optical, 5 x Audio Ports, 2 x wireless N antenna connectors.
One mistake I made was that I installed all the components before deciding I wanted to replace the case fans. Although doable, it was not easy to get the case fan brackets out with all the components in already. By unplugging some of the wires and sliding the PSU out I was able to get the case fan brackets out.
Case fan bracket pulled out of the case with the replacement fans.
Top-side view with everything installed
Side view with everything installed. As you can see, not a lot of room to play with.
The Antec case lying on top of my current HTPC. You can start to get a sense of just how much smaller this build is to a traditional HTPC.
After The Build:
Some noteworthy items:
- By default HDMI audio is not enabled and must be done in the BIOS (silly if you ask me)
- Flashing the BIOS should be done immediately which adds the ability to control the CPU Fan Speed and in the CMOS. Also, it appears the latest BIOS may set HDMI audio at enabled (I cannot confirm since I had already gone into the BIOS and enabled).
- The Zotac motherboard has a Turbo Boost feature which appears to be broken currently. Since I have no need to “boost” this build this is not an issue for me.
- There was mention on the Zotac forum that the PCI-E slot won’t support an x1 device (i.e. tv tuner) and only support a card such as a GPU. However, a member on AVSForum confirmed that they had no issues getting an x1 PCI-E tv tuner card to work.
- Black and white pixels may appear at the right side of the screen when in full screen mode with Windows Media Center. The hotfix can be found here.
- I encountered issues with Wake On over USB via my Harmony Remote + USB IR Receiver. You may have to move the receiver around to different USB ports as it appears only support ports currently work with Wake On (very strange)
- Even with the new case fans the HTPC is still audible. Not horrible, but if the room is quiet you can hear. It does not bother me and eventually the HTPC will be in a cabinet which will mask any sound, but I thought it worth mentioning. I haven’t listened close enough to determine if the noise is coming from the new case fans, the PSU fan, the CPU fan, or maybe all of them.
- Currently DXVA in MPC-HC does not work with the Intel IGP. What this means is that when you try to play a movie in MPC-HC that relies on DXVA, you get nasty green bands/blocks (for me this showed almost every 5 seconds). To fix this for h.264, go into MPC -> View -> Options -> External Filters, add Microsoft DTV-DVD decoder set to preferred, add FFDShow Video Decoder and set to block. The downside is that the Microsoft DTV-DVD decoder does not support DXVA for VC-1. Fortunately Andy Van Till (known as babgvant) has created a Customized Clarkdale VC-1 Decoder that can be used.
- Using my Bitstreaming Part I Guide I had no issues getting bitstreaming to work with either of my Receivers.
- I need to do a little more investigating, but the PQ in MPC with this build seems to be slightly off versus the PQ in my other HTPCs using the 5670 GPU.
- No issues playing back any of my content, including my 1080p Blu Rays rips.
The Ultimate Motherboard For A Small Form Factor DIY Windows Home Server Build?
I was looking back at my build and I thought to myself, this could really be a neat little project for building a small yet powerful Windows Home Server. Using a case like the Chenbro Mini ITX server cases, and with the availability of 10 USB 2.0 ports plus 1 eSATA port, you can keep the build small but with plenty of room to grow with external enclosures. Replace the USB 2.0 with USB 3.0, oh man I am drooling just thinking about it!!!
This is my first mini-ITX build and overall I am happy with it. The Antec case is very sturdy and I feel is the type of case I could see reusing many times. The HTPC is audible, although I am sure there is more I could do to make it as close to silent as possible. There are still a few issues to work out, but I think it I can just find a few hours of quiet time at home I could get everything to where I want it. So what do you guys think, does building a mini ITX PC interest you? How about doing a Windows Home Server build, pretty tempting, huh? I hope you enjoyed this post, feel free to ask any questions or leave any comments, and stay tuned as I hope to do a follow up article about “You just received/built a new PC, now what?”.