My old "incremental" gaming rig has been living the good retirement life as a daily driver for my wife's office PC needs. The only problem was that the Antec Nine Hundred case demands a pretty large footprint on her desk. The system still runs great, but is a bit overkill for her needs. So the primary goal of the build changes would be to give her an "all-in-one" feel by using a case that could hide away behind the monitors. Ideally I wanted to keep the power consumption to a minimum while maintaining enough performance for basic computing needs.
You may notice some older parts in the part list. "Incremental" is still the philosophy at work here, and I was hoping to keep the "downsizing upgrade" budget to under $200. That meant re-using parts from the existing machine where it was reasonable to do so (along with whatever might be sitting in my closet, which is always nice to clear out). In the end, I was able to get away with just picking up a case (which included the power supply), motherboard and processor. The project came in under budget at just around $150.
There were two build designs in final contention for a rear-monitor mount:
A lot of the part choices narrow when choosing such a small form factor. The Intel build wavered back and forth between the G3258 and the i3-4130T and I think that build would have been pretty good (and even smaller!) but I've been eyeing a low-power AM1 build for a few months to use in a specialty build for the garage. In the end, the price point for the AMD upgrade ultimately won out thanks to ability to leverage more parts I already had available.
Part Selection Notes
- Case: I had been eyeing the Antec ISK-110 for some time. I really like the idea of using the monitor's VESA mount to tuck the PC away, and it's reasonably stylish given it does still poke its head over the back of the screen. A NUC or even some of the new Thin-Mini ITX cases could have gotten us a bit slimmer/smaller, but those options would have cost more.
- Motherboard: There's less then a half dozen options with the A1/Mini-ITX setup, and most are pretty similar. Since the case wasn't going to have front panel USB 3 ports, I didn't opt for the slightly more expensive ASRock AM1H-ITX. The MSI AM1I also offers a Mini-PCI-Express card slot which helps my original plan to leverage an Intel 6200 (802.11n) adapter I had sitting around, but neither the back plate nor the case has a mounting hole for an antenna. With that realization, I instead used an Asus USB-N53 adapter I also had in my inventory to get the system running. I still hope to revisit the internal card in the future.
It was a pretty straight-forward build. The internal components for the power supply were already in place, so the progression was: motherboard into case; front panel wires, processor and RAM into motherboard, fan on to the processor, SSD into bracket (backside of case), then cleanup and test.
The SSD was moved over as-is and Windows was able to easily update and reactivate without losing installed programs or personal files. This was a nice time-saver for getting things back up and running.
As you'd expect from such a small case, it can be a bit tight. However, there were never any real issues. While clearly a snug fit for all the stock wires to push into place, the generous use of zip-ties allowed for ample room for airflow before I was done. There is not much room to actually hide wires, but I was happy enough with the results.
We've been very satisfied with the system. For day to day computing needs, the performance has been perfect. After using it for two weeks, I asked if she noticed anything being slower or different. From her perspective, it performs on par with what she had before, so we'll count that as a win.
The lack of USB 3 on the front panel is a bit disappointing as compromises go, but with the case positioned behind the monitor anyway, it's just about as easy to access the rear ports as it is the front when needed.
The system stays cool, uses minimal power, and runs so quiet that you cannot tell that it is turned on if it were not for the front LED.
I will probably go back and add a mounting hole in the case to allow for a WiFi antenna and move back to my original plan for using the Intel 6200 Mini-PCI-Express card. The SSD will likely be the next actual part upgrade. While the space is sufficient, the drive has been in steady use for almost 3 years. I imagine we will eventually upgrade the monitors as well, but for now the system runs (and looks) great while handily accomplishing its mission to reclaim a fair amount of desk workspace.