Hello again. You may be asking, "Why is this guy back on these forums again?!". Well since my first HTPC build, I've turned building computers for myself, friends, and family into a sort of hobby. I'm now onto my fifth custom built system and am excited for the new technologies that have entered the market over the last year.
But why am I sharing 'this' particular build? This was a sort of build challenge to myself. I had some old RAM lying around and thought to myself, "I wonder how far I can stretch $100 to build a viable, Roku-like media player."
I now have the answer... But let me describe the build first.
For processor and motherboard I immediately gravitated to AMD. My budget for these components couldn't be more than $50 if I had any hope of making a viable build. I knew the other $50 would need to go to HDD and PSU if I wanted parts that wouldn't fail or short after a day or burn down my house. I was already resigned to using an old NZXT case I had lying around the basement. I wanted this box to have sufficient onboard graphics for streaming content at 1080p on a television and sufficient processing power for everyday tasks. My expectations were predictably low, but I figured APUs were a good place to start. Unfortunately, even the entry level A4, A6 class APUs with low end mobos would have taken $60-70 of my budget. I needed to go deeper. I looked into the Sempron class APUs. These fit into the budget, but with clock speeds of 1.2-1.4 Ghz and barely there iGPUs, my research found that these chips struggle even in day to day tasks. I feared my project couldn't be done.
Enter the AMD Athlon 5350 2.05Ghz Quad-Core Processor. I came across this part as I browsed my local Microcenter's circular. Base clock 2 Ghz and a R3 Radeon HD 8400 iGPU (equivalent to haswell i3, i5 iGPUs). Did I mention only 25 watts!?!?! Now I wouldn't need an aftermarket cooler either. I was in business! I went to the store to inquire. Microcenter has amazing AMD deals if you don't already know. $40 off your purchase of an AMD processor and MOBO... and I had a $5 coupon off your purchase of $30 or more. AMD 5350 2.05Ghz Quad-Core Processor and Asus AM1M-A Micro ATX AM1 Motherboard... $35 out the door with tax.
Now I had $65... let the splurging commence!!! I didn't need a GPU because the iGPU was just enough. I originally looked as standard 5400 RPM HDD to defray costs, but realized the cheapest HDD would cost me $30 for 500GB while I could get a 120GB SSD for under $40. An SSD would help this build zip. I was sold on the PNY CS1311 and for $37 at Amazon, I left myself $28 for a 'quality' PSU.
I know what you're thinking, there are no 'quality' PSUs at $28. Yes, I agree, but you can still get a low power, 'decent' PSU with a good warranty, power rating from a big company. So thats the route I went. The EVGA 430W 80+ Certified ATX Power Supply for $16 from Newegg was overkill on wattage and checked all my criteria.
So there I was, finished my build... with $12 left.
So what do you get from a computer with old RAM, a clunky case and $88 in new parts?
A lot. First I installed Windows 10. I got a second market key for $20 because I just couldn't justify spending more on the OS than on the whole computer. Im confident this would be a viable linux box as well, but since I wanted to use this as a media box, the linux issues with Netflix and Hulu turned be against this option.
Windows installed and validated without issue. This computer can play movies at 1080p from my Plex server. It can stream from the internet and works well with media platforms like Netflix. I noticed no processor hang ups or screen taring. Is it fast? No. Is it slow? also No. This thing just works. No frills. Its not going to play any games locally. It won't even load most of today's AAA titles. People have tried.
I wanted to push the envelop a little though. How would it work in a Steam Stream environment. I plugged a network cable into the back. Set up streaming (from my i7-4790k, GTX 770 build) in Steam and gave it a go. I'm shocked. Greater than 30 FPS in the Witcher 3 at max detail settings. Bioshock Inifinite and Tomb Raider benchmark suites with 25-50 FPS at max settings. My Steam library was playable and enjoyable on this $100 system over a wired network.
Over the next couple of weeks I will try to get more out of this little system. As for now, this build was a success beyond my expectations. I think it shows how far technology has come and how high the performance bar rests even at the extreme low end.
Feel free to leave questions in the comments and I hope you find this build enjoyable! Thanks for reading!
TLDR: $100 computer build works beyond expectations. Can stream 1080p content and is able to play max detail new AAA game titles over Valve's Steam stream service.