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Building a Budget Home Theater ITX Gaming PC 2016

Updated on September 17, 2016
This build features the Cooler Master Elite 130, a good gaming case for just under $50. It's small, but can still house a full-sized graphics card.
This build features the Cooler Master Elite 130, a good gaming case for just under $50. It's small, but can still house a full-sized graphics card.

While streaming sticks and boxes are quite popular right now I continue to build small PCs. The flexibility of a computer is just unmatched. Using a PC I don't have to worry about compatibility issues between competing manufacturers and I can have a digital copy of all my movies right there without streaming. Using Plex gives me access to all of my friends' movies as well.

Most importantly I can game on it. Using an Xbox controller with a USB port as well as a mouse and keyboard gives you a ton of options.

In this post, I'll talk about some of the ins and outs I've come across while building these types of computers and a budget build that beats the performance of the new Xbox One and PS4 consoles.

An Even Cheaper Option:

For this build I'm wanting to create a computer that can not only just run today's latest games, but do it in at least 1080p settings. That being said you can still get 1080p at low settings with something solid like this Kaveri $300 budget build. For something just above that in performance you could also take a look at this good $400 to $500 computer build.

Important Tips for Your Home Theater PC / HTPC

When building a small form factor or mini ITX build there's a lot of considerations for the build you wouldn't normally have to worry about. Airflow, space, and energy efficiency should all be high on your priority list.

Tips for Improving Airflow and Lowering Heat Dissipation in Your PC:

Computer hardware can dissipate quite a bit of heat. You can minimize that heat in a number of different ways. Adding additional fans and a CPU cooler is one of the pricier options, but there are a few other ways as well.

1. Pick an Efficient Power Supply:

Power Supplies are all inefficient in some way or another. That being said the more efficient they are the less wasted energy and less heat that is dissipated. This, along with energy savings, makes an 80 Plus certified power supply a must-have in this build. This is especially true if you plan on running your computer for both games and streaming TV to your living room.

2. Pick a low wattage CPU:

A low TDP or thermal design power CPU uses less energy and in general will be more cool. Also, using less energy will mean you use less wattage and therefore have less dissipation from your PSU. The sweet spot here is to find a processor that won't bottleneck in PC games and still has a relatively low TDP.

3. Keep Your Computer in a Cool Place:

While it's ideal to have your computer in a cool place with regular airflow this isn't always possible. That being said you should try to avoid placing it in a sealed location. Doing so could raise the internal temperature of your case and components and lead to decreased longevity for all of your components.

4. Cable Management is Your Friend:

It's easy to finish a build and want to play with your new computer right away. That being said you'll be well served to make sure your cables are tucked so air can flow properly through your case. This is especially important in an ITX HTPC where the space that air can flow is already limited.

As you can see in the picture above, the Cooler Master Elite 130 can house even large form factor GPUs.
As you can see in the picture above, the Cooler Master Elite 130 can house even large form factor GPUs.

A Good Budget $600 to $700 HTPC / Gaming PC 2016

Here's a look at the parts and components I feel you should choose if you have a budget of around $600 to under $700.

Performance Processor Options Under $200

In the under $200 category there are two options that stick out to me, the i5-6400 and 6400T. The TDP of the "T" option is 35W while the TDP of the i5-6400 is 65W.

While the T versions of this processor as well as other's in the Skylake line (6500T, 6600T) are more efficient they do give something up in terms of performance. The i5-6400 operates at a turbo frequency of up to 3.30 GHz while the T version reaches 2.8GHz. Ultimately, You'll have to decide whether you'd prefer performance over less heat and power.

A Good 80 Plus Power Supply for the Money

As I mentioned above a good power supply will save you money over the long haul. You want one that's at least 80% efficient and that has at least 25 to 30% additional capacity over your initial calculation.

How much power do you need?

If you're wondering how much power you need, you can just plug your build into PC Partpicker. My calculation for this build was just over 300 watts. It's likely your build won't need a high wattage PSU, either.

I'd probably go with a quality tier 1 power supply here. It'll keep your components safe, be more energy efficient, and last a long time. This gold rated one from EVGA is probably my favorite right now.

A Good HTPC Case Under $50

I used the Cooler Master Elite 130. It has a small form factor and fits into a shelf pretty easily.
I used the Cooler Master Elite 130. It has a small form factor and fits into a shelf pretty easily.

Best Home Theater PC / HTPC Case Under $50

For HTPCs in general there's one case that not only sticks out to me in the under $50 category, but also in the under $100 category. Specifically, I'm talking about the Cooler Master Elite 130. This shoebox-sized case has everything you need inside it for the perfect mini ITX build.

What's more is that the mesh case is also very breathable and gives enough airflow to your important components. Perhaps even more important is that it can house a full-sized graphics cards. Having used this and other Cooler Master products in the past, I can tell you that this company knows what they're doing when it comes to making computer cases.

ASRock makes a variety of budget boards that are decent in terms of quality and functionality.
ASRock makes a variety of budget boards that are decent in terms of quality and functionality.

A Good Mini ITX Motherboard Option for Under $100:

For me personally a good mini ITX motherboard needs to meet a few criteria. It needs to have good onboard audio, a built-in HDMI port (although we'll be using the GPU for this), and modern compatibility with USB 3 and Sata III.

For a Skylake Processor like ours we need an LGA 1151 motherboard. Something like the H110M-ITX chipset here is perfect for our form factor and budget. ASRock has several boards that work just fine for what we're trying to do. I'll list the one below that I used.

Wireless Integration May be Important for Some:

If your PC is going to be in a remote location, then you might also want to strongly consider a board with built-in wireless capability. While I'd prefer to hard wire my machine there are definitely some who would prefer this option. The board I've listed is not wireless.

HTPC Gaming Graphics Cards Under $200 - AMD vs NVIDIA

There are a lot of considerations when it comes to graphics cards at this price point.

AMD Cards:

AMD has caught up a lot in this category in the past year and with their RX release certainly gives you a good option in the RX 470 4GB.

NVIDIA Cards:

If you go with an NVIDIA card, your best option here is probably the GTX 1060 3GB. It's a lot more efficient than the RX 470 and is just as good of performer in DirectX 12 games while being considerably better in DirectX 11.

Which is Better NVIDIA or AMD?

There are a lot of people who will argue one way or another here. I would say that NVIDIA is the more popular brand overall; however, AMD may give you the better performance in the long-run with DirectX 12 or Vulcan.

Final Thoughts:

Overall I don't really have brand loyalty here but would prefer an NVIDIA card for a small form factor build. What do you think? Also, those who plan on gaming above 1080p will likely want to go with the GTX 1060 6GB or RX 480 8GB.

Are you using AMD or NVIDIA for your HTPC?

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Other Parts will Include:

A solid state drive will speed up your system a lot. As this A-Data one costs

  • Hitachi Deskstar 2TB Hard Drive
  • 8GB Kingston HyperX DDR4 Memory

You don't need more than 2133MHz speed memory here as the motherboard isn't compatible with higher. So, save some money and go with something cheap.

Optional Parts:

  • Asus Blu-Ray Model BC-12B1ST

Final Thoughts for this HTPC Build

Without the Blu-Ray drive this build comes in right around $700. Certainly you could do it cheaper by going with an i3 and a less expensive GPU. If you're not a gamer, going with an i3 and no graphics card would also save you a ton of money and basically do the same thing.

There's always something bigger and badder that you could add to it; however, in my opinion this is the price range where you cover most of the bases and end up with something you'll be using for several years to come.

© 2014 Brandon Hart

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