I built this machine with the intention of using it as a media hub for movies, music and some casual gaming. I also wanted the freedom to do just about anything with it. I looked at the PS4 and XBOX One, but I am all about having the scalability and flexibility of PC over console so the main question was how can I build something better. Right now the new generation of consoles has done a good job of keeping up to about 3 or 4 steps behind PC, however the performance of PC will always be ahead. And that gap will continue to get larger once again as new computer tech finds its way to the consumer.
The first thing I decided on was the form factor. I wanted something small and discrete but also have the ability to run an SLI or CrossFire setup. So I started looking at MicroATX boards and cases that had enough real estate for dual video cards if I decided to go that route. I probably spent the most time looking at countless reviews on cases and finally decided on the Silverstone SG09. This case was chosen because it had everything I wanted in a case. It's silent and made of high quality materials, not to mention the smallest I could get away with.
For the motherboard I basically wanted something that could support all the latest tech and dual video cards like I mentioned above. I decided on the G1 Sniper which places emphasis on audio output which was a big sell for me. As for the processor, I was mainly looking for the cheapest i5 because for what I was going to use it for the i7 would be overkill. Intel is what I have always used and I had no intention of doing overclocking (which you can't do with this CPU) because I really am not that hardcore when it comes to gaming.
As for the main and most important components, the video cards; I wanted something that could blow console out of the water. I haven't been up to date with PC gaming since Half Life 2, so I started looking at the most recent games and the hardware that was required to run them smoothly. I also wanted the capability to play 4k and 3D. I did prefer the idea of having one video card, but I got a sweet deal on two GTX 680s online so I snatched them up quick. Finding a PSU after that was pretty straight forward, I just needed something efficient with enough juice. Of course I needed an SSD for the OS for which I also got a good deal. 128 GB is all I have for storage on this thing. All the content would be streamed from my main PC which is upstairs.
The green and black worked out to be a pretty cool theme even though I didn't intend to have colour coordination. The biggest problem I had was the placement of the PSU wires. A lot of people complained about the wires being stiff and hard to work with, which they were. After a while I managed to flatten them out enough for the shell to slide on. The case has an outdent on the side specifically for the PSU cables, but in my application it needed to be be even more outdented. This however would probably affect the overall aesthetics of the case. The other problem I faced was that I forgot to put the back plate of the motherboard on and I realized this after finishing all the cable management. I had to apply a little force to get the plate in without having to remove the motherboard.
Working with the case I started to understand the amount of thought that went into the engineering of it. Silverstone really thought of every way to make the most of limited space and they even provided a manual outlining different build processes so you can't go wrong. The dust filters are awesome and it comes with little adhesive dampers for the optional fan and optical drive to reduce vibration and noise. What PC builders want is flexibility in options and that is exactly what they have provided.
The outcome of this project was exactly what I wanted to accomplish. I have it outputting to a BenQ 1070 projector in my living room which is the best 3D projector you can get for the price ($900). Projector quality and review aside the HTPC handles everything I throw at it. I use XBMC for the front end which I can't express how great it is. At first I had the content streaming wireless which was painfully annoying due to buffering issues on 1080p video. I changed some settings in XBMC that made it a little more forgiving but decided to hard wire it with some Cat 6 and it became completely up to par with the performance of having local content.
After installing a few games like Battlefield 4, Dirt 3 and Assassin's Creed IV I really have stepped back into the gaming world and the quality is absolutely amazing on a 150 inch screen. For peripherals I have two wireless Xbox 360 controllers connected which are used primarily. I also use my Android phone sometimes which links up directly to XBMC using an app as well as another app to control other things outside of XBMC (when the thing crashes). The case is virtually inaudible until I hear those video cards spool up when I switch to gaming but hardly noticeable when I have the audio up loud which I wouldn't have any other way. Of course I crank up all games to the max settings and the GTX 680s handle it like a breeze.
The speed is incredible. It boots up in way less time than the projector takes to fully load which is about maybe 10 seconds. I intended to have the PC go into hibernate every time for faster boot, but the shut down and start up time is almost instantaneous with Windows 8 on the SSD.
I would like to have more games now and 128 GB isn't enough. As the prices go down on SSDs I will likely be adding a second one which will be simple to install. I also want a method in place to turn on all of my components (projector, receiver and PC) via one central control mechanism. I have a CarPC that I custom built a while back that achieves this. I have it turning on a 7 inch touch screen and two amps when the car starts. In the car audio world the methods of doing this are fairly straightforward.