The HP Envy laptop I had been using to play the Total War series had picked up a bad habit of overheating and triggering the failsafe emergency shutoff, so I needed an upgrade. While I've modified and built a number of machines from spare used parts over the years, this was my first relatively modern build based on mostly brand-new parts. The goal was to get in under $450 for something that would manage 720p 30fps with Ultra textures and MSAAx2, and to that end I succeeded - if anything, I found frame rate ended up largely CPU-limited (as Total War is poorly optimized for multicore processing). Had I a chance to do it over, I'd bump up the budget to $550 to get an unlocked CPU and Z-class motherboard.
No that I'm working on a new, higher-end build this PC will soon be appearing on Craigslist and LetGo ahead of the holidays in the hopes of finding a good home with a young gamer! (And padding my new build budget.)
This is a perfectly capable CPU for a budget desktop workstation, but for games that aren't optimized well for parallel processing the locked clock rate can be limiting.
Not much to say here - it came free in the Intel Core i3-8100 box (which, as a locked processor, is rather undemanding).
I ordered this mistakenly thinking it had two M.2 connections, but in any case the stock BIOS only supports NVMe via AHCI so you can't use two M.2 SSDs in an Intel RST RAID configuration even if you opted for a PCIe Gen 3.0 x4 adapter card in the third slot.
If you're planning on supporting lots of external peripherals via USB 3, consider that this board does not offer 10Gbps USB 3.1 or USB-C. Also, it places the PCIe x1 in the second slot, rendering it useless with a two-slot GPU which additionally forces you to waste the PCIe x4 slot on a x1 device like the TL-WN781ND below. It does however put the IDC 10-pin header conveniently close to the fourth slot so that even just a 3" ribbon cable can reach a bracketed DB9 RS232 COM port for serial cable.
Nota bene, this board does not come with TPM but requires the 13-pin https://www.gigabyte.com/Motherboard/GC-TPM20_S (not the https://www.gigabyte.com/Motherboard/GC-TPM20 for older models with a 19-pin header). But chips like the i3-8100 have a logical TPM device embedded within Intel Management Engine that can be enabled for BitLocker support via the (regularly updated) stock BIOS ROM.
All that said, it absolutely fit the bill for a budget desktop workstation, home theater PC or entry-level gaming rig. And if you're building a somewhat hardened system, having the option to add a discreet TPM along with DualBIOS makes it relatively safe and easy to secure the ROM from Intel ME exploits without losing any measured boot or cryptographic processing functionality while running little risk of bricking the board even if you have to flash the SPI with a SOIC clip for me_cleaner.
So while it's of no use to overclockers, it offers a vastly superior upgrade path to OEM offerings and plenty of configuration features that either don't exist or are considerably harder to find in anything off the shelf. I would definitely recommend it to fellow hobbyists and tinkerers who are looking for a reasonably modern, functional, inexpensive, straightforward and reliable base to build on.
Cheap, reliable, widely available and mercifully free of LEDs.
I bought this new for $164.99 on sale via Amazon in November 2018 and it could definitely handle 720p 30fps+ with MSAA 2x, or 1080p 30fps+ without - or would have if the locked i3-8100 I paired it with didn't bind the frame rate first. Now available used for around $100, it's a great value, especially if you're looking for a small case build thanks to it's compact form factor.
I like the minimalist design and low price, and since I tend to avoid RGB LED items I had no problem with the opaque presentation (rather preferred it). I ended up adding another 120mm fan behind the grid-filtered front panel to promote positive air pressure in the dusty basement office where it was used. The only significant criticism is that it's listed with three SATA drive mounts, but in reality it's three 3.5" SATA drive mounts, as there's only mount points spaced (and hardware included) for two 2.5" drives. I ended up using zip ties to mount a third SSD on the back side of the interior support.
And while the grid filters on all the vents are perfectly functional at keeping relatively large particles from passing through, the attempt to keep the top surface flush with a countersunk filter affixed magnetically largely fails owing to it's tendency to slide on the smooth, matte finish - nevermind that the placement seems ill-considered considering the fact of gravity and the risks to electronic circuits presented by almost any liquid.
Inexpensive, unobtrusive, quiet, reasonably efficient, has a proper rocker-style cutoff switch and performed with rock-steady reliability for the last year: What's not to like?
Wireless Network Adapter
Reasonably priced only at $9.99 or less - anything more than that isn't advised as it only supports up to 150Mbps which means it's not capable of modern broadband speeds, nevermind for NAS on a wLAN. The TL-WN881ND is still suspect at $14.99 for 300Mbps, especially considering that you can get the 1200Mbps H50193 for $19.99, while the either the WIE7265 or WIE8260 offer that and Bluetooth 4.2 besides for $10 more.
I'm not a fan of the "put an LED on it" trend, but I have to admit, having a soft, white light for tinkering in a case while the machine is running can come in handy.
Found for $14.99 at the local Goodwill, it's more sturdy than elegant but still understated while being reasonably crisp and bright - and therefore a good value at twice the price for at gaming at 16:10 1050p <= 60fps, which is about as much as can be expected from a GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB or an Xbox One S in any case. It does not offer integrated audio, but then integrated audio is often quite poor anyway. It also does not offer HDMI or DisplayPort, but then again, it didn't cost much more than an HDMI to DVI adapter that can be found at any BestBuy in order to connect it to a console.
I like the fit and matte, "rubberized" finish and altogether it's a perfectly fine, functional product at a more than reasonable price - but the loose scroll button action and lightweight construction does feel cheap in the hand. Then again, that's just a subjective assessment, and it may have suffered in comparison to my all-time favorite pointer, the Lenovo Laser Wireless Mouse (0A36188), which I tragically managed to break - but only after many, many years of smooth, faithful service.
Still, at only about twice the price, the Lenovo 0A36188 is much more than twice as nice. But the M310 will certainly do in a pinch.
Picked this up secondhand for only $9.99 and even at four or five times that price it offers great sound - the tiny subwoofer set near your feet under a desk can be cranked up to produce a toe-tickling rumble that's surprisingly strong for its size.
A particularly nice feature is that it evenly mixes the signal from up to three inputs, including a male 3.5mm, a female 3.5mm and a stereo RCA, so it's perfect for a multi-monitor, multi-machine setup and makes it easy to layer music from the collection on your mobile phone over the sound effects from your first-person shooter.
And if you're family or your roommate starts to complain about the din, there's a 3.5mm headphone jack right alongside the volume knob.