This will be a record of my first attempt at building a HTPC that is small form factor, low power, low noise but with video processing capabilities to rival was is generally only achieved with larger builds. Follow me on this journey that will cover from Day 1 hardware build through final software installation and configuration.
What I will use this build for is my primary 10-foot experience front end. Its job will be to playback/stream media off a shared storage appliance in the equipment closet. While I'm a big fan of HTPCs, I feel a keyboard/mouse/desktop has no place in the living room. If this were 'my' system, I wouldnt mind. However I want to ensure a guest of mine can pickup the remote and easily understand how to use the system.
Motherboard - Intel DQ77KB
I chose this board primarily for its Thin Mini-ITX form factor, IvyBridge support. 2x SATA 6Gb/s ports + mSATA. 2x Intel GbE. On board DC-DC PSU
CPU/GPU - Intel i3-3225
This CPU was chosen because it stays under my 65W thermal envelope limit(55W for this particular CPU), and my requirement for Intel's fastest available on-die GPU - HD 4000.
RAM - Samsung 30nm Low Voltage DDR3
Samsung Green memory was chosen for its factory low voltage and relatively low latency specs. Drive them at 1.5v instead of the stock 1.35v and pushing them past factory specs is an easy task. Also the black PCB and low-profile looks neat.
SDD - Crucial M4 mSATA SSD
An SSD was a requirement for this build. Given the motherboard provides a mPCI-E slot that support mSATA, I jumped at the opportunity to lower the power consumption/requirement for the system while at the same time help with cable management inside the chassis. Sadly, while this SSD model supports a 6Gb/s interface, the motherboard electrically only supports a 3Gb/s link on the mPCI-E port. A tradeoff I ultimately decided was acceptable. A future upgrade/tweak can be to use a full size 2.5" SSD on one of the two motherboard provided 6Gb/s ports to allow an increase in disk I/O.
Chassis - Lian-Li PC-Q05 Thin mini-ITX Chassis
This is one of, literally, only a handful of purpose built thin mini-itx chassis available at this time. Comprised entirely of black anodized aluminum and standing under 4.5cm, it was easily my first choice. My second choice went to Akasa and their Euler
chassis. Also, its minimalist aesthetics will look great with decor in the living area, appearing to be more a high-end device than a tacky box riddled with blue LED's, a trend that so many current CE devices unfortunately seem to follow.
I/O panel profile:
Assembled motherboard along with BluRay box for size perspective:
Empty chassis, with included accessories:
Assembled chassis, front and rear:
Assembling the motherboard*/cpu/ram/ssd was straightforward.
*Note: Because of the design of the Intel HTS1155LP thermal solution; the unit must be installed on the motherboard before the board is installed into the chassis. This is because the heatsink uses a backplate that sits underneath the motherboard.
I initially struggled to get the board sit flush with the front panel and motherboard mounting holes to align with the motherboard standoffs because of these 2 small screws off to the side of the heatsink fins. They were small and I overlooked them. Once I noticed and corrected the placement the board fell right into place.
I'm a long time Lian-Li fan for their build quality and precision machining. I have to say with each new build I expect them to wow me even more than the last and this chassis was no exception. That said and given the fact that this chassis is clearly a 'one-off' for them I have some personal room- for-improvement comments/suggestions:
1- You can see where there is significant wasted space even in this small/compact chassis. Had the cage been positioned horizontally instead of vertically a few inches could have been shaved along the Y-axis dimension of the chassis.
2- The ability to place the fan in either a push or pull configuration is appreciated. However if the fan is oriented in a pull configuration(opposite to its current position), the hot air passing over the fins would not exactly be tunneled or directed outside the chassis. This could adversely affect chassis temps. Mandating a push configuration could again have shaved a few inches along the chassis' Y-axis dimension.