How to build your own Steam Box today

Valve Software believes the future of PC gaming leads to the living room. But why wait for its Steam Box when you can build your own?

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Gaming hardware

Since the Steam box is positioned as a kind of game console, I need good controllers for my version. As for any PC, you'll want a good wireless keyboard and mouse, but they don't need to be the hottest gaming peripherals around. Bluetooth keyboards won't work well, as the range in a typical living room makes Bluetooth gear a bit unreliable. In the end, I settled on Logitech's Wireless Combo M520. It gets the job done and uses a single, tiny USB radio receiver.

For games that require analog sticks, Microsoft makes the Xbox 360 Wireless Controller for Windows. This is exactly the same controller layout used with the actual Xbox 360 controllers, so it's immediately familiar. It works great when navigating Steam's Big Picture full-screen mode, and it's a solid controller for action games.

The price of PC gaming

How much does all this gaming goodness cost? Let's break down the pricing for all the components. (Note that pricing is calculated at time of publication and excludes any sales tax and shipping costs.)



Intel Core i7 3770s


Asus GTX 660 Ti DCII


Asus P8Z77-I Deluxe w/WiDi


Kingston HyperX LoVo 8GB DDR3 kit

$ 57

Coolermaster Elite 120 Advanced Mini-ITX case

$ 50

Seasonic SS52-FL 520 watt fanless PC power supply


Crucial M4 512GB SSD


Logitech MK520 Keyboard & Mouse kit

$ 46

Microsoft Xbox 360 Controller for PC

$ 55

Windows 8

$ 99



The total cost is $1675, including keyboard, Windows 8, and game controllers.

Some assembly required

I'm not going to cover all aspects of building this PC in depth, but I will cover key aspects that differ from PCWorld's $1000 gaming PC that I built recently.

Building into a tiny case involves some creative thinking about the order of assembly. For example, you'll want to put the PSU in last, since it blocks access to most of the internals.

Before you do anything else, make sure that the case itself is prepped. First, install the motherboard standoffs in the bottom of the case; they don't come preinstalled. The standoffs require some effort to screw in, so you may want to use a small (5mm) hex nut driver to screw them in.

You can also preinstall the solid-state drive and Blu-ray drive, since the storage bays are in front of the motherboard compartment and don't overlap it. The Coolermaster case is mostly tool free, but SSDs do require insertion of small screws, since the hard-drive brackets work in tool-free mode only with 3.5-inch hard drives, not 2.5-inch SSDs. The optical drive slides in and latches into place without screws.

You'll then install the memory and the CPU into their respective sockets before dropping the motherboard into the case. Asus preinstalls the Wi-Fi card, so you won't have to fiddle with that chore. We're not using the stock Intel cooler, so you'll have apply thermal paste, but you won't need to provide your own because the Silverstone CPU cooler comes with a small amount of it.

Use just a small drop of paste, and spread it over the surface of the CPU heat spreader with a flat-bladed screwdriver or craft knife. After adding the paste, attach the CPU cooler itself. Like the standard Intel cooler, the NT-07 uses latches that lock into small holes surrounding the CPU when you press the latches down. Make sure that you feel a firm click when pressing down the latch. Also, remember to attach the power connector for the fan to the proper connector on the motherboard.

Finally, make sure that you insert the ATX I/O shield into the case opening provided for it!

Installing the motherboard

Installing the Asus P8Z77-I motherboard differs somewhat from installing most PC motherboards. The VRM module is on a separate riser board that screws onto the motherboard itself. Those screws exactly overlap the standoffs that are used to attach the motherboard to the case. Start by removing the screws holding in the VRM module, being careful not to detach the module from the motherboard. Retain both of the screws; you'll need them next. (You can, however, discard the retaining nut that held the screws in place prior to your removing them.)

Next, slide the motherboard into the case, aligning the holes with the standoffs underneath. You can use the screws included with the Coolermaster case for the pair of standoffs opposite the VRM module, but you'll want to use the screws you removed earlier (it sounds more complicated than it really is).

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