Node

If you want the sleekest home theater PC on the planet, this is the system for you! This system may be ultra-compact, but it can pack in plenty of impressive gear. It features a stylish design that will blend in perfectly with the rest of your AV gear, and in fact looks a lot like a regular DVD player, great for keeping other members of your household happy! But behind that unimposing facade lurks the power of a seriously high-end PC!

For February 2017, this build incorporates the latest components from Intel's new Kaby Lake series, including the powerful Core i5-7500 quad-core CPU and a feature-rich B250 motherboard. This duo will make quick work of any video processing (or editing!) you throw at it. And if you need a little extra vroom for gaming, there are two video card options we recommend, the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB, which provides the HDMI 2.0 connector required for proper 4K video output, or the power-packed GTX 1070 for high-end gaming. Either will easily fit in the low-profile Fractal Design Node 202 case we recommend, due to its innovative PCIe riser system. Don't need to run a big video card? Then go for the even smaller, slimmer SilverStone ML09 optional case, shown below, and described in more detail later on this page.

ML09

You'll need to follow our tips on size limitations in the component sections below - there are some hard stops when it comes to the parts that can be used in these cases. If you still have questions after reviewing this guide, stop by our Reader Forum, and if you decide to build up one of these systems, let us know and we'll add it to The Gallery! To have a look back at previous versions of this build in The Archive. And by the way, if you're more interested in a larger AV-style HTPC to stack with your other AV components, check out our HTPC Builder's Guide.

The $750 High-End Home Theater Mini-ITX PC - February 2017

    CPU:

    Intel Core i5-7500

    For this system, you want a quad-core CPU to give you the best performance possible in a small system. With its four fast cores, this brand-new model from Intel is more than powerful enough for any high-end HTPC use.

    The Guru's Tip:

    This CPU comes with an Intel CPU cooler in the box, which will work great for this system. Due to the slim dimensions of the case used for this build, aftermarket coolers taller than 56mm won't fit. If you'd like to upgrade, go with the 47mm-tall Cryorig C7, which is a great deal and will reduce both temperatures and noise levels significantly.

    Motherboard:

    MSI B250I Gaming Pro AC

    This new B250-based board offers six USB ports, along with DVI and HDMI outputs, an Ethernet port, Bluetooth, and dual-stream 802.11ac 5GHz networking. It even has a rear-mounted M.2 SSD slot, which we recommend using for this ITX build to reduce cable clutter.

    The Guru's Tip:

    ITX boards pack an incredible amount of functionality into a small space. But a few compromises are necessary. Other than the obvious decrease in available slots (only a single PCIe slot is provided), they also lose two of the four RAM slots on bigger boards, so buy all the RAM you think you'll need for the long-term.

    Memory:

    Crucial 2x4GB Ballistix Sport LT DDR4-2400

    With Intel's Kaby Lake platform, you can now run DDR4-2400 memory, providing an extra boost versus the DDR4-2133 speed that the previous-gen Skylake platform supported. And this 8GB kit will give you plenty of to multi-task!

    The Guru's Tip:

    Need more RAM for video editing? No problem! Just go for Crucial's 2x8GB DDR4-2400 kit! Remember, this ITX-based system only has two RAM slots, so make sure you order all the RAM you need now, because you won't be able to add more later!

    Solid-State Drive:

    Crucial MX300 525GB M.2

    This cost-effective 525GB SSD from Crucial is the best mid-range M.2 drive on the market. It's the perfect match for a compact, high-performance system.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Going with an M.2 drive means no cables are required to install your SSD. Just note that you'll need a jeweler's type screwdriver to secure it to the motherboard.

    Case:

    Fractal Design Node 202 w/450W PSU

    Fractal Design has done some serious engineering work here, and there's simply nothing else like it on the market today. This ultra-compact case is ultra-optimized, with not an inch of wasted space inside! It even includes a compact 450W Bronze-rated power supply designed specifically for small form factor cases, complete with ultra-short cables.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Note that this case uses no cooling fans - all cooling is provided by the CPU, power supply, and video card fans. And that's just fine for this build, because it keeps the system quiet. This isn't the ideal case for an ultra-high-end gaming system, but it will surely hold its own as a high-end gamer than can fly under the spousal/partner radar!

    Operating System:

    Microsoft Windows 10 Flash Drive

    Win 10 is better than Windows 8.1 in every conceivable way. Thank goodness Microsoft listened to critics and came up with an OS that's actually easy to use!

    The Guru's Tip:

    This version of Windows will install in just 5 minutes, thanks to the speed of the USB 3.0 interface!

    Video Card (Optional):

    Zotac GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB (Opt.)

    Due to its efficiency, the brand-new 1050 Ti is the ideal high-performance home theater card. It has HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 capability for 4:4:4/60Hz/4K output, and will do a great job handling gaming at 1080p too! It both less expensive and significantly faster than the venerable GTX 950 it replaced.

    The Guru's Tip:

    This card is only necessary if you want 4K/60Hz output or want to do some mainstream gaming on your system. Of course, if you really want to get your game on, you might want something a whole lot more powerful, like the EVGA GeForce GTX 1070 SC, which will also fit, amazingly enough!

    Case (Optional):

    SilverStone ML09B (Opt.)

    This optional ultra-compact case will make for the ultimate mini-HTPC, taking up the same space as your typical set-top box. Amazingly, you can even use a slim laptop-style optical drive with this system, as long as you purchase the required desktop SATA adapter. Note that unlike the Node 202, the ML09B does not come with a power supply. We recommend you use SilverStone's 300W ST30SF-v2 unit

    The Guru's Tip:

    There are only two comprises you need to make with this system. First, you'll only be able to use low-profile video cards. We recommend either the MSI GeForce GTX 1050 2GB LP or the more powerful MSI GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB LP. Second, you can only use aftermarket CPU coolers if you don't use an optical drive, which otherwise sits right above the CPU.

    Hard Drive (Optional):

    Seagate 2TB Barracuda 2.5" (Opt.)

    Need more space for media storage? No problem! Just add this small but mighty 2TB drive from Seagate!

    The Guru's Tip:

    Remember, this build does not fit standard 3.5" desktop drives, which means you have to pay a bit more for a laptop-style 2.5" drive, but also means you get a really, really small system!