Embarking on a SUPER cheap HTPC build - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 26 Old 04-23-2012, 04:11 AM - Thread Starter
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My current HTPC was built on a whim in September of 2009. Having obtained an early copy of Windows 7 through work, I found WMC to finally be decent enough to base an HTPC around. So I bought the smallest Full ATX (spare motherboard was ATX) case I could find, purchased an HP IR Receiver from Ebay, a passively cooled video card with HDMI out, an ATSC TV Tuner, and built the rest of it out of spare parts. Most parts from the Intel Core2 machine I built in late 2006.

Since it was built, I've added an SSD, and moved from an ATSC only Tuner to the HDHomeRun Prime with Cablecard.

For the most part, the HTPC works fine. No issues playing TV or 720p/1080p content. There have been some sleep/wake issues since I've put the SSD in. Par for the course with Sandforce SSDs. Made worse by the fact that I have a motherboard from 2006. I have seen the CPU utilization occasionally stay at over 50% on both cores since moving to the HDHomeRun Prime.

Due to general boredom and having not bought anything in a while, I decided to entertain myself by seeing how cheaply I could build a new HTPC.


Rules of the Cheap:
  1. Keep it CHEAP! - No buying an i5 2500k when something far cheaper will suffice.
  2. No Rebates!
  3. No Driving! - All items must be shipped to my door.


Current HTPC:
  • Case: GMC R-2 Toast [Full ATX]
  • PS: 500W OCZ
  • CPU: Core2Duo E6300 [The OG Core2 Duo]
  • Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-965P-S3 [Full ATX]
  • RAM: 3GB
  • Video: ATI 4350
  • Hard Drive: 60GB GSkill Phoenix Pro SSD [Original Sandforce]
  • Hard Drive: 1TB Seagate
  • Optical Drive: BENQ DVD-RW [IDE!]
  • IR: HP IR Receiver
  • Tuner: Avermedia AverTV Duo
  • Tuner: HDHomeRun Prime

New HTPC:
*All above prices include shipping and Southern California tax. Rounded either up or down to the nearest dollar. May differ from current prices due to sales and coupons used. Links provided for most recently purchased items.


Concerns:
  • Fan Noise: Current HTPC is "OK" from a noise perspective. Haven't put money into it to decrease the noise level. Not audible over the TV audio, unless at low volumes. Not sure if new case and fans will be noisier that what I have now.
  • Video: Moving from an ATI 4350 to the integrated Intel HD. Could be better, could be worse. Could be unnoticeable. Remains to be seen.
  • RAM: Thinking I should have gone with 8GB instead of 4GB. The ITX motherboard only comes with 2 slots, meaning that future upgrade will result in throwing away existing RAM. Briefly considered getting 16GB of RAM and creating a huge RamDISK for use with the LiveTV Buffer. But that would not have been cheap.
  • Hard Drive: Considered buying another SSD, since I don't trust Sandforce anymore. The 128GB Crucial M4 in my laptop has been fantastic. But that would not have been cheap.
  • Optical: I don't own a single Blu-Ray disc. But who knows going forward.
  • Functionality: Is anything As far as I can tell, this new HTPC is not functionally better than existing HTPC. Perhaps I get a little power savings. And the SSD should perform better and hopefully be much less likely to encounter the sleep bug.


Wish me luck. Stuff should start arriving in the next week. Will hopefully update this thread as the build goes.
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post #2 of 26 Old 04-23-2012, 06:50 AM
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Interesting project. The only change I would have made is getting a cheaper case/PSU combo and springing for the mobo & CPU separately. Breaking the no-driving rule if you live near a micro center could have probably got an AMD A4 3400 for the same price with a mobo/CPU, $50 off combo. That would give you better graphics performance without having to add a discrete card.
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post #3 of 26 Old 04-23-2012, 08:05 AM
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I don't find $100 for that case, PSU and motherboard to be a "bargain". But then again personally I wouldn't consider a Foxconn mobo a "bargain" even if it was free. And the included fan is almost certainly noisier than the stock "boxed" Intel heatsink/fan. And Mfusick linked a G530 shipped for $35.69 in his "Cheapest ever HTPC that's decent. Proud of myself" thread (which is less than your OEM price) and that includes the heatsink/fan.

I suggest reading that "Cheapest ever HTPC that's decent. Proud of myself." thread and starting over with your build list. I think you can get better components while saving money.
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post #4 of 26 Old 04-23-2012, 06:33 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zon2020 View Post

I don't find $100 for that case, PSU and motherboard to be a "bargain". But then again personally I wouldn't consider a Foxconn mobo a "bargain" even if it was free. And the included fan is almost certainly noisier than the stock "boxed" Intel heatsink/fan. And Mfusick linked a G530 shipped for $35.69 in his "Cheapest ever HTPC that's decent. Proud of myself" thread (which is less than your OEM price) and that includes the heatsink/fan.

I suggest reading that "Cheapest ever HTPC that's decent. Proud of myself." thread and starting over with your build list. I think you can get better components while saving money.


The Foxconn motherboard included with the barebones has decent reviews on Newegg. So I don't see an issue with it. I'm not one to get tied to one brand being good or bad based on my own personal experiences.

One thing I didn't mention, is that I was trying to keep the footprint small. The Foxconn case is approximately the size of the original Xbox 360. All of the other cheaper combinations I have seen that are cheaper, including those listed in Mfusick's thread, involve Micro-ATX cases and motherboards. Which naturally increases the size.

Definitely concerned about the noise level of the heatsink/fan combo. But I won't know until I get it.

Mfusick's prices don't include shipping or tax. Mine do. If you take a look at his thread, you'll notice that he purchased the G530 from the exact same place. So I paid the exact same price as he is listing. It just so happens to be the case that Superbiiz sells the Retail and OEM CPUs for the same price. I would have chosen retail, except for the fact that the shipping would have made it $5 more expensive. At which point, I could have purchased it from another vendor for less.

Thanks for the input.
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post #5 of 26 Old 04-23-2012, 06:35 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ljo000 View Post

Interesting project. The only change I would have made is getting a cheaper case/PSU combo and springing for the mobo & CPU separately. Breaking the no-driving rule if you live near a micro center could have probably got an AMD A4 3400 for the same price with a mobo/CPU, $50 off combo. That would give you better graphics performance without having to add a discrete card.

I'm "sort of" near a Microcenter. If Los Angeles is close to Orange County. But the no drive rule cannot be broken! And in looking at Microcenter, they don't stock ITX motherboards. Which was a requirement I failed to mentioned in my first post.
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post #6 of 26 Old 04-24-2012, 06:43 AM
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Originally Posted by rayw69 View Post

The Foxconn motherboard included with the barebones has decent reviews on Newegg. So I don't see an issue with it. I'm not one to get tied to one brand being good or bad based on my own personal experiences.

I think you must have read different reviews than I did! They're pretty bad on the egg.

I agree that its not good to be a brand name fanboi but there are definitely better quality manufacturers than Foxconn and when you buy the combo you can't really be sure of what you're getting. I just think that you could have done better for $139 for mobo, CPU, heatsink/fan, case, and PSU.
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post #7 of 26 Old 04-24-2012, 08:40 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ljo000 View Post

I think you must have read different reviews than I did! They're pretty bad on the egg.

I agree that its not good to be a brand name fanboi but there are definitely better quality manufacturers than Foxconn and when you buy the combo you can't really be sure of what you're getting. I just think that you could have done better for $139 for mobo, CPU, heatsink/fan, case, and PSU.

And I think the history here has been a total lack of driver and bios update support which may not always be that big a problem in a "general purpose" PC but certainly IS a big problem with an HTPC where current audio and video driver updates are important.

If you want to rely on Newegg reviews, good luck to you. But you might want to simply post a thread here asking for comments on that motherboard.

Or you could search for Foxconn and read the comments that have already been made.

Or post a question in Assassin's sticky thread and get his reaction.
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post #8 of 26 Old 04-24-2012, 07:23 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ljo000 View Post

I think you must have read different reviews than I did! They're pretty bad on the egg.

I agree that its not good to be a brand name fanboi but there are definitely better quality manufacturers than Foxconn and when you buy the combo you can't really be sure of what you're getting. I just think that you could have done better for $139 for mobo, CPU, heatsink/fan, case, and PSU.

I'm on a serious budget and no drive rule as well. Micro Center takes forever to get too by public transport. Same with Will-Call pickups at New Egg in Industry.

So I've been searching high and low...

I successfully had Fry's Price Match Micro Center which normally has the A6-3500 for $79.99 to $69.99. I missed when it was on sale at MC for $66.99.

Now its $59.99, I'd get this and PM at Fry's.

If you don't need USB 3.0 or Optical Out, then a cheap A55 board runs $49 at New Egg

I see you wanted to go ITX, then the ASRock at $89.99 is a good choice. That's a whopping $50 for going smaller. Do you have an alternative for a case that will hold m-ATX?

I'm going with Patriot DDR3 1600Mhz (2x2GB), cost $24 at both New Egg and Amazon. Fry's has Kingston Blu same amount of RAM and Speed cost a dollar more and of course local tax.

$135 for motherboard, memory and Triple Core APU isn't bad IMHO.

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'03 SRT-4 12.74@106 in the 1/4
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post #9 of 26 Old 04-24-2012, 07:59 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ljo000 View Post

I think you must have read different reviews than I did! They're pretty bad on the egg.

I agree that its not good to be a brand name fanboi but there are definitely better quality manufacturers than Foxconn and when you buy the combo you can't really be sure of what you're getting. I just think that you could have done better for $139 for mobo, CPU, heatsink/fan, case, and PSU.

The reviews for the case were pretty bad. But the reviews for the mobo were actually pretty good. 4/5 eggs for the mobo. The case reviews seemed like more user error kinda stuff. So I took a shot at it.

And considering that Foxconn handles ODM motherboard orders for Intel branded motherboards, you could argue that the the quality should not be suspect. Not that I'm making that argument.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Zon2020 View Post

And I think the history here has been a total lack of driver and bios update support which may not always be that big a problem in a "general purpose" PC but certainly IS a big problem with an HTPC where current audio and video driver updates are important.

If you want to rely on Newegg reviews, good luck to you. But you might want to simply post a thread here asking for comments on that motherboard.

Or you could search for Foxconn and read the comments that have already been made.

Or post a question in Assassin's sticky thread and get his reaction.

You make a lot of very good points. I did do a quick search here. Didn't see any negative comments on the board. Assassin posts specifically that he didn't have any experience with it. So not a ton of history to be had. Though your point of buying a board that more here can vouch for has lots of merit.

I generally don't worry too much about driver updates, as I tend to go direct to the vendor for that. Direct to Realtek for the sound, Intel for the chipset, etc... Lack of BIOS updates could definitely be an issue though.
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post #10 of 26 Old 04-24-2012, 08:47 PM - Thread Starter
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Some pictures for you guys. Took them my new iPad "3". So apologies for the poor quality of the pictures. OEM CPU has yet to arrive. Will crack open the case once the CPU arrives and take some more photos.



Case side by side with an Xbox 360 for comparison:
  • Xbox 360: 12.15" x 10.15" x 3.27"
  • Foxconn RS338: 11.1" x 11.02" x 3.74"



Xbox 360 sitting on top of the case for comparison:



Accessories:
  • Screws
  • Vertical Stands
  • Heatsink/Fan Combo (Surprisingly large and taller than expected)
  • L-shaped Sata Bracket (Presumably to increase cabling room behind optical drive)



Samsung Optical Drive and Samsung RAM. Check out the height on the low profile RAM. Regular height SO-DIMM pictured for comparison.

LL
LL
LL
LL
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post #11 of 26 Old 04-27-2012, 03:23 AM
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I've toyed with picking one of those barebones up to throw on a bedroom tv. I was eying the H61 models as it opens up more possibilities for cpu heatsinks vs the special shifted one the H67 models come with that are reportedly loud. Looks like the case fan may be loud too, but can always do a 7v mod, replace it, or even not use it at all if temps at least stay in spec.

While you can do those setups cheaper, with the $30 ECS board and all you see thrown around, those foxconn barebones are great bang for the buck when you consider port selection and all IMO. That cheap ECS board doesnt have as many usb, no esata, etc like the foxconn.

Anyhow, let us know how it turns out. Noise levels is my greatest concern since it would be in a bedroom. I want near silence, not some whirring beast like a 1st gen xbox 360 or something.
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post #12 of 26 Old 04-28-2012, 05:45 PM - Thread Starter
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Completed the build today Some pictures below.

Channel Well Power Supply:


Opened case with drive caddy still installed:


CPU, RAM, SSD, HD installed:


With drive caddy in place:

LL
LL
LL
LL
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post #13 of 26 Old 04-28-2012, 06:42 PM - Thread Starter
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Some misc notes about the the barebones kit.
  • Space between the optical drive and the heatsink fan is very small. Anything longer than a 170mm optical drive will not fit. The provided L-shaped data bracket is absolutely required.
  • The drive caddy is meant to hold a 5.25" optical drive and a card reader. A standard 3.5" HDD will not fit in the 2nd caddy slot. A 2.5" drive will fit, but will need to be custom mounted in order to stay in place. I ended up placing my 2.5" SSD on top of where the 3.5" HDD is mounted.
  • Power supply comes with 2 sata power connectors and 1 molex connector. If you are planning to install 3 data drives, you'll need a molex to sata adapter. Fortunately, I had a few lying around.
  • Only comes with 2 sata cables. Had to provide my own for the 3rd drive.
  • Case and CPU fans are a non-standard depth. 80x80x20 instead of 80x80x25. The CPU fan is a 4-pin fan, and can be controlled by speedfan. When running at 30%, it is almost inaudible. The case fan is a 3-pin fan and cannot be controlled by speedfan. The case fan doesn't push a lot of air, and isn't controllable. So it may be advisable to replace it with a 4-pin fan. I'm considering purchasing a 80x80x15 fan to replace the CPU fan, then using the CPU fan as a case fan.
  • The loudest fan ends up being the PSU fan.
  • Blue LED. I removed the LED from where it was housed and tucked it away.

Noise level is reasonable, though it could stand to be quieter with a few fan upgrades.

Overall, I'm very happy with it. Much smaller than my previous HTPC case. WMC feels snappier than it was before. Channel changes happen quicker.Though strangely, launching WMC itself actually takes 2-3 seconds longer.
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post #14 of 26 Old 04-28-2012, 06:55 PM
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There's a version of this Foxconn case (not the barebones) with a 150W FSP PSU. FSP makes very nice PSUs. $45 + shipping for the case and PSU.

http://www.superbiiz.com/detail.php?name=CA-RM338

 

 

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post #15 of 26 Old 04-28-2012, 09:58 PM - Thread Starter
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Decided to order a pair of Zalman RC56 connectors rather than looking into new fans.

http://www.zalman.com/ENG/product/Pr...ad.asp?Idx=223
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post #16 of 26 Old 04-30-2012, 10:53 AM
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Technically, a 3-pin fan can be controlled by Speedfan, depending on compatibility with the motherboard. How much effort did you make to figure it out (that is, are you sure it does not work)?

I am intererested as I just bought the same barebone.
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post #17 of 26 Old 05-01-2012, 01:14 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roussi View Post

Technically, a 3-pin fan can be controlled by Speedfan, depending on compatibility with the motherboard. How much effort did you make to figure it out (that is, are you sure it does not work)?

I am intererested as I just bought the same barebone.

As far as I can tell, the motherboard only supports PWM. No voltage based control.
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post #18 of 26 Old 05-01-2012, 07:14 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rayw69 View Post

As far as I can tell, the motherboard only supports PWM. No voltage based control.

Bummer. Thanks!
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post #19 of 26 Old 05-15-2012, 03:23 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rayw69 View Post

Some misc notes about the the barebones kit.
  • Space between the optical drive and the heatsink fan is very small. Anything longer than a 170mm optical drive will not fit. The provided L-shaped data bracket is absolutely required.
  • The drive caddy is meant to hold a 5.25" optical drive and a card reader. A standard 3.5" HDD will not fit in the 2nd caddy slot. A 2.5" drive will fit, but will need to be custom mounted in order to stay in place. I ended up placing my 2.5" SSD on top of where the 3.5" HDD is mounted.
  • Power supply comes with 2 sata power connectors and 1 molex connector. If you are planning to install 3 data drives, you'll need a molex to sata adapter. Fortunately, I had a few lying around.
  • Only comes with 2 sata cables. Had to provide my own for the 3rd drive.
  • Case and CPU fans are a non-standard depth. 80x80x20 instead of 80x80x25. The CPU fan is a 4-pin fan, and can be controlled by speedfan. When running at 30%, it is almost inaudible. The case fan is a 3-pin fan and cannot be controlled by speedfan. The case fan doesn't push a lot of air, and isn't controllable. So it may be advisable to replace it with a 4-pin fan. I'm considering purchasing a 80x80x15 fan to replace the CPU fan, then using the CPU fan as a case fan.
  • The loudest fan ends up being the PSU fan.
  • Blue LED. I removed the LED from where it was housed and tucked it away.

Noise level is reasonable, though it could stand to be quieter with a few fan upgrades.

Overall, I'm very happy with it. Much smaller than my previous HTPC case. WMC feels snappier than it was before. Channel changes happen quicker.Though strangely, launching WMC itself actually takes 2-3 seconds longer.

Is the PSU case screwed together? In otherwords does it look like it can be disassembled enough to get to the fan in it? and beyond that even, is it a typical 80mm fan in it? Might be worth a fan swap if that is the case. With the thin case fan...I would be inclined to at least test the system with that fan disconnected. Cheap non-standard fans like that typicaly arent all that effective anyways, and with a basic setup it might be worth just removing it if the system runs just a few degrees warmer but still well within spec. Throw in a discrete vid card or a tuner however, then some propper airflow might be more necessary.
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post #20 of 26 Old 05-15-2012, 03:43 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by C17chief View Post

Is the PSU case screwed together? In otherwords does it look like it can be disassembled enough to get to the fan in it? and beyond that even, is it a typical 80mm fan in it? Might be worth a fan swap if that is the case. With the thin case fan...I would be inclined to at least test the system with that fan disconnected. Cheap non-standard fans like that typicaly arent all that effective anyways, and with a basic setup it might be worth just removing it if the system runs just a few degrees warmer but still well within spec. Throw in a discrete vid card or a tuner however, then some propper airflow might be more necessary.

I recently opened up the PSU and put a Zalman RC56 connector in to quiet the fan. It was easy to take apart. Removing the fan would be trivial.

Couple important things to note:
  • The PSU fan connector is 2 pin.
  • The PSU fan is a non-standard depth. Most 80mm fans are 25mm depth. I didn't measure it, but the fan in the PSU is either 15mm or 10mm. Guessing it was 15mm.

I wouldn't run the PSU without the fan if I had a Ceton card or a passively cooled video card in the PCI-E slot. I think it would be too much heat in that area of the case. With the PCI-E slot empty, I think the Zalman RC56 is a good compromise.

I ordered a Kingwin 3.5" to 2x 2.5" hard drive adapter for $6 to properly mount a pair of 2.5" drives in this thing. Which means I'll have to crack open the HTPC this weekend. While I'm at it, I can take some pictures of the PSU with it opened up, if you'll find it interesting.
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post #21 of 26 Old 05-15-2012, 03:46 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rayw69 View Post

I recently opened up the PSU and put a Zalman RC56 connector in to quiet the fan. It was easy to take apart. Removing the fan would be trivial.

Couple important things to note:
  • The PSU fan connector is 2 pin.
  • The PSU fan is a non-standard depth. Most 80mm fans are 25mm depth. I didn't measure it, but the fan in the PSU is either 15mm or 10mm. Guessing it was 15mm.

I wouldn't run the PSU without the fan if I had a Ceton card or a passively cooled video card in the PCI-E slot. I think it would be too much heat in that area of the case. With the PCI-E slot empty, I think the Zalman RC56 is a good compromise.

I ordered a Kingwin 3.5" to 2x 2.5" hard drive adapter for $6 to properly mount a pair of 2.5" drives in this thing. Which means I'll have to crack open the HTPC this weekend. While I'm at it, I can take some pictures of the PSU with it opened up, if you'll find it interesting.

psu def needs the fan, which is why it would be worth a swap if it was a standard 80mmx25...i was meaning deactivate the case fan over by the cpu HS. Those cheap non-standard fans arent usually that effective to begin with...and when you consider the solid side of the cpu HS sitting right in front of it, I doubt it's actually doing much. I would be surprised to see overall temps rise more then a few degrees if any at all without it running.
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post #22 of 26 Old 05-15-2012, 07:53 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by C17chief View Post

psu def needs the fan, which is why it would be worth a swap if it was a standard 80mmx25...i was meaning deactivate the case fan over by the cpu HS. Those cheap non-standard fans arent usually that effective to begin with...and when you consider the solid side of the cpu HS sitting right in front of it, I doubt it's actually doing much. I would be surprised to see overall temps rise more then a few degrees if any at all without it running.

Unfortunately, none of the 3 fans in this case are the standard 25mm depth. Case and CPU fan are 20mm. PSU fan is 15mm is my guess. Definitely one of the drawbacks of this case.

With speedfan to control the CPU fan and the Zalman RC56 to drop the voltage, the fans are virtually silent. The 92mm fan in my Synology DS212, which sits directly next to the HTPC, is louder than the 3 combined fans.
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post #23 of 26 Old 05-16-2012, 09:13 AM
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Unfortunately, none of the 3 fans in this case are the standard 25mm depth. Case and CPU fan are 20mm. PSU fan is 15mm is my guess. Definitely one of the drawbacks of this case.

With speedfan to control the CPU fan and the Zalman RC56 to drop the voltage, the fans are virtually silent. The 92mm fan in my Synology DS212, which sits directly next to the HTPC, is louder than the 3 combined fans.

Thanks for posting all the info and photos!

It had been down to a lower price w/free shipping a few months back. I dithered and then the super-low price expired, as did my interest.

My concern for the combo was the PSU fan also. This was due to my previous experience with the den's SFF (but micro-ATX) case/PSU a few years back. The cheap, thin, hi-rmp fan started making a really annoying noise. I disassembled the PSU to investigate and blew out the PSU fuse: the power was on. That POS fan, an ARX CeraDyne, is 11 mm thick.

I never fixed the PSU. I just use a regular PSU to power the system, with the system cover removed. The system & "external" PSU are behind a smoked glass door in the bottom of a cabinet, so nothing is visible.

BTW I was really impressed by the construction & general cuteness of the HP 8200 Ultra-slim desktops we were deploying in a large teaching hospital. Smaller than the Foxconn and WAY more expensive, but really cute. Four USB on the front, but the only video on the rear was DP+ and VGA. Powered by a laptop brick, so that portion was silent.

Chassis
(H x W x D)
2.6 x 9.9 x 10 in
66 x 252 x 254 mm
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post #24 of 26 Old 05-17-2012, 02:56 AM
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Originally Posted by rayw69 View Post

Unfortunately, none of the 3 fans in this case are the standard 25mm depth. Case and CPU fan are 20mm. PSU fan is 15mm is my guess. Definitely one of the drawbacks of this case.

With speedfan to control the CPU fan and the Zalman RC56 to drop the voltage, the fans are virtually silent. The 92mm fan in my Synology DS212, which sits directly next to the HTPC, is louder than the 3 combined fans.

Might still pick one up anyways when they are sub $100 shipped again. Probably the H61 version since they don't include the seemingly required modded cpu hs/fan. I still need to look more in to why exactly that is, like if the position of the socket is still in the same spot with the same issue and just doesnt come with it, or if it is in fact more out of the way thus special hs not needed. If it does turn out to be too loud for my taste for HTPC use, I also have some need to replace a regular basic desktop machine, so could always use it for that.

I like the idea of the same case with sparkle PSU for $45 like stardog posted. Still no high end psu or anything, but sparkle has been around forever and are solid for cheap basic psu's. On the same note, makes me wonder if it's the exact same psu rebranded, just simply more conservatively rated in print. As cheap as those foxconn barebones can get though, considering $45 for the case seperately, I havent ever seen an ITX board with all the ports and such as those for $50 or less, so while you can build a cheaper still system, you cant really match the port selection and all doing it cheaper.
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post #25 of 26 Old 05-30-2012, 07:11 PM
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post #26 of 26 Old 05-31-2012, 06:17 AM
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