... because I can.
Don't get me wrong, it is really fun to have a decent budget to work with and deal with the first-world problem of too many choices. I've got a trading machine I am in the process of upgrading and I'm really digging where it is going. However, it kinda of misses the boat in the challenge department. So I set up my own challenge: design and build a Haswell-based system with an increasingly tightened budget.
I started with a $500 budget and that was very easy. Still way too many choices. $400 wasn't much better. When I got to a $300 budget, things started getting interesting. I felt I had a pretty solid entry, but still sensed I could do better. $250? After flexing my minimalist design muscles, this level really started to test me. But I was still able to come up with a few suitable builds. Okay. Go big or go home: $200 budget.
Initially I was trying to stick with a completely non-rebate based build. It's easy to have a life and forget to send off your forms in time, so I really wanted to steer clear from rebates if at all possible. I did okay, but did end up backing off of the no-rebate stipulation (I think 3 parts ended up having rebates).
Another stipulation was that I couldn't use parts on hand. If I pulled from my inventory, I could build it for about $75. I stuck with this but did incorporate some creative interpretation of the rule (more on that later).
So, to sum it up:
If at all possible ...
And I did it. I'm actually writing this up from the new build. One of the craziest things? This machine was one of the easiest to complete. Seems like I blinked a couple of times and POOF! - we were heading into POST.
I usually do a pretty involved breakdown of the parts, but this one is gonna be pretty abbreviated. Well, I say that. I haven't written it yet, so I could be lying to you in the end.
CPU - $60 for a current gen Intel CPU. Done. A couple of nice features are the on-board graphics and that the CPU accepts ECC RAM (more on this later). One POSSIBLE downside is that, according to Intel, this chip maxes out at 1333 for the RAM. For me, this wasn't a big deal. And the limit doesn't mean you can't use higher clock RAM, you just won't get anything over 1333.
Mobo - A Military Class 4 mini-ITX 1150 board with USB 3.0, Sata3, up to 32GB RAM, all for under $30? Sold. One of the coolest things was, after installing the OS, I was up and running. No need to do any updates or driver stuff to get it up and running. Of course, I did start doing the updates, but it wasn't required to be functional.
Case - Other than cheap, a luxury I REALLY hoped to get was a case with a black interior. Not a must, but I really don't dig the bare metal interior thing. HEC came through with a case for under $10 that fit the bill for me. I like cable management challenges and this case gave me my fix. Because there is no cable management. I'm happy with how it came out.
PSU - Of all things, this was the item I was most concerned about. I've stuck with the biggies like Seasonic, Corsair, XFX, and so forth, but this HEC model was Haswell rated and had a lot of good feedback. It's not a >80%, but it is >75%. Ugly as hell (what's sleeving? XD), but it'll do.
RAM & storage - Whatever. You can always find 4GB of RAM for $30 or less and 500GB-1TB of storage for less than $60.
OS - While you could go with Windows, my intent is (was?) to run a Linux distro of your choice. I threw Win 8.1 on there just to put something on there.
And there ya have it. For $200, you can build a working, usable PC running on the latest Intel Haswell architecture.
Cheats & Confessions I used a 500GB HDD I had on hand. I started to actually buy a 1TB Blue, but that's silly. I don't need it. If you built something similar, you know you can get a lot of storage for less than $60. I also used two sticks of 2GB RAM that I had on hand. It's ECC, but this chip/board combo is totally cool with it. If you're willing to bend the budget up to about $215, you can easily bump this up to a 8GB build. I also had to replace the stock exhaust fan because I tore the connector from the cables. My bad. And I added a 120mm fan (from a 4-pack I got a while back for $8-12) on the front.
Happiest moment - When I was messing around with the front facing and dropped it, which resulted in a crack on the top (see picture). I was happy because this could have happened to me during any build, but when it did it was during a build with a $6 case :D
Lesson learned from project - You can build a modern PC for not a lot of scratch. And that it's fun to figure out ways to fit a square peg into a round hole ;-)
Update: Just noticed how incredibly dark the pic is of the finished product. I'll upload a better, move discernible pic later. Probably tomorrow. Also, I am sooooooo sad I didn't take a pic of the insides BEFORE I put on my cable management surgery gloves. Oh well :)
Update: Added a better view of the final build. Don't tell it, but I'm actually digging its cheap, unassuming self :P