I've invested pretty heavily in an increasingly slender and lightweight range of Macbooks for a long time now. From the pre-unibody days of the Plastic Macbook to the Haswell based 2013 Macbook Air that I'm running today. They've always served me incredibly well, and for the forseeable future will remain my goto; both for work and for the heavier use that my iPad just isn't capable of supporting.

Prior to running the majority of my life from my wonderful Air, I actually lived without a personal computer for a couple of years (Partially a philosophical debate I was having with myself around the amount of time I spent on a computer and slightly depicted by my nomadic lifestle of the time). If I look back to the last time I built my own machine from scratch Pentium 4 was brand new (considered top of the line) and the choice for componenents, periperals and even cases was pretty limited.

In the years since I last built a machine my requirements have changed rather a lot, as has the budget I might have for such a build. But with that said, I have a very specific couple of use cases in mind for the build I'm about to undertake, and have set myself a rather modest budget for the task at hand. Whilst I adore my Macbook for everything from general web browsing to the more complex daily tasks my job brings to the table, there were a few major points driving my decision to build a machine.

The ability to increase storage space

I have a fast growing collection of RAW photographs and the 128GB storage of my MBA just isn't enough. I don't plan on building a homeserver, but the ability to expand my storage later on is really important - As is redundancy!

It would need to be small, light and quiet

The most recent PC I had was really for gaming moreso than anything else, but unfortunately due to it's size, I had to dismantle and get rid of it during the move back to the UK. Given we have plans to move again in the near future, I want to make sure I don't come across the same problems as last time - The ideal way to solve this is with a Micro ATX form factor case that is easily packed or stowed. Alongside my requirements for a small machine, one of my primary uses for this will be as an HTPC (Home theatre PC), and so I need to make sure it's not sat in the background of a tense movie scene, whirring away.

Finally, it would need to be somewhat future proof

I don't want to find myself in a years time having to upgrade the motherboard and CPU just to keep up with higher performing graphics cards. I want the option to upgrade on a whim, but also want to make sure I'm not lagging behind should I choose to stick with my current set up.

With all that in mind, and a large amount of research behind me - Below is my inital build plan for a £600 build, though this could well change as I go. I'm hoping to spend the next few weeks getting these parts together, and once I'm ready to start the build I'll work on a build log with any challenges I faced along the way!

My Build

Machine Specs

  • Case: Bitfenix Phenom mATX (£64.99)
  • Power Supply: Corsair CX 430W Modular (£33.08)
  • Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-H97M-D3H (£64.00)
  • CPU: Intel Core i5-4440 3.10GHz (£129.99)
  • CPU Cooler: Silverstone SST-NT07-1156 (£18.95)
  • Memory: Kingston 8GB HyperX LoVo (£70.64)
  • Graphics Card: GeForce GTX 760 ITX (£167.99)
  • Main Storage: WD 1TB Caviar Blue (£39.38)
  • SSD: Kingston 120GB (£0.00) - I already own this drive
    Subtotal: £570.07

Peripherals

  • Monitor: Dell S2340L 23" Widescreen LED (£140.00)
  • Keyboard: Coolermaster Storm (£72.89)
  • Mouse: Razer Deathadder (£47.99)
    Subtotal: £260.88
    Total: £830.95

Alternative Budgets

When looking to build a PC, the very first things you have to decide on are the main use of the PC and the budget you're willing to allocate to the whole project. I knew ahead of time the budget I had and that I'd be looking to put togther a home theatre PC that could handle some light gaming - That made putting my parts list together fairly straight forward. If however you're unsure, I put together an extra couple of build specs at different price points to give an idea where to start.

Lower Budget

For those with a lower budget, consider the following. This is still aimed at running the set up as an HTPC, perhaps some light gaming, too - But you'll be running at a lower FPS on the whole across most games.

Pros: ATX motherboard allows for more storage expansion.
Cons: Lacks built-in wi-fi, utilises a lower spec graphics card, lower spec CPU, no additional CPU cooling, running only on HDD as opposed to SSD.

  • Case: Bitfenix Phenom (£69.95)
  • PSU: Corsair CX 430W (£33.08)
  • Motherboard: Asus H81M-K (£225.97)
  • CPU: Intel Core i5-4440K 3.1GHz (Haswell) (Bundled with Motherboard)
  • Memory: TeamGroup Elite Black 8GB (Bundled with Motherboard)
  • Graphics Card: SAPPHIRE AMD R9 280 (£129.99)
  • Storage: WD 1TB Black (£55.99)
    Total: £495.37

Higher Budget

Still with the same use case in mind, this build takes advantage of a higher spec parts and is slightly more future-proof than my inital build spec.

Pros: Higher spec CPU, ITX sized graphics card, Faster HDD, Higher rated PSU, Space for watercooling expansion
Cons: Limited storage expansion

  • Case: Bitfenix Phenom (£69.95)
  • PSU: Corsair AX 760W (£129.95)
  • Motherboard: Gigabyte H97N-WIFI (£94.99)
  • CPU: Intel Core i7-4790K 4.00GHz (Devil's Canyon) (£249.95)
  • CPU Cooler: Silverstone SST-NT07-1156 CPU-Cooler (£18.95)
  • Memory: Kingston 8GB HyperX LoVo (£70.64)
  • Graphics Card: Gigabyte GeForce GTX 970 "Mini-ITX" (£289.99)
  • Storage: WD 1TB Black (£55.99)
  • Storage: Kingston 240GB V300 (£75.00)
    Total: £1,055.41