1st HTPC Build

I am a novice rig builder at best and am looking to complete a project i started a few years back. I'm building a HTPC using a Zalman case with a 7"touch screen and what now looks to be the original Asus Crosshair MB, (I think they're up to version 5 now). Ran out of funds at the time and has been collecting dust ever since. My thinking is,"OK, it's old but solid, why not max it out?" Everything is cheaper 'cause its not the latest greatest anymore, and its not like I'm trying to run NASA!
My intent is to build solid rig that will act as my DVR, receiver/hub, outperform my Xbox 360, and allow me to surf the web while watching TV. All that from my couch using a 60" Sony Bravia LED/LCD HDTV as my monitor. So far, I have Sony DVDr, the second from the biggest AMD the MB will support (Phenom X4 9850 Quad core $70), and Ultra ChillTec Black Overclocking CPU Cooler ($30 bucks, awesome!).
Plans are for 8 GBs of Kingston Hyper-X DDR2 800 dual channel (4-4-4-12), 1 HDD for OS, and 2 for main storage. Still learning on RAID 0 tech so bare with me. MB is SLI ready so dual video cards are a must but thats a whole 'nother conversation. My questions are mostly HDD related now. I'm thinking 2 WD Caviar Black 750's in RAID 0 and a WD CB 500 for the OS. Seems like a waste of storage but my thinking is that the 32 MB cache of the Caviar Blacks is about the best all-around solution/compromise for the money to increase OS responsiveness, start up, etc. I'll decide on the power supply last.
Any suggestions appreciated. Just getting back into this type of thing. Thanks.
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  1. For the hard drives I suggest you look at a mid-sized (80-120GB) SSD to hold your OS and games. You will have a MUCH more responsive system which seems to be your goal. Also, no need for RAID for storage drives. Just get a large single drive in the 1-2TB range.

    Right now, SSD + large platter drive is the smartest setup until large SSD drives come down in price. I ran RAID 0 for years for my main drive but switched to SSD last year. It was quite a difference in making the boot time much quicker and launching apps quicker.
  2. Haven't checked into SSD much. Know it's quick but anything with decent storage seems to be cost prohibitive on my current budget, but that seems to be changing every day. Now I have to ask some noob questions;

    My MB calls for SATA 3. Whats the difference in the other SATA drives?

    The SSD 60 GB are in my price range but would that ultimately be enough? Planning on installing OS only on it.

    Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't the purpose of running HDDs in RAID 0 to split the work and double the response?

    Any input on the rest of the setup?

    Thanks for your help.
  3. SATA 3 is backward compatible so you can use an SATA 2 drive if you want. SATA 3 is faster if you pair it with an SATA 3 drive that is rated above 300MB/s though. The new Crucial M4 64GB is about ~$120.

    Win7 + basic apps takes up about 25GB.

    RAID 0 does quicken things up, but for media & document file storage you won't notice any difference unless you are moving massive files. Really, for a responsive desktop environment you just can't beat the low latency and fast transfer rate of SSD's.

    What parts do you have in hand and which ones are you planning to purchase for this project? Also, what's your budget?
  4. For storage you can also use an external drive. I just picked up a 3TB external USB 3.0 drive from Best Buy for $150 (that is at or below cost). The only catch with that is for full speed you will also most likely need a USB 3.0 card in a PCIe X1 slot. If you don't have a PCIe X1 you can use; there is also the option of a NAS (Network Area Storage). There are units that can have 2 or 4 drives in them. They can also, depending on the model, do RAID 0, 1, or 5. Those you would have near your HTPC and connect by wired Gigabit.

    A link to a section for NAS's at Newegg:
    This link URL was very long because I filtered by brand for you.

    If you intend to connect the computer to your router with WiFi then you could instead use a bridge with built in Gigabit switch. If the bridge does not have enough ports, connect a switch to it to add more. I have seen one from D-Link that is selectable duel band. You might also convert a router into a bridge. You would just need to make sure it has Gigabit wired ports. If your router has simultaneous duel band then you should look into getting a bridge that is simultaneous as well. But selectable can work if you put it on 5Ghz to the simultaneous duel band router. The main reason for that is if any 802.11g devices get on the 2.4Ghz it will slow down the connection for everything to "g" for that band. So a device that needs the 300+ Mbps of "n" will need to be on the 5Ghz to stay safe from say a guest in your house with a smart phone.

    That D-Link bridge I talked about:

    For mouse/keyboard you can use this cool little mini-keyboard with built in track pad. It connects via a dedicated dongle or Bluetooth. I recommend Bluetooth so you can connect other devices with the same Bluetooth dongle. It also has back-lit keys, ridges to let you touch-type (can't do that on touch screen), and it's small size makes it great to keep on an end table or coffee table.

    Link to mini-keyboard/track pad:

  5. Wow thats a crazy heatsink on yours! Nice.
    Parts on hand;
    Zalman HD160XT case
    Asus Crosshair AM2 MB
    Sony DVDr
    AMD Phenom X4 9850 Quad core
    Ultra ChillTec Black Overclocking CPU Cooler

    RAM and HDDs are next on the list, followed by dual video cards, at which point i can determine what power supply will be required. I was up on most of this 3 or 4 years ago but it got pushed to the side. Looking to max out this MB. It supports up to 8 GB of DDR2 800 dual channel RAM. Haven't started looking at video cards yet. Would like cards that will blow the doors off my Xbox 360 without costing twice the price. Also have to take into account using my TV as my monitor with its limited resolution compared to smaller desktop monitors.
    Forget the budget, tell me the max and the best bang for the buck recommendations.
    Also, what else would you want to install on a SSD besides the OS in this type of setup?
  6. Thanks for the input DJRWolf. However my case has a rack with 4 HDD slots and 6 SATA ports. That 2 TB support I posted doesn't sound right though. Is there a limit on how much storage a board will support? Can't remember where i got that spec but haven't been able to find it again.

    As for internet connect, I prefer to be hardwired. I worked for a major phone co. before so having 50 foot of CAT5 laying around is not an issue. In any form of wireless, don't you loose some speed?

    That mini keyboard is awesome and the price isn't bad. Have to rethink my keyboard options now. Yeah I'll probably buy that.
  7. Here is a Geforce GTX 550 that is only $177 each and they have 2GB of RAM on each of the video cards you would get so with duel you will have 4GB of video RAM plus 8GB of system RAM. Add on top of the DirectX 11, OpenGL 4.1, and 3D support.


    Small catch with this one is you will need to buy one mini-HDMI to HDMI adaptor. $8 at Newegg:
  8. Anything special an All-in-Wonder card can do a straight graphics card can't or vise-versa?
  9. MXMech said:
    Anything special an All-in-Wonder card can do a straight graphics card can't or vise-versa?

    It is a video card and TV tuner in one. I personally don't think it is a good idea to limit yourself to only the few All-in-Wonder's that are available.

    I myself have a WinTV-HVR-2250 Dual Tuner PCI Express TV tuners in my of my computers.

    Just to double check, do you have the Crosshair or Crosshair 2? Just to make sure I know what you have to work with.
  10. Crosshair original. Classic Crosshair if you will. Checked out that tuner card. Does the coaxial connection degrade the quality of whats being recorded? Do they make a HD version?
    Deal of the day;
    Crucial M4 64 GB SATA 3 SSD/ Windows 7 Home Premium Upgrade $180.00
  11. The few channels I can pick up with over the air come in crystal clear. The main problem with my reception is location and not hardware. I am very far from the transmitter and I would need to get a very large rooftop mounted antenna to pick up all of the stations.

    To give a little more background, for TV we use DishNetwork and for internet we get cable modem from Comcast. The coax coming in from the dish does give great quality. Comcast does have reps at Best Buy (one of my two part time jobs) and when I was talking to one of them they informed me that we should be getting a basic cable TV signal through the same line as our internet. I tried to split the coax and plug it in but there was nothing. When I asked the rep they said I must need a box to decode the newer digital signal. I just don't feel like dealing with their support. Epically since I have moved my computer to another part of the house that is too far to run a cable.

    But one important note is before I bought the card I did check around it was one of the best at the time I bought it. I have not checked to see if anything better has come out since.

    Also, if your interested, because of space restrictions I had just asked over in the video card section about single-slot video cards. A user named "jyjjy" posted a link to a GeForce GTS 450 that even though is not as powerful as the one I posted before but has the advantage of being only one slot wide so it will not cover up any other upgrade slots such as that PCIe X4 that your board has. It is also only $120 each after main-in rebate that ends at the end of this month (May).

  12. DJ is correct in that the HVR-2250 is still one of the best TV tuners on the market, even today.

    Gaming PC and HTPC builds frequently have opposite goals. Gaming is all about power and speed at the cost of heat and noise while HTPC's are more about efficiency, silence, and storage capacity. Your project is an interesting one. BTW, I love your HTPC case.

    Anyway, since your original goal is to outperform your old Xbox 360 (that's not very hard to do) maybe you should consider dropping down to a single card setup that will have acceptable power/heat and acoustics? For example, a single Nvidia GTX 560 Ti will easily out gun the 5 year old graphics on an Xbox and even the reference cooler cards are dead silent. After all, would it matter if you are getting 60 FPS in a game with a single card or 100 FPS in a game with an SLI setup? It all looks the same until you drop below the acceptable FPS threshold.

    Here is an excellent HTPC source written by assassin on AVSforum. Give it a read for some good tips on HTPC projects:

  13. Crap. Didn't think about the space between the cards. That TV tuner card looks pretty ideal. Read that HTPC page. Helpful. Video cards are about a week away. Right now I need to get back to HDDs and RAM. Ordering a Crucial M4 SSD/Windows 7 bundle. Considering the WD Caviar Black 1.5 TB 64MB cache for storage.

    As for RAM, is there anything else to consider besides size of stick, speed you can support and latency values? That Kinston is 4-4-4-12. The lower the better , right? Would anything else be better?

    Thanks for all your input guys.
  14. MXMech said:
    As for RAM, is there anything else to consider besides size of stick, speed you can support and latency values? That Kinston is 4-4-4-12. The lower the better , right? Would anything else be better?

    When I was putting together a system the Biostar motherboard would not want to work with the RAM I bought for it. Had to switch to a different type of the same speed and same brand but it worked. So beware about picky motherboards and double check return and/or exchange policy's before you buy.
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