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first SFF / HTPC / NUC-ish build, suggestions?

Discussion in 'Computers and Internet Geekland' started by maxd, Oct 22, 2015.

    Oct 22, 2015
  1. maxd

    maxd Complaints (PAB) Manager Staff Member

    The PAB Guy
    Our little home office is in need of some new gear and as many of you know I like to build these things myself.

    First up is a 2nd (basic) workstation for my wife and she says it's gotta be "very small and very quiet". If I could find a NUC that would let me socket in my own i5/i7 CPU I'd probably go for it but I haven't found such so something along these lines or thereabouts is looking good:

    first SFF / HTPC / NUC-ish build, suggestions?: shuttle-xh81_w600.jpeg,Oct 22, 2015 first SFF / HTPC / NUC-ish build, suggestions?: SHUTTLE_XH81V_front_h482.jpeg,Oct 22, 2015

    I'm an Intel guy so the i5-5675c or i7-5775c appeal to me because they've got the Iris Pro 6200 iGPU which has a good bit of graphics muscle, plenty I think for her needs, and let's me forget about a graphics card, serious cooling, fancy fans, etc.

    8Gb of RAM and a decent SSD and she's off to the races. Job done .. I think. Thoughts?

    The second unit is for me and needs to use a spare Pentium Anniversary G3258 I have kicking around. Prob not the processor for life in this 2nd box but it's what I'll use for now. Here I'm thinking an HTPC case because there are a few boards I want to try (USB3.1 Type-C, etc). The Silverstone Ravens look good and will shove off well to the side of a desk:

    first SFF / HTPC / NUC-ish build, suggestions?: silverstone-raven-rvz02.jpg,Oct 22, 2015

    As you can see from the rear view of that case they use an adapter board to lay your PCIe add-ons on their side:

    first SFF / HTPC / NUC-ish build, suggestions?: silverstone-raven-rvz02-rear.jpg,Oct 22, 2015

    Helps keep everything nice and flat, avoids the Cube thing that most mini-ITX builds go for.

    Any thoughts, recommendations for much-loved components, etc? No idea which mITX board I'd use in the Raven so any thoughts there would be appreciated.

    Caveats? Suggestions? "WTF dude! Don't do X"? Bring 'em on!
  2. Oct 26, 2015
  3. maxd

    maxd Complaints (PAB) Manager Staff Member

    The PAB Guy
    Anyone done a fanless build? Thinking that might be a nice project for a modest mini-ITX workstation type box. This looks pretty cool:

    first SFF / HTPC / NUC-ish build, suggestions?: streacom_fc8b_alpha_025025_w600.jpg,Oct 26, 2015 first SFF / HTPC / NUC-ish build, suggestions?: streacom_fc8b_alpha_025270_h372.jpg,Oct 26, 2015

    This is the Streacom FC8, it comes with a 4-drive caddy that lays in up top, just under the lid. Size is 240x250x100mm.

    Assuming one goes for a modest CPU -- I'll use my G3258 but no overclocking of course -- and not a lot else in there aside from a drive or two, could be pretty cool.

    I think I've figured out that I want to build something small and quiet. Maybe a similar-sized case with a low-profile air cooler like some of the Noctua L9 series might be the way to go. This is the L9i, only 37mm tall (the pic is obviously not on the same scale as the case):

    first SFF / HTPC / NUC-ish build, suggestions?: noctua-l9i.jpg,Oct 26, 2015

    Or the L9x65 (65mm tall):

    first SFF / HTPC / NUC-ish build, suggestions?: noctua-l9x65.jpg,Oct 26, 2015

    Streacom has a non-fanless case like the FC8 above -- the FC7 -- here showing the disk tray in place:

    first SFF / HTPC / NUC-ish build, suggestions?: streacom_f7cb_alpha_025270_h372.jpg,Oct 26, 2015

    Cooler clearance in there is obviously limited but it's not clear what the best arrangement would be. They say 55mm if you don't hang a 3.5" drive off the underside of the tray but I'm thinking maybe ditch the tray and slide an SSD in somewhere on the side. Probably need to get the thing and mess about a bit to find the best arrangement. Beginning to sound like a Christmas holidays project. :D
  4. Nov 9, 2015
  5. maxd

    maxd Complaints (PAB) Manager Staff Member

    The PAB Guy
    Well, things change I guess. It turns out that this has been a great year for the mini-PC scene and there are actually quite a good number of interesting options. Most of them are "bare bones" systems where you buy the box that includes everything but the memory and storage. Add those, install your OS of choice, attach your favourite peripherals -- monitor, keyboard, mouse -- and you're good to go. Given that the typical price for these wee things is usually in the $150-350 range they can and do look pretty attractive. Here's one that really caught my eye:
    first SFF / HTPC / NUC-ish build, suggestions?: NUC5i5RYK-in-hand.jpeg,Nov 9, 2015

    That's the Intel NUC5i5RYK and unlike many of the other mini-PCs on offer this one actually has a fair amount of juice. As I understand it these things were originally based on industrial PCs used for signage, electronic billboards and suchlike and weren't exactly geared toward the home user -- long on weird connectors and short on general-purpose CPU power, etc -- but computer hardware has become sufficiently miniaturized and integrated that desktop-worthy machines of this sort are now widely available. Users seem to love them and that, of course, is helping drive the market.

    So, yeah, add memory and storage and the system is ready to fire up. Wait, storage, in that wee thing? What kind of storage are we talking here? Well have a look at this:
    first SFF / HTPC / NUC-ish build, suggestions?: SSDSCKHW120A4.jpg,Nov 9, 2015

    That's an 120 Gig M.2 SSD -- basically a high-capacity flash drive, like a USB key, but intended for internal use ;) -- and it's about the size of your thumb. They're sometimes called "gumstick" drives because that's roughly how big they are. This is a fairly low capacity one, versions up to 1000 Gig or more are already available. Not the cheapest form of storage around but they sure are teensy and they make something like that palm-sized computer possible.

    Anyway, my wife loves that idea that her computer could fit in her hand so that may be the way we go for hers. Mine on the other hand is considerably less decided and is best described as a work in progress.
    1 person likes this.
  6. Jan 15, 2016
  7. slotter999

    slotter999 Senior Member

    Hi MaxD,

    I can highly recommend the Intel NUC range (typing this out on one as we speak). I have the older i5 / mSATA system and it's a very nice little bit of kit. I'm not doing anything graphics heavy which I don't think it would handle particularly well but I do some virtual machines etc and does it all without complaint. Noise is virtually non existent....suspect if you went for an i7 version that might not be the case. I've got back hanging off the back of my monitor with a wireless keyboard and mouse so minimal wires so my desk is clutter free / tidy.

    I'm guessing you have already but if not checkout the I/O stats for M2 drives. Difficult to think of a use case (at home) to really need all that...but it's still nice to have all the same.
  8. Jan 15, 2016
  9. Mabby2000

    Mabby2000 Experienced Member

    Warehouse person
    Hi max, going slightly off topic, I like the look of that box with 2 usb points, I made my own box with twin USB points, wired it to the clock of my car so I can charge mobiles and sat nav!
  10. May 10, 2016
  11. maxd

    maxd Complaints (PAB) Manager Staff Member

    The PAB Guy
    In the end we abandoned the "very small" part of this project -- decided that we still wanted some expansion slots on the motherboard -- and focused hard on the "very quiet" bit. The case I build in is a Fractal Design Define Mini which is micro-ATX, rated fairly well and is widely touted as more "silent" than most. I wouldn't know but having moved my own computer into the larger Fractal Design Define R5 and then building hers in the Define Mini I can say that these Defines are great cases, very well designed, and they do render a PC virtually silent under normal circumstances: in a quiet room doing the web thing you hear almost nothing unless you're within a foot of the back of the case.

    Under heavy use -- I'm talking game play where the graphics card has the fans running flat out -- there is a bit of noise from the case but it is SUBSTANTIALLY better than what you'd get from a normal case. I know because that's precisely why I moved my rig into a Define R5: gaming was unpleasant because of the fan roar coming out of my old case. I'd guess that the Define cases are probably killing 10-15 dB which is a hell of a lot when you spend hours a day sitting beside the thing.

    For the guts of her computer I went with the new Z170 generation and am quite pleased. She's started with the modest i3-6100 processor which is a surprisingly capable CPU for its totally reasonable price (just over $100). Her graphics needs -- Photoshopping, etc -- seem to be nicely taken care of by an ASUS Strix GeForce GTX 950 which is no beast but again, very capable for modest money. By the time her machine was loaded out with an SSD, big fat HDD, 16GB Ram, etc the tab was around £600. She seems pleased with it and as they say "happy wife, happy life". :D

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