Home Theater PC (HTPC)

My most recent foray into computer building (and my last for awhile) was to build a HTPC. I recently built my own desktop and really enjoyed the process. Doing that sucessfully gave me the confidence to tackle the HTPC project. I have to say thanks to my wife for indulging me these last two months as I built these two systems. She recognizes that this is a hobby for me and has been very nice through the whole process. Thanks, Dear! I have a great wife!

The desire to build the HTPC came when I purchased a cheap case from Newegg. Newegg had a mATX desktop case on sale for $25 with free shipping so I decided to buy it to have on hand. Well, having an empty case sitting in my office was too much for me and I gave into the temptation to put something inside of it.

I did a lot of reasearch trying to decide what motherboard I wanted to get. I knew I was going to be on a tight budget, so AMD based boards appealed to me for the lower CPU prices. I also read a number of reviews that stated AMD processors work great in HTPC’s.

I also decided that, for my own convenience and ease of returns, I would buy a lot of my components locally unless the price difference was too astronomical. That esentially means that I made a lot of trips to Fry’s because Best Buy is basically a big rip off when it comes to components (if they even have what is needed).

Now, I’ll list my components:

1. Power Supply (PSU)- I was looking for something quiet and efficient since this thing would be running a lot and I didn’t want it to be distracting.

-Antec Earthwatts 380w (80 Plus Certified)- $59.99

2. Motherboard (Mobo)- This was the most difficult decision to make. I had narrowed it down to about five or six boards all with similar reviews and all within about $30 of each other in terms of price. I wanted a board with Toslink so that I could hook up my surrouns system and HDMI to hook up my TV. I finally decided on a Mobo that I felt had the best balance of features, price, and ease of future upgrading.

-Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-US2H – $84.99

3. Processor (CPU)- I had originally thought I would go with one of AMD’s 45 watt CPU’s because it would be cool and quiet. I ended up going with something a bit more powerful because the cost was not much more.

– AMD Athlon 64 X2 7750 Black Dual Core 2.7 GHz- $68.00

4. Hard Drive (HDD)- This was another very important part of my build. I knew I wanted a Western Digital drive since I have had a very good experience with their drives. The trick was that I needed a large drive which was going to be expensive. I had thought about getting one of the Green drives because of their low power consumption and quiet running, but I ended up seeing a deal at Fry’s I could not pass up. Fry’s had a 1TB WD Caviar Black drive on sale. This was the retail drive not the OEM drive. Having been impressed with the performance of the 500GB Caviar Black in my desktop build I decided to pick up the 1TB drive from Fry’s.

– WD10000LSRTL  1TB Caviar Black- $119,99

5. Optical Drive- This one was easy. When I built my desktop, I put a HD DVD/Blu Ray combo drive in it. Well, with the HTPC I knew I wouldn’t need that on my desktop. I decided to simply pull the drive out of my desktop to stick in the HTPC and bought a $25 DVD burner to put in the desktop. Below I will list the drive I took out of my desktop to put into my HTPC and the one I replaced it with.

-LG Black DVD Burner GH22NS30 (this one went into the desktop)- $24.99

-LG Super Multi Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD-ROM Drive (GGC-H20L) (this one came out of my desktop and is now in the HTPC- FREE! I had one on hand!

6. RAM- I had this on hand. It’s just 4 GB of DDR2 RAM. It works.

So, how does it work? I am pretty pleased with the results thus far. I am in the process of ripping my DVD collection to the HDD (a very lengthy process) using Magic DVD Ripper to rip the movie portion only (no menus or extras). I am using Vista Media Center for playback of the ripped movies and using a free program called My Movies that tags the movies with a ton of useful information (cover art, cast and crew, etc.).

The onboard sound through the Toslink works great for my older 5.1 surround system. So far I have had no problems playing back either DTS or Dolby audio tracks on movies.

The only real issue that I have run into is picture quality through the HDMI port. Everything looks a little off when I put the picture through HDMI (i.e. colors seem off and text seem blurry). So, I am currently going through the VGA port. The only downside here is that my TV will not support 1080p through the VGA port. So I am stuck at 720p. Now, I would much rather look at a clear 720p than a blurry and off-color 1080p, but I hope to resolve this issue eventually.

In conclusion, I am very pleased with the build. The cheap case that I bought works great and the big fan in the back and the side vents keep the system running cool. The CPU is plenty powerful, quiet, and seems to run fairly cool. The HDD is probably a bit louder than a Green drive would have been, but the speed is great and it maxes out on Vista’s score card. The onboard sound and video have been more than enough to handle DVD, HD DVD, and Blu Ray playback.

The only thing that I hope to add in the future is a tuner so that I can use the system as a DVR and have a remote to browse through Vista Media Center. That’s going to have to wait because it will probably also require adding a HDD or two to the system.

If you are thinking about giving a HTPC a go, I recommend it. My wife and I have already been having great fun watching old SNL skits and episodes of King of the Hill on Hulu. That alone would be worth the cost of the system.

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One thought on “Home Theater PC (HTPC)

  1. I have been building HTPCs since 1999. They have come along way. They are still not perfect, but for what they offer you it’s worth dealing with a few issues here and there. I am looking forward to the Window 7 version.
    Enjoy yours.

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