Need help building a HTPC under 400$

Hi all!

I'm new to this forum. I've read several articles from here before but I've never actually posted. From what I've seen this seems like a terrific place to ask for advice. Here is my situation:

I will be moving in a couple of weeks and am looking to ditch TV subscription all together. I would like build/purchase a HTPC to go with TV and an unlimited internet subscription.

If it helps, here's a bit on my background and experience:
Sadly, I've never ever built a computer before. I would like to build one, however as an undergrad I'm not really in need of a desktop right now. I'm studying electrical engineering so know some basics of processors along with a bunch of programming languages ranging from assembly to c/c++, but I have zero understanding of audio/video encoding. I also don't understand much regarding computer hardware outside of processors and cache design. Unfortunately I don't think I will be academically involved in such topics in the future as I am going into electrical as opposed to computer engineering.

I have looked into some of the typical options, I've considered the following (with comments in brackets):
1. AppleTV w/ XBMC (cheap but no external harddrive)
2. Boxee Box w/ Boxee (shaky development, not very customizable. Also can't at this time utilise its 1080p output because the TV is limited to 720p)
3. Mini's such as Dell's Zino HD or Mac Mini (flexible, but expensive for given spec)
4. Building an actual PC (can be much more flexible, but even more of a financial investment)

At this stage I'm considering going with a cheaper box as an experiment and learning process. Of course, you are very welcome to try to convince me otherwise. The reason I don't want to be stuck with a fixed media box (eg. AppleTV or Boxee Box) is that I may in the future convert this box to other uses (for example a server). The reason that I don't want to spend too much on this is because I'm trying to give up on gaming, and most of my computer uses will be academic or internet surfing/streaming. I have a macbook that I use for typical work. The more intensive work such as simulations will mostly likely be done in the university's labs (and I don't have the licensed industry software anyways).


Approximate Purchase Date: at least two weeks from now, not in a hurry

Budget Range: Under 400 CA $ , preferably no rebates

System Usage from Most to Least Important: (surfing the internet, watching movies, streaming, MAYBE torrents)

Parts Not Required: keyboard, mouse, monitor, speakers, OS

Preferred Website(s) for Parts: Any website that is easily accessible to Canadians (eg.

Country of Origin: Ontario, Canada

Parts Preferences: I would like to use an Intel CPU

Overclocking: No

SLI or Crossfire: Maybe? I have no idea

Monitor Resolution: The TV is 1366 x 768

Additional Comments: Preferably a quiet machine and one that could potentially be adapted into a low end server.


At this point I'm very open to suggestions. Also, for that particular barebone, are the memory and harddrive supposed to be Laptop models?

Thank you,


Edit: I have removed my original selections as they are no longer relevant. The pictures have since been removed for faster loading of this thread.
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  1. And yes, the RAM and HDD are for laptops.
  2. Thanks striker! I didn't know you could do a PC for ~350$. I don't have a power cord though. This is worth looking into nonetheless. I will look into some of the builds with AMD (although I have no experience with AMD's architectures). Would you recommend direct canada over newegg for Canadian purchases?
  3. I'm not an expert on canadian builds, that's Why_Me's department, you might wanna get in touch with him (PM him the thread) He seems to prefer directcanada over because of free shipping.
    Grab a power cord that looks like this:

    Also, are you going to be doing any gaming at all? I don't mean hardcore, but just a little. Also, is the TV HDMI?

    I also could've gone cheaper, but I decided to grab a tri core since it was $20 more and can be unlocked to a quad core fairly easily.
  4. I will probably be doing very little gaming (my roommate will probably bring over his XBox360) on the computer. The TV is HDMI (the link is here). I will PM Why_Me also. Thanks so much!
  5. The TV is 1366 x 768 because u didnt connect it trough hdmi am i right ?
  6. noclue11 said:
    The TV is 1366 x 768 because u didnt connect it trough hdmi am i right ?

    The TV's specs say that it supports videos of 1366 x 768 Resolution.
    I have zero understanding of video encoding. Do you mean that if I connect it through hdmi can I go above 1366 x 768?
  7. vz7 said:
    The TV's specs say that it supports videos of 1366 x 768 Resolution.
    I have zero understanding of video encoding. Do you mean that if I connect it through hdmi can I go above 1366 x 768?

    Can you link us the tv?
  8. Yes, it sure is 1366x768 (which is kinda funny seeing as thats the standard laptop res nowadays) So you will need HDMI. I looked back at the motherboard, and it DOES have an HDMI slot lol. you should be good to go with the cheapest build!
  9. Yes the TV kinda sucks! I might look to upgrade it after my next coop summer! What do you think of this combo:

    and then add to it one of the two graphics card you mentioned above?
  10. seems fine, except you arent saving any money compared to my build.....
    In fact, you would be better of with my build as you get a quality power supply. If you don't like the case I linked, feel free to change it!
  11. Yeah striker I think I will most likely go with your build. I have this unreasonable bias towards Intel architectures because the professors love (teaching) it so much. Something funny I thought you should know was that you really made me realize how terrible my TV deal is. I actually looked up and they're selling 32" LEDs with 1080p and 1920x1080 for 100$ cheaper than what I bought my crappy TV for. So now I've posted ads on classified and am currently trying to get rid of my crappy TV before it depreciates even further.
  12. If you want an intel system, you can go ahead and grab that combo, but you may need to swap out the PSU as frankly I wouldn't trust an offbrand PSU to do the job. I can try and configure an intel build if you like.
  13. If you could do that that would be great! If relevant, I have sold my TV as well, I will most likely purchase one that is 1080p at 1080x1920. In the mean time I will start reading some of the articles on choosing graphics cards, motherboards and such, as well as the terminologies for each of them. Thanks so much striker!

    I also have some questions for building in general.
    1. Is the processor the most important component of a build?
    2. Is the clock speed of a processor its most important attribute?
    3. Do simulation programs, such as MATLAB and PSPICE, benefit from more cores (eg. quad cores)?
  14. I can't help you on the 3rd question, but I can help you on the others.
    1. In most computers, the importance/cost should go in this order. GPU>CPU>MOBO>RAM. In your case, it's going to be CPU/GPU (intel has intergrated gpu)>MOBO>RAM.

    2. The clock speed is important, but by no means the deciding factor.
    For instance, I have a dual core that's 3.2GHz and a dual core with 2.8GHz. Lets say the 2.8 has 6MB of l3 cache and a 4000MHz transfer bus, and is based on better architecture. The later will run significantly faster in most apps, since it has better features overall.
    This is the reason that Sandy bridge processors are faster than their opponents, the Athlons/Phenoms of AMD.

    P.S. Your Intel build is on the way ;)
  15. Also looking forward to your post, striker. Will be building an HTPC for a 50" 1080p TV. Just let me know if there isn't enough juice for a TV that size.
  16. vz7 messaged me and he decided to wait on his build, but here's what I pieced together. It's canadian parts, so if you want you can start a thread and I will switch it up to american parts.

    CPU: $115

    Mobo: $96

    Case: $24

    RAM: $ 43

    HDD: $55

    PSU: $44

    Total is $377 :)

    If you noticed, I did not include a GPU. This is because this particular processor has a light GPU built in. If you are gaming, (and I mean any gaming) you will need an dedicated card.
  17. Yes I'm holding off the build for now! I'm not sure if that warrants the closing of this thread. Thanks for your help guys. I've been looking at a lot of i3 builds and they all look very similar. i3 also seems to be the build that gives you the best balance between computational power and power consumption.

    If anybody's further interested in this topic, this website may be of interest:

    Thanks guys!
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