First steps towards a HTPC

By | December 1, 2007

I finally decided that it was time to build a media center a couple of weeks ago. In this relative short post I’ll describe the first things to after making this decision.

For me it was quite easy. To start my new quest 😉 I first decided to look at buying an assembled HTPC or building one myself. Wasn’t a hard decision looking at the prices. The cheapest HTPC’s I could find where around 1.6oo euros. Yikes.

So in short I will build the HTPC myself. This has to be cheaper :). So first my wish list:

  1. It has to be able to play DVD / CD
  2. Must be relatively small (which limits the casing)
  3. Quick enough to decode HDTV and X-264 on the fly
  4. Silent, silent and oh yeah silent
  5. Be able to play DVB-C, which means digital cable

So pretty much the standard things that you would require from any Media Center. So I set out to look for hardware that supports my wishes. As well as respects my budget, which is around a 1.000 euro’s.

Since I wanted a small casing I had to work in a bit of a strange order. Normally I pick the CPU and motherboard first, but I had to make sure their would be a motherboard available to fit the casing. So first finding a good casing.

Finding a casing

[singlepic=260,142,69,watermark,right]I reviewed a lot off them. And their are a lot of different ones out there. But considering that I had a budget I couldn’t go for the fancy like the Zalman H135. A great looking thing but far too expensive at 269 euro’s. Something more in my price range is the Antec Fusion V2 at 159 euro, see picture on the right. 

I know there are some minor issues with it, like the IR not working properly and the display only working with Microsoft MCE. But that’s not a problem for me as I intend to use Windows Vista Home Premium anyway.

The only downside is that it requires a mATX motherboard , no problem for me but it might be for some.

Deciding which CPU to use

The second step in my quest was finding out which CPU to use. First it’s critical to decide if you want to use AMD or Intel. Both give high quality CPU’s, but both have their downsides. AMD is known for generating more heat then Intel which could be problematic in a HTPC. Intel however is a shit-load more expensive.

Considering I am trying to keep a budget I choose for AMD. Now for choosing a model. For me this was simple since I’m going to be running Vista and I want HDTV decoding. This means I need to use a dual core CPU. From this point on it’s just a matter of deciding how much money you want to spent. I decided that the AMD Athlon XP2 6000+ would fit my budget best.

This choice meant I had to find a motherboard supporting a AM2 processor and being mATX.

The motherboard quest

Finding the motherboard was a lot easier for me then the first two steps. For two reasons, namely step one and step two. Just kidding 😉

[singlepic=261,100,101,watermark,right]The main reason why it was easy is because I want as much as possible to be on the motherboard . This includes sound, good video card, HDTV support and all the usual basic things.

For me this left two possible motherboard . The Asus M2A-VM HDMI and the Gigabyte  MA69GM-S2H. Both are good motherboard , at least that is what the reviews tell me. Since the gigabyte board is about 30 euro’s cheaper that was my choice.

The simple rest

The last step for me was finding the rest. Which is my lazy way of saying the memory, harddisk and input devices (keyboard,etc). For this I won’t bore you with my choices. Just with some hints:

  • Make sure to buy enough memory. On average 2048 MB should suffice for a Media Center, but if you want to run Vista you may want to order double.
  • The size of the harddisk depends on how you will use your Media Center. I choose 250 GB since I will store my files on a network drive and not the Media Center itself. You may want to go for 360 GB or even 500 if you do want to store on the Media Center. As for a brand I prefer Western Digital because they are less noisy and very stable.
  • For input don’t forget a keyboard. It may look silly but their are two nice ones out there for Media Centers. The Trust KB-2950 and Microsoft MCE Keboard. I prefer the trust as it’s using radio waves and not IrDA (used in remotes).

Conclusion

As you see it’s not difficult to assemble your own Media Center. And you can save a lot of money if you shop around a bit. In total I spent around 500 euro’s so far. Which is a lot better then the 1.600 the shop wanted to charge for a pre assembled one.

You may have noticed though that I haven’t included the TV Card I’ll be using. This is because I haven’t decided yet. I’ll include that in my next post. Where I will also walk you through the assembly of my HTPC to show you it’s not difficult. If you’re patient enough.

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