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HTPC for under $500

Last response: in Systems
August 3, 2009 6:31:40 AM

I know $500 isn't much of a budget, but hey, these really aren't the times to be flamboyant with money, right? :)  Anyway, I've been trolling NewEgg for parts and have assembled the following system for $437. However, some of these parts are a bit out of date, I think, due to my penny-pinching, and I may be missing out on something big without knowing it. To further exacerbate things, I've not built an HTPC before, and may simply have the wrong parts for what I need! I'm not married to ANY of these parts, so please, swap them out for your favourites at will. The system will be used to play movies from the HD and the blu-ray drive on a 720p projector (100" screen) with 5.1 audio via HDMI.

-- New Part List Posted Below --

Please Note: I do NOT have a fan for the processor! I have a terrible time picking out fans, and when I have made selections, I've often regretted them. So please, PLEASE recommend a fan and I'll simply take your word for it.

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August 3, 2009 7:05:30 AM

Hmm just might eek out an AM3/DDR3 HTPC with that budget :D 
August 3, 2009 6:45:07 PM

The 785G boards are out now... I suggest you go for one of them instead of a 780G.

If you can wait a little longer, AMD is supposed to be releasing their next line of 45W TDP processors for AM3... even quads.

For the heatsink, with that case you could run a Scythe mini ninja without its fan (it will sit right next to one of the 120mm fans in the case), or you might want to consider the Scythe Shuriken (low profile, very quiet).
August 3, 2009 6:48:03 PM

Those would be Propus and Rana Athlon2s ^^
August 3, 2009 7:01:22 PM

500$ is way enough for an HDPC with AMD cpu. You don't need a graphic card since there is already an HD3300 ATI IGP on most of these motherboards.

You also got optical audio out... a nice feat.

If I were you, I would add a good sound card like an HT Omega Striker.

If you can, add a better power supply than the generic stuff. 50$ is nothing for protecting 500$ of hardware.

Also, I would trust more Sony about their Blu-Ray player since they are really behind the technology.
August 3, 2009 7:06:41 PM

Thats an 80+ efficient certified Earthwatts 380 PSU which is more than capable for the intended purpose for me :p 
August 3, 2009 7:15:44 PM

gkay, batuchka, rwpritchett, redgarl, thanks for the nearly-instant feedback! It's no surprise, you found much better parts than I did. For a meager $13 increase, I upgraded the motherboard to a 785G, processor to the Regor 2.9GHz, and the RAM to Corsair:

Antec New Solution NSK2480 Black/Silver 0.8mm cold-rolled steel MicroATX Desktop Computer Case 380W Power Supply - Retail
Model #:NSK2480
Item #:N82E16811129034

GIGABYTE GA-MA785GMT-UD2H AM3 AMD 785G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard - Retail
Model #:GA-MA785GMT-UD2H
Item #:N82E16813128397

AMD Athlon II X2 245 Regor 2.9GHz Socket AM3 65W Dual-Core Processor Model ADX245OCGQBOX - Retail
Item #:N82E16819103687

OCZ Intel Extreme Edition 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model OCZ3X16004GK - Retail
Model #:o CZ3X16004GK
Item #:N82E16820227341

Western Digital Caviar Green WD10EADS 1TB SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive - OEM
Model #:WD10EADS
Item #:N82E16822136317

LITE-ON Black 4X Blu-ray Reader SATA Model iHOS104-06 - OEM
Model #:iHOS104-06
Item #:N82E16827106325

rwpritchett, you gave me advise on the Scythe, but before I jump on it, I wanted to pose another broad question: As I stated before, I'm not married to any of these parts, INCLUDING the case. I looked through a few, and found some that just wouldn't do (small, noisy fans, for instance). This case seems to be very quiet, and fits everything nicely, but it does have it's downsides: it's silver, no IR-interface (how necessary is that?), and has two 5.25" bays when I'll only need one. If you guys have a favourite case, do share!

redgarl, there are only two Sony drives:
Sony Optiarc Black 2X BD-ROM 8X DVD-ROM 24X CD-ROM SATA Internal 2X BD-ROM Model BR-5100S - OEM - $64.99
SONY Black/Gray 2X BD-ROM 8X DVD-ROM 24X CD-ROM SATA Internal 2X Blu-ray DVD ROM Model BDUX10S - Retail - $99.99

My major concerns are, first, reliability, that the drive will not crap out next month, and a close second, the amount of noise it makes. Since I have no first-hand experience with either of these Sonys, or the LiteOn, I'd be very happy to hear from anyone who has. I read through the NewEgg reviews, and both the Sonys had "noisy" complains (just a few), whereas the LiteOn had nothing but "quiet" comments.
August 3, 2009 7:20:35 PM

My BD drive is made by LG... I think its a GBC-H20L. Very quiet IMO.

Keep in mind that you may need to purchase Blu-Ray software in order to watch your movies, especially if you get an OEM drive. That can run you $80-100.

Watch out on the 785G boards, some are AM3 (DDR3 only) and some are AM3/AM2+ (DDR2 only). The board you've picked uses DDR3 but you've selected DDR2 memory = not gonna work.
August 3, 2009 7:20:49 PM

The DDR2 RAM you picked won't work with an AM3 motherboard. AM3 motherboards require DDR3 RAM. I also don't really trust MSI motherboards. You can get a Gigabyte board for the same price.

GIGABYTE GA-MA785GMT-UD2H AM3 AMD 785G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard - Retail $89.99

This RAM is very fast DDR3 1600 RAM with 7-6-6-24 CAS timings.

OCZ Flex EX 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Ehanced Bandwidth Desktop Memory Model OCZ3FXE1600EB4GK - Retail $89.99

This case would work good, but the price is probably a little high for your budget.

Antec NSK1380 Black/ Silver Steel MicroATX Cube Computer Case 350W Power Supply - Retail $109.99
August 3, 2009 7:24:58 PM

I ninja'd shortstuff... :) 
August 3, 2009 7:25:46 PM

I'll get 'cha next time. :) 
August 3, 2009 7:40:43 PM

Oops! That's what I get for listening without thinking. :-) RAM has been replaced in-line in the previous post. Thanks for watching my back! I owe you three a beer. Current total: $480.40
August 3, 2009 7:43:24 PM

Ya DDR3 RAM and whichever AM3/DDR3 mATX 785G that rocks ya boat ^^
August 3, 2009 7:55:21 PM

Shortstuff: Thanks for the case suggestion. I love that it has room for three HDDs instead of just two (I'm planning on ripping my entire DVD library to hard disk so I don't have to stare at the DVD case for an hour picking out a movie). However, there's only the one slot-fan. I've never used one of those; are they silent? Are they efficient? If I can manage, I'm going to fit this HTPC inside a cabinet (along with the 360, wii, ps2 (yes, 2), etc) which means air flow is already going to be a bit inhibited. That's why I liked those two slow, big 120mms. Those should be silent and push plenty of air, I think. But hey, what do I know? :) 

How important are IR receivers? Would it be better to simply get a small wireless mouse?
August 3, 2009 7:59:44 PM

batuchka said:
Ya DDR3 RAM and whichever AM3/DDR3 mATX 785G that rocks ya boat ^^

I've never actually bought anything besides Asus mobos (okay, one Intel way back when), so I don't know Gigabyte/MSI reputations. The Gigabyte looked like a better board. However, it doesn't have any customer reviews. I guess I can list it for now, and you guys can let me know if Gigabyte > MSI, or vice versa. :-)
August 3, 2009 8:03:22 PM

For me the rational thing to do is not have a fixed idea that Brand A > Brand B because every mobo maker makes lemons hehe Best have a close look at the close up of those mobos and study layout, etc with perhaps the kind of stuff u may want to slot in now or in the future in mind perhaps?
August 3, 2009 8:12:45 PM

The dual 120mm fans are a plus for the case you picked. I guess you'll have to ask yourself if you think you'll need more than two 3.5" slots for hard drives. Either case would work well, but the airflow will be better with the case you picked. Cases really come down to personal choice. You can't really go wrong with either case.
August 3, 2009 8:38:32 PM

Batuchka: That's very true, but I'm in the mindset that generalizing is a good thing, provided it doesn't blind one to contrary facts. There are, after all, exceptions to every rule. Asus has always been very good to me, and to everyone I know. :)  Hence why they have a good reputation, I suppose. Unfortunately, I do not know what generalizations to make about Gigabyte nor MCI, and even worse, I do not know enough to judge these two boards on their own merits. I guess that's why I'm relying on your guys' experience. :-)

Shortstuff: The three HDD bays is tempting, but with as cheap as HDDs are getting, I think I can manage with a 1TB now, and drop in a 2+TB drive next year when I run out of room. For those of you with HTPCs, what cases have you selected (and, if you feel like typing, why did you select them)?
August 3, 2009 8:44:13 PM

I'm not the best one to ask since I decided to hook my main computer up to my new HDTV one day and it's been there ever since. It's a mid-tower case with room for 6 hard drives. It seems like I'm constantly adding drives to it. I think it currently has 5 hard drives in it. :) 

I've been wanting to get an XBox 360 to use as a media extender, but am having a hard time getting it past the wife. :) 
August 3, 2009 10:19:54 PM

Wow, 5 hard drives?? How much bloody media do you have? :-)

I've got an XBox 360, but I'm not pleased with it. I was hoping to rip my DVDs and play them in native format, but unfortunately, the XBox will not do so. Instead, I have to re-encode them to WMV format (up to 7 hrs per dvd, depending), or I've heard (but not tested) you can reprocess the VOBs as MP4s then use TVersity to encode on-the-fly to the XBox. Either way, an HTPC just seems easier: rip the dvd, run DVD2ONE to merge into a single VOB, and voila, you're done. :) 
August 4, 2009 4:57:44 AM

Oh! I still need a heatsink and fan! I looked at the Scythe Ninja Mini, but it doesn't say it's AM3 compatible, so I'll need a new recommendation.

How do you control your HTPCs?
How important are IR receivers?
Would a small wireless mouse be necessary as well, or instead of IR?
How important is Firewire on an HTPC?
August 4, 2009 5:17:24 AM

No OCing dun really need to move out of stock HSF IMO Play with Smart fan options for particular board in BIOS and with these cases and stock speeds mostly i find noise levels fine. For wireless mouse/kb i use a Prolink PKL5195G and for a range of 3m from LCD TV to the sofa it works fine. Firewire interface if you gonna transfer from Camcorder?
August 4, 2009 5:55:55 AM

I was worried that the stock fan would be loud. I guess what you're saying is that if I turn the speed down, it'll be quiet enough? I can see that...
August 4, 2009 6:04:03 AM

Also really depends on individual's noise tolerance levels i guess hehe
August 4, 2009 4:33:54 PM

If you're married, then an IR or RF remote is a must for the WAF. I personally use a case with a built in IR receiver and came bundled with a remote. The Microsoft MCE remote comes with a USB IR receiver.

When I first built my HTPC, I used a standard wireless keyboard/mouse set up and HATED IT (too bulky, had to use the coffee table, low WAF, everytime the mouse was bumped or picked up it would turn on the sleeping HTPC). I suggest you look for a small-ish wireless keyboard with a built in trackball or touchpad. The Logitech Dinovo and Dinovo mini are popular but expensive, I use a ($30) Moncaso MK700.

BTW, AM3 and AM2 use the same retention mechanism for heatsinks.
August 4, 2009 9:01:13 PM

rwpritchett, thanks for the info. I didn't know AM3 and AM2 were the same when it comes to heatsinks.

What case did you get that has the built in IR receiver? It's probably outside my budget, but I'd still like to take a look. :-) It may just mean I'll need to put in some OT and save up for it. The remotes that come bundled with these cases ($20) say MCE VISTA and, by default, I shy away from anything labeled "vista." heh... though, I suppose I should get something, if you say so. Guess that means more research and recommendation-getting!
August 4, 2009 9:19:13 PM

So I'm now fretting over cases. I know ~$100 isn't much to spend on a case, and I therefore can rule out anything "good," but I'd like to avoid anything terrible if at all possible. (If it's not possible, kindly say so, and I'll see if I cant reorganize to save elsewhere, or simply wait and up my budget later.) I found the following cases (some include PSUs, some don't), but (from amazingly unhelpful replies elsewhere on this site) have learned that all of my choices are evidently equitable to steaming piles of manure. Ergo, more help is obviously needed....

$79.99 - nMEDIAPC Black Aluminum / Steel HTPC 3000B ATX Media Center / HTPC Case - Retail

$108.45 - Antec New Solution NSK2480 Black/Silver 0.8mm cold-rolled steel MicroATX Desktop Computer Case 380W Power Supply - Retail

$109.99 - SILVERSTONE Black Aluminum / Steel LC13B-E ATX Media Center / HTPC Case - Retail

$109.99 - SILVERSTONE Black Aluminum / Steel LC10B-E ATX Media Center / HTPC Case - Retail

$119.99 - nMEDIAPC Red Wood Wood/Steel HTPC 8000 ATX Media Center / HTPC Case - Retail
(I actually have a red wood cabinet holding my consoles/media, so it's not as atrocious as one might think)

Please feel free to discard or degrade any of the above and replace with your own suggestions, but I would be highly appreciative if you'd simply let me know WHY a particular case is terrible so that I may learn. I'd rather not be a novice forever, if it can be avoided. :) 

Size isn't terribly terribly important, but (in order of import) noise, temperature, and HDD space is. (Though, even if I get a case with only two HDDs, I suppose upgrading one or both HDDs every year or two wouldn't be too terrible.)

Thanks again for your continued and appreciated assistance. :D 
August 4, 2009 9:28:27 PM

I think your best bang for the buck is either the silver or black Antec Fusion w/remote for $140-150 since you're looking at spending $20-30 anyway for a separate MCE remote and both come with an iMon remote and LCD display.

Also, these cases come with the 24-pin adapter with a power lead going to the IR receiver so you can power on the HTPC from a complete off state, not just S3.

That retro wood case would be awesome if you have the right decor to go with it. Since you asked, here is my case:

Moncaso 832P

August 4, 2009 9:50:46 PM

rwpritchett said:
I think your best bang for the buck is either the silver or black Antec Fusion w/remote for $140-150 since you're looking at spending $20-30 anyway for a separate MCE remote and both come with an iMon remote and LCD display.

Also, these cases come with the 24-pin adapter with a power lead going to the IR receiver so you can power on the HTPC from a complete off state, not just S3.

So the big benefit is the integrated IR. Not having owned one, is it worth the extra money it will take? This case has no extra HDD space, and I'll have to buy a PSU in addition. So +$40 (case) +$50 (psu) = +$90 for the IR integration. Would you say, then, that I need to bump my budget to ~$200 for a case+psu, and the integrated IR is a "must have" feature (that is the feeling I get)?
August 4, 2009 9:56:06 PM

shortstuff_mt said:
I'll add one more case for your consideration. This case has an extra space for a hard drive, but the cooling probably wouldn't be as good as the Antec New Solution.

Antec NSK1380 Black/ Silver Steel MicroATX Cube Computer Case 350W Power Supply - Retail $109.99

The proprietary PSU worries me a bit. I have two dogs, and my computers regularly get filled with pet hair. I clean all my PCs once per month, but even with such frequency, it gets rather bad... :cry:  I've had two PSUs blow in the past five years, and having to pay through the nose for a replacement should this one go bad is a gamble I'm not sure I'd like to risk.
August 5, 2009 10:50:10 PM

So, Luth, what did you end up with?

I use a HP z555 Media Center PC, and it's time is just about up (it struggles playing 720P video sometimes).

So, I too am looking to build a HTPC, but with the addition of an ATSC tuner. I'll use Win7. Also concerned about the apparent lack of anyone caring too much about the IR receiver integration.

Was set on the NSK2480 case, but now not sure.

Was hoping for a 45W AMD processor, but everyone is pointing you to 65W ones.