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First time HTPC build

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April 19, 2007 11:46:55 AM

Hi, I'm on my way to building my first HTPC rig - but it's not actually going to be for me, I've been commissioned to build this by my girlfriend's parents...

Anyways, the basic requirements are DVR functionality with dual tuners so that it can record while you watch something else, and DVD playback.

Note: All prices are in $AUD, NOT $USD

Well the basic specs I worked out are as follows, in the primary interests of lowest price:
Motherboard:
ASUS M2N-MX (AM2, uATX, PCIe 16x slot if needed, nForce 4, integrated Geforce 6100) $99

CPU:
Either a Sempron 3000+ for $59
or preferably a Athlon X2 3600+ for $129, a little more than twice the price but a hell of a lot more capable.

RAM:
1GB of Kingston DDR2-667 $105

DVD Drive:
LG - GSA-H42NBBK $55
This drive doesn't match the silver colour of the case, but it's apparently a quiet drive, and that seems a useful quality in a HTPC.

TV Tuner:
Either two of the Leadtek DTV1000T $95ea -> $190
Two of the Leadtek TV2000XP half the price but I don't think it's a digital tuner, just analog $49ea -> $98
Or for slightly more than the two discrete Leadtek tuners the Hauppauge NOVA-T for $220

I'm thinking probably the Hauppauge, prime reason being it allows for the expansion to a discrete soundcard later by saving a PCI slot.

Case and PSU:
I was thinking of the Antec Minuet 300 which comes with a 300W PSU for $130.

HDD:
I was thinking of starting off with a 400GB Barracuda $180


As far as the operating system goes I was originally thinking WinXP MCE, but for only a few dollars more you can get Vista Home Premium which comes with a media centre and built in DVD decoder unlike WinXP...

Total ~= $1168AUD = $989USD

Any opinions/hints/tips/things I've forgotten?

And as far as I've been told the original WinXP MCE remote functions correctly in Vista Premium - which although it has a remote coming it isn't out yet.

More about : time htpc build

April 19, 2007 12:47:56 PM

Will this be for any high-def video? If so you may want a discrete graphics card. The last on-borad graphics solution I had was incapable of playing high bit-rate vids without stuttering.
April 19, 2007 1:25:57 PM

You are better off with one tuner card and most small form factor cases do not have much room, I like Haupauge, not sure of the Nova, I have a 150. I got a package with software and a remote that works with MCE, I got MCE w/ a coupon for upgrade to Vista, still waiting for the Vista as it takes 8 weeks.
Should be ok with the PSU, but if you add a video card you might be cutting it too close. I ran mine though a calculator and it came up at 305W, with the x1600 GPU
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April 19, 2007 1:39:03 PM

Well I've looked at the options for a discrete graphics card, it'll be for whatever resolution free to air digital TV is at in Australia...
If one is required there are some rather cheap 7100GS cards with Component and DVI-I outputs with optional low-profile brackets for not too much money - but in the interests of the saving of cash it'll be tried first without it at least, it's a pretty easy upgrade later if needed.
I'd heard Hauppauge does good tuners, I think this was just the card rather than the retail package, but I'll have to check about that bundle - thanks for the tip.
April 19, 2007 1:41:32 PM

Not sure where they ship but I went to slipstream.com
April 19, 2007 2:40:41 PM

I would probably try getting a case without a power supply and buy a Seasonic 380, it's the quietest power supply I've ever heard(or barely hear,as I type this). Excessive noise may not be your first concern now, but the first time you can't hear someone whispering in a show because of your HTPC's roaring fans, you'll understand.
April 20, 2007 9:08:32 AM

Noise is definitely a concern for this machine...
But I'm not too sure about finding a supply to fit in such a small box, and I don't think I can get Seasonic supplies from any of my normal stores...
The PSU has an 80mm fan which doubles as an exhaust fan for the system, the only other thing I know about it is it's a 300W Antec Smartpower, no idea on what connectors it has beyond the 24pin mobo and 4 pin CPU, but the motherboard comes with a molex to sata converter which will cover that at least.
April 20, 2007 11:26:58 AM

go for an amd 3500+ the extra cache makes a big difference and is alot better in multimedia applications. the price difference is quite small. also, for your hard drive, you can buy a samsung 500gb hdd from msy (msy.com.au) for $165, much cheaper and more storage. if not, change to a 320gb, they are only about $100 but at only a 80gb deficit, much better gd:cost aspect.
April 20, 2007 1:10:59 PM

I love MSY, I've bought half my system their because of their prices, but as far as I know, and the reason they have such low prices is in that they don't have fancy customer service etc, and as far as I know - they don't deliver. I've priced this so far through Scorptec, and that's where this is probably going to be bought from.
I'm in Melbourne myself, but it's being shipped interstate, so buying and shipping it myself would just be a pain I'd rather avoid.

Anyways...
I'll look into that price per GB difference with the 320Gb in the morning.
April 20, 2007 1:51:35 PM

Why not go with an 690G Chipset for your motherboard . That way when your gf parents upgrade to an HDTV they can play HDCP protected content at 720p through hdmi or dvi
April 20, 2007 3:00:46 PM

If you can see if you can get Fortron Source PSU's, the 120 mm fan models are compact and very quiet. I would recommend larger fans, they don't make nearly the noise of the 80 mm models. Also Samsung hard drives due tend to be quieter than Seagates as of late. Time difference makes it hard to communicate, Mate!
April 21, 2007 2:06:46 AM

The problem I had with going intel isn't a AMD fanboy problem, but a processor price issue, in order to get SpeedStep I'd have to shell out a lot more than for a Cool and Quiet processor... But HDCP is good, as would be a motherboard DVI port... I'll take a look at the features and prices and see how they come up... The additional price may be offset by the lack of need for a discrete graphics card.
April 23, 2007 11:07:17 AM

Quote:
Why not go with an 690G Chipset for your motherboard . That way when your gf parents upgrade to an HDTV they can play HDCP protected content at 720p through hdmi or dvi

I've just had a look at Intel boards, but I haven't noticed any with a built in DVI port, any pointers?
Looking at the processors it actually works out more similar than I'd originally thought, but for this price point AMD's got the performance per price advantage still.
April 23, 2007 2:31:19 PM

Some points to note

If you want to watch HDTV, a dedicated graphics card all the way, I havent seen many onboard solutions which can decode HD Video very well. They may have all the right sockets and stuff but that dont mean squat if the chip doesnt have enough decoding power.

Leadtek tuners have been a PITA (Pain In The Arse) for me when I had to set it up on my sister's Shuttle XPC for TV Watching. The software was rather cumbersome and although it was packed with good features, they taxed my Sempron 3000+ too much.

If you can, get Windows MCE 2005 OEM, and then get the Hauppage WinTV PVR-150 MCE, PVR-250 MCE or a PVR-500 MCE. The 150 being the cheapest, basic solution for watching TV or plugging in external sources, the 250 being the next one up which has FM Radio capabilities and the 500 which has dual tuners so you can fully take advantage of MCE 2005's ability to record one channel while watch another with one card. Each of these tuners has the MCE remote control which not only works when watching TV but also throughout Windows XP MCE and other applications. Receiver plugs into a USB 2.0 Port and has the ability to further link set top boxes and other stuff to control if you so desire, but the best bit about the receiver is its incredible sensitivity - mine has fallen behind the PC and yet the remote control works perfectly even when not pointed directly at the unit!! Leadtek remotes on the other hand had to be lined up directly with the receiver to work and those were rather clunky - PITA!! :lol: 

I'm sure that some gurus will be able to point out some Digital TV versions of the above suggested Hauppage Tuners with the MCE remote provided. You could get one Hauppage internal DTV Tuner with MCE remote and then get your Hauppage Nova-T USB 2.0 Tuner.

When you install these MCE tuners, all you do is start up MCE, it detects them, you follow the Add Hardware wizard, put the disc of MCE drivers in, complete the installation and you sorted. No extra cumbersome resource hogging software needed to be installed. Just follow add hardware wizard, press green button on remote control and then enjoy in MCE!! And if you so wish, there is a USB 2.0 MCE Tuner if space inside is a problem!

Hauppage have been proven to work seamlessly in HTPC builds - I've done plenty of work on different HTPCs and nearly everyone of them I have used has relied on Hauppage as the main hub of their TV Tuner. And Hauppage MCE cards are considered compatible under the Windows Upgrade Advisor for Windows Vista.

On that note, stay away from Vista as long as possible. MCE OEM can be had for under £100. If you get Vista you'll need 2GB to enjoy it properly, whereas MCE does the job with only 512MB - so in your case MCE will be coasting!!

Good Luck
April 24, 2007 7:00:32 AM

The Nova T is a dual digital TV (DVB-T) tuner with a PCI interface, not USB.
But it is the tuner solution I'm going to go with...
And yeah, I've been questioning myself over Vista a bit...

To start with I'm just going to set them up with the onboard video, but they're competent enough to install a video card (not really much to it), but the only problem on that front may be the power supply, but I guess for a low end card that shouldn't really be a problem - and a molex to 6 pin PCIe adaptor is pretty easy to get I believe if one doesn't come on the PSU (I'm not sure on the connectors apart from 4 pin CPU and 24 pin MoBo).

I've decided to downsize to the 320GB drive after looking at it - you're right rammedstein it's better value.
April 25, 2007 9:32:24 PM

My mistake - I am a little rusty on my TV tuner models

Vista will induce more headaches esp with onboard video!!

320GB will be fine for MCE - spend the saved cash on a dedicated graphics card or on bumping up the RAM to a nice juicy 2GB
April 26, 2007 8:26:52 AM

I've decided to switch to the version of the MoBo with a DVI port in addition to the VGA.
Without Vista there's no real need for 2GB of RAM on this computer that I see, so in the meantime it will just go to a cost reduction rather than a discrete graphics upgrade until I see how the integrated holds up. The integrated can definitely NOT do 1080p (1900x1080) but it will apparently do okay with up to 720p or 1080i, which should be sufficient in the short term.
April 26, 2007 6:52:09 PM

Suit yourself - personally I wouldn't trust onboard video for HTPC builds, DVI or not, their performance simply doesn't hold a candle to discrete graphics cards but who knows - maybe I'm looking at this too much from a gamer's POV - maybe the onboard cards of today could just about handle HD resolutions.

I guess 1GB of RAM should do the job - I would have thought that by today's standard 1GB of RAM is average, Vista or not - I have been using 2GB of RAM since July 2006 on my MCE rig and I have never had problems with anything being too slow to load or not having enough memory for applications to run.
April 27, 2007 8:41:46 AM

Heh, yeah, I'd normally never consider onboard graphics for anything more than a generic workstation, but in this case I'm really being pushed for the lowest price possible for the most function... So unless it proves necessary onboard graphics it it.
1GB should be plenty for a regular WinXP box, I don't think they plan on playing Battlefield 2 on the thing :p 
April 27, 2007 9:05:59 AM

You know in a sense what you want should be attainable.However.you want multiple tuners.Now although it seems easy enough to do,you will be dealing with all kinds of driver conflicts.I'm not sure quite how to deal with this issue,but others around here might.Goodluck on your build.

Dahak

AMD X2-4400+@2.6 TOLEDO
EVGA NF4 SLI MB
2X EVGA 7950GT KO IN SLI
4X 512MB CRUCIAL BALLISTIX DDR500
WD300GIG HD/SAMSUNG 250GIG HD
ACER 22IN WIDESCREEN LCD 1600X1200
THERMALTAKE TOUGHPOWER 850WATT PSU
COOLERMASTER MINI R120
3DMARK05 13,471
April 27, 2007 9:10:01 AM

In that case,go with the 7600gs for agp or the 7600gt for pci-express.Bothe are fairly cheap,but offer good gaming and 3D rendering.Goodluck.

Dahak

AMD X2-4400+@2.6 TOLEDO
EVGA NF4 SLI MB
2X EVGA 7950GT KO IN SLI
4X 512MB CRUCIAL BALLISTIX DDR500
WD300GIG HD/SAMSUNG 250GIG HD
ACER 22IN WIDESCREEN LCD 1600X1200
THERMALTAKE TOUGHPOWER 850WATT PSU
COOLERMASTER MINI R120
3DMARK05 13,471
April 28, 2007 10:40:54 PM

Dahak has a point. If you chose different brands for each multiple tuner then you're in for a headache. You will have several different software packages for each tuner, then you have the problem of getting drivers so it works in MCE. If it is to be user friendly then the last thing the user wants is to have to figure out which TV PVR application he launches (be it WinTV, ATi Multimedia Center or WinFast TV lol)- he simply wants to be able to see his TV at the touch of a button - much like we would switch on a TV - not an unreasonable expectation of an MCE PC. :roll:

If you stick to Hauppage for all the Tuners, get one of them as an MCE version then you shouldn't have any driver conflicts. I simply got the MCE PVR 150 from Hauppage, then at a later date purchased a USB Hauppage Tuner and installed the USB tuner using the orange MCE Driver CD that came with the PCI Card - the MCE Driver disc has MCE Drivers for their entire range of TV Tuners, which was a blessing for me.

No external applications needed, no extras needed to be installed or parked in the system tray. Keep it nice and simple and use the MCE program unless the end user has a passionate hatred for the MCE interface

When Windows wishes to install the TV tuner hardware, simply on each occasion point it to the CD-ROM that came with the MCE Tuner card, install the drivers. Then go into MCE, tune it in, set it up and then you should have a seamless solution where you can use both tuners without even having to think about it. Of course they have to both be of the same type (i.e you cant do what I did and have one digital and one analogue tuner, the two dont work together as MCE will either be tuned in for Digital OR analogue - its not very flexible on that front. I found out the hard way so you dont have to!! :cry:  ).

It sounds hard but in practice its much easier than having two different brand TV Tuners. Stick to Hauppage all the way - they have been tried and tested under MCE and all their products across the range should work in MCE, so long as you use the MCE drivers (which are only provided on a CD-ROM shipped with the MCE versions of the TV Tuner). If you take apart any other big brand MCE PC like HP and Sony, you will see that under the hood, they also use Hauppage Tuners. And the inclusion of an extremely good quality and useful multi purpose MCE remote is the added icing on the cake with Hauppage MCE compatible cards! :lol: 
April 29, 2007 5:16:32 AM

Ehm...
That was three seperate choices of tuners. Either two of two different Leadteks or the single Hauppauge, with prices for comparison...
Of those choices based on opinions here and on another forum I've chosen the Hauppauge as the crowd favourite - and also because it saves a PCI slot, of which there are only two available - leaving room for the future expansion with a Sound Card if desired.

But your words, despite being on the wrong track further add to the pressure behind my decision to choose the Hauppauge over the Leadtek tuners.

One question though for anyone out there listening...
Is it worth it for a HTPC to go with the Athlon X2 over the Sempron?
I know the performance difference is huge, but does it really matter in this case?
Will the Sempron be able to keep up with decoding the various media formats available?
April 29, 2007 6:20:45 AM

For decoding you need a better CPU, so I would go for a Athlon 64 x2
April 30, 2007 9:20:53 PM

TBH onboard sound nowadays is good enough - 90% of motherboards in the past year have 8 Channel Audio integrated audio which can decode the most popular DVD formats, and with some high end motherboards they can decode 96khz 24bit sound (DVD Audio and HD DVD/Blu Ray Standard). A case in point is the Intel HD Audio and the Realtek HD sound cards integrated into most motherboards nowadays.

My point being I don't see why you wish to add a Sound Card into an MCE PC unless you intend on gaming and need support for the new EAX formats. Since you are already ommitting a discrete graphics card from your system, I would take gaming off the agenda for this PC, unless you are going to be playing pre 2000 games at 800 x 600!! :lol: 

Also, I only recommend Hauppage because of their simplicity and compatibilty with MCE. I'm merely trying to make your job easier. If you would rather install a whole bunch of extra programs which your gf's parents probably wont use and will just cause extra confusion, and a nice bundle of headaches during installation, then get yourself a Leadtek. I cannot confirm that Leadtek Tuners are MCE compatible, and I havent had the best luck with those tuners whatever OS I use!! However Hauppage tuners have been a doddle to install and use under MCE.

If you wish to use any other tuner despite my advice, as you call it "on the wrong track" then go ahead and do so at your own peril!

As for processors, an X2 is dual core, Sempron is single core. Semprons have done the job for my sister in her MCE PC - my sister merely watches TV, DVD and sometimes does word processing or internet surfing while listening to music. If your gf's parents are going to test the PC and constantly tax it with HDTV and the lot then the X2 will help out A LOT. Its basically a case of how far the user is going to push the PC and what their multitasking habbits involve!!
May 1, 2007 6:56:37 AM

Yeah, the discrete soundcard is only a possible down the track option if its needed, as is also the case with the video card.

So I'll go with the Hauppauge and the Athlon X2, rather than the Leadtek and the Sempron options - a little more money but probably worth it in the long run.

I didn't update my first post but I've decided to switch for the version of the same motherboard with a DVI port on the rear panel for easier connectivity with some TVs.
May 1, 2007 8:25:08 PM

That motherboard no doubt should have a decent soundcard to match. Pretty much all the soundcards onboard are 8 Channel sound with some being in High Definition for supporting HD DVD, Blu Ray and DVD Audio Soundtracks, as well as WMV HD sountracks.

For the time being, focus your money on the processor and TV Tuners - then you have satisfied the main objective - which is a Media Center PC that does what it is supposed to and very well. Then as your secondary objective you can improve the graphics card and the sound card if your gf's parents so demand more graphical power and the sound simply doesn't cut it for them. Try the onboard solutions first and then budget accordingly.

Whatever you do, avoid "casting pearl before swine" - no point equipping the PC with a wonderful sound card or an insanely expensive graphics card if the end user (your gf's parents) are not going to appreciate them or use them to their full capabilities.

Good luck!
!