You may notice that I am somewhat obsessed with reducing the number of possessions in my life. This directly contradicts another, though negative, characteristic of mine - to get more gadgets and possessions.

Recently, I have had a lot of good progress on challenging the negative trait. Not only I’ve been more successful on overcoming the purchasing obsession but I’ve also found ways to enjoy more and get creative at reusing what I already have.

One of my recent projects was to combine several devices into one. I’ve got rid of Sony Playstation 3 and merged 2 computers together. Here’s the end-result:

Just one neat-looking HTPC (home theater personal computer) that fits into the living room! Why did I have 3 devices in the first place? Well, I’ve obviously used Sony Playstation 3 for playing games. I’m not an obsessive gamer but I do enjoy certain games once in a while. I appreciate the fact that once you own a console no hardware upgrades are necessary. The down-side is that the graphics quality is lower than on PCs as the technology advances and the console stays the same.

Second, I had a server running gentoo Linux with relatively high computational power - modern i7 Intel processor, 32GB RAM and a pair of SSD drives. I’ve used the machine for doing relatively-taxing statistical calculations, VMs and later ran a bittorrent downloader.

Third, I had an HTPC to watch movies and listen music. I don’t like an idea of using an off-the-shelf media player. New formats get released every now and then and some videos are available online on certain sites only. Chances are that sooner or later there will be a video that the off-the-shelf box can’t play. Having a full-blown PC has full flexibility as I can always install newer software or use a standard desktop browser to open any streaming site. Although I actively use XBMC for great viewing experience I’ve intentionally left the full KDE desktop experience as I don’t want to mask the functionality of a computer. By the way, the HTPC had been powered by an Asus E350 board (similar to what I currently use in my NAS build) and a passively cooled nVidia Geforce 610. Couple that together with a passive Seasonic power supply and you get a completely quiet computer!

I’ve realized that I was wasting resources. I can play games on a PC (apart from few PS3 exclusives) so I don’t really need a PS3. The server is already running 24x7 so why can’t I use it as HTPC? With that idea in mind I’ve decided to merge 2 computers together and sell the PS3 to a colleague.

I admit the conversion was far from frugal as I had to purchase a powerful graphics card to allow gaming. In addition, the cooling system I had in the server would not fit in the relatively compact Antec Fusion Remote case (Corsair H100). Finally, the power supply I had was not powerful enough.

The final spec list I arrived at:

  • Antec Fusion Remote case (re-used from existing HTPC)

  • Asus ROG IV Gene mATX motherboard (re-used from the server)

  • Intel i7 i3930K CPU (re-used from the server)

  • 32GB RAM (re-used from the server)

  • 2x60GB Intel SSD (re-used from the server)

  • 750W Seasonic X series PSU (bought)

  • 1x60GB SSD (bought, for installing Windows 7 on it)

  • 2xnVidia Zotac GeForce 660 in SLI mode (bought, to be able to play games)

  • Windows 7 license (bought, to be able to play games)

  • LG BluRay writer (bought, to install Windows and have at least 1 optical drive at home)

  • 2x120mm NoiseBlocker case fans (re-used from the server)

  • Noctua NH-U12P SE2 CPU cooler (bought)

The unused internals from the existing server and HTPC were either sold or given away to those who need them. Nothing was thrown away.

The final under-the-hood view of the build:

I’ve installed Windows 7 on a separate SSD. When I want to play games I have to reboot the machine into Windows 7. The down-side is that the server is temporarily unavailable. It’s an acceptable solution for my purposes as I’m the only user of the server and I don’t actively need the server while I’m playing. In addition, I play only a couple of hours every other week.

I have been a little worried that I would not be able to fit all the hardware in the case but everything got in surprisingly well. It’s not possible to fit in a 7-generation nVidia as the new cards are considerably longer (ca 30 cm vs 19cm GeForce 660). I hope future GPU generations will reverse the trend.

Another concern is noise. I was pleasantly surprised that the end result is not loud. At least not when it’s running as a server. It makes a lot of noise when I play but then the issue is not relevant as the sound from speakers is much louder. I can heartily recommend Zotac’s graphics cards as they are quiet unless you’re gaming. The 750W PSU from Seasonic is similar as it has a fan that turns on only under heavy load. The Noctua CPU cooler is also quiet.

Now I can play games, watch movies and perform computational tasks all from one machine. And most importantly it fits well within the interior:

It is clear to me that in future this machine will get obsolete as newer games require faster hardware. This means that I’ll likely need to upgrade graphics cards. The issue is that newer cards are also likely to be long so I’ll need a different case. When that happens I have my eyes on Antec Fusion Remote Max. The “Max” version should have enough space.