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
POST A COMMENT

101 Comments

View All Comments

  • ArnisR - Saturday, April 23, 2011 - link

    Antec ISK 300(310)-150 series have internal PSU.
    External PSU is for earlier sibling - ISK 300-65.
    Reply
  • uncola - Sunday, April 24, 2011 - link

    this is correct, I noticed this mistake in the article too Reply
  • -BubbaJoe- - Saturday, April 23, 2011 - link

    The M4A88T-I DELUXE motherboard is extremely capable.You can fit a 6-core AMD processor into it, and its currently the only AM3 ITX motherboard that has a full x16 pci-e slot. Add in eSATA, USB3, and built-in WiFi you got yourself a powerful little box.

    I have mine paired with a 5770, 8gb of ddr3, and a Athlon x3 445 all in a Sugo SG-05 Able to play games such as BC:2 just fine. Very awesome little computer.
    Reply
  • shamans33 - Saturday, April 23, 2011 - link

    Just an FYI, M4A88T-I DELUXE onboard video does not do dual display because of limitations of 880g chipset on dual digital display output.. Reply
  • Andrew Rockefeller - Saturday, April 23, 2011 - link

    "...check email, browse and shop on the web, occasionally remove red eyes from family photos, and type the occasional letter. From that perspective..."

    Were you to build a cheap PC with that critera, I'd seriously concider Linux. You can then take $100 off the total for each build which is not an insignificant percentage especially when you talk about options to save $30 here and there. As much as I love and recommend Win 7, I'd expect Linux to provide a better user experience with the limited resources of these systems (the Atom and Brazos builds in particular, the i3 build may be OK on 7).

    Although my computing/software needs exceed that which I can comfortably achieve with Linux, for the average Joe It's capabilities are well in excess of what they'll ever need. Unfortunately I wouldn't expect average Joe to be in here reading this.. but people who build systems for their less tech savvy loved ones are.
    Reply
  • Gigantopithecus - Saturday, April 23, 2011 - link

    Hi Andrew - I couldn't agree more that a Linux variant is an excellent alternative to Windows 7 for basic computing needs, and I have built nettops with Ubuntu for friends. However, it's also been my experience that for less tech-savvy folks, Linux is simply not an option because they're not willing to learn a new OS. While you and I think the learning curve is shallow and no real obstacle, that simply is not true for many people (at least in my experience). FWIW older people who have little to no computer experience often learn it the fastest - a friend's 92 year old grandfather loves Ubuntu, possibly because he's never known anything else.

    That said, Windows 7, like most other OS's, isn't particularly CPU intensive; it's much more dependent upon RAM. An E-350 with 4GB of RAM or even 2GB RAM works just fine, whereas my Phenom II X4 945 with 1GB of RAM installed struggles with Windows 7 (this is not its usual configuration - obviously the Phenom II with 8GB RAM runs W7 much better than an E-350 with 2GB RAM, ha).
    Reply
  • lowimpact - Saturday, April 23, 2011 - link

    I got really excited when I saw this article since I've been putting together my own mini-ITX build, but am puzzled that you haven't included a gamer box (or workstation buidl) in your lineup.

    Here's a good start:

    $120 Silverstone SG05BB w/450w psu
    $100 Gigabyte GA-H67N-USB3-B3 Intel H67
    $125 Intel e3-2100
    $200 560 ti (5950's are too long)
    $40 4GB G.Skill Ripjaws 1333
    $40 500GB Hard Disk
    $25 DVD Burner
    $100 Windows 7 x64
    ----------------------------
    $750

    Any reason you left something major like this out??
    Reply
  • Andrew Rockefeller - Saturday, April 23, 2011 - link

    I think the intention was to design systems to cover the needs of a typical user. The system you describe is somewhat niche. Although in your world a moderately powered gaming PC may be a high priority, it simply is not for the masses.

    Don't get me wrong, I do appreciate your enthusiasm for your particular design. My taste is for the highest compute power whilst remaining passively cooled (Power/efficiency). I however recognise that my ideal results in a computer more powerful/expensive than the average person needs, but less powerful than what a power-user would want and can easily achieve by sacrificing form factor... niche.
    Reply
  • Gigantopithecus - Saturday, April 23, 2011 - link

    Yep, the goal of this article was to cover nettop options. Jarred suggested adding a higher-end Intel mini-ITX system based on the i3-2100T CPU so we tossed that in there. I hope to have a mini-ITX gaming guide up soon as those are very popular with my younger undergraduate friends who live in dorms and small apartments. Reply
  • lowimpact - Saturday, April 23, 2011 - link

    You also remember that intel graphics are bugged when it comes to playing back 24fps content right? What's the point of putting a blu-ray player in any of the intel builds if you can't watch movies without judder from adding a frame every 40 seconds? You wrote about this on your own site:

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4083/the-sandy-bridg...
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now