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First HTPC Build (Budget - Mid Range)

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February 22, 2010 4:38:32 AM

Hello All,

I have been searching these forums (and others like it) for a little while now, and I've learned a lot. I'm trying to build a nearly dedicated htpc/media server (no gaming, maybe some photo/media editing). I was hoping you could lend some of your wisdom and sage advice to my first build.

APPROXIMATE PURCHASE DATE: Within a Month

BUDGET RANGE: 400-700 final cost

SYSTEM USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT: watching movies (from optical drive, ripped to hard drive, streaming from netflix/hulu), playing music, media server (I want to be able to rip my movie and music collection onto this hard drive and watch/listen to files from this computer on other computers in the house), photoshop. No gaming

PARTS NOT REQUIRED: I have a 720P plasma TV, so 1080P isn't necessary, though I may upgrade in a few years. Also no plans for an elaborate audio setup. Right now everything is just going through the tv, though I'm interested in a soundbar type system. No extra monitor.

PREFERRED WEBSITE(S) FOR PARTS: The cheapest (and trustworthy) available in the USA. Also have a fry's B&M nearby.

PARTS PREFERENCES: I figure for my needs the best bet will be an AMD processor/MoBo with onboard graphics.

These aren't necessarily preferences... just what I've found.

MoBo: GIGABYTE GA-MA785GMT-UD2H AM3 AMD 785G HDMI Micro ATX http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Processor: AMD Athlon II X2 240 Regor 2.8GHz http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

AMD Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition Heka 2.8GHz http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... This is an OEM part... no heatsink/fan

Memory: DDR2 or DDR3? Speed? Should I look for the deluxe ("extreme") chips, or is the budget/economy line ok?

HDD: At least 1 TB (maybe more?). Would like something that is quiet, and can remain on.

Case/PSU: Some cases have a built in PSU... is this good enough? Wouldn't mind saving a little money here. Would you recommend an LCD?

Cooling: Is extra cooling necessary... or is built in case fan enough?

Keyboard/mouse/remote: Would like a basic wireless set. Would also like a remote to control movies and music.


OVERCLOCKING: Shouldn't be necessary for my uses. Maybe even "underclock" (a more powerful processor) cut down on power use

SLI OR CROSSFIRE: No

OS: Will probably use Windows 7 Home (have heard good things about the new mediacenter, though other mediacenter software suggestions would be appreciated).

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: Would like it to be quiet, energy efficient, and have low heat output.

Also, there's this discounted combo bundle at newegg. What are your thoughts? http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboBundleDetails.aspx?I...
Seems pretty decent for the price, but there are some plusses/minuses as far as i can tell.

Any advice will be much appreciated.
February 22, 2010 2:58:09 PM

Do you need an OS? If so, Windows 7 Home will add $105 to the cost.

CPU/Mobo: i3-530 and Asus P7H55-M Pro $215
RAM: G.Skill Ripjaws 2x2 GB 1600 mhz CAS Latency 7 $115
HDD: Samsung Spinpoint F3 1 TB $90
Case: Antec 200 $40. I absolutely hate HTPC cases, but if you really, really need one, expect to pay well over $100 for a good one. A front LCD is completely unnecessary.
PSU: SeaSonic 400W 80+ Bronze $57
Optical: Cheapest SATA DVD burner $25

Total: $542. Add in your choice of keyboard/mouse. I just got a keyboard with media center controls on it instead of a remote.

I went with the i3/H55 for the improved onboard graphics. It's hyperthreading would make it better for ripping than a true dual or triple core.
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February 22, 2010 3:02:13 PM

I have a similar setup that used a 780G motherboard and Regor 240. It plays HD movies just fine.

I used the Antec Micro Fusion case that came with a 350w PSU - it's really quite nice. The LCD is not necessary, but may be nice if you want it. This case offers 3 fans and uses the PSU to help move air as well, so the case cooling is fine. It also came with a remote (though you can get them relatively cheap now).

I used a WD Green drive and it has been quiet.

DDR2 vs DDR3 - DDR3 is becoming more prevalent and cheaper. If I were building again today, I would get DDR3, as the prices for DDR2 will not come back down (at least not as significantly as I would like) and DDR3 should become cheaper as production continues to rise.

The setup you have listed will work just fine for what you want.

That's not a bad combo, but I doubt you'll need 4GB of RAM or a WD Black drive. It's up to you, but the ideas you had listed are fine.
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February 22, 2010 4:08:22 PM

A couple of great replies already, I'm excited!

To MadAdmiral:

Yes, I will need an OS... most likely Windows 7. Thanks for the reminder (I will try to edit my OP to reflect this).
There seems to be quite a lot of debate between the i3 series and the athlon processors i mentioned. So you think that this dual core will perform better than an athlon triple core? Also, the onboard graphics are better than those found on the athlon MoBos?
That looks like a good price on some great RAM, but do you think all of that will be necessary... both amount (4gb) and speed (1600mhz)?
I'm not determined to have an htpc case. However, their cooling and interface seems to be optimized for htpc uses. Do you think the antec case and the PSU will cool/quiet enough? I do like the idea of saving a little money here if possible.

Huron:

That certainly seems like a nice htpc case... though it is a bit pricey for me. It sounds like it has some great power and cooling features though.
I've seen good things about the WD Green drive, and the Samsung spinpoint F3. I'm probably leaning towards one of those two drives. It seems like the caviar black may not be the best fit for me? Do you think it would be a little louder/run hotter?

Thanks for the great advice!

I think I've decided I had better get a board that uses DDR3 (might as well stay current on a newbuild).



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February 22, 2010 4:21:54 PM

i3 vs. X3: The i3 will out perform the X3 because it has hyperthreading. Which means that it simulates a quad core. It may even outperform some of the lower end X4s like the 620. It's outperformed by the higher end quads though.

I wouldn't get anything less than 4 GB right now unless you absolutely had to save the $50ish. The extra RAM will also help speed the computer up in general. The speed of the sticks is overkill, but right now the 1333 mhz CL 7 sticks are the same price, so you might as well get the faster ones.

I think it will be fine. I've got an Antec 902 running as an HTPC, and it's virtually silent. As for the optimized HTPC cases, that's somewhat true. However, some of them have issues with keeping things cool. My main problem with them is how expensive they are.

The best HDD right now is the Samsung Spinpoint F3. It's cheap, quieter, cool and fast. The WD Green series is good as data drives, but not so great if you run programs and your OS off of them. It would be an excellent idea if you had a small SSD to have the Green as the data drive. However, the F3 is an excellent balance between speed and energy efficiency.
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February 22, 2010 9:40:53 PM

The case is a little pricey, but it goes on sale pretty often. I ended up finding it for $80 with free shipping, so that seemed pretty good for a nice case with a solid (80 plus, I think) PSU included, and the LCD was a nice touch too. The case is really quiet and stays cool. I was amazed at how little noise it made.

I'd have to agree about the i3 - seems like a good HTPC setup.
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February 22, 2010 10:02:44 PM

Well, both of you are certainly doing a good job of convincing me that the new i3 is the way to go. I know some people are stuck on the "virtual quad core" thing, but I just want to find the best processor for my needs at the best price. I'm definitely leaning in the i3 direction right now.

That does look like a good price on some great RAM, I did a quick search, and you're right, the slower memory is no cheaper. Maybe I'll start with 2 GB to see whether i need more (should be easy enough to add another stick).

As I said in the OP, I'm looking make this purchase in the next month, so I'll have time to watch prices. Hopefully that antec htpc case will go on sale again, if not, I'll probably go the cheaper (and more upgradeable) route and get a basic midtower, like the antec 200
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February 23, 2010 12:18:49 AM

To MadAdmiral,

Will the MoBo you recommended (micro ATX) fit in the ATX case that you recommended?
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February 23, 2010 1:02:12 AM

I saw that, but I wasn't positive about the quality of the Neo series. Since there was a lot of budget left, and nothing else was really needed, I recommended the higher efficiency unit.
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February 23, 2010 1:25:02 AM

I've read that the antec neo series are very high quality PSU's.

It also has a single 12V rail which is always a plus.

So far out of all the reviews on newegg for all the antec neo series psu's there is only 1 bad review which was doa.

Out of all 3 PSU's there's 27 five star, 3 four star, and only 1 one star, which was doa.
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February 23, 2010 2:29:59 AM

Just because something has a high Newegg reviews doesn't mean it's high quality. I typically trust Antec, but I know their Basiq series isn't that great, so once you get away from the Earthwatts, TruePower and other higher end units, I'm a little weary. I doubt that it will be poor quality, but since I don't know for sure, I can't say it's high quality.
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February 23, 2010 3:33:08 AM

It's good to know that micro ATX components will fit in an ATX case (I can't believe I missed that info on the specifications page)... thanks!

How does this PSU combo look to you? It seems like a pretty good/powerful PSU. Might it be too powerful/noisy for an HTPC? It's cheaper than the SeaSonic you mentioned (after rebate), and if bought with that dvd writer (which i will also need), you save another $15 http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboDealDetails.aspx?Ite... Only $61 for both the PSU and the dvd writer (after rebate)!

Also, I was doing a little more research, and in this article, http://www.anandtech.com/mb/showdoc.aspx?i=3748&p=10 they recommend the ASRock H55M-Pro What do you think?

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February 23, 2010 10:19:20 AM

That combo would be good as well. OCZ makes decent units.

As for an ASRock board, I don't really trust them too much. ASRock is very good at making budget boards, but isn't exactly known for high quality. A lot of tech sites like them because they're great as testing platforms. However, they dont really test for longevity. It would be a good way to really lower the cost if you were building a bargain bin PC, but we're not even near the budget. I would stick with one of the major brands (Gigabyte and Asus).
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February 24, 2010 2:52:44 AM

I wasn't aware that ASRock typically makes budget boards, so I'm happy to go with Asus.

Alright, so I think I have settled on:

OS: Windows 7: Can I buy the OEM version? 64 bit? - http://cgi.ebay.com/MICROSOFT-WINDOWS-7-HOME-PREMIUM-64... $105

CPU/MoBo: i3/Asus P7H55 Combo - http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboDealDetails.aspx?Ite... $215

Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... $115

Case: Antec 200 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... $40

PSU + DVDRW: OCZ ModXStream Pro 500W/Lg DVD combo http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboDealDetails.aspx?Ite... $51 (after rebate)

HDD: Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB - http://cgi.ebay.com/Samsung-Spinpoint-F3-HD103SJ-1TB-32... (not available at Newegg) $88

Keyboard: Iogear Wireless http://cgi.ebay.com/New-IOGEAR-GKM561R-Multimedia-Keybo... (This unit should take care of my need for a mouse and remote) $48

For a grand total of $662 prior to tax + shipping

I'm feeling pretty good about this setup. I'd like to thank everybody for their help. Any other suggestions/advice before I take the plunge? Do you think prices may drop (have you seen these components for less, or any other websites I should look at for prices, unfortunately Newegg charges tax to my state so I found some of the products on Ebay)?
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February 24, 2010 11:45:57 AM

You can buy the OEM version. Just remember you can only install it on ONE computer, which links it to that specific motherboard.
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!