Planning My HTPC

Posted on May 12, 2011

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When planning a Home Theater PC, there are many different options to consider. However, there are certain components that are always present. These include the case, motherboard, CPU, RAM, hard drive, other components, and operating system. Allow me to walk you through my thought process as I built my HTPC.

Case

Before we talk about cases, let’s look into another option that does not require much work at all to assemble: nettops. Nettops are one way to go. There are several different makes and models, but if you go this route, make sure that they have the NVIDIA Ion platform.

HTPC, Acer Aspire Revo

The Acer Aspire Revo 1600 makes a great HTPC

This will allow you to crank out 1080p video without a hitch. Some popular nettops include the Acer Revo, the Asus EeeBox, and several others. The great advantage of using a nettop as an HTPC is the small form factor. Many nettops are made to be clipped behind your flat screen TV. However, it is difficult to upgrade storage since the case is so tiny. Nettops are ideal in homes were there is NAS on the network from which media can be streamed.

Being a college student with a limited budget, I chose not to go this route, as it would have required me to also buy a NAS to store my media in. Looking to reduce costs, I chose go a different route, that being a larger HTPC case. These cases are made to look like A/V receivers. There are countless HTPC case models, but I chose to go with the nMedia 6000b. I found it on Newegg with free shipping for a cool $70. From there, it was on to choosing my motherboard, CPU, RAM, hard drive, and other components.

nmedia 6000b

nMedia 6000b HTPC Case

Motherboard

I wanted an HTPC that would also be quiet. One of my pet peeves is background noise when I’m watching a movie. In order to avoid getting a video card (which would also have a fan, which means there would be more noise), I looked at motherboards that included built in video capability. Specifically, I looked for motherboards that had an HDMI connection (video and audio). If you do a quick search of “HDMI motherboards,” you will find many options for HTPC motherboards. I ended up purchasing a Gigabyte motherboard on sale off of Newegg (once again, on sale and shipped free). It supports 1080p video out, as well as 7.1 surround sound. There are other reasons to decide on a certain motherboard (CPU support, RAM support, USB 3.0 compatibility), but for the HTPC that I wanted, HDMI support was what would make or break it for me.

Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-US2H

CPU

I wanted a CPU with at least two cores, but found a great deal on Tigerdirect for the AMD Phemon 9750, a quad core CPU compatible with my motherboard. When purchasing a CPU, make sure it will support the demands that HD video will put on it (dual-core or better are safe to go with), and make sure the socket type is compatible with your motherboard.

AMD Phenom X4 9750

RAM

For a Home Theater PC, I would recommend at least 2GB, with 4GB being optimal. Make sure your motherboard also supports the type of RAM you select (DDR2 or DDR3). I was lucky enough to find a great deal on RAM in the classifieds. Make sure to check your local classifieds, including Craigslist, to find bargains on components for your HTPC.

Corsair RAM 4GB DDR2

Hard Drive

If my budget wasn’t a restricting factor on my HTPC project, I would have purchased a solid state drive (SSD) to install the OS on, with an optical hard disk with more storage for my media. This would allow installed software to run much quicker. However, an optical hard disk can do the job just fine. I started out with a Samsung Spinpoint 1TB drive that I purchased for $55, but there are many 2TB for not much more. In fact, I now have 6TB of storage on my HTPC. It is important to realize that although you may not feel you need that much storage, there will come a time when you do. Stock up on that storage!

Samsung Spinpoint 1TB Hard Drive

Other Components

In addition to the above items, you will also need a power supply. Generally, a 500w power supply will be more than enough to handle your computer’s needs. Just make sure to look at reviews online to make sure the power supply unit you purchase will not generate a lot of noise. An optical drive is also necessary. For me, all of my media was ripped onto my hard drives, so I did not need a Blu Ray drive. I was lucky enough to have a neighbor (who also showed me how to put the HTPC together) with an extra DVD drive lying around, so that had no effect on my budget. However, having a Blu Ray drive always adds a nice touch to your Home Theater PC setup.

Operating System

I already had a copy of Windows 7 Professional, which comes with Windows Media Center, so I went ahead and used that as the operating system for my HTPC. Linux is also a good way to go if you are familiar with the OS. Either way, it really comes down to the software you are going to use to navigate through your media.

“Finished” Product

I am very satisfied with my HTPC, but there is always room for improvement. One thing I really like about my case is that I can upgrade or tweak the setup very easily (one advantage over nettops). There is so much more that one can do with his/her Home Theater PC, such as streaming media to other devices (including mobile devices), watching and recording live TV (with a TV tuner card), and so much more. In addition, there are many input devices that make using an HTPC that much more enjoyable.

My HTPC

I hope to be able to discuss more about all these things in future posts. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section. Thanks!

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Posted in: Case, Hard Drive, HTPC