Building an HTPC-style computer as a desktop - a good or bad idea? - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 14 Old 02-02-2013, 01:42 PM - Thread Starter
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Hello, here's my situation, and I appreciate any input:

I'd like to build my mom a new PC. She's works from home, but is just a general user with no special requirements. However, I'm not keen on building her another dinosaur-style tower PC because it seems like way too much hardware to handle tasks that most tablets can do. So I had this bright idea of building her a compact HTPC-style computer with a SSD and DVD slot -- think Dell Zino in appearance.

Is this a good idea? If so, can anyone point me in a good direction for a case/motherboard?

Thanks in advance!
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post #2 of 14 Old 02-02-2013, 06:27 PM
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If you want small it's going to cost more. It's doable and it should do want what you want it'll just cost. I recommend a simple micro-ATX build. It will be cheaper and still fairly compact.
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post #3 of 14 Old 02-02-2013, 06:50 PM
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If you want to get her a Dell Zino then get her a Dell Zino.
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post #4 of 14 Old 02-02-2013, 09:30 PM
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I agree with the replies above. There is a lot of money to be saved by sticking with the old dinosaur PC. Money will be saved, not only in up front cost, but down the line as well in the form cheaper upgrades and increased longevity (due to better ventilation). Unless space is a constraint or she needs to move the PC around, going the small route is not the best.
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post #5 of 14 Old 02-02-2013, 09:37 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by macks View Post

If you want to get her a Dell Zino then get her a Dell Zino.

They were discontinued almost 18 months ago. I thought about eBaying one, but the upgrade options are slim.
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post #6 of 14 Old 02-02-2013, 09:41 PM - Thread Starter
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I think I found sorta what I was looking for in the Intel NUC. Thanks for the replies.
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post #7 of 14 Old 02-03-2013, 05:18 AM
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I've read a few posts here that mention the NUC, so I took a look on NewEgg, and I have to say that the two "kits" that came up there didn't seem all that impressive to me, especially for the money. If you're not violently opposed to "all things Apple", you may want to consider a Mac Mini. You can find open box (Best Buy) or refurb models direct from Apple for an added cost savings. You'll need to add a keyboard/mouse, but you or your mom probably already have an extra set lying around. I'd recommend having your mom use the Mac OS X, because she might really like it. If so, get her an external Apple touchpad, as the multitouch gestures are nicely integrated into the user experience. But if you really want the Windows OS, you can use Boot Camp and install Windows onto that Mac Mini (I'm likely going to be doing something myself soon with an open box Mini I bought - I'll likely be configuring it for use with Windows 7 Media Center). I got my open box 2012 base model (Intel i5 laptop chip, 4GB RAM, 500GB HD) for about $460 + tax.

If you really want Windows and you *are* opposed to the Mac Mini for whatever reason, and/or maybe want something cheaper, I spotted an HP Slimline desktop PC open box at Best Buy for about $330. I can't remember the specs, but you'll want to do your own search for Best Buy stores closest to you. I have an old HP Slimline that I bought a long while ago (collecting dust in storage right now), and I think they're decent little boxes. It's a lot bigger than a Mac Mini or NUC, but it's a lot smaller than a traditional tower.

If the real story here is that you really enjoy building these things yourself, then yeah, a NUC or Mini ITX could be a fun project.

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post #8 of 14 Old 02-03-2013, 06:27 AM
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I know I wouldn't want to run productivity software on a NUC.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811119261

This case would allow you to have a dvd drive and a much more powerful cpu. You'll end up spending less and give your mom a considerably faster computer. Whatever you do buy plenty of ram.
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post #9 of 14 Old 02-03-2013, 06:34 AM
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Why not just get her something like this? Does it really have to be that small? I also don't see much point in spending the extra money on a Mac mini.
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post #10 of 14 Old 02-03-2013, 12:16 PM
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I have a NUC myself, I got if for myself with a specific purpose in mind and knowing the limitations. Keep in mind you will need a keyboard and mouse (that's one usb port), if your mom has any need for an optical drive you'll need an external (extra cost and that's another usb port, only 1 left). With limitations of hard drive space due to the small capacity of SSD's, an external hdd might be necessary (additional cost, that's the last usb port, unless you get a usb hub, again potential extra cost). Another thought, is if you'll be using wireless, know there is an issue of transferring large (very large) amounts of data causing heat issues since the wifi card is right below the SSD.

I like my Intel NUC for what I use it for, but since you're building this for your mom and she uses it for work, you might want to consider something more flexible. As suggested above, a mac-mini would give you more ports and more hdd space out of the box. A micro-atx would give you even more flexibility with an internal optical drive and better price options.
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post #11 of 14 Old 02-03-2013, 09:11 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by srauly View Post

I've read a few posts here that mention the NUC, so I took a look on NewEgg, and I have to say that the two "kits" that came up there didn't seem all that impressive to me, especially for the money. If you're not violently opposed to "all things Apple", you may want to consider a Mac Mini. You can find open box (Best Buy) or refurb models direct from Apple for an added cost savings. You'll need to add a keyboard/mouse, but you or your mom probably already have an extra set lying around. I'd recommend having your mom use the Mac OS X, because she might really like it. If so, get her an external Apple touchpad, as the multitouch gestures are nicely integrated into the user experience. But if you really want the Windows OS, you can use Boot Camp and install Windows onto that Mac Mini (I'm likely going to be doing something myself soon with an open box Mini I bought - I'll likely be configuring it for use with Windows 7 Media Center). I got my open box 2012 base model (Intel i5 laptop chip, 4GB RAM, 500GB HD) for about $460 + tax.

If you really want Windows and you *are* opposed to the Mac Mini for whatever reason, and/or maybe want something cheaper, I spotted an HP Slimline desktop PC open box at Best Buy for about $330. I can't remember the specs, but you'll want to do your own search for Best Buy stores closest to you. I have an old HP Slimline that I bought a long while ago (collecting dust in storage right now), and I think they're decent little boxes. It's a lot bigger than a Mac Mini or NUC, but it's a lot smaller than a traditional tower.

If the real story here is that you really enjoy building these things yourself, then yeah, a NUC or Mini ITX could be a fun project.

Yeah I'd strongly prefer to get her a Mac Mini as well, but I don't live nearby and I think the learning curve will be too steep on her own. Especially since she needs to be able to do her job on it immediately. A far as Boot Camp, I found it hard to find a consistent review of that feature, so I'm hesitant to bank on it. She frequently remote connects to a Windows PC at her boss's office, and I'd need to be certain that worked flawlessly via Mac/BC. I also considered format-installing Windows on a refurbed Mini, but that sounded like way too much hassle. Hardware is fun (I'm an engineer), but software can drive one insane.

I also considered the slimlines, but to be honest, I wanted to experiment a little. The NUC seemed like an interesting project. I'll build one and see how it performs. I priced out parts and it came in around $450, which is something I'm willing to pay (she already has all the other peripherals). If it doesn't work as I expect, it sounds like they're popular enough to resell rather easily.
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post #12 of 14 Old 02-03-2013, 09:18 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by macks View Post

I know I wouldn't want to run productivity software on a NUC.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811119261

This case would allow you to have a dvd drive and a much more powerful cpu. You'll end up spending less and give your mom a considerably faster computer. Whatever you do buy plenty of ram.

"Productivity software" = Microsoft Office. I disagree that the NUC wouldn't fit the task. She has managed this long on a 2006 Dell and the NUC is basically a decent modern laptop.
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post #13 of 14 Old 02-03-2013, 09:35 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by boournz View Post

I have a NUC myself, I got if for myself with a specific purpose in mind and knowing the limitations. Keep in mind you will need a keyboard and mouse (that's one usb port), if your mom has any need for an optical drive you'll need an external (extra cost and that's another usb port, only 1 left). With limitations of hard drive space due to the small capacity of SSD's, an external hdd might be necessary (additional cost, that's the last usb port, unless you get a usb hub, again potential extra cost). Another thought, is if you'll be using wireless, know there is an issue of transferring large (very large) amounts of data causing heat issues since the wifi card is right below the SSD.

I like my Intel NUC for what I use it for, but since you're building this for your mom and she uses it for work, you might want to consider something more flexible. As suggested above, a mac-mini would give you more ports and more hdd space out of the box. A micro-atx would give you even more flexibility with an internal optical drive and better price options.

Glad you like the NUC. All she really does is word-processing, so I'm betting the NUC will be more than enough power. I'd get a wifi+bluetooth combo card, so that'll tackle the mouse. HD space is not a concern; I'm pretty sure her current computer is only 30 GB and she doesn't get into photos/video/music/streaming. The lack of a disk drive is unfortunate, but the DVD drive on her current computer has been broken for years and I haven't heard her complain. Worst case I can find her a cheap external drive to pull out of the closet to install software as-needed.

I realize the NUC isn't the most cost-effective route, but I'm fine paying for the novelty of it and I'm confident it'll hold her over for years to come.
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post #14 of 14 Old 02-03-2013, 10:27 PM
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Originally Posted by jmhumr View Post

Glad you like the NUC. All she really does is word-processing, so I'm betting the NUC will be more than enough power. I'd get a wifi+bluetooth combo card, so that'll tackle the mouse. HD space is not a concern; I'm pretty sure her current computer is only 30 GB and she doesn't get into photos/video/music/streaming. The lack of a disk drive is unfortunate, but the DVD drive on her current computer has been broken for years and I haven't heard her complain. Worst case I can find her a cheap external drive to pull out of the closet to install software as-needed.

I realize the NUC isn't the most cost-effective route, but I'm fine paying for the novelty of it and I'm confident it'll hold her over for years to come.

Yeah I was just trying to cover the bases, not everybody thinks of the potential needs of daily use. The peripherals are the main issue with such a small form factor. Power won't be an issue at all, an i3 is more than enough for any basic office use... lots of places still running old celerons, pentium 4s, etc. With the added bonus of an SSD, the OS and programs will load even faster.

I'm running Windows 7 with WMC and use it for HDTV, Netflix, etc. I had Linux Mint 13 with Cinnamon desktop on it for a while with XBMC. It's also nearly silent.
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