Looking for a small and affordable computer to add to your collection of boxen? I'm not talking about the Everex gPC, OLPC or the Asus Eee PC. I'm talking about building your own mini-ITX form factor computer. For around 200 you can have a computer with the following specs: 1.2GHz Intel Celeron 220 processor, 1GB DDR2 RAM, 250GB SATA hard drive and a small 90W power supply - more than enough juice to run your favorite Linux distro.
The heart of this PC is Intel's mini-ITX D201GLY2 motherboard, created in October as part of Intel's plans to have affordable offerings targeted to the sub-value market sector. How affordable? The motherboard with the soldered-on Celeron 220 Conroe-L core processor is just 65 at my favorite hardware retailer. Oh and it's a 64-bit chip.
Next up, this PC will need some RAM. There is only one 240-pin slot supporting DDR2 @ 533, so a 1GB stick of Kingston ValueRAM is a good choice at only 20.
Of course, something needs to power the board and since the motherboard only consumes a handful of Watts (~40 Watts at peak), the 90 Watt picoPSU brick-based power supply will work just fine. It runs around 50, although it wouldn't be hard to find a cheaper full-size PSU.
Last but not least, this PC will need a storage device. The small size and cheap cost of the machine makes it almost ideal for use as a home theater PC or file server, so I've decided to spec it out with a 250GB Western Digital Caviar SATA hard drive for 65.
Don't forget, you will need to bring your own keyboard, mouse and display (a la Mac Mini) as usual.
Note: For those of you still thinking about the HTPC potential of this 200 PC, there is a potential snag. The D201GLY2 motherboard uses a SiS chipset. SiS isn't exactly known for their amazing Linux support for their products and since the SiS chipset controls the on-board video, getting it to run anything remotely graphically intense will be a challenge. Of course, it should work just fine in Windows with whatever HTPC software you'd like.
This means that the great open source PVR software MythTV might not run too well. You could always get a decent PCI video card. However, there is only one PCI expansion slot you would be restricted to using this PC as a MythTV client for a MythTV server box as you won't have room to install a TV tuner card.
Who needs a case?
I personally wouldn't find the need for a case, I've got plenty of floor space for a motherboard and its peripherals strewn out. However, if you'd like the added luxury of a one-piece rig, I suggest the 55 APEX MI-100 mini-ITX case. It comes with its own 250 Watt power supply so you'll still be around the same 200 price point.
Other options can be found by simply searching for mini-ITX case or checking out mini-itx.com's comprehensive case list.
This box makes for a great Linux computer. There's no doubt about it. I always recommend Ubuntu and Fedora Core for people interested in checking out Linux and for the more *nix-savvy, you can't go wrong with Gentoo.
I was somewhat assuming this PC wouldn't need an optical drive past installation procedures, or possibly ever if it supports a PXE net-install. You might have to borrow an IDE or SATA optical drive to install your OS of choice.
While the CPU is fanless, you might want to consider having a cheap 80mm or quiet 120mm fan blow across it for good measure... or pick-up a mini-ITX case if you've got some money to burn. The board will also support a single 2GB stick of DDR2 533 so you can upgrade if you feel the need.
While it might make for an okay HTPC, this 200 PC would also work as a file server for the closet, cheap Internet-enabled terminal or even a living room piece of art running a Digg Labs creation 24/7.
Do I have a real need for this thing? No, but for only 200 I'm sure I can find one. I plan on attempting to make such a 200 home theater PC to go along with the projector and 100-inch projector screen my roommate and I are hunting for on Craigslist. Props to Chris for the mini-ITX motherboard pointer.