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The first build: Project Primula (Fanless mini machine)

by fn230


Part List View full price breakdown


Date Published

Nov. 6, 2015

Date Built

Nov. 6, 2015


First build, hence the name Primula. I don't do gaming, so I decided to go build something quiet and low-spec for browsing, documents, videos, and some light coding. No, this isn't really the best bang for buck, but the machine is totally silent and the CPU only draws 6 watts, so that's probably worth something. Could have probably purchased a comparable pre-built system for a little cheaper as well, but I felt like I would miss out on a potentially valuable experience in building one myself. Despite my clumsy hands, constant fretting, and the M350 case's cramped space, everything seems to have turned out OK. I'm pleased with how this turned out and would definitely go this route again for a new computer.

In hindsight, it's possible to go even cheaper with a build like this. Instead of the M350 case and N3150DC-ITX board, I could have gone with the Antec ISK 110 and N3150B-ITX, which would have saved me around $30 while adding an extra two USB ports. Dropping to 4 GB of RAM would further bring the total system cost down to $200. Cable management will probably be worse, but the idea of building such a cheap yet capable computer is extremely tempting. I've saved the parts for such a build here if anyone's interested.


ASRock N3150DC-ITX motherboard/CPU/PSU combo: I'm fairly impressed by this board. It's silent, power efficient, and packs a surprising punch for something that's running off a laptop brick. The Celeron N3150 is snappy for a 6 watt CPU and zips along without any real trouble, even handling 1080p video without breaking a sweat. Can't speak for 4k performance since I don't need it, though I've heard reports of getting it to work. Would happily recommend for a basic budget build or an HTPC.

While idle, the CPU hangs at a comfortable 45 C. Under 100% load, I got it to hit 60 C before I got worried and decided to call off the stress testing. The temperature wasn't really rising anymore at that point, so I guess it'll probably cap at around 63 C. If you're going to be doing crazy things with it, you should probably get a fan or replace the stock thermal paste.

M350: This diminutive case is a natural fit for the ASRock board. It's cramped and cable management is kind of tight, but it's mini-ITX, so I knew that going in. It's not like I had many cables to deal with, anyway.

Crucial Ballistix Sport 2x4 GB: To reduce costs, I initially harvested a stick of Super Talent DDR3-1333 memory from an old laptop. It seemed to be OK initially, but I soon started to observe application crashes and kernel panics. To be fair, the laptop had problems like that, too, so obviously the RAM was just bad. I decided to do research on compatible RAM and settled on a pair of Crucial Ballistix Sport sticks. I also took this as an excuse to go 8 GB of RAM for dual channel operation. I don't actually need that much RAM, but at current prices, 2x2 GB wouldn't be appreciably cheaper than 2x4 GB, so I figured why not? During the RAM replacement, my clumsy hands bent one of the holding clips, which may have caused a mechanical slip that led to a subsequent kernel panic. Following the kernel panic, I opened up Primula again, reseated the RAM, and then... nothing. The system wouldn't boot. Of course, I freaked out, but decided to give it another shot and reseated the RAM again. In the process, I managed to fix the bent clip, and upon powering on, Primula was alive and well, and I haven't had any problems with her since. The new memory is super stable. One of the sticks did have a bad sector, but the seller was prompt to get me a replacement, so thumbs up.

Sandisk SSD Plus 120 GB: I've already used these before as aftermarket upgrades for laptops and I love them. As of this writing, they're only a little more expensive than competing 60 GB models, making them somewhat of a no-brainer.

Fedora 23: Linux has been my main OS for years now. Since the N3150's Braswell architecture is still fairly recent, I picked Fedora 23 for its recent kernel version. This turned out to be prudent, as everything works fine and I'm not seeing any of the performance issues that some people report under Linux. I assume that this board works fine with Windows, too, but I do not intend to pay $100+ just to verify that.

Dell 1702FP: I got this monitor from school for free since they didn't need it anymore. It's an old piece of junk from 2002, but it works just fine. I honestly prefer the boxy 5:4 aspect ratio over widescreen.

Audiovox D1501: Portable DVD player with a busted screen. Since it's useless for its original purpose, I'm using it for Primula's speakers to reduce costs. The audio quality is quite bad, but I don't mind.

Sony PCVA-KB4P/U: This old PS/2 keyboard was just sitting around not doing much. There's not much to say about it. It works, though it's a tad loud and the keys can be a little stiff.

Insignia ND-PNM5013: It's a mouse. What am I supposed to say about it?

Part Reviews


RAM is RAM. The 1600 speeds do provide a noticeable slight improvement over the 1066 I was using earlier.


At its current prices, this is pretty much a steal. You're not paying that much more over a 60 GB model, but you're getting double the capacity, and the upgrade over a hard drive is worth it.


Probably about the smallest mini-ITX case you can get. It's cramped and cable management may be a little funky, but I think those are acceptable tradeoffs for its size. Besides, are you really going to be putting that much stuff inside it? The 2.5" drive mount can be moved to either side in case your CPU gets in the way of it, which is a nice touch, and the internal USB ports are good for concealing things like Wi-Fi adapters.

Comments Sorted by:

tiberiusisgame 5 Builds 2 points 22 months ago

Love the size of this thing! If you want a really small, really cheap, fully capable machine, the Raspberry Pi 2 has an ARM 7 quad core 1GHz chip with 1GB RAM that will run Raspbian like an x86. Also, less than $50 for the whole thing. LXDE is available too, just might have to adjust for the absence of RPMs ;-P

Obviously you don't need it now... but it's the extreme end of what your project seemed to be attempting, right?

fn230 submitter 14 Builds 2 points 22 months ago

It's funny you say that, because I do in fact have a Pi 2 handling printer and scanner sharing! Also NAS and security camera testbed in the recent past, but those operations are currently shuttered at this time. The Pi was originally being used for the things that Primula currently does, but it was just a tad too slow for my liking, and Primula performs substantially better in real world usage. Definitely a wonderful piece of kit for the asking price; I love how it's basically a cheap disposable computer that I can just throw at whatever problem I have. I'm now considering the idea of having it handle Google Cloud Print duties.

tiberiusisgame 5 Builds 1 point 22 months ago

Nice idea! Do you have a tutorial on doing that last one? They work great as cross-compiler systems too via the 4 cores! Not as fast, but good if you commit builds frequently or they need to run for long periods and you're only mobile.

fn230 submitter 14 Builds 1 point 22 months ago

The security camera rig or the Cloud Print server? The former can be done with ZoneMinder and an old Android phone, while the latter can be done either by installing X and Chromium, or presumably using this. I'm running it headless so I don't want to install X just to handle it, so I'm looking at the latter method.

AceBalthazar 2 Builds 1 point 23 months ago

that's a neat little build you have. personally i've never used Linux; i'm more of a hardware guy than a software guy. i just run windows and figure out how to make it do what i want lol. your desk looks about like mine, with wires thrown all over the place

fn230 submitter 14 Builds 1 point 23 months ago

If I did a lot of gaming, I'd probably use Windows, too. But since I really don't, the price tag makes me balk. D:

AceBalthazar 2 Builds 1 point 23 months ago

yeah i can understand that. if i didn't use a lot of programs that are windows only I'd probably try Linux

stimpsonb 1 Build 1 point 23 months ago

...but does it run minesweeper?

fn230 submitter 14 Builds 3 points 23 months ago

No idea. I don't play Minesweeper. :D

floridaboz 4 Builds 1 point 23 months ago

Good build, i am glad i am not the only one who ends up testing a system on the floor. I have a work table now, but at times i have used the floor many many times.

fn230 submitter 14 Builds 2 points 23 months ago

The floor has so much more space.

floridaboz 4 Builds 1 point 23 months ago

This is very true

Vergere 7 Builds 1 point 23 months ago

always nice to see small builds here! +1

fn230 submitter 14 Builds 1 point 23 months ago

Thank you! It would appear that most people on this site build gaming computers, so I guess small builds aren't so common.

mante01 1 point 23 months ago

Very great build, how did you get cpu/mobo/psu combo, did it come together, and where did you get it from ?

fn230 submitter 14 Builds 1 point 23 months ago

The ASRock N3150DC-ITX has the CPU soldered onto the board, takes DC input, and ships with an AC-DC adapter. In exchange for the lack of upgrade options, it's cheaper and more energy efficient, and it makes building the computer a snap. You can purchase them from a few online retailers including Newegg and Amazon.

fn230 submitter 14 Builds 1 point 23 months ago

To clarify, I got mine from Newegg.

ajpinton 11 Builds 1 point 22 months ago

Got to love mini-box builds. I build a rig in one of these cases with a G3250, it holds everything like a champ. I'm a little concerned about the quality of their Pico PSU's though, does not look like you used one of those. +1 for sure.

fn230 submitter 14 Builds 1 point 22 months ago

It's a great little case if all you need to do is box a processor. I'm quite pleased with it.

Gooberdad 7 Builds 1 point 21 months ago

Cool it's so tiny. +1

fn230 submitter 14 Builds 2 points 21 months ago

Thank you. It's a very convenient size, I must say.

Gooberdad 7 Builds 1 point 21 months ago

Makes me want to hide one on the back of a monitor.

Gooberdad 7 Builds 1 point 21 months ago

Or attach one on the back of a desk with a wireless keyboard and mouse

fn230 submitter 14 Builds 2 points 21 months ago

It's a good form factor for an HTPC, too.

Gooberdad 7 Builds 1 point 21 months ago

True. It can hide in plain sight. Oh I'd bet it's small and light enough to fit behind a TV on a wall.

Geograd 5 Builds 1 point 14 months ago


fn230 submitter 14 Builds 1 point 14 months ago

It's listed. Read the description.

MuchLinux6500 2 Builds 1 point 7 months ago

Fedora! Cool!

fn230 submitter 14 Builds 1 point 7 months ago

Paging RaspberryPiFan.

MuchLinux6500 2 Builds 1 point 7 months ago


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fn230 submitter 14 Builds 1 point 23 months ago

Yep, I did realize that Primula is a flower.

Linux is great and SSDs are great. Ever since the first time I tried an SSD, I've been totally spoiled. If nothing else, I figured it would help offset the CPU's low clock rate, but the CPU turned out better than I expected.

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fn230 submitter 14 Builds 1 point 23 months ago

1) Of course. But even then, the number of titles is still far less. I love Linux and the gaming situation has improved greatly, but it's still an uphill climb. :/

2) Linux can either refer to the kernel (which is not an OS) or the kernel and its associated GNU libraries (which is an OS).

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fn230 submitter 14 Builds 1 point 23 months ago

Nah, I'm running it with LXDE. KDE is cool, but all I really need personally is a basic, minimal desktop.

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fn230 submitter 14 Builds 1 point 23 months ago

Not a big fan of GNOME anymore. GNOME 3 kinda ruined it for me. I use Xfce on my laptop and it's very nice.

Haven't really used Cinnamon that much. It seems good but I've never used it for any extended period of time.

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fn230 submitter 14 Builds 1 point 23 months ago

I do hear that some people really love it, but personally, I preferred GNOME 2. To each their own, I suppose.

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fn230 submitter 14 Builds 1 point 23 months ago

Thank you. Just a wild guess, but I figure that a lot of builders are concerned with future upgrades, which a motherboard/CPU combo is generally not good for.

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