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nOOb - Home Theater PC 1st Build under $500

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April 3, 2006 10:51:30 PM

I would like some help building a htpc - I've never built one before, but I have built about 6-7 regular PCs. I already have a case, power supply and an old 40 GB Hard Drive. I also have Windows XP Pro and a Windows Media Center Edition. I need everything else and would like to get it under $500. It would not be used for gaming, but just for looking at pics, watching movies, playing music, etc.... I need a Processor, Mobo, DVD Drive, and some kind of vid card and a sound card. I'm thinking about a Athlon 64 3000+, but maybe a Sempron? I don't know what performance I need for a HTPC.
April 4, 2006 12:46:07 AM

Hi, you can do this two ways.

1) In my opinion, Media Center PCs are best bought off the shelf (like this one). Why? Because there is too much stuff you need to bother with that is not in standard PCs, like TV tuner cables and DVI.

2) If you do want to build your own, then check out this article on ExtremeTech.com.
April 4, 2006 2:24:20 AM

Quote:
Hi, you can do this two ways.

1) In my opinion, Media Center PCs are best bought off the shelf (like this one). Why? Because there is too much stuff you need to bother with that is not in standard PCs, like TV tuner cables and DVI.

2) If you do want to build your own, then check out this article on ExtremeTech.com.


While I do agree with your point in #1, NEVER EVER EVER EVER buy a Sony desktop PC. You are just asking to get taken advantage of, and asking for serious problems. They are really POS. What I would do is configure a Dell tthe way you want it, then build it from Newegg.
Related resources
April 4, 2006 4:33:46 AM

I agree about off the shelf, but I want to know a little more about HTPC's I dunno about TV Tuner cards, is a $50 one good enough? Like I said, I won't be gaming on it, just using it for recording video from my dish network satellite and watching dvds, etc.... I know that a 40 gig hd is smallish for this, but all that I need is an basic layout and possibly some software to use. I know I want to keep the interface as simple as possible, since my wife will not want to fool with a difficult computer system for her to use or record tv. I kinda have the DVD drive picked out, so all I need is the Processor, Mobo, Vid/TV tuner card, and sound card if it will help much.
April 4, 2006 5:23:50 AM

I have another question about the processor - I'm looking at the AMD 64 3000 and I was also wondering about the Intel Pentium D 850 @2.66GHZ - would it be better for a HTPC since it's dual core? The price is about $15 more, but would it be better - I don't know how to overclock, so thats not a worry.
April 4, 2006 5:00:04 PM

Quote:
I would like some help building a htpc - I've never built one before, but I have built about 6-7 regular PCs. I already have a case, power supply and an old 40 GB Hard Drive. I also have Windows XP Pro and a Windows Media Center Edition. I need everything else and would like to get it under $500. It would not be used for gaming, but just for looking at pics, watching movies, playing music, etc.... I need a Processor, Mobo, DVD Drive, and some kind of vid card and a sound card. I'm thinking about a Athlon 64 3000+, but maybe a Sempron? I don't know what performance I need for a HTPC.


I built HTPCas well as normal PC, and apart for noise and heat management, there is no real difference.

The first thing I want to know, what case you have?

Then, look for fanless motherboard. Avoid nforce chipset, even if they can be passively cooled, they still ran very hot. ULI and ATI are nice for that reason, and plenty fast. Sure enough, you'll want to avoid High end prescott and dual core. They put out too much heat, which require more cooling and add to noise.

But anyway, as long as I have no idea about the case being used, I cannot help you more.
April 4, 2006 5:54:40 PM

Quote:
I would like some help building a htpc - I've never built one before, but I have built about 6-7 regular PCs. I already have a case, power supply and an old 40 GB Hard Drive. I also have Windows XP Pro and a Windows Media Center Edition. I need everything else and would like to get it under $500. It would not be used for gaming, but just for looking at pics, watching movies, playing music, etc.... I need a Processor, Mobo, DVD Drive, and some kind of vid card and a sound card. I'm thinking about a Athlon 64 3000+, but maybe a Sempron? I don't know what performance I need for a HTPC.


DO NOT use Windows Media Center...it's just a stripped down XP Pro!

Can't really make suggestions, but I can offer my HTPC specs as a frame of reference. They are as follows:
P4 2.4GHz 533fsb
1GB PC3200 Corsair Value RAM
Abit IC-7
ATI AIW 9600XT (8xAGP)
M-Audio Revolution 7.1
1x30GB WD (system drive)
1x120GB WD (storage drive)
Lite-on Combo DVD/CD-ROM
Antec Overture case

IMO, an HTPC does not have to be super powered. Like you said, what are you gonna use it for? PVR? Watch DVD's? MAME? Web surf? Faster is always nice tho, but, if I had to do it over again, I would run a Pentium M (Dothan) plugged into a mobo like this AOpen i915Ga-HFS. This would a nice foundation for a cool and quiet HTPC! Almost better than most desktops! If that's too much, than something on a Skt 754 plugged into an nForce3 chipset mobo would be more than enough.

Good luck!
April 4, 2006 6:01:38 PM

Well, for an HTPC I can come up with a few words of advice/recommendations:
Firstly, your CPU requirements will be met by any CPU on the market now pretty much. A 3000+ will certainly have enough umph. The reason for this certainty lies in your choice of TV tuner card. YOU HAVE TO GET A TUNER CARD WITH HARDWARE DECODING. The Hauppauge PVR range (I have a PVR-150 and these are currently selling at Circuit City for $60 instead of $100). These include a remote and are compatible with analog and digital cable/satellite inputs. Quality is pretty damn good too. Software is also included but I recommend a freeware package (GBPVR - although this is put together by one guy and so please make donations to him if you like the program). This allows you to make the most of the TIVO functionality of the PVR-150 and a whole lot more besides. The PVR series of cards put minimal burden on your CPU (less than 10% typically) while recording shows too.

As for a video card, unless you also plan on gaming you can really got a mid- to low-end card - a 7300 or 7600 series or X1300 would be perfect with improved DVD decoding capabilities. Getting s-video out is the one recommendation so you can playback through your TV rather than a pokey or overpriced monitor.

You want a good sized HDD for backing up TV shows though (1 hour medium quality = 2GB) and I'd recommend a dual layer DVD burner.

Don't buy off the shelf PCs, you'll be paying for crap you don't want and not getting stuff you do need....with the components you need here you can EASILY build for under $500.
As for audio card, just an old Soundblaster live 5.1 will probably give you enough for average needs. I'd sway with athlon 64 over Sempron but more preference rather than CPU deficiencies anywhere for HTPC purposes. I am using an Athlon XP1700+ with 1GB RAM (1 GB is min I would recommend) and have zero problems with my HTPC rig.
Good luck!
Dekk out
April 4, 2006 10:54:03 PM

Thanks for the help - so the processor isn't necessarily the be all end all of the system? I'm looking at about 1GB Ram - an Athlon 64 2800 - 3000 and an extra 80 GB hd. - What about the tv tuner card? does is do all of the processing, and the video card just sends it to my tv? So the Vid Card isn't that taxed, right? I heard somewhere that the ati all in one's are good for this. I'm not sure and I've only had a ATI Radeon 9200 and I thought it sucked big time.
April 5, 2006 4:30:53 PM

So a hardware based TV tuner mpeg encoder card such as the Hauppauge does take off almost all the strain from the CPU (with these specific cards eg pvr-150 you should see less than a 10% CPU usage with TV recording). The ATI All-in-wonder and other software-based products do not take as much strain off the CPU. You are also restricted in the types of software applications you can use. Wondrous packages such as GBPVR and SageTV I believe will not work with the ATI range (at least not yet).
A 2800-3000 Athlon 64 will certainly provide you with enough raw CPU power to run a very capable HTPC. I would be concerned about an 80GB HDD. For the price of hard drives these days I would not skimp here or you will quickly find yourself short on space. I recommend at least a 160GB driver (you can find these for only $10-20 more than an 80GB). You'll want a few episodes of a given show stored on your HDD before wanting to burn a DVD - a one hour show on medium (good enough!) quality takes up about 1.75GB - do the maths.
Also, if you use programs like GBPVR you can even play ISO files of your DVDs directly from your HD - archive your DVD collection and play them through your HTPC whenever you want. While you are at it, I bought the Logitech z5300e 5.1 speaker system from Zipzoomfly for $120 and now have a surround sound setup running nicely through an old Creative 5.1 soundblaster live.
1GB of ram will serve you nicely. Your video card will only be taxed (if you choose one of the Hauppauge PVR series cards or something similar) if you play your TV back out through an s-video connection to a TV (hence needing an s-video output on your video card). If you go for the higher end Hauppauge PVR cards (I believe the 350 and 500 have this) they also come with an s-video output so no requirement for this with your video card or integrated video. Hope this all helps.
April 5, 2006 8:28:32 PM

OK - So an AMD 3000+ is good enough - I'll probably get a minimun 160GB, or a 250 - does SATA or IDE really matter here? Would a 9600 ATI video card work, or will just about anything based on the Nvidia 6 or 7 series do as well as a ATI 9200-9800 or the x1300? I'm assuming that S-Video doesn't tax the Vid Card that much. Also, Would it be better to go with a single TV Tuner card like Derreck said that also has S-Video outs, or a separate Vid Card. Is cost about the same? Also, 1 GB of Ram enough? So far I've picked out the Processor AMD 64 3000+, DVD Burner, and I've already got a case, power supply, keyboard and mouse. I want recommendations on TV Tuner / Vid card - one with a remote, and also a good OS - XP good enough? Also any software I need extra?
April 5, 2006 8:42:40 PM

Quote:
OK - So an AMD 3000+ is good enough - I'll probably get a minimun 160GB, or a 250 - does SATA or IDE really matter here?


better with sata, cable management is better for better cooling

Quote:
Would a 9600 ATI video card work, or will just about anything based on the Nvidia 6 or 7 series do as well as a ATI 9200-9800 or the x1300? I'm assuming that S-Video doesn't tax the Vid Card that much.


definitively with the passively cooled x1300. better video quality and nice overall performance

Quote:
Also, Would it be better to go with a single TV Tuner card like Derreck said that also has S-Video outs, or a separate Vid Card. Is cost about the same?


I would go with separate tuner, as 2 can be used fo multi video input. some software support PIP (picture in picture) and that could be a nice addition

Quote:
Also, 1 GB of Ram enough? So far I've picked out the Processor AMD 64 3000+, DVD Burner, and I've already got a case, power supply, keyboard and mouse. I want recommendations on TV Tuner / Vid card - one with a remote, and also a good OS - XP good enough? Also any software I need extra?



What case do you have? HTPC one or generic ATX one? And the PSU, is it one quiet?

do you have digital cable or satellite only signals or analog cable too? if you have digital only signal, then you dont need tuner card, only simple vivo card.
April 5, 2006 11:19:04 PM

I have a black ATX case that I don't use anymore thanks to my new red Dracula case :)  I like the idea of the X1300 being passively cooled too. I only have Dish Networks standard satellite with it distributed through the house with Coax (RG6 I think) - What do you mean I don't need a tuner card, just a vivo card? whats a vivo card? Also, any software to use?
April 6, 2006 2:28:53 AM

Quote:
I have a black ATX case that I don't use anymore thanks to my new red Dracula case :)  I like the idea of the X1300 being passively cooled too. I only have Dish Networks standard satellite with it distributed through the house with Coax (RG6 I think) - What do you mean I don't need a tuner card, just a vivo card? whats a vivo card? Also, any software to use?


Satellite TV signal are digital. They need to be decoded by the decoder in order for you to be able to see it. So, even if you plug the dish right into the tuner card, you won't be able to see the channel. I too have digital TV. The decoder is plugged to my TV using the component connection and to my computer with composite in. Sound to home theater receiver from the decoder is digital while being analog to the computer, for capture.

The computer video output is connected to the HT at the DVD place. Composite for video, digital for audio.

VIVO stand for video in/video out. The card I have is this one.

Its an Asus x1600xt passively cooled with vivo. which mean that I don't need external capture card. While not an hardware based capture card, current CPU and hdd are fast enough, and the hddwill be the problem at dropping frame if you try to multitask too much, unles you have a hdd dedicated to capture.

ATI own multimedia center is available for download at ATI web site and the eazylook interface is something nice to have. it allow easy navigation to multimedia files on your computer on the TV screen. A little like Windows mediacenter edition.

So, you'll have to check that you have enough video and audio output from the decoder to connect both the TV (or HT receiver) and the computer. Usually, there is s-video out and composite. You can send the svideo one to the vivo card

And since you have a standard ATX case, I can recommend the Asus A8R-MVP motherboard. it has nice HD digital sound onboard, that could be used (and should be if you plan to watch movie in DVD and Divx format) as sound will be sent as true 5.1 digital sound if you have a nice HT receiver.
April 6, 2006 6:07:13 AM

For reference, my PVR uses the following:

old Dell 4600 mobo w/the stock passive heatsink
Mobile Celeron 2.2 w/ voltage pin mod for desktop mobo use
ancient Pixelview tuner (bt878 based)
ATI something stupid PCI w/8MB ram
256MB DDR
small fluid dynamic bearing hard drive
Inwin D500 horizontal desktop case
MythTV -technically, KnoppMythTV
TVView Gold scan converter, circa 1999
802.11g WiFi Access Point in Bridge mode
DVD-R for the occasional DVD or for archiving saved shows

Notes:
--The Mobile C with the passive heatsink mean no noise, yet there is ample CPU power to record and view shows.
--Horizontal desktop case w/ fan vent on the top of the back panel keeps heat away from components. So far no need to fill the vent with a fan.
--If I didn't have extras, I wouldn't have gone with the i865 mobo, an i845 chipset mobo would do as well with much less heat.
--Unless you go with a relatively high end tuner that does the mpeg encoding in hardware, all cheaper cards are pretty much the same except for the bells and whistles. Get a hardware encoder like the PVRx50 cards and you use almost any recent CPU, see http://www.mythtv.org/wiki/index.php/Tuner_Card#Hardwar...
--Unless you are gaming, the video out card doesn't matter. It's not doing any hardware calculations, just displaying a fairly simple if moving 2-d image. Go with something that has video-out for Windows, or anything + a scan converter for Linux.
--KnoppMythTV only needs 256MB Ram, more would remain unused but create heat.
--Don't overbuild, use the minimum you need to avoid any excess heat, which in turn requires cooling, which increases NOISE!
--fluid dynamic bearing (FDB) hard drives are quiet, low wattage and cool running. Notebook drives even more so. The alternative is to go with a quiet 4200 rpm notebook drive to keep heat and power usage down.
--As far as the WiFi Access Point? Wireless PCI was taking too long to set up in KnoppMyth. Wired Ethernet takes seconds. By setting a WAP to Bridge mode, I can just plug in and Linux doesn't need to know it's wireless.
--All of this is totally useless if you are going HDTV.
April 6, 2006 4:04:42 PM

I cannot recommend strongly enough that you stay away from the ATI AIW series of TV tuner cards. I suggest the Hauppauge PVR range for very good reason, check the reviews and forums and you will see why without me wasting my time here.
The PVR-150 (the entry level card for your purposes) includes a very good remote and an IR blaster to enable control of your satellite set top box through your TV tuner software package of choice (again, I cannot state enough how good GB-PVR is). The PVR-150 includes coax and S-video inputs (thus if you have an s-video output from your set top box you can maintain higher quality than offered by the coax). The higher end PVR products (e.g. PVR-350) include s-video output but they do cost more - about as much more as the lower end graphics cards solutions you are suggesting - so really, its as much a matter of space in your case, your gaming needs and whether or not you have an existing video card you can make use of.
SATA is of some benefit but certainly not critical for your performance in an HTPC setup. Prices for SATA and EIDE HDDs these days are very close and most mobos include at least a couple of SATA ports so I'd say if you have the option go for it, if not...don't lose sleep over it!
There are a number of options to take from here - mediaMVP and such but I'll save those for another post. Just to make it clear, if you are looking at a $500 budget the approaches I am suggesting are far better for HTPC performance than other alternatives posted here.....do your research and enlighten yourself rather than relying on our posts to highlight snippets of key information!!!!!
April 27, 2006 9:43:08 PM

Quote:
Well, for an HTPC I can come up with a few words of advice/recommendations:
Firstly, your CPU requirements will be met by any CPU on the market now pretty much. A 3000+ will certainly have enough umph. The reason for this certainty lies in your choice of TV tuner card. YOU HAVE TO GET A TUNER CARD WITH HARDWARE DECODING. The Hauppauge PVR range (I have a PVR-150 and these are currently selling at Circuit City for $60 instead of $100). These include a remote and are compatible with analog and digital cable/satellite inputs. Quality is pretty damn good too. Software is also included but I recommend a freeware package (GBPVR - although this is put together by one guy and so please make donations to him if you like the program). This allows you to make the most of the TIVO functionality of the PVR-150 and a whole lot more besides. The PVR series of cards put minimal burden on your CPU (less than 10% typically) while recording shows too.

As for a video card, unless you also plan on gaming you can really got a mid- to low-end card - a 7300 or 7600 series or X1300 would be perfect with improved DVD decoding capabilities. Getting s-video out is the one recommendation so you can playback through your TV rather than a pokey or overpriced monitor.

You want a good sized HDD for backing up TV shows though (1 hour medium quality = 2GB) and I'd recommend a dual layer DVD burner.

Don't buy off the shelf PCs, you'll be paying for crap you don't want and not getting stuff you do need....with the components you need here you can EASILY build for under $500.
As for audio card, just an old Soundblaster live 5.1 will probably give you enough for average needs. I'd sway with athlon 64 over Sempron but more preference rather than CPU deficiencies anywhere for HTPC purposes. I am using an Athlon XP1700+ with 1GB RAM (1 GB is min I would recommend) and have zero problems with my HTPC rig.
Good luck!
Dekk out



< $500 should be easy
I have the $70 frys combo MB, AMD 2000+ or so. The key is the Hauppauge pvr250. (or 150 now) Uses <6% of cpu. Cheapest nvidia 5200 card. And a good burner like my benq. I burm, dl, browse, play, record and author a dvd all at the same time. Throw it in a cheap case and buy a big HD. I run a svideo cable over the the tv and I'm done.
Try gb-pvr for your software and if you don't like it buy beyond or sage and you're good to go.
Hardware capture is the key.
April 29, 2006 12:13:45 AM

This is a great topic, but I have a question;

Many of us don't have Fry's near us, so what is that Motherboard/CPU combo? Or, better yet, can you recommend one from Monarch or Newegg that would be good for this inexpensive PC?

Thanks!
April 29, 2006 8:08:30 PM

Search for the right product with Newegg and TG Stores and find the best prices using Froggle and TG Stores. NewEgg and Monarch hardly ever have best prices when including shipping.

DDay
!