Building a mini-ITX ION Based HTPC

Posted on 24 July 2010  •  Permalink  •  Category htpc

Motivated by a heavy summer storm, where lightning struck a tree in the front garden of one of my neighbors, killing my iPod, I’m building my very own HTPC. Besides my broken iPod, also the fact that the cost of compact sized hardware has dropped, was another reason to start looking into the option of building a little media box. Last but not least, having an iPhone that fits my entire iTunes library, I don’t need another portable music player anymore.

I’ve got several purposes planned for my media box, namely: to host my music library using Squeezebox Server, connect it to my amplifier and play music with it, connect it to my TV to be able to play videos with it — most likely using XBMC, and to use it as a little web server and source control server. With that in my mind, I pointed Safari to a couple of hardware web shops, and ordered the following hardware to start with:

  • Mini-Box M350 — Currently one of the smallest (if not smallest) mini-ITX enclosures, very suitable for fanless operation because of its design for natural air convection. I’m not planning on installing an internal DVD or Blu-ray drive, which would require a different case.
  • Zotac ION ITX A-E — A low power dual-core Intel Atom N330 @ 1.6Ghz operated mainboard, with nVidia ION graphics processor capable of 1080p video playback. Perfectly fits my needs. Should even be possible to operate fanless, but we’ll see how hot it will get when I finally put the pieces together. One of the nice things about this mainboard is that it comes with an integrated PSU, which saves you some money and installation hassle. Goes well with the M350 too.
  • Zalman Fan Mate 2— Just to be sure, when things get too hot, I can still install the optional fan that comes with the main board. With this handy tool it’s possible to reduce the fan’s speed to reduce the produced noise, because usually the fan doesn’t need to be running full speed.
  • WD5000BUDT — A 2.5” 500Gb Western Digital hard drive design for systems that are running 24/7. Low power, cooler operation and 32Mb cache.
  • Kingston 2Gb DDR2 — Running at 800Mhz, the highest speed supported by the Zotac board, I’ve only ordered one piece of 2Gb. I might consider upgrading to 2x2Gb to take advantage of the Dual Channel feature. But for now, I’m sticking with only one piece of 2Gb DDR2 memory.

The grand total of these 5 items was € 335.56. If I’d had to buy a new iPod Classic and docking station (which were both dead), that would’ve cost me € 278. So for an additional € 57.56 I now have a full-blown little media pc. Not bad. Not bad at all.