09 December, 2011


OK. Computer-building has always been a hobby of mine. Later years have shown that high-end components don't always have to cost an arm and a leg. So I figured I'd do a build-project where I would build a hybrid workstation / VM-lab / gaming-rig, with as much computing-power as my limited budget would allow.

The following became my project-goals:
  • Build an HTPC (Home Theatre PC) with std.-dimensions for rack/stack placement.
  • Get the most powerful and technically up-to-date cpu for as little as possible, most likely an alternative to Intel (AMD).
  • Shove in, at a very minimum, at least 8GB of RAM with decent heat spreading.
  • Make due with the stock cpu-fan and add cabinet fans accordingly.
  • Use a customizable O.C.(overclocking)-motherboard for tweaking-purposes.
I figured I'd base the machine on an AMD chipset and processor because they've always been more on the cheaper end, compared to Intel, without losing too much of the competing processing-power (allthough AMD chips generate quite a lot of heat in contrast to Intel's).

The basic assembly was quite easy. Every screw and spacer needed was included with the cabinet to ensure a good fit for the MicroATX motherboard.

Installation of the components on the motherboard was also pretty straightforward. Although I forgot to lock the cpu-chip into the cradle before I fastened the cpu-fan over it :s doh!

Silverstone's starter-level cabinet "Milo" did the job I wanted it to. It was slimline and spec-standard so it fit nicely on my Denon receiver with a Pioneer DVD player and a Canal Digital PVR on top of it, all without over-heating any metal-surfaces.
System-disk. Period ;)
Only annoying thing I didn't think about was if I wanted to add a PCIx graphics card, it has to be a "low-profile" spec-card to fit in the low cabinet. But for now the embedded HDMI port on the M/B will do (I eventually added a low-end GeForce GT520 1GB GDDR3).

I could fit up to 3 hard-drives total, but I only used a 250GB Western Digital hard-drive for personal files (/home Linux partition) and a 60GB ForceGT Corsair SSD for the OS (Linux). The SSD was a definite improvement both on heavy word-load effectiveness and boot-up (it boots Debian GNU/Linux / Ubuntu Desktop / Linux Mint in less than a few seconds!)

A metal bar is used to keep the cabinet sturdy, and does an excellent job.

One thing I noticed when installing the OS after first bootup, was that all the six cores (yes ;) that's SIX cpu-cores :p) reported an individual total processing-power of a mere 800MHz! WTF!?

This couldn't be! 800MHz x 6!? At first I figured it was the Cool'n'Quiet-feature of AMDs processor-lines that throttled everything down to save power and/or cool the cpu. This was not the case.

As I read the motherboard webpage, I realized the cpu was released after the motherboard. And even though it listed the cpu as compatible, it also said it required an EFI-update to be able to take full advantage of a hexa-core processor.
Well, that figures... So, I aggravatingly downloaded the mentioned EFI binary-blob on a USB-stick, and proceeded to flash the motherboard.

After booting up the newly upgraded firmware, it listed the cpu with the correct specifications :) YAY-HOORAY! ;D

Without discrete graphics card.

With discrete graphics-card.
* Asus GeForce GT520 2GB 64-bit GDDR3 PCie-2.
I haven't really had the time to properly benchmark the performance yet. And I think I'll postpone it until I have a proper cpu cooling-system (preferably liquid-cooling, but I haven't been able to find a low-profile cooling-system that will fit the SilverStone Milo HTPC-cabinet yet).

For now, it has shown exceptional potential as a file-/web-server, daily mailer/browser, HD multimedia powerhouse and compilation workstation :] so I'm really looking forward to pushing it to the edge :D

Next project is setting up an advanced NAS box, preferrably with iSCSI-support for Virtual Machine network-storage :]

NAS-project update: http://blog.pizslacker.org/2012/02/nas-for-vmwaremediafiles.html

Discrete graphics upgrade (Sep'2014):

New (as of Sept'2014) Sapphire Radeon HD 6670 1GB 64-bit GDDR5 PCIe-2.1 discrete graphics-card
Supplementary (for separate iSCSI-subnet) MiniPCIe Gigabit Ethernet card

With new Sapphire Radeon HD 6670 1GB 64-bit GDDR5 PCIe-2.1 discrete graphics-card.