Small Form Factor XP Machine

I built a new machine today, for a friend. It was spec’ed to be a decent gaming system, but also to be small. This was my first SFF machine, and I chose, as usual, an Antec case, the 1380, as my starting point. I like Antec cases, which are not flashy, nor are they very expensive, and their power supplies are usually very good.

On-board graphics sufficed, so I looked at ASUS and Gigabyte motherboards, finally settling on the ASUS M2A-VM. For AMD CPUs, I find Gigabyte to be the best price/value ratio, but the Gigabyte motherboard that I preferred was not in stock at the time that I ordered, so I went with ASUS, looking for AM2 compatibility in a low-cost MB, with good graphics and SATA support.

An AMD Athlon 64 X2 Windsor 4600+ (are the names long enough?) was chosen as the CPU, and the retail version includes a fan. The 1380 also includes a “card fan”, that is, a fan that occupies one of the card slots.

The drives are a Western Digital Caviar 320GB SATA hard drive, and a Lite-On DVD burner, also SATA. Despite the frailty of the cables and connectors, SATA is preferable because its cables are thinner, making for better cooling and less “mess”, especially important in a small case.

Memory is 2GB (2 x 1GB) Kingston DD2 667 (PC2 5300). I’m not a memory snob: Kingston, Crucial, etc., are good with me.

The build was fairly easy, despite the confining confines of the case. I went slowly and double-checked everything — this type of build is not one to be torn apart and rebuilt repeatedly. A small amount of configuring the BIOS was done, mainly some head-scratching when I tried to figure out how much memory to dedicate to onboard video. I left it at the automatically-chosen one, 128MB.

Video and sound are good, although there is some odd flickering when the machine boots up and launches Windows. Nothing horrendous, and it may be because of the archaic monitor, which is about 8 years old. (The monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc. are not included in the build, and are used just for testing the machine and installing the OS.)

The OS was Windows XP. Unless someone really wants Vista, I steer them toward XP. And if they don’t care much about the OS, I’m more and more comfortable recommending Linux. But this was for gaming, and Windows is better for playing games. (Add your own snide comment here, as necessary.)

Despite the small size and stock fan, the noise level is minimal, about the same as what would be expected from the Sonata case. Performance was impressive, and “testing” the machine (playing Minesweeper for 30 minutes) showed no recurrence of the flickering video issue, so I’ve concluded that the problem is isolated to startup.

The machine is intended to be connected via an Ethernet cable, so a wireless card was not needed. Some new motherboards include built-in Wi-Fi, so I’m eager to see that functionality become more widespread.

Nice machine, and I’ll probably start evolving toward replacing/upgrading other machines with a similar build. The total hardware cost, including shipping, from was approximately $370.


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