The previous article provided a basic outline and structure for gaming, production, and streaming DIY computer builds. In this extension piece, we’ll talk about the unrepresented minority of DIY projects – but an important and growing minority.
Home-theater PCs, home office / “mainstream” machines, and “internet boxes” make for unique build opportunities with different considerations than a PC gaming rig might have. If purpose-built, these setups can be made efficiently and cheaply, but with great ability to accomplish their home media or light office tasks.
WHAT ARE SOME NON-GAMING PCS YOU CAN BUILD?
Non-Gaming PC Type #1 – Home-Theater PC (HTPC)
HTPC builds have a few different categories – but the main two are “media consumption” and “gaming.” An HTPC for media consumption will specialize in movie/TV viewing, music playback, and web streaming. A gaming HTPC could invest a little more in a gaming-grade GPU for TV-bound gameplay, and would likely also account for a controller when buying peripherals.
Regardless of whether the HTPC is targeted at “console replacement” gaming or at media consumption, both have the same baseline needs: Relative silence for tolerable use in a living room or bedroom, reasonably large media storage (networked or local), and a smaller form factor. The NZXT Manta would make for an excellent HTPC case with a bit of flair.
Home-theater PCs should focus most immediately on form factor – the case and motherboard likely should be mini-ITX or (maximally) micro-ATX, as these motherboard form factors will allow more compact sizes. The case should be accordingly fitted and use quieter fans. Together, these build factors make the system more discreet and out-of-the-way as a DVR or console replacement.
Unless you’re exclusively streaming from online video service providers, HTPCs also have storage demands. Entertainment media – high-quality music, video, and games – takes a considerable amount of storage space. Remote media can be managed through a router for external, network-attached storage (like a NAS or cheap network-attached drive), but if that’s intimidating or undesirable, take inventory of the naturally limited drive bay availability of smaller cases and buy accordingly. Higher density drives are desirable if working with only one or two 3.5/2.5” slots.
Tips for building a gaming HTPC: Consider the possibility of consolidating home consoles into a single home-theater box. This is easily done with emulation of older hardware and software, like the NES, SNES, or even N64, and will allow for an immediate reduction in behind-TV cable clutter and boxes. Modern computers are readily able to operate as DVRs (with capture cards and signal converters) or as emulators. Taking advantage of this capability simplifies the overall setup and reduces a reliance on RCA and HDMI switching between multiple devices.
Non-Gaming PC Type #2 – Home Office PC or Mainstream PC
Home office and mainstream PCs are more simplistic. This is what you’d build for a non-technical friend or family member, an office that needs a simple POS/QuickBooks computer, or for general school-style research and writing.
A mainstream PC can be had at more affordable prices than ever, largely thanks to the proliferation of integrated graphics processors (IGPs & APUs). The processing requirements of Office-like software and web browsers have also only modestly increased – but have nowhere near kept pace with architecture advancements in modern processors. Cheap, $50-$100 CPUs can readily sustain such a computer, as can their stock coolers and accompanying cheap motherboards. There’s no need to get Z-series boards and even i3 CPUs for a simple, Office-focused PC. It certainly doesn’t hurt to grab something akin to an i3, but (and check your needs against hardware requirements) Pentiums and Athlon CPUs will get the job done.
Non-Gaming PC Type #3 – Internet Box PC
Not distant from their home office and mainstream brethren, internet boxes have one objective: run a browser. Installing a lightweight OS would be acceptable here – something like Chrome OS or a stripped-down version of Ubuntu – and would further enable usage of cheap hardware. Internet boxes demand little more than Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) ports and a reasonably modern CPU (plus a couple gigabytes of RAM – we all know how greedy browsers and websites have gotten). These can be thrown together using scrap parts that have been cannibalized from retired systems, plus a few modern throw-ins. A new case or cooler quickly cleans-up a build.
GAMING PCS CAN USUALLY DO EVERYTHING YOU NEED AND MORE
Because PC gaming is essentially what drives the the PC hardware industry to innovate, a gaming PC will usually let you do everything you need. This means your gaming PC can also be your HTPC or Internet Box if you want it to. – Steve Burke, GamersNexus