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Shortly before Christmas of 2015 there seemed to be a lot of buzz about the coming of “Steam boxes”. Overpriced pre built PC’s with a new Steam OS installed. Its seemed many people were treating them as their own sort of console which honestly sort of baffled me. This got me thinking and as much as I dislike it the world moves on. Physical game releases are looking to go the way of the Dodo bird and as much as I dislike supporting digital only downloads I would be doing myself a disfavor by not playing some of great indie games that have come out on steam as digital download only or with very limited physical release thanks to something like Indie box.

I decided I wanted to see if I could make my own budget “Steam Machine”. My taste in steams library though tends to be very specific. I like retro style games on the service and in my opinion these type of games are the ones that feel most correct on a TV with a game controller. These are games generally designed in the style and look of 2D 8 and 16 bit graphics. Games that do not take a whole lot of processing power or that require a fancy graphics card. This machine could also be used as a home theater PC for streaming. Some examples of the games I intended to play were Rouge Legacy, Breath of Death VII: the beginning, Retro City Rampage and Bro Force.

I wanted to achieve this as cheaply as possible with my first task being to secure a small case and motherboard. Thankfully I was able to acquire a case at a local swap meet for $3.

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This is the case I used for my project. I like it because it’s a smaller case designed for micro ATX motherboards but it’s not to small so I can use full height cards. This case can be used in desktop or tower configurations and supports two external 3 1/2 bays as well as an internal 3 1/2 bay and a 5 1/4 bay. I could live without the silver color and would have preferred black but for $3 I couldn’t turn it down. The floppy drive came with the case but realistically it won’t be seeing any use. The same can mostly be said for the DVD drive which I took from an old P4 Gateway PC. It’s hard to come across silver optical drives and at first I wasn’t sure about the curved bezel but it actually works to give the PC a interesting look. The drive is IDE even though the motherboard supports SATA but seeing as this machine is largely for streaming I’m not concerned.

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On the back you can see I did not have a back plate for the motherboard which doesn’t particularly bother me. The PSU is a 500 watt micro ATX supply I purchased off eBay for about $20. So far its worked without issue.

The motherboard was one I already had, A Intel DG31PR. This board though not a high powered gaming motherboard fit my needs perfectly. It had most everything I needed built in as well as built in VGA and audio for backup options and 4 onboard SATA connections. A PCI-e connector was my biggest priority due to the need for a semi modern video card.

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The specs are as followed.

OS – My first choice was to try Steam OS but I just wasn’t to impressed with it. I know its still in Beta but I felt I could do just as well with a more traditional OS choice so I went with Windows 10. Privacy concerns aside Win 10 is a pretty sleek OS in my opinion and looks very much at home as the OS for a media center. This machine is also more then powerful enough to run Win 10 so don’t feel like you need to only install it on PC’s with really high specs just because it is new.

CPU – I went with the fastest socket 775 CPU I had on hand which was a 2.5ghz dual core quad. Though no longer a powerhouse I felt the 4 cores was more then enough to run the style of games I intended to play as well as drive some older 2008 era PC games if I choose to play them on this machine. Remember I didn’t create this machine to play Witcher 3 or Fallout 4 on Ultra settings, this was for light streaming and “retro style Steam games”.

RAM – my motherboard only has two RAM sockets supporting a maximum of for GB or two  2gb sticks of DDR2. I always want more RAM in a modern machine but so far 4GB has worked just fine. I did have some slight issues with non low profile ram though because of the fact the sled for the hard drive is under the optical drive where the RAM goes.

Storage – For this machine I went with two hard drives. One for the OS ONLY and the other for data. The first drive I went with for the OS was a small solid state drive. I chose a SATA II 64GB drive that I was able to find on eBay for around $20. smaller SSD’s are getting very cheap and I found Windows 10 fit snugly on it with about 30GB to spare. The SSD fit nicely in the second external 3 1/2 bay under the floppy drive.

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I don’t foresee the size being an issue as I’m basically done adding anything to the drive and I doubt patches are going to take up the remaining 30GB. I really love how fast this drive gets the machine to desktop after powering on and really makes it feel like more of a console under the TV.

The second drive is a more traditional hard drive. It is a 250GB SATA drive I have in the bay under the optical drive.

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I know 250GB isn’t a lot these days but for small indie retro style games I think it serves is purpose fine. I will upgrade in the future if needed but since this drive was free for me I can hardly complain.

Video – The video card selection was the toughest part for me. My number 1 priority was a card that could output audio over the HDMI port. This ruled out older but powerful cards like the Nvidia 8000 and 9000 series that required a additional audio cable to run from the motherboard to the card. I also wanted a card that required no additional power and could run from the PCI-e buses power alone. My first choice was an Nvidia 630 GT. which  is actually a very capable entry level card but due to some issues with my possibly defective card such as constantly losing the video signal I had to use the next most powerful card I had on hand which was an entry level Radeon HD6450.

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This card is certainly no powerhouse but again our goal was not to playing Crysis 3 at 4K or anything like that. The card installed without an issue and does have a few benefits. first off it was free since I already had it, it can output audio through its HDMI port without any fiddling, it uses no extra power connectors and also is passivly cooled and does not require a fan so that cuts down on noise.

Thus far the card has run flawlessly and has run the games I mentioned earlier and more without issue. It also streams from YouTube and other sources just fine. In the future I would like to upgrade to a better card but for now this one seems to be serving its purpose.

Lastly I wanted to mention controllers. As far as game controllers go I initially used a older Gravis gamepad pro but many games failed to support it so I picked up a third party Rock Candy Xbox 360 controller from the local Walmart for $19.99.

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I have had no issues with this controller and all games thus far have recognized it, sometimes even listing it as a Rock Candy rather then a generic 360 controller. It’s a pretty solid controller for the price and I’d recommend it for light gaming.

Since putting this “Steam machine” together two weeks ago I have greatly enjoyed it. I’ve had no issues playing the games I want to play on my 50 inch LG 4K LED TV in the main room as far as seeing any slowdown or crashes. games seem to run fine at 720p and 1080p though some games do look a bit blurry in spots as if they were smeared lightly with Valvoline but nothing very serious. I’m unsure if this is the games themselves or the video card or results of upscaling to the TV.

Overall I’m very happy with this project and it cost me under $100 to put together. If you have lots of spare money to burn or don’t have a proper PC then I guess splurge on a retail Steam Machine but don’t be to intimidated by the specs of these machines. If your on a budget and your tastes aren’t for the most demanding graphical games on Steam you can certainly get by with something lesser powered.

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