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Cheap HTPC, processor questions

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October 22, 2010 3:40:21 PM

I've never built a PC before, & I'm looking to build a cheap HTPC. I'm looking for a system that will:

1) function as a DVR for over-the-air HD channels, with at least 500GB of storage (preferably 1 TB or more).
2) play Blu Rays (don't need any burning abilities),
3) stream video (Netflix and such) and output HDMI to one 720p TV. Eventually I'll probably want to stream video over our home network to other TVs too.
4) Fit inside my TV cabinet, run 24/7 (for the DVR), not overheat, & run reliably for years
5) If possible, allow me to play Lord of the Rings Online

My budget is about $350-$400 for the build itself (before accessories like OS [Win 7 Home Premium] & keyboard/mouse, but a remote & WiFi would be nice). While I would appreciate specific build suggestions, I've seen a fair amount of builds online, and as a newbie I'm fairly overwhelmed. So, these are my starting questions, & I'd appreciate any help with them!

1) Form Factor - an ATX case won't fit in our entertainment center (it's too deep), but a mini-ITX or microATX will. It will be in there with my audio receiver, which already heats the space up pretty good. So, I'm leaning towards the mini-ITX option, as it gives me more options for placement in case I need to move the unit outside the entertainment center. However, the miniITX cases don't seem to have room for 2 expansion cards, meaning that I have to choose between a graphics card and a tuner card. Do the external USB tuner sticks like this one ]http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16815260023] work pretty well, or would I be better off with an internal tuner? I just got a decent indoor antenna that pulls in the local channels (25 mi away) pretty well, if that makes a difference.

2) Processor - it looks like there are a lot of processors in my price range that could perform the basic HTPC functions. The most popular options appear to be A) Intel i3-530, using the onboard graphics, B) dual-core Atom with NVIDIA ION, or C) a cheaper dual core Intel (like a Pentium E5400, or similar AMD) with a low-end graphics card. From my experience, pretty much any dual-core processor with discrete GPU can run LOTRO on its highest settings, so I'm not too worried about the specifics there.
Both the Atom and i3 options would consume very little power at idle, which is good. The E5400 & similar chips aren't designed for running 24/7, & I might end up with overheating problems in my situation. I also might need to invest in a higher-quality 80 PLUS power supply. Options A and B seem a lot more simple, especially since this will be a secondary gaming machine at best. However, if I'm overstating the heating/power consumption problems & I can get a low-end gaming machine for basically the same price as the other builds, it seems silly not to.

Any help would be greatly appreciated!
October 22, 2010 4:05:49 PM

Since you are confined on space, what dimensions are we talking about here? That'll help define if you must have mini-ITX vs. micro-ATX.
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October 22, 2010 7:48:20 PM

The cabinet itself is 18" deep, so allowing an inch or two for cables and such, ATX is out, but most other cases will fit in there. The enclosed space is about 20" wide by 14" tall, so I think any micro-ATX case will fit in there. There's also an open shelf that would allow for a unit 14" wide x 6" tall. So, a mini-ITX case could go in either place, with the un-enclosed shelf being more temperature-friendly. Micro-ATX would need to go inside the cabinet with the audio receiver.
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October 22, 2010 8:04:36 PM

Well, ignore that previous post - I just found a micro-ATX case that would work fine in either place, so I guess they are out there. Here's one that seems well reviewed: Apex DM-387 case
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October 22, 2010 8:35:02 PM

With those cheap cases you get a cheap power-supply that I know I would not trust my components to.

This is the case I used to build my first HTPC with:
Antec NSK1380 Black/ Silver Steel MicroATX Cube Computer Case 350W Power Supply
http://www.jr.com/antec/pe/ANT_NSK1380/
$119.99 w/ free shipping
13.20"L x 10.60"W x 7.90"H

Its had an 80+ power supply and is made by a top-rated case and PSU manufacturer.

I had a video card and tuner card in it and it was no problem along with a Gigabyte micro-ATX motherboard and AMD dual-core CPU. I used the onboard video for a while and then put in the video card to get HD audio bitstreaming.

Silverstone also makes a couple of similar style micro-ATX cases

SILVERSTONE SUGO SG02-BF Black ABS / SECC Steel MicroATX Desktop Computer Case
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
$74.99 (no PSU)
15.47" x 10.63" x 8.35"

SILVERSTONE Sugo SG01-BF Black Aluminum / Steel MicroATX Desktop Computer Case
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
$109.99 (no PSU)
15.47" x 10.35" x 8.35"

Since you say you want to watch blu-rays, is HD audio bitstreaming (Dolby True-HD/DTS-MA) important to you right now or are you ok adding it later when your budget would allow?

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October 22, 2010 8:47:25 PM

You could also start with a decent barebones like this one that is mini-DTX form-factor (like mini-ITX but with 2 slots).

Shuttle SH55-J2-BK-V1 Intel Core i7 / i5 / i3 / Pentium (LGA1156) 95w max. Support Intel Socket H(LGA1156) Intel H55 1 x HDMI Barebone
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
$219.98
13.11"(L) x 8.46"(W) x 8.03"(H)

You'd need to add:
CPU (Core i3-530) $115
Memory $80
HDD $55 1TB
Blu-ray drive $50
TV-tuner (use PCI-e slot) $125
Wifi (use PCI slot) $20

You'd have to use the on-board video but the good news is it has HDMI out and support HD audio bitstreaming.

I think going this route would put you way over your budget put you'd get everything you want.

I am finding it hard to find everything you want, especially with the tuner and blu-ray drive, for under $400.
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October 22, 2010 8:59:45 PM

not to toot my own horn too loudly, but take a look at my HTPC build that ran about $700 in early September, in the best configs stuff.

I had a fun, wood-and-steel case that looked like an old time radio, 1 TB HDD, Blu-Ray Burner, AMD X3 440 (would have to be a 445 now), 4 GB DDR3-1333, and a 5570 video card. The case has gone up from $89.99 to $119.99, but the RAM has dropped from $77.99 to $64.99, and the Hard Drive has dropped from $74.99 to $69.99, so the case increase can be covered by that, and I'd consider the HD430 or GTS240 at the same price point as an alternative to the 5570.
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October 22, 2010 9:08:07 PM

^^ While that's a nice build it won't fit in either his cabinet or his budget.

Love that case though.
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October 22, 2010 10:49:58 PM

It does look like I'm running into budget issues. My big question is this: are the budget issues because A) I want to use this as a gaming PC too, or B) it's just never a good idea to skimp on cheapy components?
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October 22, 2010 10:54:45 PM

dproberts said:
It does look like I'm running into budget issues. My big question is this: are the budget issues because A) I want to use this as a gaming PC too, or B) it's just never a good idea to skimp on cheapy components?
C) All of the above :lol: 
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October 22, 2010 11:03:18 PM

for my HTPC, i use it sometime to game a lil bit, i put a Celeron E3300 in it, same perf as my old E6400. and it OC like hell when i want to game, i raise it @ 3.2. i got it with a msi mobo for 70$ on ncix. and the cpu is a box one , not oem. i added a 500GB HDD , 4GB of ram, a 450w psu, a generic case, IR remote for windows media center and a 9800GT, all this for 380$can. ok i dont have a HTPC case, only a micro-ATX. but i bough the remote, some HTPC case come with
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October 23, 2010 1:49:24 AM

Ok, here's what I came up with trying to find some bargains that are still good quality.

Zonet ZEW1642S 802.11b/g/n 300Mbps PCI Wireless Adapter w/Fixed Antennas
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
$19.00 - $5.00 rebate = $14.00

A-DATA 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model AD2U800B2G5-DRH
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
$74.99

LITE-ON Black 4X Blu-ray Reader SATA Model iHOS104-06 - OEM
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
$49.99

nMEDIAPC Black Aluminum / Acrylic / Steel HTPC 1080P Micro ATX Media Center / HTPC Case
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
$64.99

GIGABYTE GA-MA785GM-US2H AM3/AM2+/AM2 AMD 785G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard
AMD Athlon II X3 445 Rana 3.1GHz Socket AM3 95W Triple-Core Desktop Processor ADX445WFGMBOX
http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboDealDetails.aspx?Ite...
$117.98

SAMSUNG Spinpoint F3 HD103SJ 1TB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive
CORSAIR Builder Series CX430 CMPSU-430CX 430W ATX12V Active PFC Power Supply
http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboDealDetails.aspx?Ite...
$104.98 - $20.00 rebate = $84.98

$406.93 after rebates + tax & shipping

Then, add one of these to your network:

SiliconDust - HDHomeRun Network-based Dual Digital - HDTV Tuner Ethernet Interface
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
$109.00

That way, if you find the integrated HD4200 graphics on that motherboard are not enough to play LOTRO and/or you want bitstreaming HD audio, you can drop in a card line this since the PCI-e slot will still be open:

HIS IceQ H567Q1GD Radeon HD 5670 1GB 128-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.1 x16 HDCP Ready CrossFireX Support Video Card w/ Eyefinity
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
$79.99 after rebate

I have the 512MB version of this card and it's absolutely quiet and it exhausts outside the case.

I can tell you that the integrated graphics will play HD video with no problem.
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October 23, 2010 2:21:39 AM

Okay, we've agreed to modify our budget - it just wasn't working. Here's my version of a build I saw on another forum:


Antec MicroFusion Remote 350 Micro ATX Media Center / HTPC Case, $99
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811129046
It's a good size, has an 80 PLUS power supply, and comes with a remote. Not bad for $99.

Intel Pentium Dual-Core E5400 Wolfdale 2.7GHz 2MB L2 Cache LGA 775 65W Dual-Core Desktop Processor BX80571E5400, $69
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819116076&cm_re=E5400-_-19-116-076-_-Product
After looking at some graphs of the power draw for this processor, it doesn't look like it's using that much more power (at idle or load) than some of the other options I looked at, and less than an i3.

ASUS P5G41C-M LGA 775 Intel G41 HDMI Micro ATX Intel Motherboard, $59
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131629&cm_re=ASUS_P5G41C-M_LGA775_Intel_G41_chipset_microATX%2c_%24-_-13-131-629-_-Product
This is my first build, so, umm... I don't know much about motherboards. I know this one supports the processor above, has an HDMI output, can use DDR3 RAM and DX10. Plus, it has coaxial and optical audio outs - I don't know much about the HD audio standards, but as long as it can send an optical or coaxial digital signal that my receiver can decode into 5.1 or 7.1 Dolby Digital, then I'm good.


G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ, $84
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820231193&cm_re=G.SKILL_F3-12800CL9D-_DDR3-1600-_-20-231-193-_-Product


ECS NGT220C-512QZ-F GeForce GT 220 512MB 128-bit DDR2 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready Low Profile Ready Video Card, $52
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814134089
I think this is fairly similar to the 9600GT I have in my desktop, which works fine for me.

Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 ST31000528AS 1TB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive, $70
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822148433

LITE-ON Black 4X BD-ROM 8X DVD-ROM 32X CD-ROM SATA Internal 4X Blu-ray Reader Model iHOS104-06 - OEM, $50
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16827106325

Hauppauge WinTV HVR-1250 Hybrid TV Tuner /Video Recorder 1196 PCI-Express x1 Interface, $50
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16815116028

TP-LINK TL-WN722N IEEE 802.11b/g/n USB 2.0 High Gain Wireless Adapter, $20
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16833704045

Total before tax and shipping: $555.
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October 23, 2010 2:35:42 AM

ok, I'd swap for the DDR3-1333 from G.Skill or Mushkin ($65) an use the $20 saved to up the video card to HD5570, GT 240 or GTS 430 at $79.99
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October 23, 2010 2:36:47 AM

You can save some money by going with the processor instead which is just an amazing processor.

Intel Celeron E3300 Wolfdale 2.5GHz LGA 775 65W Dual-Core Processor BX80571E3300
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
$51.99

I think though on a budget for an HTPC, AMD is the way to go, especially since the integrated graphics are so much better than the G41 so you won't need a discrete graphics card to watch HD video.

BTW, I have that tuner and wish I'd gotten the 2250 instead. The 1250 will only let you record either one digital or one analog channel at a time and with a microATX board I am all out of PCIE slots since my HD5670 is in the x16 slot and there's only one x1 slot.
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October 23, 2010 2:39:03 AM

Dougie - that networked tuner is just the thing. I didn't even know they existed. That's definitely the way to go. I like your build, too. I was hoping to make a decision tonight, but I can see that's not going to happen...
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October 23, 2010 2:43:50 AM

Unless you decode 7.1 on the PC and send it analog to your receiver (and the audio chipset supports that), you need to bitstream it over HDMI to get full-on 7.1 Dolby True-HD/DTS Master Audio. Coax/optical doesn't have the bandwidth to stream HD audio. The only integrated graphics that do that are in the Clarkdales Core i3/i5 with the H55/H57 chipset. Probably the cheapest discrete card that supports it is the ATI HD5450 (any 5xxx card will do) but that card sucks for gaming. HD5670 is probably your sweet spot to get both HD audio and some gameplay. In lieu of HD audio, to get cheap HD video it's the AMD IGPs you want. You get Dolby/DTS 5.1 bitstreamed over coax/optical to your receiver then.

The 785G board above had the AMD HD4200 IGP. It will play HD video with no problem and the Realtek audio chipset will stream Dolby/DTS 5.1 to your receiver for it to decode.

I think if you drop my build into your case you'd be golden. The only thing I'd check is the height of the case to make sure if you do want a discrete video card in the future it'll fit. 350W will run anything HD5670 or less.
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October 23, 2010 3:34:22 AM

for about 400, with combos, you can probly get an AMD Athlon II X2 245, an AMD 880 motherboard, 4 GB of DDR3 RAM, a GTS 450, and a 320-500 gb hdd
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October 23, 2010 3:44:05 AM

Dougie Fresh said:
I think if you drop my build into your case you'd be golden. The only thing I'd check is the height of the case to make sure if you do want a discrete video card in the future it'll fit. 350W will run anything HD5670 or less.


I think you're right. I saw an AMD build based on the case I'm looking at, & it fit a graphics card (Sapphire HD 5570 1GB DDR3 HDMI 100293L - all the cards I've seen in this case are low profile, so I assume that's necessary). Different processor & mobo than the ones you mentioned (Athlon II X2 240 and ASUS M4A78L-M AM2+ AMD 760G/SB710), but I like your build better, if it all fits.
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October 24, 2010 5:45:17 AM

I definitely have some budget creep going with this build. Here's my nearly final, about-to-place-my-order build. First, the core components & network tuner:

Dougie Fresh said:
Ok, here's what I came up with trying to find some bargains that are still good quality.
A-DATA 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model AD2U800B2G5-DRH
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
$74.99

LITE-ON Black 4X Blu-ray Reader SATA Model iHOS104-06 - OEM
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
$49.99


GIGABYTE GA-MA785GM-US2H AM3/AM2+/AM2 AMD 785G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard
AMD Athlon II X3 445 Rana 3.1GHz Socket AM3 95W Triple-Core Desktop Processor ADX445WFGMBOX
http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboDealDetails.aspx?Ite...
$117.98

SiliconDust - HDHomeRun Network-based Dual Digital - HDTV Tuner Ethernet Interface
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
$109.00



My original case was $100 with PSU and a remote included. This new setup below runs to $170, but I like each of the components better:

case: SILVERSTONE Black 8.0mm aluminum front panel, 0.8mm SECC body GRANDIA GD04B Micro ATX Media Center / HTPC Case, $99
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811163158
Well reviewed, looks easy to work with (which I may want, since I've never done this before), and will look nice with our other components.

PSU: Antec EarthWatts Green EA-380D Green 380W Continuous power ATX12V v2.3 / EPS12V 80 PLUS BRONZE Certified Active PFC Power Supply, $45
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817371033

Rosewill WMC Remote control/Rcvr RRC-127 for Win 7, $24
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16880101003


Add in the hard drive & wireless adapter from my previous post, Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit, & a wireless keyboard/mouse, and the total comes to $718. My original budget hadn't included Win7 or the accessories, which would have put me at $550. So, I'm nearly $200 over budget, but as we've all seen that original budget just didn't work, and I like the way this ended up (unless anyone has any problems with it, please let me know). I've left off the graphics card for now - as Dougie pointed out, this system will play HD video just fine, so I can always add a GPU if we decide to start gaming with this system.
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October 24, 2010 7:05:22 PM

So, prices change and the CPU/mobo combo above is now $127.98. For $8 more you can now get this combo which the mobo has DDR3 memory support - a little bit faster.

ASUS M4A785TD-M EVO AM3 AMD 785G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard
AMD Athlon II X3 445 Rana 3.1GHz Socket AM3 95W Triple-Core Desktop Processor ADX445WFGMBOX
http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboDealDetails.aspx?Ite...
$135.98

You'd need to choose different memory. Here's what I would recommend ($5 more):
G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10600) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model F3-10600CL8D-4GBHK
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
$79.99

You have to love budget creep. At $700+ it might be worth $13 more to get DDR3 and faster memory.
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October 25, 2010 3:41:01 AM

All of the above has just been ordered. Finally! Thanks to everyone, especially Dougie, and the rest of you who mentioned combos at Newegg - it took a while, but I was finally able to finagle all of the major components into combos, and even though I ended up with the more expensive mobo and DDR3 memory, my total actually went down to $714. There are a lot of weird combos in there - Newegg actually paid me $10 to take this.

Now to figure out how to assemble this stuff...
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October 25, 2010 10:06:56 PM

Best of luck.

I just ordered the HDHomeRun for myself -- I am out of room in my HTPC and I need two more tuners -- way cheaper than upgrading my HTPC to ATX and getting another PCI-E tuner.
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November 5, 2010 5:40:49 PM

Everything finally arrived, & I got the PC assembled. The hardware part was surprisingly easy - it only took a few hours, and that was going really slowly (lots of breaks to read manuals and such). I'm so glad I finally tried building my own PC - thanks to all for your help!

The only problem I'm running into is that I'm getting a fair amount of pixelation / digital noise. The local cable channels through the HDHomerun are only occasionally getting static (every 30 seconds or so), but watching stuff over the internet (streaming through WMC / Netflix) it's a lot worse (lots of pixelation on movement & fine details). Which would be more helpful - upgrading my wireless g router to a wireless n? Adding a video card? Is it just a problem with the local cable (unencrypted local channels through Time Warner cable)?
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November 7, 2010 1:28:37 AM

I got my HDHomeRun this week and set it up with the Comcast ClearQAM stations I get (not many). I've tried watching it through a wired connection (Cat6 Gigabit) and have had zero problems like you describe. Same for Netflix/WMC on that HTPC. I do get pixelation, freezes and drops on my WMC extender trying to watch TV which is using a wireless G channel. The extender doesn't support Netflix and watching SD movies from my server to the extender does ok but not great.

I doubt it's the video card. Is there any way to try a wired connection and see if it makes a difference?
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November 7, 2010 2:50:19 AM

We had already tried connecting the cable directly to the TV and it worked just fine, so we knew it wasn't the signal. Our wireless g router is 8-10 years old, so we thought it was probably the culprit. We went out today and bought a new wireless N router, and the cable now looks great.

Netflix on our Roku box also looks great. However, I have noticed that Netflix via Firefox and WMC are not very good - basically unwatchable. I'm not sure what's going on inside the Roku box that makes it work - enough buffering of our inherently slow internet? According to speednest.net, we're getting 6.73 Mbps download, which is pretty much in line with what Earthlink tells us (we're paying for 7.0 Mbps). For another $10 per month we can upgrade to 15 Mbps, but I think we might stick with what we have for right now.
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November 22, 2010 5:49:06 PM

ScrewySqrl said:
not to toot my own horn too loudly, but take a look at my HTPC build that ran about $700 in early September, in the best configs stuff.

I had a fun, wood-and-steel case that looked like an old time radio, 1 TB HDD, Blu-Ray Burner, AMD X3 440 (would have to be a 445 now), 4 GB DDR3-1333, and a 5570 video card. The case has gone up from $89.99 to $119.99, but the RAM has dropped from $77.99 to $64.99, and the Hard Drive has dropped from $74.99 to $69.99, so the case increase can be covered by that, and I'd consider the HD430 or GTS240 at the same price point as an alternative to the 5570.


What case was it? Do you have a link to it? I'm build a new htpc as well and it sounds really cool.
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