Steam Box Build: The Twin Birds

Twin Birds

Before we start I wanted to note that all of the pictures in this article are linked to higher resolution versions.

Let’s Begin

As some of you may know, a few weeks ago I set out on a journey. My journey wasn’t very different from that of Frodo and Samwise when they set out from the Shire to take The One Ring to Mordor, and cast it into the fires of Mount Doom. But, instead of Sam I had Jeff, and instead of throwing a ring into some lava, I was researching, pricing out and building new gaming PCs. This marks the first new PC I’ve built for myself since 2007 when I put together what we lovingly refer to as the “Leet World PC.” The itch to build a new machine began when Steam released Big Picture Mode, and I started to really love the idea of having a 10-foot experience for my PC games.

The goals I had for this build:

  1. Try to stay close to a $600 price point.
  2. Find a smaller, good looking-case and quiet components since it will be in the living room.
  3. Have playable frame rates in most games at 1080p with everything maxed.

Alright, on the important stuff…


CPU Intel Core i3-3220 3.3GHz $119.99
Motherboard ASRock B75M-ITX Mini ITX $89.99
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $40.98
Storage Seagate Barracuda 500GB 3.5″ 7200RPM $59.99
Video Card HIS IceQ Turbo Radeon HD 7850 2GB $189.99
Case BitFenix Prodigy Mini ITX Tower $79.99
Power Supply Antec NEO ECO 620C $49.99
TOTAL $630.92[1]




Some of you might say, “Nick, you could’ve spent less money than that, and get basically the same performance if you had done ‘X’ thing.” And, you wouldn’t be wrong in that statement, but what you are forgetting is that I don’t care what you have to say. Yes, it’s true that if I would’ve gone with a different case (ATX/Mini ATX) I wouldn’t have been locked into paying more for a Mini ITX board, but the smooth lines and sexy curves of the BitFenix[2] case were too much to pass up. Another limiting factor with Mini ITX was the lack of AMD motherboards available, so I chose to go Intel.


Since the Prodigy case has two USB 3.0 ports on the side, I wanted to find a board that had USB 3.0 headers, and the ASRock B75M-ITX fit the bill. Not only that, but it has two more USB 3.0 ports and an eSATA port on the back, so you can connect all the things. After deciding on the board, I needed a CPU. Since this was meant to be just a gaming machine, I felt that I could skimp here, and didn’t go for the PC-builder’s darling, the Intel i5. Instead, I opted for the i5’s little brother, the i3-3220, and it’s a great little dual-core hyper-threaded chip that won’t bottleneck the GPU, which is the most important part. I originally was going to only get 4GB of RAM since most games can’t address more than that, but it was almost the same price to go for 8GB, so I thought I’d future-proof the box a little bit.


The crown jewel of this build is the GPU. Yes, it’s not the best graphics card ever, but for under $200, you can’t do much better. ATI’s Radeon HD 7850 is already a pretty fast card, but HIS has over-clocked their IceQ Turbo to 1.0GHz[3]. I also opted for 2GB of Video RAM, up from the standard 1GB, to help with anti-aliasing and texture detail at higher resolutions. Another nice thing about the HIS Ice Turbo is that it’s quiet… Really quiet. When I fired the machine up for the first time, I didn’t realize that it was on for a second. To go along with this beefy GPU, I picked up a 620 watt Antec PSU. Antec is one of the best names in power supplies, and this little guy delivers. It has more than enough connectors for HDD/GPU/fans, and is almost silent while running.

And now back to the good part…


As any gamer knows, first, we gather our materials.
A good builder needs their tools.
By the middle of the build I had taken over our entire dining room table.
Those boards don’t work on water! Unless you’ve got power!
I had to remove both the secondary Hard Drive Cage and the DVD Drive Bay…
…to fit this beast.
Dat ass.
Aaaaaand we’re done!
Only to have to do it all again, in black.

Obligatory benchmark



If you are looking to build something similar, but maybe want to go a cheaper route, here are some options. First, you could build basically the same computer but with a cheaper case and motherboard. Also, if you are going to be running your games at 720p, something like a Radeon HD 7770 or NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 650 would suit your needs fine. One interesting solution, if you like the case or the ITX form factor, is to go AMD. Yes, earlier I said there was a lack of AMD boards for Mini ITX, but the one or two that there are, are FM2 socket. The FM2 socket is for AMD’s Trinity, formerly Vision, APUs which are a combo CPU/GPU on the same chip. I know what you are saying, “But Nick, integrated graphics suck,” and you used to be correct. The Trinity APU is the first solution that is actually a viable integrated graphics solution for gaming. I’ve seen playable frame rates from games like Sleeping Dogs at 720p using an AMD A10-5800K. This would obviously save you a lot, because you won’t have to buy a separate GPU, and if you want, in the future you can Crossfire it with a matching ATI GPU for more performance.

To Wrap it Up

After the blood[4], sweat and tears I ended up with a pretty sweet little machine. She is quieter than the XBox 360 it sits next to, prettier than the PS3 on the other side, and more powerful than either. I loaded up a couple Steam games, and they look gorgeous at 1080p on the 50″ plasma. But, as happy as I am with the little black box, the dream of being able to just fire up your PC and start playing is not quite there yet. Consoles are still hands down more user-friendly. I had issues with Big Picture not auto loading, stability in games and not being able to dismiss alerts without a keyboard and mouse. Overall, I’m incredibly happy with the purchase, and wouldn’t change a thing, but this whole experience has really showed that unfortunately, Big Picture is not ready for prime time quite yet.


1. These are the prices I paid at the time. The cost of parts can fluctuate wildly, so your mileage may vary.
2. The BitFenix name and logo inspired the names of the PCs: Jean-Grey (White) and Dark-Phoenix (Black).
3. ATI Radeon HD 7850s are factory clocked to 860MHz.
4. I have cut myself at some point during every build I’ve ever done, and this was no exception.

Written by

Freelance video editor. Geek. Gamer. Houston sports fan.

14 thoughts on “Steam Box Build: The Twin Birds”

  1. you should have used a APU instead of going with that massive GFX card. could have shrunk it down a ton…

  2. Once he found a case that fit goal 2 (“Find a smaller, good looking-case and quiet components since it will be in the living room”), what does it matter how big the GFX card is, if it all fits inside the case he wants most?

  3. If people somehow manage to miss it the first time:

    “Some of you might say, “Nick, you could’ve spent less money than that, and get basically the same performance if you had done ‘X’ thing.” And, you wouldn’t be wrong in that statement, but what you are forgetting is that I don’t care what you have to say.”

    Those are some tight PCs, Nick. I love the way that case looks, very slick.

  4. Very impressive Nick and I say that with the utmost jealousy because that is far better than I could ever do AND I want one. Do you know if you have/will have any heating trouble with it? Or did you take care of that?.

    It is a bit of a bummer that Big Picture isn’t quite up to it though, perhaps it’s just teething issues, I’ve not seen an update for it since it came out of beta.

  5. I used to have a Mac Mini hooked up to my TV as a HTPC, so I’m familiar with the issues inherent in hooking up a computer to a TV. I don’t think anyone has a perfect solution (yet).

    However, if you like playing games with a gamepad, I really like Pinnacle Game Profiler so far for ones that don’t support them natively:

  6. @Piers_D

    There haven’t been any heat issues. The cases are bigger than they look, and have intake and exhaust fans, so airflow is not a problem. Also, I’m not over clocking, and that massive cooler on the GPU keeps it really cool.

  7. The way the case is it seems like it would have heat problems but its ventilated enough that it will not have any problems, meanwhile I need to work on my CPU’s cooling the rest of my computer already has plenty of ventilation.

  8. In a discussion I had with Mitch probably about a month ago, I imagined that the steam boxes will likely come with a shell that boots natively so that basically windows is replaced with the Steam overlay, just the way an Xbox 360 boots to Dashboard, not Windows Vista. That is the way to make these small cheap machines convenient and user-friendly. The difference between a PC gamer and Console gamer is essentially ease of use through interface at this point, and that’s what will be coming. I don’t imagine Valve will just say “here’s a machine with asdfihl (not real) v3.13 linux installed. Go play games”.

    Great experiment man. One thing I’ve learned over the years is something you brought up a few times in your article. “Playable framerates”. As a PC gamer, I was always looking to play games on Ultra settings at 1 million FPS. Just not necessary. By looking my FPS at 30 – 60 depending on the game, I’ve been able to squeeze years out of my old card. I’m right now playing Hitman: Absolution on Ultra settings (besides FSAA turned to 8x instead of 16x and reflections down one step) on my GTX 275 – playing at 40 FPS.

  9. Huh, never thought of mini ITX as a viable gaming platform. Drooling over those cases. Kudos to you, Nick, on an excellent build! My next one won’t be for quite some time, I’m sure, but when it comes around I’ll likely try for something similar.

    1. @benign1

      Yeah, most MiniITX cases don’t have the length or the second slot to accommodate the higher end GPUs. I’m glad you enjoy it, I’m loving it so far.

  10. Nick, I love you. No homo. I would love more articles like this in the future.

    I am curious, though: Is there any real advantage of a MicroATX form factor over the MiniITX you chose, or is it just a matter of taste? I was trying builds with a MicroATX form factor, because it more closely resembles the shape of a traditional console. Problem is, they’re too small for the kind of power supply I’d need to keep it running.

  11. @trogador

    Well, I went with MiniITX because that just happened to be the only motherboard that fits in the BitFenix Prodigy. Normally MiniITX is for like HTPCs and super small form factor computers. ATX/MiniATX/MicroATX are more common, and you’ll probably have more variety and options if you go that way.

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