The Budget Intel Atom Nettop

Intel Budget Nettop
Component Product Name Price
CPU + Mobo Intel BOXD525MW (Atom D525) $80
Memory Patriot Signature 2GB PSD32G13332S $25
Case + PSU Cooler Master Elite 100 RC-100-KKP3-GP + 150W PSU $61
Storage Western Digital Caviar Blue 500GB WD5000AAKS $36
Optical Drive Samsung SN-S083F/BEBE $26
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit $100
Total Price $328

For our budget Intel nettop, we start with the Intel BOXD525MW. This is the basic, no frills dual-core Atom board, sporting the 1.8GHz Atom D525. This is currently the fastest Atom CPU available, but that’s not saying a lot, and the GMA 3150 graphics are a major bottleneck for content like HD video. Compared to older Atom variants, there are a few benefits. First, it uses less expensive DDR3 RAM instead of DDR2 (DDR3 prices are now below DDR2). Note that this board uses laptop SO-DIMMs, not standard desktop DIMMs. One problem is that this board has only a VGA port (no DVI, no HDMI), but that’s part of the vanilla Atom experience. For the memory, we’ve selected basic RAM that’s compatible with the motherboard. There’s no sense in buying high-performance RAM for an Atom board, and 2GB is sufficient to run Windows 7 with moderate multitasking. If you’re doing stuff that would benefit from 4GB, you’re probably going to want a faster platform than Atom.

As noted in the introduction, we’ve selected four difference Mini ITX case + PSU combinations for this guide. Some are substantially more expensive, and the choice of case will affect other component choices as well. Some of the cases lack support for integrated optical drives, some use regular 5.25” optical drives, and others use laptop optical drives. The hard drive situation is also variable, as a couple of the cases use 3.5” hard drives while the others use 2.5” drives. Whichever case you select, make sure you choose the appropriate components elsewhere.

For the budget Intel setup, we chose the Cooler Master Elite 100 RC-100-KKP3-GP. We like this Cooler Master mini-ITX case because it’s cheap, includes a decent power supply, has VESA mounts so it can very easily be attached to the back of an LCD monitor to save space, and it can accommodate a 3.5” desktop hard drive instead of a 2.5” laptop drive. That means you get better storage performance and capacity (but still nowhere near SSD performance) for less money. We chose the Western Digital Caviar Blue 500GB as a nice balance between capacity and price. Most 3.5” hard drives seem to have bottomed out at around $35-$40 shipped, so there’s not much point going any smaller. You could go with Samsung, Hitachi, or Seagate as well and get similar performance, so if you find a better deal from a reputable retail outlet go for it. I recommend the Western Digital here simply because prices are essentially equal, performance is close enough to be a non-factor, and Western Digital’s RMA process in my experience is the best in the business. (Hopefully you never need to use it.)

The case supports a slim laptop optical drive, which will cost a bit more than a standard desktop drive, but the Samsung SN-S083F/BEBE burner we selected is the cheapest we could find. Note that it does not come with the smaller screws you need to mount it, so if you don’t have screws sitting around, you’ll need to improvise a mounting solution. (I’ve used double-sided tape, Velcro, and duct tape in the past.) The Samsung drive does not use a standard SATA connector, so you’ll need an adapter for that as well. Because of these inconveniences and the fact that USB devices are increasingly taking the place of optical discs, I consider optical drives in nettops an option—and I rarely install them. Keep in mind as well that external, USB-powered DVD burners are readily available for not much more than the cost of a standard internal optical drive. If you decide to forego an optical drive, you’ll want to research how to install Windows 7 from a flash drive. It’s very straightforward and requires a 4GB (or larger) flash drive and a separate system that has a DVD drive.

That brings us to the final item, the operating system. We’re using Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit on all of the nettops in this guide, as it’s the de facto standard for PC operating systems. I recommend using the 64-bit version instead of the 32-bit version because you might eventually want to drop another 2GB SO-DIMM in the box, and it’s the same price as the 32-bit flavor. The total system cost including optical drive is $328 (not including the possible cost of smaller screws and an adapter for the optical drive), or just skip the DVDRW completely and you can put this together for $302.

Nettop and Mini-ITX Buyer’s Guide AMD Zacate Budget Nettop
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  • prismatics - Friday, April 22, 2011 - link

    That Lian-Li case is $50 more than you have it listed. Is this a mistake or did Newegg change the price since you setup the link? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, April 22, 2011 - link

    Sorry, error in the table. I had the wrong labels on the Case + PSU and Storage lines (see first comment), and when I swapped the content around to fix that I missed the pricing information. So the table listed the HDD as $150 and the case as $94 when it was the other way around. Reply
  • obarthel - Friday, April 22, 2011 - link

    I enjoyed reading your article, especially since I'll be building a couple or more of those. The article was somewhat informative, but I would have preferred if you'd done a few things differently

    - review individual components, instead of randomly-matched systems. There's no specific reason to use any one case with any one MB, so why complicate matters ?
    - take advantage of that to be more thorough about each component's characteristics. ie, the Antec ISK 100 is **NOT** VESA-mountable, not even with an extra accessory, even though it looks like it could (should ?) be. Also, it's not always clear how big the cases are, whether they have internal vs external PSUs...
    - or, if you insist on the "whole system" approach, include a handful of worthy barebones, such as the Asus S1-AT5NM10E, Shuttle XS35/35GT, or the various Zotac models.

    In the end, I'd have liked a more conventional "System guide" approach, with maybe 3 use cases:
    - HTPC: very quiet, HDMI/DVI, good sound, internal optical drive, IR remote, Linux
    - NAS/Torrent server: 3.5" HD (or two), Linux
    - Desktop Replacement: VESA-mounted, Bluetooth
    - All of the Above.
    + a recommendation for a barebones PC instead of homebrew.

    Right now, I'm thinking about an Asus S1-AT5NM10E for my server (Case looks OK, has all the features I need and more, price seems unbeatable), and an Asus E-350 for my Desktop Replacement. Still looking for a VESA-mountable case with no optical disc to go with it.
    Reply
  • hnzw rui - Friday, April 22, 2011 - link

    >Still looking for a VESA-mountable case with no optical disc to go with it.

    Have you considered the Mini-Box M350? Caveat, you'd need to buy a PicoPSU but even the lowest model should be more than enough.
    Reply
  • obarthel - Friday, April 22, 2011 - link

    Thanks, that looks like what I'd want. I'm a bit confused about what I need in terms of PSU and adapter... and bothered by the price ! The case itself is very cheap and looks well designed, though. Reply
  • DanNeely - Friday, April 22, 2011 - link

    Most (all?) pico PSU sellers list what each model needs as an AC brick, and sell bricks that work with the picoPSUs they sell. The cheaper models tend to be very picky, while the higher end ones can use almost anything. The difference is between taking 12V in and just making 3.3/5V, and taking 19V (common laptop brick) or car DC (varies significantly) and making all 3 voltages. Reply
  • 457R4LDR34DKN07 - Friday, April 22, 2011 - link

    This was a decent guide and made me consider building a less power consuming box for my ceton infiniTV4. I could only find 1 case designed for mini itx and a expansion slot the LUXA2 LM100. It might be worth waiting for a i5 2405S. Reply
  • monkeyman1133 - Friday, April 22, 2011 - link

    IMO, you should do a more apples-to-apples comparison across the different systems. Just browsing through quickly, my first reaction to the "AMD Upgraded nettop" is $778 for a nettop?? F that. But of course its a very misleading for a number of reasons.

    First is the unequal software costs included. Are you guys under pressure to include software costs in the price summary? OS cost is once thing, however, I think it makes more sense to exclude it from the "base cost" just like it is in the regular System Builder guides. What is worse and especially confusing, IMO, is when you include the cost for dvd/bluray playback software to only some systems.

    Another minor point is that the HDD/storage options and thus cost vary significantly from system to system. Storage options can really be chosen independently of the system, so not keeping this constant across the systems also really skews the comparison.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, April 22, 2011 - link

    We cover this discrepancy in the text on every page. For example, on the ION system: "Using the same case and components, the difference in motherboard choice makes this platform $10 more than the basic AMD E-350 setup, or $37 more than the stock Atom configuration."

    Really the motherboard/CPU and RAM are the only item that necessarily varies between builds -- well, that and I'd be very hesitant to try a shorter ITX case on the SNB system on the final page without confirming it will fit. We felt it would be more interesting to have multiple case options showing what's out there, discussing storage tradeoffs, etc.

    As for the software, there are limitations with most (all?) bundled Blu-ray software packages, and if you want the full HD experience you'd need to purchase additional playback software. We again make this clear in the text.

    Will some people just look at the bottom line and then leave? Perhaps, but then they're no longer "readers" of our site, are they? If all someone wants to do is look at a table or a chart and call it good (or bad), we can't really stop that and such a person is ultimately missing out on information that is readily available.
    Reply
  • iuqiddis - Friday, April 22, 2011 - link

    Another software option would be to get a DVDFab decrypting software for blu-ray playback. I've never come across a disc that it failed to decrypt. It runs as a driver; you can just open the bluray disc with VLC to view them. Reply

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