Modern components make it easy and inexpensive to build a mini-desktop system. This case looks more like a somewhat large DVD player than a computer but it is a very high quality – completely steel – case made for home theater systems. I’ve put together a configuration for a modern desktop using this case. The total price is less than $600 including a monitor, wireless keyboard/ mouse and about $450 without a monitor, kb/mouse.
Selecting the Motherboard
The central part of any computer is the motherboard. For this system, consider the following goals:
- A Mini-ITX form factor for small size and low power.
- DVI and HDMI video outputs with simple graphics. Not a gaming system. Although in this form factor, you can get Nvidia graphics for gaming.
- Wireless. It turns out that many of these boards have Wireless cards included.
- LAN port for direct attachment to the network.
- No Wall Wart – no external power supply. A case with an internal power supply rather than an external power supply.
- All modern cards have many USB ports and a few SATA ports for Hard Drives.
Jetway and Zotac make mother boards in this form factor. Some of the new ones from Zotac support 65 Watt desktop processors that are well suited to this application. One of the suitable ones is the ZOTAC G43ITX-A-E for about $90.
These board supports DDR2-800 memory which has come down to quite a low price. 2GB is as low as $36.
The hard drive will be a 2.5″ form factor which is the same as used in laptops. A 7200rpm drive is a must if you want to take advantage of the processor performance.
The DVD drive will be either Sata, or possibly USB and will be the small format used in laptop drives.
Ubuntu is an excellent choice if you want to use typical internet, email, music, and word processing applications. There is a large set of applications to choose from. And this choice is free. Almost all modern processors will run a 64bit operating system, so if you choose Ubuntu be sure and download the 64 bit alternative..
Windows 7 OEM costs another $100. So if you need Windows, it costs a little more. Again, Windows Home Premium kits include both the 32bit and 64bit choices, so install the 64bit variety on modern machines.
All the Parts
Here is a spreadsheet with all the parts and links to all the parts found to build the system.
While I have built systems like this, I am not an expert. You have the responsibility to make sure that these parts will build a system. I’ve not built a system exactly like this, although I am building a similar system based on an Atom D525 mother board. When I build that system I’ll post a note about the details of that system..