Build a budget HTPC capable of handling some light to medium gaming (i.e. Steam) and that also complies with the W.A.F. (Wife Approval Factor).
Logic: Originally, I was really leaning towards a case that was actually designed to be a HTPC; something that fit in with other electronic components. I even have a Silverstone that would fit the bill. But I just wasn't feeling it. For starters, most of the models I liked could only accommodate low-profile video cards. Not a HUGE deal, but I kind of wanted to be able to use a full-height card. It probably couldn't be super long, but it wouldn't have to be LP. Then I remembered that I picked up a Cooler Master Elite 120 a while back for next to nothing. I really really liked the case and it was a good deal - I had no choice but to buy it. And I was confident the 120 would be a very worthy candidate for this build.
Experience: For the most part, building with the 120 was freakin' awesome. It is small, no doubt. It's a mini ITX, so it can't hide its diminutive dimensions. Or can it? Everything went in easily and seldom even registering on the Frustration Scale. It took some creativity to make a run at pulling off some decent cable management, but I actually enjoy that challenge. Was cable management as dreamy as the 200R? Well, no, but I wasn't expecting it to be. The 200R is designed to make even a novice builder appear to have some decent cable management skills. The 120 is designed to make the builder think a bit more about how stuff gets routed. Still, it was definitely a lot easier to work with than the Rosewill R379.
Logic: Cheap, current, and decently equipped to do some stuff. I was looking hard at the i3-3200, but once I started reading about the G2120 that became the lead pony. And when I found one for about $50, it was a done deal.
Experience: It's a G2120. It's solid. I haven't really asked it to do much so far, other than some Performance Test runs. And put up with a slew of Windows and driver updates. I'll try to get around to doing a usage update later.
Logic: I wanted something decent enough to handle HTPC duties and that could also hold its own with some modern games. I wasn't looking for Crysis 3 on Ultra or anything, but something that refrains from choking. I picked out a 6670 for the build, but remembered that I still had a HD 7770 GHz from another build (the project was restructured then shelved) that was new in the box. So the 7770 it is.
Experience: Like the processor, so far so good. I haven't set it up in the living room yet, so can't really say how it does with videos, gaming, or anything else on the big screen. Again, I'll try really really hard to update this build with some usage feedback.
Logic: I seldom fit anything with less than 8GB and 16GB is preferred. I seem to find pretty good deals on the stuff, so I'm often getting 16GB for only a few bucks more than 8GB. I know a lot of people lean on minimal RAM, but my experience is that builds rarely suffer from having too much available RAM. Software has an amazing ability to discover new ways to attach its self to RAM. So I went with 16GB.
Experience: Happy. This little machine has lots of available RAM and rocked out on the Performance Test memory scores.
Logic: I needed a mini-ITX that could handle at least 16GB of RAM, was LGA 1155, USB3.0, and strongly preferred built-in WiFi. I'd actually tried a few other options, but always seemed to wind up blocked by unexpected obstacles (one move was discontinued, another was a brick and the last one available, another backordered, blah blah blah). It was that crap that led me to pay as much as I did for this one. I know there are higher-end ones, but that wasn't a goal. In fact, budget was part of the goal. I was aiming for $50-75 for this component, but, again, with the string of false starts I was happy to spend $100 if it actually got things moving.
Experience: Things got moving. I really like this mobo. Feature-rich enough to be impressive, but humble enough to stay budget. I did have to update several drivers (i.e. Ethernet, wireless, USB 3.0, etc.) before it was fully functional, but I was gonna be doing that anyway. If I recall, this only supports up to 1600 RAM, which is fine because I'm using 1600 RAM. And I know UEFI isn't new anymore, but after working with a couple standard BIOS builds, I was happy to be working with UEFI again. Anyway, all good with the mobo.
Logic: Speed and space. I don't want to be waiting for things to boot or load on this thing. Ain't got time for that. SSD to the rescue. But I also wanted a place to put stuff. 2TB HDD will do just fine. I looked into SSHD's but IMO the premium to be an early adopter outweighs the benefits. Dual drives it is.
Experience: I've kinda gotten into the habit of including SSD/HDD into most of my builds lately. Sure, it'd be nice to get a 1TB SSD, but that would cost as much as two of these builds. And, to be honest, the dual drive scenario has been working out really well across the board. This one PROBABLY could have gotten away with just an SSD, but for $80 why not have 2TB of space readily available, right? I agree.
Logic: Initially, I was thinking modular. I just like modular PSUs better. However, this was budget-minded, so there really wasn't a need to throw money at modularity for the sake of being modular. And the CPU and video aren't going to be drawing tons of juice, so $20 for a non-modular 430W Corsair would do just fine.
Experience: Turns out I needed almost all of the connectors coming off the PSU, so part of the benefit of going modular would have been lost on this build. I've used Corsair PSUs several times, and so far they've done great. This one seems to fall in line with its brethren. And it does so nicely and quietly. The sleeving is pretty sad, but whatever. This isn't one of those "Look at my insides!" type of builds so who cares. In fact, part of this machine's job is to be inconspicuous. So fancy sleeving would have been a waste. Though, had they been able to do it for $20, I wouldn't have pushed it away :D
I'm really happy with how this build came together and how it turned out. It's compact, it's snappy, and it boots in about the same time as it took to type this sentence.
With the lid off, the visual eyesore of the PSU cables horrifies my aesthetic mind. It felt like I was building a strip mall in the rainforest; it was just wrong. I liked how it looked BEFORE adding the PSU. But, once it's lidded, no one can see anything anyway. And functionally, it's fine. Fans have clearance and temps stay cool. I'm the only one who feels the pain :P
Budget wise, I'm happy with how things went too. I think I got some of the stuff for less than what I ended up posting (via rebates and such) but am certain the total did not exceed what is shown. I'm pretty sure it was right on the $500 line, but we'll call it sub-$600.
I love this case. I like how it looks and I liked building a system in it. I'm certain my wife will dig it too - especially if I can successfully blend it in with the surroundings. I actually think the biggest challenge will be building a user experience that is as comfortable and unobtrusive as our current cable experience is. That's when I'll truly be able to tell if this was Mission Accomplished :)
Notes: The trained pcpartpicker eye will notice in the gubbins pic that the PSU box is for the CX430M instead of the CX430. I couldn't find the CX430 box and had the M on hand for another project so I used it as a stand-in. You'll also notice there is no RAM in the gubbins pic but it's in the build pics. Again, couldn't locate packaging and didn't feel like taking out the RAM for the class picture. You'll also note that the DVD drive probably isn't the Asus or whatever I picked. I had a DVD drive on hand so I used it. It's a DVD drive. Finally, the stock CPU cooler works great and is quiet, so I didn't need to get an aftermarket (which is why there isn't one in the group pic).
2013-09-21 Update: Hooked up the new build to the living room TV last night and installed Plex. Added some media folders from the network into Plex and tried out some video watching. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0369339/, to be specific :D Everything looked & sounded great, but it seemed like there was a tiny bit of audio lag. I'm gonna try playing some movies directly from the network and also locally, just to see if Plex is introducing some weirdness.
I also installed Steam, but we haven't installed any games yet.
It's not quiet enough. It's quiet, but I I think I may start tinkering with increasing the silence. I'm hoping it's mostly case fans b/c that's a cheap & easy fix. It doesn't seem like it's coming from the PSU, which is good. I'm also hoping it's not coming from the video card. I have a fanless 6670 so I could go that route, though I'd really like to stick with the 7770. I know Sapphire had a passive 7770 and PowerColor is supposed to have a passive 7850, but I haven't seen much about either.