Cheap HTPC for first time build


Can you pls help me with this? I would like to build a HTPC (first time builder) which I plan to use Windows media cneter + boxee. The system shoudl be powerful enough tp be able to put in a blu-ray player and run without compression artifacts with HDMI out, with wifi 802.n and a remote with a 1TB HDD. However, I have a separate bluray player for now and don't need it to be part of the system for now. My budget is $300 (if we can get it down to $250 or less all the more better) - I already have a copy of Win7 ultimate, so the OS is taken care of. Can someone help me in building this - I have been looking at a lot of mobos + cpus from newegg, but am unable to decide if those will handle bluray easily if I add it in future.
I don't need a tuner presently, but would like that option to be cheap if I add it in future as well...I am not a gamer, thus that's not a big requirement. I don't care Intel/AMD - as long as it is cheap and gives me what I am looking for, I am good.


Approximate Purchase Date: next week or two

Budget Range: 200-350 After Rebates

System Usage from Most to Least Important: Surfing the internet, watching bluray, internet TV ( potentially live tv)

Parts Not Required: speakers, OS

Preferred Website(s) for Parts: newegg, amazon, tigerdirect

Country of Origin: USA

Parts Preferences: by brand or type : HTPC case

Overclocking: Not really unless folks advice

SLI or Crossfire: Don't know what this is.

Monitor Resolution: 40" TV

Additional Comments: quiet reasonable looking HTPC with a couple of expansion slots to add HDDs/Bluray in future.
69 answers Last reply Best Answer
More about cheap htpc time build
  1. Siggy 300!
  2. Here are some really good resources for you to read through as you plan your build:

    Assassin's Simple/Beginner HTPC Buying and Building Guide

    Assassin's HTPC FAQ

    Right now I'm thinking either Zacate or AMD X2+880G for your budget.
  3. I have a living room pc made out of older used parts, its been upgraded twice.
    Its a old ibm desktop case/ibm winxp-pro, case was modded to a full atx, its mini-atx desktop case. Mostly it stacks nice with my stereo receiver.

    Its a 939-x2-4400+@2.35ghz/4870/x-fi card/sony 5.1/46" 1080p tv.

    It plays games like prostreet, cod black ops, assassin's creedII, dirt2, fear2 and others. Mostly the card has 800 shaders and is reasonably fast, the cpu is slower and sometimes the load times are longer. It is fast enough for smooth 1080p video. Its not hard to match or beat my old 939 4400+ with today's cpu's.
    $194.99 Athlon II X2 245/ Gf 7025 SuperCombo
    Then you need a decent card with hdmi. There are alot of decent cards to choose from that are under $100, keep in mind some cards like the geforce 450, and hd-5770 will need to be underclocked by 100mhz gpu/100mhz mem to make them run a bit quieter for htpc use and still work with a 350 watt atx.
    GeForce GTS 450 $89.99 Same power as the former 192 shader 260, but has the newer fermi video processor and dx11 support.
    Radeon HD 5770 1GB $99.99 after mail-in rebate same as the 4870 but uses less power and has the newer 5xxxx video proccessor.
    SAPPHIRE Radeon HD 4650 512MB$34.99 after mail-in rebate card
    (cheap card with 320 shaders, can play most games but not some of the newest ones, it's ok if you want to save money and don't mind not playing certain games like dirt2 or black ops, will play games like prostreet @1080p, half life2 based valve games, ut3 based games like batman.) It is the best under $50 card.
    Its also a small card that does not use alot of power.

    The kit only comes with 2gb memory, the onboard vid will need to be disabled so windows can use all of the 2gb. it better to put i at least a low end card like the hd-4650 and disable the onboard vid.

    The hd-5550 to 5670 are ok too.
  4. Oh i forgot, you will also need to pick a dvd-burner that works sideways (most do) since to make it a htpc the case will end up sitting on its side.
  5. Best answer
    OK, I'm ready to give it a shot.

    Here's a proposed list to think about:

    Rosewill RS-MI-01 BK Mini ITX Tower/ Desktop Computer Case with 250W 20+4Pin & 1SATA Connectors Power Supply A small footprint case that takes a full-size optical drive and full-size hard drive, plus cheap S&H. It comes with a power supply, though this build won't even come close to stressing the bundled PSU. $50
    ASRock E350M1 AMD Zacate E350 (1.6GHz, Dual-Core) AMD A50M Hudson M1 Mini ITX Motherboard/CPU Combo This Zacate board is low power and will play blu-ray perfectly. It is also decent for basic PC tasks like web browsing. $110
    SAMSUNG 4GB 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 Desktop Memory Model MV-3V4G4/US Zacate boards only support single channel, and 4GB is plenty. $40
    SAMSUNG Spinpoint F4 HD204UI 2TB 5400 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive plus remote control combo Fastest "green" drive currently available and you need a remote, right? Green drives run cooler and are quieter than 7200rpm drives, and due to the platter density of this particular drive, it read/writes very fast. Access time suffers from the slower platter rotation, however. $97
    EDIMAX EW-7811Un USB 2.0 Wireless nano Adapter I've personally used this tiny wireless n adapter and was amazed how good it picks up wireless signals, though I only used it for WiFi g. $17
    LG Black Blu-ray Disc Combo SATA Model UH10LS20 LightScribe Support - OEM This blu-ray drive comes with playback software, and is a good brand. $70

    Total = $384

    I went $34 over your proposed budget, HOWEVER I included a blu-ray player and upped your HDD request to a 2TB drive. If you want to meet your budget then you can fore-go the BD drive for now and/or drop to a 1TB drive. A Zacate HTPC will not win any speed records, but it is perfectly fine for media playback and surfing the internet.

    If you want to add TV functionality, you may want to consider a Hauppauge HVR-2250 when you get more funds ($110).
  6. Thanks so much rwpritchett and need4speeds - really appreciate your inputs.

    I have been reading the resources that rwpritchett pointed me to and generally reading a lot (maybe to a state of analysis paralysis). I am now thinking of an i3 based given the feedback that it shoudl stand me for atleast another 5-10 years (I will never play those really fastpaced doom type games - perhaps a grand theft auto or something EAsports puts out at max so gaming is never my issue) and upping my budget a bit. For now, I skipped the Bluray since I have one for now - when I get a buyer for it perhaps I can swap.

    This is what I am thinking:
    1) Intel i3-2100 Sandybridge ($125)

    2) ASRock H61M ($80)

    3) 2* 2GB RAM DDR3-1333 ($40)

    4)Apex case ($55 inclusive of shipping)

    5)EDImax wireless nano adapter ($17)

    (or perhaps for $15?)

    6) Seagate HDD 1 TB ($55)
    Any reason I shouldn't buy seaget? thought this is 7200 rpm v. 5400 rpm for the samsung..

    7) remote rosewill ($25)

    Since I have a logitech harmony 520, I would ideally want the cheapest remote that I could link to the harmony and use it instead. Only problem I guess is I will still need a mouse? But i do have a wireless mouse

    The total cost comes to around $400....about the same as what rwpritchett had but withot a bluray and an extra TB, but with the latest and greatest Intel proc & a good mobo? Do you thinhk the Intel is over kill since I don't play many games?
    I can save $100 bux by going the zazcate route (everythingk else remaining the same, the cost wil now be around $290)

    I coudl easily see going the remote + 2tb drive for 97 bux instead as well. I thought better rpm translates to better perf - if the green drives are indded the better choice, pls let me know.)

    On bluray, I had another question - can I control the pc playing bluray just like I would a bluray player with the pc remote?


    Thanks again for all the help - I assume putting everything together should be easy for someone like me who is reasonably familiar with the internals, though haven't ever put a whole pc together....
  7. If you are capable of upping your budget to the $400 mark, then the SB i3 is the best option. i3 is overkill for just playing media BUT it is really nice to have that extra horsepower when you need to rely on decoding by software instead of hardware.

    I haven't had a Seagate since the 7200.10 days (about 5 years ago), so I can't comment on the newer models. Yes, a 7200rpm drive will be faster so it may be a better choice for you. Be sure to check out reviews that measure the acoustics though. You don't want a noisy HDD in your home theater.

    Case selection is a subjective matter. If you like the Apex case and it will fit all of your components, then it is a good choice. It has room for expansion, so if you do go for that case then I say go for a wireless n adapter card instead of a USB adapter. I chose the USB adapter on my list to preserve the one expansion slot for a future upgrade (TV tuner). The case is cheap enough that if you decide to toss it in a couple years for a new one, then it's a small loss.

    Your Harmony will definitely work with the Rosewill receiver. Some people purchase that remote just for the receiver. Blu-ray playback is controlled using a pc remote, though compatibility may depend on the software being used. I use TMT5, not PowerDVD and it works with a remote just fine.

    My only comment about the memory is that you might want to buy a kit rather than two single sticks. That way you are guaranteed they will work in dual channel. The price is the same too.

    -Edit: One more comment about the motherboard. The H61 will most likely suit your needs just fine, but be aware that it does not support Intel's clear video (link). H67 supports it though. I don't know exactly what that is, but I think it is similar to Nvidia's Purevideo and AMD/ATI's AVIVO.

    -Edit#2: You mentioned some gaming. You may want to consider a discreet video card in the future if you really do want to use the HTPC for gaming. That also means you need to consider whether the PSU bundled with your case is up to powering a graphics card.
  8. Thanks again rwpritchett. Is the INtel clear video important (or is Nvidia purevideo important), since primarily media is what I will be playing?
    I guess you are recommending this one:

    Can you pls share why you think the wireless card may be better than the usb adapter? There are enough slots for usb, so I don't care eitehr way stroongly.

    Is dual channel trying to use both sticks at the same time to get double the transfer rate? Would this kit be good to go?

    Would the inbuilt powersupply of the case be sufficient?

    And would I need any coolers?

    THanks again!
  9. Bumping this up....thanks!
  10. I am not sure about the 1tb seagate but i have a .12 7200rpm 500 gig seagate and its reasonably quiet.

    The system i picked is a mini atx. its kinda big and clunky for a htpc but cheap and fast.

    You might want to look at a half-hieght pc, micro atx, with a i3-2100 sandybridge and something like a half height hd-4650, 5550, 5670 or half height 5750 or geforce 450.
    It's more money but alot smaller.
    Or something like a shuttle case/ps.
    well good luck.
  11. mani11 said:
    Thanks again rwpritchett. Is the INtel clear video important (or is Nvidia purevideo important), since primarily media is what I will be playing?
    I guess you are recommending this one:

    Can you pls share why you think the wireless card may be better than the usb adapter? There are enough slots for usb, so I don't care eitehr way stroongly.

    Is dual channel trying to use both sticks at the same time to get double the transfer rate? Would this kit be good to go?

    Would the inbuilt powersupply of the case be sufficient?

    And would I need any coolers?

    THanks again!
    Did a little research- Intel Clear Video is similar to Purevideo/AVIVO. It is an image processing enhancement for media (link). If that looks like something you want, then you may want to go H67 instead of H61.

    Dual channel does use both available memory channels simultaneously for a little bit of a performance boost. It's not double performance, but you might as well get whatever speed you can get. The kit you linked would be fine for HTPC use.

    The 275W power supply with your selected case is sufficient for a basic build, but I would recommend against running a gaming card with it.
  12. Thanks again!
    After sitting on this a bit more, I think I will go with the Zacate since I am going to use this primarily for streaming media and the INtel will be over kill. The case that rwpritchett pointed has a lot of negative reviews with folks complaining about the placement of the the case and the PSU you pointed to sufficient to add a hauppage card in future? Any other cases that you can recommend?

    Thanks again!
  13. The problem with small cases is that they nearly always come with a bundled PSU of questionable quality and sometimes it's a proprietary design so you can't replace it with a good PSU. If you don't stress the PSU much, then a low quality PSU might get you by just fine. Read some more reviews of different cases and see if you can find a model with a decent PSU.

    You may want to consider cases made by manufacturers that are known for good PSU quality. For example, Antec makes good PSU's and they bundle them with their cases. Check out the build in my sig for a Zacate + Antec case/PSU build.

    Since you are now considering a low power Zacate build, you could opt for a picoPSU down the road if you need to. Some cases come bundled with a picoPSU, so keep an eye out for those. With a Zacate build, you only need 65W to 80W.
  14. Best answer selected by mani11.
  15. Folks,

    This is what I have ordered thus far:
    1) Intel i3-2100
    2) MSI H67-MA (1+2 = $197 with combo discount)
    3) Samsung 2 TB HDD ($70)
    4) Blu ray burner ($70)
    5) Mushkin 2*2GB memory ($40)

    Thus far it adds up to $377. The items missing are the case and the remote and wifi adapter.
    What kind of a power supply would I need? I like this case, ($50), but folks complain of only one SATA adapter and issues with the power supply - do I need to worry about power consumption for the build I have above?

    Any other cases or power supplies I should be considering? My case budget is around $50.

    THanks again for all the help (esp to rwpritchett).
  16. That case will work for you. With your selected parts, I doubt you'd ever use more than ~100W so it shouldn't be too stressful on the bundled PSU. That's probably the best you can get with a $50 budget.

    To give you perspective, my fully loaded main HTPC has the following:

    1x Phenom II X4
    4x 1GB DDR2 @1.8V
    1x 1TB 7200rpm HDD
    1x 1TB 5400rpm HDD
    1x 2TB 5400rpm HDD
    1x BD drive
    3x ATSC tuners
    1x WiFi-n card
    1x iMon LCD display
    4x case fans + 1x CPU fan

    Using a kill-a-watt meter, it runs at ~130W with mild use. I don't think it ever tops 200W. Idle is around 100W.

    For a remote, any of the cheap Rosewill or AVS Gear MCE remotes will work for you.
  17. Thank you so much rwrpritchett - I will probably still come back when I try putting all this stuff together. I went ahead with the foll. addl components.

    Remote: (folks report it working on Win7, so I guess I shoudl be fine)
    Wireless Adapter:
    Molex to Sata:

    Total cost = $85 (for all above) + $377 = $462 with a $10 rebate. Hope I am not overpaying for this config :)
  18. I need help folks! I put together the system above and I am having nothing but trouble. The system gives me bsod during startup due to a Intel HD graphics driver udpate (through windows update). I have tried updating the bios, gettignt he latest driver from Intel, but nothing seems to work. If there is an update to the driver, the system BSOds. Another problem is the WLan card - I have updated using the lates drivers from rosewill, but the wireless just does nto work...can someone please help me?

    THanks so much.
  19. For the wireless, get the driver from the chip manufacturer. In your case, it's Ralink RT306x. Here is the link for the latest driver (05/23/2011):

    For the Intel graphics, boot up in safe mode. Usually, this is done by holding the F8 key during boot and it will give you the option to start in safe mode. If you are successful booting to safe mode, go to device manager and uninstall the graphics adapter. If it asks if you want to delete the driver, say 'yes'.

    Make sure you have the correct driver from Intel's website and try installing it again. The latest driver is v15. (04/13/2011). Make sure you get the correct 32 or 64-bit driver.

    Post back updates and we'll help you some more.
  20. Thanks rwpritchett. I see a "startup repair" and "start windows normally" optino after every BSOD. I do the repair, and a system restore and that allows me to boot back (thats what I have been doing thus far). But, it seems like I can't get any updates until the Intel graphics driver is updated (and my screen goes over the edge of the monitor as well since its at a very low resolution). I tried the ralink driver and since that did not work, I went back to the rosewill. I will try the ralink once again, and also try the driver you pointed me to.

    Thanks for the help. Please let me know if there is any BSOD message or dump I can share and I will be happy to do so. I will report after trying out the links you sent. THanks again!
  21. Tried the latest driver from Intel , but it blue screens again. The dump refers to igdkmd64.sys, stop: 0x000003B :(

    what do I do now? Thanks again!
  22. I've never had intel graphics so I'm not knowledgeable in their options, but both AMD and Nvidia have a display scaling setting that will adjust your desktop to fit your screen.

    Did you start getting BSOD's recently or has it always done this since the initial build? If it's a recent problem, have you tried going back to an earlier restore point?
  23. I get bsods whenever the display driver is updated. The WLAn shows up as disabled and enabling it does not enable it....i again logged into safe mode and deleted the display driver to boot up my system....however, i cant install win7 sp1 or other updates until this has been updated it seems...(and not having wifi makes it harder as I have to share internet through my laptop's wifi).

    Thanks again - any advice or help is appreciated. Anything I can do in the bios? If you have a chipset update that you can kindly point me to, I will try that. (The intel driver update utility does not work for me at all)...
  24. I'm reading a thread in which a lot of people are having the same problem. Apparently it is only when using the digital outputs (HDMI and DVI). VGA isn't affected. Many people report that using an older Intel driver (v2219) eliminates the problem. Here's the thread:
  25. Thanks - should I just install the 32-bit version of windows and lose out on the 1 gb ram instead then? wudn't windows update continue to try installing the latest hd driver? Any points on the wlan...I really appreciate your help.
  26. For the wifi, a newegg reviewer on 5/21 says he had to uninstall the wifi card in device manager and then reinstall it to get it to work. Maybe give that a try.
  27. No go on the beta driver edition as well as the version that worked for folks in the forums....i have it hooked up to a westinghouse tv and the bsod appears..will 32 bit offer me any solace?

  28. I have given up the battle and am now installing 32-bit Win7. If that does not work, I am running out of options real fast - probably some version of debian would be a last resort (I shudder at the driver problems with linux if I can't fix them on windows)....
  29. 32-bit has the same problem :( although it does not complain about a particular file now....i am at my wit's end now....
  30. Just to rule it out, did you check your RAM with memtest86?
  31. Yep...tried the memory check as well.
  32. my cup of woes is now full....installed ubuntu, it cannot connect using the wlan andc annot share internet with a laptop either and teh screen keeps blinking on and off.... :(

    any suggestions? thx
  33. Maybe bad motherboard, maybe bad GPU (CPU integrated)? I'm running out of ideas. Sorry man.
  34. Sigh! I guess I will RMA the proc, motherboard, RAM and case (and get stiffed by a 15% restocking fee from newegg?) and get the zacate instead...thanks for all the help rw
  35. Got RMAs from newegg...will ship the ram, case, wlan, mobo+CPU tomorrow....and then buy the zacate ones I guess. RWPritchett - a big thanks for your help and support. Anything other than the zacate combo I should be looking at? (Reading the forum above I am tempted to stay away from the processor graphics from Intel).... hopefully the zacate has enough oompth for a blu ray writer (as well as playback)...THx!
  36. Having read through the forums, I saw a few folks complaining of youtube videos stuttering in HD on the zacate - is it something to be worried about? Thanks again.
  37. i like how none of you mentioned the i3-2100T, which is made for HTPC use. Firstly, it literally sips power...making it super quiet and cool, a must for HTPC use. Couple it with an H (not P) motherboard and you no longer have to worry about GPU, the built in HD2000 graphics are more than enough for 1080p video. Complete system for $350 as long as you have an HDD handy!
  38. mani11 said:
    Having read through the forums, I saw a few folks complaining of youtube videos stuttering in HD on the zacate - is it something to be worried about? Thanks again.
    You tube videos use adobe flash which allows hardware acceleration (the graphics chip does the work). If working properly, the CPU will have very little to do with youtube video playback. If the yt video is not HA compliant and the CPU must do the encoding, you may see stutter with high bitrates.

    Silverlight is a different matter though. Netflix uses silverlight which does NOT support hardware acceleration at this time. The Zacate will struggle with high bitrate silverlight videos like netflix HD because the CPU does all the work.

    Since you would like to abandon Intel, maybe you should wait for Llano to come out later this month. It will be like Zacate, but with a much faster CPU.
  39. Thanks. If you suggest any comparable Intel options (which you think are fairly stable), I would still consider them..or if there are amd/mobo (separate or combo) other than zacate that would also be appreciated (which won't have the stutter)...does the stuter on netflix happen even for 720p videos?

    I would like to buy it this week if possible, but if waiting for Llano is the best option, I will do that..

    Thanks again.
  40. Any other amd (or pentium or core) combos iwth mini itx motherboards that would have enough oomph for netflix streaming? Thanks.
  41. To add another experience, I tried a Sandy Bridge (i3-2100) plus a Zotac mini itx motherboard combo from Fry's and I ran into the same issue (BSOD). Now, I am totally done with Intel integrated graphics. I will wait for LLano to come out and get that from Newegg instead..hopefully that has enough oomph for SL streaming.

  42. Here, i have a system that is easier and better than the intel system and comes close the dual core/320 shader liano (not the top model 4 core/480 shader liano)

    I am not saying that intel is bad or anything, but for a low power htpc the amd system is better.
    $74.99 $59.99 after mail-in rebate APEVIA Black SECC Steel / Aluminum X-MASTER-BK/500 watt ATX HTPC Case
    $85.98 AMD Athlon II X2 250 Regor 3.0GHz Socket AM3 65W Dual-Core bundled with BIOSTAR N68S3+ AM3 NVIDIA MCP68S Micro ATX AMD
    $38.99 $28.99 after mail-in rebate Mushkin Enhanced Essentials 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333
    $50.98 Seagate Barracuda ST3500413AS 500GB bundled with LG DVD±RW SuperMulti
    $44.99 $29.99 after mail-in rebate XFX HD-467X-ZNL2 Radeon HD 4670 1GB

    Subtotal: $284.93 ($244.93 if the mail in and pray rebates come in, but i wouldn't count on them)

    Please note that 500 watt power supply is a generic 500 watt, so on a good day it might be a 300 watt. The 4670 and regor dual core will run fine on a 300 watt.
  43. I messed up, you wanted a blue ray drive. I am assuming you kept the one you bought already. So you have the memory stick and hdd too already? Single channel will run fine with the regor as well.

    Ok without the hdd/dvd burner combo and no memory.

    Subtotal: $194.96 ($164.96 if the rebates ever come in)
  44. Thanks Need4Speeds. I already have the Bluray burner and HDD. I don't have the memory/proc/motherboard. Since I have a console stand that can only take upto 13" depth, I have this case from fry's (itx) It comes with a 300W psu...

    Is there a mini itx board you can refer me to which will work with the case I have?

    THanks again...
  45. The regor is part of a motherboard/cpu bundle, that is why it is so cheap.

    Without the bundle that cpu is not worth getting. I put them in order of speed/power.

    As you can see the more cores you have the higher the wattage.
    $74.99 AMD Athlon II X3 445 Rana 3.1GHz 95W Triple-Core (won't overclock much without running hotter, some unlock to a quad core)
    $64.99 AMD Athlon II X2 260 Regor 3.2GHz 65W Dual-Core (Overclock to 3.6ghz or 3.8ghz and still runs cool) The higher clock speed, 1mb L2 cache per core, and easier overclocking beats the slower clocked tri core here.
    $82.99 AMD Athlon II X3 455 Rana 3.3GHz 95W Triple-Core (a bit more speed and better binning could get you a cooler running cpu.)
    $104.99 AMD Phenom II X4 840 3.2GHz AM3 95W (athlonIIx3/x4 core, no L3 cache)
    $119.99 ($134.99 $15 off with promo code) AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition Deneb 3.4GHz They come with amd's heatpipe cooler, the cheaper amd cpu's come with a smaller cooler and the oem cpus don't come with the cooler at all.
    So when you add the cost of a aftermarket cooler plus the cheaper athlonIIx4, its about the same price in the end. The Deneb core is better because it has L3 cache.
    It's a black edition so the multiplier is unlocked so you have your choice of either underclocking it to suit your needs or overclocking it. Just drop the multiplier to make it run at 3.0ghz to make it into a 95watt cpu.
    (open box for $93.99)
    $120.99 ASUS M4A88T-I Deluxe AM3 AMD 880G HDMI USB 3.0 Mini ITX AMD Motherboard
    $39.99 $29.99 after mail-in rebate Mushkin Enhanced Essentials 4GB (2 x 2GB) 204-Pin DDR3 SO-DIMM DDR3 1066 (PC3 8500) Dual Channel Kit Laptop Memory

    It takes so-dim ddr3 memory like the laptops do. Asus is a better brand for boards, it has a pcie slot, a half height card like the 4670 should fit. I only added the 4670 because the bundled board is really cheap and lacks decent onboard video.
    I would just try using the onboard hd-4250, it has the same software drivers and video processors as the 4670.
  46. The recent phenomIIx4 3.4ghz deneb cpus have been known to run at less than their wattage claim, so you could try it at stock speeds first and see. Who knows maybe it will run cool? Also try and unlock core's #5 and #6, some are actually 6 core cpus. For a extra $55 you get a quad core that is twice as fast as the overclocked regor.
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