Hard Choices: Build Your Own Steam Box

By Jeremy Laird on March 18th, 2013 at 1:30 pm.

Why wait for Gabe Newell to wax his generous whiskers and turn up fashionably late to the launch party? Build your own Steam Box today. Or perhaps getting a pre-order in for Xi3′s today-it’s-official-tomorrow-it-ain’t Piston is a good idea? Yes, there have been some odd goings on. But all this PC-as-games-console jazz does throw up several interesting questions. Like what does it take to build a Steam Box yourself? Does Piston have plausible gaming chops? And can the official Steam Box compete with those evil corporate consoles on price? For answers to these questions three and a generous helping of finger-in-air prognosticating, ride your rodents to the other side…

Before we kick off, there’s an intriguing alternative to all this Steam Box shizzle. And that’s game streaming. No, not from the cloud. But using your primary gaming rig to stream games over your home network.

Nvidia is working on just such a technology and Valve has indicated local streaming is indeed part of the overall Steam Box picture (Newell says Valve is in fact working with Nvidia on streaming). On paper it strikes me as a far superior solution for the serious gamer. A single performance PC driving all your gaming devices? No need to stuff proper gaming power into a small box and suffer the inevitable consequences? No need to buy a second PC for your living room? It’s a no brainer.

But it’s not here yet and when it comes there’s cause to think Nvidia’s take at least may have limitations which spoil its appeal. Plans are afoot to revisit the subject in a future article, so I’ll leave that seed planted. Back to Steam Boxes. What do we know?

I’m actually a bit reluctant to attempt definition of the Steam Box thanks to Valve’s typically mercurial approach to product promotion. Why give us a clear idea of what’s going on and when when you can pop up in a random BBC News interview and use that as a platform to keep us all posted?


Product PR, Newell styleee

Anyway, Newell says Steam Box is all about delivering the “openness and flexibility of a PC done in a way that works well in a living room”. He’s hinted the machine will have some kind of biometrics for tracking the emotions or “arousal” of users as they play. I have no real idea what that means. Valve is rumoured to be playing all kinds of funky gaming interfaces and will trial various different controllers during the customer beta phase, which is apparently a few months away.

There are also quite a few questions surrounding software, particularly given Valve’s intention to make its own Steam Box a Linux rather than Windows device, not to mention Newell’s slightly crazed anti-Windows, end-of-days rants. But when you start factoring in those variables, things get a bit out of control. So, for the purposes of this piece, we’ll stick with the core gaming hardware. The box itself.

Piston pot

From what I can tell, the definition of the box is pretty broad and includes thin clients and the aforementioned local streaming. At least it is if you include third-party boxes. I think Valve’s own product will come in a couple of flavours with dedicated CPUs and GPUs. Newell has spoken of a general good-better-best approach to offering a few different SKUs and has also mentioned Bigfoot and Littlefoot development devices.

Already that begs comparison with Xi3′s Piston, which uses an AMD A10 fusion chip with CPU and graphics on the same chip. That’s kind of critical, because in my view there aren’t any PC-compatible CPU-GPU chips (otherwise known as APUs) available today or due out soon that are good enough for a dedicated gaming device.


Look familiar? It’s Xi3′s 7 Series PC

Dandy for a bit of casual gaming? Yes, but not for a device which exists primarily to game. One major reason is memory bandwidth. Current APUs use CPU-style memory controllers, whereas the Sony Playstation 4′s PC-derived (but not strictly compatible) APU uses a graphics-orientated memory controller. So it has in excess of 10 times the bandwidth. It has about three times the raw graphics grunt, too, but it’s that order of magnitude advantage in bandwidth that really tells.

Thus, I’m going on record to say I don’t like the cut of Piston’s jib as a game console. It’s not powerful enough. However, what Piston does do is provide a marker regards pricing. Xi3′s pre-order page puts the entry-level model with that AMD A10 chip and a 128GB SSD at $899.

Homebrew hottie

That’s £595 and it’s preposterous. You could buy a pretty decent entry-going-mid level gaming laptop with a discrete GPU and a screen for that much. So, the question is, can we do better building our own?

To my mind there are two obvious options here. A swanky Shuttle PC or something home-brew based on an ITX board. Either way, support for a proper add-in graphics card is critical.


Genre defining: Shuttle’s pricey XPC

Shuttle’s Z77 box costs £300, which is pretty painful before you’ve added any of the core components. So’ I’d be inclined to go ITX homebrew and try something like the BitFenix Prodigy.

The design vibe, if not the engineering integrity, is mini PowerMac and it looks to have lots of performance-friendly features. For starters, it takes a full ATX power supply, so you’ll have no problems keeping it juiced. Of course, it’ll accommodate a pukka, dual-slot graphics card.

It’s also just big enough to give you lots of cooling options. It’ll swallow a closed-circuit water cooling solution with a 120mm rad like the Corsair H100, for instance. Nice. You also have the option of going for a big, fat passive cooler for the CPU. Either way, you should be able to keep CPU-related noise to a minimum.

Using an SSD obviously helps with both heat and noise, so that’s just a question of how much you want to spend, though 240GB feels like the bare minimum for a healthy Steam library. Which leaves the GPU. There are quiet cooling options, but realistically, if anything’s going to generate noise niggles, this is it.

Pricing up performance

So what would it cost to build a homebrew Steam Box from the Prodigy? A package with a Z77 board and Corsair 600W PSU installed is £230 from Overclockers.co.uk. Let’s go for an Intel Core i5-3570K for £175 and a Radeon HD 7950 for £240. As for storage, you can now snag a decent 240GB SSD for about £100, so let’s go with that. Call it another £50 for 8GB of memory.


BYOB: The homebrew-ITX option courtesy of the BitFenix Prodigy

Grand total? £795 without an OS. Yikes. But it would annihilate the new consoles. On the other hand, you could certainly shave some cost out of that by winding back on a few options. Maybe a lower clocked Core i5 quad? Minus £35. A Radeon HD 7850 for PS4-matching graphics grunt? Lose £100.

OK, you could go for something seriously poverty-spec on the CPU side and combine it with the cheapest AMD ITX board you could find. But even a crappy quad-core AMD FX chip will only save you £45 or so, so I reckon it’s a false economy. Anyway, it’s hard to see how you’re going to get the whole thing sub-£500 unless you really crush the gaming performance.

Now factor in the Xi3 Piston’s £595 list price and you have to wonder whether Valve can get anywhere near the consoles for price. Yes, it’ll ship with Linux, so there’s no OS tax. And maybe Valve can sort a nice bulk purchase deal on some AMD CPUs. But I reckon the GPUs will be pricey mobile chips, which won’t help. And I assume there won’t be any hardware subsidy like the consoles tend to enjoy.


Is ITX the answer?

Overall, I fancy we’re talking £400 minimum for a PS4-equivalent Steam Box with a good discrete GPU and adequate solid state storage, and quite possibly a bit more. The higher end model has got to be well over £500. Valve may offer an entry-level version with sub-console specs, too. There are two ways of looking at all that. On the one hand I’m thinking, hmmm, £500-ish for a properly gameable, really small form factor PC? Nice.

On the other, it’s a trickier proposition when you compare it to consoles. Sony hasn’t priced it up yet, but the likely range for PS4 is £300 to £400. So it’s all depends on how things play out. If the Steam Box comes in towards the bottom of its price window and the PS4 towards the top, things will be very interesting indeed.

But personally, I’d probably rather pay an extra £100 up front for something fully upgradeable like the homebrew ITX option. Because it’s upgradeability that could be the biggest problem for Steam Box. If it’s just a generic SFF PC using standard components, you wonder what’s the point. So surely it will be something a bit more radical than that.

To me, that means custom components. And custom components are never a good thing for user upgrades. And not being able to easily upgrade a PC means its lost one of its key advantages over a console.

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87 Comments »

  1. MiniMatt says:

    Oooh, now local streaming could indeed make a lot of sense. Despite the tech not really being up to speed I’m wondering how much success one could have with a KVM switch and some really long video leads and a USB hub.

    Absolute silent local computing.

    edit: and definitely with you on ITX. Quite why full fat ATX remains the standard these days strikes as bizarre. Even m-ATX boards are likely to sit with several forever empty PCI slots.

    • solidsquid says:

      Never mind a computer in every home, how about a server closet in every home?

      Actually, running a server in a block of flats which lets anyone in the building run a virtual machine with decent specs could be an interesting proposition…

      • HothMonster says:

        If no one in the flat wanted to play games that would be relatively cheap and easy. When you start virtualizing machines that can run games though things get pricey, you need a blade stuffed tot he brim with gpus.

        • Subject 706 says:

          @HothMonster
          Quite possibly a future solution, it would sure be practical.

          • HothMonster says:

            Some day certainly. But, as far as I know, for the time being virtualization is still not any good at splitting a gpu to work over multiple VMs, like it can with a cpu.

            I can get a server blade with two 32 core cpus and run a stupid amount of VMs that you can use for office work, browsing the web and what not. If you want to play games though you need a personal GPU which isn’t cheap but even not cheaper are the server blades that hold lots of gpus.

            Eventually though VMware (or a competitor) will support remote hardware and you will be able to buy a zero client with a built in gpu that the VM can utilize.

            The next day I will be going around to college towns proposing this idea to every apartment manager that will listen to me.

    • Crimsoneer says:

      Yeah, every time this gets discussed, I always feel streaming is a far more sensible solution. I have one uber computer. I mean, if OnLive/Gaikai can stream video and input over hundreds of miles with acceptable lag, why is it so hard to do that over wifi in my house? Why can’t I have a small “Steam Box” that’s just a bunch of USB ports for mouse, KB, and controllers, a wifi receiver, and something to make it all work?

      Or does that exist already, and I just don’t know about it?

      • Smashbox says:

        Come on, knowledgable readers. Tell me how I can do this, too.

        • MiniMatt says:

          Doing it over ethernet, whether wireless or wired, some H.264 codec based thingy like – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvEcGUF37v0 might do it.

          Wonder about bandwidth though. A regular HDMI cable is capable of many gigglybits of bandwidth – though I confess ignorance as to how many gigglybits are used or necessary before discernable degradation in responsiveness becomes apparent in random streams (ie. games, movies are predictable content suited to block based transmission).

      • battles_atlas says:

        Why doesn’t this exist already? Beyond the fact that the industry is designed around selling us expensive kit and this would be wonderfully cheap I mean. Surely this can be done with existing components – something as bog standard as ethernet could stream video and audio surely? Just something to send back inputs from the other end and job done.

        This tech stuff is so easy.

        • HothMonster says:

          It exists, just needs to be optimized for home use as it is mainly a business thing at the moment. http://www.teradici.com/pcoip-technology.php (VMware is no good for intensive 3d apps yet)

          Gabe did some talks last year about how On-live was the right idea but the wrong execution, streaming over the net is too much but a gigabyte lan should be able to support it. Which is what Nvidia is working on them with http://www.nvidia.com/object/cloud-gaming.html

          And the idea is easy, execution on the other hand is not quite as simple.

        • AbyssUK says:

          Guys, guys guys… I do this already! I have an Acer REVO R3700 and I use Splashtop 2 (http://www.splashtop.com/home).

          Now it doesn’t work in full screen mode [yet] but most games can be fully windowless these days and I can stream from my main pc pretty much lag free via a 100mbps cable connection… with Wifi [N] I do get noticeable input lag though.

          Spashtop 2 is a little different because it streams the audio too, so is perfect for gaming.

      • Cinek says:

        Wireless mouses and keyboards exist for years.
        Wireless monitors are kind of new, but, for example, Samsung and Asus manufacture these.
        So you are perfectly fine to make your own wireless kit.

      • Grey Poupon says:

        It’s doable (and easy) with RTP (remote desktop protocol) for instance. Though some video streaming services block the video if you’re trying to view it through RTP (to limit account sharing I’d imagine), so it’s not perfect. Never tried to play anything through it but I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work.

      • Subject 706 says:

        Well, there is the ASUS WAVI, which does exactly what you want (in theory…). Haven’t tested it though, reviews seem to think it’s ok. Strange that it hasn’t made a bigger splash if it works well.

        • Crimsoneer says:

          That does look like what I had in mind – would love to see some more gaming focused testing though, not at all sure what sort of range it can manage. And that price tag ain’t exactly cheap. But it’s nice! Might splurge at some point.

          Also, surely it would be simpler to just use your existing wifi network, right?

          • Subject 706 says:

            Why don’t we SUMMON THE RPS HIVEMIND, and ask it to test it?

          • Crimsoneer says:

            Is there a special occult chant for that sort of thing?
            Do we need robes?

    • hbarsquared says:

      I’m currently running both HDMI and USB over cat-6 from my PC in the bedroom to my home theater in the living room. It’s a 75-foot (23 meter) run, and after the initial hiccups I haven’t had any troubles. It takes 2 cables for the HDMI and another for the USB, but if you’re willing to pull wires it’s the way to go. I got all the components on Monoprice for just a hair over $100, plus the wireless keyboard, mouse, and Xbox controller.

      • trankzen says:

        If you’re going to pull cables all over the place why not have a couple lenghty hdmi cables with an amplifier inbetween, and leave the rest to usb over cat6?

        Might be a bit more costly though.

      • Gryz says:

        It’d be interesting to learn the exact hardware and software that is required to make that work. I guess you use some dedicated hardware to convert HDMI into ethernet, and vice versa ? Loadbalancing it over multiple cables sound even extra complex. And then doing the same thing over USB. I understand that in theory it is possible. I just never read or saw something on the net that does that.

  2. DarlingDildo says:

    How long until someone starts selling cardboard boxes on eBay with STEAM written on them?

  3. Inverselaw says:

    I designed a 500$ micro-atx slim line computer once, the idea being to use it as some kind of super-console. It had a Radeon 6570 for graphics (slimline).

    I’m still probably gonna build it someday, always liked the design.

    • solidsquid says:

      Got a friend just assembled a micro-itx gaming box for (iirc) about $700. It’s a bit bulkier than a standard micro-itx case because she wanted multiple hard disks and full size graphics card, but it’s still pretty tiny

  4. Random Gorilla says:

    Very interesting. I wonder if Valve are big enough to push Intel/AMD into producing a decent APU?

    • Apocalypse says:

      Why they would even need to? The APUs for the new playstations and the ones for the new xbox seem just fine.

      Furthermore AMD already announced that they want to use that GDRR5 shared-memory design as well for the standard PC APUs.
      In other words, those APUs could be ready before the end of the year for the PC market as well.

      With the tech available it is only a question for the designers at valve to build a box that is optimal for cooling and easy to upgrade. This could potential mean custom slots or a design similar to the old mac pros which make maintenance and upgrades a matter of plug and play, including hot swapping drives.

      But well, that is wishful thinking. Time will tell how good the steam box really will be, potential is there, either for success or failure.

  5. Monchberter says:

    Quite happy with my ‘full ATX tower on it’s side’ solution myself. It’s the size of an eighties video recorder and loads of space for all the graphics

    http://store.antec.com/Product/enclosure-veris_media/fusion-remote-max/0-761345-15727-8.aspx

    • Koozer says:

      I miss the days of horizontal PCs. sniff.

    • solidsquid says:

      Whelp, I’ll be saving that for future reference. Been looking out for something exactly like that

      edit: Although yikes, $250 just for the case?

  6. Corporate Dog says:

    My original gaming PC is getting a little long-in-the-tooth, and now sits in an upstairs office, far too close to the kids’ rooms for me to use in late night gaming sessions. My Xbox and laptop have largely taken its place for gaming appliances, though those aren’t perfect solutions.

    I’m also in the process of finishing my basement, so I can return to the glory of playing on my big screen, which I haven’t been able to do since we moved into the new house.

    And given our recent cable TV cord-cutting, I’d have to buy a Roku box or some such ANYWAY.

    It’s like a perfect storm of excuses to build my own Steam Box-A-Like.

    • Cinek says:

      Laptop is a PC too, you know ? ;)

      • Corporate Dog says:

        Sure, sure. Albeit with a dedicated graphics card that can’t be upgraded, a cpu that can’t be upgraded, and general system architecture that isn’t particularly conducive to playing with the maximum graphics settings.

        XCOM was quite playable on it, if not always snappy.

        • Apocalypse says:

          These days even the GPUs in laptops can be upgraded. IIRC Sony has done this with the wonders of PCI-E and an external GPU-Box. It helps with the cooling as well and is imo a wonderful solution for this kind of problem.

  7. Phantoon says:

    Price the PS4 at the abysmal 600$ price range again? No way in hell. Sony knows it’s basically suicide to do that again since it was poorly received last time. They’ve even gone on record as acknowledging it was a terrible move. $499 is probably going to be the highest it goes.

  8. amateurviking says:

    It really is the potential for a local streaming option that makes me sit up and take notice. It seems like the perfect solution for me, and I imagine a lot of people (round here at least) who already have a capable machine.

  9. seamoss says:

    Are the latest crop of AMD CPUs still “bad” (i.e. not as good as Intel) for gaming? I’ve always been an AMD guy and my current rig is pushing four years so it’s time for a replacement. Is it still a “Intel single-core performance beats AMD single-core” situation?

    • Brun says:

      Intel is kicking AMD’s ass in pretty much every category except price right now. And although you’ll pay more for Intel, the general consensus is that it’s well worth it.

      • Apocalypse says:

        Is performance/price not the only category that matters anyway? ;-)

    • big boy barry says:

      Intel for processing everytime. Not so clear cut in the GPU department.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      You could compare performance between AMD and Intel procs all day, but if you’re happy with your current AMD setup you’ll probably be happy with another one.

    • reggiep says:

      Consoles always have a lower cost of entry, but the total cost of ownership is actually higher. Software on the PC is generally cheaper, and Steam sales make it considerably cheaper. Consoles typically have some type of yearly online subscription fee that can total $500 or more over the life of the console. Consoles typically have proprietary input devices and components that can be quite expensive (see the price of the 120GB xbox HDD).

      So, yes, consoles are subsidized because these companies know they can milk more money out of you in the long term on the games, the components and the additional services. But when you consider cost alone, dropping $900 on a gaming PC is not a bad move financially. And for those with PCs already, a $200-400 upgrade is way more appealing than a new locked-down console purchase.

      The fact of the matter is that I don’t give a damn if people prefer consoles over PCs. I just want the PC to be the primary development platform as it should be. Consoles should be getting PC ports instead of the other way around.

  10. Malcolm says:

    The Fractal Design Node 304 is a nice itx enclosure that can accommodate full size GPUs and can be had for £70. No external drive slots which might be a show stopper for some I guess.

    • Snargelfargen says:

      Take that, a 450 watt psu, i3 3220 and a Radeon 7850. Bam. A LOT cheaper than the article’s suggestion and it will still run everything on high (medium settings for Crysis 3 and probably GTA 5 ) at 1080p.

      Laird’s advice is usually good, but the steambox example he provided is overspecced and unnecesarily expensive. Don’t need a 600 watt psu for only one gpu, the 7950 is overkill for 1080p and the bitfenix comes at a premium.

      A pre-fab steambox for $600 is definitely doable if economies of scale come into play.

      Edit: Looked up parts for the system above… comes to well under £550/$680: http://pcpartpicker.com/p/KBDK
      Add another 100 for a 660ti or a 240gb ssd instead of the hdd.

  11. Sparkasaurusmex says:

    I’m sure many want a small machine if they’re too hook it up to a TV, but remember it isn’t necessary. You can have a giant beast of a tower and it will work great via HDMI to the TV. Of course you need the room for it.

  12. stupid_mcgee says:

    He’s hinted the machine will have some kind of biometrics for tracking the emotions or “arousal” of users as they play. I have no real idea what that means.

    It’s official, then. Steam Box will incorporate biometric teledildonic tech.

    You heard it here, first, folks!

    • Radiant says:

      WHO WILL ANSWER THE CALL?

      • jalf says:

        *picks up phone*

        Hello?

        • Radiant says:

          Teledildonics.
          Slightly more than flavour in your ear.

        • stupid_mcgee says:

          Ring ring ring ring ring ring ring dildo phone!
          Ring ring ring ring ring ring ring dildo phone!
          I’ve got this feeling, so appealing,
          For us to get together and fap. Splooge!

          Ring ring ring ring ring ring ring dildo phone!
          Ding dong ding dong ding dong ding gigantic-black-dildo phone!
          It vibrates in ecstasy, I’ve got a separate pump for my testes!
          It’s the best! Beats the rest!
          Cellular, modular, telephonyvagular!

          Ring ring ring ring ring ring ring dildo phone!
          Boop-boo-ba-doo-ba-doop!
          Ping pong ping pong ping pong ping vagina phone!
          It’s no bolagna, it ain’t a phony!
          My cellular dildo phone!

          • phelix says:

            “Ecstasy” and “testes” don’t rhyme. Harrumph.

          • HothMonster says:

            What immortal hand or eye
            Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

          • stupid_mcgee says:

            Actually, Phelix, they do. It’s called a general rhyme, and specifically I’m stressing assonance rhyming in an imperfect scheme that relies on the stressing of the end of “ecstasy” to rhyme with the ending vowel in “testes.” This was much more common in songs before the 70′s. You still hear it today, but not as much.

            It’s a common fallacy that rhymes must match perfectly, as with the aptly named “perfect rhymes.”

  13. Sakkura says:

    You’re saying the problem with the APUs is memory bandwidth. That’s true, but it’s not because of the memory controller per se. It’s because of the type of memory. Dedicated graphics cards use GDDR5, a type of memory optimized for graphics usage. It amps up bandwidth hugely, while worsening latency. DDR3 is used for system memory and for some cheap graphics cards. It has much better latency, which matters for the CPU side of things.

    What Sony is doing with the PS4 is taking an APU and using GDDR5 memory for both system memory and graphics memory. That helps the graphics side a LOT but hurts the CPU side. That’s a big conundrum with APUs – you end up hurting performance no matter what memory you choose.

    • jalf says:

      So, do you actually have any data on *how* bad memory latency is with GDDR memory?

      I haven’t been able to dig up anything concrete about it, but people keep repeating the same vague “much worse latency”.

      (Also, the bandwidth problem *is* because of the memory controller, in a sense. GDDR uses a dedicated memory controller per RAM module, for a direct point-to-point link. DDR uses a single memory controller connected to a system-wide bus for communicating with *all* your system RAM. So it doesn’t really make sense to separate them, and talk about GDDR without the GDDR memory controller. But without this layout, GDDR memory would not be able to achieve the bandwidth it does)

      • Sakkura says:

        Sisoftware has some data on it, and it IS bad. But also complicated.

        http://www.sisoftware.net/?d=qa&f=gpu_mem_latency

        As for the memory controller – the memory controller is not a problem, it’s simply a consequence of the choice of memory. Choosing DDR3 memory is what hurts the APU graphics performance, not the memory controller which is just a consequence of that choice.

        • jalf says:

          I’m not sure what you’re trying to say wrt. the memory controller. The design chosen enables vastly better bandwidth for GDDR (and apparently DDR4 is going to go the same route, interestingly). But it is not “just a consequence”, it is also the cause of some of the performance characteristics.

          Anyway, I commented on your link over here, in the “Ask AMD anything” thread.
          Short version: it looks to me like you’re misreading it (or rather, you only read part of it)

  14. Radiant says:

    I have a steam box.
    Although it’s usually called a kettle.

    It came in a snazzy black colour.

  15. Radiant says:

    sorry.

  16. Syt says:

    Did you guys make an Apache Indian reference in the Newell pic caption? :D

  17. Hrofty says:

    I already posted it before, but here a guy build realy small micro-atx machine using a bit of soldering and aluminium angles.

    And its looks like this.

  18. Iain says:

    This build is very similar to the PC Gamer Rig – it even uses the BitFenix Prodigy.

  19. sophof says:

    Imo a working thin client would effectively kill consoles and I’m guessing valve is thinking the same. It would take a while for people to understand/get used to it, but the advantages are clear. Everyone needs a computer anyway, might as well upgrade it to play games.

    My spider sense tells me the only challenge is latency, gigabit should be enough for the data bandwidth. Another challenge is to get it to work universally, which is probably what nvidia is working on I would assume (doing some encoding/decoding work on a graphics card on both the client and the server).

  20. DickSocrates says:

    Let’s cut the crap here guys. What kind of PC can I build for £85? I’m looking to run all modern games for the next 10yrs+

  21. x3m157 says:

    For a while, I actually had my gaming computer in a cardboard box. Partly because then I could call it my cardboard ‘box’, but mainly because a powerful graphics card does most definitely not fit in a slimline case :P

  22. Wedge says:

    ITX form factor is way too pricy for a budget build unfortunately, and frankly isn’t going to save much space if you’re tossing a big arse video card on it in a case with a full ATX sized PSU. There are some comparably small Micro-ATX cases out there, which lets you get the much cheaper and more efficient B75 motherboards for a baseline system. I put a G860 (poor man’s I3) in a B75 with a salvaged old 4850 and PSU in a plain jane Rosewill case, and am using that as my “Steambox” and media center. Cost me less than $200, though I only had to buy a mobo, RAM, CPU, and case. Obviously won’t play the latest games, but it’s only designed for casual couch gaming anyways with controllers. And it runs Lego LotR just fine, so it does everything I need it to.

  23. stalker says:

    Not sure if this has had attention here on RPS.
    A couple of guys on the [H]Forums decided to launch a crowdsourced miniITX case project.

    The Indiegogo campaign for the prototype has been completed and LianLi is currently putting finishing touches to it.
    http://i.imgur.com/0UGeZY1.jpg
    http://i.imgur.com/U1In0Zw.jpg

    More images and lots of discussions (crowdsourced/planned) are on the [H]Forums here – http://hardforum.com/showthread.php?t=1717132

    Indiegogo campaign is here -http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/ncase-m1-prototype-a-mini-itx-case

  24. newprince says:

    I too think that local streaming will be the answer eventually. Streaming from other servers not under my control just isn’t attractive to me. Being able to use all my hardware like normal, then just throw it onto my bigscreen and share it with my family or whatever is really all I wanna do. Anything else and I’ll just stick with my normal rig and maybe a console or two for the near future.

    I would love to make a small, subwoofer-size awesome gaming PC for the living room, but I and lots of people simply don’t have the cash, and I also still like having my normal rig. Local streaming already works so well for me with stuff like Plex and Roku, and especially if it starts to open up more it is simply the way to go, as I don’t have cable anymore and will never have it again.

  25. fish99 says:

    I don’t really see the point of a PC in the living room on your TV. It’s a flawed experience because you can’t use a mouse/keyboard acceptably on a couch and there’s whole genres of games which don’t work as well on a gamepad – like FPS, RTS, MMO, management games, etc. Also most PC software isn’t designed to be useable from that kinda distance, so you’re effectively reducing your super-flexible PC into something just for games and movies.

    Just get a comfy chair for your PC instead. When you want to game in the living room, that’s what consoles are for.

    • Sander Bos says:

      Well counterpoints to that are that:
      – a long HDMI cable and an extra wireless keyboard (you can just hook up multiple keyboards to a PC, no extra hubs or KVM hard or software necessary) are relatively cheap, I put in 60 euros on top of the PC and TV and XBox 360 wireless controller I had anyway and hey presto now my PC is also a game/ multimediacenter.
      – My second keyboard lying with my TV is a K400 (google it), and it actually has a nice integrated touch pad and the whole thing is small and light. I would not type a book on it or indeed game on it but it’s actually quite ergonomic, very comparable to a laptop.
      – You have software like steam big picture and XBMC which put a ‘proper’ interface on your media center, but in my experience the standard desktop stuff works fine. Because it’s easy to make the letters bigger or smaller in web browsers and file explorers, and that’s all you really need to work with your PC for media consumption or quickly googling some actor.
      – Not all games work properly in this setup, but games played with a controller do and surprise surprise, there’s a lot of those (I don’t play FPSs on my TV, but I also didn’t play FPSs on my XBox 360).

      I had a Xbox 360 for my games/ mediacenter, and messed around with my TV, and also had a small cheap box to play movies from a USB disk. And you know what? There’s nothing like using VLC which plays everything you throw at it without stuttering or complaning, and Sleeping Dogs on XBox 360 looks like garbage compared to the PC version (even on a relatively lowly HD7850).

      • fish99 says:

        I already have the hardware to do it, and I’ve tried it, but as long as 95% of the games I want to play require a keyboard and mouse, I’m going to get a better experience at my desk. You can’t use a keyboard and mouse comfortably sat on a couch, I’ve tried it.

        Also for most people the idea of trailing a HDMI cable through the house, or across the living room, pretty much kills the appeal.

        • Hypocee says:

          You can use a KBAM comfortably sat on a couch, I’m doing it right now.

          • fish99 says:

            After a while your right wrist will ache, plus the keyboard doesn’t balance well when you’re pressing the normal ‘FPS’ keys on the far left like control, shift etc, plus wireless mice aren’t as good as wired for gaming, plus the surface of the couch isn’t exactly mousemat smooth, plus with a kb/mouse you can’t exactly slouch about (that’s the whole point of being on the couch right?).

            You think it’s a suitable setup for a 4 hr session on a competitive FPS? I don’t. What you’re saying is it’s sorta alright for web browsing and some casual/slow games.

  26. Hypocee says:

    Overall this is badly missing the point. Does an ITX machine fit in my hand? No. Does it run on one-tenth the electricity? No. Those are the sexy parts.

  27. alsonot says:

    The assumption this is a desktop based build using commodity parts is holding everyone back, I also think we’re going crazy with the PSU.

    Consider some gaming laptops; which include many additional costs and yet Acer can jam an i5 and a 640LE into a Ultra-M5-481TG laptop that plays 720P (768) games quite well. It plays skyrim on high at 30fps and sells for $599 direct from the manuf. Take a away a few parts like battery, screen, input, and without doing anything crazy you’ve got a nice low priced pizza box steam box for what, $400 max?

    That example was just a starting point, I’m sure a a few companies can do much better. For a higher price reference step up to a 660Min the lenovo y580, selling for $250 more and Skyrim is at 48fps. I’m pretty sure all that $250 isn’t on the GPU. Better yet, get a laptop mauf. to modify a basic design to use a low end CPU and mid range desktop and GPU in a 2″ tall box and we’re looking at a much lower price.

  28. RockandGrohl says:

    Not trying to be one of those lame-ass advertisers, but my startup company, TNG Systems, has a Mini-ITX Gaming PC, build and assembled and tested and all that, with Windows 7/8 installed, from £550. I thought it’s relevant. There are ways to save money, the Silverstone Sugo SG05 is one of them, case and good 300W PSU for £85. Believe it or not, that 300W will power a GTX 660Ti, Quad core Intel and a hard drive easily. When you make it an Intel dual and a 7850 you get a pretty beast budget system.

    • Jambe says:

      Just looked at your site; pity about the flash-based UI. The builds you offer look quite nice, though!

  29. Jambe says:

    I’ve said it elsewhere so I’ll say it here, too: the BitFenix Prodigy, while nice, takes up 26.3 liters of space, and yet there are mITX cases that take up barely 10 liters! The Silverstone PS07 takes up only 31 liters of space and can fit a microATX (mATX) motherboard (so that’s 4 DIMM slots instead of 2 and more room for graphics & storage). You can also find like a dozen other nice mATX cases in the 20-30 liter range… long story short, I think if you’re gonna go mini-ITX, at least use an appropriately-sized (10-20 liter) case (and that would generally mean eschewing a big GPU, but again, I personally feel the whole point of mini-ITX is its compactness).

    By all means, if the Prodigy is appealing to you and you don’t mind the seemingly contradictory constraints of putting a mini-ITX motherboard in a chassis that big, use the Prodigy!! It just seems a bit weird to me.

    If you were going mATX you could alternatively use a horizontal “set top style” chassis like something from Silverstone’s Grandia series (I like the 22-liter GD06, having assembled a few systems in it).

    That sounded like a Silverstone ad, but I just prefer and have the most experience with their stuff. There are plenty of decent mATX cases out there from e.g. Fractal Design, Rosewill, Lian-Li, etc.