How to build your own Steam Box today

Memory - HyperX LoVo DDR3 RAM: I’ve used Kingston HyperX LoVo low-voltage DDR3 in past projects, and it has consistently delivered good performance. At 1.35 volts, it demands less power than the typical 1.5 volts required by standard DDR3 and much less than the 1.65 volts that some high performance modules need. Yet the price premium over standard DDR3 is fairly modest. An 8GB kit consisting of two 4GB modules costs less than $60, which is competitive with the prices of other high-quality DDR3 modules.

Loyd Case
Kingston's HyperX LoVo memory modules need just 1.35 volts instead of the usual 1.5 volts.

Case - Coolermaster Elite 120 Advanced: The numerous Mini-ITX motherboards available have spawned a large number of compact cases. In an ideal world, I would have found a suitable low-profile case, but in the world we've got I would have had to sacrifice too much graphics performance to get the dimensions I preferred. In the end, I narrowed my options down to three cases: the Silverstone SG06, the Fractal Designs Node 304, and the Coolermaster Elite 120 Advanced. The SG06 was the smallest of these, but I had concerns about the 300W power supply, and the 10-inch Asus graphics card looked problematic, too. The Node 304 is pretty massive for a Mini-ITX case, yet it lacked an optical drive slot (it would have been a great choice if I had been building a small server). The Coolermaster Elite 120 Advanced is almost as large as the Fractal Design case, but it’s the one I chose in the end.

Loyd Case
Coolermaster's Elite 120 Advanced is one of the easiest mini-ITX cases to build with.

The Elite 120 can handle a 10.5-inch graphics card; and since the Asus GTX 660 Ti is a nonreference card that’s a bit longer than most, having the extra space proved useful. The Coolermaster also accepts a full-size ATX power supply and full-size optical drive. Tool-free installation of storage hardware is an added bonus.

Power supply - Seasonic SS520-FL: High efficiency and low noise are key requirements for a power supply destined for service in in a living-room PC. Seasonic’s SS520-FL is a passively cooled, fanless power supply with an 80-Plus Platinum efficiency rating—meaning that the SS520-FL is 90 percent efficient through most of its range, dipping below 90 percent (to 89 percent) efficiency only under 100 percent load. My little Steam box will never demand 100 percent from a 520-watt PSU, so it should perform at peak efficiency.

Loyd Case
No fans! This Seasonic 520W power supply is noise-free and extremely power efficient.

The Seasonic PSU offers the added benefit of having modular connectors, so I could install only the power connections I needed. As it turns out, I ended up needing most of them, but I was able to leave one aside. And any reduction in power-supply cabling means less clutter and better airflow through the already crowded case.

For the CPU cooler, I needed something compact and quiet, and yet able to get the job done. Silverstone makes a low-profile LGA 1155 cooler, the NT07-1156, that can handle CPUs rated at up to 95 watts. It also has a small switch on the side to run the fan a little more slowly, for lower noise. That’s what I used for the 65W Core i7-3770s CPU.

Loyd Case
Set the switch to "Q" for quiet mode on the Silverstone NT07 CPU cooler.

Storage

Primary hard drive - Crucial M4 512GB SSD: Given that my Steam box will be running games, the system must offer enough storage to hold a number of games—and modern PC titles can consume a lot of space. At the same time, low power and low noise are essential. I went with the Crucial M4 512GB solid-state drive. I’ve used this SSD in other systems, and it’s been admirably reliable. It’s not the best-performing SSD you can buy, but it’s relatively inexpensive, at under $400, and it’s plenty fast for my needs, especially when compared to the standard disk-based hard drives found in most PCs and gaming consoles.

Loyd Case
Crucial's M4 SSD offers an impressively low cost per gigabyte, and it supports the SATA 6-gbps interface.

Optical drive - Asus BW-12B1ST Blu-ray: If I were running nothing but Steam games, the system wouldn’t need an optical drive. But I occasionally buy games on optical media, and not all great games are sold on Steam (yet). By dropping in a Blu-ray drive, I can also use the system to play Blu-ray movies on the 60-inch LG plasma HDTV hooked up to this PC. I chose the $80 Asus BW-12B1ST Blu-ray writer because it packs a lot of capability into a Blu-ray drive, including 8-12X Blu-ray write speed and 16X DVD-R write speed.

Gaming hardware

Since the Steam box is positioned as a kind of game console, I need good controllers for my version. As for any PC, you’ll want a good wireless keyboard and mouse, but they don’t need to be the hottest gaming peripherals around. Bluetooth keyboards won’t work well, as the range in a typical living room makes Bluetooth gear a bit unreliable. In the end, I settled on Logitech’s Wireless Combo M520. It gets the job done and uses a single, tiny USB radio receiver.

For games that require analog sticks, Microsoft makes the Xbox 360 Wireless Controller for Windows. This is exactly the same controller layout used with the actual Xbox 360 controllers, so it’s immediately familiar. It works great when navigating Steam’s Big Picture full-screen mode, and it’s a solid controller for action games.

The price of PC gaming

How much does all this gaming goodness cost? Let’s break down the pricing for all the components. (Note that pricing is calculated at time of publication and excludes any sales tax and shipping costs.)

COMPONENT

Price

Intel Core i7 3770s

$305

Asus GTX 660 Ti DCII

$299

Asus P8Z77-I Deluxe w/WiDi

$225

Kingston HyperX LoVo 8GB DDR3 kit

$ 57

Coolermaster Elite 120 Advanced Mini-ITX case

$ 50

Seasonic SS52-FL 520 watt fanless PC power supply

$150

Crucial M4 512GB SSD

$389

Logitech MK520 Keyboard & Mouse kit

$ 46

Microsoft Xbox 360 Controller for PC

$ 55

Windows 8

$ 99

Total

$1675

The total cost is $1675, including keyboard, Windows 8, and game controllers.

Subscribe to the Business Brief Newsletter

Comments