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Building an Atom-based media PC for the house

I believe there's a rule that goes along the lines of:

If you have a blog, and you build a PC, you must write a review/walkthrough of the process and post it; with lots of pictures. This is mandatory and failure to comply is punishable by nail-varnishing of the eyeballs.

Now, not wanting to have my eyeballs nail varnished, I thought I better follow suit. Weirdly, this is the first time I've ever built a PC from scratch. I've pulled existing PCs to pieces and failed to put them back together hundreds of times but never started from fresh bits like this. It was exciting.

All boxed up

The requirements/considerations for my new PC are as follows:
  1. The primary purpose would be as a media PC to go with the TV in our second living room (so I can watch Grand Prix without annoying the wife)
  2. I'd like it to house the Blu-Ray drive I harvested from my server
  3. It needs to be small enough to fit on a shelf
  4. The secondary purpose would be as a head to Remote-Desktop in to my development PC when I fancied doing a bit of dev in another room
  5. The room can get bloody hot on a hot day, so cooling might be an issue
  6. It needs to be fairly quiet, though I'm not as fussy about most on this - background noise tends not to bother me too much
  7. Now that I've gone Power Nuts, I'd like it not to consume too much power either
The natural choice at the moment for any low-power small-form-factor PC is the Intel Atom of netbook/nettop fame. However, traditionally they've been underpowered in the graphics department for use as a media PC. Until the nVidia ION came along.

I decided to opt for the Zotac IONITX A-B N330 whose highlights include:

  • dual-core Atom processor
  • nVidia ION graphics
  • Includes external 90W power supply
  • bundled WiFi (occupying the only PCI-E x1 slot)

N330 Zotac IONITX

You can read a good review of this board here on silentpcreview.com.

The dual core version comes with an optional fan where according to the documentation "If your system working at a torrid room,you can append a FAN to the heatsink (sic)". That's one description for the conservatory on a very hot day with the windows closed. And thus, I decided to attach the fan. It's a little noisier than I'd like and there's no way to slow it down. I suspect I may replace this at some point in the near future with a quieter model but for now, it keeps the heatsink incredibly cool (before the fan was attached, the heatsink was too hot to touch).

Anyway, I won't bore you with all the details of the build but here are the mandatory pictures of the build.

The cheesiest RAM in the world

The cheesiest RAM in the world (above).

The N330 close up

Inside the case

It lives!

It lives! (above)

The fan, mounted by screwing into the heatsink - quite bizzarre as there aren't any 'holes'

The fan, mounted by screwing into the heatsink - quite bizarre as there aren't any 'holes' (above)

After a bit of a tidy courtesy of some cable ties

Drawing just 33W during playback of a large mpeg file

The case is an A+ Cupid-3 which was particularly suitable as it was mini-ITX and offered a full-size 5.25" drive bay to host the huuuge Blu-Ray drive. The case actually came with a 200W PSU but I removed that as the motherboard has its own external PSU and can happily power three SATA devices inside the case (I only needed two) - so if you need a 200W PSU, give me a shout :).

The case is also pretty attractive and was very easy to work with. There's still room for an extra 3.5" HDD too, which is good.

The monitor

The best part of my new computing experience has to be the 26" Samsung Syncmaster LCD TV/Monitor I picked up. 26" isn't that largest TV screen in the world but it's a big monitor. And it's a thing of beauty - I'm already addicted to using it over all my other monitors. The quality of the picture is amazing. The sound is a little weak but I'll be routing that over a hi-fi so no issue there for me.

The finished package

The finished package

Not a bad score!

Here's the links to the bits I bought from the stores I used:

Josh Post By Josh Twist
10:26 AM
28 Jun 2009

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Comments are closed for this post.

Posted by Andy Gore @ 29 Jun 2009 7:24 AM
Hi Josh,

Im a big media pc/home cinema nut, just wondering which software you are using to run the media formats? Have you just plunged for Windows Media Centre?

Posted by josh @ 29 Jun 2009 10:29 PM
Windows 7 Media Centre will be the main chap - althought for now, I'm primarily using Media Player and iPlayer (need to source a USB DVB-S2 tuner, or wait until one arrives).

Posted by Guy @ 09 Jul 2009 6:07 PM
Have you made any power consumption measurements? In particular idle consumption or standby.


Posted by josh @ 14 Aug 2009 8:18 AM
Hi Guy,

You can probably see it's chewing just 33W in the screenshot above. And this wasn't quite idle either - it was during light use!


Posted by Ian @ 13 Jul 2010 6:02 AM
I'd just like to say thanks for putting the time into creating this blog. I'm looking into doing exactly the same thing and it's good to see someone else being the guinea pig!

Posted by Peter @ 31 Oct 2010 1:33 PM
How does it perform when decoding a HD 264 signal from a DVB source ?

Does it have enough power ?

Posted by Josh @ 01 Nov 2010 7:57 AM
Never tried it, I'm afraid. Works great with Blu-Ray. The only other HD source I tried played through flash and it did struggle their because the old version of flash didn't use the GPUs.

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