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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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  • StardogChampion - Tuesday, May 10, 2011 - link

    A link would be helpful: http://outsidethestb.blogspot.com/2011/02/dc-psu-m...

    Leave a comment with contact info if interested or drop my the HTPC forum on AVSForum.com and find me. I build them to order.

    It's a crazy hobby, isn't it?
    Reply
  • FullHiSpeed - Friday, April 22, 2011 - link

    "the case is 7.5” tall"
    http://www.thermaltakeusa.com/Product.aspx?C=1419&...
    Dimension (H*W*D) ... 5.12 x 8.66 x 13 inch
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, April 23, 2011 - link

    Fixed... Amazon appears to have the wrong dimensions (or they used the box dimensions). Anyway, 5.12" is still about 1" taller than the other cases. Reply
  • kenyee - Friday, April 22, 2011 - link

    I'm looking for something that would work w/ MythTV w/o using a separate audio cable...

    Bummer that none of these can do 3D Bluray yet...that means you still have to have an external Bluray player :-P
    Reply
  • hnzw rui - Saturday, April 23, 2011 - link

    The Core i3-2100T does 3D. Just not sure about Linux support. Reply
  • shamans33 - Friday, April 22, 2011 - link

    There's a lack of direct comparisons between different cases and PSUs.

    I build quite a few mini-itx systems and this "guide" doesn't cover AMD high end offerings, common pitfalls in building mini-itx systems, noise, actual temperatures, heatsink clearance, actual power usage, alternative PSU choices, many mini-itx case choices, etc.

    Furthermore, accessories are not even discussed and there isn't an emphasis for including wireless capabilities in the system.

    This guide reads like an advertisement and doesn't have the really essential information people need to decide what parts to get.
    Reply
  • Gigantopithecus - Friday, April 22, 2011 - link

    I'm sorry you feel that way, shamans33. The primary goal of the guide was to describe the components available for building a nettop, i.e. systems that take up little physical space and use low-power components.

    Having built many mini-ITX systems, I'm not exactly sure what you're referring to? The Atom and Zacate boards all include heatsinks that will fit in any of the mentioned cases, which should be obvious from pictures of the products. The extremely low-profile stock i3-2100T heatsink fits in the Thermaltake case recommended in that specific system. Temperatures have never been an issue for me in these cases and configurations, so I didn't think that warranted elaboration. As for alternative PSUs - again, these all come with integrated PSUs or external power bricks, and we recommended alternatives to the stock Thermaltake case's PSU. Others commented on inconsistent case choices - we presented five mini-ITX cases that we've used many times and have been more than satisfied with. This article was not supposed to be an exhaustive list of mini-ITX cases... As for actual power usage, narrow ranges are given, and we pointed to more in-depth articles on Anandtech that give exact figures.

    As for accessories, including wireless, a nettop is just like any other desktop PC. You get the accessories to go with it that you want, and I didn't think those were within the scope of this article. Wireless is a good example - it's not like USB WiFi adapters are new and exciting technology...

    I tried to describe what these systems can do, what they can't do, and pointed out where to go if you want to find out more about exact capabilities. I honestly have to wonder if you read the entire article. :P
    Reply
  • shamans33 - Saturday, April 23, 2011 - link

    I'll give you some examples...
    In-win BP and BQ series cases
    880g and 890gx amd mini-itx motherboards
    High end AMD CPUs
    M350 case with PicoPSU
    Low profile, high performance CPU heatsinks
    Single slot low-profile pciex cards (because of space restrictions usually).

    Mini-itx systems often have functional roles that are different from typical desktops and would have a different set of recommended accessories: wireless keyboards, esata/usb3 docks, etc.

    Here's one system spec I recently built:
    BP655 - $40
    Zotac 880G - $115
    2x2GB DDR3 - $40
    AMD X3 450 - $80
    500 GB HDD - $40
    OS - $100

    Total: $415

    12.20" x 3.90" x 10.40" (Far smaller in every dimension than your final option)
    200W PSU
    1x 80mm fan.
    Wireless-b/g/n
    Gigabit ethernet
    USB3
    Sata3

    You can even pair a 5.25" optical drive with a 2.5" SSD and a 3.5" 2 or 3 TB HDD.

    You could call it a nettop buyers guide. But I wouldn't call it a mini-itx buyers guide.
    Reply
  • shamans33 - Saturday, April 23, 2011 - link

    Another build I've done in the past:
    M350
    SILVERSTONE NT07-775 90mm CPU Cooler
    Intel E5400
    Zotac 9300G
    PicoPSU-80
    2x2GB DDR2
    750GB HDD
    DVD-RW slot drive

    At-wall power usage: 27W Min. 35W Average. 45W Peak.
    192 x 210 x 62mm , 2.5L
    Reply
  • ET - Saturday, April 23, 2011 - link

    I agree. I would have preferred an article about mini-ITX cases that doesn't have all the other fluff, and can provide comparison of heat performance and other details. Reply

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