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Building a Core i7 HTPC with Sapphire Mini ITX H67

Rating: 9.0.

This year AMD’s Fusion low cost platform has hit the spotlight, offering hardware accelerated performance with miniscule power demands and heat output. While this will suit many people, some of the enthusiast audience will want to spend more money and aim higher up the food chain. Today’s article should tickle the tastebuds as we will be building a small form factor PC with a new Sapphire mini ITX motherboard, passively discrete cooled graphics card, Core i7 2600k CPU and Intel 6GBps Solid State Drive.

What defines the terminology ‘Media PC’ ? Some will claim that it should be a low power, low noise system capable of playing music and video files. Processing power is basically irrelevant – if it can handle high definition media then that is enough. That said, a section of the enthusiast audience will take things further, wanting a more diverse system capable of powering through media and perhaps to be used as a general all round workhorse, with occasional gaming capabilities.

So we can already see there are several views as to what makes for an ideal media PC. Most of us will agree however that a media PC needs to be as quiet as possible. A whirring computer in the corner of the room will often ruin the mood when enjoying a movie.

The biggest complaints normally associated with a low cost media center are weak processing power, limited mini ITX motherboard capabilities and slow hard drive speeds. Today we are building a system to rectify all these problems, but while ensuring that noise levels don’t become intrusive.

For the system build today we are using the new Sapphire H67 Pure Platinum motherboard. This product offers Core i3, i5, i7, USB 3.0 and S-ATA3 6GBps support and can cater for up to 8GB of DDR3 memory.

To ensure the fastest possible processing experience, we are using the Intel Core i7 2600k, kindly supplied by Intel for this review.

While the Sapphire H67 Pure Platinum has onboard graphics support we want to improve upon this. Sapphire kindly supplied their new HD6670 Ultimate Edition graphics card, which is not only a huge step up when compared to the integrated graphics, but is passively cooled.

This card will generate no additional noise and should be capable of 720p gaming via a High Definition television without too many compromises. We all know that by adding a HD6970 or GTX580 the performance of the overall system will increase significantly, but for many people considering an ‘all in one’ media oriented unit for the living room or bedroom, the noise penalties would be too much to deal with.

Nothing can slow down overall performance as much as using a sub standard hard drive, so today Intel have supplied the 250GB version of their 510 Series Solid State Drive. We are using this as the boot drive, paired up with a Samsung 2TB mechanical drive which will be used for storage.

We decided to use ADATA 4GB DDR3 2000mhz rated memory today because it offers a competitive price point with some mid sized heatspreaders which will help to ensure optimal performance within a confined chassis.

The chassis is one of the most important decisions for a media center. Choosing badly means you can end up with a system that either emits a lot of noise, or runs much hotter than it should. We settled on the Thermaltake Armor 30 case. We have looked at this case before, and while it is slightly larger than some of the HTPC case designs currently available on the market, it offers reasonably high airflow levels while emitting a very modest 30 dBa. It is important that the Core i7 2600k gets a reasonable level of ambient airflow, especially with a passively cooled graphics card in close vicinity.

Lastly, we are using an Antec High Current Pro 850W power supply – this is a great semi modular design that is a previous MUST HAVE award winner on Kitguru delivering 80 Plus Gold certification and excellent all round stability. An ideal choice for futureproofing if you ever wanted to add a more powerful video card to the media center at a later date.

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