Monday, November 09, 2009

The Specs on my Latest DIY PC

The sunroom I added earlier this year got a 42-inch plasma panel for the wall. Part of the panel’s purpose is to serve as a giant digital picture frame; the TV has a built-in SD card slot. My Wii and Xbox consoles are also connected.

But I wanted to add a PC—not so much to be a home theater PC in the usual meaning of the word but to display videos from a browser. In addition, in spite of options within the TV itself and in the attached Xbox to display photos, they all have some drawbacks for walking through a slideshow manually. I find Irfanview on a PC to be the best option.

My starting point was a micro-ATX MSI 785GM-E65 motherboard with an Athlon II X4 processor. The price on this combo was right given that AMD gave it to me after a recent analyst event. (Mobo+CPU is under $200 in any case.) However, it was also a good fit; the integrated graphics seem to be plenty fast for my purposes and it comes with an HDMI out. In fact, I was also given a discrete graphics board but chose not to install it and let the system run a bit cooler and quieter.

I added 2 GB of DDR3 DRAM; I can always bump that later if I want to but I don’t intend to do a lot of multi-tasking or run resource-intensive applications. The disk is a 10K RPM Raptor, another freebie from a friend of mine. It’s only 75GB but I’ll typically keep media content on a network drive.

There’s no internal optical drive. This wasn’t so much a design decision as a reflection of the fact that I have an external USB Blu-Ray drive that I got with my HP dv2 laptop—so I figured I’d start out just plugging that in as needed.

I’m running a beta of 32-bit Windows 7, again pretty much a no brainer. (Yes, I suppose I could have installed Linux and perhaps I will when the beta expires but it was simpler to get started with Windows and see how I end up using the system.)

In the end, I really only had two decisions to make.

The first was the control device--the Logitech DiNovo Mini that I described in an earlier post. It’s an unobtrusive handheld keyboard and trackpad combination. For tasks that are tiresome to tackle by thumb typing, I establish a remote connection using another PC. Logitech also makes a larger version if you’d rather have a full-sized keyboard.

Finally, I settled on an Antec NSK2480 case for micro-ATX boards. It’s stylish which may or may not matter to you depending upon where it’s housed. It also takes full-height PCI boards without adapters or other tricks. It seems well put together and fairly quiet. This case was a bit bigger than would have been my preference, given that I didn’t need space for either drives or PCI cards. But reviewers dinged a couple of smaller cases that I looked at for either noise or heat buildup so I stuck with the larger size.

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