Today, most of us are always on the hunt for tools that can make our lives easier. Enter the HTPC. We have the Internet, movies and photos on our phones – why not on our TVs? Come along on a voyage of technological discovery that is fraught with peril, as we cover the good and potentially bad of building one of these handy systems.
Introduction & Planning
Two or three years ago you would’ve been hard-pressed to find me even entertaining the idea of owning a home theater PC (HTPC), but then I bought a house and all bets were off – I just had to have one!
Clearly, I’m not alone given the hardware available today that caters to this ever-growing market segment. There’s everything from super small all-in-one systems, to feature-rich mITX motherboards, to ultra-low profile enthusiast CPU coolers, to cases that would look right at home beside stereo components – all at prices that allow folks to enter the scene at a fraction of the cost compared to even 2 years ago.
And why wouldn’t you want to? I know that having an HTPC for our weekly family movie night would be more cost-effective than burning a stack of disks, and we’d all be more comfortable in the living room instead of huddled around a 22″ monitor in the office. Ok, so things aren’t that bad since we can just copy files to a flash drive, plug it into the TV and go, but hopefully you see my point. It’s all about accessibility and convenience.
What originally started out as a build log has now become somewhat of a how-to, or how-not-to depending on how this goes. What’s to follow is strictly a do-it-yourself, screw-it-up-yourself, fix-it-and-redo-it-yourself, on-the-fly, kitchen build that I want to have done in time for our next movie night. To make this even more do it yourself-ish, I had to use my phone to snap photos since my camera died, so there’s no gussied-up pictures here. No sir! This is jungle warfare, baby!
So, read on as I work on an HTPC to call my own, in what could be a technological triumph, or a total bus crash of a build. Buckle up!
Before an HTPC is ever built, there’s some planning that needs to be done, which is typical of all systems whether it’s a budget Web surfing rig, or a multi-GPU game shredding monster. Having built oodles of systems myself, I found that extra care has to be taken when choosing components for an HTPC, especially if you’re using a chassis with a unique interior layout.
Here’s a quick list of the components used in this build with a few quick points that outline why I chose them, and approximately what they would run you if you were to pick them up today. It’s a bit lengthy, so those who want to get to the meaty bits might want to skip ahead.
Motherboard MSI FM2-A75MA-E35 – the name might be a mouthful, but this micro-ATX gem offers a tidy UEFI, SATA 6Gb/s, USB 3.0 on the rear I/O and for front panel connections, and HDMI connectivity for high definition video and audio, all of which are must-haves for me. The micro-ATX form factor is also a must-have based on the chassis that’s being used, but more on that shortly. Price: ~$65 CDN
Processor AMD A4 5300 – this is the lowest of the low-end Piledriver-based APUs that I could find readily available. Its two cores and integrated 7480D graphics processing unit (GPU) should more than be up to the task of laying down some 1080p video, some downloading, and light Web browsing. Going with a chip that has an integrated GPU means less noise since there’s one less fan spinning, less power being drawn, and best of all, less money! Price: ~$54 Canadian
Memory Kingston HyperX Blu – this solid 2x2GB, 1600mhz kit has been without a home for a while. The frequency and timings are far from bleeding edge, but this isn’t going to be a gaming rig. Stability and longevity is the name of the game here, plus there aren’t any fancy, extra tall heat spreaders that could cause clearance issues. Price: ~$30 Canadian
Power supply SilverStone SST-ST40F-ES – seeing how the power draw of the completed HTPC will be quite light, there’s no reason to throw down a ton of money on a power supply that’s overkill (unless you can score a really sweet deal). This one is small, quiet and powerful enough to allow for some expansion down the road. Price: ~$51 Canadian
Hard Drive 160GB Western Digital Caviar Blue – yeah, I know. A 160GB drive? Why? Well, it has been sitting around gathering dust, but it was a rock solid part in my wife’s rig. This is a tiny drive by today’s standards, but we’re hardly power users, plus the HTPC will normally be streaming media from a server, which has more than enough storage. Price: ~$65 Canadian
Network Adapter TP-Link TL-WN725N – in my home, cords are the enemy, so going wireless was a no brainer. This small adapter plugs into a USB port and can handle up to 150Mbps. Due to its size, it’s more geared towards laptop users, but I nabbed this fella for a steal. Price: ~$20 Canadian
Chassis SilverStone Grandia GD06 – This chassis was a review sample that SilverStone had sent along, but due to 7 months-worth of renovations in order to get the house to the point where it’s ready to have an HTPC, a review unfortunately didn’t happen. The GD07 and 08 models have since been released, but I feel it’s still one of the best-looking HTPC chassis on the market today. It features a space-saving interior, quiet yet capable cooling, room for some heavy-duty components well beyond what I have planned, and it looks damn fine to boot! Price: ~$135 Canadian
Peripherals Anker Mini Wireless Keyboard – what I like to call a “key-mote”, this infrared unit was a last-minute addition, winning out over a Logitech keyboard. The reasons were many, but simple – it’s as small, or smaller than a remote control, sports a touch pad for precise navigation, and all of the buttons are back-lit. Price: ~$35 Canadian
Cables Generic HDMI cable – don’t believe what people say about the quality of a $100 cable over a $10 one, because it simply isn’t true, and it has been proven time and time again to be false. To keep costs low, I went with the first one that would ship for free with the keyboard. Don’t buy into the hype! Price: ~$4 Canadian
So, with the what and why out-of-the-way, let’s move onto the how.